Last Soldier column dealt with being introduced to, listening to, chatting with, and being changed by a the story of a man that “long ago and in another life” I would have despised. Once again, I faced down what I used to be, and once again, got the chance to apologize for my former stupidity as a someone who had been, shall we say, “fonda Jane.” I let him know that, if it would be ok, I would really appreciate talking with him again and learning more. The man was Brigadier General Robert Stewart, and he, his wife Mary, and I had a memorable morning at the Space and Rocket Center.
One of General Stewart’s distinguishing achievements during his career was flying un-tethered outside of the Space Shuttle Challenger. He was the 2nd person to do so, and “his” Challenger is on view at the USS&RC. He works there as a docent.
He told me that even though he had some ambivalence about our involvement in Vietnam, it was still his favorite venue. He got to fly Secretary of Defense McNamara around in a chopper. He also explained to me what may have helped me to understand better the reason for some of the horrific tortures that were inflicted on our soldiers by the Viet Cong. In the Asian military mindset, when a soldier surrenders to captors and captivity rather than death, those soldiers cease to be human. Therefore, the logic is, if they have surrendered their humanity, they don’t deserve to be treated humanely. That kind of thinking doesn’t exactly square with the Geneva Convention, but it answered a question I didn’t even know I had.
He talked about General Vo Nguyen Giap, who served under Ho Chi Minh. General Giap was astonished that Americans gave up in Vietnam, and said in his memoirs, “If you had pressed us a little harder, just for another day or two, we were ready to surrender. We knew it, and we thought you knew it. But we were elated to notice your media was helping us. They were causing more disruption in America than we could in the battlefields.”
He also reminded me of something I learned in Iraq, and that is, no one wants peace more than soldiers. I just never knew that General Douglas McArthur had said it best at his last address at West Point.
“The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”
General Stewart said he underwent a huge change when he was in the process of receiving his “stars.” The Army sent him for training at Center for Creative Leadership, which was one source of challenge, and though tough, it was positive. For a good part of his career, General Stewart was not a Christian, but when one of his daughters was facing down the possibility of having to have painful rabies shots, and then the rabies test came back negative, he got down on his knees in thanks to God and surrendered his life to Him. In a lot of respects, that is when his own personal “Great Adventure” began, and it’s a decision he has never regretted. General Stewart is also a professional speaker, and he especially loves to speak on college campuses.
I thought of just how amazing it is to be divinely granted a second chance. Here I was, getting to talk with a soldier who had made history, and being able to both repent to him and be forgiven by him for my madness during Vietnam And, I was also reminded of what a sacred charge it is to be a “member of the media,” even if it is publishing a small newspaper. At times, the pen is mightier than the sword, and God help me if I don’t use my “sword” well.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner