In Berkeley, a veteran reflects

By Leah Garchik

Country Joe McDonald was just getting back from a trip to the store when The Chronicle ("TIC" seems inappropriately trivial) called to ask what he thought about the U.S. action against Afghanistan. He hadn't yet heard the news; for a few seconds, he was speechless.

"I was just reading the Sunday paper," he said a bit later. "I read the word 'imminent.' That's the word they like to use, those commanders in chief. When Dick Cheney was running for the vice presidency, he was asked why he hadn't served in Vietnam. " 'I had other priorities,' he said. Well, I had other priorities today rather than turning on the TV." McDonald's "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die" rag was the anti-war anthem during the Vietnam era. He served in the Navy before the Vietnam War was in full flame, and since the end of that war has been an advocate for veterans' rights and special needs.

"I can tell you I'm just one of 10 million Vietnam-era military veterans that exist. And no one asked us a thing before." If The Chronicle wants to find out something, "I think you should ask your neighbors who are veterans, your brothers, your sisters, your mothers and fathers and uncles and cousins, all the people who have been ignored up to this moment. No one has wanted to talk to military veterans up to this point." McDonald said Osama bin Laden and George Bush have something in common. "They are both civilian commanders in chief who were raised in millionaire families. They wear civilian dress. And they give orders down the chain of command. They never will die in battle."

He said he has been e-mailing people and talking to friends, asking why coverage hasn't given so much as a nod to the military veterans' community, "which is another thing quite different from what we have been seeing, and the reason I don't want to watch the TV. What I have been seeing is white men in suits and ties talking about military things. Almost all of them have never been in the military. . . . If you want to find out what's going to happen to those people who are fighting for us, if you want to do something that will help you cope besides waving your flag and singing 'God Bless America,' find a war veteran who wants to talk right now."

Yesterday's bombing was shocking to McDonald, but he'd obviously been pondering the issues. "It occurred to me yesterday that people never change churches just for a day. That's a stupid idea, isn't it? People spend years and years and years learning to do the right ceremonies and things, but they never change. . . .

"I can honestly say this is the scariest moment of my life, and I don't think I'm going to turn on the TV. I just bought my son some new shoes for his skateboard. Now, we'll learn something that I learned from Vietnam veterans: Life goes on."

Country Joe's Web site features a page of new lyric suggestions submitted by correspondents; "Afghanistan" fits neatly into the rhyme scheme where "Vietnam" used to be.

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