Beaucoup memories of Vietnam
By John Warren
BIG SANDY, Texas--My family and I had the pleasure of attending the Feast of Tabernacles in the Enchanted Circle of northern New Mexico at Angel Fire.
Before I get to my main point, I need to explain the lie of the land. Angel Fire is a tiny town nestled high in the southern Rockies. It's so small there is only one stoplight on the main drag. These days it comes alive during the winter because of beautiful ski slopes.
Before the days of condominiums and ski lifts, Moreno Valley was a quiet, high-country cattleman's dream. With Eagle Nest Lake and mountain streams beneath the shadow of Wheeler Peak, New Mexico's highest mountain, this would have been considered paradise by the rugged early pioneers. In this setting of a quiet valley surrounded by mountain slopes covered with ponderosa pine, aspen and spruce, we seemed insulated from the rest of the world.
This is a place where a man could jump on a horse and ride for days just to enjoy the beauty of nature or a fisherman could take his fly rod and lose himself in the peaceful challenge of trout fishing. Today there is an addition to this quiet valley.
First Vietnam memorial
The very first Vietnam War memorial was constructed here by Dr. Victor Westphall in memory of his 28-year-old son, who was killed in the war in 1968. The memorial built into the hillside, with a high gull-like, white structure that stretches 50 feet above the brow of the hill, is a haunting reminder of a time many Americans would prefer to forget.
After a few days of enjoying this idyllic setting, my wife and I paid a visit to this out-of-place edifice. Watching an hour-and-a-half video of actual war scenes, news reports and student protests in this memorial built from the pain and loss of a father for his fallen son was moving.
First Lt. Victor David Westphall III, USMC, first-born son of Victor and Jeanne Westphall, was killed in an ambush May 22, 1968, near Quang Tri that also claimed the lives of 12 other members of his platoon.
Fighting an effect
Flash back to 1971 and imagine the conflicted feelings of families like the Westphalls when our National Guard shot and killed student protesters at Kent State University.
Did my son die in vain? Wasn't the domino effect a worthwhile cause to fight in order to stop the spread of communism?
The war turned into hell at home. I was a junior in high school about to sign up for the draft and then wait to see where my number would be drawn in the lottery. I don't remember anyone back then running around with his finger in the air shouting "I'm No. 1!"
Today's juniors were born in 1983 and have never watched the nightly news showing clips of battle scenes followed by the number of GIs killed, wounded and missing in action.
I'm sure many of the older generation remember the Korean Conflict and World War II. A major difference with these military endeavors was public support. Maybe back then the news media were a little more controlled, or maybe the average citizen was more trusting of the government.
By the end of the Vietnam War all that had changed. Many of us have vivid memories of the pictures of little children running down the dirt road after a napalm blast burned their clothes off. We remember the war-crimes trials where our service men, instead of being heroes, were convicted of murdering helpless men, women and children.
At this point in U.S. history it seemed that our own soldiers became the enemy. As a result it seems like the new approach of the military is to wage a clean war with high-tech, long-distance assaults. Media control is handled by daily briefings and constant press releases. It seemed Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf, during Desert Storm, was more of a public-relations man than a military strategist. We learned how to put a happy face on war.
Back to the Feast
Enough about war. Let's get back to Angel Fire and the Feast, 8,000 feet above the problems of the real world. We look forward to a time when men will beat their spears into pruning hooks and not learn war anymore--a time when there will be no more memorials built by fathers in honor of sons killed in war.
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