Meditations / No Direction Home

Meditations / No Direction Home

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing


 – Edwin Starr

This piece for Veterans Day is excerpted from Jim McGarrah’s memoir (see below), which reminds us of the extreme and life-threatening experiences regularly faced by our men in arms.


Meditations on the Jungle Ambush

There were nights in Vietnam, long strands of time tied together with a thin wire of fear when you could almost hear the full moon keening as it rose to wait for death. These periods of semi-darkness were called midnight ambushes. The thick humid air outside carried the dark inside with every breath you took. It replaced the brightness in your soul that had leaked out the very first time you squeezed the trigger on your M-16 in your very first firefight. Sometimes people in your field of fire died. Sometimes you knew it, especially when the moon was high. It reflected the loneliness of war by casting a dim shroud of fluorescent light over dead bodies. Other nights, when no one came your way, its sugared glow tempted you to forget that each one of these ambushes held the prospect of your own oblivion by sniper’s bullet, trip wire, or bouncing betty.

Therein lay the ambivalence that made you crazy. Beauty began with absence and so did death. Without the click of a rifle bolt sliding home, the mechanical thump of helicopter rotors, the squawk of a PRC-25 radio, the rain of shrapnel through the banyan leaves, the smell of cordite, and the taste of blood, you could almost believe the oblique and ductile brightness was a romantic and buoyant fire instead of the cold reflection of horror through the lifeless clouds. 

This, more than anything else, described the experience of Vietnam and the evolution of bitterness in your heart. The jungle sucked you into an unearthly calm but never without the knowledge of the coming storm that, when you least expected it, would explode in soul-shredding blood lust and at the same time, terror. This constant pressure on the edge of expectation split your psyche so much that if you came back from enough patrols, you reached a state of numbness. You became a man who wore the shroud of victim one minute and of villain the next without the clarity of mind to accept either as your lot in life. If you lived through a tour of duty and came home, this anesthetized state of nonbeing came with you. There was nothing you cared about any longer because there was no you left to care.

The numbness came at different times and in different ways for everybody and it presented itself with bizarre delusions. For me, I became indifferent to life about four months into my tour as if it were a state of wholeness reserved for the blessed and out of my reach. I became indifferent to death at the same time as if it were a state of emptiness reserved for the weak, not something that could touch me utterly and finally at any point. Some called this vacant spot in the gaze of a combat weary survivor the thousand yard stare. It was a sign that the mind had begun to ooze a protective film of disinterest over anything that resembled a “feeling.” I owe an encounter with a single spent bullet for that false epiphany.

I don’t remember the spot exactly, just that it was somewhere southwest of our normal patrol pattern. We drifted into that darkest time when night is ending and dawn has yet to arrive without so much as crossing paths with humans, ducks, water buffalos, vipers, monkey, toucans, or even a stray dog that had managed to escape the stew pot. The silence was nerve-wracking.

Across an interlocking series of rice paddies and several clicks from our current position on the perimeter of the village where my Combined Action Platoon lived and worked, the army had set up a huge base camp for an artillery unit that could pound off fire missions for miles in any given direction. The small units of Viet Cong that plagued villages like ours stealing resources from and terrifying the locals refrained from hitting the army base during the day and with little more than an occasional sapper team exploring the concertina wire that ringed the place at night. This made sense given the size of the camp and the fire power at their disposal. The problem was never the enemy for us during these brief and tiny encounters, but rather with the abundance of supplies given they army. As marines, we were used to working with what little we had in any given situation. On the other hand, these guys responded like it was the Fourth of July at every opportunity knowing they would never run low on ammo.

I walked point and the air was so wet I seemed to be swimming through it. I had unbuttoned my flak jacket hoping I could cool my sweat-drenched upper body. An open flak jacket happened to be against regulations, but I figured heat stroke probably broke some ridiculous regulation as well. Flak jackets didn’t stop 7.62 mm. rounds fired at close range from an AK-47, and that’s what happened at night anyway. They barely stopped slow-moving shrapnel. For an instant my bare chest began to dry and then started to sweat again. But, for that singular speck of time, I shuddered a wave of relief, not only from the heat, from all of it. The boredom, fear, exhaustion, confusion, anticipation, hunger, rage, pain, and sorrow, the constant baggage that I hauled around everywhere I went in Vietnam—poof!—a fog burned away by the heat of clarity, of taking a simple breath beneath a stunning ceiling of indigo speckled with stars.

“Hey Mac.” A whisper worked its way up from the middle of the squad as we snaked around a hedge row. “Marty says button your fucking jacket.”

Then, it was gone, all the beauty destroyed by the low static of a human voice. The ugliness of reality returned. Boy, did it return. All hell broke loose on the perimeter wire of the army base. M-60 machine guns rattled in the distance like hot rain on a tin roof. M-79 grenade launchers slapped the air followed by the thump of mortars. Huey Gunships rose vertically from the helipads and began a torrent of tracer fire from their electric mini-guns. The sky burned with flares. The paddies in front of us and the base camp beyond glowed in the eerie light. It was all visible, like the fireworks display at the Gibson County Fairgrounds where my father took me every year. And, it was all outgoing. No sign of enemy troops appeared near the camp. Maybe an animal had stumbled into the wire, or maybe a single sniper had fired off a round at someone stepping from the light into the shadows. As always, the response was devastating to the dirt and a few trees.

I could hear the chuckles from the rest of my squad. As we stood to return to the outpost after an uneventful night patrol, the grey light of dawn drove the darkness downward into the earth. “You think that outfit has ever actually ever killed any gooks?” Marty spoke loud enough for me to hear as we moved along the edge of the tree line. A sharp pain shot across my breast just above my heart, a sting from some venomous creature of the night. I had never buttoned my flak jacket. Slapping the spot instantly, I felt something hard, something not alive, in my right hand. It was lead. A spent bullet found its way across time and space. The army had shot me.


Obviously, the bullet had lost its momentum and tumbled in impotence from heaven. I have no idea who fired it. It appeared to be the projectile from an M-16. It did no physical damage beyond a small red welt that disappeared in a few hours. Yet, the wound has stayed with me for fifty years deep in my mind beneath the scar tissue of war. On quiet nights, when the dead visit, I greet them with respect and we talk. They speak of the loneliness of their fate and I speak in awe of mine.


No direction home

I was lucky. I came to believe the war had been a criminal act by my government almost immediately on my return. That belief allowed me to return to the role I felt most comfortable in as a misdemeanor outlaw. Rebelling against the Establishment gave me the opportunity to perform a sort of penance and relieve some of my guilt. Oh, I had problems for many years but not nearly as severe as friends my age who tried their best to justify the war and integrate back into society as our fathers had done in World War II. It took decades for some of them to understand the true cost of these foreign policy adventures urged on by corrupt politicians and controlled by corporate interest. Many Americans ignore this cost still because we have an all-volunteer army to pay it for them. It’s similar to the old Catholic practice of buying indulgences, except it’s currency is blood and sanity.

The true cost of war is measured by intimate knowledge of blood and fire, lifting seared flesh and unattached limbs from the broken rubble of homes and schools, digging graves for mothers and babies still warm in the womb. However, the true crime of war is quantified not by death or money only but through the misery of its living participants after the fact—the emotional turmoil, the survivor’s guilt, the grief, the nightmares, the pathological dysfunction of homeless Veterans, the missing arms and legs, and the vacant souls. The families of Veterans often end up broken as well, expecting their returned hero to be the same man or woman who left them for war.

I’m a story teller by trade and by spirit. Let me tell you a story. I have a very close friend, a good man, a family man, an intelligent man who paid a dear cost for his service to his country. As a matter of fact, he is paying still. My friend played football at our high school and played it very well. I believe he might have gone on to some serious university team if he had been blessed with no conscience. But, we were all from Southern Indiana, a place where God was good in 1968 and commies were the spawn of Satan. They hid under every rock. They lurked in every shadow.

“Good guys never died, they just rode off into the sunset . .”


Like many of us, my friend watched a lot of John Wayne movies and from them developed a celluloid sense of duty. By that, I mean he built an emotional construct based on Hollywood rather than reality. Good guys wear white hats. Good guys—meaning patriotic, conservative, Nixonian Republican, white Christians—always won. Good guys never died, they just rode off into the sunset with a beautiful submissive woman draped across the saddle.

Believing what he had been taught from infancy forward, my friend fulfilled his responsibility and enlisted in the Army. He became an outstanding helicopter pilot in Vietnam, a treetop flyer, skimming over the jungle and bravely out maneuvering the .50 caliber machine guns of the Viet Cong. He had one job, carrying young boys into battle and ferrying their torn, lifeless bodies from the battlefield back to some rear area morgue. Oh sorry, two jobs. Then, he had to flush the blood out of his helicopter with a water hose. Week after week, month after month, his life evolved into days of loading and unloading dead boys and nights of drinking whiskey to forget the days. He never got wounded. He never killed anybody. He simply stacked up men who were already dead like he threw hay bales into the barn loft on those Indiana summer days between semesters of high school.

Coming home, he did what many others did and carried on the illusion of normalcy. He went back to college, got a job, got married, and started a beautiful family. Most of that went on during the day. His nights were given over to the dead and to the one thing that buried the dead for him in Vietnam, alcohol. Years went by; bottle after bottle was drained dry and still the dead refused to stay buried. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder didn’t exist anywhere in the 1970’s except in the minds of Vietnam Veterans. The government refused to acknowledge it and the VA doctors blamed the nightmares, the rage, the substance abuse and fear of intimacy, the inability to focus, the clinical depression and flashbacks on other non-military causes. It was cheaper that way. My friend didn’t have a problem with his memories of war, not really. He simply couldn’t handle the stresses of his job and his marriage. Stuff happens, right?

Eventually, he drank enough vodka and scotch that leaving for work in the morning was no guarantee for his family that he would return home in the evening. Sometimes, he stopped for a quick cocktail and woke up in a different town three or four days later with no knowledge of where he was or how he got there. Then his liver began to fail. This probably saved his life. By the time he ended up in the VA hospital, various government bureaucrats and medical people had begun to admit that maybe, just maybe, war might create residual problems for those who lived through it. Maybe the mind wasn’t meant to look at what extreme and random violence forced it to see.

I was lucky, as I mentioned earlier. I went back to school but joined anti-war organizations. I became a social activist and then a drug-addled dropout. Something in my brain finally clicked and I took flight in my mind. After years of struggle, I received a BA degree and in two more years I completed two graduate programs and began writing books and teaching.

My friend, not so much. He was, he is, smarter than me and in many ways a better person than me. But, his PTSD will not allow him to finish anything he starts. I don’t know why. No one can answer that, no doctors or preachers or even my friend. He went back to college in mid-life, as I did. He sat in a classroom and made A’s till the last couple of weeks of the semester and then withdrew from every class. It wasn’t a matter of work interfering because he isn’t able to work a steady job anymore.

He kept too busy thinking about questions that have no answers. How did he live through war when so many men didn’t? Why does he deserve happiness and success? What makes him any better than all those bodies he still carries in his mind? This is called survivor’s guilt and it’s part of the cost combat veterans who continue to live must continue to pay. It’s the result of criminal behavior by cowardly politicians.

I haven’t seen my buddy in over five years, but the last time I saw him I was in his town signing copies of a new book. I met him at a bar. Yes, he was drinking again after ten years of sobriety, but he assured me only an occasional cocktail before dinner and maybe just one or two after. Everything was under control. The kids had survived adolescence and gone to various colleges to form lives of their own. Now that he could rattle around an empty house, putter in the garden, and read books without interruption, he felt well enough in his mind to handle drinking again. This is what he said, but both of us knew the truth. In the absence of the daily chaos involved with raising children and simply living, the dead were beginning to seep back into his consciousness, resurrected by loneliness.

Don’t get me wrong. This seems like a very sad story, but it has good elements along the way. It’s a simple analogy on behalf of a new generation of young Americans who have been fighting longer than any military in our history.

Sent into battle by a new generation of politicians most of whom evaded the Vietnam War, these young men and women serve multiple deployments in fierce, mind-altering, situations. If they live to return home, they face demons that only other combat veterans can truly understand—the highest suicide rate in military history, an unemployment rate double the national average, overcrowded psychiatric services and unsure treatment methods for PTSD, families that now see them as dangerous strangers, a public almost completely indifferent to their struggles, and a political system unafraid to use them for personal and corporate agendas. This is what real crime looks like, and it is not a misdemeanor.

This is an excerpt from Misdemeanor Outlaw, a memoir published By Blue Heron Bookworks in 2017.
It is available on Amazon and by order from your local bookstore.

The Value of Accountability

The Value of Accountability

It was Halloween and 1961. The stars aligned over America to make a Catholic man named Kennedy president and put Alan Shepard in space. Elsewhere, construction started on the Berlin Wall and The Bay of Pigs invasion failed to depose Castro in Cuba.

 A company named Pampers introduced the first disposable diaper. The Shirelles had a number one single (i.e. 45 rpm vinyl record) entitled “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” The Orient Express made its last rail excursion between Romania and Bucharest, and the first Six Flags theme park opened in Arlington, Texas. Many other notable occurrences in medicine, politics, and technology popped up in the headlines of our local newspaper that year. Perhaps the most notable for my future was this one—United States Becomes Directly Involved in Military Action in Vietnam.

But on Halloween night, I had no interest in any of these things. My head exploded with images of popular movie antiheroes, especially their archetypal moral relativity and questionable behavior. Think Brando in On the Waterfront or Bogart in We’re No Angels or James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. Rules were meant to be broken. What was once right was now wrong and what was once wrong, if not altogether right, was acceptable. This type of protagonist behavior was nothing new. It had been around since Shakespeare wrote his tragedies. The difference nested in the fact that it began to seep into mass cultural mores through films in the 1950’s only to become a conventional value during the 1960’s cultural revolution.

I felt quite often as a newly evolved teenager that life was “unfair.” Vowing secretly to make society pay for forcing consequences on my pubescent actions even though my actions were mostly inconsequential, I entered the shadows of anti-ism as night fell over my town. The perfect ambience of a full moon, a slight chill in the breeze, the incense of ash and smoke from the burning piles of leaves in front of homes along Water Street and up and down Gibson, Seminary, and Race, the squeals of small children dressed in bizarre costumes bought at Murphy’s Five & Ten on the city square as they went door to door collecting Milk Duds and Milky Ways, and the twisted shadows of trees backlit by the yellow glare of a few dim street lights filled me with adrenaline and angst. It was the right formula for trouble. I met my good friend Bobby at the football field by Lowell School and we walked along Water Street as dusk melted into darkness.

“What are we gonna do tonight?” asked Bobby.

“Something between now and nine o’clock. I have to be home by then.”

Damn, your dad is strict. My only rule is if I get arrested don’t tell them my real name.”

Bobby’s homelife was considerable freer than mine, and my father didn’t want me to associate with him for that reason. One of his favorite Bible quotes can be found written in Proverbs—bad associations spoil useful habits. Don’t misunderstand me here. My father was no Bible-thumper. He happened to know that quote from listening to my mother lecture him about playing poker all night at the Elks Club. But my dad didn’t know my friend, not really. Bobby lived to follow, not lead. A decent kid with no great mental acuity and a wiry athletic build, he simply enjoyed the company of others who told him what to do. My father’s bias seemed based more on the fact that Bobby’s father had ended up in court a couple of times for misdemeanor crimes like drunk and disorderly. Oh, I forgot to mention. My own father had been recently elected city judge and presided over such matters. Our family’s reputation mattered.

As we contemplated the evening’s activities, Bobby and I sauntered past a small business that made and engraved headstones for the recently departed. The place was randomly located. It stood on the corner of the intersection of two residential streets. There were no other businesses anywhere near the square brick building. We carried bars of Ivory soap in our pockets for bare windows anywhere, and this closed business provided a perfect conjunction of opportunity and motive. Unfortunately, we arrived too late. Unknown criminals had preceded us and streaked the huge plate glass display windows facing the sidewalk. “Frankenstein Lives” “Dracula Sucks, But So Does Your Mom” and the ever popular “Fuck You” among other profound and pithy adolescent quotes graced the glass.

Dismayed, but not discouraged it was at this point in time and at the age of thirteen I became a true vandal, an anti-hero in the best celluloid tradition, a rebel without a cause, a traveler on the road of bad judgments. But the burst of adrenaline that flowed through my veins could not be denied. Whoever owned the business left a row of unetched marble and granite tombstones on display along the sidewalk in front of the building assuming they were too heavy to steal or the black market for tombstones was limited, I guess. What jewelry fence would want to move a big blank rock?

“Let’s play dominoes,” I said.


“These things are stacked close enough together that if we push the one on the end, they’ll all fall over,”

“Where’s the fun it that?”

“The fun comes in the morning. The guy will have to get a crew to stand them all back up. We can ride over on our bikes and laugh at them working.”

“That sounds pretty dumb.”

“I admit it’s not my best idea, but it’s all I got on short notice, and we can’t go home tonight without doing something. What kind of outlaws do nothing?”

We did it. Who in the hell knew rocks would break?

As the stones toppled one against the other, they picked up momentum. When the last two collided the corners of each chipped off. The one that ended on the bottom between the whole pile and the sidewalk split like a watermelon dropped from a fruit truck.

“Oh shit,” Bobby whispered.

“Oh shit,” I answered.

We ran along the side of the building and down Seminary street between a row of framed houses. Lights still illuminated a few of the porches. Grey shadows flickered out living room windows from a few others where TV’s glowed with colorless action. Parked cars sat empty and with soapy windows while strands of toilet paper dangled from trees like icicles. The moonlight outlined a world void of other people. Our breathing rasped against the silent night air with a heavy melody of fear punctuated by the bass drum thump thump thump of Converse sneakers along the concrete sidewalk as we ran. Behind us a car crawled slowly down the street and from the driver’s side door the steady beam of a high-intensity spotlight pierced the hedges and shadows between the rows of houses.

“It’s the cops. Someone must have called them,” squealed Bobby.

“We have to split up.”


“You hide behind the Collins house and stay there till they disappear. I’ll run back toward Lowell. There’s the creek behind the school with that huge drainpipe that runs under the football field and comes out on Hall Street. I can get home from there. The cops won’t follow and get their shoes wet even if they see me.”

This was in an era when small town police forces were staffed with Barney Fife and Andy Griffith impersonators, not Rambo wannabees.

“Call me tomorrow.”

He went east and I ran west, the police still searching shadows behind us.


Every year the local Knights of Columbus held a pancake meal at the K of C Hall to raise money for various charities. Adults bought tickets for their children that entitled the holders of said tickets to all the pancakes and sausage buried in lakes of maple syrup that you could eat. It was an orgy of hyperglycemia that left my senses satiated and sleepy after about three plates full of pancakes every year. That feeling of warmth and security flooded over me as I awoke the next morning under my own covers safely. Even though my belly was empty, my hunger was satiated. Confident that once I bragged about our mischief my outlaw reputation would be cemented among my classmates, especially the impressionable female ones, I began to dress for school.

My father had left for his business at 6A.M. as was his custom. He stopped every morning by the Palace Pool Room for coffee and a visit with some of the other early risers before unlocking his door at the auto dealership. He came back home on this day, something very unusual. It must have been a few minutes past 7 o’clock. I had just finished dressing for school and was about to grab my breakfast in the kitchen. He stopped me before I left my room.

“I didn’t get to talk with you this morning. How was Halloween last night.”

“Okay. Nothing special.”

“What did you do.”

“Well, I was supposed to meet Andy and Joe and Jerry at Greek’s, but they never showed up. So, I just walked around and watched the little kids collect candy, and then I played a few games of pool at the Palace with Mike before I came home.”

His face flushed a bright crimson, and he clenched his teeth. 

“Yeah, so what?”

“So once a week I hold city court and spend all morning listening to people lie about stuff like they weren’t really speeding, their wives have a black eye because they fell down the stairs, they only had two beers before they got stopped driving their car on the wrong side of the road, or they really meant to pay for something they had in their pockets when they walked out of J.C. Penney’s. It’s not the crimes they do. Those are minor. What bothers me most are the lies. Most of them don’t feel like they should be held accountable. I’m supposed to believe their stories and let them off. The witnesses, the police, everybody else, got it wrong. The problem is that when you get in a habit of lying about little things you also lie about big things. Soon, you start believing your own lies.”

“Yeah, dad. Liars are the worst. They should get everything that’s coming to them.”

At this point my father was apoplectic. His knuckles blanched as he tightened his fists. His eyes glazed over. He began to pace back and forth, rocking a little from side to side between the end of my bed and the wall.

“I’m glad you agree. Did you know the police arrested your friend Bobby last night?”

“Uh, no. What for?”

“Seems like some kids vandalized some stuff at the monument store, did a lot of damage and the police found Bob hiding under some bushes about a block away.”

“Wow. That’s a shame. Well, like you say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

Did you ever watch a moth get close to one of those bug-zapper lights they use to sell on late night TV infomercials? The poor moth can’t resist the pretty glow and then, it gets close enough that the electricity fries it before it can back away or change its direction.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, he wasn’t. But he was smart enough to sing like a canary to the police who then called me this morning.” 

I was caught. In my father’s house accountability was never an option. Lying was never a way to avoid accountability if you valued your life. Okay, that’s a bit hyperbolic. On the other hand, my father was never a man to be trifled with unless you were willing to be exposed for a fool. He had known the reality of this situation before ever entering my room, and I was offered the chance to redeem myself by honestly confessing the truth. My weakness and fear prevented my redemption. Yes, if I admitted the reality, I would have to be punished for my actions. However, by refusing to face the truth my punishment increased exponentially. My credibility was shattered. My father discovered that Bobby was not bad association for me, but vice versa. Most of all, the guilt upon realizing the layers of disappointment my mischief caused, not just to me but others as well, haunted me well past the end of my disciplinary sentence. I became aware of my own cowardice.

Lastly, I discovered I had a conscience, which has plagued me for the rest of my life and why I could never become a politician. I truly felt bad for my actions after the fact, not because I got caught but rather because I crossed a line between freedom and license. Freedom to do whatever I wanted was predicated on taking responsibility for what I did. I confused that with a license, or right, to simply do whatever I wanted no matter how it affected others. As I grew older and experienced more of the world in which I lived, I realized the importance of recognizing this difference. Many people never do. I’ve been lucky to have known people unselfish enough to help me in this regard despite that assistance being painful at times. I didn’t enjoy my father holding me accountable for my wanton stupidity. I had to work off 400 dollars’ worth of damage by washing cars, sweeping garage floors, and shoveling snow for three months of weekends without pay.

This event is, of course, a very minor blip on the road of life. It would not be worthy of much time and literary attention ordinarily, except for the fact that it helps me understand where my society has ended up in the 21st century and why. Many Americans are cowering in a darkened room metaphorically, afraid to admit the damage they have done to themselves and others by refusing to admit they are wrong when evidence corrects them, by believing opinions are more valuable than facts, by ignoring education as a way to correct false thinking, by assuming freedom means doing whatever you want regardless of the consequences to your neighbor, and by giving up a democratic form of government for a fascist one in order to keep their particular race in power.

Congress is full of minor vandals like that. Think of Louie Gomert, a sycophant who makes “Sling Blade” seem like a rocket scientist or newly elected Lauren Boebert, an arrogant little bimbo whose qualification for Congress seems to be flipping burgers, or Jim Jordan, whose only political skill is the ability to cover up for pedophiles. They are far from alone.

Many of my countrymen seem to have lost the ability to accept correction. Maybe “ability” is not the right word. Maybe what they’ve lost is the will. The movement toward license and away from responsibility as individuals has sped up our descent into arrogance and self-righteousness, especially over the last four years (i.e. 2016-2020). If we normalize violent behavior by attempting to destroy any reality we don’t like, I wonder how long before that cognitive dissonance minus accountability will end up tearing us apart. Because of the events on January 6, 2021 at the Capital Building in Washington, D.C. the American public now can demand that the elected fools involved, no matter what their status or rank, accept responsibility for the damage they did or be restricted through some type of punishment from ever doing it again. The cries from cowardly politicians of “I didn’t do anything” and “We need to move forward, not look back” and “My constituents might get mad at me” can no longer excuse their egregious actions since the presidential election of 2020.

The proud YouTube crowing of violently stupid citizens that have accomplished nothing but death and destruction of the very people and very institutions they claim to hold dear must be responded to with swift and just punishment, or I guarantee the behavior will repeat itself the next time their craven desires are rightly ignored. You cannot bring unity to a society by appeasing the bullies and depraved members in that society. Unity comes from a clear acceptance of what is simply right and what is simply wrong. Peacefully protesting injustice is a right granted by democracy. Violence with the intent of forcing your will on the majority is not.

I am a relative humanist, but an assault on the very bedrock ideals of our nation leaves little room for relative reflection in the aftermath.

Opinion and Truth Are Not Synonyms

Opinion and Truth Are Not Synonyms

Yesterday, a friend asked me what I thought of the participation of veterans in the events at the Capital Building in Washington, D.C. this past week beginning on January 6. He knows I am a veteran of the Vietnam war wounded in combat and that I was also active in the anti-war movement upon being discharged from the Marine Corps in 1969. He felt that made my opinion valuable. Maybe it does, or maybe not so much. But it is also worth a disclaimer, hence the title of this post.


What I write after this paragraph is my opinion. It may contain truth, but life is a big picture, a panoramic movie screen. It’s complex and nuanced and comprised of almost as many realities as individuals. That is my way of saying I don’t know everything and don’t pretend to understand all the intricate motivations that drove veterans into their actions.

First, let me interject something here. I’m bothered by comparisons of this event to Black Lives Matter and Antifa protests the past summer. Yes, looting and violence occurred during them. It has on the periphery of every major protest in this country that I know of, including when Indiana University fired Bobby Knight and when the University of Kentucky won its last NCAA championship. But the looters and the criminals this summer comprised a very tiny percentage of the whole, were most always outside the movements themselves, and some have been proven to be right-wing agitators.

More importantly, these protests and marches were held to correct injustice and discrimination, as were the civil rights and antiwar protests of the sixties. They were not initiated with violence in mind and with a desire to create an injustice, the overturning of a legal and proper democratic election.

The fact that Donald Trump lost the presidential election by more than seven million votes is not an opinion. It’s the unavoidable fucking truth. Let’s not compare apples to oranges or Jesus to Charley Manson.

That said, there were two groups of veterans active in D.C. during and immediately after the violent insurrection on January 6, 2021. One group of veterans, along with other deranged and mostly white people, intended malice and an undermining of the American government simply because they didn’t get their way in the recent election.

You don’t come, as one veteran did, with 500 rounds of ammo, several Molotov cocktails, and two pipe bombs to peacefully protest anything. You come to violently bend everyone else to your will. You come to kill, maim, and torture. Yes, that happens in wars every day, but read the soldier’s oath. When it happens, a soldier is supposed to be engaged in defending his government, not destroying it.

“Let’s not compare apples to oranges

or Jesus to Charley Manson.”

And, yes, you can peacefully protest as a veteran after the fact if you feel betrayed by the mission itself. Thousands of us did upon returning from an unjust war in Vietnam and thousands have continued in voicing their concerns in America’s pre-emptive wars to protect corporate interests in third world countries. I know because I traveled to D.C. myself in 2008 to march with Veterans for Peace to end the war in Iraq, one that we knew by then was being fought under false pretenses. No one brought any weapons, and nothing was damaged. We never broke formation. We made our voices heard and left.

This was not that on January 6th. If you’re honest and halfway sane, you know that. As a Marine my motto was and is “Semper Fidelis” always faithful to my oath, to my country, to the Constitution and to Marine Corps values—Honor, Courage, Commitment. That faithfulness also dictates a responsibility to criticize the humans who comprise the government and hold them legally accountable for their actions. What we, as veterans, remain faithful to are the ideals that create this government, not demagogues who seek to pervert those ideals for personal benefit.

The other motto that I tried to live by as a non-commissioned officer in combat was also from the Latin “Ductus Exemplo” or lead by example.



I took my son to that anti-war march in D.C. because I wanted him to see one of the tools our democracy gives us to help correct it when politicians lead it astray for personal agendas. Used correctly and peacefully, protest is a strong and viable means for change—see Mahatma Gandhi, see Martin Luther King. Again, this was not that.

Wiping shit on hallowed walls, killing police officers, breaking windows, threatening to hang a vice-president, and assaulting the very bedrock symbols of our nation in a mob riot because your favorite white guy didn’t win a legal election is actually the opposite of a legitimate protest.




The word for this is also treason. I repeat, veterans involved in the insurrection of January 6th betrayed their solemn oath to this nation.

On January 7th another group of veterans made themselves known in and around the Capital Building. These vets spent the day cleaning up trash, fixing broken things, and helping to restore order to a damaged democracy. I can say without hesitation that these are the brothers-in-arms whose company I prefer and who exhibit that quality of Ductus Exemplo that is so needed now in our government and our country. 

Will I stop my activism personally because of the stench and stain left by riotous fools on the ideals that I once fought and bled for more than fifty years ago? Will I stop criticizing with words and with my vote those corrupt and self-serving politicians who betray the same ideals as these deluded rioters? No.

My last venture into peaceful activity came in 2016. I was 68 years old and drove over a thousand miles to link arms peacefully with the Great Sioux Nation at Standing Rock reservation. Yes, there was violence there. People long abused by the politicians and corporations were attempting to stop a dangerous oil pipeline. Its only existence was for more profit from foreign buyers. However, the violence came from local law enforcement thugs and corporate mercenaries as they sprayed Native Americans with water cannons in sub-zero weather, shot them with rubber bullets, and crippled them with flash grenades while they stood in line quietly praying to their ancestors for guidance. After years of peaceful protests and sacrifice and after years of legal court battles, the Dakota Access pipeline was shut done.

I’m getting too old and physically damaged for that type of action now, but as long as my mind works, I will continue on the front lines figuratively, if not literally. But I will act in accordance with my values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment and remember that my actions should always be in harmony with the goal of maintaining the ideals that so many of my brothers have died to protect.

Semper Fidelis.