It was in October 1970, north of Hue, Vietnam, and his name was Byrd. I don’t recall his first name, as we always just called him Byrd. He was a 91B, a combat medic, and a conscientious objector. His skin and eyes dark as coal and his smile bright. Bright and constant. He was brave in every sense of the word. One does not have to be brave to serve in war, but it requires bravery and a certain understanding and diligence to one’s beliefs to hump the jungles with no weapon; knowing there are those seeking to kill you. Byrd, or “Doc,” as his fellow soldiers called him, was such a man.
Now fifty years later, I often think of Specialist Byrd. I served with many brave men, and I hope their lives have been filled with peace. Many of us were still boys when we were sent to war. It’s the nature of that horror. Sending boys to do what many of those senders were not willing to do themselves.
It is now nearing the end of 2021, and we still face daily choices of being brave or turning our backs to our responsibilities. Courage is not and should not be a political issue. I once read an interview with a well-known professor of ethics. He said something that has stayed with me for many years. It went something like this – “We shouldn’t have to teach what ethics is, we should teach living with ethics.” I think he was right. Mostly, we know what is right and what is wrong. Those terms are obviously loaded words, still I believe we know it is not “right” to lie, to judge a person by their color, to justify any means to justify our goals, to disregard truth.
To this last point, I offer this example. Last weekend I visited the Heard Museum in Phoenix. A beautiful building dedicated to preserving artifacts of Southwestern Native peoples. One section of the museum struck me as particularly poignant and sad. The section of the museum devoted to the history of American Indian children being sent to boarding schools. The directors of the museum do not shy away from telling of this horrendous practice. Robert H. Pratt was an American General. These are his words about forcing American Indian children to attend boarding school. “A great general * has said that the only good Indian is a dead one, that high sanction of his destruction has been an enormous factor in promoting Indian massacres. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him and save the man.” The following words are those of Juanita Cruz Blue Spruce, an Indian student in 1915. “I remember it was in October they came to get me. My mother started to cry, ‘Her? She’s just a little girl! You can’t take her.’ My mother put her best shawl on me.” At the museum these three words are often repeated from the past, “The Indian problem.” I leave it to you to decide what was the problem. * The general Pratt was referring to was Philip H. Sheridan. To call him “great,” is a gross mischaracterization of the word.
I need not talk about the current state of our country. Anyone who pays any attention knows where we are as a nation. It does not matter my or your political leaning. I go back to the words of the ethicist; we don’t need to be taught what is right and wrong in many areas of life. We just have to do the right thing. It matters what we do. In speaking with a friend the other day, we briefly shared our greatest fears. It only takes a second for mine to come to the surface. I have a sixteen- and eighteen-year-old granddaughter and grandson. My greatest fear is the world my generation, and those who proceeded mine are leaving for our kids and grandkids. I do have faith in our future generations. I see goodness and acceptance in them. I only hope they continue to be braver than many of those in power today.
I don’t apologize for the words I’ve written. They are not intended to offend anyone. I intend them to hopefully make us stop and consider our own courage. To consider if we are willing to speak out for those things which are truthful, kind, and compassionate. Or shall we hide behind the tired old question of, “What difference can I make?”
I saw a bumper sticker a couple of days ago that made me smile. – Make America Kind Again. We can do that, but we have to want to.
Now Louie’s Book Bark:
I recently picked up a copy of The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Everyone should read this book. I know that is a judgement statement, but I believe it is accurate. I am awestruck by the beauty, honesty, and yes, the courage Ms. Walker had in writing this masterpiece. If you watch Alice Walker read a poem on YouTube, you will hear an incredibly articulate person speak. When you read The Color Purple, you will dive into the deepest end of the pool for southern black dialect. The book could not have been written otherwise. In that dialect, you become part of every scene, of every conversation, of every emotion. In the most simple manner of writing, Walker expresses the most profound joy, sadness, anger, despair, and love. As I was reading it, I thought not one in ten million people could have written this book. I was wrong. Only one in three hundred twenty-five million could have. That single person, Alice Walker.
Go well, David