Community

Bill Distler: A veteran of peace

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Bill Distler was my friend, and it will never feel right to think of him in the past tense. He died much too soon this week, succumbing to glioblastoma in his sleep. It was the first time I had ever seen him at peace.

This 70-year-old peace vet entrapped me in his web of anti-war activism a dozen years ago. As alter egos, we shared the same guilt and moral injury, cringing when we were thanked for our service. After all, we didn’t serve, we were used. We were also two Vietnam vets that became great listeners. In one of our first conversations he relived the fear and confusion that shredded his point man Willie Earl Granger in the hedgerows near Cu Chi Base Camp, Vietnam. I didn’t deserve to hear that avowal but he needed a sounding board. It wouldn’t be the last time, for either of us.

We always admitted that we were stupid cowards for ending up in Vietnam. From the day he returned to the United States, he knew he had to do something about it. By the time he saw an anti-war demonstration in D.C., after returning stateside, the seeds of peace activism were sown.

There were Americans who recognized the futility of war and they were in the streets. He never looked back, on an odyssey to convince everyone that war was never the answer.
It was mostly about the children. Bill recently wrote, “Forty-seven years after returning from Vietnam, I became aware that there is always a film playing in the back of my mind… I see a line of children sitting on the ground, crying. Behind them, from the knees down, I see their parents standing there, helpless. They cannot comfort their children. They have nothing to comfort them with. Their countries are being destroyed by war. It is our job as adults to stop these wars.”

He was tenacious. During the Reagan and Bush years, Nicaragua and El Salvador were Bill’s righteous obsessions. He was justifiably concerned that region could become the next Vietnam, ravaged by U.S. militarism.

For more than a decade, he and other peace vets rode a wave of solidarity in support of revolutionaries through Central America, born through a prism of combat credibility. This breakneck pace—including arrests for nonviolent civil disobedience protesting U.S. interventionism—took a toll.

During the 1990s Bill deserved a respite, and took it. He often spoke about shifting his focus to nature and the great outdoors—volunteering at San Juan National Historical Park, marrying and starting a family, and trying not to think about war too much. But Bill had never left Cu Chi. And children were dying, again, by U.S. bombs.

As the War on Terror was trending, Bill described the national malady that drove his passion as a spiritual disorder—a syndrome that convinces Americans “that God doesn’t mind if we kill some children, as long as it is for a good cause.”

Angry, and new to the anti-war fray with a son in Iraq, I met Bill at a Veterans for Peace chapter meeting in 2004. By that time, this “spiritual disorder” was morphing into a global pandemic.

Bush I and Clinton had already facilitated its incubation; and Bush II was priming the metastasis of endless war. And Bill was still on the frontline of opposition, for the children’s sake.

Speaking, writing, running for Congress as a peace candidate in 2008, he knew he was planting shade trees for future generations but never lost hope.

In support of the VFP Vietnam Full Disclosure Campaign, Bill wrote a letter to the Wall. Last week it was placed beneath Willie Earl Granger’s etching on Panel 49W and read in part:

“Willie, I think about you and have thought about you every day since the mine went off that killed you. I think about your family and I hope they have peace.

“Even though we were arguing on the day you died, I think your family should know that you were so loved by everyone in our unit, that men were crying when the word came back to us that you had died in the field hospital.

“My purpose in writing this is not to stir up painful memories for your family, but to hope that these words will comfort them…Willie, every day for 44 years, as if you were an angel, I saw your face behind my left shoulder, watching over me in a helpful way. It seemed like you were always asking me: What are you going to do to make this right?

“Thank you, my friend. I hope you are satisfied with what I’ve tried to do.”
Historian Howard Zinn once said, “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” And Willie always watched as Bill did more than his share.

Gene Marx is an honored member of Veterans For Peace Chapter 111. A memorial fund has been set up to assist the family of Bill Distler, http://www.gofundme.com/distler-medical
funeral-fund.

Past Columns
Saying Goodbye

December 11, 2019

Cold and Alone

December 4, 2019

Big Money Politics

November 13, 2019

A Win for the Birds

July 24, 2019

Road to ‘Nowhere’

June 26, 2019

Game Changes

April 24, 2019

Salish Sea Science

January 23, 2019

Cherry Point Amendments

January 16, 2019

Invest in the Future

September 26, 2018

A Desperate Call

August 29, 2018

Criminalizing Protest

July 18, 2018

Threshold Fund

June 13, 2018

Imprisoned Splendour

May 9, 2018

Pathways to Homeownership

April 25, 2018

Yes on I-1631

April 11, 2018

Divide-and-Conquer

October 11, 2017

Events
Today
Holiday Pet Food Drive

10:00am|Whatcom County

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Giving Tree

9:00am|Village Books

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am

The Naughty List Market and Cabaret

2:00pm|Broadway Hall

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Treasure Island

7:00pm|Sehome High School Theater

Shrek the Musical

7:00pm|Burlington-Edison High School

Crazy for You

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

A Christmas Carol

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Number the Stars

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Connelly Creek Nature Area

Toys for Tots

10:00am

Pacific Arts Market

10:00am| Sunset Square

Holiday Tea

11:00am|Willowbrook Manor

Holiday Craft Bazaar

3:30pm|Lynden Library

Drayton Harbor Shellebration

4:00pm|G Street Plaza

Gingerbread House Making

4:30pm|Ferndale Library

Christmas on the Docks

5:00pm|Cap Sante Marina

Photos and Stories with James K. Papp

5:00pm|Gallery Pegasus

Wonderland Walk

5:00pm|Washington Park

Valley Made Holiday Market

5:00pm|Maplehurst Farm

Kids Night Out @ Western

6:00pm|Western Washington University

Lost Feast

7:00pm|Village Books

Honk! The Musical

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

Darkness and Light

7:30pm|St. James Presbyterian Church

Narnia the Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Christmastime is Here with Skagit Symphony

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Tarnation and Holiday Games

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Tomorrow
Holiday Pet Food Drive

10:00am|Whatcom County

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Giving Tree

9:00am|Village Books

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Shrek the Musical

7:00pm|Burlington-Edison High School

Treasure Island

7:00pm|Sehome High School Theater

Number the Stars

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

A Christmas Carol

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Crazy for You

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Pacific Arts Market

10:00am| Sunset Square

Toys for Tots

10:00am

Holiday Tea

11:00am|Willowbrook Manor

Christmas on the Docks

5:00pm|Cap Sante Marina

Wonderland Walk

5:00pm|Washington Park

Valley Made Holiday Market

5:00pm|Maplehurst Farm

Honk! The Musical

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

Tarnation and Holiday Games

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Darkness and Light

7:30pm|St. James Presbyterian Church

Narnia the Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

NSEA Work Party

9:00am

Breakfast with Santa

9:00am|Sedro-Woolley Community Center

Winter Faire

10:00am|Whatcom Hills Waldorf School

Winter Arts & Crafts Festival

10:00am|Pioneer Park Pavilion

Old-Fashioned Christmas Market

10:00am|Friday Harbor Brickworks

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Fairhaven Winterfest

10:00am|Historic Fairhaven

Sumas Book Club

10:00am|Sumas Library

Mastering Wisteria

10:30am|Full Bloom Farm

Award-Winning Book Club

10:30am|Lynden Library

Snow Geese of Skagit

10:30am|Christianson's Nursery

Your Life is a Story Writers Group

10:30am| South Whatcom Library

Saltadena Celebration

11:00am|Saltadena Bakery

Winter Wonderland Gift Gala

11:00am|Carnation Building

Holiday Craft Bazaars

11:30am

Holiday Maker's Market

12:00pm|Terramar Brewing and Distilling

Holiday Joy with Fidalgo Youth Symphony

1:00pm|McIntyre Hall

Holiday Tea and Crafts

1:00pm|North Fork Library

Festive Feasting Reception

1:00pm|Good Earth Pottery

Teen Art Fair

2:00pm|Blaine Library

Big Holiday reds tasting

2:00pm|eifert & Jones Wine Merchants

Shrinking the Worry Monster

2:00pm|Village Books

Birding for Kids

2:30pm

Bowman Bay Holiday

3:00pm|Bowman Bay

Noel Ensemble

3:00pm|Jansen Art Center

A Deep Dive Into Eve Deisher's Psyche

3:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

One Meditation

4:00pm| Boulevard Park

The Nativity

6:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Early Railroads of Whatcom County

7:00pm|Village Books

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Center Into Solstice

7:00pm|Cafe Blue

Holiday History Hi-Jinks

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Winter Solstice Concert with SeaMuse

7:30pm|Firehouse Arts and Events Center

Cidertails with Alexine Langdon

7:30pm|housand Acre Cider House

Heralding Christmas with Skagit Valley Chorale

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

The Kelley World Tour

7:30pm|Lummi Island Library

Sunday
Holiday Pet Food Drive

10:00am|Whatcom County

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Giving Tree

9:00am|Village Books

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Number the Stars

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Crazy for You

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Pacific Arts Market

10:00am| Sunset Square

Christmas on the Docks

5:00pm|Cap Sante Marina

Valley Made Holiday Market

5:00pm|Maplehurst Farm

Honk! The Musical

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

Narnia the Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Winter Wonderland Gift Gala

11:00am|Carnation Building

The Nativity

6:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Heralding Christmas with Skagit Valley Chorale

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Sedro-Woolley Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Celtic Yuletide

3:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Scarlett and Dicey

4:00pm|Village Books

Vaudevillingham

7:00pm|Cirque Lab

see our complete calendar »