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Why I Fight
By Tom Baxter
Now at the fourth anniversary of the proclamation of "Mission Accomplished" and the "end of major combat operations" of "Operation Iraq Liberation," I have been standing on Thursdays and Sundays in front of Florida's Old Capitol with my anti-war signs for almost six years in the"Eternal Peace Vigil." People have asked, "Why?" Some of the reasons are the lives and deaths of Dwight H. Johnson, David Funchess and Jeffrey Lucey.
Three brave men. Three men who believed our government's lies. Three dead men. Killed In Action in a combat zone. Three men whose names will never be engraved on a war memorial's marble wall because the mortal wounds they bore were not visible. Dwight, AKA Skip, a few months younger than I, was born in Detroit and raised in the projects by a single mother. A good soldier, a draftee, made E-5 on his first enlistment as a tank driver. A month after I arrived in Vietnam and a few miles North of my base, Dwight, trying to catch up with his platoon, came upon them being destroyed by an enemy battalion. He stopped the battalion. When reinforcements arrived, they took him off the battlefield pumped full of morphine in a straitjacket. A few days later, he was on the streets of Detroit, wandering jobless, teased because he missed TET. Months later, an MP asked him if he had been arrested since he got out. He said no. Then the MP said come to DC and we will give you a Medal of Honor. He reenlisted, his first job out of the service. Got married. Used as a recruiter and public relations flack, he tired, started acting out. Wife in the hospital. Home and car being foreclosed. Walked into a liquor store, pulled a gun. Popped some caps, missed every time. Shot four times. Died on the table. His mother said, "Sometimes I wonder if Skip tired of this life and needed someone else to pull the trigger." His wife received a raise in her pension as he was not conscious of his actions. I shook Charlie Litkey's hand that shook Dwight's. I might have met Johnson in Vietnam. Guys from his company came into my compound to pick up trucks and parts. We both drove the hairpin curve in the An Khe pass. One degree of separation.
David Funchess, also a few months younger than I, a Marine, I never would have met him in Vietnam. I might have met him in Jacksonville where we both grew up in Jim Crow, Florida. I did meet some black guys working construction at the shipyards. Young gofers I had more in common with than the mechanics. His stepfather was a vicious and mean bastard. David came back from Vietnam with a Purple Heart, scars from an IED, PTSD and a habit. Later he got a dishonorable discharge, i.e., no VA benefits. Twitchy, he slept in foxholes under his mother's house, later in cars. I asked politically correct friends and they said I could call David, "nuts." You would not let your daughter go out with him. Ted Bundy would be OK. But not David.
David also was involved in a liquor store robbery, except he killed two folks. Bad luck for David, PTSD had not been legally discovered. Since it was not mentioned in trial, it could not be used in appeal. So, David died in "Old Smokey," the same place as Ted Bundy, becoming the first of many Vietnam veterans judicially murdered in the United States. I worked on appeals for his clemency and shook his lawyers' and friends' hands. One degree of separation.
As Dwight and David died in Vietnam, Jeffrey Lucey died in Iraq. He was my daughter's age. He had a lot going for him. He was white, middle class, with parents that were willing to pay his way through school. He did not need the service to get out of the ghetto. Like Dwight, he killed face to face. Couldn't get over it. A year back from Iraq, a few visits to the shrink, some involuntary confinement, Jeffery hanged himself with a garden hose in his parent's basement. His death is the result of my failure. I failed to stop the war. I did not talk to him as I do every Iraq veteran and veteran-to-be that comes up to talk or argue in front of the Capitol. I tell them, I don't know what your particular hell looked like, but we did stuff our mothers, our fathers, our teachers, our preachers told us never to do: Kill people and destroy things. It messes with your mind.
I may not look like very much, ugly, wrinkly, white haired, balding, running to fat, old fart, but I'm what you want to be forty years from now. I'm alive. I can bounce kids on my knees. I can make them laugh. I buried a bunch of guys over the years who can't. If you ever think about thumping yourself, your wife, your girlfriend, your kids, remember your parents want you to bury them not the other way around. Your wife doesn't want to be a widow. Your kids don't want to be orphans. When it gets real serious, folks want to talk to you. They want to help you. I can tell you meds work. I stopped having nightmares thirty years ago. They came back five years ago. Meds stopped them. I'm not very happy. But I've got a job, trying to stop the creation of more folks like Dwight, David, Jeffery and me. And I haven't been doing too good of a job of it.
Tom Baxter, life member of VVAW and Veterans For Peace has been part of the Eternal Peace Vigil standing in front of Florida's Old Capitol Thursdays and Sundays since 2001.
He did his part to help kill 3 million Vietnamese when he was in the USAV from 1967 to 1969 and is not proud of it.
In fact every time he thinks about the megaton of unexploded ordnance we left behind, that will be killing children for centuries, he gets pissed off.