Seeds Planted in Vietnam Flourish in Activism on Iraq

Mike Maeceau tells the class about how he was injured in Vietnam to a class called
Mike Maeceau tells the class about how he was injured in Vietnam to a class called "Alternatives to Violence," at Wilson HS in the District. (Michael Williamson - The Washington Post)
By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Mike Marceau and O.P. Ditch both served in the Vietnam War. But one's dedication to the military mission became the other's disillusion. The conflict set them on profoundly different paths in life, propelled them into activism over the war in Iraq and deposited them on opposite sides of the barricades at this month's antiwar march on the Pentagon.

Marceau, vice president of the local chapter of Veterans for Peace, wore a black T-shirt with a white dove of peace and was among a large number of vets who led the march for an end to the war. Ditch, active in, stood on the restive sidelines with other vets who called themselves Gathering of Eagles, waving a large American flag to show support for the mission in Iraq until victory is achieved.

With the war in Iraq going on for four years, Vietnam vets on both sides of the issue have begun to take leading roles in trying to shape public opinion and direct its course. But which side they take, which reports they believe and whom they trust depends largely on how they fared in the crucible that divided the country more than three decades ago.

For Marceau, who lives in Silver Spring, Vietnam taught him he could not trust the government. "We knew back then the numbers of casualties they were giving out were just fabricated," he said. "We need to get our troops out of Iraq no matter what happens. This war was based on lies and misrepresentation of intelligence."

For Ditch, who lives in Woodbridge, the lesson of Vietnam is to make sure that what he calls the negative mainstream media do not weaken the government's will to fight. "I didn't have any qualms about the reasons we went in" to Iraq, Ditch said. "The one person that I know that has the most intelligence and knows what is going on better than anybody is our commander in chief."

Both say the other side is misinformed. Both say they are the ones supporting the troops.

Said Ditch: "How can you support the troops without supporting the mission?"

Said Marceau: "One of the things we learned after Vietnam is that you can separate the war from the warrior."

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The answering machine at Mike Marceau's home says it all: "Speak slowly and clearly so the National Security Agency people can monitor this call without too much trouble."

Marceau, 58, was born at Bethesda Naval Hospital and was the son of a career Navy man. After high school, he lasted just three months at the University of Maryland. "The late '60s wasn't a good time to be out of college," he said.

He got his draft notice on his 20th birthday and was "in country" in Vietnam by September 1969. He worked as a telephone operator in the 43rd Signal Corps, stationed at Pleiku in the central highlands to serve the Army's 4th Infantry Division.

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