My Zippo Lighter


A friend of mine and I have decided to give a talk about being veterans of the Vietnam war. In starting preparations for the talk, I asked my son to send me a couple of mementos from my military past.

He sent two things I had requested. One item, my Combat Medical Badge. It is one of the few things that I’ve always been proud of from those days. It was earned by doing something positive in a period of time marked by death and destruction. As a medic, my job was to provide care for those who had been wounded or were ill. My job was to be a healer, not a killer, and I was awarded that distinction for doing my job. I was given other medals, but none have given me the same sense of pride. Many men and women suffered far more than I, and they deserve recognition far and above any given to me.

In addition to the CMB, my son sent me the Zippo lighter I carried for that year. I would guess that the vast majority of soldiers serving in Vietnam had a Zippo lighter. I would also guess many of them had the same saying engraved upon them.

“When the Power of Love Overcomes the Love of Power, Then There Will Be Peace.”

That quote has been attributed to Jimi Hendrix, although it was first said by the British statesman, William Gladestone. I suspect more grunts in Vietnam preferred that Jimi said it.

It was, and still is, somewhat odd to again hold that lighter. Next year it will have been 50 years since I boarded that plan and flew into a man made hell. I was 22 years old, thinner of waist and longer of hair in those days. I look at photos of that time and it’s hard to imagine I was once that young. I look at pictures of the men I served with and wonder about their lives, I wonder how many are still alive and I wonder how the war affected them. Some of those men were the best humans I’ve ever met, and some of them were despicable people. Maybe it was the war that shaped how we behaved. The Zippo feels smaller in my hand than I remember it feeling in those days. Maybe it’s because I feel smaller than I once felt. Maybe it’s because so many years later, I have a more realistic view of what life brings. Maybe it’s because it feels like all of these years later, the love of power is still a stronger motivator of mankind. Maybe it will take another 50 years and a new generation of people to make the power of love the stronger force. I hold out hope.

“All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.”

John Steinbeck

Go Well – David