in your coffin
they've done for you
Three years previously I had grieved with my best friend as we heard over the school intercom, while in home economics class, that her sister's boyfriend, a former student at the school, had died in Vietnam. I knew Max only slightly, but that day we grieved for more than Max. We grieved for something lost, something indefinable and yet torturous in its implications.
In the fall of '72, I looked like a cross between a hippie and a leftover beat poet from the fifties. One day I was in India cotton and sandals, the next it was a black turtleneck and bell-bottoms with cowboy boots. I was not in the throes of an identity crisis so much as I was just a young girl who was simply trying on all the possibilities that spoke to me. Inside, however, beat the heart of an anarchist. Two things kept me from acting on this. Family and Fear. I had already positioned myself as the black sheep in a family that didn't wander too far outside the mainstream. I was also afraid of the system which I so longed to change. It was quite simple. I didn't want to hurt anyone. And I loved my freedom.
My first week in college I had no intention of entering the fray of politics and protest. It was a quiet time, there on the shores of the lake, when I leaned over to the gal sitting next to me in an English class and inquired about the bracelet she was wearing. It was a nondescript silver band with writing on it. She explained that it was a POW-MIA bracelet. They honored soldiers who had become prisoners of war or were missing in action. I immediately wanted one. It wasn't a fashion statement, I just knew I had to have one and that something else had been set in motion. She gave me the phone number of a woman who was spearheading the local movement to sell these bracelets and bring this more and more to the attention of the public; a public that was growing weary of a war that was just starting to see the light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
I called the woman. She invited me over to her house. We sat and talked about the bracelets and how I could sell them on campus. It was not the form of protest I had in mind, but it was something I could do. I didn't know it at the time, but it spoke more directly to my truer self; the self that can quietly protest as a participant in life rather than live with ill-considered decisions. She gave me the information I needed to do this.
I went back to school that next week and inquired about how to get permission, a requirement there at the college. I met with Glenn, the organizer of such events and he suggested I become president of The Coalition of Concerned Students, an almost defunct organization under which I could operate. It sounded like more than I wanted to get involved in, but he assured me it could be as involving as I wanted it to be. I then met with a man named Chick, who was president of the student body, explained to him my little plan and away I went. I received the bracelets under the auspices of the national organization, organized a meeting for interested parties, and set up a table just outside the student union, the place where everyone showed up sooner or later to hang out, grab a bite to eat, or do some last minute cramming for an exam. Three people from the meeting helped sell bracelets, each of us according to our class schedules. Like most things it got off to a slow start but it picked up a little bit of steam and we were off and running. I couldn't tell you now how many we sold but it was several hundred. As we sold them, I sent money orders back to the national organization to keep the fires stoked and us in bracelets.
We received coverage in the student newspaper with my picture and a story told from my youthful perspective. Our goal was to bring this to the forefront of people's minds, bring a greater awareness to a heartbreaking aspect of the war and to honor those who had entered a war either by what I saw as a misguided choice or by an even more misguided draft, which had resulted, for them, in horrific consequences. The week the story appeared I was approached by a childhood friend who said she'd attended school there for four years with nary a bit of notice and I was, "of course," in the student newspaper the first month out. It was my first glimpse into how others saw me. And, it was the first time I felt my inner life recognized by someone other than me.
The Coalition of Concerned Students went on for awhile, but my desire for involvement waned as the war ended and although much needed to be done for those who were still prisoners of war and missing in action, my life went in other directions, mostly concentrating on my small family and my education. As much as I loved learning, I still had a lot to learn about myself. Eventually, I put my two bracelets in a jewelry box and there they remained.
For a reason I cannot call up today, yesterday this came to mind and I found myself wondering about these bracelets again. I needed to be reminded. I found a link that provided a history and additional links where one can find out what happened to those whose name appeared on an individual bracelet. It was helpful in recalling these events and in remembering my initial desire to act outside my own little sphere of thought.
My two bracelets bear the names of Spec. 5 James Klimo and Maj. Kenneth Cordier. Kenneth Cordier went on to fill a slim role in the last Bush administration acting as an advisor on a veteran's steering committee. He also participated in the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign which sought to discredit Senator John Kerry during his bid for the presidency. And that's all I'll say about that.
It sometimes feels as though we suffer from collective amnesia, both short and long term, forgetting that American citizens are still fighting in other countries for causes none of us truly understand and most don't agree with. While still living in Santa Fe, I made the decision to end my near Luddite ways and enter the spooky world of technology via computers. The local internet company sent out a technician to set up my service. We visited a bit as he went about his business. He shared with me that he was a disabled vet who had lost much of his lung capacity. He said he had served in Iraq twice and once in Afghanistan. He would not, because of his injury, be returning with his unit to yet another tour in Iraq. Tour, what a ridiculous word to describe what they are called to do. Interesting, isn't it, how the war machine, the military-industrial complex, has hijacked positive terms for far less than positive reasons? It puts a velvety little spin on their widespread shenanigans and the true cost of war, the lives of real people.
This man did not have a favorable opinion, shall we say, about our then president, Mr. Bush, and what appeared to be his complete inability to put a human face on war. This man was bitter. But, he also had a quiet and very nice energy that was palpable to me. I found myself crying as I talked with him, hearing a brief version of his story and his feelings around what was happening in our country. As he left that day, he turned at the top of the driveway and flashed the peace sign. I was left to think about the many who are not just physically maimed by war, but those who bear the silent and almost unbearable psychic scars caused by what they've seen, what they've endured.
I don't know why this story came forward today, why I feel called to write it down, but I would like to share a video with you about the reality of war. It does contain some graphic images, but it is accompanied by music that speaks to our hearts and souls, our "better angels," as Lincoln called them, and gives us hope. We should not turn away from these images. In doing so, we lose sight of how important it is that we make changes in how we deal with our global community, a community with whom we may not always agree, but with whom we must find common ground, a common ground that does exist if we take the time to see it.
I hope you will watch, and even more important listen to, what I see as the only approach to this story, a story old as time. I don't mind being called naive. I think these times call for naive hearts to step forward and claim for the world not only what is possible, but essential.
How many times are we going to pose the question, "If not now, when?"
Spec. 5 James Robert Klimo, from Muskegon, Michigan, began his tour of duty in South Vietnam on November 3, 1969. On November 4, 1969, he and three others were returning to base when the helicopter they were in ran into trouble, apparently not hostile in nature. An extensive six day search revealed nothing. His status was changed in 1978 from MIA to "died while missing." His name is on The Wall: Panel 16W Line 030. He was 19 years old. It was his second day "in country." His body, along with those of his fellow crewmembers, is still missing...