On this Veterans Day, 2013, my mind goes back 44 years. Back to the summer of 1969, when I would rise most mornings before the sun was up, fuel my river patrol boat and, with my crew of three, head out through the headlands protecting Vung Ro Bay and onto the usually calm waters of the South China Sea.
Once there, I would cut the engines, and we would sit, smoking, or dozing or eating our C rations, and wait for the sun to come up over the horizon — a horizon set in the direction of home, a mystical place we referred to as The World.
I left Vung Ro sometime early the following December, and Vietnam for good on Dec. 9. I departed the Oakland Army Terminal the following day with my separation papers in one hand, $400 in cash in the other. That was the moment I consider the beginning of my adult life.
Today it is fashionable to thank veterans for their service. This is a proper and honorable thing to do. It is, I have to add, not something that occurred often in my day. But I don't say that as a complaint. My war was unpopular among most of my contemporaries — and, truth be told, among most of the soldiers I served with. So while I, for one, remain proud of my service, I harbor no illusions about the purpose of the Vietnam War — or, in fact, any war in general.
So pardon me if I refrain from all the flag-waving that the media delight in. In some cases I have no doubt such gestures are genuine. Many of my friends are using this day as an opportunity to express their love and admiration for loved ones who served. More power to them. But all around me, I also see those using veterans to promote a political, social and even commercial agenda — the same kind of agenda that George Orwell warned us against.
And so I will spend my day humming the little ditty I've embedded below, one that is steeped in ironic commentary. Penned by Country Joe McDonald, it remains a viable anthem for many of my era who believe that war is nothing to glorify, only to mourn.