Showing Michael Marceau around SF as we killed time before the tour takes off tonight at 1:30 am. 13 hours to Taipei and another 3 hours to Hanoi. A redeye to redden any eye.
Among the sights: some of the Mission Districts’ finest murals (one listing Madame Nguyen Thi Binh as one of her story’s most important women). We stopped at the Veterans’ Building where I regaled him–ranted, actually–about how the Swells are trying to steal the building from Veterans. We stumbled on the Sunday AmVets’ meeting and luncheon, where his VFP shirt and cap led to engaging conversations about our imminent tour. Most of the 20 or so veterans at the luncheon were eager to talk about the dual curses of Agent Orange and unexploded ordnance (UXOs) we laid on Vietnam and left. Seems veterans of all eras are fully aware of the damage wars do not just to soldiers but to the environment and the people of the countries we seek to “help.“ We got an invitation to make a presentation about our trip to them when we return.
En route to the Golden Gate Bridge, we took a detour to walk a short trail to an overlook of the Golden Gate National Cemetery in the Presidio. At the top of the hill that is the last resting place of more than 30,000 soldiers and veterans is an accessible path and series of low stone walls that overlook the forest of white stone markers and a view of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. The walls are engraved with part of a poem by Archibald MacLeish:
“The young dead soldiers do not speak.
Nevertheless, they are heard in the still houses:
who has not heard them?
They have a silence that speaks for them at night
and when the clock counts.
They say: We were young. We have died.
They say: We have done what we could
but until it is finished it is not done.
They say: We have given our lives but until it is finished
no one can know what our lives gave.
They say: Our deaths are not ours: they are yours,
they will mean what you make them.
They say: Whether our lives and our deaths were for
peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say,
it is you who must say this.
We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning.
We were young, they say. We have died; remember us.”
What we are to do in Vietnam will, I hope, help attach meaning to their deaths. Much of what we in VFP do is intended to heal the wounds of war. These war dead, fellow soldiers cut down in their prime, age-arrested and forever young, have no ability to interpret their own lives. They have no 40-year perspective. Their pain, intense and fatal, is long faded. Ours is fresh and chronic. We can market the standard they-were-heroes angle, or we can shine a light on a war that robbed from them their own reflections, and that continues to steal from the living. And of course, we are off to Vietnam not solely to place meaning to lives and loses of the war dead, but to help prevent additional deaths from a war that was over long ago but is not really over at all.
A note on this Trip: It is hosted and organized by the able expats in VFP Chapter 160, the Hoa Binh chapter in Vietnam. There are nine of us on the trip: Alan Batten, Fairbanks, AK, 68-69 Army; Charles Bonner, Lancaster, PA, Vietnam vet, Marine Airwing 65-66; John Chadwick, Bellingham, WA, Army, 67-69; Michael Marceau, DC, Vietnam vet, AR, 69-70; Robert ‘Bob’ Lindstrom, Fremont, OH, Vietnam vet, Navy Corpsman; Trish Thompson, Charleston, SC, non-vet, and the local crowd, Michael Blecker, San Francisco, Vietnam vet, Army, 68-69; Jeanne Friedman, Berkeley, CA, non-vet, and lil’ ol’ me, Paul Cox, Berkeley, CA, Vietnam vet, Uncle Sam’s Marine Cult, 69-70.
I will try (TRY) to post something each day, although there may be a day or two during our tour that we will not have internet access. Some others from the delegation may be moved to displace or augment my post at some point, too.