For me, Vietnam was a nondescript dot on the globe when I walked onto the campus of the University of Illinois for my freshman year in the fall of 1964. I knew nothing about the Southeastern Asian nation or why America was even involved there.
The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution had passed both legislative houses a month earlier, which escalated the defensive conflict into an eventual all-out war. But I paid no attention to the resolution or the consequences that it held for my life.
My mind was too busy trying to figure out how a farm boy from a town of 1,100 people could fit into a campus with more than 30,000 students. Maybe if the political news had spilled over onto the Daily Illini’s sports pages, I might have noticed the war sooner.
But by the middle of my sophomore year, the Vietnam War was a looming calendar date awaiting almost every male student on campus. The nightly news on television brought the battle scenes into our homes, revealing the war’s harsh realities to us. Young men, just like me, were dying in places with names like La Drang, Hamburger Hill and Plei Me.
The University of Illinois was not a strong bastion of student protests during my four years there. Most students had conservative parents who worked hard and expected their children to do the same. War protesters were hippies and pot smoking dropouts – or that’s how our parents viewed them. Even though there was a Students for Democratic Society on the campus, I can’t remember ever listening to any of their speeches.
Yet, Sen. Eugene McCarthy’s entrance into the Democratic presidential primary in New Hampshire and the Tet Offensive flipped me into the antiwar camp in early 1968. I didn’t pick up a protest sign or travel to nearby states to campaign for McCarthy or anything like that. Mine was an inner protest against what my parents and others thought about the Vietnam War. I was totally against the war and felt the American government had knowingly lied to us. And this angered me!
A few days after my graduation in June 1968, I traveled by bus with 30 other young men to Chicago for our pre-induction physicals. Once we arrived there, I stood in long lines inside a large auditorium with army sergeants screaming at us, telling us what to do next. When the day ended, I had flunked my army physical because of my two gimpy knees from football injuries.
A month later, I took my draft deferment and traveled to Detroit to begin a sales career with a large pharmaceutical corporation. My life went on from there to a marriage, raising children, buying a home and so forth.
Let’s fast forward 27 years to a particular day in 1995 when I was walking around the living room of my apartment and praying. I was asking the Lord to send the Holy Spirit to awaken America.
As I turned to walk back toward the other side of the room, the Lord spoke to my heart, “You don’t like America.”
My first reaction was to argue with the Lord. “What? No, that can’t be true,” I said aloud.
I knew the Lord wouldn’t reply to my disagreeing with Him, and why should He? He’s the awesome Creator who knows the motives of my heart and the secret thoughts in my mind. And arguing with Him? He’s always right!
So, I walked over to a sofa and dropped to my knees in front of it, resting my hands on the cushions. I prayed softly at first and then became totally still. It took a few minutes, but eventually I had a quick vision.
In it, I saw myself back at the University of Illinois, wearing a pair of khaki slacks, a blue button-down shirt and penny loafers. As I watched, a cloud of rebellion from the 1960s and the anti-Vietnam War protests swept over me and defiled my heart against America.
“Oh Lord,” I said, “forgive me and cleanse me from my sin of hating America.”
I stood up afterward with a genuine love for the USA. Yes, our nation is not perfect, but it’s my homeland. I will love America until the day I die.
It was God’s mercy to deliver me from my sin of hating America. I didn’t know about my sin nor did I ask Him to reveal it to me. He chose to do this on His own. It’s something I will forever praise Him for doing.
But I wonder how many other people were defiled by the rebellious spirit of the 1960s and the anti-Vietnam War protests? How many of these people went on to become college professors, high school teachers, politicians and leaders that used their influence to defile other generations of youths?
Let’s pray the Lord will set them free, too.