I stumbled across this file on my computer, written in November 2016, but I don’t recall the young man, nor his original correspondence to me. It seems obvious from my reply that he wanted to be “of service” to his country, but not necessarily in the military. In any case, I thought you might enjoy my response.
Thank you for your letter. You’re right. When I returned from Vietnam, very few people acknowledged me or others for serving our country. Whether it was right for us to be there was not something most of us understood at the time. Our job was to do our duty as soldiers, and to follow orders. We hoped that we were actually doing some good.
Having said that, I want to impress on you that there are many ways to be of service to your country and your fellow human beings. Many of those things are within your power to do, even as a young man.
Be kind to and thoughtful of people. It not only costs you nothing to do so, but builds character for life. In reverse, being unkind harms both you and those you are unkind to. Kindness is a way to help your fellow man and is a service that rewards all of us.
Care for the earth. Our planet is only as kind to us as we are to it. We are its caretakers. There are many things you already know that will help. This includes the care of animals, soil and water and air. Try your best to lead by example. That is a service to the world.
Do not be judgmental of those you disagree with, no matter how wrong you think they are. Try to see matters from their point of view. They may in fact be wrong, but you can have a better understanding of why they believe that way. Pushing back against their belief, only makes them want to reinforce their position. Communication and understanding can bring realization from both sides. Today’s world is full of dissension and anger. Always take the high ground, and be a facilitator. That is a service to mankind.
Be kind to yourself. Don’t worry, fret and hold yourself in resentment for things you can’t control since it won’t make things better. Do something about things you can control and accept the rest. That is a service to you. Without it, you have a hard time being of service to anyone.
Rylan, I was so impressed with your letter that I felt obliged to pass on a few thoughts of my own about ways to serve without being in the military. If everyone did the above, we would have no need to send young men to war. Yes, there are times when fighting seems necessary, but that is only because we have failed previously to use our talents as humans and spiritual beings to prevent the cause in the first place.
I wish you all the best in life.
Vietnam Veteran 1966-1970