˜   Honor The Veteran   ™

Not The War

November 2006

By The Rev. Wells E. Behee


About soldiers killing innocent civilians!

Don’t blame the soldiers doing the fighting and killing. The lower ranked men are doing AS their government has carefully and artfully taught them to be---killing machines. In some cases the trainees have carried their training beyond reason as to kill and torture some innocent civilians in the killing zones of Iraq. But the enlisted men were trained to kill! The real cause of their behavior is in the people who had trained and located them into that situation. Furthermore, one of the killers was previously known to have been mentally disabled. What was he doing there in Iraq in the first place? In this government of persistent cover-ups, the enlisted man will suffer the iniquities of the superiors who were responsible for the soldier being placed there.

Reading about these soldiers, I became angry and now release my silence. As Steve Mason described in his poem


I can almost understand the soldiers in Iraq being on these killing sprees, though I recognize that random killing is a crime and in itself is criminal. I have some understanding because of my experiences in the Navy in World War II. I and my shipmates were unrelentingly kept on alert watching for enemy planes, little sticks, floating driftwood might be a periscope, small round balls in the sea which might be mines. We were kept intensely busy by repeated posting at battle stations. As soon as one was over we were recalled several times a day. I was a radarman and during my hours on watch, I closely and deeply studied the radar screen for the tiniest blip which might be incoming enemy. I was always looking for a needle in a field of grass. Our lives were lives of constant fear and of high tension. Then comes a morning when our officers evidently decided to give us a period of rest. By noon, the excess of endorphins became overpowering and we are soon hoping for action, a good fight. We hoped for the excitement of a Kamikaze--anything to relieve our tensions to avoid going bonkers. It still horrifies me that I would share in group conversation with my shipmates hoping for the excitement and relief that would come from action.

There are so many psychological effects upon the psyche that most people don't realize. Just consider the numbers of people coming home from Iraq who are killing their wives, their children, and themselves. "WAR IS HELL” in a thousand different ways other than just the physical fighting on the battlefield.

Every young person who has been in combat comes home scarred. Physical impairment only compounds the inner person.

I attended classes with the beloved professor Dr. Angus MacLean for 4 months September 1943 to February 1944. Then I was drafted. After the war I returned to St. Lawrence in September 1946. One day, I was in the classroom alone with Angus. He was at his desk; I was at the window when he asked me as to what had happened to me? When he first knew me, he said that I was young, eager, fresh, vital and inquisitive. “You have become a different person.”

I imagined that he didn't take into account that I was 2 3/4ths years older. I saw no change! But as years went by, his question haunted me. But I kept setting his question aside refusing to face an answer that would require reliving those dreadful experiences that had so changed me. So I shut down my inner being.!

In the Boston Globe newspaper on Tuesday, September 26, 2006, Donald M. Murray wrote a column entitled “Shutting down emotions is a way of life in combat.”

The first sentence states, “After the bombs, the firefights, the mines, we have a lifetime of silence. Those who were on the front lines rarely speak of their war.” if and when they do speak, it is done to develop excitement in the story, to create humor, and enjoy the companionship of exchanging stories that grow bigger and better after 3 or 4 beers carefully polished by advancing years. Having been to many American Legion meetings, VFW, and ship reunions, I have heard veterans expound their exaggerated tales. With an open mouth, they are telling their tales, but keeping secret their deepest emotional substance. I know! Despite my hate for the taste of the flavor of alcohol, for about 5 years I also used alcohol to disguise and relax my inward pain.

I have already said that EVERY returning combatant relives his personal battlefield. This is my story: Though my experiences are my own, and there are soldiers who have more horrific stories than I can or would even wish to tell. But even then my stories represent something of the experiences of hundreds of thousands and probably many million military combatants.

My first experience was at a gymnasium in Albany New York. The first act of dehumanization was shaving of our heads, a standard procedure widely used to begin the process of removing our individuality. Secondly, in another room where hundreds of drafted recruits were being processed, we were ordered to strip nudebuck naked-- and put all we owned into a box including our shoes. Trying to maintain our dignity and since the navy didn’t seem to want to provide fig leaves, we were pressed into cupping our hands over our privates.

For 1½-2 hours, embarrassed and in silence, we passed from one medical station to another for examinations. Every inch of our body was scrutinized and /or handled. The location of every scar, mole and defect in our skin, was noted on a paper diagram. At sometime in these procedures, we shut down our personal emotions and freely exposed ourselves to the other 7 to 9 hundred men as they came and went in that gym. Our 2 earliest battles for individuality were quickly erased.

Unbeknown to me, at sometime the FBI searched my background character and associates to obtain # 1--top secret security. I evidently cleared the investigation. Then One day, a Shore Patrol (MP in the Army) informed me to pack my seabag immediately for a trip. “We are leaving in 15 minutes”. I asked for my traveling orders. He flicked them past my eyes, walked off telling me to get packed. “I will be back.” Questions rapidly flashed through my mind. “Where am I being taken? Where are we going? Why won’t he tell me? What have I done? WHY ME” I packed; the SP returned; grabbed my arm as I threw my sea bag over my other shoulder and off we walked to a bus station. Thereafter the SP treated me like a prisoner, maneuvering me like a puppet. It was distressing to be so guarded. I could get no answers to my questions as we boarded a train. “HEY! TRAIN! -- THIS GUY IS SERIOUS. Common practice was for the sailor to carry his own records and travel orders, but this time the Shore Patrol kept them in his possession. I could get no answers. So for hours, each of us sat silently, side by side. Finally and from the signs, we entered New York City. Taking a taxi from Grand Central Station we arrived at a naval yard. I was merged into a group of 29 other sailors, each with his own bodyguard, to be collectively locked for two weeks in a secure barracks. While comparing stories with each other, we wondered if our abductions were punishment for some violation of naval command. The guards took each of us to mess hall and sat with us to eat. Back to the barracks and a guard stuck to reach of us like glue, even sleeping in an adjoining cottwo feet from me. If I got up in the night for the toilet, there was the guard beside me.--- no privacy? The next day after arrival, we learned we had been secreted off to the Brooklyn Navy Yard to the Radio Material Officers Radar School for an electronic radar naval training course. Strange indeed for not one of our 30 enlisted sailors were officers. Only when we were in the classroom did the guard leave us, but returned to take us to noon and evening chow, and back to barracks. We were memorizing schematic plans of an electronic device named IFF which protected our ships, airplanes, and submarines from friendly fire and identified enemy craft. This equipment along with the codes was the most top secret device of the military in World War II. We were locked in our barracks at night and forbidden to discuss anything learned in the classroom, lest our whispers might be overheard by a spy at the windows. After intense studying and 30 sequential flawless reproductions of drawings of secret schematic plans, each of which was immediately burned, we graduated the course, and were instructed not to tell anyone anything about our training---not even our shipmates. Only the Captain of the ship could know. At graduation, we were handed a pill to be swallowed should we be threateningly approached by the enemy. It came as a great shock because of that which we were ordered to learn, my country while considering me indispensable could under certain conditions could now regard me as dispensable if threatened; How could my country do this to me? None of this was with my permission. Since I had lived beginning at age 14, my age at the death of my father to this age of 18,compeletely unsupervised making all own decisions for myself-- get myself to school with a near perfect attendance, meet work obligations, be a clean wholesome boy, etc. I learned that being the property my country, I have no right for me to belong to me? It was the pill which became dispensable when I quickly threw it into the wastepaper basket as I repeated “I believe in The supreme worth of every human personality” and I, too, am of supreme worth despite that my government under certain circumstances could and would want me dead.---NOT A DESIREABLE THOUGHT.

Aboard ship for the next two years, because of the secrecy of my position, I lived an isolated life. My officers always excused me from work parties and gave other special dispensations that they considered might in any way be endangering to me. Treated like a teacher’s pet! I wanted to be just an ordinary guy, so I often tried to break loose to do manual work with my shipmates. But they suspected something and maintained their distance.

Especially when an officer found and escorted me off. I was isolated. But I did develop a meaningful relationship with one close comrade. But even to him, I explained I could not be forthcoming. He accepted that as sufficient explanation. And our union as buddies thrived. I had to be silent, and he generously accepted me, becoming fast friends.

Whenever I was stressed during strained episodes, I repeated my Universalist Avowal of faith to overcome hate and fear that gave me courage, strength, consolation, and hope for a positive direction in life, I repeated it many and many times a day.

I avow my faith;

In God as Eternal and all-Conquering love,

In the spiritual leadership of Jesus,

In the supreme worth of every human personality,

In the authority of truth known or to be known,

In the power of men of goodwill and sacrificial spirit

to overcome all evil and progressively establish the kingdom of God.

My Universalist faith was sustenance through all my experiences. This was the one thing the Navy could not take from me. I had a way to keep my freedom! MY freedom! Even my mate memorized this and joined with me. He said that it gave him comfort.

Another experience: one night I was put on temporary Shore Patrol with a permanent base officer. Our duty in Panama City, Panama, was to patrol each bedroom of three brothel hotels. We had to step into each room to observe the safety of the service man in the room assuring that he was not being abused by the whore. Of course, the two were entirely nude in a variety of sexual acts and positions. This was all new and a shock to this young innocent 18 year old country farm boy. I never heard or saw such things!

Ashamed, I was woozy headed and blurry eyed for several days until I could store these sights into a new mental compartment and clamped shut.

In boot camp, everything was done to dehumanize us and to hate, how to kill, how to grind our foot into the enemy's face and mash it to mush. I was grateful to be assigned to a nice safe ammunition ship carrying 5 to 7000 tons of ammo. Subject to all the dangers, we traveled along with the aircraft carriers, battleships, cruisers, and destroyers into all the war zones of Iwo Jima, Okinawa, etc. supplying them with ammunition. The crew had to unload ammo to other ships by forming water bucket lines and passing ammo. We became so hardened and callous that we lost respect for the danger and tossed the 3 inch and five inch shells from one man to the next. Rather breath-taking at times when someone missed and dropped a bomb!

At Iwo Jima, I observed hand to hand combat of Marines with Japanese.

Grateful was I that I was not in hand to hand combat. But I saw the agony of conflict, of being stabbed and cut to death. One after another combatant was killed. The ocean waves would surge ashore and sweep away the bleeding dead.

But my faith in the supreme worthy of every human personality helped me regard every Japanese and Marine as my brother. Those scenes are mentally indelible and sometimes recalled in my mind to this day, especially as I sleep. Sometimes, I dream them and the fears that I felt .------There was one hour of joy. It was exhilarating to see the American flags being raised on Mount Suribachi. And early every morning, we looked to see if the flag was still there.

With the firing trigger in my right hand, I fired two 5 inch guns at incoming Kamikazes. My mind forced me to rationalize that I killed no persons; I shot down airplanes. The fixation on planes freed my conscience from any guilt of killing. Unknowingly I was playing video games in 1945.

Like millions of other servicemen in our many wars, I too have to face the death of a close, devoted, ardently trusted friend in whom we became a brotherhood of one soul dwelling in two bodies. Standing nearby me at our battle station, he was shot. I tended to him lying there on the deck groaning and becoming breathless. Yelling for help, I tried to keep him warm covering him as much as best as I could with his and my life jacket. I removed my shirt to cover the tears in his dungarees exposing his genitals. His spurting blood splattered on my skin and pants and ran down onto my shoes. Later, as I washed away his blood, I cried! Having been issued only two pair of trousers, I hand washed and rinsed away his sacred blood and squeezed dry that 1 pair of pants until there was no more red water. Passing years have somewhat mitigated my grief, but still memories revive themselves some 66 years later... The next day, all hands were ordered to the starboard forward hatch. A plank covered by an American flag straddled two trestles. When all hands were assembled, the ceremony began with the boatswain piping the call to worship and the Captain gave prayer and the perfunctory words of a burial Service coldly read from a handbook. I could hardly believe this was happening. And then the inboard end of the plank was raised and his body slipped under the flag and splashed into the sea below. Retreat was piped. It was “over.” Oh! How could that be?!---.Silently with all our emotions and feelings properly stored we returned to our prescribed duties. But inwardly, beside my best friend, that something in his soul, that something that was in him, in ME had died too. I felt like the Ancient Mariner in Coleridge’s poem of the same name.

“Alone, alone, all, all alone, Alone on a wide wide sea! And never a saint took pity on My soul in agony.”

Thereafter none of my shipmates spoke of his death. The memory still lives in that safe harbor of our inner selves. So we become silentnot to speak of it again. ------ Some combatants do jabber in military meetings, nearly always in shallow, empty form of tale-telling while preserving that safe harbor.

Back in college, when Angus asked what had happened to me, I could only answer that I am 2 3/4 years older. I didn't understand that the energies, the feelings, and emotions of the 18 year old boy had been compressed and safely stored in a mental vault some where in Panama/many sites in the Pacific Ocean/South America/somewhere far from college. The emotions, feelings of that boy were not IN that boy that Angus, my professor once knew. Years since, on rare occasions, I have told bits of my stories. But the deeper inward meanings were carefully guarded to not to have to remember the pain of memories. I couldn't show Angus that boy he once knew. That young man he knew no longer lived.

As I read to you earlier from the Boston Globe columnist, “Shutting down emotions is a way of life in combat. Those in combat rarely speak of their inner war.” I restate the point that we have learned to suck it up, endure our inward pain secretly. Those that do speak may tell their tales, but keep secret their deepest emotional substance. For me! Angus' single question has haunted me all my life causing me to reflect.

These are MY stories and each combatant has his own. This has all come pouring out of me now because I became so angry, hearing on TV and reading in the newspaper, how the lowest of soldiers are being blamed for their misconducts while the top conspirators are honored and praised. As Donne said to me the other evening that she realizes that only those who have been in combat can truly understand.

Few people are aware that combatants, the soldier, sailor, marine reveal bits of their stories often made humorous, but seldom can they reveal the deeper meanings from the chambers of their heart and mind.

War is more than bombing, shooting, military maneuvers, killing, devastation of buildings and machines, I have come to know about the greater devastation awarded to the wounded and amputees, but also the millions of physically able military returning from Iraq, each with one’s own horrific battlefield that spiritually haunts the wounded heart and soul for life. I am but one. The battlefield is forever present. The dead are relieved but not in the minds of loving spouses and children, friends, and close buddies. The world suffers from the deprivation of the possible contributions of the dead.

How many of them may have been geniuses? But more---- for the living, the sorrow, grief, pain is without end. No war is over until the demise of the last military combatant and his dear ones.

Only the Revolutionary War has brought positive gains to our country.

The Mexican War 1846-48 is still being fought in the southwest and is the excuse the Mexicans have for wanting to take back the land the United States confiscated from their country---158 years ago. The results are still with us on the Mexican border. Thirteen years after the Mexican War, in 1861, the Civil War hostilities waged for four years into 1865. It is still deep in the hearts of the South. Thirty three years later in 1898 the Spanish American war, though very brief, set the conditions empowering Castro to become Premier and sworn in as prime minister of Cuba in 1959. And he is still with us.

Thusly, I am not so sure that any war ever ends.

War devastates a whole society of not only the defeated but the victor as well. And our present manufactured war will irrevocably muck up our world for generations to come.

Today, let us honor the veteran, but in so doing let it not be in honor of war itself. Honor the veteran, living and dead, but not the war. Senator Bob Dole, former Republican Presidential candidate, asks “Is it possible to oppose the war while respecting the warrior. I say it is. It’s O.K. to have differing views on a war, including the current conflict…Many troops return from a war and reveal their own misgivings. But they have served overseas honorably.” Bob Dole.

Honor the veteran not the war. I believe that most of the combat soldiers who can unlock the chambers of their memories and squarely face their deeper inner selves would be opposed to war---any war. The price is always greater than the consequences. But the process of releasing themselves of the tragic experiences involves facing their battles anew and relive the horrific pains of the battlefields of the soul are a monumental heavy load. I have talked with many of the silent. They may tell some of their stories to friends, but seldom can they reveal the hurt in their hearts. With others of the same brotherhood, we can connect to soften the aches and pains. We can find that the safe harbor of our inner selves can open to the sunshine of the blue skies. If we don’t open we endure alone, and the “glory, if any, of war is passed on to succeeding generations to suffer. The truly great lesson for Veteran’s Day is to understand the great injuries that war does to the living for generations to come.

Music ------Green Fields of France


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