Excerpt: 'Generally Speaking'

I was not interested in marching in campus demonstrations or in going to rock concerts. But I was starting to consider what kind of job I would get to fill the years between graduation and the apparent inevitability of marriage and motherhood. Real estate came naturally to mind because my grandmother Kennedy had run her own office for years, and I would always remember coveting her shiny Burroughs adding machine when I was a little girl of five. And my godmother, Meredith Moorehead, had worked her whole life in an office. She had her own lovely apartment in Memphis that I can remember as one of the most sophisticated and appealing places I visited as a child. As I read Socrates and struggled through economics and French literature, I considered the possibility of my own independence after college, not the mounting tensions on campus.

My father's next assignment brought the war home to me, however. He went off to command the port of Saigon at the height of the American military buildup in Vietnam. And now the steadily mounting draft calls for the war meant that many of the boys who were my friends were forced to consider how to navigate among the competing demands of college, graduate school, and the draft. The antiwar protests became more vocal. Although I was personally troubled by our government's disregard of the public's legitimate concerns about Vietnam and South Vietnamese suppression of opposition groups, including Buddhist monks burning themselves alive on Saigon sidewalks, I did not believe national policy should be set by people's individual acts of civil disobedience during wartime. It was all well and good for college students enjoying their deferments to loudly debate the war. But the Iowa farm boy or inner-city black kid didn't have that option. They were over there in Vietnam. Just like my father. I felt they deserved our support, no matter what we thought of the war itself.

In the spring of my junior year, Southwestern hosted a seminar as part of the annual week-long Dilemma series on ethical issues in which a civilian speaker defended American policy in Vietnam. The lecture hall was packed with opponents to the war, students, faculty, and people from town. But the speaker handled himself well, even when the questions and audience responses to his answers got heated.

At the end of the program, as we stood outside the auditorium in an informal continuation of the discussion, I addressed him. "Despite all this controversy about the war, sir," I said, my voice a little uncertain, "there are Americans dying every day in Vietnam. What can we do about them?"

He looked around the lobby, then at me. "You can live every day of your life in honor of their sacrifice."

The people around me were silent. There were none of the groans or boos that had greeted his earlier statements. His words have stayed with me over three decades as a professional soldier, and have sustained me through the losses of a growing number of fellow soldiers.

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...