War-Stories.com

AN OPEN LETTER TO ANYONE WHO SERVED IN VIETNAM
1991
Julie Weaver
© 1991

 

Dear Hero,

I was in my twenties during the Vietnam era. I was a single mother and, I'm sad to say, I was probably one of the most self-centered people on the planet. To be perfectly honest. I didn't care one way or the other about the war. All I cared about was me-how I looked, what I wore, and where I was going. I worked and I played. I was never politically involved in anything, but I allowed my opinions to be formed by the media. It happened without my ever being aware. I listened to the protest songs and I watch the six o'clock news and I listened to all the people who were talking. After awhile, I began to repeat their words and, if you were to ask me, I'd have told you I was against the war. It was very popular. Everyone was doing it, and we never saw what it was doing to our men. All we were shown was what they were doing to the people of Vietnam

     My brother joined the Navy and then he was sent to Vietnam. When he came home, I repeated the words to him. It surprised me at how angry he became. I hurt him very deeply and there were years of separation-not only of miles, but also of character. I didn't understand. In fact, I didn't understand anything until one day I opened my newspaper and saw the anguished face of a Vietnam veteran. The picture was taken at the opening of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. His countenance revealed the terrible burden of his soul. As I looked at his picture and his tears, I finally understood a tiny portion of what you had given for us and what we had done to you. I understood that I had been manipulated, but I also knew that I had failed to think for myself. It was like waking up out of a nightmare, except that the nightmare was real. I didn't know what to do.

     One day about three years ago, I went to a member of the church I attended at that time, because he had served in Vietnam. I asked him if he had been in Vietnam, and he got a look on his face and said," Yes." Then, I took his hand, looked him square in the face, and said, "Thank you for going." His jaw dropped, he got an amazed look on his face, and then he said, "No one has ever said that to me." He hugged me and I could see that he was about to get tears in his eyes. It gave me an idea, because there is much more that needs to be said. How do we put into words all the regret of so many years? I don't know, but when I have an opportunity, I take. So here goes.

     Have you been to Vietnam? If so, I have something I want to say to you-Thank you for going! Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Please forgive me for my insensitivity. I don't know how I could have been so blind, but I was. When I woke up, you were wounded and the damage was done, and I don't know how to fix it. I will never stop regretting my actions, and I will never let it happen again. Please understand that I am speaking for the general public also. We know we blew it and we don't know how to make it up to you. We wish we had been there for you when you came home from Vietnam because you were a hero and you deserved better. Inside of you there is a pain that will never completely go away and you know what? It's inside of us, too; because when we let you down, we hurt ourselves, too. We all know it and we suffer guilt and we don't know what to do so we cheer for our troops and write letters to "any soldier" and we hang out the yellow ribbons and fly the flag and we love America. We love you too, even if it doesn't feel like it to you. I know in my heart that, when we cheer wildly for our troops, part of the reason is trying to make up for Vietnam. And while it may work for us, it does nothing for you. We failed you. You didn't fail us, but we failed you and we lost our only chance to be grateful to you at the time when you needed and deserved it. We have disgraced ourselves and brought shame to our country. We did it and we need your forgiveness. Please say you will forgive us and please take your rightful place as heroes of our country. We have learned a terribly painful lesson at your expense and we don't know how to fix it.

From the heart,

Julie Weaver
(address/phone withheld by War Stories)

 

Dear Julie:

Your Open Letter is making the rounds on the Vietnam Veterans pages. Your words are personal and speak from the heart, and I, as a Vietnam Veteran, appreciate them. With your permission, I would like to post your letter as a featured story at War Stories, which is a Vietnam Veterans' web page. You may read what the page is About and then let me know if it's okay to post the letter.

     I would warn you that many who read the letter may not respond kindly, although I think most will. You ask for Forgiveness, and I would first ask you a few questions. Words mean things, Julie. Words can shock. Words can cause pain or laughter. Words can bring tears. Words can harden the heart. And words can bring Forgiveness prompting release of unspoken resentment and bedrock hatred. Words are important. You listened to words and followed the media-shaped and then-popular point of view. You wrote words asking for Forgiveness and express support and regret, which is a today-popular thing to do.

     Asking Forgiveness makes me, and I'm sure, other Vietvets feel awkward in that no one has ever asked for that from me before. You may know that Jane Fonda sputtered a most insincere apology to Vietnam Veterans that was froth with shock and contempt for having been manipulated into saying those words that rang false despite her consummate acting skills.

     With your words, which I sense reflect your considered thought, all the mixed feelings of the war resurface, and yes there is anger. You see, men died and are named on The Wall because the war was prolonged by the anti-war protesters' support of North Vietnam. It would be easy, and probably more gracious to simple say "sure...forget it" but when I say that, if I say that, I want it to be from the heart--I think you would know the difference. I am not asking you to do atonement, but I do indeed ask: what have you done, other than words, that we would know you are sincere? For instance, have you adopted the name of a POW/MIA and written your Representative urging stronger pressure to discover his fate? Or have you ever noticed or complained to government about cutbacks in veterans' health care? And perhaps you have...but I do not know that.

Don Poss

 

Dear Don,

It was good to hear from you. Your letter is very thoughtful and I'll do my best to answer it, but first I want to say that it's been kind of a hard day. Countless messages and a number of negative responses. I knew I was taking a risk but I thought the guys were worth it. I still do.

     The Open Letter was written in 1991 and has been around all these years. It was published first in various veteran newsletters and I began to receive responses. It was an education. I began to see how ignorant I was when I wrote the letter and I wondered if I made a mistake. I thought the letter would float around for maybe 6 months and then die. Some of the things I heard were so heartbreaking that I cried often with the men who called and talked to me. I felt so helpless and useless. I wanted to know more about the war so I got books from the Library and from every source I could find and I read and read. I wanted to know the truth. I remember thinking back in the 60's that someone was keeping the truth from us. I remember also feeling such sadness about how we were losing so many young men. It was so painful and so depressing that I turned away. I never was a protester. But I was against the war in my heart.

     I thought about the whole thing off and on for years and I figured it was too late for anyone to say anything. And I'll admit that I was afraid. I had never knowingly met a Vietnam vet except my brother. Then Desert Storm came along and some of our local Vietnam vets began to write letters to the editor to the local newspaper. It was right there....not too late. Please don't laugh, but I'm convinced that the words came from the Lord. The premise of the letter is based on the book of Daniel, who stood before the Lord and confessed the sins of Israel, even though he wasn't personally guilty of them himself. I can't tell that to just anyone...they would crucify me. They WANT me to be wrong. They want to hate me. I didn't know that would happen. I wrote the letter. I tried to say everything that I thought Vietnam vets needed to hear...I wanted to make excuses but I didn't because the letter was for them, and not me. I asked for forgiveness because I know that the act of forgiving has huge power. To say the words "I forgive you"....those words have eternal power. Power enough to change lives.

     I wish you could see some of the letters I have from the early days. I can't help it...I love these men. Well, my cousin wanted to make a web page for me, and I said what the heck. So he did. And things went along until about three days ago, and someone sent the letter out and it just took off like I've never seen before. Not even at the first. And this time I've been hit with a lot of animosity. And I wish I could say that it doesn't bother me, but that's not true.

     I thought I'd made a lot of friends. You know, sometimes I forget and get my SELF into this. I think that's what is happening here. I'm just a lot older and getting worn out. Anyway, where was I? I made friends with family members of our local POW/MIA group and I wear a bracelet with Danny Widner's name on it. His sister is Dovie Huffman. She wouldn't like some of the things that are happening to me. But I won't tell her. She has enough on her plate. Dovie and I and my husband went to Houston and marched in a parade. It's the only protest I've ever participated in. The main feature was a bamboo cage pulled on a flatbed trailer. As we went down the streets, the man inside the cage hollered out to the people on the street that he wanted to come home and that he loves America. He pleaded with us to bring him home and we could hardly stand it. It just ripped our hearts out. We walked and we cried, and none more than Dovie. We were infiltrated by the spooks that day. We saw them taking pictures of the license plates of all the cars, and pretending they were the press so they could film us with their hidden cameras, by the way, since I have somewhat a gift for writing, Dovie has asked me several times to ghost write pieces for her, to newspapers and to politicians. I was happy to.

     We went to the POW/MIA memorial in Dallas on POW/MIA day. Every year they have a ceremony and they have different people read out the names of the missing. I was asked if I would be a reader, so I said yes. And then when it was my turn to read, I came to the name Donald Carr, and I just bawled, couldn't read any more. Had to admit that I couldn't do it.

     There are other things I could write about but I've got to go to bed. I'm really beat. I don't know if you can pass muster on my sincerity or not. You'll have to decide. Have a good one.

Julie Weaver

 

Dear Julie:

Thank you for your response. I do not feel worthy to offer Forgiveness. But there is a man, forever young, named James B. Jones, who is on The Wall whom I am sure would understand and say his own 'welcome home' to you ... and more. I too do not know how to "fix it" ... but I know how to say Thank You, Julie. Patrick Camunes, Vietnam Veteran, wrote "Thanks For Remembering . . .", the most stirring heartfelt poetic story written by a Vietnam Veteran on the web today. Please read From The Other Side--it was written for you too--and accept the only real condition for Forgiveness from anyone: Thanks For Remembering.

Don Poss