07/24/2014 by militaryphonies
VOICES AT THE WALL \ FOR MANY VETS, CLINTON’S NORMALIZATION OF RELATIONS WITH VIETNAM JUST RIPS THE SCABS OFF SLOW-HEALING WOUNDS.
Published: July 12, 1995
Section: FRONT, page A1
Source: DALE EISMAN, STAFF WRITER
© 1995- Landmark Communications Inc.
WASHINGTON – President Clinton may be ready to normalize relations with Vietnam, but barely five blocks from his house on Tuesday some Americans were still fighting the war.
At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the emotions Vietnam still excites – 20 years after the shooting stopped – hung in the air like July’s humidity. “I think it sucks,” Irvin Watson of Nashville, Tenn., said of normalization.
“I don’t know,” he said. “How would you feel if I was the sonofabitch who killed your mom and daddy? Would you want to run up and kiss me on the cheek and make friends? That’s the way I feel about that.”
Watson’s anger was apparent, but he spoke in resigned, almost saddened tones. A Vietnam vet, he brought his vacationing family to the black granite wall to find the name of a friend and classmate killed while the two of them were in country.
Gwen Desselle of Moultrie, Ga., another Wall visitor Tuesday, said her family got through the war without losses but always believed the conflict triggered alcoholism in an uncle who died when he was only 43.
“We’ve talked about it on and off all day,” she said of Clinton’s decision. “You know, it’s always good to bind up wounds. It’s good for reconciliation . . . that’s our spiritual belief. We know it’s the right thing to do.”
But Desselle said she knows “so many people who haven’t recovered, those who’ve lost loved ones or are not sure what happened to them. I just feel their anguish would be too deep now. I just think perhaps a little more time has to pass.”
Some other opponents were seething. There is “no national, no economic, no political reason whatsoever to deal with these people,” Richard Dedell, a cigar-chomping Vietnam vet and lawyer from Rochester, N.Y., said of the Vietnamese.
A former Marine, Dedell dismissed recognition as the latest in a series of bad decisions by Clinton who, he remembers, went to considerable lengths to avoid wartime service.
“He is rejected by so many people,” Dedell said of the president. “They just cannot stand this guy at all. Him and his policies. Between him and his wife – absolutely appalling.”
Another retired Marine, Neil Wallyn of Sterling Heights, Mich., had a dramatically different view. An auto worker who described himself as a Democrat, Wallyn said of the war: “It’s time to let it go. It’s been 20-some years.”
Richard Bagley of Pedal, Miss., who served in Vietnam as a Marine infantry officer in 1962, then returned in 1967-68, also supported normalization.
“I’m past that time in my life,” he said of the war. “I wouldn’t want anyone else to have to suffer through what I did. I’m proud of what I did. I did lose some of the people I just looked up to, my friends.
“You know, you can’t undo history. But you can always make tomorrow better.”
Much of the dispute over normalization centers on the fate of American prisoners of war and those missing in action. “There’s still too many unanswered questions, too many MIAs,” Watson said. “They’ve got ’em. They know where they’re at. They know where they’re buried. They know where the skeletons are. But they won’t say.”
Near the west end of the memorial, a cadre of vets and relatives of some of the lost manage a ragtag collection of T-shirt and souvenir stands. The stands raise money to support efforts to prod Vietnam to account for the missing and return the remains of American troops.
Donna Long, who was managing one of the stands on Tuesday, said Clinton is mistaken in his claims that recognition will aid the MIA recovery.
Vietnam “is going to be another communist dictatorship that’s going to take our money, take our trade and thumb their noses at us when we say `human rights,’ ” she said. “Because we have a very, very weak human rights policy and they know it.
“If they didn’t come forward with more before we lifted the trade embargo (last year), what makes you think they’re going to now? They’ve got the whole store. We have given them the store. Why should they give us anything? You think they’re going to be friends with us?”
Wallyn, the Michigan auto worker, said he understands the bitterness of people whose loved ones are still listed as missing in action.
“But they are gone,” he said. “The MIAs are gone.”
Description of illustration(s):
At the Wall, which some Vietnam vets still cannot bear to visit,
reaction ranged from pleasure to resignation to fury.
© 1995- Virginian-Pilot
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|NPRC has no record of Richard L . Dedell ever serving within the U.S. Military|