Thursday, November 11, 2004

Veterans Day thought: "Vietnam"

"Vietnam," says the inscription on on the grave of Henry Marrow, the young black man who was brutally murdered in Oxford, N.C., in 1970. That is all. Marrow did not fight in Vietnam. He did not die for protesting Vietnam. But this is what the young black men who reacted to his murder with force and violence chose as his epitaph. "They felt embattled," observed Juan Williams in his sensitive radio piece on Tim Tyson's Blood Done Sign My Name, "and thought that 'Vietnam' was the one word that told the whole story."

The men who rose up in anger after Marrow's killing may have felt that the streets of Oxford were their Vietnam, but their message went beyond that. These were men who had fought in Vietnam. In swamps and jungles thousands of miles from home, they risked death to defend American democracy. Like the black veterans of two world wars before them, they might well have wondered what they got from it all in return. To inscribe "Vietnam" on the grave of a black victim of racial hatred in rural North Carolina in 1970 is to draw a profound connection.

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