Veteran At Urbana High School: Soldier No More
By Robert Dunn
Military Recruiters don't tell the whole story, he maintains
From Spin-Off, the teen section of Champaign-Urbana's News-Gazette
In response to the glamorous life that military advertising often depicts, members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War are presenting to young people a different view of military life and alternative jobs and education.
Barry Romo of the Chicago chapter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War spoke late last month to Urbana High School social studies students. He also discussed his experiences in Vietnam and why he came out opposed to the war.
Romo was born to a mixed-race family, his mother having been a British war bride and his father a Mexican. Both taught against racism and brought up their son to be proud of his heritage. His father was a World War II veteran considered a hero by his son. That was one reason Romo chose to enlist. He wanted to be like his father.
Another reason was Romo, a Catholic, had attended a Catholic high school where he says he was fed anti-communist propaganda. He also was told that by serving in Vietnam he would be "saving his Catholic brothers from the new Hitler."
Romo served as a platoon leader in 1967-68 in the Army's 196th Light Infantry Brigade. He received the Bronze Star for action in the Tam Ky province. When Romo's nephew was killed in battle during the post-Tet period in 1968, Romo returned to the United States with the nephew's casket. He still had time left to serve; he trained infantry troops at Fort Ord in preparation for their own combat service in Vietnam.
He later joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and spoke out at many demonstrations, demanding an end to the conflict. In 1972, when Romo was a national coordinator for the organization, he traveled to Hanoi in North Vietnam as part of a peace delegation.
During the visit, the delegation spent a good part of its time being protected by the North Vietnamese from the infamous Christmas bombings carried out by B-52s as ordered by President Richard Nixon.
"An equivalent of one nuclear bomb a day was dropped," Romo said. During the bombings, Romo said he started to feel there was a madness behind the U.S. policy in Vietnam.
During a question-and-answer session at the high school, one student asked Romo to describe his most horrifying memory of Vietnam. Romo talked about American soldiers who kicked pregnant Vietnamese women in their stomachs and cut the kneecaps off Vietnamese prisoners of war. He did not address the treatment of American soldiers by the Vietnamese.
Romo told UHS students that the U.S. armed forces dehumanize the enemy to make it easier to kill them. He also talked about the abuse people undergo in boot camp. Romo said officers singled out Asian enlistees, referring to them as "gooks, slant eyes and slopes."
Romo said not only racism but also sexism affects the military. A 1990 Pentagon study showed that two of three women in the military reported having been sexually harassed. One of 20 women reported being raped or sexually assaulted.
Romo said advertisements that glamorize military life are misleading because they don't show the realities of war and boot camp. He said young adults who seek discipline can find it by practicing a martial art rather than joining the service.
And young people who want to serve their country should consider joining Americorps or the Peace Corps, he said. And if people want to learn a technical vocation they might consider technical colleges rather than the military, Romo suggested.
He said young adults should not believe everything military recruiters tell them. Unemployment among young veterans is about 35 percent higher than among non-veterans in the same age group, according to brochures distributed at a counter-recruitment fair held the following day at the Illinois Disciples Foundation.
So Romo said if you want to lose your identity and self-respect and are willing to take another person's life, then by all means enlist.
Robert Dunn will be a senior at Urbana High School and is a new member of the Champaign-Urbana Chapter of VVAW.