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When Will We Ever Learn?

by Barbara Mullen --


I haven't cried about Vietnam in a long time but I have lately. I lament the fact that there are war casualties like me and my children everywhere in our country who get up every day trying to act as if a war hasn't changed their lives forever.

My husband, USMC Lt. Col. (a Captain then) William F. Mullen, left for Vietnam in May, 1965, with his A4E squadron from El Toro, California. Our two boys were 2 1/2 and 4 when they waved goodbye to their father that day.

His plane was shot down twelve months later on April 29, 1966, two weeks before he was to come home. He was listed as MIA, a presumed POW, for 10 years until May 1976, when he was declared killed in action.

About six years ago intelligence from former North Vietnam military officers confirmed to our Defense Department that my husband’s parachute had carried him straight down into a North Vietnam Headquarters on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. Since then the Defense Department has located a grave where eventually the North Vietnamese buried him.

I grieve for all those who survive wars and for the struggles they will face way past the time others will remember their sacrifice. And also for the way they and their loved ones will be expected to endure physical and emotional disabilities and even death as though their hearts have not been sliced in two.

Which is why I am so sad that John McCain, an aviator like my husband, shot down in war, continues to pursue an indeterminate victory in Iraq in spite of the terrible casualties this will cause.

Just think how many lives we'd have saved by leaving Vietnam earlier; perhaps even in time for my husband, a presumed POW, to be released as John McCain was lucky enough to be.

In addition to John McCain's stand on wars since Vietnam, he has turned his back on the POWs who were left behind after the Vietnam Peace Accords that did not mention the servicemen, mostly pilots, who were captured during the "secret war" in Laos.

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My husband and an estimated 400 plus aviators were shot down, many captured and later buried by the North Vietnamese along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and elsewhere in Laos -- so many, in fact, that although my husband's grave was found more than five years ago, the list for returning the remains of these POWs is so long they will not excavate my husband's grave for at least three more years.

When McCain was released with those POW's "fortunate" enough to have been shot down in North Vietnam, he had no idea what had happened to the aviators, including my husband, who, flying the same Navy/Marine Corps aircraft, an A4E, as McCain and shot down by the same adversary.

The only difference between them being a matter of mission, one over North Vietnam, the other over Laos. When John McCain returned from Vietnam however he refused to talk about the men left behind even though we families begged him to do so.

Since then he has balked at all efforts to find out how long they lived or how they died. Is McCain a hero? I say not since he was released and not as heroic as those he has refused to acknowledge.

Personally I am also fed up with McCain using his former POW status as a means of winning elections and continuing an unnecesary and costly war in Iraq - especially while he continues to vote against bills in congress that support veterans.

I will not vote for John McCain. How could I?

Barbara Mullen

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