I would not classify myself as a coward… and in fact have, at times in my life, acted quite bravely in the face of danger. Most men and increasingly more women wonder, as did I in my youth, how they will respond when under the fire of enemy guns. It is an age-old question, which cannot be answered until you are actually in a real-life and death situation and then, before you even have time to think about it, you have your answer.
My experience under fire was relatively short… three days of intense fighting in the lowlands of South Vietnam. Overall, I would say I did as well as any of my comrades and in fact, in the face of the enemy, some even considered me a hero. Now, before you start thinking I am on another one of my bragging sprees, I must tell you that there is another side to me that I am not so proud of and talking about it, even today, can make me sick to my stomach.
Most of us were taught to respect our elders, our teachers, our government, our country, and anyone else who is in authority over us. Never question, never doubt, and do not judge for GOD is in control and He will punish the unjust… good advice for Sunday school children, but the Marine Corp is not Sunday school and while it demands the same blind faith obedience to its officers as the church requires of its Pastors, the price of breaking the code of conduct on the battlefield, could be a bullet in the back of your head.
Two incidences, that happened on the same day back in 1968, changed my life forever and set in motion a conflict that has been raging inside of me ever since. It got me court-martialed and has caused me to be fired from every job I have ever held. It hit me harder than any bullet ever could have and caused more internal damage than all of the bombs and mortars that were dropped around me. It ripped the innocence from my soul and forced me on an endless journey of recompense, for a debt that cannot be repaid. I witnessed the murder of two children and did nothing to stop it.
What is it that makes us hesitate to get involved when we see one of those in authority over us doing something we know is wrong? Why do even brave men hesitate to stop a friend from doing evil? Why can we judge an enemy we have never met and determine he should die simply because he is our enemy yet find it so difficult to judge a friend, even though we have witnessed his wrongdoings?
These questions have haunted me ever since that day when I was ordered not to treat the bleeding wounds of a young victim of our bombing. I obeyed orders, like I was taught in Sunday school, and watched him bleed to death while in his mother’s arms. All I needed to do is disobey the order and perhaps the child would still be alive today. Later, that same day, we captured a young boy with a green colored shirt. He said he had taken it from a dead man because he had no clothes of his own. After contacting the base, the Captain ordered him killed because he was told prisoners were not needed that day. There was no evidence, other than the green-colored shirt, to suggest he was a soldier, yet they took him away and I did nothing to stop them. Now I must see his horrified eyes pleading with me, day after day, to do something… but I can’t, and though I may help 10,000 others like him I have to admit that I let him die because I was afraid to say “Stop! You have no right to kill him.”
I no longer believe in violence and I am a strong supporter of gun control and organizations like Veterans for Peace and World Beyond War… and whenever I can, I continue to confront evil and hypocrisy when I see it… even though I know it will never be enough and there will be consequences to pay for doing so.