TELFORD >> Glen Miller already knows the other three people who, along with him, will be panelists in the “Remembering & Healing from Vietnam” discussion 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18 at Indian Valley Public Library; and he’s anxious to hear things from their perspective.
“I’m really looking forward to talking with Joe Landis, Steve Gunn, Dan Yost,” Miller said.
The panel will be unique in that it includes both those who were combatants and those who were conscientious objectors, he said.
“These are all people who are from this area,” said Lauren Pfendner, the library’s adult services librarian.
“This is first-hand accounts,” she said. “It’s kind of a unique opportunity because we get to hear a little bit of the personal and how they can reflect on what the overwhelming perception on the Vietnam War was.”
The panelists will also give some reflections on Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s “The Vietnam War” PBS documentary, she said. It is not a requirement that persons attending the discussion see the documentary, but doing so will help fill in historical information, she said.
“Vietnam’s really unique in the sense that it was highly televised and highly covered by the news media in a way that no previous war had been,” Pfendner said. “So people got to really experience it first-hand and I think that informs a lot of the anti-war movement that happened here at home and it also affects how veterans returned and their experience coming home.”
Gunn is a retired social worker, psychologist and personal coach who was a conscientious objector combat medic in Vietnam.
“Here’s a man that objected to the war, was drafted anyway and made into a medic,” Miller said.
Gunn’s service in Vietnam included the 23-day long Battle of Fire Support Base Ripcord in July of 1970 in which he “healed and helped the dying and the wounded during the 10th worst battle in Vietnam,” Miller said.
“That’s just an amazing perspective because he was in a horrible, horrible situation,” Miller said, “and he was a conscientious objector.”
In early November of this year, Gunn made his second post-war trip back to Vietnam, Miller said.
Landis, founder and retired CEO of Peaceful Living and former executive director of Indian Creek Foundation, was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War who did alternate service in West Berlin as an orderly caring for handicapped men who survived Nazi experimentation.
Miller, an adjunct professor at Temple University Fox School of Business, is an Army Ranger Vietnam veteran and co-founder of the Veterans Community Network.
Yost is a former combat infantryman and war correspondent who served in the area of MyLai, Vietnam in 1968-1969; is founding president of the Montgomery County Chapter #349 of the Vietnam Veterans of America; author of “Blessings: Transforming My Vietnam Experience” and a senior English lecturer at Montgomery County Community College.
“Healing from war requires you to go back into it in many ways,” Miller said. “You have to accept that that was part of your life and that’s hard to do because people want to bury it.”
While the panel is specifically about Vietnam, it is in support of all veterans and seeks to raise awareness of and provide information about resources available for veterans, Pfendner said.
“You’re going to hear the term ‘moral injury’ more and more because there’s even science around it now,” Miller said.
“It’s not just explosions. It’s not just death and killing,” he said. “It’s being in a situation where all these incredibly dangerous and violent things happen, but if they’re in a setting of moral corruption, if you will, which it was in Vietnam in my view, that intensifies the moral and ethical decisions that soldiers make every day in very difficult situations, similar to what cops go through when they chase somebody down a black, dark alley.”
The panel discussion doesn’t directly tie in with the Witting Trees, presented in the area each November, to bring awareness to and increase discussion about veteran suicides, Miller said, but there are connections.
“After the war, people do commit suicide, and the rate’s extremely high,” he said.
“I personally want to have a discussion about why that happens,” Miller said. “It’s difficult for people to talk about it, but the difficulty indicates to me that we’re onto something, it’s important.”
The documentary did a good job of showing the corruption involved in the Vietnam War, he said.
“We were supporting people that really didn’t have the best interest of South Vietnam in their hearts and minds,” he said.
“Everybody was on the take,” Miller said. “You couldn’t trust anybody.”
All of the panel members made life-changing decisions before, during and after the Vietnam War, he said.
“War changes lives, all lives,” Miller said.
“I was disappointed that the documentary did not shine a light on the effect of tens of thousands of soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors after the war,” he said.
Scholarly estimates and statistics show more than 60,000 Vietnam veterans met an untimely death within 15 years of the war’s end, he said.
“Those deaths are the ghosts of suicide, severe wounds and Agent Orange,” Miller said. “I was disappointed but not surprised that Novick and Burns did not tell this part of the story.”
Not reporting on, recording and discussing war’s aftermaths “is a wound to the soul of America,” he said.
“The warriors’ path demands that America grapples with the moral ambiguity of war, now and forever,” he said. “Currently, the lack of empathy and understanding of war’s aftermath wounds the national soul and contributes to the high suicide rate among our veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The physical injuries in today’s wars are different from in the past, he said.
“They get the bottom of their body blown off, but they still stay alive,” Miller said.
“Those people are amongst us. You don’t see them in a library, but they’re probably in hospital somewhere,” he said. “Pretty horrible.”
Miller said he teaches a class in ethics.
“People just don’t understand how much war changes how we look at our moral code. We dismiss it, don’t deal with it,” he said.
War is transitioning to being fought by only a small number of people, most of whom are poor, he said.
“There’s hardly any people of means that serve in the military anymore,” he said.
“We are fighting in ways where it’s very hard to distinguish who the combatants are. That’s been true since, really, Vietnam,” Miller said.
“That continues and actually has gotten worse because now we fight in cities,” where women and children are present, he said.
“Some people don’t even know we’re at war right now and people certainly didn’t know we had a thousand or so people in Africa, but I knew because I think about it,” Miller said. “It just keeps creeping and it falls on the shoulders of very few families.”
“And that’s why it’s important to talk about,” Pfendner said.
“When they do come back after having so many tours and spent so much time, they’re completely overlooked often times,” she said, “so it’s really important that they feel like there’s a discussion and a recognition of the injury and the trauma that happens when they’re there.”