History is not just in books, it is in memories, and passed on in conversations. When we fail to have those conversations, we risk being forced to learn a harder way. War is a big part of history, has been especially these last hundred years. The lessons are condensed and filtered in books, but they are all around us, raw and unfiltered, in our neighbors who learned about war first hand.
Leroy Peasley was 21 when he served with the Marines in Guam and Iwo Jima. He saw many dead and wounded, Americans and Japanese. He killed no one. Once he had a Japanese soldier in his sights, he didn’t immediately shoot, and the man was gone. “At the time” he says, “I felt that I should have shot him, now I’m glad I didn’t.”
Speaking with The Buzz at the kitchen table in his house on the Barter Road, Peasley remembers “chasing Japanese… my company… thick jungle… to disrupt and eliminate as many as possible… Marines weren’t much at taking prisoners.” He saw Japanese surrender, and shot. “It was hard for me. I had to think they were animals.” That was Guam.
At Iwo Jima Peasley was aboard ship strapping wounded on stretchers, carrying them below, and burying the dead in the sea. “I looked over and saw a young Navy guy crying, I said ‘look buddy this is what we have to do.'”
Peasley’s service with the Marines in WWII has been a source of pride all his life. His son served in the Vietnam war. “I was a hawk,” he says. Now he feels he was naive. With the Iraq war, Peasley became a vocal and very public opponent. “Our government lied to us,” he says, “wasting the lives of our people.”
Vincent Gabriel is a local musician who often goes by his stage name, Blind Albert. He says he never wanted to go to Vietnam. He turned 18 and signed up for the draft, forgot about it, was in a rock band in New Jersey, one morning got a registered letter, and the next day reported for induction. “I was scared, Vietnam, I’m going to die.” It was 1967.
“Once you are inducted,” he says, “you don’t have any control of your life.” Infantry training in a daze, home for Christmas, January 4th Newark to Travis AFB, three days of anxiety, take-off, land in Vietnam. He remembers the door opening, a “wall of humidity and gunpowder” and explosions. Two weeks of jungle training and he was out on “missions, firefights, some guys killed then and there.”
He got pinned down, “bullets flying all over the place, just sitting there waiting to die.” Later, he says, “we had to go through there and clean the place up. That’s when I shot someone – saw North Vietnamese in a foxhole, he saw me, I shot him. Adrenaline takes over.”
After a few months he was transferred to the honor guard at a big base camp. “It was too good to be true, not to be in the jungle anymore, spit-shine boots and starched pants; for the first time I thought I might make it home.”
Back home he says he had no trouble with the anti-war movement. In Vietnam we all felt “why the hell are we here? After a while, all we wanted to do was survive.” What does he think about war? If we are attacked, he says, we have to defend ourselves, otherwise he is “definitely against war.”
War will be the subject of the conversation on WRFR’s Rockland Metro Show next Wednesday, May 31, from 5 to 6 PM. Leroy Peasley and Vince Gabriel have agreed to join us, and you can too. Call in during the show at 593-0013. Or come join us in the studio: email email@example.com.