So what did I learn from 1970 through 1973? I think the first thing I learned was not to think of it a lot. I told stories to some of my family and some of my friends, but pretty much I just tried to reinsert my self into the life I had. Things had moved on and the change was obvious, but I was changed as well. I went back to the community college where life was familiar. I signed up for electronics because I knew nothing about tubes, and I couldn’t get hired anyway. Nobody was looking for safe crackers or crypto guys. No one wanted anything to do with veterans that had lost a war, and killed thousands of innocent villagers. Don’t talk, just keep your head down and find your life if possible.
I had lost my day to day family, I was a single father with my child living in another state, but not necessarily stable. She moved to Hawaii, she moved to Alaska, she moved to Utah, she even moved to Connecticut for a time. Finally she moved to Oregon, but for how long? I remained a distant father, trying to be stable in California.
I took a job with the college as a student, that turned into an hourly temporary worker, that turned into a full-time classified staff, that turned into a graphic design slot, that turned into part time teaching graphics, that turned into full time teaching graphics, and that turned into art department chairman. Forty years of work, forty years of not thinking about my time in the Army. But during that passage my attitudes changed. I didn’t remember how much I hated being in the army. I didn’t remember how much I wanted out. I remember thinking that it was hard, but that I was glad to serve, and proud of my time.
How did that change over the years? Selective memory? Revisionist personal history? All I know is that I volunteered to be part of the college’s Big Read program. I read Tim O’Brian’s “the Things They Carried”, and I suffered a kind of shock. I remembered things, I dreamed dreams. I read the book a second time and I was faced with who I was, who I wanted to be, and who I had become.
I saw war for what it was. I feared death, I feared being killed, I feared killing others. I knew that I was being sucked into a maelstrom that would shape me in ways I could not guess and could not control. I knew the war in Vietnam was managed wrong for the wrong reasons. I knew I wanted to be a patriot but I had to voice my objections and I had to place my body in physical objection. I could not go along and be silent, I had to protest.
I knew nothing about belonging, I knew nothing about sacrifice, I was a selfish idealist.
After, and maybe during the military, I learned about discipline. I learned about brotherhood and honor. I learned that there are times when people give everything of themselves. Perhaps they give their lives, more often they become living sacrifices. The act of being a soldier takes priority over individuality. Choosing to place yourself in harm’s way is not natural and you cannot live a natural life afterwards. It’s a good life but it’s not the life you imagined.
I am committed to being the point of the spear, the edge of the blade. I will defend the Constitution, my life is not my own. I sacrifice the normal life so that others can be normal. I sacrifice the life of the individual thinker, so that others can think, so that others can protest. I sacrifice my freedom, so that I embrace discipline, so that others can be free.
I am the point of the spear, I am the edge of the blade. And I can’t turn it off, even if I wanted to.