Vietnam veteran shares his experiences in new book

James Kearney is a Vietnam veteran who teaches at UT Austin. He has written a book about his service and his life after the military.

What sets him apart from other veterans is that he was a conscientious objector in Vietnam, yet he served as a combat medic.

He joined FOX 7 Austin's Mike Warren to talk about his experiences and his new book, "Duty to Serve, Duty to Conscience."


MIKE WARREN: What sticks with you the most about your experience in Vietnam? 

JAMES KEARNEY: Well, our experience was unusual. That is to say, my coauthor and I, because we were conscientious objectors, but yet we were embedded in the midst of war without weapons. And we lived a paradox and a point of view of revisiting the war. And from the standpoint of this paradox, I think it is something that needs to be done but is also our dominant impression of our war service. 

MIKE WARREN: Your book is "Duty to Serve, Duty to Conscious." Why did you write it? 

JAMES KEARNEY: As we approach the 50th anniversary of our service in Vietnam, we felt something that many soldiers, in fact, most soldiers who have experienced combat feel as they grow older. And that is the need to come to terms with this experience, which for many is the most intensive experience of their life, to come to terms with that experience in some meaningful way. And so that was the real purpose of this book for us, is to try to understand, you know, what we have gone through and its broader significance. 

MIKE WARREN: You know, talking about that experience and the transition from leaving the military into the civilian world, you had yours. I'm curious as to what that was like for you and your observations on the soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq, those service people, their transitions? What are some of your thoughts about that? 

JAMES KEARNEY: Yeah. Different laws, but a similar experience, I think, is for all men in all wars. For all people who have actually experienced war, war doesn't end when peace is declared. And so that's just as true for the Afghan veterans, for the Iranian or Iraq war veterans as it was for Vietnam. And so for Bill and I, we tried to put the war behind us and go on with our lives. Some people are more successful than others in this. But yet, at a certain point, the war refused to go away for us. And I think that is also common. As you grow older, it comes back.


MIKE WARREN: How do you deal with that?

JAMES KEARNEY: Well, for us, writing the book was the first thing, but we did it in other ways, too. We began to join veterans organizations. And for me, I joined my unit reunions. Every year we have a reunion, the 15th medevac. And I found that very therapeutic for me, and I think for other veterans, I would suggest doing that. Try to make contact with your buddies at the lowest level possible down to the unit level.