He sleeps by the railroad track where trains no longer run. Today I saw him at a distance while I waited for the light to change. He folded his sleeping bag, gathered his belongings, stooped to pet his dog. Then the two set out for a day of whatever it is a homeless man and his dog do.
Many Vietnam vets who arrived in California after discharge migrated north and stayed. Broken in body and in spirit, they were drawn by the beauty, the solitude of the giant redwood forests and the aptly-named Lost Coast. Drugs, you say? Their answer: Yes, please.
Daily the social media is filled with memes that exhort the reader to honor and support our veterans. In the photographs some are physically whole, others aren't. Some admit to struggles with depression, with PTSD, drugs and alcohol. But I can't recall a photo of these broken wanderers. The sight is troubling. Hard to raise support when the needy appear so NEEDY. Ungroomed. A little scary. Homeless in America is a four-letter word: scum.
Shelters and support groups exist. But these broken ones have a trust problem: they have none. By all accounts, Vietnam was a debacle. No less than arch conservative George Will, in his August 6, 2014 Washington Post column, confirmed that Richard Nixon sabotoged the peace talks, promising the South Vietnamese that he would win the American presidency in 1968. South Vietnamese president, drug dealer and gun runner, General Theiu, boycotted the Paris peace talks. Greek tragedians and Shakespeare would have been hard-pressed to write a more convoluted tale of deceit...and worse. Hold that "worse" thought. Start with this list:
Johnson's adviser, Henry Kissinger, alerted Nixon to the truce talks.
When Johnson called Republican Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen to say that this action was treasonous, Dirksen meekly responded, "I know." Nixon's actions violated the Logan Act (1797, Pres. John Adams) which bans "private citizens from intruding into official government negotiations with a foreign nation."
Johnson confronted Nixon who lied and claimed to be shocked.
Nixon defeated Hubert Humphrey by a narrow margin and named Henry Kissinger his National Security Advisor.
Johnson wanted to go public with Nixon's treason but Washington insider and CIA-architect Clark Clifford counseled against this. In a taped conversation he said, "some elements of the story are so shocking in their nature that I'm wondering whether it would be good for the country to disclose the story and than possibly have [Nixon] elected. It could cast his whole administration under such doubt that I think it would be inimical to our country's best interest." Harvey Wasserman wrote, "In other words, Clifford told LBJ that the country couldn't handle the reality that its president was a certifiable traitor, eligible for legal execution."
Of this cast of characters, Clark Clifford was later disgraced by his involvement with the Bank of Credit and Commerce which financed Al-Qaeda and damaged the CIA, an agency he helped found. Johnson lived a tortured existence for four years after he left office and died a broken man. Nixon won...then became the first president to resign. Henry Kissinger was given the Nobel Peace prize in 1973 for "negotiating the same settlement he helped sabotage in 1968" and is still making the rounds of talk shows.
"The worst" stands alone. In just those four years between betrayal and peace...
20,000+ US troops died in Vietnam.
100,000+ were wounded.
1,000,000+ Vietnamese were killed.
In addition to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC, I propose another commemoration, just outside the grounds of the Nixon Library: the names of those killed in the four lost years listed for all the world to see. I can think of no better way to remember our 37th president.
In the meantime, by railroad tracks and in deep woods, the countless unnamed can yet be found - some days, most nights - while I go home to clean sheets, good food, and a bath. Ain't it a crying shame.
Total U.S. troups wounded: 303,644
If you are interested, more about veterans memorialized on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC can be found here: http://thewall-usa.com/names.asp