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A Plea for Healing with Forgiveness

By Remy Benoit

I know it has been a long, long time for many of you to be carrying the hurt all tied up with the Vietnam War, but I am asking you to consider what I am saying here.

There is only one road to healing the pain that is left festering inside, and that road is the road of forgiveness. And that forgiveness must start with you. Please don’t stop reading here, go on, think about it, even write back to me about it if you want to.

”What?” you say, “Me, forgive, when I was called the things I was? When I knew the things I did? When I saw the things I did?” I am saying YES, you must start the healing with the forgiving that can only come from you. Try to look at it this way. Whatever you experienced, be it in war or something else, deserves the proper legacy and it is up to you, each one of you, and each one of us here in this country, to come to terms with what that legacy is to be. And keep in mind, there is probably not one single person alive who does not think that he or she has something in their lives that is almost impossible to forgive.

The Sixties, the famous, infamous Sixties, and early Seventies were a time of great, great upheaval. A young man said to me not too long ago that he wished he could have been there for it. I told him that was probably a wish that he was blessed with its not going to come true. Things were indeed churning is just about every area of life. There were many, many divisions: between races, sexes, civilians and military, military and military; between ages, between realities and aspirations and dreams.

There was much, much pain and confusion on many sides. There were many things done and said that had they been given proper consideration and real thought would never have been said and done.

But the thing of it is, if you are still carrying the anger of a bad or non-existent welcome home, of experiences you knew, well, you are carrying trigger inside you; one that goes off every time it comes to mind with a big, big hurt. It trips a mine inside of you. Yes, it is destructive, and painful and it is about pain and anger that have not yet found resolution. This kind of residual hurt, pain, and anger must be brought to resolution and only each of you as individuals can tend to that for yourself.

Yes, I have heard, I was there, I gave it all, I have been bad mouthed, spit on, insulted. I am cynical. I don’t have to serve anymore, etc..But the truth of it is, each and everyone of us is here to serve in some way or another, and much of the pain in our personal lives, in our national and international lives, is that we are denying that service, denying what it was meant for each of us to personally be doing.

I know one of you, a Veteran who goes out and talks to people about what went down in the ‘green. He explains to those who ask just what it means when they were told – There were no remains. Many people who were not there do not understand that, anymore than they did about hundreds of thousands in World War I.

I know another one of you who stays on top of things and writes to TV stations and newspapers and others when things seem amiss.

As I said in the previous piece about writing through the anger, using what you have experienced to help others and to help yourself heal, it is what you do with what you have been through that gives it real meaning.

So, you may ask, How does forgiveness work into all of this? It works into it because you cannot focus on what you are trying to write, on how you are trying to live, on who you are trying to be if you are carrying all the anger. If there is still a lot of anger there, try writing a letter letting it all spew out and then take it to the kitchen sink and put a match to it, letting the flames symbolically burn it away., and then wash them down the drain. Symbolic acts in themselves can be quite powerful healers. Then you can sit down to pen and paper, or keyboard, or take yourself out into a suitable environment like the school speaking programs, and tell people what it was really like, what it did to you and your life, your buddies’ lives and this way give it its proper place in history, yours, the nation’s and the world’s. Give your buddies’ who did not come home the legacy they deserve by telling of their heroism, their sacrifice. Write about mistakes made, on all sides, and how they might be avoided. Write about combat experience, so that we may learn from it: not only its horrors but also the deep commitment between you who depended on each other to live. Write the truth about the impact of the availability of the drugs, the boom boom girls and how they impacted on you life and your view of yourself. Write about divisions in platoons between the men and what they mean to combat success or failure. Write about flashbacks and hurt and tears, make people understand. Write about broken marriages because of the PTSD. Talk to people about the truths of war. But do it looking them square in the eye, your head held high, with forgiveness in your eyes. Yes, you will see things in their eyes you don’t want to see, but learn when you have said enough to get them to thinking in their alone hours. You never know what word might set what off inside them that could help the healing

If there is to be peace in your life, the forgiveness must come from the one most hurt and spread from you to others. Don’t make a big deal of it; don’t go about saying I am forgiving you, live the forgiveness, be the living legacy, show them the way to how to prevent this kind of thing from happening again.

And once again, the forgiveness, the compassion must include yourself.

Carrying the pain, the hurt, the anger, the cynicism restricts you, lessens who you can grow into. Yes, we are in our mid to late 50’s, but it is not too late to make changes. And change in your life, any kind of change in your life, begins with making one change, taking one step. The change that will lead to giving Vietnam the legacy it deserves is your forgiving so you can get down to answering for yourself, what was it all about? Yes, this indeed, whatever you have found, is the place in history of my war.

This holds true no matter what your pain is, no matter who betrayed or hurt you. That is not to say that if you are in an abusive situation you should stay; no, it does mean that carrying it around with you when you have left it is giving it power over you still.

One of the hardest things to do with writing is to begin the first line, so here is one for you: The legacy of what I have been through is….

Turn it, change it, let it help others, and in helping others it will help you to heal too.

Each of us has a story in us that the world would be better for learning from. Take it easy, go slow, get professional help as you need it, but remember: Sharing pain is cutting it in two; the more you share the more the lessening of the pain.

By the way, many of you have told me how much letters, any kind of letters, from home meant to you. Are you writing today to those in active service? If you are not, perhaps you can understand why others didn’t write to you; could it be not intentional neglect, but the demands of everyday life getting in the way? So, hey, go here and say Hey to someone far away from home today.

Take care of you, and begin to Welcome Yourself Home.


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This item is part of historian, author, editor, and educator Remy Benoit's ongoing weblog for Veterans, writers, students, and others who believe in learning from and making history; including thousands of articles and posts and the free writing seminar, Using History for Healing and Writing.

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