Back in the World
July 1969 - March 1971
During the year I was in Vietnam, the peak of US strength in Vietnam came and went. When I went over, the numbers were growing larger; by the time I returned, they were shrinking. When my third year of active duty was completed, it would be my last. The Army stationed me at Fort Lee, an hour's drive from where my son and former wife were living. I moved into the long-term BOQ, of World War II wooden construction; the chaplain office in a training batallion was another World War II "temporary" wooden building.
In front of my Training Batallion Chaplain Office, Fort Lee, Virginia, 1970
The months that followed brought new challenges.
- August 1969. Buying a rug at the local JC Penney store, I met Karen. A few days later over pizza I made light of a Vietnam experience. She was offended that I who had been there didn't seem to take the experience more seriously. I wrote her a poem "Homecoming" as a way explaining how you had to laugh at the experience if you didn't want to cry.
- September 2, 1969 Ho Chi Minh dies.
- September 12, 1969 Nixon orders resumption of heavy bombing in Vietnam.
- September 24, 1969 Trial of the Chicago Eight begins; five defendants convicted of crossing state lines to incite riots at the 1968 Democratic national convention. Convictions were ultimately overturned.
- October 15, 1969 Vietnam Moratorium Day. Activities staged across country, including a candlelight march around the White House.
- November 11 1969. Veterans Day. Anti-war extremists are suspected in connection with bomb blasts at 3 New York buildings. Anti-war riots were anticipated in Washington and on the parade grounds at Fort Lee, troops rehearsed anti-riot drills. The country's most divisive war was reaching its most divisive period. Had I really left Vietnam at all? Was this what we survived the year for, to come back and face our fellow citizens in our own streets? Who was the enemy? I took a long drive and wrote Veterans Day 1969, "running away, perhaps, looking for America."
- November 12 1969. Lt. Calley is charged with the murder of civilians at My Lai in Vietnam
- November 14, 1969. More than 500,000 people march in San Francisco and Washington on Moratorium Day (11/14) to demand an end to the Vietnam War.
- November 15, 1969. 250,000 protesters stage a peaceful demonstration in Washington, D.C., against the Vietnam War at the Washington Monument. Leonard Bernstein, Dick Gregory, Arlo Guthrie, and Peter, Paul, and Mary address the crowd.
- April 29, 1970 50,000 US and South Vietnamese troops enter Cambodia.
- April 30, 1970 Nixon publicly announces that U. S. troops are going into Cambodia. Widespread protests are sparked.
- May 4, 1970 Ohio National Guard kills Allison Krause, Jeff Miller, Sandy Scheuer and Bill Schroeder, four students at Kent State University.
- May 8, 1970 Construction workers break up anti-war protest on New York City's Wall Street.
- May 9, 1970. Demonstration against the Vietnam War in Washington, DC. draws 100,000.
- May 14, 1970. James Earl Green and Philip Gibbs are killed at Jackson State.
- May 20, 1970. Approx 100,000 people demonstrate in New York's Wall Street district in support of U.S. policy in Vietnam and Cambodia.
- June, 1970. Despite everything, I didn't want to let go of the uniform. While making arrangements to leave active duty and return to civilian life, I made arrangements to become Chaplain for the 115th Evacuation Hospital of the DC National Guard.
- July, 1970. A civilian again, and Pastor of Epworth United Methodist Church on Lincoln Park, Washington, D. C. The culture shock of going from the young, active, integrated population of the Army to an elderly segregated white church in downtown Washington DC. I met some wonderful people, but the match was not a good fit.
- August, 24, 1970 Bomb planted by anti-war extremists explodes at University of Wisconsin's Army Math Research Center in Madison, killing 33-year-old researcher Robert Fassnacht.
- February 4, 1971. National Guard mobilized to quell rioting in Wilmington NC.
- February 8, 1971 South Vietnamese troops enter Laos.
- March, 1971 Photographs of the My Lai massacre are all over the pages of Life Magazine.
The massacre of 504 unarmed Vietnamese women, children, and old people had taken place on March 13, 1968, before my own year in Vietnam, but we didn't know about it until the photographs by Ron Haeberle made the newspapers in 1971. Since returning from Vietnam I had been torn by the wish that all of the sacrifices made in Vietnam have been for a good cause, and yet seeing the mounting evidence that it was not. This now became the image of what my war had been. Efforts to claim this was an isolated incident, or that it was all the fault of one Lieutenant Calley, just didn't ring true. March 31, 1971, Lieutenant Calley was sentenced to life imprisonment. I wrote "Who Killed at My Lai?"
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