Worlds: A Veteran's Experience
Dewey Canyon III:
Vietnam Veterans Against the War
In March, 1971, I received a phone call. Vietnam Veterans against the War was organizing a protest against the war and they wanted someone who had been a chaplain to lead a memorial service at Arlington. Would I do it? It was not an easy decision, but it was something I could not say no to. Before the spring was over, I had resigned my membership in the National Guard.
That spring was troubling for everyone. The memories of the Kent State killings were fresh, and here I was, Chaplain for a National Guard unit, the 115th Evacuation Hospital of the D. C. National Guard. As the weeks of protests approached and contingency plans were made to call out the Guard, tension rose. One evening the unit leadership assembled for a briefing, given by the unit's intelligence officer, who was a young second lieutenant. He clearly did not know much about the protests and found it confusing. As he spoke, adding one piece of mis-information to another, you could feel the tension in the room rise. When he was finished, I raised my hand and asked if I could make a few comments. At that point I had only spoken with my anti-war friends once on the telephone; all the information I had came from following the planned events in the newspapers. Based on that information I outlined the different groups that were involved, where they were coming from, what their key issues and objectives were, what might be expected. You could feel the tension in the room relax as it appeared there were facts and people that could be understood. I thought to myself thinking about the tension that had been in the room, "My God, I'll bet this is how Kent State happened."
Later that evening the Hospital Commander called me up and asked if I would take on additional duties as unit Intelligence Officer--in addition to being Chaplain. It seemed like it might be a useful role. But I told him, "there is something you should know. I will be doing a Memorial Service for Vietnam Veterans Against the War on April 19th." That alone was not so much a problem, but it was important to me to be with the others I had been in Vietnam with, in the same uniform we had worn in Vietnam -- jungle fatigues. Unfortunately, jungle fatigues are a military uniform, and they were not the prescribed uniform for the Military District of Washington in April 1971. If I remained in the Guard, yet wore jungle fatigues, I would be representing not myself but the U. S. Army, and doing a poor job of it. I could not become unit Intelligence Officer; I resigned instead.
The week, called "Dewey Canyon III", began on Monday April 19, 1971. Assembling on the Washington side of the Memorial Bridge, we marched across to Arlington, where I conducted the Memorial service.
Vietnam Veterans Against the War march to Arlington Cemtery, April 19, 1999
The Memorial Service was held outside the gates of Arlington Cemetery, which had been locked to keep us out.
0037 Gold Star Mothers at Memorial Service, Dewey Canyon III
0004 Wreaths for our Vietnam War Dead, outside Arlington's locked Gates
Dewey Canyon III, April 19, 1971
That week John Kerry, now Senator from Massachusetts, acted as VVAW's spokesman. There is a photo of him addressing the group. My friend Ed Chilton recalls that VVAW erected a wooden speakers platform on the mall, where Kerry is standing just before sundown; perhaps this was the speech concerning the park police initial refusal to let vets sleep on the Mall. The vets voted to sleep anyway and set guards out on a perimeter.
Ed Chilton has created a beautiful photo montage of Dewey Canyon III from the book, The New Soldier by John Kerry and Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
The Book The New Soldier contained a day by day chronology of the events of Dewey Canyon III.
On April 22, John Kerry gave a moving Statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Click here
for an abbreviated version of the same speech printed in The New Soldier.
On the day of the march, I was later told, the leadership of the DC National Guard including the unit for which I had been chaplain was watching events on commercial TV. Someone spotted me leading the Memorial Service and said, "There's our chaplain--whose side is he on, theirs or ours?" At that moment, the Personnel Lieutenant came into the room with my resignation letter.
My Brigade Commander from Vietnam had come back with just a year before retirement, and had been assigned duty as Regular Army advisor to the DC National Guard. The Guard leaders looked to him and said, "He was with you, what do you make of this?"
As I heard the story later, he looked them over from one side of the room to the other and said, "Well, he was there, I guess he ought to know. Any of you ever been to Vietnam?"
If you ever get a chance to read this, Col. Knight, thank you.
A month later I wrote a poem about the experience: Requiem for the Unknown Soldier
In May, VVAW asked me if I would conduct another service. This time the service was held in the chapel at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Injured and disabled veterans who were inpatients at Walter Reed were brought into the chapel in wheelchairs. This service included a place for individual prayers of public confession. Veteran after veteran took the floor to recount things they had done or seen for which they felt pain, sadness, guilt, remorse, and mostly anger. The enormity of what I heard was more than I could deal with. After that service in May 1971, it would be almost twenty years before I would do another memorial service for veterans.
After the service VVAW held a picnic in Rock Creek park. I met a young woman with a red cross bag and a vivacious six year old little girl. The woman would become my wife for over fifteen years, and the little girl and her husband have now given me three granddaughters.
September 21, 1971. U.S. reveals eight unanswered 1945 letters from Ho Chi Minh seeking aid against French colonial rule.
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©1999-2004 Jackson H. Day. All photos taken by Jackson Day unless otherwise noted. All Rights Reserved. Updated June 26, 2004. In 2004, this page, its photographs, and the accompanying material Ed Chilton has put together based on The New Soldier have caught sufficient attention that they have been copied without any credit to the following sites:
Hostile site: Ranger Bob's Command Post, in
association with "Vietnam Veterans Against John Kerry", an organization by Ted Sampley, a former Green Beret. It is sad that brother veterans, who might be expected to recognize that others who have faced the danger of combat for their country have, of all people, a clearcut right and duty to voice their opnions and tell their stories, instead have turned against their brother veterans to silence and discredit them.
Friendly Site: VVAW, 1971, by Dr. Charles Figley, a noted expert in treatment of PTSD.
Friendly Site: JW Anderson, VVAW-Minnesota.