It was not that long ago that I was outside a Walmart store in St. George Utah as I was in the process of returning my empty shopping cart. Just then a pleasant and friendly looking old gentleman approached me and said “I’ll take that” as he was entering the store.

He gave me a curious look and after a moment asked “What branch of service were you in?”

I replied “U S Marine Corp sir”.

He gave me a big smile and shook my hand saying “Semper Fi brother”.

The Latin words Semper Fidelis stand for always faithful or always loyal. That is the Marine Corps motto.

We chatted briefly as old vets often do. Turns out, even though he was a little older than me, we were both in the USMC right around the same time.

He told me his brothers followed him in and, luckily, they all made it through okay. He said that at the end of his stint the service tried hard to get him to reenlist but he told them flatly “Not a chance”.

I was struck by how after over fifty years he could still spot that look in my eyes, that been through hell and back look.

It was a dark time back then. More than fifty eight thousand U S servicemen gave up their lives in Vietnam, and for what? Some fifty percent of Marines who went there in the mid sixties never made it back alive. Many were boys who had not yet become men. Some were country boys from farms, some from small towns and some from cities. They had not long been shaving and out of high school. Girlfriends, families and their whole lives waited for their return. But they died in some steaming far off jungle for some made up senseless cause that we can’t even remember.

On the day I was inducted, our captain had us new recruits swear allegiance to honor, protect and defend the United States Constitution.

Looking back at it now I see that invading, conquering, occupying and destroying Vietnam had nothing to do with defending the Constitution of the United States. But it did help defend and support the military industrial complex as well as some politicians and bureaucrats in Washing DC.

Fast forward to today. Vietnam is our friend and trading partner. President Donald Trump visited there not very long ago with great fanfare. Not much, I would think, was mentioned during his stop there about the millions of lives lost on their side, many of them innocent civilians slaughtered in that violent madness.

They were trying to defend their homeland, their freedom and sovereignty from an invading enemy force.

When individuals act in such violent and barbaric fashion it’s looked at as criminal psychosis. When nations do so, well it’s somehow overlooked and rationalized. But the empty holes still remain in the hearts of their families. The lost and wasted lives still linger as a cold and emotional vacuum in society.

My new pal did not tell me of his life since discharge. But I’m sure he has a home, family that loves him, and has lived a productive and successful life. 

How lucky he has been that by the flip of a coin, so to speak, things turned out in his favor. He was in the right fifty percent bracket. He came home alive, not in a body bag.  His name is not engraved on some cold, black, marble wall somewhere.

These days I occasionally go to the VA for medical services. The place is full of old guys just like my friend and I. Quite a few use walkers and motorized wheelchairs to get around. So many have that look of having been used, abused, chewed up and spat out by the military machine.

The services I’ve received at the VA have been good. Sometimes they are a bit delayed due to bureaucratic procedures. But the staff overall seems kind and helpful. They say “Thank you for your service” and I don’t know what to say in return.

What seems so ironic to me is how they spend so much tax dollars on medical treatment and giving out drugs like candy. They try their best to keep us old guys functioning and continuing on. But in reality, they (the U S government) tried so hard to kill us when we were in our prime, our late teens and early twenties.

Some guys talk of where they’ve been and what they’ve done while in uniform. Many have a sense of pride about it all. I wish I did. I feel no glory or heroism. I see the products that a military produces as death, destruction and scorched earth. Napalm and agent orange did nothing to advance freedom and to promote democracy or goodwill for America.

Of course we would want to defend our homeland were there a real threat. When called to help, many would not hesitate to do so again, even today. But other countries should also have the right to defend their own borders and protect their sovereignty. 

Our ensuing wars since Vietnam have been equally brutal, senseless, totally wasteful of human life and treasure, not to mention demoralizing; one loss after another. Still they continue.

A military may be necessary for a nation’s security. But it should be limited to defending our freedom and sovereignty. Projecting power globally and being policeman of the world was never the original intent of the framers of the Constitution.

In my opinion, man is not by nature a savage warlike creature.

I did not want to be trained and conditioned to kill without a just cause.

I would much rather be seen as a man of peace.