Duty to Serve, Duty to Conscience
For more information about Duty to Serve, Duty to Conscience, visit https://jamesckearney.com/.
Despite all that has been written about Vietnam, the story of the 1-A-O
conscientious objector, who agreed to put on a uniform and serve in the
field without weapons rather than accept alternative service outside the
military, has received scarce attention. This joint memoir by two 1-A-O
combat medics, James C. Kearney and William H. Clamurro, represents a
unique approach to the subject. It is a blend of their personal
narratives—with select Vietnam poems by Clamurro—to illustrate noncombatant
objection as a unique and relatively unknown form of Vietnam War protest.
Both men initially met during training and then served as frontline medics
in separate units “outside the wire” in Vietnam. Clamurro was assigned to
a tank company in Tay Ninh province next to the Cambodian border, before
reassignment to an aid station with the 1st Air Cavalry. Kearney served
first as a medic with an artillery battery in the 1st Infantry Division,
then as a convoy medic during the Cambodian invasion with the 25th Infantry
Division, and finally as a Medevac medic with the 1st Air Cavalry. In this
capacity Kearney was seriously wounded during a “hot hoist” in February
1971 and ended up being treated by his friend Clamurro back at base.
Because of their status as “a new breed of conscientious objector”—i.e.,
more political than religious in their convictions—the authors’ experience
of the Vietnam War differed fundamentally from that of their fellow draftees
and contrasted even with the great majority of their fellow 1-A-O medics,
whose conscientious objector status was largely or entirely faith-based.