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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Speakers discuss healing in the wake of the Vietnam War

On Nov. 10 and 11, two prominent speakers associated with the Vietnam War came to Guilford in commemoration of Veteran’s Day. Anne Welsh, widow of Vietnam martyr Norman Morrison, and Stevie Westmoreland, daughter of infamous Vietnam-era Gen. William Westmoreland, shared their stories of healing after the trauma of Vietnam – stories with direct ties to the kind of Quaker community Guilford enjoys.

According to Max Carter, campus ministry coordinator, the name Westmoreland once “struck fear in the hearts of people.”

Stevie Westmoreland was only a girl during the Vietnam War. She grew up, sharply feeling the pain that she believed her father had helped cause in both America and Vietnam.

Westmoreland, always a very spiritual person – “My spiritual journey began when I was nine” – mourned the loss of life her family had helped create.

She explained that her parents’different lifestyles created a great deal of tension in the family.

“My father was this sacred soldier,”she explained. “And my mother was a humanitarian.”

Westmoreland sought reconciliation by participating in Tours of Peace, an organization that seeks to help families of veterans.

“I went back to Vietnam to heal those wounds my family just couldn’t,” said Westmoreland.

That trip was a “life-changing experience.” She visited dozens of sites, among them a leper colony, impoverished villages, and schools for the mentally handicapped. The purpose of her journey, she said, was to “bring compassion to the Vietnamese.”

Westmoreland became very taken with the cause of the “Vietnamese Montagnards” (more commonly known as the Degar), a group historically persecuted for their religious beliefs, which include both Protestantism and Catholicism.

“Greensboro actually hosts a large population of Montagnard refugees,” she noted. Several Degar attended Westmoreland’s speech.

Westmoreland recalled a meeting with a teacher at a Vietnamese school, whom she discovered to be the daughter of a National Liberation Front member.

As the two women fell sobbing into each other’s arms, the teacher told Westmoreland, “That (the Vietnam War) was then, and here is now.”

Although some Vietnamese people do not share the teacher’s beliefs, Westmoreland emphasized the ongoing effort to bring a message of peace on each trip to Vietnam.

The Quaker community nurtured hundreds of conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War. These men, believing that war ran directly contrary to Biblical teachings, refused to comply with the draft and completed “alternate service” instead. That alternate service consisted of everything from missionary work to building public infrastructure.

Some objectors, or “C.O.s”in Vietnam-speak, were not content with merely refraining from military action. They felt an ethical duty to protest the war in any and every way possible.

Norman Morrison was one such man.

Morrison -husband, father, and devout Catholic -burned himself to death on the steps of the Pentagon on Nov. 30, 1965. His act was intended to draw attention to what he considered a senseless and godless war. Morrison soon became known as a martyr.

Welsh, Morrison’s widow, denied anger at Morrison for a long time. He had left her a love letter before he left for Washington. “Please do not condemn me,” read the letter, and so, says Welsh, “I could not condemn him . Anger isn’t something Quakers do.”

Eventually, however, Welsh had to deal with her anger and her grief. She explored the depth of her emotions during a tour of Vietnam more than two decades after her husband’s death.

“I guess I did what they do in the Middle East,” Welsh said. “I keened . and then came a wonderful peace.”

Norman Morrison’s act shook the Quaker community to its core.

“It ran counter to Quaker propositions to go off on your own, without discerning things in a community, and do something that drastic,” said Carter.

Bill Harris, a fellow conscientious objector, met Morrison at a Quaker meeting a few weeks before his death.

“We had no idea what he was planning,” he said. “But we knew he wanted to do something extreme. We always wondered what would have happened if we had known more about what was going to happen,”he hesitantly added.

Still, both Carter and Harris agreed that Morrison’s act made Americans think.

“It makes you ask yourself, ‘What would I be willing to give?'” said Carter.

Morrison objected to the war from the beginning, but a magazine article about the bombing of Priest Village in Vietnam cemented his desire to take a public stand. The villagers had sheltered members of the National Liberation Front.

The local priest said of the severity of the bombing, “They (the American forces) would even murder the host itself.” As a deeply religious man, Morrison held on to the quote and became convinced that he had to do something drastic.

Recalling the story of the Priest Village bombing, Welsh asked, “Doesn’t it sound just like something in the news today in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Gaza?”

The comparison between Vietnam and Afghanistan is a common one in college environments.

“They’re very similar situations,” said Carter.

When asked why Guilford students have not held teach-ins, as they did for the Gulf War, Carter responded, “We need to. We’ve all been caught with our pants down.”

“That was part of the reason for Welsh’s speech,” said Carter. “We need to see what we’ve learned from Vietnam.” ?

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