[Marxism] Peg Mullen, 92, Who Fanned Her Anger Over Son’s Death Into Antiwar Drive, Dies
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Oct 6 10:35:37 MDT 2009
NY Times, October 6, 2009
Peg Mullen, 92, Who Fanned Her Anger Over Son’s Death Into Antiwar
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Peg Mullen, an Iowa farm wife who made herself a living symbol of loss
after her son was killed in Vietnam, as she sharply questioned the
military’s explanations and became an outspoken antiwar crusader, died
Friday in La Porte City, Iowa. She was 92.
Her family announced the death.
After her son Michael was killed by shrapnel from United States
artillery on Feb. 18, 1970, Mrs. Mullen did not disguise her rage. She
used his death benefit to buy two half-page advertisements in The Des
Moines Register, each with more than 700 crosses, one for each Iowan
killed in the war.
C. D. B. Bryan, an author and journalist, wrote about the suffering of
Mrs. Mullen and her family in “Friendly Fire,” a book that was
serialized in The New Yorker and received wide attention when published
In 1979, the book was made into a television movie starring Carol
Burnett as Mrs. Mullen. It won an Emmy for best drama special.
Mrs. Mullen from the start refused to believe the Pentagon’s account of
Michael’s death, that he was killed in an accident. Mr. Bryan’s
investigation eventually laid out considerable evidence that the
official story was, indeed, true. Mrs. Mullen remained skeptical.
She wrote her own book in 1995, “Unfriendly Fire: A Mother’s Memoir,”
expanding on her doubts. Around 40 of her son’s letters added poignancy
to the story.
Mrs. Mullen’s obstinacy, distrust of officialdom and wicked humor
characterized her decades of antiwar activity, including those following
the Vietnam War. An e-mail message she wrote to a columnist for The
Register in 2002 showed her raw emotional power.
“I have no idea of your age,” she wrote the columnist, “but I hope you
never have to stand in a quiet corner of an airport and say goodbye to a
son in uniform, knowing in your heart that you’ll never see him again.
“I hope you never suffer the horror of a military man sitting at your
kitchen table trying to tell how your son died — then wait 10 days for
his body to be returned and his casket unloaded in a darkened corner of
the same airport.”
Mr. Bryan suggested in his book that the Mullen family’s pain might be
seen as a larger lesson of the Vietnam War, ultimately more important
than definitively assigning blame for Michael’s death. Writing of the
atmosphere in which the Mullens and similarly stricken families lived,
Mr. Bryan wrote of “those sounds which were not spoken at all: the slam
of a hand hitting the table in rage, the breath caught because an
onrushing memory was causing too much pain.”
Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Michael’s commander in Vietnam, met with
Mrs. Mullen and her husband and tried to answer her questions as clearly
as he could. But he could not satisfy them.
“To me, the death of Michael Mullen was not just one tragedy, but two:
the needless death of a young man, and the bitterness that was consuming
his parents,” the general wrote in his autobiography.
Margaret Goodyear was born in Pocahontas, Iowa, in 1917, and after
graduating from high school moved to Des Moines to work in various
federal jobs. In 1941, she married Oscar Mullen, known as Gene. They
settled on the 120-acre farm near La Porte City that had been in the
family for four generations. In addition to farming, Mr. Mullen worked
for Rath Packing and John Deere. Mrs. Mullen worked at J. C. Penney and
Santa Claus Industries.
Mrs. Mullen’s mother had been county Democratic chairwoman in the 1920s,
and she herself was an active Democrat, serving as a delegate at the
party’s 1964, 1968 and 1972 national conventions. Her forebodings about
Vietnam were solidifying into opposition before the death of Michael,
who had been a graduate student in biochemistry when he was drafted in 1968.
In an interview in 2005 with The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., she
remembered trying to comfort a friend whose son had died in the war by
saying, “He died for our country.”
The friend snapped that Mrs. Mullen should never say that to anyone
again. “You can’t justify what’s going on,” the friend said.
After Michael was killed, Mrs. Mullen refused a military funeral and
spurned her son’s medals. She returned President Richard M. Nixon’s
letter with the note, “Send it to the next damn fool.”
She declined a free grave marker with a military inscription. She bought
a tombstone, and used the verb “killed” rather than “died.”
Mr. Mullen died in 1986.
Mrs. Mullen is survived by another son, John; her daughters, Patricia
Hulting and Mary DeJana; and six grandchildren.
Mrs. Mullen’s militancy never abated. At 74, she rode a bus for 38 hours
to protest the first Persian Gulf war. In 2005, at 88, she said she was
furious that she could not join Cindy Sheehan, a mother who lost a son
in the Iraq war, in Ms. Sheehan’s protest outside President George W.
Bush’s ranch in Texas.
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