This week marks 40 years since I first arrived inwhat was then the Republic of Vietnam, more commonlycalled South Vietnam. I arrived on a C-130 cargo planefrom Okinawa after having flown there from Californiavia Wake Island. My first view upon stepping off the aircraft was a line of body bags waiting to beloaded for the return flight.

There was no doubt thatI was now in a war zone. When I asked someone wherethe bodies had come from, he told me 12th Marines. Ientered the transit processing tent for my orders andwas assigned to 12th Marines.

Welcome to Vietnam.

Danang in December of 1965 was wet and rainy. Wherethere were no hardtop or duck board walkways there wasmud, ankle-deep mud, and flies everywhere.

My firstnight was spent at the Danang airfield on a cot in atent in the mud. Dinner was shared with the flies.The next day a truck came from 12th Marines and pickedup the new meat and I was on my way to a firing batteryin a forward area northwest of the city.

Aside from the mud and the war, Vietnam was and is abeautiful country. I will never forget my trip fromthe airfield to the battery. I had never seen so manydifferent shades of green in one place before in mylife, not to mention rice paddies, grass and bamboohouses and water buffalo.

It was my good fortune to beassigned to a battery that was dug in inside a cemeteryon a sand pile above the rice paddies — fortunatebecause there is no mud in sand piles, not even anypuddles.

But there were still flies, so many that acasual glance gave one the impression that the messtent had a velvet lining on the ceiling. A moredetailed examination, however, revealed that the velvetwas a solid mat of flies.

A detailed examination ofone’s mess kit at meal time, by the way, often revealedthat it contained a big lump of Spam. For those whomay not be aware of this culinary treat from Hormel,Spam stands for SPiced hAM, not unwanted email, an itemthat turned up frequently in military menus and indomestic school lunch programs.

The first recorded U.S. casualty of the Vietnam War wasin 1957, and by the end of 1965 the total count hadreached 2264, a number which will be close to the onefor the Iraq War by the end of 2005. Between January1966 and the end of the war, over 54,000 more Americanservice personnel perished in the conflict. It remainsto be seen how many more lives will be foolishly wastedin the Iraq adventure.

I was lucky. After 19 months in the field I leftVietnam in July of 1967 not only alive, but with all ofmy body parts attached. I knew a number that did notdo as well. Cpl. Jack Hopkins from Michigan received aDear John letter from home, so he extended his tour andvolunteered for hazardous duty. He was blown up by aland mine in 1966.

LCpl Bill Koho, my assistant fromBend, Oregon, cancelled a 15-day leave to thePhilippines so he would not miss an operation we weregoing on. It was his last thanks to a booby-trappedgrenade on a trail north of the O Lau River. It was anight that I will never forget.

And, Sgt. Nick Natzkefrom Wisconsin, who I went through boot camp, infantrytraining and radio school with. When we graduated fromschool we had choices of duty — Vietnam, California orHawaii. We got to choose by class standing, and Nickwas not near the top of the class. Much to his dismayall of the Vietnam billets went first, California andHawaii were the leftovers, and he got Hawaii. Hemanaged to get to the war eventually, and bled to deathfrom a shrapnel wound in the neck.

Today I think about the young men and women in anotherwar in a place not as green or wet as Vietnam, goodkids whose lives are being wasted just as the lives ofmy generation were wasted in Southeast Asia, and I amdismayed that many countries continue to choose leadersthat use war for personal political and financialadvantage.

I am angered that after setting highstandards at the end of World War II, the countries ofthe world, collectively, have not stood up for thosestandards and are tolerating the aggressive, pre-emptive warfare that is being pursued by the U.S. and itsallies. Aggression is aggression, whether it iscarried out against China, Ethiopia or Poland by theJapanese, Italians and Germans, or against Iraq now ora number of other countries the past fifty years by theU.S., the UK and whoever is willing to go along for theride and a few rewards.

Soon, in Canada, we will be going to the polls to chooseanother government. Who we vote for will helpdetermine what we become as a nation. We must askourselves if the path of the U.S. and its wars ofaggression are what we want for Canada, and if we wanttoday’s generation of young men and women to end theirlives or leave their body parts in foreign places forno good reason. Or, if we wish to be a more civil andhumanitarian nation.

The answer should be reflected inour vote.