Marvin Repinski: The past is always around us

Published 4:58 pm Friday, August 5, 2022

“We want each one of you to show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope to the very end.” (The Bible, Hebrews 6:11)

The Vietnam War Veterans Memorial, placed on the Washington, D.C. Mall, is visited by multitudes of citizens. A man who knew Phan Thi Kim Phuc, has been haunted by his dreams, memories of an event of cruel tragedy. John Plummer was the helicopter pilot on a day in 1972, who was part of a raid on the village of Trang Bang. The news given to pilots was that the civilians had been evacuated from that area. A mistake.

The photograph that has been viewed over the years, is of a nine-year-old child, covered with napalm and screaming in pain as she ran from her village. The photograph of this child with the burning village behind her, can be noted as a galvanizing conviction against the war. And indeed has questioned the reality of war — purpose, need, wisdom and justice — ever since. Questions that will never go away.

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Kim Phuc survived the horror of her burned body, underwent painful surgeries to lessen the scarring, and eventually moved to Havana to study pharmacology. Following her time in school, she married another Vietnamese student and moved to Toronto, Canada.

The aforementioned memorial was the place she later came together with the pilot of that raid. Her words in a speech that day were, “Although they cannot change the past, my deepest hope is that they can work together to build a more secure future.”

An amazing result came out of that dark day. The photographer of the noted picture, kept in touch with Kim and was the person who arranged for some of her emotional support and set up an international bank account to pay for some of her surgeries and education.

I ask myself, “Am I available and willing to be present to a person in distress?” We are fortunate in our community to have people who provide security, health care, and jobs that give stability to families.

The past, though fading, has its examples to grant us motivation for today. The “fading” is for us, by our efforts, to rekindle and to bring forth in our conversations.

I am thinking of one of the doctors from the Mayo Clinic, who late in the afternoon received a phone call. There was an emergency; an accident on a farm some miles away in Mower County. His response: “I’ll call my wife —- late for supper — a young girl caught in a barbed wire fence needs some stitches.” The next hour was to say to himself: “The pot roast can wait. My family understands!”

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson