Code Red

Looking for closure, amends, forgiveness, and redemption.

By Gary Krumwiede, Freeport VietNow Chapter

All Veterans Memorial. Freeport, Illinois.

The mission of the All Veterans Memorial in Freeport, Illinois, is to honor and remember all veterans from Stephenson County who served in the United States armed services.

Several months ago, while waiting for a doctor appointment, I came upon a magazine article about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. There are almost 59,000 names on that wall, and for each name  there are many loved ones – both family and friends affected by the loss of that one person. The Wall has become a place for closure, amends, and a place for forgiveness and redemption.

The All Veterans Wall, here in Freeport, Illinois, pays similar tribute to veterans from this area – with sections dedicated to those lost in Vietnam and other wars.

One day I noticed an elderly woman standing, and looking at our wall. I could tell she was looking for someone. I walked over to her and introduced my­self, and she explained that she knew her husband’s name was on the wall, but she couldn’t find it. I helped her find the name, and for a moment she stood there silently. Then she said, “We lost him in the last days of the war. I never remarried, and I was never able to go to his grave, but this memorial gives me a sense of closure I’ve never had before.”

Like so many  who come to The Wall in Washington, hoping for closure, and hoping to honor those whose names are on The Wall, when this woman saw her husband’s name on our wall, she finally got completeness and a feeling of fore­giveness.

Carrying remorse and guilt for years

Many of us walk around with a certain amount of remorse and guilt over something that happened many years ago. With this in mind, I am going to explain how I was able to achieve a release from that bondage.

For over 55 years I have held a memory of an incident – and have held guilt along with that memory. The incident had gnawed away at my heart, and nothing had been able to give me relief. Even as a man who loves God dearly, this one memory hurt me so much that I couldn’t speak of it, or forgive myself. God and his ­wisdom used one man recently to finally free me from that pain. The incident that brought us to this happened in the third week of boot camp, in February 1958.

You probably know that, in boot camp, the military wears you down, and you feel useless. The parade field in San Diego, where I was in boot camp, was known as the “Grinder.” It was about a mile long, and a half-mile wide. I don’t re­mem­ber the exact figures – when you are running around it, who’s meas­uring? The stressful training in boot camp eliminated many recruits. For example, if you were over­weight, they sent you to the “Fat Man’s Platoon,” where you received “special training.”

Private Doe

By the third week, more than 10 men had been transferred into special platoons or were sent home with General Discharge pap­ers. Although I was not aware of it yet, there was (sadly) another way to deal with those considered “unfit.” They called it “Code Red.” When our platoon was first formed, we were assigned to our barracks, where we had bunk beds and a work partner. Both you and your partner would be responsible for any duty given, work accomplished, and any problems solved together. My partner that third week was Private Doe (not his real name).

He was a kid from Chicago, a very ­polite and well-mannered person. But Private Doe was not physically fit, nor was he military-minded. No matter how hard he tried, he could not keep up during any physical training, and by that third week I could not understand why they had not cut him from the program.

One evening while we were on a run around the parade field, Private Doe fell out. He couldn’t go any farther. The drill instructor had him get a chair, and sit in the middle of the field while we had to run past him. Every time we passed him, the drill instructor would say, “Do you know why you are running?” Finally, after we were totally exhausted, we were dismissed. Then the drill sergeant said, “Now, if you don’t want this to happen again, you have to do something about it.” Private Doe apologized to everyone, and said it wouldn’t happen again.

Code Red

That night, after showers, we all hit the rack – no one said a word. Somewhere around midnight I woke to a terrible commotion – four or five guys were beating up on Private Doe. I don’t know what happened after that. It was a frightening experience, and I’m not clear exactly what happened.

It’s possible that the guys threatened me if I didn’t just keep quiet – I don’t really remember. One thing that stands out after all these years is that not one of us – no one in the entire group – did anything to stop the Code Red.

Asking forgiveness

In fact, at one of our military reunions, I confronted my buddies about the incident. One said, “We couldn’t do anything, or we would have gone with him. Just forget it!” Fifty-five years have passed, and still I have not forgotten.

Finally, I recently had a session with a psychiatrist at a VA hospital, and he gave me an excellent idea. He knows me well – and knows that I have tried to walk in God’s path – so he suggested that I write Private Doe a letter, and ask his forgiveness. Then I should put the letter in an envelope in a drawer, and that would help end the agony all these years later.

It occurred to me that I may not be the only one who has known a Private Doe or who has “something out there” that still interferes with happiness and moving on in our lives. Forgiveness can be a life-changing experience.

If there’s someone like Private Doe in your life, remember that even if you never see that person again, you can still write a letter that can change your heart and help you move on.

Here is the letter I wrote to Private Doe:

Dear Private Doe,

It has been over 55 years since we last spoke and I want you to know that I enjoyed knowing you and having you as my work partner and friend. Your parents taught you well and they should be proud. With regret, I am totally sorry that I didn’t do anything to help you on that February night in ’58.

I want to ask your forgiveness. I really have no excuse but to truthfully say how sorry I am. May God Bless You with His Grace and Peace.

In Christ’s name,

Gary Krumwiede
PVT 216 2-3-58

A letter found at The Wall

Not long after this, my wife found something online. At The Wall, in Washington, someone had left a photograph and a letter, addressed to a Vietnamese soldier. The letter said:

“When we confronted each other that day in the field, you stood with your rifle aimed at me and mine aimed at you. But you did not fire, you just stared at me, until finally I shot and killed you because that was my orders to do so.

In your front pocket I found this picture of you and this beautiful little girl I can only assume was your daughter. You both looked so happy and smiling.

I have carried this picture for all this rest of my life and now I want to return it to you with this letter. The thought of me taking your life and taking you away from those that loved you has haunted me all this time.

I ask your forgiveness for this and only that I was doing my duty at the time.”

I hope the soldier who wrote the letter walked away feeling forgiveness, and in turn forgave himself. We serve a mighty God – he teaches us all in different ways.”


Gary KrumwiedeServing as chaplain for the Freeport VietNow chapter and as pastor for New Life for Old Nursing Home Ministry, Gary Krumwiede enjoys serving veterans and their families. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1958 to 1963.