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Mares: Vietnam Era Memories

During the excruciating military, political and social tumult of the Vietnam War era, I experienced an intellectual and emotional arc that was probably not unusual.

I came out of college a cold warrior who believed in the domino theory in SE Asia. I joined the Marines four days after graduation while I prepared to enter the Foreign Service. I was at the Marine base of Camp Lejeune during the Cuban missile crisis.

But at the end of my active duty, my life took a detour. The Foreign Service turned me down – and I then worked through a succession of jobs as the US picked up where the French had left off In Southeast Asia.

With the Tonkin Gulf Resolution the Indo-China war became the Vietnam War, with more than 500,000 US troops in country. Neither Agent Orange nor carpet bombing and incursions into Cambodia and Laos brought victory. Napalm and the inflated body count did not bring peace. High school and college friends died in rice paddies while the Pentagon Papers detailed lying at the highest levels of government. And protests at home grew larger and more widespread.

During this growing domestic upheaval, I served in four different Reserve units, none of which was ever called to active duty. Meanwhile, I become a free-lance photographer. To get a full-time newspaper job, I needed a compelling portfolio with content that was both dramatic and current. The Marine Corps came to mind. I sought, and obtained permission from the Marine Corps headquarters to follow one platoon through its three months of boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina.

My goal was neither white wash nor expose, and the resulting book, entitled THE MARINE MACHINE, earned praise from both ends of the journalistic/ political spectrum. The conservative San Diego Times-Union liked it, as did the underground East Village Other.

The Forword was written by former Marine Commandant and Medal of Honor winner David Shoup. He’d been an early and articulate opponent of the massive American build-up in Vietnam, a view that made him a persona non-grata with the military establishment.
One particular image in his foreword has stayed with me. Shoup hoped that military recruitment would someday be driven not by the “Parade of Caskets,” but rather, by what he called the “Parade of Peace.”

Writer Bill Mares of Burlington is also a former teacher and state legislator. His most recent book is a collection of his VPR commentaries, titled "3:14 And Out."
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