Dear America,

Remember me? I was the girl next door.

Remember when I was 13, America, and rode on top of the fire engine in the Memorial Day parade? I’d won an essay contest on what it meant to be a proud American.

And, it was always me, America, the cheerleader, the Girl Scout, who marched in front of the high school band, carrying our flag, the tallest and the proudest.

And remember, America, you gave me the Daughters of the American Revolution Good Citizen Award for patriotism, when I was only 16.

And then, you sent me to war, America, along with thousands of other men and women who loved you.

It’s Memorial Day, America. Do you hear the flags snapping in the wind? There’s a big sale at Macy’s, and there’s a big parade in Washington for the veterans.

But it’s not the American flag or the sound of drums I hear – I hear a helicopter coming in. I smell the burning of human flesh. It’s Thomas, America, the young black kid from Atlanta, my patient, burned by an exploding gas tank. I remember how his courage kept him alive that day, America, and I clung to his only finger and whispered over and over again how proud you were of him, America – and he died.

And Pham… He was only eight, America, and you sprayed him with napalm and his skin fell off in my hands and he screamed as I tried to comfort him.

And America, what did you do with Robbie, the young kid I sat next to on the plane to Viet Nam? His friends told me a piece of shrapnel ripped through his young heart – he was only 17 – it was his first time away from home. What did you tell his mother and father, America?

Hold us, America …

Hold all your children, America. Allen will never hold anyone again. He left both his arms and legs back there. He left them for you, America.

America, you never told me that I’d have to put so many of your sons, the boys next door, in body bags. You never told me …

 

Peggy Akers served in the Vietnam Army Nurse Corps (1970-71). She lives in Portland.

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