Veteran’s counselor John Contee in conversation with Walt Rostow Pho tos by Den n is Car ly le Dar l ing Salado Conference Illuminates Shadow of Vietnam War The shadow personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself and yet is always thrusting itself upon him directly or indirectly .. . C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections By Joe Holley Salado 0 N A SUNDAY morning in Salado, Texas, recently, I watched a tall, young black man stand up and announce to the men and women sitting around him, “Right now I’m feeling a lot of emotion.” Then, looking toward to the front of the small auditorium, he added, “something I haven’t heard from Walt Rostow.” John Contee Vietnam veterans’ counselor, twicewounded airborne vet who came back home to Houston with a drug habit it took him ten years to kick pointed his finger toward the advisor to two Presidents and demanded, “What are you going to do to help the veterans? Why did you condone Agent Orange?” Rostow, speaking slowly in a voice characteristically calm and rational, attempted to answer: “Every man must do what he has to do. As a man, as a historian. . . .” “You’re not answering the question,” angry voices from the audience interrupted. “You’re not answering the question.” “Everyone is equal here,” Rostow responded, “even me.” Explaining that Angent Orange had been authorized by others, he conceded that “It may have been a device that did more damage to human beings than was known at the time.” There were other moments of deep emotion on that Sunday morning in Salado, but for some 150 men and women attending the “Understanding Vietnam” symposium, John Contee’s anguished questions seemed to trigger a catharsis, an acknowledgement that we were sharing, not just one man’s suffering, but a collective nightmare. Several were veterans like Contee. A few had been officers in Vietnam. The rest of us were educators, counselors, poets, interested citizens including several retired residents of Salado. For two days in the serene little hamlet on Salado Creek we grappled with that American shadow known as the Vietnam War. Why had it happened and why had things gone so terribly wrong? What did it mean? What does it mean today, and what have we learned? Those were the questions on this extraordinary weekend, and while there were no easy answers, few definite conclusions, there was understanding and insight, and yes, even healing. The symposium was organized by Dr. Harry Wilmer, a 65-year-old Jungian psychoanalyst who lives in Salado and teaches at the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio. It was an outgrowth of his two-year project listening to Vietnam veterans describe their combat nightmares. Funded by the Texas Committee for the Humanities and organized under the auspices of Wilmer’s new Institute for the Humanities at Salado, the symposium sought to probe the painful Vietnam experience from a humanities perspective, humanities defined as “the family of knowledge that deals with what it has been and is to be human, to THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13
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