Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Universal Soldier

My second cousin Louise was a few months older than me which was important when you were in your early teens.  Her parents would come up from the States to visit my grandparents so I met her a few times in the very early 60’s.  She was tall, slim, quiet and very pretty (like her nursing grad picture).  She read lots and the two of us sat on the basement steps at my grandparents and talked for hours.

I lost track of her when she stopped traveling north with her family. Her mom and her sister Alice would occasionally come to visit, then just Alice and her husband every once in a long while.  So it had been 50 years since I last saw Louise.

Then I reconnected with Alice on Facebook a little over a year ago only to learn Louise had been diagnosed with cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange. Louise had graduated from Nursing and served as a Captain in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. This is what Alice wrote to us after Louise died last month:

Yes, it is like the Vietnam War got her all these years later. Turns out some of the chemicals in Agent Orange encapsulate & hide out, and later on, they can come out & bite a person again. Louise was thinking that a previous shadow on an adrenalin gland, something that showed up in x-rays years ago & was under a 'probably nothing/we'll watch it' comment by doctors....that this was where the dioxin or whatever it was hid out.

When she was first diagnosed, I asked her about Agent Orange. "But you weren't out in the countryside or the jungle, when that stuff was raining down from the planes," I said. "But the guys would come into our evac all wet & covered with that stuff," she said. A good share of those guys have been gone for a long time already. There was another young soldier from here who was directly exposed. He made it home, got married, had a little baby girl, and then he died after a short battle with cancer. That was back in the 70s.

She fought it valiantly! Surgery, chemo, radiation....she had some of each. She was certainly a tough cookie. She was truly a person of integrity, always going the extra mile & doing more than was called for. I believe that the verse from the Gospel of John 15:13 fits her very well (Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends).

In those days and especially when you were from the Mid-West, you didn’t question.  You went and did your duty and assumed you were fighting for God, Country and a Just Cause because the people you trusted told you so.  Louise did right for her times and her family is justifiably proud of her.

But those she trusted lied to her and to every one else who served.  As they continue to do.  Perhaps as “they” have always done to the soldiers who fight for the empires of the rich and powerful?  And they reward them by treating them like heroes until they are wounded or discharged from service and then they are abandoned.  They reward them by poisoning them with Agent Orange in Vietnam; with depleted uranium and suspect vaccinations in modern wars.  And still the young men and women sign up and still they fight.  It has been forever thus.  They are the Universal Soldiers.  Maybe they need to stop.  Because the rich and powerful will not.


  1. Oh, yes. Doing the right thing.

    But your post also reminds me of the "smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go," as Stan Rogers put it in his song.

    All so very sad.

  2. I've watched as many a co worker and relatives have passed. Some were in the military and some not. And I always wonder why they have gone and I'm still here even after all the chemicals I've been exposed to over the years. Anyway we do what we do because it is necessary, at least what I do.

  3. They need to stop going imo. Only the poor, those avoiding jail, and the uneducated go. That is, except for the few Ivy League guys wanting to make a name for themselves.
    I remember the Vietnam days and all our male friends were in school, getting married, and having children in order to avoid the draft. Mostly, it was the poor who went and a few who felt a sense of duty, as your cousin must have.
    It is so sad.

  4. Do you mind if I reference your blog in a new post on my blog? I've posted it now without reference to your blog. I totally understand if you don't want to because you are talking more about duty, loyalty and doing the right thing. What I am trying to say will make most people angry.
    However, I did steal Buffy Sainte Marie. What can I say.

  5. Please reference my blog anytime. Louise did what she saw as her duty. The 60’s and early 70’s were about people who saw their duty to their country to be other than blind obedience. We need them back badly for the same reasons they were needed then. However I suspect the establishment is far more ready to deal with them now than they were then

  6. Three thousand died on 9-11 and we are aghast.

    Yet, Fifty-eight thousand died in VietNam - we lost - and yet vets proudly celebrate there involvement.

    But, none of the vets I served with can tell me why we were there.

    Unfortunately, War is a natural state for human males.

    the Ol'Buzzard

  7. 4000 died in traffic accidents every month of 2001 including September.

    I agree war seems to be a natural state for human males. Buffy sang about putting an end to war but I doubt that was the intention of many soldiers or their leaders. The intent is to win.

    When you are on the ground fighting, WHY is not yours to question as Tennyson so ably put it. That question needs to be asked and answered both before and after any war, by the people and their leaders.


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