This Memorial Day my thoughts go back to a friend from college, Clovis May. He was a mild-mannered, hard-working, good cowboy from a ranching family in Deming, New Mexico. I don’t recall exactly what his major was, but probably Range Management or Ag Business. He was big enough to play football, but he rodeoed. A solid man in character, physicality and reliability. Due to problems at home, he quit school to go back and help at the ranch. Four months later, he received his draft notice but was granted a deferment. In December of ’67, he was called up by the Army. The rest is history, so they say, written on the Wall…the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Sergeant Clovis Lee May, B CO, 1ST BN, 46ST INFANTRY, 198TH INFANTRY BDE, AMERICAL DIV, USARV, ARMY OF THE UNITED STATES. Dec 14, 1944 to May 22, 1969. Killed in Action.
In May 1969, I was making plans to graduate from veterinary school in Colorado. I had been out of touch with Clovis since he dropped out of college. Like most of us who managed to avoid the draft, we kept our heads low, our nose to the books and watched the war go by out of the corner of our eye, on television.
Now, as I watch the War on Terror unfold and see our volunteer soldiers picking up the flag, our American flag, and charging into battle, I am relieved to see the treatment our returning troops are receiving. But somewhere, deep inside, it brings back the shame we, who did nothing, allowed to be heaped upon our soldiers. We watched and remained mute as every news broadcast followed the mortality report with footage of protesters screaming and carrying signs, calling our soldiers "Baby Killers"! Returning soldiers were advised to not wear their uniforms in public. In the vile spillover of anti-war protest, brave men and women were smeared, cursed and publicly reviled by singers, politicians, pundits, professors, activists, Hollywood and peace-loving hate-mongers. It hurt those who served, those who hated and those of us who did nothing. It was not a proud moment to be an American.
It seems in the last few years, we as a country have been on a national pilgrimage to apologize for previous policies, actions or inactions. Beyond individual politicians, CEOs, movie stars and athletes humbly laying out their mea culpas for everything from hiring illegal nannies to dog fighting, we have broadened our scope. We have taken it upon ourselves to apologize for slavery, Japanese internment camps, dropping the atomic bomb, torturing enemy combatants, mismanagement of national disasters, taking advantage of developing countries, global warming and using too many natural resources. We are trying to compensate for real or imagined wrongs. It is usually justified.
But if America owes anyone an apology, Vietnam vets are at the top of the list. Sooner or later, I expect, or hope, some brave politician or recovering war protestor will stand in front of the Wall, take their hat off and apologize to those veterans who carried our flag into harm’s way in Southeast Asia.
Clovis May did not have to suffer the malicious-invective cast upon returning soldiers by the anti-war activists. His silent arrival in a flag-draped coffin spoke volumes about his character and that of his detractors, and it still does.
Speaking for myself, Clovis, I’m sorry I didn’t stand up to them. It’s about time I did.
Baxter Black is a former large animal veterinarian who can be followed nationwide through this column, National Public Radio, public appearances, television and also through his books, cds, videos and website, www.baxterblack.com.