Paul Rainwater does not speak for all soldiers.
In his op-ed page column, he recites the oath to this country as if that gives him some special standing to call for removal of “monuments” to major Civil War figures in New Orleans. I took the same oath. I am a former officer who served in the U.S. Army Special Forces during Vietnam.
My experiences when in uniform returning home from my duty stations: Some people in airports would purposefully veer and walk way around me giving me a disgusted sideways sneer. I once had a woman get up and move from her seat on the plane when I sat down next to her. It wasn’t body odor, it was the green beret I was wearing.
People under the age of 60 today have no idea how soldiers were treated during and after Vietnam. “Dirt” comes to mind. There were no homecoming parades.
When home on leave in Baton Rouge, a girlfriend said to me, “Get ready, the revolution’s coming.” I was in a military environment; something of a cocoon, I acknowledge. I was aware of the news but had no idea the depth of the rage.
My response: “If the revolution comes it is going to have to come through me.” As were 99 percent of Southern soldiers in the Civil War, I was a ground-pounding infantry war fighter. I didn’t start the war, but I took Rainwater’s oath and I was ready to keep it.
The appalling treatment of soldiers during Vietnam took decades to reverse.
Now to the reaction to that psycho-fruitcake in South Carolina who killed nine African-Americans in church. That has been seized on to wipe clean the slate of all Southern memories of the Civil War.
Who were the soldiers in that war? In total, 3.5 million fought in the war; 620,000 men died. Well over half were Southern soldiers. A tiny, tiny fraction of them were slave holders. The rest were simply men, most, as in all wars, from the lower class, fighting and dying for their homeland.
The year after the war, 20 percent of the entire budget of Mississippi went to pay for artificial limbs for returning soldiers. They weren’t the rich and famous. They were simply soldiers.
Rainwater is wrong when he says “these monuments are not about preserving history.” He very calculatedly uses the word monuments a half-dozen times as if those statues are all about worshipful aggrandizement of the generals who fought in that war.
I reject that characterization. My word is memorial.
Memorializing the hundreds of thousands of Southern dead.
The rush to destroy the memories of all who fought and died is badly misguided. This country is deeply divided on many issues. The letters in your paper show more cons than pros on this issue. A wedge grows larger as you near the top. The New Orleans power base banging furiously on this wedge is only ensuring that the divide will grow.