Memorial Day Letter to my Union President

As a retired sheet metal worker, on Memorial Day, I watched the Memorial Day video put out by the general president of my union.  This was my response to him. 

I appreciate your stress on staying safe during this pandemic, as well as the listing of our 14 members who have died from COVID-19.   I also appreciate your speaking of how our union has helped veterans transition from the military to our trade.

I want to comment on how your message affects me as a combat veteran of the Viet Nam War.  It is a good thing to support veterans, in our efforts to live productive lives (such as through our union membership and work), and for healing physical, emotional and moral injuries.    Yet, it is such a common thing to see this worthy sentiment seamlessly get extended to supporting militarism, something that I believe occurs in your video.   This type of thing can be seen easily every Memorial Day, July 4th and Veterans’ Day, and is unfortunate and upsetting.  Our willingness to sacrifice and our love of country got manipulated into a brutal war in Viet Nam, that created so much loss among the Vietnamese and among our people in the US. Viet Nam’s people or government had never done anything to hurt US people.

Sheet metal has been a good trade for me and helped my family and me to survive and thrive.  I have seen so many other Viet Nam veterans who did not thrive.   I believe, and many of us veterans believe, that our healing would go better if the country as a whole would have learned the tragic lessons that we learned the hard way.   The endless wars of the 21st Century indicate that our country has not.

Although I have worked my entire sheet metal career in the San Francisco Bay Area, like you I grew up in the Delaware Valley.   In my case, it was on a dairy farm outside of Kennett Square, PA.   I was in the high school class of 1964, and many of us ended up in Viet Nam.  At least four people I grew up with died as a result of the Viet Nam war.

Howard Lindecamp got killed in Viet Nam.  I was a patrol leader in Boy Scout Troop 24, and Howard was in my patrol.

Bob Vogelsang, a classmate and buddy, died in 1972.  He walked with a limp from a leg wound incurred while walking point in Viet Nam.  He became an alcoholic and died in a one-car accident.

Mark Arnold lived a mile from me.  A bunch of us kids used to play baseball over at Mark’s place.  He was a door gunner on a helicopter and died in 1976 of cancer connected with Agent Orange.  The Army denied any service connection to the cancer, even though everyone on his ward had the same cancer and had all been door gunners!

Bob Badger was a classmate who died in 1990 from Agent Orange-related illness.  I spoke with his widow at a class reunion, who was bitter about the long fight she had with the Army around their refusal to acknowledge Agent Orange as the cause of his fatal cancer.

Of these four, only Howard’s name is on the Viet Nam Veterans’ Memorial wall.

We are Labor – we are and represent working people.  We suffer from war and militarism, as soldiers, soldiers’ family members, and as people whose resources are stolen.  The trillion dollar military budget seems to have nothing to do with defending this country from foreign attack.   Big corporations may benefit financially from war and militarism but our interests are different from theirs; we in Labor should not support militarism.

Labor can be so much bigger and stronger, and could be key to changing  this country for the better.  We in Labor have done many worthy things, but a 6% rate of unionization in the US private sector does not warrant complacency.   There is so much we need to rethink about ways to redirect our efforts. This pandemic is the time, when so many aspects of our future are both uncertain and wide open.    Support for the Green New Deal, and for redirecting resources away from the military toward working people’s needs should be very high on our to-do list.

In solidarity,

Steve Morse
Oakland, CA

Steve Morse is a retired union sheet metal worker living in Oakland, CA. He is a combat veteran of the American war in Viet Nam. He can be reached at Read other articles by Steve.