Over the past month I have read the responses to our country's action in the Persian Gulf and the reaction to those from our country who chose to demonstrate against the administration, and to urge for peace.
I also have encountered criticism from friends, co-workers and some of the public, regarding my participation in the demonstration for peace and the candlelight walk for peace.
I have been hesitant to respond, for I knew before I chose to take the position I did, that I would and could expect a certain amount of negative comments.
However, while talking to the wife of a fellow Vietnam veteran, who, along with his family, I have come to love and respect, I learned that he was having a hard time reasoning why I would be involved in a peace demonstration.
Also, another lady whom I considered a friend, was upset with my participation in the demonstration, as her son is serving in the gulf.
Therefore, this is as much an explanation to them as it is to you and your readers.
When first contacted about the demonstration for peace, I was asked whether I would be willing to participate or whether I knew of any Vietnam veteran who would be interested. My initial response was that most veterans I knew, myself included, did not place "peace demonstrations" among our top priorities. I then was asked to come to Catonsville Community College and speak to the Whole Earth Society, an activist group comprised of students and adults. I agreed.
You see, like mostVietnam veterans, when I hear the phrase "peace demonstration," I feel the emotions of disgust, anger and betrayal. I remember the way U.S. service personnel were treated upon their return to the real world, during and after the Vietnam War. And I wanted no part in that kindof movement.
In the weeks before the meeting, I had many occasions to reflect upon my true feelings. I had time to examine and evaluate what I felt in my heart. I also had the time to consider the reasons I had been objecting to the administration's policy on Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.
So, as you can see, it was not an easy decision for me, when I decided to participate in "The Demonstration for Peace." Although some of the participants and I have disagreed over the years, we did share one hope in common -- that a peaceful solution to the gulf crisis could be found.
I also was assured that the demonstration would be peaceful, that no one would be burning the flag, and that no one would be criticizing our troops. The unanimous feeling was that we supported our troops and were working for their safe return by urging for a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the crisis.
I can assure you that those who participated in the "Demonstrationfor Peace" and "Candle Light Walk" are patriotic, respect the flag and are proud to be Americans. To stand up for their ideals and principles the way the young men and women did, along with the rest of us, knowing that we would face ridicule and criticism, shows me that their generation will continue to assure the democratic principles of America.
As for me, I have seen the horrors of war: the death (civilian and military), the injuries (physical and emotional), the grief (for those lost) and the pain (of those left to carry on).
To quote my closing remarks, from the dedication of our county's Vietnam Veterans Memorial:
"First, we hope that this memorial, as well as similar memorials across the state of Maryland and this great nation of ours, will cause us to reflect on the Vietnam War, our mistakes from that war and the cost in human lives and suffering.
"We hope that those that lead our nation and the leaders of the other nations of the world learn to settle their differences peacefully.
"Finally, we have a wish for our brothers and sisters who served in Vietnam, and the families and friends gathered here today, and it is this: to honorthose whom we knew and loved, remember that we were spared to carry on. Live every day as though you were living for two.
"Work in your communities for peace, understanding and a better world for generations to come. Replace the pain, the tears and the anger with love andcompassion for the families and friends gathered here today, and foreach other. For only then will our healing be complete."
I did not compose the words above as pretty words for a memorial ceremony only to be forgotten, but rather to convey to those present what I felt in my heart.
I did not want to see this nation of ours suffer the horrors of another war, nor did I wish to see any family suffer the agony and pain that war can bring, again. I felt it my responsibility and duty to speak in favor of sanctions and a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
As stated to the press following the president's decision to begin military action, the die is cast. I believe that now it is our responsibility to support our men and women serving in the gulf.
I will not be participating in any further peace demonstrations. I further stated that I will work to see that the MIAs and POWs created by this war are accounted for, and not forgotten.
In closing,I would remind your readers that to question our leaders and to stand up for peace through demonstrations or any other peaceful or constructive way, does not make one a traitor or unpatriotic.
I will continue to pray for peace and for the men and women serving our country, as well as their families.
Richard F. Will Sr. is a Vietnam veteranand Westminster resident.