John Seebeth, 55, speaks courtesy of a hole in his throat, a hole left by a Viet Cong bullet on Aug. 21, 1969. But it wasn’t until years later that Seebeth’s consciousness was raised and his anti-war beliefs emerged.
Seebeth will share his views Monday at 7 p.m. at Issaquah library’s main branch, in a speech sponsored by the Eastside Suburban Peace Network.
In the 1980s, Seebeth became concerned about global warming.
He has devoted his life to environmental concerns and is an outspoken advocate for alternatives to gas-powered vehicles.
His war worries center on substances the United States began to introduce in the 1991 Gulf War.
One of his key concerns is depleted uranium.
The United States uses depleted uranium in bombs and artillery shells because it is heavier than other metals and more easily pierces armor.
Statistics show that even though only 148 died among the nearly 700,000 who fought, veterans have since reported problems related to exposure to depleted uranium.
The uranium loses half of its impact in 4.2 billion or 4.5 billion years, depending on the source.
To date, the government acknowledges 183,000, or about one in three veterans, have received disability status for one or more Gulf War-related conditions, a Veterans Administration official said.
“Now we’re going over there with these same weapons,” Seebeth said. “I love my country. If we were attacked, I’d serve. But this is not an honorable fight.”
Seebeth sees his country exchanging blood for oil, oil needed for the U.S. fleet of autos and SUVs.
Such fossil fuel boosts the global-warming phenomenon, ultimately raising water temperatures, disturbing the climate and irrevocably altering sea-related habitats — included human.
Ups and downs
Seebeth wears his emotions on his sleeve. Two subjects, kids and men he served with in Vietnam, can dampen an eye.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Seebeth strived to escape a lower-middle-class environment by barely surviving high school and joining the Army.
His goal was to become a police officer.
In the Army, he became a medic.
“Now I was something,” Seebeth said. “We picked up the wounded out in the fields — civilians, U.S. soldiers, Vietnamese soldiers.”
Among all airborne groups, medics suffered the worst casualties, a third injured or dead. Seebeth’s helicopter, adorned with the red cross sign, carried no weapons. Sometimes, it was asked to land in heavy fire without escort.
That’s what happened Aug. 21, 1969, 25 or so miles south of Seebeth’s base at Danang.
“They had a casualty,” Seebeth said. “He was critical. If we didn’t come in and get him, his chances of surviving were small. The captain asked us what we wanted to do. No one said anything.”
They went in. It was the Hiep Duc valley.
“My left knee was shaking uncontrollably,” Seebeth said.
A bullet hit Seebeth’s armored jacket, at the top, near the neck.
The bullet splintered, and a big chunk entered his neck. When he was flown out, medics had to bring him back to life.
Seebeth received the Purple Heart for that and he and his unit won the Distinguished Flying Cross for the three days of intense activity in Hiep Duc.
Seebeth was mute for 17 months. He was outfitted with a Montgomery T-tube, allowing him to speak by pressing through a hole in his throat. That’s how he talks today.
Vietnam nearly ruined him. Racked by survivor’s guilt, he wound up drinking a lot and getting into two auto accidents.
Finally, a doctor talked him into returning to school.
Seebeth eventually corralled a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Indiana University and logged a year toward a master’s in social work at Ohio State University.
More importantly, he came to grips with Vietnam, concluding that his earlier zest for the mission was misplaced. He reached that point in part by doing a lot of reading.
“I didn’t read a book until my second year in college,” Seebeth said. Now he reads everything he can find on war and armaments and chemical agents and the environment.
He and his wife, Linda, keep an active bookcase in their home near the Issaquah Highlands.
The past is always there
Seebeth’s views remain affected by soldiers he saw die in Vietnam.
“I still carry them,” Seebeth said of the images in his mind. “This isn’t a responsibility I carry lightly. I shared a very special moment, eye to eye. I carry that passion, lest they die in vain.
“The responsibility is just awesome.”
Pictures of dying Vietnamese children remain as vivid.
Seebeth can weave stories that make stomachs turn and hairs bristle.
Which may be why he also likes to point out that, of Iraq’s 26 million people, half are children.
Greg Heberlein can be reached at email@example.com or 425-453-4228.