Women Veterans

November 26th, 2007

Violet Hill Gordon definitely had a very unique perspective on war, especially because she was one of only forty African American women to join the army. She had a very positive view of the War too, which is probably rare considering the great deal of discrimination that was going on at that time. It surprised me how nonchalant she was about joining the service, and how she laughed during the interview at times that I wouldn’t imagine were actually that funny. She didn’t see much combat so I suppose that aspect didn’t affect her very much as we’ve seen in other veterans.

Rhona Marie Knox Prescott also had a distinctive perspective on war, being in the army nurse corps. Similarly to Gordon, she decided to sign up because a number of her friends signed up. This seems to be a reason a majority of people sign up, and we have seen it multiple times throughout the semester. Also, neither of them remembered any instructors from training, which the veteran I interviewed, Russell Hall, was listing off names like it was just yesterday that he was in Vietnam. Prescott also had an interesting perspective because she never was in combat, but treated the wounded soldiers who were. It must have been a life changing experience though because of all the casualties she saw and stress she had to cope with every day. The most difficult thing she talked about was how she essentially had to “play God” in deciding who they would treat first and whose injuries were the most life threatening. I also thought it was interesting how she talked about the letters she wrote home and how her family thought she was probably crazy because those things can’t really happen. It just further illustrates how people can’t really understand what is going on in war unless they too are over there fighting. Her un-welcoming homecoming was also typical I’m sure, as was her “furious” reaction to it. She also kept it all inside of her and didn’t show her emotions which seems to be common among veterans returning back.

Remembering War the American Way

November 15th, 2007

One thing that stood out in this reading was near the beginning where the author was talking about how they only put “Korea” on the headstones of the fallen soldiers, because they did not feel that Korea was actually a war. Both Vietnam and Korea have had similar problems in which they are sometimes referred to only as conflicts, but I do not feel that this is right. As long as people fought for their countries beliefs, I think it should be called a war. War is not an easy term, and people do not want to accept it, especially if there is resistance to it in the first place. However, if American soldiers die in this “conflict” it is worth the title of war. I find it sad that Korea vets got so little recognition for what they did, and they must feel like it was futile, especially after Korea got the name the “forgotten” war. This made me think of Iraq, and I think later, although it may be impossible to forget, many people will want to forget it because of how unsuccessful it has been.

Most of this reading deals with memorials for veterans, and focuses mostly on Vietnam and Korea memorials. Vietnam memorials sprung up much faster after the war was over, and Korean memorials were much slower, perhaps because it was the “forgotten” war.” The comparison of the Korean War Memorial plan to an “amusement park” was terrible, and I am glad that those plans were never followed through with.

The question posed in the Conclusion chapter, “can a modern nation-state exist without national rituals and monuments particularly those modernizing its wars?” is very interesting. I do not think it can, because veterans should be honored for their efforts in the various wars. The government has done very little to honor veterans in the past, and it has normally been up to veterans groups to be welcoming to the veterans. The least it can do is set up a memorial where people all across the country can come to honor them as one distinct group who fought for their country. Living right outside DC, I have been to almost all of the memorials there, and the Vietnam memorial is my favorite because of how it honors each individual name by engraving it in the wall. We should honor the veterans in this way, because after they all have died (like the author pointed out), there will be no other way to keep their name alive and we do not want them to be forgotten.

Wages of War Ch. 23-27

November 12th, 2007

First of all, I think it was a very good idea to read Ron Kovic’s Born on the Fourth of July before reading this, because it gave a good background and helped me to visualize more of what was going on in this more in depth reading about Vietnam. The veteran I interviewed also fought in Vietnam, and so all that leading up to this reading made it make a lot more sense and it was easier to comprehend.

In chapter 24, one thing that stood out was Calley’s invasion of My Lai, and how he was charged with the murder of all those people yet got very little punishment. I agree that there were others involved that should also have been held accountable, but that does not mean that Calley, who was in charge of it, should get off so easy. The graphic description of everything that went on at My Lai was horrific, and even shaped the way Vietnam was viewed by the world.

Chapter 25 was also eye opening, and I had never heard of Agent Orange before. Paul Reutershan’s story was very tragic, especially since even the VA wouldn’t listen to him most of the time. I might expect that kind of treatment from the government after all we’ve read, but certainly not the VA. Veterans truly had a terrible time after coming back from war, and disease was definitely not helping. Over the weekend I watched the movie Born on the Fourth of July, and found it to have an even greater impact on me and further enlightened me on the life of a veteran. Kovic’s experience was different than Reutershan’s who was different from Russell Hall’s (the man I interviewed) but none of them were easy. One of Reutershan’s quotes was “I got killed in Vietnam and I didn’t even know it” (370). I think this applies to everyone who fought in Vietnam, whether they were literally killed or wounded physically or psychologically—a little bit of them was killed and they are not the same person they were before they left.

Part 2: Born on the 4th of July

November 7th, 2007

Born on the Forth of July was definitely my favorite book we have read so far this semester, and I was very moved by Kovic’s story. I loved the way he started out with his feelings directly after being injured, then gave background into his life, and finally ended the novel in the same place he started. I felt like I was really able to connect to him and although I can never understand what he really went through, I got a glimpse into the pre-war, war and post-war life from his memoir.
Kovic’s entire life was truly a battle, and his war experiences in Vietnam, especially his injury, haunted him and affected him for the rest of his life. One part that particularly stood out to me was near the end of the novel when he was describing the day he was wounded, and how he had a feeling he was going to be hurt. However, this feeling did not scare him and he confronted the battle with extreme courage. He talked about how he actually wanted to get shot, so that he could go home with a purple heart and he honored for the rest of his life.
After reading the whole book, though, we know that his life was nowhere near that fantasy. The one main time he was really honored for his war effort was in the parade where he sat in the back of the Cadillac and drove through the streets. But it was not what he had always dreamed of, and he just felt like an outcast and a cripple who cannot even walk on his own.
In class we talked about irony, and I think that his life really was ironic. He dreamed his entire childhood of going off and becoming a marine and laying down his life for America. He failed to consider the reality of war, and romanticized it just as most of the others we have studied did. He finally got to Vietnam and was treated like an animal. He saw things that haunted him for the rest of his life, ultimately putting himself in danger (with the hope of being honored upon his arrival back in the states) but was left only with a half paralyzed body. He thought he would be welcomed back home, and he was by his family but no one else treated him the way he was expecting to be treated. Even in California he had trouble, until he met the others in the Veterans Group he joined. Even when he goes to DC to the anti-war protests he is marginalized. Every time he declared that he was a Vietnam Veteran people just kind of shrugged it off and paid little attention. This was both surprising and sad to me, and also helped me to get a clearer view of people’s lack of appreciation for veterans. Especially since he gave up his entire lower half of his body, and no one seemed to care very much.
I think that everyone who reads his novel can be touched by it, whether or not he or she has experienced war. For those of us who have never seen combat, we get a glimpse into what it is like, and for those who have, they can relate and feel comforted that others have gone through it as well.

Best Years of Our Lives and Kovic

November 5th, 2007

I will start off by briefly reflecting on “The Best Years of Our Lives,” which I thought was a fantastic film. I love black and white movies, and although it was a little on the long side and could have been shortened a bit, it definitely had an impact on me. It was beneficial to see the three main soldiers as they came home and the struggles they faced with readjusting to the old life and trying to move on from the war which had such a significant impact on their way of thinking. The ending was very inspiring, and it shows that even though it was a huge challenge returning home under the circumstances, it is possible to get past that and live a happy life.

The first one hundred pages of “Born on the Forth of July” was also extremely moving and inspiring, and is definitely my favorite reading so far this semester. Kovic’s detailed description first of how he was wounded in the war and then his childhood leading up to the war was very well written. His recount of when he was actually hit by the bomb was incredibly detailed and he paints a very clear and vivid picture for the reader so that we can almost see everything that is going on. I found it very interesting how he goes from describing that to his time in the hospital and how that was not much different at all from the war. He talks about people dying all around him, screaming in agony and chaos surrounding him. And through all this, even though it was so terrible and frightening, all he wanted was to just live through it so he could return home and see his family again.

His recollection of his childhood was also quite intriguing, especially how he used to love fighting with toy guns and pretending to blow things up with his friend, who he made the pact with to join the Marine Corps when they turned 17. When the Marines came to his school to talk, he realized that was where he belonged and joined. However, it was the most challenging thing he ever did up until that point in his life, and it was an eye opening experience.

I think that Kovic’s way of first describing when he was injured then giving background was a very smart way to write. First it pulled me into the book and grabbed my attention and then gave helpful background information to help understand his life. I m looking forward to reading the second half of this book and find out where the rest of his story will lead!

October 30, 2007 Reading

October 30th, 2007

Of this reading, the thing I found most interesting was Chapter 4, and its focus on women in the service. Today, the idea of women in the military does not seem strange; it is actually quite normal. One of my best friends is joining the navy, and I know of many more with similar intentions. However, during the time of World War II, it was definitely not considered normal for women to join the military, and women faced a great deal of aggression and intolerance both at home and abroad. From the chapters in Gambone’s novel, it becomes quite clear that World War II was the turning point in America for women, and the beginning of a new era that would ultimately lead to a mostly gender-blind nation. However, these pioneer women did not have an easy time with this, and were extremely driven. As I was reading, I thought about what my life would be like if I was a woman during this time. I probably would not have the courage to enlist in the military, or even become a nurse or enter the workforce where there is constant discrimination. The women who did, however, accomplished truly remarkable things, and are responsible for the opportunities American women have today.

38-89 of Greatest Generation Comes Home

October 25th, 2007

In this reading, I found the VA’s contributions to veterans in the post-war era to be remarkable, especially Bradley’s involvement. The numbers of Americans stepping up and volunteering to be part of the movement is very impressive, and I doubt that today there would be such a tremendous effort on the part of Americans. As we talked about this in class, that is probably because so many Americans believed that World War II was a “good” or “clear” war, and that United States involvement in the war was not only justified but necessary. However, today with the Iraq war, the majority of United States citizens do not think the war is justified and therefore do not support it.

One main thing that also stood out from the reading was how different World War II was compared to World War I. With all of the nurse and doctor volunteers from across the country either going to Europe or staying in America, they were able to save so many lives that would have never survived had it been in World War I. Hawley was also a major influence on this aspect of the movement, and had the smart idea to start educating “a younger breed of physician, one who not only benefited from modern training but was also from a generation that was more willing and able to vigorously pursue patient treatment” (46). After studying a list from the House Committee on World War Veterans Legislation, he found that more than half the doctors were over the age of 60, the first one even being 87. While wisdom and age is certainly part of being a good doctor, the older doctors also have their old way of doing things and may be reluctant to have to learn the new medicine and treatments. Ultimately, this managed to save many, many lives and Hawley “wanted to introduce the VA to the cutting edge of modern medicine” (47). This was a huge success and by 1946, “the VA was able to establish a physician’s residency program that included 63 of the 77 medical schools in the country. Young, well-trained doctors applied in droves to a system that offered modern training as well as the prospect of service…” (47).

When Bradley took charge of all of this, he managed to add “39,622 new beds to the VA inventory in 1946” (49). Both him and Hawley took the reigns and worked to reconstruct VA facilities and make them even more productive and effective. One other major focus of the VA was finding jobs for veterans after their medical treatment was finished. They were able to do this, and Bradley who was especially concerned about this, “pressed for and received early cooperation from private businesses in hiring and training disabled veterans” (49).

In all, what I found the most outstanding was the works of both Hawley and Bradley, which really shaped the post-war era for veterans. Although each veteran has a different post war experience, and a great number of them are negative for various reasons from mental/psychological illness as well as physical wounds, this progress by the VA was tremendous and changed life for thousands of veterans. Without the opportunities it presented, there is no knowing what would have happened to all the soldiers after the war, and the world would probably be much different than it is today.

Wages of War Ch. 15-18

October 10th, 2007

While the other chapters were interesting, I found Chapter 15 of Wages of War to be the most fascinating as well as infuriating. In Chapter 15, the author talks mostly about how black soldiers were willing and able to fight, yet the white officers were very against it. Even Jackson backed up the blacks, and agreed that the country would be better off with them fighting. I found it strange that even though the blacks were so willing to fight and be drafted into the military, they still were not wanted. It states “whites suggested that it was not a very good idea to train blacks for combat because they weren’t bright enough nor dedicated enough to fight” (233). This struck me as strange because most of the whites that were drafted were not even of the upper class, rather they were working men just like the blacks who could possibly be of equal or even lesser intelligence. The intelligence test that was developed showed that both whites and blacks seemed to have the mental capacity of a thirteen year old. The whites seem to be once again just finding reasons to be discriminate against them.

Though such a small percentage of blacks were actually drafted and made it to war, according to The Messanger, “Negro soldiers have restrained themselves well under the taunts, insults, and abuses so unsparingly headed upon them. The Negro is probably the best and most loyal soldier in the United States…” (232). This just shows the true strength of the Negro soldiers and makes you take a step back and realize what they went through, compared to what whites went through which was also horrific.

It was not only the blacks that faced racial discrimination, but also Italians. I had never heard of Italian discrimination before, and when I read this I was troubled by it. It says that Italians (who I consider to have white skin, at least for the most part) were regarded as “subwhite” or “nonwhite”. They were also chastised and made fun of by “real” whites. They even got unequal protection by the Catholic Church, which really puzzled me especially because the pope lives in the Vatican in Rome. At least, however the blacks were treated as equals by the French and the Italians got citizenship when they returned home because they had been promised that when they enlisted. But when the blacks came home, they were faced with violent attacks from the KKK, who once again emerged as a racist group.

The Roaring Twenties also produced a new “crime wave,” which many people attributed to the veterans who had returned home. In prison, a high percentage of prisoners were ex-soldiers, who were incarcerated mostly for stealing food or funds to feed their families at home. Also at this time, unemployment was high and inflation was skyrocketing. However from this standpoint, both blacks and whites were affected. Minority groups definitely got more discrimination and had a harder time, but all people were faced with the same general economic problems.

For both Italians and blacks, “the war brought up no collective goodwill” (244). They were still not respected in the states, nor were they recognized for their hard war effort. I had not really considered this before, and it is sad that even though they were willing to put their lives on the line for their country, their country did not respect them or show them any real recognition—in fact, it resented them.

WWI Reading (pgs.132-205)

October 8th, 2007

I found this reading very confusing and packed with a lot of information, making it hard to figure out what aspects were really important. However, one main point that I did take from it was the failure Army to repay its citizen-soldiers for all they had done for it. After its struggle in the Soviet Union and the loss of thousands, the veterans eventually returned home but much of what the Army had promised them was not there for them.

Some veterans wanted to form a veteran group similar to the Grand Army of the Republic of the Civil War, but Pershing was very against it. Eventually the American Legion was formed against his will. I did not really understand his reasoning behind starting the American Legion, because to me it seems like there should be no reason why one wouldn’t think that it’s a good idea. The GAR and UCV of the Civil War brought together veterans to share their experiences and bond over what they had experienced in the war. Ultimately, the Legion did succeed and many veterans, essentially even including black veterans were able to join: “The Legion’s success and labor unions’ postwar difficulties bespoke a truism of modern American life…the Legions decision to focus on adjusted compensation also enticed veterans to join” (170).

Also similar to the Civil War, the WWI camps were very dirty and unsanitary, and many people got diseases and infections. There were many complaints from soldiers about the camps yet little was done to help out the situation. Also, in Russia, the weather was terrible and did not help to get American soldiers home any faster. Demobilization proved much more difficult that expected.

When the veterans came home, while the Army had said it would provide employment until they found new jobs, unemployment was still an issue. After the Roaring Twenties and the height of American economy, with the Stock Market Crash of 1929 the veterans suffered tremendously. I thought this was particularly interesting because I had never thought of the veterans as a group that would be so effected, but it makes sense because the government was still paying them back for their service. Even though the Depression was hard on almost everyone living in America at that time, the veterans suffered greatly. The image of the “poor veteran” was also moving, as well as the “Bonus March” and their constant efforts to regain what was promised them by the US government.

Response to York’s Diary

October 1st, 2007

One of the things I found most interesting about York’s diary was his devotion to God and his tremendous faith. Countless times throughout his writing he discusses his spiritual communication with God and how he goes to mass each Sunday. Essentially, his experience fighting as a soldier in World War II was also a faith journey and strengthened his bond with God.

It was also quite interesting how he used to constantly drink and gamble, but after being chastised by his mother completely changed his lifestyle. He turned back to God and rediscovered his faith, and then went and fought for his country, even though he did not really want to: “I never asked for exemption from service on any grounds at all. I never was a conscientious objector. I am not today. I didn’t want to go and fight and kill. But I had to answer the call of my country, and I did. And I believed it was right. I have got no hatred toward the Germans and I never had.” Even though he did not have anything against Germany, nor did he want to go fight and risk his life, he did it because he believed it was the right thing to do and his country needed him.

His outlook on life is also quite intriguing, especially considering the circumstances he is faced with. He is definitely the “glass half full” kind of man, and does not want to let little things get to him. He talks about how he doesn’t see the “use of worrying if you can’t alter things? Just ask God to help you and accept them and make the best of them by the help of God. Yet some men do worry, and by doing so they effectually destroy their peace of mind without doing anyone any good. Yet it is often the religious man who worries. I have even heard those whose care was for the soldier’s soul deplore the fact that he did not worry. I have heard it said that the soldier is so careless, he realizes his position so little.” Yet again, his faith plays an important role in defining who he is and his morals. He continues to talk about how he carries the Bible with him everywhere and prayed often, asking God for protection and safety. He really did trust that God would take care of him and I think that is very admirable. During the deadliest of battles, “The Germans threw a lot of gas shells into Norroy and we had to wear our gas masks for several hours. Many of the boys were gassed or killed. Well, seeing the boys all shot up, gassed, blown to pieces, and killed lying about us, there is no tongue or human being who can ever tell the feeling of a man during this time. But I never doubted in the thickest of the battle but what God would bring me through safe.”

When he got back from war, he went back to the same place he went when he left to fight. He “just stayed out there and thanked that same God who had taken me through the war.” His faith is extremely strong, and it is really great how he is able to get through the war using his faith as a foundation to everything he did.