War as rite of passage to manhood. Mike Mullane, in Vietnam, didn’t find himself as a man, but He understood how cruel the world can be sometime. He lost part of his soul and he probably took home Agent Orange effects (as tyrhoid disease) and post traumatic stress syndrome.
To begin, introduce yourself and tell me about your service in Vietnam. I’m Mike Mullane, aged 60. I was in the Marines from November 1967 to July 1969. I spent my 19th year in Vietnam. I worked as a radio operator. I attained the rank of lance corporal. I received no special decorations other than unit citations.
Then, when did you enlist, and what were your motivations? I enlisted just after high school in November of 1967. I was not motivated by any political considerations. I came from a small town in Iowa, a very rural part of the United States. I joined with four friends. I think we were all looking to escape the boredom of our small towns and we were all looking for adventure. I know that I wanted to gain some experience of the world. Joining the Marines was a way to travel well beyond Iowa. Escape from the small town I grew up in was one of the primary reason I signed up. That and the obvious rite of passage represented by joining the Marines were the reasons I joined. I was a child and I wanted to become a man. I think I also wanted to prove that I had courage. That I was tough, that I was deserving of manhood. I didn’t just want to be a soldier, I wanted to be a Marine.
What did you feel about your Nation before to move to the war? I felt my nation was like a religion. I couldn’t conceive that my country could do wrong. From my experience I have learned that my nation is not virtuous. Perhaps no nation is virtuous.
About your military training. What did trainers teach to you to face? In the Marine Corps you are trained to kill.
What was your first thought when you arrived in Vietnam? My first thought was that it was very humid. I didn’t know what to expect. I saw quickly that it was very poor there.
Did you hurt during the war? No, I was not wounded but I did have exposure to Agent Orange. I lost two children that were born too early that may or may not have been caused by Agent Orange. I also contracted Grave’s Disease which is a thyroid disorder that was most likely due to exposure to Agent Orange. Then, some years ago a doctor I was seeing diagnosed me with PTSD. I’m pretty sure I got it because of what I saw. Just what I witnessed was enough. Also, because I was in fear of losing my life.
What were the conditions of this asiatic country when you were in, and what kinda war? I was there in 1968 and 1969 and although I didn’t know it then the war was ending. For most of my time there I was stationed at a place called An Hoa. An Hoa was the last Marine Corps combat base in Vietnam and is located West of Da Nang.
Why were Vietcong dangerous, what did you feel about them? The Viet Cong were somewhat invisible, they left many traps, but we did see them from time to time. Especially when they attacked our base.
How did Usa military strategy change in front of a long war? I was unaware of any military stategy except that upon my release from the military in 1969 I did have the impression that the U.S. had lost the war.
What was your relation with your american and local comrades in arms? And with local people? I had close relations with the local people. So much so that my knickname was “gook lover”. Most of my fellow Marines treated the local people harshly. I think that racism was very much a part of that war.
What about atrocities in Vietnam war? I think every war has these situations. Atrocities are committed every day in war. Somehow people refuse to see this. They believe in the myth that there is glory in war. They think war has a surgical precision. This is tragically very very wrong. I have been told of many situations where innocent people were killed in the Vietnam war and I saw myself innocents killed on several different occassions. From a distance, I saw some children killed because they were in a village that was under attack. I also saw the remains of civilians after bombing. It is primarily these memories that haunt me.
When you came back home, what was the welcome? What about your feelings? I felt alien, almost as if I were from a different planet. Most everyone acted as if I had not gone to war. The only people I could relate to were other veterans.
What did you leave of your soul in Vietnam? I left part of my soul in Vietnam. But I do value my experience there. Very few people understand politics as well as I do. Seeing war has shown me a reality that few others know. Most people do not understand how cruel the world can sometimes be.
How much time did you have employe to feel again at home? Did you follow a rehabilitation program? No, when I came home there were no rehabilitation programs. I felt that I was crazy and my only friends were other veterans. I became very self destructive for a very long time. The first symptom of trauma is substance abuse. For many years I drank heavily, as almost all combat veterans do. I don’t drink much anymore.
Actually, what do you feel about your war experience? How often is it in your mind? War and the cruelty of nations is on my mind constantly. I had recurring nightmares for more than 40 years.
Actually, are you an activist anti-war? In wich way? I was an activist for many years but now I am mostly pessimistic and discouraged. I prefer to stay in my garden.
What’s your relation with the religion after Vietnam? I became very much of a Buddhist upon my return from Vietnam. My experiences in Vietnam caused me to lose faith in Catholicism. I just liked that the first two laws of Buddhism are suffering and change. That has always made sense to me
Did you visit Vietnam after the war? Do you would like? May it be a sort of atonement? No I have not been back to Vietnam, but many of my friends have. I have not felt compelled to return to Vietnam because I didn’t committ any sins there. By sins I mean that I didn’t murder any one or do any thing that I felt I needed to atone for. I would rather go to Paris or Venice or Hawaii.