A Soldier in Vietnam Reacts to the Assassination of Martin Luther King
In this letter home from Vietnam Sergeant. Phillip Woodall writes his father about the recent assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Comparing King's death with that of his platoon leader, an African-American lieutenant who died in battle, Woodall expresses his disillusionment with the war and his dismay about events on the home front.
April 5 ‘68
Dear Dad –
… I’ve just been listening to the Vietnam radio station. They just had a news report special on the assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis. I realize how involved you are with the whole situation. I also realize how bad this makes Memphis look to the rest of the nation… I heard President Johnson’s speech but now I’ve got a story to tell.
On Friday, March 29, in our AO just south of Hue near the ocean, we received small-arms fire from a village… My platoon leader, Gary Scott, 2nd lieutenant, Infantry, was in command. Lt. Scott, a Negro from Rochester, New York, graduated recently from the University of Syracuse.
As the platoon moved toward the rear of the village, automatic weapons fire suddenly came from a near woodline. Lt. Scott and one other man were killed… He was a fine man, a good leader, yet we could not understand the whys of this conflict which called him 10,000 miles from his home, to a land of insects, poverty and hostility – this conflict which killed him. Why?
… This country is no gain that I can see, Dad. We’re fighting, dying, for a people who resent our being over here. The only firm reason I can find is paying with commie lives for U.S. lives, Dad.
Tonight the nation mourns the death of Martin Luther King. Not me. I mourn the deaths of the real leaders for peace, the people who give the real sacrifice, people like Lt. Scott. Tonight as the nation mourns Dr. King, they drink their cold beer, turn on their air conditioners and watch their TV. We who mourn the deaths over here will set up our ambushes, pull our guard and eat the C-rations.
I will probably get a Bronze Star for the fire fight. Lt. Scott will get a Silver Star. That will help me get a job someday and it is supposed to suffice for Lt. Scott’s life. I guess I’m bitter now, Dad. This war is all wrong. I will continue to fight, win my medals and fight the elements and hardships of this country. But that is because I’m a soldier and it’s my job and there are other people depending on me. That’s my excuse. That’s all I have, theories and excuses – no solutions.
Your loving son,
Creator | Phillip Woodall
Rights | Used by permission.
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | Phillip Woodall, “A Soldier in Vietnam Reacts to the Assassination of Martin Luther King,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed May 17, 2021, https://shec.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/711.