Beginning at the Traveling Wall in Austin, Texas, a smaller replica of the National Vietnam Memorial, Richard Pena expresses a somber emotion for those who died in Vietnam seeing a woman's tears. He knew her pain would never cease. Pena was on the last plane out of Vietnam after spending a tour as a medic in Saigon. His photo was taken by a Viet Cong soldier when that final plane left. He recognized himself carrying his law school brief case upon returning with a delegation at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City in 2003. Pena's journal entries while serving from 1972 to 1973 as an Operating Room Specialist are aided by John Hagan, author of nine books and many articles as professor of Sociology and Law, Northwestern University, who comments on the context of Pena's story in history with references.
Author Richard Pena pointing to himself entering the last plane out of Saigon
Pena's parents were proud of their Hispanic heritage and taught him by example. His father won a Silver Star for his service at Iwo Jima. Pena won best all-around high school athlete in San Antonio, Texas. He attended University of Texas at Austin when students burned their draft cards and protested the Vietnam conflict. The My Lai massacre struck raw nerves his senior year. Soon at Kent State National Guardsmen killed four students and wounded more wrenching America. His low lottery number made it certain he would be drafted. He tried to fail his physical but they were taking anyone who breathed then and entered the Army, June 14, 1971 as one of the last drafted.
Pena arrived at the 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon during the North Vietnamese siege of An Loc when they shot down four aircraft and killed nearly all the residents a few months before Nixon's presidential election during an opportunity for peace talks to resolve the conflict. His objections to pressing for peace were politically motivated as Humphrey would have gained substantial support as a peace candidate despite his role with LBJ. Nixon's voice on tape in the oval office showed he proposed nuclear weapons to succeed but Kissinger replied he thought it would be too much. Nixon said, "I don't give a damn" about civilians killed by U.S. bombing USA Today reported February 28, 2002. While peace was possible Nixon refused to press for it and made the South Vietnamese think if he were president they would get a better deal prolonging the war needlessly and causing more than 20,000 more American deaths.
Pena called Vietnamization a catastrophe demonstrated graphically as he arrived. Young ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) troops threw down their weapons and fled with villagers as the North Vietnamese launched an unprecedented invasion. They expected 200 or so casualties but 2000 marched toward a 100 bed hospital 60 miles away. However many were mortared by Communists on Highway 13 and others accidentally killed by our B-52s. The Air Force accidentally missed the Communists and hit a South Vietnamese village! Pena joined a group of fifteen who worked the Operating Room confronted by death who built a strong companionship.
Soon a C-130 aircraft crashed from mechanical failure causing them to expect many casualties. Burn patients were the worst, difficult to look at, tough to treat, and many died. The first soldier's face appeared plastered red, hair and eyebrows burned away, red burns ran the length of his young body. He had a wife and young child.They smeared Sulfamylon cream over him feeling helpless. His coworker said he would soon die. A sergeant arrived with a broken ankle and numerous lacerations. These professionals knew the risks but it is for the young whom Pena felt the most sorry. The lifers have some control but not the draftees. The sergeant wanted to know how many survived but Pena couldn't tell him only three made it. Pena wondered how many were on the plane and learned there were forty five. The government released only the number fourteen. Such lies insulted Pena and the others. It added brainwashing to misinformation.
An allied Cambodian arrived by air in desperate condition and needed a transfusion from someone with B positive blood. Pena readily provided it as the only one with that type. The doctors said he couldn't survive the operation, yet he wouldn't live without one! They amputated his left leg and blood splattered all over the floor. A nineteen year-old soldier was shot in the head and died from his wound. An American asked him for a cigarette but he didn't have one, so he shot him in the back of the head at point blank range with a .38 pistol. A clean-cut man named Holley had a wife he never cheated on but once. He was found the next morning in a lover's embrace as the girl had put ground-up glass in his food, the sixth American that girl killed. Soon we understand how Pena felt an impermanence sweep over him and all his previous concerns seemed small and unimportant. Much later Pena became President of the American Bar Foundation and State Bar of Texas. His practice started as a solo attorney for the common person, without an office using an old beat up car. He felt his experience in Vietnam gave him the courage, willpower and confidence to stand up against injustice and fight for his clients. "It was the road less traveled, but it was my road." Published 2014 by Story Merchant Books, 9601 Wilshire Blvd. # 1202, Beverly Hills, Ca 90210
Bio: VVAW member Daniel C. Lavery graduated Annapolis, navigated a Navy jet, and a ship, turned peace activist and became a civil rights lawyer for Cesar Chavez's UFW. His memoir, All the Difference, describes his experiences:
Review of Greta Marsh’s Frankie and Jonny and Mommy too, by Daniel C. Lavery, Written for VVAW’s “The Veteran”
One kind woman’s determination to adopt a Vietnamese War orphan, make this truly an inspirational story. Written in heartfelt verse, Marsh dramatically presents the struggle of one woman to adopt a Vietnamese orphan surviving at the Govap Orphanage. She hopes to save him from the ravages of the Vietnam conflict, where his parents were victims of the outrageous My Lai Massacre. Greta, a Jewish single parent, with three girls in college, wanted to find an orphan that her thirteen year-old son, Jonny, could help grow up in Long Island N.Y. with a loving family. Frankie was the name Jonny chose for the orphan in honor of his recently deceased grandfather.
Her first obstacle was an unexpected confrontation with discrimination despite her responsible job as a probation officer in Family Court where she worked with troubled children and single parents. The adoption agency sent her a letter stating she was unqualified to adopt because “Every child deserves two parents.” They would, however, permit her to adopt a physically or emotionally disabled child. Outraged, she wrote them: “Who is in greater need of 2 parents, a physically and/or emotionally disabled child or a relatively healthy child? You should be ashamed.” They did not respond.
Religious bigotry struck next when a local friendly Vietnamese Priest told her a child was waiting for her in Vietnam, but the agency told her twice: “We do home studies for Christian families.” She informed the Priest of the prejudice. He paused and then said he could not help. She wrote: “Dear Father, Jesus was a Jew who never left his religion and I do not think he is smiling kindly upon you.”
After many years of struggle Greta’s dream of adoption was fulfilled when she, her grandmother, Aunt, and thirteen year-old son, Jonny, arrived by plane in Vietnam. She finally adopted a five year-old boy baptized “David” who became “David Frank”. The family welcomed him with love. Soon Jonny felt sad for him because he looked scared but Greta ensured that Frankie would be a part of a compassionate family. They dressed him in an adorable suit and found a mixed breed Dachshund Frankie named Suzi for him. He learned soon to ice skate, draw, play piano, and liked to build sand castles on the beach.
Marsh adds a summary of the My Lai Massacre, military problems of rape, sexual harassment, suicide, civilian casualty statistics, Agent Orange, and the extension of the Vietnam War to Laos and Cambodia. The author says she intends the money earned from her book will be used to help wounded vets and their families. Greta Marsh’s wonderful story of how she succeeded in saving the life of a Vietnamese orphan who became integrated into a loving American family shines with the finest sparks of humanity. She reminds us at the end of her inspirational story the Talmud says: “To Save One Life is as if you have Saved the Entire World.”
Published by 1stWorld Publishing, P. O. Box 2211, Fairfield, Iowa 52556 ISBN: 978-1-4218-8663-3 Soft Cover ISBN: 978-1-4218-8664-0 Hard CoverBio: VVAW member Daniel C. Lavery graduated Annapolis, navigated a Navy jet, and a ship, turned peace activist and became a civil rights lawyer for Cesar Chavez's UFW. His memoir, All the Difference, describes his experiences: http://www.amazon.com/All-Difference-Daniel-C-Lavery/dp/1482676532/ website: www.danielclavery.com.
(Dan bottom left played second base for Coronado American Legion team at 13 with mostly 15 and16 year-olds)
How could I have made the impulsive decisions that rocked my turbulent youth? What made me change from a fad-loving teenager collecting popular songs, memorizing major league batting averages, and dreaming of becoming a professional baseball player, into a solemn born-again fundamentalist? That deflected me from my own purpose. I almost claimed conscientious objector status, and then quit Duke N.R.O.T.C. to enter a pre-ministerial program, only to find the more I studied religion the less I wanted to preach it to others.
(Duke University Chapel and courtyard)
My father said he could not afford the steep tuition and said I should try for an appointment to the U. S. Naval Academy despite my lack of interest in the military! Since he and my brother graduated Annapolis I did the craziest thing to afford college, and entered Columbia Prep School in Washington D.C.to study how to score high on entrance exams. After three months I took the exams and was only one of 75 people to receive a presidential appointment from Dwight Eisenhower in the United States! Dad took me to see a patriotic movie about the Battle of Midway that changed the outcome of WWII in the Pacific due to our naval power despite Pearl Harbor that did so much damage that brought determination to build a strong military to protect our freedom.
(Midshipmen at the U.S.Naval Academy march into Bancroft Hall)
After entering Annapolis much forced me to realize this journey into a naval career had many negatives from my perspective. During my plebe year an upperclassman in revenge for the way my brother treated him, ran me into the ground with harassment until I developed mononucleosis and was sent to the hospital for five weeks ending my chance to quarterback the plebe football team as my coach and I wanted. Later I had the worst varsity baseball coach ever, who wrongly believed my father "got me into Annapolis" so kept me on the bench after I had a great year leading the plebe team with a .516 batting average. After graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy I wanted to fly airplanes but my eyesight dipped slightly and I could only qualify as a navigator. My plane was called the "Flying Coffin" by aviators because more than 50% were lost in accidents, and mishaps and was an easy target in Vietnam. After three close calls in training both my pilot and I transferred into ships and I navigated 300 marines to Vietnam.
(Dan flew in the RA5C Vigilante and was Carrier Qualified)
Forced to scrutinize my journey, filled with mistakes, nearly killed by a train on a trestle at 10 hitting rocks with a bat; dodging two trains after leading high school football players into a narrow train tunnel in Japan: escaping from two thugs at a beach, having many confrontations with brutal and malicious bullies at Annapolis and one officer in the navy; surviving the “flying coffin” Mach 2 jet in Florida; I rebounded by earning a Reginald Heber Smith Fellowship for two years as a community civil right lawyer after law school at UC Hastings in San Francisco. Selected as Director of the Farm Worker Project by the ACLU I won my first trial for six picketers accused of disturbing the peace; won many motions and appeals in 17 class actions and other police misconduct cases against growers, prosecutor, a sheriff and the Teamsters. I worked for one of the most effective civil rights organizations battling against some of the most powerful forces in America.
(Dan at his civil rights law office in Encino California)
From a Naval Aviator, to a Navigator of an Amphibious Ship to Vietnam with 300 marines, I eventually resigned, found my purpose and after law school when I went from a legal aid attorney to a staff attorney for the United Farm Workers and then director of the ACLU farm worker project. I had been propelled into a powerful movement that was an answer to a dream. I submerged myself into the cutting edge of civil rights and consumer litigation as a member of a team with all the energy I possessed. Meanwhile, Joan and I raised a family that fulfilled my vision coupled with my quickly learned advocacy skills that enabled me to continue a profession on a path others said would be impossible—it was one few traveled—but I met enough dedicated individuals whose life shined that I knew it was right for me. Recovering from each fiasco and having learned a lesson each time, I began to define a vision of what might occupy the rest of my life: a pursuit of social justice in whatever way I could find appropriate. The pieces fell together through hard work, determination, and a future with a woman who inspired me and calmed my wildness from swirling rapids to a deep river that refreshed and enabled me to continue against all odds. Once I found a path that consumed me with passion I aimed as high as I could. No matter what confronts the reader, my story demonstrates an ordinary person can survive major conflicts, disappointments, injuries, risk of death, and still flourish.
(Dan and his lovely family in 1990)
Daniel C. Lavery
By William Astore, retired Air Force Lieutenant, who discusses America’s peculiar brand of global imperialism. He mentions in Afghanistan and elsewhere the U.S. is suffering from Imperial Tourism Syndrome. Published: October 28, 2015 | Authors: William Astore | TomDispatch | Op-Ed