Editorial: A human history of a painful war

Friday, September 29, 2017

Joe McKeever of Northfield thinks about Nick Fritz every day. He hears the dead soldier’s voice echo through time – “It’s tutti frutti again, Joe!” – and 50 years later he still mourns.

Philip Mead of Concord and his college friend Duane were just boys when the war came knocking. Philip was stationed in Bangkok and Duane “saw a lot of combat.” When they reconnected, Philip quickly realized that his old friend had been replaced by a battle-scarred soldier. “I miss that boy,” he writes.

People sometimes stop to ask Ginny Timmons, now of Boscawen, about her license plate: “NAM67.” They want to know where her husband served. But the plate introduces her story, the one that begins in Long Binh. She returned home in December 1967, but part of her stayed behind. “I don’t think I watched TV news for years,” she said.

Bob Estabrook of Concord was alone. In the distance, he saw some men in “black pajamas” walking toward him – and black pajamas meant bad guys. He didn’t have his M16 with him, just a .45, so he stood there, frozen. As it turned out, the men in black pajamas were part of a civilian defense group returning from a vigil. “I still wonder what I would have done if I had had my M16 with me,” he writes.

These are Vietnam stories. There are others.

As the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick film The Vietnam War premiered on PBS, we asked readers to share their memories of the era, whether they served in the military, protested in the streets or lost somebody they cared about. The war touched people – still touches people – in many ways, and the human stories are the ones that matter most.

We have been overwhelmed by the number and power of the responses. Today’s “Vietnam Stories” segment is number 16, and more will be published over the coming days. There is no specific end date for the series, and we hope that everybody who has a story takes the time to tell it.

People too young to remember the war and those born long after the fighting stopped still feel the reverberations of the American involvement in Vietnam, whether they know it or not. Today’s domestic strife sprouted from seeds planted in the 1960s, and every person, young and old, must do what they can to better understand what happened then if they are to apply the most crucial lessons now.

But here’s the most important thing: We all need to do a better job listening to each other’s stories. Dehumanization is how strangers become enemies, and it is against dehumanization that war must be waged.

If there is ever to be a wide and lasting peace in this country and in the world, it will begin with human stories not just told but heard.