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Page 46
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<< 45. When Veterans Protested the Vietnam War47. Photos from the Archives: Early 1970s >>

Thank You VVAW

By Joe Petzel

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I was with the 3rd of the 5th Armored Cavalry, Vietnam, 1968 and 1969, stationed in I corp, near the DMZ. I was first a messenger, then a rear gunner on an armored personnel carrier. I returned home elated to be out of the insanity. I felt angry, full of rage, guilty, ashamed and depressed. It would take many years to realize I had depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I knew that anything I was going through was minor compared to the evil I had been part of in that war. The people of Vietnam were going through so much more than I could ever imagine. I had so much guilt and shame over my participation in the war. When I was drafted, I wanted to serve my country. I believed all the lies about defending our freedom.

VVAW take over of the Nixon re-election headquarters in
downtown Chicago. Joe Petzel, with the beard and glasses,
seated next to the telephone.

I'm so grateful for VVAW. I joined, eventually becoming regional coordinator for Northern Illinois and Iowa. My primary activities were in Chicago. We had a very active chapter, participating in many demonstrations in Chicago and around the country, speaking engagements, organizing vets, hosting a national VVAW conference along with many other activities. The time spent with other veterans in our daily anti-war work was wonderful, therapeutic and meaningful. It helped me make sense of what I had gone through in Vietnam. My rage was redirected at those politicians, generals and corporations responsible for our involvement in the war.

My work with other veterans was a joyful experience. We created so much strength in our brotherhood. We stood tall in the face of organized hatred from the Chicago Police Department. The Red Squad, the "political" branch of the Chicago Police Department, followed, harassed, physically assaulted, used informants, and kept undercover files on many of us. We were veterans exercising our constitutional rights and were treated like traitors. Our strength and willingness to stand together in brotherhood meant so much to me. We were assisting in changing the consciousness of our country!

As the years have gone by, I uncovered the deep psychological/emotional wounds the war caused, and worked at healing. I realized that my participation in VVAW was such an important part of my ongoing recovery. The despair I came home with was changed by VVAW. The effects of that created the base for future healing. Without VVAW I wonder what my life would be like now.

Thank you VVAW. My life has been centered around bringing the ideals of peace, cooperation, compassion, justice and empathy to my chosen professions, education and clinical psychology. VVAW was the launching pad for these passions. From despair to a faith in changing the world, I thank you. Thank you, fellow vets, for your guidance, love, strength and brotherhood.

Thank you VVAW.

Joe Petzel taught in alternative elementary school for 13 years. Over the last 30 years, he was in private practice, a clinical director in a nonprofit family clinic where he created low fee/no fee services for the local community. He taught graduate level clinical psychology courses and founded a domestic violence treatment center.

<< 45. When Veterans Protested the Vietnam War47. Photos from the Archives: Early 1970s >>