Monday, May 16, 2011

Unfriendly Fire

I’ve just finished reading Unfriendly Fire:  A Mother’s Memoir by Peg Mullen. 
Peg Mullen used the energy generated by her son’s death by “friendly fire” during the Vietnam War to protest war.  She marched in protest all the way up to the first Gulf War.  Peg died in 2009 at the age of 92.  She was a very Catholic lady who had friends in the clergy with the convictions to support the Anti-War Movement.  This was a consistent theme in her memoir.
Peg felt that keeping our country from engaging in wars of aggression was key to stopping the bloodshed.
Statistics published after the Vietnam War was over suggested that "more than 10,000 casualties were caused by accidents, murder, friendly fire, drug overdose and other unexplained causes, all labeled nonhostile deaths."
There was a book, “Friendly Fire”, written five years after Michael Mullen’s death which Peg Mullen found disappointing.  The family had agreed to allow Courtlandt Bryan  to write the book.  Peg felt the author placed his personal views and support for the military above the family’s narrative.  Peg explained that "(t)he passage in Friendly Fire accusing the men in the 14th Artillery of drunkenness was not our story,  It came from Colonel Norman Schwarzkopf, commanding officer of Charlie Company of the 198th Battalion."
A made-for-television movie, which the Mullens approved of, also titled “Friendly Fire”, had Carol Burnett playing Peg.
Still, the story always lacked a definitive reason for the error by which Michael was killed by shrapnel from US artillery fire.
The category, “friendly fire” is not, technically, considered non-combat death by the military.  A death caused by our own military to its members in battle is considered to be a combat death.  It’s a very strange dichotomy.
When I read books by family members, I always look for the common threads, the wisdom gained, the solutions offered. 
Peg Mullen, at a time before the Internet was invented, took the time and trouble to write letters to the families of other military men killed by “friendly fire” in the same area.  She corresponded with people, called them on the telephone and answered calls from numerous people over the years.  She and her husband traveled to meet some of the people and opened their home to people similarly affected by non-combat death.  She appeared at Congressional hearings and engaged in interviews in the media.
For all the years after her son was killed in 1970, Peg worked to try to get straight answers from the military.  She analyzed the false information given initially and followed up on tips sent by men who seemed to know what led to the accidental deaths. 
Now, families can contact one another via the Internet.  We maintain the same sort of close relationships as those formed in the 1970s and 1980s after the Vietnam War.  We get the same treatment from the military as well:  lies, obfuscation, and the willful withholding of information about how our loved ones died.
We are determined to fight for truth, although we regret that it is our very own government we are up against.
 Donna Janeczko

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