October 7, 2002
On July 24, 2002 I presided over my brother Charlie's funeral. He was 53
In 1967 at the age of 18 he enlisted in the US Army, went through basic training and was sent to Vietnam. It was at the height of the Tet Offensive and he was stationed in Pleiku, in the Central Highlands. After a year of pure hell he returned to a country that did not want to hear the story of a "baby killer," so he stuffed it, got married and raised a family.
At some point, what was stuffed inside began to eat him from the inside out. Several years ago, his flashbacks got worse and they began to interfere with his work. They were so severe that something in his mind would cause him to forget everything rather then remember anything about Vietnam. He would be found in his vehicle not knowing who he was, where he was or why he was there. He had to be given a full disability retirement.
He had not left hell, it had followed him home.
His family loved him as deeply as he loved them and they stuck together through it all. His wife, son and daughter never left him. Without work, he would spend his time caring for other men as bad off as him; he became a "wounded healer." Some of these survivors spoke at his funeral. They spoke about Charlie as a man of great love who came to them when they were in despair and helped them to love again.
Charlie went to a war out of a sense of duty to his country. His country turned its back on him when the war proved to be unwinable and unwise. The care he received from the government proved ineffectual for the demons he faced, demons born of war. His sense of duty had turned into a sense of complicity.
Every day we can see the veterans of this war. We meet them where we work, where we live and where we worship. Some do just fine, some just get by. Sadly, an unknown number suffer a silent, screaming, hell. We dismiss them at the exit ramps of our highways, we feed them in our soup kitchens. We can barely look at them when we pass them on the street. Maybe, like me, we cannot stand to be reminded that we once condoned and supported this war half-way around the world.
Thirty years later we still scorn those who spoke out against it at the time. We say they are unfit to lead because they betrayed our country. Too bad we did not follow them back then. We know now of the untold millions of innocents that died over there, and the suffering that persists here in this great nation.
You may wonder why I took the time to write this to you . . . Well, we are on the verge of another war half-way around the world. Before we decide to condone or support this one let's take the time to stop and talk with one of those men we see everywhere in our city. Take time to listen to them. Offer a meal and share it with them. Or volunteer at a soup kitchen; you will find them there. Ask these veterans what they think about current events. Then go home to your families and talk with your children about war, and the meal you shared with a stranger.
· · · · · ·
Vietnam: A Swans Retrospective (May 2000)
Iraq on Swans
Paul V. Hursh is a veteran from the US Air Force who formerly supported war and now has a changed heart. He is a deacon in the Catholic Church in St. Timothy Catholic Community, Mesa, Arizona, where he leads a ministry for men and gives retreats on searching for the true self. He's been married for 25 years and is a father of five.
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