Me and John Wayne on Memorial Day

By Mike Hastie, Army Medic Viet Nam
May 25, 2020

Recently I came across an old picture of me when I was in kindergarten.  I think it was the first day of school, as my father took the picture in 1950.  We were living at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, as my father was a career Army officer and combat veteran from the 16 months he spent in North Africa fighting the Germans.  He had profound PTSD, and the entire family inherited it.

As you can see in the picture, I am holding a school notebook with a picture of John Wayne on the cover.  Little did I know, John Wayne was preparing me for Viet Nam.

Very few World War II veterans talked about the war, so they let John Wayne talk for them.  Of course, John was never in a war, because Hollywood propaganda war movies were more important.

In 1968, John Wayne directed a movie called, “The Green Berets.”  It was the same year that American soldiers went into the village of My Lai and massacred 504 Vietnamese civilians, including 182 women (17 of them pregnant), 173 children, and 60 old men.

John Wayne never knew this, nor would he have ever believed it.  You don’t believe things that annihilate your core belief system.  John Wayne was a powerful brand name, and that trademark sent my generation to Viet Nam.

A friend of mine, Brian Willson, who witnessed atrocities in Viet Nam had this to say when he looked into the dead eyes of a Vietnamese woman still holding three dead children in her arms after napalm was dropped: ” In that moment, and it only took a second, I got it.”  In that moment, he knew he was the enemy in Viet Nam.

So, here we are again on Memorial Day, which should be called Forgetful Day.  When I look at that picture of me holding that John Wayne notebook, I realize just how far I have traveled in comprehending the unspeakable truth.

I feel like I have lived multiple life times.

Where there is truth, there is holy ground.