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Bert Montgomery: The mellowing of a former peacenik


Bert Montgomery



Uncle Obed, from over in the northern Mississippi Delta, drove a mobile medic truck during World War II. His son, my cousin Ricky, says the stories Uncle Obed told resembled the chaos that was made famous by M*A*S*H (even though that was set in Korea). Uncle Obed returned from Europe and continued farming in the Delta. 


Cousin Roffie, from down in Brookhaven, built bridges in Vietnam with the Army Corps of Engineers. He returned and taught civil engineering at Mississippi State until his retirement a few years ago. 


John, a good friend up in northern Kentucky, served in the first Gulf War. Today he''s back in his hometown - married, kids, full-time job, and a leader in his church.  


Me? Well . . . I''ve always been more of the conscientious-objector-type because of my strong religious views. Well, Christian pacifism mixed with being born in 1968. 


I grew up idolizing the hippies of the 60s. Since a child I''ve known every word to Country Joe McDonald''s "I-Feel-Like-I''m-Fixin''-to-Die Rag" (the Woodstock version), and I still consider Edwin Starr''s "War" as one of my all-time favorite songs. 


Favorite presidential candidate? Gene McCarthy. 


Favorite Broadway musical? Hair. 


Favorite Beatle? Lennon, of course. 


So, when the my high school friends were going over to Kuwait for Operation Desert Storm, I had already grown shoulder-length hair, become an Abbie Hoffman pseudo-scholar, and was on my way to Washington D.C. for a protest march. 


In my early 20s, life was so clearly black-and-white for me. I was right and my friends (and everyone else) in the military were totally wrong. I had studied philosophical and Christian ethics, learned the truth, and arrived at the mature and correct conclusions. 


Ahhh . . . but as Bob Dylan has said, "I was so much older then, I''m younger than that now." 


Then came Somalia. Darfur. September 11, 2001. 


My easy, peacenik answers are too simple for me now. 


Not only that, but I recently learned that my cousin Billy was in the National Guard and called up to Ole Miss to keep the peace when the Federal Government said James Meredith could study there. I couldn''t be more proud. 


Over the past several years, I became friends with Phil - a Korean War veteran, who shared his personal struggles with returning to rural Kentucky farming life after being in combat.  


And in my mid-30s, I grew to love David - a Vietnam War veteran, who after tours of duty there, returned home and remained active in the National Guard until just a few years ago, when he entered his 60s.  


Billy has a heart of gold and will go out of his way to help anybody. Phil is a quiet, gentle soul, who - though a church deacon - is very much at home with and able to love some really tough folks who have lived (and some who still do live) rough lives. And David ... well, David is the kindest, most welcoming, most loving, and most unselfish man I think I may have ever met. 


I have very fond memories of Uncle Obed from my childhood, and I am quite proud of his service during WWII.  


Cousin Roffie and I attended some MSU baseball games together when I was a student here. I asked him once to tell me stories about being in Vietnam; he declined. I''ve met some of his former civil engineering students, and they tell me that though he was a tough instructor, they are far better engineers because of him. 


I''d trust my friend John with my life. I learned from talking with him that war really is hell. John responded to his call to serve our nation and has every right to be proud of it - and I''m proud of him for it. 


Yes, I still know (and honestly, still love) all the words to "I-Feel-Like-I''m-Fixin''-To-Die." Yes, I still consider myself a bit of a Christian pacifist. 


But, my "adult" certainty - my need to be right, and my need to set my views over and against other people - has eroded over the years. In its place is emerging a more childlike appreciation for mystery. In its place are growing a deeper appreciation of and respect for people who experience life very differently from me. 


That is something I used not to have; I was indeed so much older then, but by the grace of God, I''m younger than that now. 



Bert Montgomery is an author, MSU religion/sociology instructor, and pastor and lives in Starkville. His e-mail address is [email protected]


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Reader Comments

Article Comment Matthew commented at 11/20/2009 7:17:00 AM:

Great stuff Bert! Thanks for sharing your perspective on a conversation that will be batted around for the rest of time!


Article Comment Grahame Edwards commented at 11/20/2009 10:04:00 AM:

G'day Bert,

The older i get, the more questions I have. I am certain of one thing: God's enduring and overwhelming love. Apart from that, the older I get, the more aware I am of my puny amount of understanding and the vastness of my ignorance.

I have great respect for other people and the glimpse of life (and maybe God) that they provide.

As for war and peace, my favourite thing ever written about war remains Alice's Restaurant (which I heard at the impressionable age of 14 when it was released but which has stood the test of time).

By the way, my favourite Beatle is Johnny Cash, whose "Singin' In Vietnam Talkin' Blues" makes a lot of sense.

I enjoy reading your work, mate. Keep it coming. : )


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