Reporting for Duty in Vietnam

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Sure, John Kerry took it in the neck for telling voters he was “reporting for duty.” His brand of high-minded earnestness will forever be an easy mark for the kind of right-wing nastiness that has done so much to debase political discourse over the past decade and that has helped put our country in such peril.

But Kerry—like Al Gore—did report for duty, in the midst of a mightily unpopular war that was killing dozens of American soldiers and many dozens of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians on both sides of the conflict every week, week after week. You know he could have easily used his wealth and connections to take the same soft way out that country club tough guys like Bush and Cheney and Pearl and Wolfowitz and Bolton followed. But he didn’t. He showed up and did what it seemed that his country asked him to do. And, to flatter myself no end by the association, so did I.

But then, after I’d gotten out of the hospital in Denver, spent the remainder of my stint as a citizen soldier training others like me how to survive, and participated in anti-war protests when I returned to college, I went AWOL—from politics, certainly, if not from adult responsibility entirely. Okay, I voted most every election and even worked briefly on a Bella Abzug campaign before it all seemed so pointless. But I felt betrayed.

I had followed my father’s footsteps into war thinking I was bringing my generation’s version of freedom and democracy to our chosen corner of the world (hey, I was 19 and drinking more than my share), only to see time after time that the war—just like the war my fellow soldiers are fighting in Iraq—had nothing to do with the virtues I had been raised to believe America embodied. I was heartbroken, and doubly heartbroken later when it seemed that the protesters around me on those college campuses were much more intent on saving their own skins and to hell with the black and brown and red and redneck skins of the kids who fought beside me in the Mekong Delta. So I went AWOL. Screw you all, I said more than once.

But then John Kerry, bless his patrician heart, brought me back—or rather, it was the vile Swift Boat attacks on Kerry’s honor that made me angry enough to get involved. I’d spent a quarter century helping run a halfway house for homeless alcoholics and addicts, many of them veterans like me, thinking somehow that I could take a pass on politics altogether. But those attacks on Kerry, they triggered something.

So, with my wife Sharon, I got involved. And what a fine ride it’s been. Tuesday night, at Anthony Portantino’s celebration at El Cholo’s, with the marvelous results rolling in, folks like you and me standing up to idiocy of the warmongers in Washington, I felt a renewed pride in being an American.

Right. It’s just one election and our newly elected Democratic candidates haven’t taken office, much less done anything with their seeming mandate. But what if we took the zillion dollars we’re blowing in Iraq day in and day out and spent them instead on, say, creating a Marshall Plan for Latin America to build vibrant economies there, a First World healthcare program for all our citizens, solutions to the homelessness and poverty all around us here in Los Angeles… Well, it’s something worth getting out of bed for. And with so many of our neighbors not even bothering to vote, we better get out of bed early, right?

Dick Price

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