I am posting this essay in it’s entirety. It is penned by a fellow Marine named Hal Arness. This Marine was all Recon and executed some of the most dangerous missions in the Vietnam War. A sensitive and extraordinary literate man who is a graduate of USC and played football for infamous John McCay. I was honored to have recently attended a Retreat for combat veterans with him at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, Arizona.
The Retreat center is known as the “Casa” and is curiously the location where I elected to not join the Franciscan Order in 1973. Suffice it to say, the weekend was packed with dual nostalgia.
. Also in attendance were my Sgt. from Vietnam, Bob Boytor and two other close friends who also served in the Vietnam War. Bill Black a former Army Officer who saw action with the Phoenix Program. Black is a published Western Cowboy writer and poet. My other Marine pal Ron Reibslager is a fellow Marine who was with a Phantom 4 Air Wing Unit. The five of us did indeed have a few tales to share and some healing to occur.
Facts without human intelligence is are of little value. Truth comes with a narrative, often one that takes years to surface. In war literature it is often said, “the first casualty of war is Truth.” The following personal narrative has some long held truth to share.
The experiences and places of battle that are stamped in our psyche remind me of a quote from Virginia Wolf…. these places and experiences are “shell like coverings our souls have excreted to house themselves.”
WE KNOW THE FACE OF PERFIDY by Hal Arness
We are the American soldiers of the 60’s. This means little to the people of our country and understandably less to others. That tragic time begs to fade away….but there are those of us who just can’t forget…we are perpetually angry …and we are still there. We don’t wear false faces of apology for our acerbic natures…or seek forgiveness that we do not really want. Instead we rail for honor and search for lost trust…diligent to be reasonable in our grouchy proclamations. Our demeanor is “sparky”….our content sound….our style often ugly and insulting. Those of us who have been pitched into the crucible of terror and deceit by the call of our country…..have returned warily caustic…prickly! We detest furtive angling and elitist secrecy among those who attain positions of authority over our well being and interests. We lash discourteously at those who spin their flaccid leadership proclaiming excellence and deft handling… when their weakness is ruefully obvious….and humbly confessing the need for support and consensus would have engendered our fiercest allegiance…our affection. We only understand protecting one another! We strive and die for that idea in history! We seethe with anger at those who disrespect opposing views or the greater good…especially when reasonable rules of conduct are firmly fixed to protect the common good…especially when those empowered/entrusted by their peers to enforce those firmly fixed rules of conduct…make excuses, claim ignorance…refuse indignantly to take any responsibility whatsoever! We are a sorry lot we damaged relics…we have been betrayed by those who vehemently proclaimed their savvy wisdom and profound respect for us. We know all too well…that cowardly face! We have been betrayed by American presidents and virtually every political office holder, by sexy/rich movie stars, by our nation’s “fair and impartial” professors, educators and news anchors, by know-it-all college students and snazzy zip code intellectuals…by “you’re in good hands” insurance companies, back-slapping lawyers, hollow speech-sters and by our own socially driven…”friends” and most wretchedly some spouses! We just don’t trust like we once did…or forgive in that vacuum of trust. Though our presentation has been mangled and rearranged by a difficult duty past…we are all the more dedicated to responsible interdependence…to the healthy preservation of community…transparency-in-all-leadership…and…rigorous fair play! If we have learned to recognize one thing by our traumatized lives…it’s that elitist whispering campaigns lobbying for like-minded allies breeds contempt, division and destruction…every time. We are grouchy! But we still KNOW to demand responsible accountable citizenship. We KNOW the reprobate liars and smug takers among us can be forced to confirm. We KNOW there is sufficient numbers, strength and unity among those who are accountable to each other and protect one another…to prevail over those…who are not. We are old and grumpy now…but we ever stand our watch over the right-thing-to-do. Author: Hal Arness Marine Combat Veteran of the Vietnam War
From the horror of the jungles of Vietnam to 21st Century chaos, it is possible that the Vietnam Veteran has arrived as not the neglected but the light at the end of the tunnel.