By Joey Kennedy
Alabama Political Reporter
I was ready to go to Canada. Well, I thought so, anyway.
I didn’t want to go to Vietnam, that’s for sure. I was conflicted, though. I thought, I should serve my country if called. But I don’t know if that was a war that was worth calling our men for.
And I wish all of that was true, but it’s not. I would have gone in a second. At that time in my life, I believed if the country called, you went. I think since then, I’ve made an alternate truth about my feelings about Vietnam.
My silly poem I wrote in the 10th grade still hasn’t left me. I don’t know why. It’s melodramatic and over the top. It’s stupid. But here it is:
As I Lay Dying
As I lay dying, looking up at the sky,
A bullet in my chest,
I knife in my thigh.
Why was I dying,
I asked as I lay.
For the Vietnamese,
Or the USA?
I was only 18,
Not a year more.
Why was I dying,
For God’s sake, what for?
Why was I dying?
Why had I come?
I drew my last breath,
And whispered: Freedom.
That, folks, is about as corny as it gets. And now, I imagine I was wiser. I would have fled to Canada instead of going to Vietnam. But I wouldn’t have. I would have served.
Fortunately for me, the draft was stopped shortly before I would have been exposed. I still had to register, which I did, but I didn’t have to go. Thank goodness.
My point, though, is so many did. They went to Vietnam. They went to Europe in World War I and got gassed and killed. They went to Europe and the Pacific in World War II and got killed on the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima and elsewhere. They went to Korea, like my father, and were shot at, captured, killed.
They went to Vietnam, and 55,000-plus died — and their names are on a wall.
They went to Panama and Grenada and Iraq and Afghanistan. They went to Mogadishu and who-the-hell knows where else.
They went and served. Many didn’t come home. Many more did.
Today, we should honor them. Especially today. It’s Veterans’ Day, and we should honor our veterans.
Our World War II veterans are dying at more than 1,000 a day. Our Korean War veterans are not far behind. Our Vietnam veterans, a little further behind.
My father-in-law, Norman Pike, fought in Europe during World War II. He landed shortly after D-Day. During his life, he wouldn’t talk about his service. He said he was a cook. Norman came home with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. That dude was a helluva cook.
My father served on the aircraft carrier Princeton during the Korean War. His back was broken when he was run over by a vehicle moving a plane.
My wife’s friend Ray Chaffin died in Vietnam. Like so many others, in a war that should never had been. But so many of those veterans were treated so poorly when they returned. It was a bad time in our country. Let’s remember them, please.
Our friend’s son, Nick Walsh, a graduate of Birmingham’s John Carroll High School, was killed on his third tour of Iraq. A bullet from a sniper ricocheted off his gun and struck him in the neck. He bled out.
It’s Veterans’ Day. I have a number of veterans in my classes at UAB. I never fail to tell them how much I appreciate their service.
Because I do.
When you come across a veteran today – or any day – tell him or her how much you appreciate their service.
Often, our wars are political. We shouldn’t have been involved. Korea. Vietnam. Iraq. But the soldiers who went out were just doing what they were called to do. They followed orders. They died. And survived.
Do not disparage them. Love them. They are the best of us.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes this column every Wednesday for Alabama Political Reporter.
Email: [email protected].