(Click to expand photo of Denny, Dan, and Rich)
We slowly made our way following the crowd back to the center of the city to our hotel. In a major intersection a gathering of supporters for John Kerry for President passed out literature for the election only three days away. I had the opportunity to speak with an organizer, “I‘m here for a reunion and glad to say I am not alone in supporting Kerry.”
“I’m so happy to hear that” she responded with a smile. “You can’t imagine how many angry swift boat types are slandering his name and telling lies about his medals in this campaign. Please try to inform them of these gross distortions of his record. Here’s a leaflet describing the dirty tricks campaign launched by them. Thanks for your support.” The flyer mentioned that the Kerry presidential campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, alleging that ads from an anti-Kerry veterans’ group are inaccurate and “illegally coordinated” with Republicans and the Bush-Cheney campaign.
They showed Swift Boat Veterans For Truth in their latest ad selected quotes from Kerry's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. In the SBVT ad, Kerry says, “They had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads,” “randomly shot at civilians,” and “razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Kahn.”The ad deceptively ignores Kerry's preface, recounting that he is reporting what other military personnel said at a Vietnam Veteran’s conference. Instead, a swift boat group member falsely refers to the statements as “accusations” Kerry made against Vietnam Vets. An official transcript showed that Kerry referred to a meeting in Detroit, Michigan, of the Winter Soldier investigation. He told the Senate committee that veterans had testified to war crimes and relived the “absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do.”
(John Kerry with his crew)
In the swift boat commercials, former sailors also falsely accused Kerry of lying in order to receive two of his five combat decorations, a Purple Heart, and the Bronze Star. The ad featured a sailor who commanded one of five swift boats in the Mekong Delta during an incident March 13, 1969. Kerry earned decorations for his involvement and that sailor himself earned a Bronze Star in the incident, yet said, “Kerry's boat fled after a mine crippled another boat and was not under enemy fire when he returned to rescue an Army officer knocked overboard by a second mine that detonated nearby.”
(John Kerry and others Vets discuss Vietnam with members of Congress)
However, in contrast the Navy citation for the sailor’s Bronze Star stated “all units began receiving enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire from the river banks.” Kerry also received a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts for other actions the ad overlooked. The Navy's letter awarding Kerry the Bronze Star states that Kerry exhibited “great personal courage under fire” in rescuing an Army Green Beret Lieutenant, who recommended Kerry for the decoration and who has publicly disputed the sailor’s account of what happened that day. He said Kerry wrote the report that was the basis for the citation even though officer, Lt. Cmdr. George Elliot, signed the document.
In response, the Kerry campaign published its own ad that featured the Green Beret Lt., a registered Republican, saying Kerry saved his life, “All these Viet Cong were shooting at me, I expected I'd be shot. When he pulled me out of the river, he risked his life to save mine.” This deceptive campaign designed to impugn Kerry angered me and I feared the Republican tricks could detract from his campaign and mislead the public. But his campaign failed to adequately react to the scurrilous media attack with equal ferocity.
(Kerry Campaign made the truth available to counter Swift Boat lies)
My eldest son, Aleksey, was a resident neurosurgeon at Case Western University Hospital and had participated in organizing the “Doctor’s for Kerry” group in Cleveland. He and his wife, Desiree, a resident pediatrician at the same hospital, had first row seats for his final speech before Election Day. As I saw these hopeful people trying their best to counter the Bush-Cheney-Rove machine in the city where I’d been indoctrinated in the failed Vietnam policies, I thought our country faced a moment of immense importance. Could these false advertisements mislead enough people to allow the Bush administration to continue ravaging the Middle East and expose our military to more needless death while the treasury depletes the reserves the Clinton presidency established with a balanced budget? The dominoes did not fall "their way" throughout South East Asia when we lost Vietnam, so how could Bush, and his advisers, believe we would win in Iraq?
“Isn’t this as bad as Vietnam?” Kerry reminded us during his speech before the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations April 23, 1971, “Someone has to die so that President Nixon won't be, and these are his words, "the first President to lose a war." We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”
Those words sounded pertinent to the present conflict in Iraq. How can presidents and their administrations intentionally mislead the American people and so flagrantly trample upon the cherished principles of honesty, integrity, and the concept that war should always come as the last resort after exhausting all peaceful avenues?
When I learned that the Gulf of Tonkin resolution followed from a report of a fabricated phantom attack on the high seas to a docile and believing Congress that sent enormous number of young uniformed military people to their death, not to mention the two million Vietnamese, my cynicism over the political process began to grow. Unless the American people can withstand the fraudulent Republican campaign that uses any artifice to maintain their hammerlock on power, we seem bound to intervene in one military adventure after another without legal justification. The Bush administration convinced me their “Shock and Awe” display of brutal military air power in the beginning of the Iraq war made them the most dangerous crowd on the face of the earth.
The famous Mahatma Gandhi quotation seems pertinent: “The Roots of Violence: Wealth without work, Pleasure without conscience, Knowledge without character, Commerce without morality, Science without humanity, Worship without sacrifice, Politics without principles.” Gandhi had described the Bush-Cheney-Rove team as if he had a 20-20 view from the grave.
My civil rights background, and years of battling against mean-spirited people, constituted my small contribution to prevent powerful forces from destroying everything valuable in our society. If Bush won this election, a most undeserving, unqualified, and disastrous future awaited the world for the next four years. While enjoying the lavish tailgate party, not even the aroma of garlic, herbs, fresh oysters, clam chowder, and Bloody Mary cocktails deflected me from my feeling of doom hanging over the upcoming election, like a tidal wave ready to sweep away the caring and intelligent people committed to non-violence.
(Denny Lyndon, Dan, and John Palombi share a laugh and stories at the reunion dinner)Click to expand
That evening at the Twentieth Company dinner party at the Annapolis Yacht Club Tom Hawk, one of my roommates during my second-class year, responded to my question about his Vietnam experience,“I came to love the Vietnamese people during my assignment there and became opposed to the Vietnam War for many reasons, including the racism against the Vietnamese shown by the way our armed forces treated them, the immoral conduct of the war, and the failed policies of prosecuting an endless civil war we seemed bound to eventually lose. I learned much of the language and culture, which made me love the people all the more."
(Jan and Larry Robinson at the Twentieth Company Dinner)Click to expand
“Did you leave the Navy after your tour?”
“Yes and enrolled at Harvard for my MBA.”
“I’ll bet you saw some strong dissent against the war there.”
“Yes, and I joined anti-war groups on campus along with many other vets, some of whom graduated from Annapolis. I earned my PhD from the University of Pittsburgh in Strategic Planning and helped found a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Frostburg, Maryland where I teach as a professor of management in their MBA Program.”
(Dan in front of Tecumseh covered with war paint for the football game)Click to expand
My former Plebe roommate Denny Lyndon and his wife Kathy and Rich Umfrid and his wife of the same name earlier in the day, wandered the Annapolis Yard past the Chapel and into Bancroft Hall. While visiting the model room shown to the public away from the notorious plebe hazing there, I asked, Denny, “What did you do after your tour of duty as a submariner ended?”
(At Bancroft Hall a model midshipman's room was on display)Click to expand
“I decided to end my naval commitment and earned my MBA at Harvard in Tom’s class. I agree with both you and Tom that the President Johnson made a great blunder in his conduct of the Vietnam War as Bush did in Iraq.”
“Rich, tell me what you did after you left the Navy?”
“I went to Rutgers and obtained a medical degree and ended up with the Mayo clinic after a number of years working as a heart surgeon in Phoenix Arizona. I actually attended to our classmate, Peyton Dobbins who suffered a heart attack while I practiced medicine in the San Francisco Bay area.”
The reunion confirmed many graduates of the Academy found productive lives away from the military as soon as possible where they flourished and earned advanced degrees including all my roommates. Despite the rosy picture of those who left the service, the reunion yearbook revealed a large number of our classmates played major roles in active combat duty in Vietnam, and many died there. That War nearly tore our country apart and convinced me like nothing else, that we must build a coalition of humanists who object to sending our military to foreign lands to fight wars of counterinsurgency that do not directly affect our nation’s real interests.
(20th Company men stood together at the Dinner)Click to expand
(Wives of the 20th Company men are an impressive group)Click to expand
The build up to the enormous commitment of Army and Marine troops, Naval warships, and aircraft, as well as the Air Force aircraft prosecuting the Vietnam War involved a patriotic drumbeat from the media. They glorified combat roles and supported the military objectives the administration hammered away claiming the dominoes would tumble if we did not stop communism there. The administration told us we needed to protect a weak democratic country’s freedom, when the truth was they were a weak unpopular dictatorship of puppets, many of whom cooperated with the Japanese in WWII.
(Denny Lyndon perusing the names of those who gave their lives while performing Naval Service)Click to expand
After far too many broken promises, horrors of B-52 carpet-bombing, anti personnel weapons, the Phoenix program of pacification, and the My Lai massacre, the American people watched their leaders continue the drumbeat of military insanity and desecration of our finest principles. Until enough people protested against such madness to convince them to bring most of the troops home and end the fighting, they would continue to follow orders based on false premises, and many people would die tragically for spurious reasons.
(20th company classmates with wives, have a meal at the Naval Academy Mess Hall. To see Denny threaten to throw a cup of yogurt laughingly, click to expand)
The Berkeley confrontation with friends in graduate school who had been to Norman Mailer’s Vietnam Day speech, forced me to start the process of breaking out of my indoctrinated and conservative personality long enough to listen to views I had not encountered, nor seriously considered. The change in point of view helped me understand I needed to develop an independent consciousness, rather than depend on the media or the military to inform me. Articles, books, magazines, and authors who challenged the assumptions on which the Vietnam debacle was based awakened me to re-evaluate my life and seek another way to find meaning for my future.
I began as a law student and worked my way through three years of law study, graduated, passed the bar exam, obtained an attorney license, and represented clients who sought social justice for migrant farm workers that put me on a course towards my goal. The obstacles I had overcome, the blind alleys I had taken, made me appreciate participating in a cause I believed in with my whole being. My motivation came from giving freely of my time to enforce civil rights because it energized my every hour.
“There are times when you have to obey a call which is the highest of all, i.e. the voice of conscience even though such obedience may cost many a bitter tear, and even more, separation from friends, from family, from the state to which you may belong, from all that you have held as dear as life itself. For this obedience is the law of our being.”
Mahatma Gandhi’s inspirational words, Indian spiritual leader 1869-1948.