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Seeking Atonement For Wars Both Distant and Present

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Message Randolph Holhut

DUMMERSTON, Vt. — Last summer, I wrote about Gary Canant, a Marine who served in Vietnam in 1968-69. He had just self-published a book of the letters he sent back to his bride, Maxie — some of which you can read at his Web site, dearmaxie.com.

The other day, he sent me a letter that he wanted to have published. As a Vietnam veteran with a son who did a tour in Iraq, war — both the one he went through and the one which went into its fifth year this week — has been weighing heavily on his mind.

He asked me to pass this along to my readers, and I'm happy to oblige...

What have we done to my country?

Thirty-nine years ago, I left my new wife to go to Vietnam.

Luckily, I only served one tour in that war, but the consequences of the war have followed me ever since. The damage has been both subtle and profound. I really don't know all the ways that the war changed me, but I do know that it has colored my life ever since.

Luckily, I had a new wife — we had been married for 18 days before I left — who gave me a reason to come back, to go back to college and to forget for a while the war.

Luckily, I did not serve multiple tours, or have to kill anyone, or get shot, just shot at. But I had to type condolence letters to their mothers and wives trying to tell them that their sons died not in vain.

Luckily, I had two healthy sons. But one of those sons had to spend a year in Iraq, and worse, had to tell a family that their son had been killed in another president's folly of a war.

Luckily, I learned to play the trumpet and was a bugler in the Marine Corps. But I have had to play Taps for Marines and soldiers killed in another war where they died half a world away where they were fighting for a cause that becomes blurrier every day.

Luckily, I was not hit by the almost daily incoming that flew over my head in Dong Ha. But I have discovered that our use of cluster bombs has created a moonscape where an innocent farmer can be killed 30 years after the war by a U.S. made device as he cleared his ancestral burial plot. And to make it worse, I have discovered that the U.S. still manufactures and distributes these cluster bombs that kill long after the war stops.

I am a Marine. I learned to kill if I have to. I did not learn that it is OK to kill innocent people two generations later. We as a nation have fallen to the siren call of bigger and better bombs to wipe out "x" number of square meters of area, or to be smart and hit a certain building with amazing accuracy. We have not learned how to use our might to convince the world that we really care about anyone except ourselves. We can blow up cities with ease, we just can't convince the people left standing that we meant to give them liberty by blowing them up. Somehow, I think that winning is more than just bombing a people into submission.

War is a tragedy for everyone. Only someone who has not experienced it would ever go to war unless everything, and I mean everything, else had failed and the only hope for protecting your existence is to go to war. To go to war for economic or personal reasons is one of the greatest wrongs I can conceive. On the anniversary of the war in Iraq, it seems that our nation has gone to war for reasons that are either suspect or worse.

Meanwhile, I am still left with that question, what happened to my country? How could we have sold our honor and moral high ground to Halliburton, oil companies and political cronies? When did we lose our soul? I lost too many friends in Vietnam and my son lost too many of his friends in Iraq to accept a glib answer to that question. Hopefully, they did not die so that some corporate mogul or politically connected politician could get a multiple million dollar bonus last year. That would truly make their death a waste. I am afraid that is what is happening in our country. And that makes me very sad.

I am going back to Vietnam soon to play taps for all of the people who have been lost in war. I am an equal opportunity bugler, I will play taps for Americans and Vietnamese and anyone else who died as a result of war. I hope that in my small way, that we can rebuild some of the trust and hope that we lost in a war that ended about 30 years ago. See tapsinvietnam.com for more details.

I want my country back.
Semper Fi
Gary Canant
Vietnam 68-69

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Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at randyholhut@yahoo.com.
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