Friday, June 2, 2000
Jonathan Saphier addresses Memorial Day audience
Jonathan Saphier, Vietnam veteran and former member of the Intelligence Service, gave a moving address at the May 29 Memorial Day service in Corey Auditorium. Introduced by selectman John Ballantine as a strong, caring and passionate person, Saphier explained how his war experience caused him to change careers from journalist to educator. He detailed several vignettes from his service experience, which included acts of kindness and courage, as well as examples of the "paradoxes of war."
Saphier recalled the kindness of Salvation Army workers who appeared at the Stamford, Connecticut train station at 4 a.m. to distribute packages and kind words to the boys on their way to Vietnam. He then described his first mission as a medic, when he saw a water skier on the Saigon River wave to his helicopter as it sped to the hospital with a badly wounded soldier. On another mission, many badly injured men had to be evacuated by Medivac helicopter quickly, and Saphier recalled how "one fear led into another" as fears for his wounded charges blended with fears for his own safety. In spite of this, "my voice over the radio remained level, and I got a reputation in my company as 'Mr. Calm."
Other paradoxes he recounted included landing in the city of Hue, situated on the coast among beautiful mountains, and discovering the devastation at the historic city in the heart of this scenic land. Later, he was forced to ask himself, "What kind of lunacy is this?" when recalling a photo in the office of the head of G2 that celebrated the battle for Khe-San, a battle with no strategic importance. After a hard-fought defense of the town, American troops abandoned the site when the battle was won.
Saphier then went on to detail four lessons learned. "All you really have in life is each other," he said, adding "there is no big picture, just survival of you and your friends. You would do anything for them and they would do anything for you." His second lesson was that those who displayed courage in war never talk about it. Quoting the Iwo Jima memorial "Uncommon valor was a common virtue" Saphier added, "Nothing about what I did was different from what everyone did. I view myself as representative of all who did their duty." Lesson three was "The world around you can succumb to madness at any time." Denouncing the "defense of the false assumption," which causes people to hate those who are different, Saphier continued, "This kind of craziness is alive and well in our world today." He then underlined the importance of Memorial Day celebrations with his final lesson: "It's easy to forget the lessons you've learned. Memories and lessons are easy to forget when you get caught up in the routine of everyday life."
Finally, he asked the veterans and wives and mothers of veterans to stand up so they could be honored and remembered. Naming some of his own dead comrades, Saphier concluded, "Remember all who have done their duty."
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito