Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace
I am a veteran of the peace movement, in which I have been involved since 1968. In 1971, I helped found the Ecumenical Peace Institute of Northern California, a chapter of Clergy and Laity Concerned About the War in Vietnam. After working full-time with the institute, I experienced the need activists have for deepening their contemplative life and, in 1974, helped to organize the Angela Center in Santa Rosa, California. Its programs integrated social responsibility, spirituality, psychology, and the arts. In 1983, I left Angela Center, earned a Ph.D. in psychology, and became a licensed psychotherapist. At the same time, I was trained by the Guild for Psychological Studies in San Francisco to lead seminars in spirituality, myth, and depth psychology.I have participated in the Veterans Writing Group since 2001. The privilege of hearing poems, stories, and reflections written by people with a wide variety of military experience has deepened my understanding of war and its imprint on the Web of Being.
DON EDWARD MORRIS
What do you do when you are sixty-two and permanently disabled by multiple sclerosis? The world gets much smaller when you can no longer go out into it easily. Time gets harder to fill without the use of hands and with increasingly limited endurance. Two problems arise, how to meet the needs for community and creativity. It helps to have a bit of serendipity. A year ago, I happened upon an article in the local newspaper about a writing group started by Maxine Hong Kingston that was still meeting after ten years. While the group’s original purpose was to heal the wounds of Vietnam veterans through writing and an encouraging community, it had grown to include people from a number of backgrounds. Best of all, from my point of view, the group met only fifteen miles from my house. I had found my community.
A few years earlier, I had discovered that writing poetry was just the right medium for me. Poetry gets right to the point. You get in and you get out. It is a sprint not a marathon. A poem can be written easily on the computer with speech-recognition software. Most importantly, the poem, which originates in a chaos of images, impulses, and emotions, settles into a form in language which reveals a certain meaning. I believe, however, that even such a solitary pursuit as writing poetry eventually needs community for criticism, support and inspiration. In time, out of the community come individual friendships and teachers.
I wrote these poems in the early days of the Iraq invasion. They betray my “youth” as a poet. I am proud, however, to have them included with the writings of others who have lived through disabilities and dark times.
I entered college in the Fall of 1966, not long after “The Ballad of the Green Berets” hit number one on the charts. It was early in the Vietnam War, and I was a strong supporter of the war. I majored in political science, with dreams of a glamorous, globetrotting life in the diplomatic service.
By the spring of 1969, the war was tearing America apart. I took a course in international relations, and for my term paper I determined to prove our involvement in Vietnam was legal under international law and in our national interest. After weeks in the library trying to prove us “right,” facts forced me to opposite conclusions, and I became a vocal opponent of the war.
“Draft Night” is a story of events triggered by Richard Nixon’s draft lottery. Like several characters in the story, I pulled a bad number that night. I had no intention of fighting in a war I knew to be wrong, and considered Canada. But as bad as Vietnam was, Soviet divisions were poised to strike across the Iron Curtain. Rather than submit to the draft, or evade it, I conflated my crisscrossed beliefs and became what the U.S. Army called a D.I.E., a “draft-induced enlistment,” and did my time as an MP in Germany.
“Draft Night” was originally to be part of a novel about the damage done to American society by the war in Vietnam. Eventually, I decided the best way convey how Vietnam warped our history was to create a world in which there had been no Vietnam War. The result is my first novel, The Energy Caper, in which a “good” Richard Nixon, with no Vietnam or Watergate to slow him down, fights the Arab oil embargo and unwittingly saves the planet from the catastrophe of global warming. Somewhere, in a parallel universe or an alternate reality, it could even be true.
B. COLE MORTON
I was born Bruce Cole Morton, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on June 27, 1941. The first thing I remember is the whooping cough: Cheerios floating in the toilet. My oldest brother is eighty-four and just remarried. My dad, born 1897, was in the Navy during World War I, many uncles and aunts in World War II, another brother in Korea, so plenty of patriotic upbringing: church, school, Boy Scouts, and more church after my dad died young and my mom relied on religion to carry us through. I was ten and tried very hard to believe. On and on. U Mass Amherst; Teachers College, Columbia University; USMC Infantry Officer School, Quantico, Virginia. Then Vietnamese Language School, Monterey, California, before Danang, An Hoa, Phu Loc 6, and Hue City, Tet ’68. Distrustful of authority. Abused alcohol and drugs. Never worked for anyone else since Marine Corps. I have been knocked out and temporarily blinded by lightning, attacked by a big shark, drowned and resuscitated, survived drunk and passed out in the backseat of a car driven by my second wife off a cliff in northern New Mexico, eighty feet through the air. Lost a couple of inches off my right leg in that one. Owner/operator rubbish removal company on Cape Cod. Sold used cars in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Played poker. Smuggled drugs. Two daughters, two sons (one deceased). Three marriages, third one thriving. Living on Cape Cod, thinking of moving to Vermont. Maybe it’s quieter and safer there.
CHARLIE SHERDYL MOTZ September 11, 1942–May 7, 2005
From Sherdyl’s memorial ceremony Charlie Sherdyl Motz, Sufi and Peet’s habitué, was a bit of a public figure around Berkeley. After growing up in an Army family, moving around constantly and living in other countries, losing his mother at the age of thirteen, serving in Vietnam and becoming disillusioned, getting a degree and doing some graduate work at the University of Arizona, Charlie moved to Berkeley, where he really fit in, loving the street scene and helping many people.
A disabled vet, he gradually worked off his extreme trauma syndrome through forgiveness and kindness. Sherdyl had taken the Bodhisattva Vow and Green Tara Empowerment and practiced the identification with that aspect of the Love of the One for more than a decade. When he was without sufficient oxygen and couldn’t manage his equipment or move from his bed, he turned to the image that he used for daily practice and was found later by friends with his arm outstretched toward the image of Green Tara, in a beautiful and angelic repose position, having made his transition already.
He kept close to the Quaker and the Buddhist communities he had practiced with as part of his eclectic Sufi tradition. Thich Nhat Hanh was special to him because Sherdyl was a Viet Nam vet. His Sufi name, Sherdyl, given to him by Pir Vilayat at his Sufi initiation twenty-five years ago, means “Lion Hearted,” and he truly had miles and miles of heart. Many people treasured his listening ear and his humor.
JOHN MULLIGAN June 2, 1950–October 12, 2005
John Mulligan was born into a family of ten children in Kirkintilloch, Scotland. After emigrating to the United States with his family, at the age of nineteen, he was drafted, and served a year’s tour of duty in Vietnam, mostly in heavy combat. Although physically uninjured, Mulligan suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which eventually resulted in total and permanent disability. After the war, he fought increasing illness and alcoholism. Though he struggled for a normal life, he spent ten years on the streets of San Francisco, where Café Trieste, “the living room” of writers and poets, provided a place of stability. In 1996, while still on the streets, he was invited to join a writing group for homeless veterans, started by Maxine Hong Kingston. In this group, Mulligan’s natural talent found expression in his seminal novel, Shopping Cart Soldiers. Writing at the café, or out of the rain under the steps of the Basque Hotel, the novel flowed, resulting in a powerful story that blended Celtic and Asian mythology and embodied one soul’s destruction by war.
Published by Curbstone Press, the novel won a PEN Award for excellence in literature. Studied today in universities, Shopping Cart Soldiers was called one of the top three novels in literature of the Vietnam War. Mulligan spoke in front of Congress on behalf of homeless veterans, and worked with groups such as the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.
John Mulligan continued to write brilliantly and to devote himself to helping his brother and sister veterans. Tragically, on October 12, 2005, he was killed in a car accident. He is survived by three children and a granddaughter, all beloved.