'Send it to the next damn fool'

Dateline: Thu 08 Oct 2009

This is from the New York Times Tuesday; a friend sent it out.

I'd never heard of Peg Mullen, but her fury over her son's death in Vietnam -- and her sense of the utter futility of loss -- hits home for any parent who has seen a child off to war, only to have that child return home in a body bag.

We all know of brave peoplle who have lost loved ones and who then swallow their feelings or allow them to bloom into a  red-white-and-blue show of patriotism. That was not Peg Mullen's way.  Her anger was her fuel, her voice deserves listening: The story is by Doug Martin of the New York Times.


"Peg Mullen, an Iowa farm wife who made herself a living symbol of loss after her son was killed in Vietnam, as she sharply questioned the military’s explanations and became an outspoken antiwar crusader, died Friday in La Porte City, Iowa. She was 92.

Her family announced the death.

After her son Michael was killed by shrapnel from United States artillery on Feb. 18, 1970, Mrs. Mullen did not disguise her rage. She used his death benefit to buy two half-page advertisements in The Des Moines Register, each with more than 700 crosses, one for each Iowan killed in the war.

C. D. B. Bryan, an author and journalist, wrote about the suffering of Mrs. Mullen and her family in “Friendly Fire,” a book that was serialized in The New Yorker and received wide attention when published in 1976.

In 1979, the book was made into a television movie starring Carol Burnett as Mrs. Mullen. It won an Emmy for best drama special.

Mrs. Mullen from the start refused to believe the Pentagon’s account of Michael’s death, that he was killed in an accident. Mr. Bryan’s investigation eventually laid out considerable evidence that the official story was, indeed, true. Mrs. Mullen remained skeptical.

She wrote her own book in 1995, “Unfriendly Fire: A Mother’s Memoir,” expanding on her doubts. Around 40 of her son’s letters added poignancy to the story.

Mrs. Mullen’s obstinacy, distrust of officialdom and wicked humor characterized her decades of antiwar activity, including those following the Vietnam War. An e-mail message she wrote to a columnist for The Register in 2002 showed her raw emotional power.

“I have no idea of your age,” she wrote the columnist, “but I hope you never have to stand in a quiet corner of an airport and say goodbye to a son in uniform, knowing in your heart that you’ll never see him again.

“I hope you never suffer the horror of a military man sitting at your kitchen table trying to tell how your son died — then wait 10 days for his body to be returned and his casket unloaded in a darkened corner of the same airport.”

Mr. Bryan suggested in his book that the Mullen family’s pain might be seen as a larger lesson of the Vietnam War, ultimately more important than definitively assigning blame for Michael’s death. Writing of the atmosphere in which the Mullens and similarly stricken families lived, Mr. Bryan wrote of “those sounds which were not spoken at all: the slam of a hand hitting the table in rage, the breath caught because an onrushing memory was causing too much pain.”

Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Michael’s commander in Vietnam, met with Mrs. Mullen and her husband and tried to answer her questions as clearly as he could. But he could not satisfy them.

“To me, the death of Michael Mullen was not just one tragedy, but two: the needless death of a young man, and the bitterness that was consuming his parents,” the general wrote in his autobiography.

Margaret Goodyear was born in Pocahontas, Iowa, in 1917, and after graduating from high school moved to Des Moines to work in various federal jobs. In 1941, she married Oscar Mullen, known as Gene. They settled on the 120-acre farm near La Porte City that had been in the family for four generations. In addition to farming, Mr. Mullen worked for Rath Packing and John Deere. Mrs. Mullen worked at J. C. Penney and Santa Claus Industries.

Mrs. Mullen’s mother had been county Democratic chairwoman in the 1920s, and she herself was an active Democrat, serving as a delegate at the party’s 1964, 1968 and 1972 national conventions. Her forebodings about Vietnam were solidifying into opposition before the death of Michael, who had been a graduate student in biochemistry when he was drafted in 1968.

In an interview in 2005 with The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., she remembered trying to comfort a friend whose son had died in the war by saying, “He died for our country.”

The friend snapped that Mrs. Mullen should never say that to anyone again. “You can’t justify what’s going on,” the friend said.

After Michael was killed, Mrs. Mullen refused a military funeral and spurned her son’s medals. She returned President Richard M. Nixon’s letter with the note, “Send it to the next damn fool.”

She declined a free grave marker with a military inscription. She bought a tombstone, and used the verb “killed” rather than “died.”

Mr. Mullen died in 1986.

Mrs. Mullen is survived by another son, John; her daughters, Patricia Hulting and Mary DeJana; and six grandchildren.

Mrs. Mullen’s militancy never abated. At 74, she rode a bus for 38 hours to protest the first Persian Gulf war. In 2005, at 88, she said she was furious that she could not join Cindy Sheehan, a mother who lost a son in the Iraq war, in Ms. Sheehan’s protest outside President George W. Bush’s ranch in Texas."


George Stuteville [unverified] said:

Blessed be the makers of peace. She was surely one.

War is unwinnable. That is a plain fact.

2009-10-08 08:50:03

hendy [Member] said:

When the Irish ratified the EU constitution, a new state was created from what were the ashes of Europe that I was told about 50yrs ago, as a boy. There is hope.

What's happened is that the threat of communism wasn't real-- it was the threat of totalitarianism. We face that in the US today, as the political agenda is pushed towards fear of the Muslim community. It's true that one in four on this planet is Muslim in one variation or another. Yet we're all human, and all ostensibly seek peace. It's the sociopathic leaders that we have to battle, and the agenda of greed and domination. The American Dream has been perverted.

2009-10-08 12:20:18

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

I met Mrs. Mullen and either a son or son-in-law prior to the 1988 Democratic Convention in San Francisco. Soft-spoken but firm, she was an inspiration, and she was especially proud that a woman was nominated to the national ticket that year.

She didn't wear her son's death like a cross to be borne. She tried to explain her outage wherever she could.

I know for a fact her outrage led to some changes in the manner in which friendly-fire incidents are investigated, and in the manner by which families are notified of deaths and investigations.

Ask Pat Tillman's family. Their path was wretched and awful, but it was made easier by Peg Mullen's ordeal.

Let's hope we never have to send anyone else to a mother's home to explain a friendly-fire death.

(Sigh.) Whom am I fooling?

2009-10-08 15:01:32

indykjsharp [Member] said:

Thanks for sharing this, Ruth. I missed it in the Times today and actually gave my paper to someone so she could read the excellent front-page story on Michelle Obama's ancestry.

How cool that Mrs. Mullen used her son's death benefits to purchase the Des Moines Register ads.

Good story.

2009-10-08 21:50:30

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Gbbzxeyq is channeling Mr. Mary Milz.

2009-10-09 06:21:23

ruthholl [Member] said:

Argle bargle.
They won't ever go away......

2009-10-09 09:21:40

andrew [Member] said:

Yeah, yeah. They'll never go away. All I can do is try to keep it at a minimum. That's life on the internet for ya. Also, I removed the profanity filter so "fuck fuckity fuck fuck fuck". Hey, we're all consenting adults.

2009-10-09 13:24:00

hendy [Member] said:

It would seem that way..... but that particular word is just a substitute for a good vocabulary. And there might be those young people, full of idealism, that become jaded through such use. As a matter of decorum and civility, it's a potential breach of both.

2009-10-09 13:57:44

Pete [unverified] said:

This is a stark reminder about why exactly American citizens shouldn't blindly accept pronouncements by the US Military out of either patriotism or the fear of being branded unpatriotic. Sort of makes you think about the death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan in 2004.

How many people here remember that a certain General Stanley McChrystal was one of the Pentagon people who actively participated in the initial coverup of the circumstances of Tillman's death. Too bad that none of the "reporters" interviewing the General during his "let's go to BIGGER war" media tour never bothered to ask him about Pat Tillman.

2009-10-10 13:17:16

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