By David K. Shipler
With John Kerry confirmed for Secretary of State and Chuck Hagel in hearings to become Secretary of Defense, much is being made of the breakthrough that they represent: the first time that veterans of the Vietnam War will have occupied those two senior cabinet positions. These men, each sobered in his own way by combat, know the miseries of warfare, and seem to have absorbed their lessons.
But outside the glare of this spotlight on uniformed veterans, there are other Americans, those who went to Vietnam out of uniform, who also saw the miseries close at hand as they tried to do some good for ordinary people. I have watched recently as a farflung community of those invisible Vietnam vets have connected by Internet because one of them is dying. They are sharing reminiscences, are writing about the traumas they still carry, and are reaffirming the moral opposition to the war that moved them to activism decades ago.
Some avoided the war by persuading their draft boards that they were conscientious objectors, and then went to Vietnam anyway, in civilian clothes and unarmed.