Peace and War in the Heartland - Veterans Stories - A010


“Ah, Johnny, I hardly knew ya!” – A010

This is about Schnee. We were college classmates at a small Catholic college in central Minnesota, ’63-‘66. He was always active in the DFL. I was lost in footnotes and the dusty aisles of the library, not active like he was. He was handsome, bright and was the guy everyone knew was going somewhere.

We were all in ROTC. It was mandatory. Never gave it a second thought. Courses on anti-communism, likewise mandatory. When the first Catholic president went to war in a country where there was another Catholic president, it all seemed right in terms of what both America and Catholics had to do.

We met again at the U of M a semester into our first graduate year. Schnee told me that he was going out West to study theology. Though I had been a seminarian and a young monk, this was news to me. We both got excited. An influential priest obtained scholarships for us out in San Francisco.

We had a hilarious trip, skidding down the icy highway, strewn with knife-jacked semis in Iowa, out into the deserts of Arizona where we feared getting out to pump gas because of snakes, up through California’s central valley, and into a stormy, blustering San Francisco. As things go, as we went into talk with the registrar, our car was vandalized. We were broke and soaked! I’ll never forget the cop looking at me as if I was an idiot, “Don’t you know the Haight-Ashbury is two blocks away?” “Hate what?” Bumpkins in the Summer of Love, 1967. Flower children.

Schnee got bad news. They wanted him to sell his car or no scholarship. Why, Johnny, why … the fuck did you go and enlist in the Air Force? I stood at your grave, 44 years old, two kids, a devastated wife. Why did you join, become an officer, and then – goddam your bravery! – in full dress speak out against the war, time and again? Warned. Threatened. Just a hair’s breath from the brig in Leavenworth - only a senior officer saved your butt. Fucking angels with brass stars! …But you’re gone, Johnny. And I cry even as I write this. You were out of harm’s way, but then not. Cancer. Eating you. I knew it was the war. We talked about the war. About my going to prison. How we walked like but different paths. My boys were just your son and daughter’s ages. I left you, bald in deep chemo, never having heard you complain. Damn. The good die slowly, painfully. Expiating for the sins of us all.

Most came back from Vietnam. It’s just that Vietnam came back with them. “Vietnam” as the cancer of hating that eats away, even those who truly give their lives to bring peace to their fellow countrymen.

Schnee was a man of deep conviction and moral action. A peacemaker.




Read other letters:

A001   A002  A003   A004   A005   A006   A007   A008   A009   A010




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