Friday, May 25, 2007

A Memory

On this Memorial Day weekend, I have been reflecting on the wars of my nation. Not only the thirty-one (or so) declared and undeclared wars involving the United States, but specifically my generation’s war, Vietnam.

Although I was a commissioned officer in the United States Army, I never fought in Vietnam. I had many friends who did: some died there and others were maimed for life. According to the Army’s plan for me, I was supposed to serve in Vietnam after a two-year tour in (then) West Germany. However, the circumstances changed and I never received orders to go to Vietnam.

My reflections have taken me back to the winter of 1970. I was assigned to the Military District of Washington (D.C.) while attending the Defense Language Institute at Anacostia Naval Station. In March I received orders to go to Europe. According to the plan, I understood that this assignment was a two-year hiatus prior to Vietnam. My feelings were mixed; my gung ho-ism low; my spirituality nonexistent.

I spent the day before I left Washington in the National Gallery of Art. As I wandered from room to room, my attention wasn’t really on the beauty surrounding me. As it has been today, my mind was centered on war in general and specifically on the meaninglessness of the Vietnam War. For weeks the evening news had centered on the courts martial of Lieutenant William Calley and the My Lai Massacre. The incident—the murders—was not something a young army officer like me wanted to consider as he looked down the road to his own involvement in that war.

As I wandered through the rooms of the National Gallery, I questioned my faith in God and my willingness to lead men into combat and perhaps to take human lives. I became more and more disheartened.

As I was about to leave the museum, I noticed a stairway to a lower level where I had never been. Like descending into the bowels of Hell, I started down the steps. On the lower level, I again wandered around, not really noticing the paintings or sculpture…until I turned and corner. There before me was a painting by Salvador Dali that almost covered the entire wall. I stared. I stood and gazed at this astounding painting until the guard told me the gallery was closing.

For me, in the lower level of the National Gallery, it was one of those mountain top experiences that come so rarely into our lives. Not one that immediately changed my life, but one that pointed me in a new direction, a new path. In those moments I truly began the journey of a seeker of shalom and The Way.


  1. You should visit Vest on my blogroll. You two have a similar way of thinking...


  2. That is a wonderful painting, isn't it, Nick? Sounds like you had an epiphany. I agree, war is senseless and it's all caused by greed or religion, isn't it?

    I better not get on my soapbox or we'll be here forever...grin. Suffice to say I protested against Vietnam and spent the night in gaol for my pains. At that time it was worth it, whether it did any good or not, I'm not sure. Young as we were, we knew it was not a good thing.

    Enjoy your weekend. Give Alex a cuddle from me.


  3. Coming face to face with that painting while in your mental state must have been quite an experience.

  4. For some reason that song, "War", sung by Edwinn Starr goes through my head.