The Anger Within --

I need to tell you about an incident I witnessed--an incident of rage and violence. It occurred at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. this past November on Veterans Day.

I watched from afar as a woman thwarted, struck out in anger. Her act of violence shocked me! I was appalled, embarrassed. That woman whose boiling rage I witnessed was me.

How do I explain this? Where to start? How far back do I go (to Vietnam?) to pick up the loose threads of this story, and begin to unravel the emotions I want to express and explore.

For the past eleven years I have been actively involved with Vietnam veterans groups and veteran's issues. Prior to that I had consciously or not, disassociated from my Vietnam experience for the many intervening years since my return in 1969. I had no particularly horrible memories to forget, nor any good ones to cherish either it seemed. I felt comfortable simply forgetting I had ever been to Vietnam. It was OK with me to feel nothing about Vietnam--until the dedication of the Wall in Washington D.C. in 1982.

The dedication of that memorial opened doors to the past I was not aware existed or needed opening. After seeing the Wall, I had an overwhelming urge to get in touch with other Vietnam veterans again, particularly women veterans. I wanted to remember, to reclaim, and validate that experience. I needed to give meaning to it, and I wanted to understand what those 15 months "in country" meant to me.

In quest of answers, I instantly went from one extreme to another. From being detached, to being a "joiner". First I joined the League of Families of POW/ MIA's; then Vietnam Veterans of America; the Vietnam Womens' Memorial Project; the Army Special Services Reunion Committee; and finally The Circle of Sisters...Circle of Friends. I was so busy, that for years my entire personal and social life revolved around "Vietnam" and veteran's activities. Vietnam, once so easily forgotten, seemed to come back into my life with a vengeance!

About a year ago, I met another non-military veteran of Vietnam. Jolynne like me, had gone to Vietnam in the 60's as a civilian volunteer. I went with Army Special Services, she with the American Red Cross. We shared many of the same ambiguous feelings about our "tour of duty" in Vietnam. We also both worked as State Coordinators for the Women's Memorial, and we felt civilian service, and especially the American female civilian casualties of the war were being totally ignored. We decided something had to be done about it.

First we went to our Vietnam Veterans of America Inc. national convention with a resolution asking for voting membership in our organisation instead of associate member status. We hoped that being accepted and recognised for our service, by our peers, would help validate civilian contributions to the war effort, and help bring healing and closure to that experience for many of us. The subject was addressed by the WA delegates at the national convention but turned down. We had shared that experience with them, and had gone to Vietnam in support of them, but we weren't welcome as equal members. If anyone would understand, we expected they would. What a disappointment!

We then approached the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project (VWMP). Jolynne had done research and determined that 56 American civilian women died in Vietnam in the line of duty. Wouldn't it be a great idea to somehow recognize these women and their sacrifice, at the same time as the dedication of our nation's first memorial honoring women? We felt that honoring our dead too would be a way of acknowledging civilian service in general, and their loss of life in particular. We asked the VWMP to plan something special to honor these 56 forgotten casualties of the Vietnam war. They turned us down also.

It was then we realized if anything was to be done to recognise civilian service--we the civilian women who had served in Vietnam--would have to do it for ourselves! Jolynne and I organized the Circle of Sisters...Circle of Friends, and with no money, no D.C. contacts, very little time, and alot of determination, accomplished what many told us was the impossible. We were able to convince the powers that be in D.C. that we weren't two crazy women from the West; we really had been in Vietnam during the war; that 56 additional American women--not just the 8 military nurses--had also died in Vietnam, and they too deserved to be remembered.

Finally, 90 days prior to dedication of the Women's Memorial, we prevailed. Permission was granted, and permits issued for a special memorial ceremony at the Wall!

With yards of red tape trailing behind us, we hastily finalised our plans. Jolynne and I then set out for D.C. with a great sense of accomplishment, to proudly dedicate the Women's Memorial, and to honor our civilian sisters at the Wall.

What should have been a joyful and exciting day for me turned into a nightmare.

I was to present the floral wreath for Army Special Services at the dedication ceremony on November 11th. The day turned out to be a gorgeous sunny day, bursting with autumn colors. I was so excited walking down the walkway toward our memorial carrying those thick, waxy, crimson red antherium, and golden birds of paradise. I thought,"At last! We've worked long and hard to get here, but finally, those who come here will know that women, military and civilian have served their country too!"

Just then a short, baby-faced, D.C. motorcycle cop stepped in front of me, barring my way, and said I could go no further. The immediate area around the Women's Memorial was roped off and accessible to VIP's only, he said. I tried explaining to him that I had an invitation and a pass to enter the area, but in my excitement had stupidly left it behind in my purse. He didn't care. No pass. No admission. His attitude said it all. His stony indifference to my pleas was so very apparent, and so infuriating. At that moment something strange happened. It was a though I stepped back from the confrontation and totally out of my own body!

I could see myself at a distance arguing with the officer. Then I saw the orange flames! They came up out of the ground beneath my feet. Boiled up through my body, and shot out from my shoulders--straight out over my head with such force that it startled me. I was engulfed in orange flames. But at the same time, I was aware of myself coolly looking into those baby-cop eyes, barely visible below the rim of his helmet, and thinking "Sweetpea, you weren't even born when all these men and women were dying in Vietnam, and I'll be damned if I let you stop me from presenting these flowers in their memory. I'm coming through." I heard the voices of common sense saying, "Don't do it. It's not worth it. The chief won't like it". (The chief being my boss the Police Chief). But another unfamiliar voice said, "Fuck it! He's not expecting it. Hit him!" So I did.

And from a distance--as far away as Vietnam perhaps--I watched "her" as she lifted the floral wreath, and using it as a battering ram, knocked that unsuspecting officer of the law out of her way.

BOILING, ROILING, ORANGE FLAMES ! Where did they come from?

Cathleen Cordova
Vietnam 1968-1969
Army Special Services