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Armed Forces Day, Graterford State Prison: Veterans and Pennsylvania's Criminal Justice System

By dlindorff - Posted on 22 May 2013

By John Grant



Asked by veterans from the Vietnam Veterans of America inmate Chapter 466 in Graterford state prison to be the official speaker for their Armed Forces Day event on May 18th, the following was given as a speech. Members of VVA Chapter 466 were in attendance, along with a host of friends and supporters of the chapter, some who are quite conservative veterans.

It is a great honor to speak here today for Armed Forces Day. I must say, when I was asked to be the speaker today I was a little surprised. While I’m very much an American, I am not a flag-waver.

So I’m not going to give the usual Armed Forces Day speech that praises our military for preserving our freedom here in America. Everyone has heard that one many times before.

Since I’m speaking to a mixed audience of prison inmates (most of them veterans), prison officials and other distinguished guests, I want to talk about the Armed Forces and incarcerated veterans.

Like others in this room, I’m a Vietnam veteran. But that identification really doesn’t tell anyone much other than triggering stereotypes.

I joined the Army in 1965 a week out of high school. I had just turned 18. My father had been a PT boat captain in the south Pacific, and my brother was in the Army infantry at the time. I ended up as part of the Army Security Agency, was sent to Vietnam and was assigned, first, to the 25th Division, then to the 4th Division, both headquartered in Pleiku. I was a fairly intelligent kid, but, frankly, very naïve. I was trained in Morse code to work as a radio direction finder.

I was what we called -- and pardon the obscenity -- a REMF, or rear echelon motherfucker. Still, I ended up working in forward areas in support of large infantry operations. I was at a firebase near the famous Ia Drang valley where a year earlier Commer Glass fought as a young soldier. I was dropped by helicopter on remote mountaintops near the Cambodian border with a half squad of grunts to protect my sorry REMF ass. It was all pretty amazing experience for a young kid just out of high school.

We had three DF teams whose task was to locate North Vietnamese radio operators and, by extension, their units, so my comrades in combat arms -- the artillery, Air Force or infantry -- could attack and neutralize them. Kill them.

All I knew of these radio operators was the sound of them keying Morse code messages in five-letter coded groups. I used a portable direction finder radio to get a bearing on the broadcast -- as did two other teams just like mine in other locations. Someone would plot our bearings on a map and, if we were lucky, we’d achieve a coordinate that we called a “fix,” which we passed on to intelligence units.

I was certainly not a hero by any definition of the word. I did my job. I even was awarded an Army Commendation Medal for a 30-day operation in which we hunted down one particularly elusive, roaming NVA brigade radio operator. It led to the destruction of a dug-in brigade headquarters.

How I see my experience in Vietnam can best be characterized by what I tell people when they say to me, “Thanks for your service.” I politely tell them, “I would rather not be thanked for my service in the armed forces. I want to be thanked for what I learned from my service in the armed forces.”

And here’s four things I learned...

For the rest of this article by JOHN GRANT in ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent three-time Project Censored Award-winning online alternative newspaper, please go to:

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