Dear Friend of Colonus:
One of the most intriguing aspects of Angie Sarich’s memoir, Leaving Parma, is her contrasting of the battlefield events at Tay Ninh on March 18, 1970, the day her uncle Craig died in Vietnam, with the peace negotiations that President Nixon was orchestrating through Henry Kissinger in Paris that day of her uncle’s death. It was Richard Nixon who in his letter wrote on April 1, 1970, to console Angie’s grandparents’ over the death of their son, “Those who give their own lives to make the freedom of others possible live forever in honor.” The war that had been President Johnson’s war had become Nixon’s war, and he would sign this same letter to thousands upon thousands of parents.
The Farmhouse Prize is named after the Yorba Linda farmhouse where Richard Nixon was born. The house built by Nixon’s father, a lemon farmer by trade, stands now restored at the original site of its construction at Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California. President Nixon says about his childhood in the farmhouse: “As a young boy in Yorba Linda, I never thought about becoming President of the United States or even entering politics. My goal was to become a railroad engineer. Sometimes at night, I was awakened by the sound of a train whistle and I would dream of the faraway places I wanted to visit someday.”
There is a connection between the childhood of President Nixon and the decisions that he made as president to continue the prosecution of the Vietnam War. A trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, demonstrates the impact the 37th President of the United States not just on those whose names are engraved on that wall, but on those who journey so many miles to feel the touch of a name beneath their fingertips. That piercing cold that is said to follow ghosts where they tread, that chill that Angie writes her mother must have felt that mid-March morning in 1970 when she watched from her car as two officers came to tell her father at his real estate office that his son, her brother, was dead—still lingers in greater or lesser degree for each of us.
The young boy who never dreamed of becoming president would grow up to sign his name to platitudes about freedom and honor forever, platitudes which he must have genuinely intended to console—but from the moment of his inauguration he had already decided that departure from Vietnam was inevitable. He would have peace with honor, which he knew at the time meant merely a decent interval between our withdrawal and the fall of the Government of Vietnam.
And so what was there, not only in that boy, but also what is there in each of us that could give rise to such a man? If you travel to Yorba Linda to stand in that farmhouse, you will feel, perhaps, as I did, that Richard Nixon is Everyman, and the reason why he can generate in us such antipathy still, is that in him we see ourselves.
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Editor, Colonus Publishing, Inc.