Heroes and cowards




I know you joined the Army because of what you saw on 9/11.

Those images still haunt me, too – though I know you think I’m a heal for what I did during the Vietnam War.

I soured on the war when I attended by best friend funeral shortly after we graduated high school.

Like you, he felt patriotic and accepted his duty to go fight when was then, too, a questionable war.

I remember the look on his father’s face at the grave site, and how he kept mumbling how a man ought not to see the death of his own son.

A bunch of pot-bellied, cigar-smoking older men in uniforms from World War II and Korea gave the man comfort, patting him on the back and telling him what a hero he son was for killing gooks.

As if that was all that Billy was about.

No one mentioned what a star belly had made himself on the basketball team or how he had worked on an old car in his garage for years in anticipation of the day he became old enough to drive.

He drove that old car once before patriotism grabbed his heart.

Billy even once told me he wanted to become mayor of town someday.

To tell you the truth, I no more believed in that war than I do the war to which you’re headed now.

My president LBJ talked about an attack on one of your ships with the same tongue in cheek as your president talks about weapons of mass destruction.

Both seem too hollow to justify the deaths of you or Billy.

That’s when I made up my mind to go to college – not to get an education, but to avoid the draft.

My dad – your grandfather – was furious with me, telling me I had plenty of time for school after I served my county. And he didn’t like it at all when I asked how much time I’d have if I didn’t come back alive.

My day – your grandfather – never got over hating the Nazi, painting new faces as his enemy when his picture of Hitler wore out. I heard a lot about the Russians, the Chinese and the Vietcong – the way you hear about terrorist today.

He just needed someone to hate and demanded that I hate them, too, and when I didn’t, I think he started to hate me.

I remember the glee with which he told me LBJ or Nixon – I don’t remember which – did away with the college deferments. I remember how he encouraged me to enlist so I would have my choice of assignments rather than just kill gooks in the jungle like some ordinary grunt.

Never had I seen him so angry as when I told him I didn’t intend to go into service as all. I told him I had plans to go to Canada until America came to its senses, if it ever did.

My dad – your grandfather – called the cops. I went to jail.

I have never been ashamed of what I did, and wouldn’t be ashamed of you if you decided to give up this crazy obsession to fight a pointless war.

I won’t want to be Billy’s father hearing a bunch of pot-bellied men in badly fitting uniforms telling me what a hero you had been.

I would rather have a live coward than a dead hero, no matter what my dad – your grandfather – says.


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