Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Folktale about a Conscientious Objector

Folktales are one of the ways we have to share what we know and what we have experienced with others. In many cases, folktales are vignettes that describe-and preserve-particular folkloric attributes or qualities about a specific person, place or thing.

Today I want to write a folktale about my dear friend Michael Hills. A long-time friend of mine, Michael recently ended his life. At 62, he stopped the suffering he experienced primarily as a result of having Agent Orange and PTSD; both non-transfer- able diseases contracted while he served in the Vietnam War.

That was when the country was still drafting soldiers. By lottery (birthdates randomly selected) young men were "chosen" to go to war. Their task was to fight an unwinnable war.

Michael decided he did not want to go fight a war he did not believe in. Like many of his generation he wanted peace and, as a musician, often sang about peace and other antiwar sentiments. In this way he was definitely a part of the anti-war summer of love generation.

He objected to the war but when it came time to register for the draft, he did. Unlike others who fled to the open arms of other countries, he went to the enlistment office and said he was a conscientious objector. He did not know at the time that he would have to serve just the same; conscientious objector or not. He went into that confrontation believing in his rights which included free speech and the right to" resist" the war. His beliefs were of no avail. He was drafted just the same. The only exception the military made was that he would serve as a medic rather than "in battle”.
It was during his tour as a medic who helped to save the lives of others that he would lose his safe - slowly and painfully.

Not only did medics perform a range of life- saving duties, they also were responsible for picking up the strewn body parts of soldiers who died during battle. And there were many vicious battles in Vietnam. Michael and the other medics of his unit were charged with working in the forest areas that had been heavily doused with the deadly chemical 'About Orange". There was nothing he could do to keep the nerve-killing 'pesticide' off of his arms, neck and face. Nothing.

This brave man who refused to kill others in the name of war was exposed to Agent Orange and over the years that followed that 1960-70's nightmare, the silent but destructive chemical wrecked havoc on his body and was, in the end, victorious in its efforts to destroy his nervous system.

Michael did have other health complications in his life and, as a musician, had a hard, smoky bar room type of lifestyle that had included drugs and alcohol. But it was the germ warfare of a fight he objected to that took its final toll on him.

He died October 14 this year clean and sober - and in a tremendous amount of personal and physical pain. I sure miss him.

May he rest in peace.


  1. Thank you for sharing about your friend. I'm sorry for your loss.


  2. Thanks so much for your kind words.
    Folktales are one way I have to preserve his memory.
    best, Karen