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Letter to the Vietnam Memorial Wall
By Bill Potvin
Based on my conventional education (parochial school, public high school, and State University), I have always held a certain sense of duty to my country. I had friends that served in Vietnam during the mid '60s while I got deferments for being in college.
The draft was still in place. When I graduated in June of 1969, I enlisted in Army OCS (Officer Candidate School) per my parents' suggestion. We all felt that the US was worth the sacrifice back then. The US had the greatest Constitution, an extensive middle class and a successful progressive tax structure. We were also respected around the world for the support of human rights and a great accessible education system.
I flunked out of OCS and went to Nam as an E-1. When I arrived in Vietnam, I was at a low point of my life, but soon rebounded as I met welcoming enlisted men who seemed so much more human than the many officer candidates I'd encountered. I arrived "in country" in May of 1970, right at the time of the infamous Kent State Massacre.
I began my service as a jeep driver for a Company Commander of the 65th Engineer Battalion, 25th Infantry Division. Serving one tour of 11 months, I finished as a Spec. 5 Demolition Specialist, and saw combat on several occasions. I was given a Bronze Star. I never felt like we were the bad guys...even after I left Nam to do some time in the States.
Now I am a Veteran For Peace, having joined in the '90s after participating in "Stonewalk," a tribute to civilians killed in wars. I have continued to learn more about our addiction to war. I still believe in National Defense but not national offense, which is what we did in Nam and are doing today—pathologically. We preemptively attack, we occupy, and we make enemies incessantly. We lose many young soldiers as you can observe right here at the Wall (I knew at least 4 of them). We also kill and maim many, many innocent "enemies" ...but their names are unrecorded. Our actions blatantly violate The Golden Rule (and the directives of all major religions).
I now see that I was positioned from early years to see ourselves as heroes, when, as war participants and aggressors, we are really pawns in a big money-making scheme.
Look at all the names in front of you. They were fodder in an immoral, illegal military assault. The Vietnam War was a giant mistake.
I feel very fortunate that I carry no personal "baggage"—no friends were blown away, I did not bust any baby's heads, burn any hooches down, or rape any women. I sleep well and don't have to self-medicate. If I did, I might be looked down upon as a "veteran bum" that could not get my stuff together!
Please don't bask in the glory of this place, for there is very little of it here. These guys all lost their lives, but it was not for defending our country. They got used and paid the ultimate price.
It's now known that we were lied to repeatedly during the Vietnam War, just like we are being lied to today. In our quest for empire, this will always be the case. Please repeat after me: "WAR IS A LIE" and read the book of the same name by David Swanson. All those names on the Wall are begging you for that.
Bill Potvin served one tour in 'Nam (May 1970 to March'71), with the 65th Engineer Battalion 25th Inf. Div., as a Sp 5 demolition specialist for the 2nd half of his tour.