In Spencer Matteson’s own words …

As a Vietnam combat veteran, I had a rough time when I came home. For years after my tour I had all the hallmarks of PTSD. Yet, even though I was a mess from the war and my experiences in it, I had a persistent, nagging urge to go back. Finally, in the spring of 2014, I returned for a two and a half month visit.

My intention was to travel Vietnam from top to bottom, visiting as many historical places of interest as I could, attempting to meet and speak with Vietnamese war vets (from both sides) and go back to some of the places where I fought. I also wanted to do something to help the Vietnamese people in some way – a kind of personal reparation, for my part in the war.

My first stop was Hanoi where I met a remarkable fellow named Chuck Searcy — a fellow Vietnam vet from Georgia who had been living there for close to 20 years. A member of Veterans for Peace, Chuck has been instrumental in helping the Vietnamese people overcome the lingering effects of the war.

Weeks later, at Chuck’s urging, I stopped in at the visitor’s center in the DMZ area just outside Dong Ha, for an organization called Project Renew (Chuck is an International Advisor for them). I was met by a young man named, Nguyen Thanh Phu, who told me how this organization has been working to rid their country of un-exploded ordnance. It’s still a huge problem. Since the end of the war, more than 100,000 Vietnamese people have been killed or maimed by it. The problem is country-wide, but most acute in the former DMZ area, which was the dividing line before reunification. More tonnage of bombs had been dropped on Indochina during the war than were dropped in all of World War II and it’s estimated by some, that up to a third of it never exploded. Tragically, most of those hurt or killed are young children.

Spencer Matteson (r) with Nguyen Thanh Phu (l)
Nguyen Thanh Phu (L) with Spencer Matteson (R)

Unlike Germany and Japan, after WWII, Vietnam got no help from us after the war. There was no Marshall Plan for them and they’ve had a monumental task cleaning up the mess after the war. To date, the U.S. has only contributed a few million dollars toward that effort. Considering the massive amount of damage we’d done, that’s a really paltry sum.

Among the many types of bombs we used, the most insidious were the cluster bombs, each of which broke open into dozens of small bomblets, about the size and shape of a baseball. Over 260 million of these bomblets were dropped and an estimated 80 million never detonated. When kids see these round balls, they want to pick them up and play with them and when they do, they can easily lose an arm, a leg, or worse. Unfortunately, the problem isn’t just limited to the bombs we dropped, un-exploded artillery rounds and even small grenades from hand-held M79 grenade launchers continue to be a serious problem.

UXOs, cluser bombs, grenades
UXOs, cluster bombs, grenades

Project Renew reaches out to grade schools and educates children about the dangers and instructs them on how to report UXOs. Once PR is contacted, they send out rapid response teams to neutralize the threat.

I was very impressed by the important (and dangerous) work these people are engaged in. I’ve made it a pet project of mine to help spread awareness of this organization and to try to help then raise funds. In addition to the UXO problem, they help amputees by supplying artificial limbs.

Older prosthetic devices replaced by Project Renew with more modern ones
Older prosthetic devices replaced by Project Renew with more modern ones

My trip back to Vietnam was an incredible experience and went a long way toward helping me be more at peace with it. The Vietnamese people were, for the most part, friendly, welcoming and respectful. They are very curious about and interested in former vets, like me. At times it almost felt like a reverence for us. They seem to understand intuitively that we soldiers were not their true enemy, but that our government was. When all is said and done, in my opinion, despite the problems they still have with the after-effects of the war, I think they are more “over” the war than we are.

You can find out more about Project Renew, or help them out with a donation at: http://landmines.org.vn/

 

Did I really hear Anderson Cooper ask President Obama if he was instigating a gun-take-away conspiracy? Did I? YES!

Obama’s reaction was as incredulous as my own. Would it also be a conspiracy to put forth safety measures so that toddlers couldn’t swallow small toys, easily remove caps on pharmaceutical drugs, go flying into windshields in cars without seat belts and safety bags…the list goes on.

A CONSPIRACY, Anderson? Who have you been hanging out with?

Clearly the message from the Oval Office was about putting forth measures that would not infringe on people’s Second Amendment rights, and that would help prevent gun violence, albeit in small measure. Because Congress has disallowed President Obama’s gun control initiatives over the years, due to the influence of the NRA and gun lobbyists, this is the only way he can create positive change in response to continuing mass shootings, suicides, accidental death and homicides in the United States.

What also came to light: Congress has trumped initiatives by Colt and Smith and Wesson, the two biggest U.S. gun manufacturers, to create new technology that would make guns safer to use and which could help prevent accidental gun deaths. Again, due to the influence of the NRA.

President Obama said that he will invest in research that will help safeguard the use of handguns with this new type of technology.

The administration’s outline of the President’s executive actions says more than 20,000 American children under the age of 18 have been killed by gun violence in the last decade. It’s one of the most sobering statistics on the issue for Obama, who shed tears announcing the new efforts Tuesday when recalling the Sandy Hook shooting rampage that killed 20 first-graders — a moment replayed for Obama at the town hall Thursday night.

For an entire hour, President Obama continued to defend his gun safety initiatives by reiterating his message clearly – that the government is not trying to take legally purchased guns away from their owners. Instead, these initiatives will begin to help lessen gun violence in the United States.

First day of 2016 and it’s snowing where I live. Beautiful to look at from the warmth of my house. I’ll play in it later today, go snow shoeing … then come inside with biting cold fingertips, red cheeks and an appetite for more penne from last night’s dinner with friends. I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a roof above my head, food in my fridge, heat in my house, and I haven’t been shot today.

Crazy violence right in our own backyards.

Weapons confiscated from attack in San Bernardino, California
Weapons confiscated from attack in San Bernardino, California

According to Washington (Reuters), President Obama said on Friday he would meet with U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Monday to discuss ways of reducing gun violence in the United States amid reports he intends to take executive action on the issue. In his weekly recorded address, he said he has received “too many letters from parents, and teachers, and kids, to sit around and do nothing.”

He has repeatedly urged Congress to tighten gun laws, with his calls growing louder following the 2012 massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, and again this fall after mass shootings in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and San Bernardino, California.

“A few months ago, I directed my team at the White House to look into any new actions I can take to help reduce gun violence,” Obama said in his address. “And on Monday, I’ll meet with our attorney general, Loretta Lynch, to discuss our options.”

The Washington Post, citing several individuals briefed on the matter, said Obama and Lynch would “finalize a set of executive actions on guns that he will unveil next week.”

Frustrated with little action from Congress, Obama has vowed to use “whatever power this office holds” to put in place gun control measures through executive action, which does not require congressional approval.

“We know that we can’t stop every act of violence,” Obama said. “But what if we tried to stop even one? What if Congress did something – anything – to protect our kids from gun violence?”

The Post said Obama would use his executive authority in several areas, including expanding new background-check requirements for buyers who purchase weapons from high-volume dealers.

“Change, as always, is going to take all of us,” said Obama. “The gun lobby is loud and well organized in its defense of effortlessly available guns for anyone. The rest of us are going to have to be just as passionate and well organized in our defense of our kids.”

Check out the LINKS page at http://www.killingyouiskillingme.com and join others who are taking action for gun safety. It’s a new year! You can help change the face of gun violence.

 

When I was a kid, the only guns I ever saw were in cowboy movies. And they were used to kill the “bad guys” who came to town, ranches or homesteads. Growing up in a suburb of Chicago, it was nowhere in my consciousness to kill anything for protection or sport. My dad owned a grocery store so he certainly didn’t need to go hunting in order to feed us. To this day, I don’t understand why people kill animals for sport, especially if they have no intention of eating them. But most of all, I don’t understand how we have become such a fear-driven society that feels compelled to protect ourselves from our neighbors with guns. Especially, semi-automatic weapons.

Here’s what Stephen King had to say on the subject:

“I have nothing against gun owners, sport shooters or hunters, but semi-automatic weapons have only two purposes. One is that owners can take them to the shooting range once in a while, yell yeehaw and get all horny at the rapid fire and burning vapour spurting from the end of the barrel. The other use … their only other use … is to kill people.”

Sunday night, President Obama said during his Oval Office speech: “Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun. What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon? This is a matter of national security.”

Republicans reject that argument.

Until laws are changed and implemented, mass shootings will continue to be the norm in the USA.