I came back from Vietnam on a hard white gurney, flown in by one of those planes they called Starlifters at the time. Those wounded of us in that fuselage had all been pinned up in plastic sacks to the walls and the center divider, like the drugged and damaged larva of some huge insect phylum.
Now. Phoenix, Arizona. The airport here. In one of those little bar kind of restaurants they have out near the spoke-ends. Nameless. Marginal food. But a place to sit and not be among all the fidgeting, staring passengers on the black faux-leather seats near the gate.
I don’t have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), even though I go to group every week at the VA. I am not suicidal, and they know that. No, I don’t really want to be alive anymore, but that is different. Suicidal is weak, and I’m not weak. I’m here. And I’m okay. I don’t think about Vietnam much now, or my lost boys, or the other people who died because I was there. But I am hyper-vigilant, the psychologist says.
I notice things. I notice a lot of things. The license plate of the car driving behind mine. My mind converts the backward image automatically. The people around me. Whether they have noticed me. Whether I have seen them before. What they are wearing. What they are buying. It never stops. I don’t want to be afraid of them, so I want to have never seen any of them before. I had great courage once. People think I do now. But I don’t.
I don’t share my fear. But there’s also a physical manifestation which is hard to miss. I shake a little. When that happens, I move. Like Michael J. Fox with his problem. You don’t shake if you move around a bit. He knows that.
My small table is outside the eating facility but inside a short metal fence. My back is against the wall. That’s automatic. I toy with my bad Buffalo wings, but really watch what is going on around me. Then I’m surprised.
A GI comes through the outside door. He’s dressed out in full Iraq mufti. The new desert kit, with the cool buff boots and velcro patches. I don’t notice what’s on the patches because I was a Marine. I don’t care. He’s Army. He’s okay, but he’s Army.
He sits down. He has nothing with him. Not even a ditty bag. Unusual. I note that. He looks too good, and with nothing. He could be a phony, just looking to make believe for awhile. He sits at the next table. His back is against the wall too. He watches the people, like me, but does not look at me, or I at him. I just take him in from the side. He orders. The waiter comes and goes away.
Then the G.I. starts singing aloud.
“Daisy, daisy, ….give me your answer do….I’m half crazy….all for the love of you…” His voice is soft in the singing. Very soft. The words come out one at a time, with spaces.
I remember where I first heard the song. 2001 A Space Odyssey. Kubrick. The GI is singing, just like the computer in the movie. The song plays, I recall, as Keir Dullea gets back inside the space ship and slowly removes the brain parts of Hal, the computer gone bad. The more parts he removes, the slower the computer sings the song. Like the GI. I don’t turn, but I am struck hard.
Then, as he is singing, his knees start a rapid drumming up and down. He takes both hands and pushes and holds his legs back down, but continues to sing. He’s real. And he’s just come back. From over there.
“What am I going to do?” I whisper. I cover my face with both hands. I breathe in deeply inward, and then out again. I decide to help the G.I. I get up and leave, dragging the roller behind me.
I take out a twenty from my money-clip and put it on my table. I get up and wheel my roller back into the main bar, and then out the side to the main area, where people mill. I move directly toward the restroom and into a stall. I sit on the john with my clothes on. I’m vaguely reminded of the weird Senator Craig story, so I keep my feet well inside the stall.
“What am I going to do?” I whisper. I cover my face with both hands. I breathe in deeply inward, and then out again. I decide to help the G.I. I get up and leave, dragging the roller behind me.
But the G.I.’s gone. His food is on the table. The waiter is standing looking around, wondering whether his client has run off. I walk back along the outside of the metal fence. I take out another twenty and motion to the man. He frowns, looks at the uneaten food, but takes the twenty. I move through the spoke to my gate and get on the flight.
I have a middle seat. After take off I notice my seat-mates turning slightly to view me better. I realize that I am very quietly singing. That song. I stop immediately, take off my seat belt, and climb over the aisle passenger.
I start moving.
Just a little will make it all okay.
Served 73′-94′ USN.. Cut my teeth in the Navy with guys that had been in Nam. Learned early that there was some that I might be able to talk to about it and some that you just let them, well just let them be. I learned from them and then training to deal terrorism while deployed. Yes I do the back to the wall and watch as many folks that enter the establishment I’m in and what they are carrying…. and my bride knows to for me to pick a seat. I could never begin to know all the hell anyone who served In country went through. But I do my best to try. I now have a better understanding of my dad. WWII Marine. saw the a couple of the big events, but never spoke much about it only heard him a couple times and then because he had a couple beers and was with a few other old Marines. I get the loosing one of your brothers in arms, I was tasked with being an escort for taking a shipmate home after a squadron plane crash.. I will never forget his Mom crying while hugging the casket. And his dad who had held up well until I handed them the folded flag. I don’t remember how I was able to do it to this day without breaking down myself. Thanks for your writing and wish you Fair winds and following seas the rest of your days… Smper Fi from and old Ret. Senior Chef
Great comment to read G Bone. Thanks for your own words and the ‘meaning of life’ as written here by you.
Semper fi, brother,
Very well-written, very heart-wrenching. We are there with you. It’s no wonder you have the following you do, Jim. God bless you, brother.
Thank you Kirby,
Appreciate your comment and I notice you have a way with words also.
Walked into the candy shop in town in 71, Nick poured and asked where I’d been. Got invited to the Town Father’s table with Claud & Brayton and talked some. Nick who was a chrome pot in the Legion Color Guard came by to refill, and listen a bit. When he picked up on where I’d been he announced there was no place in the Legion for the crazy Nam Vets. After he left I walked out throwing a buck on the counter. Town fathers weren’t far behind. I never went back, no place for me in Town any more. Legion Post went tits up around 85, by then the new VFW post a mile out was up and running. VFW couldn’t pay the mortgage and the Town took the building over in the 90s. Cheap beer and wedding receptions only last so long. Other than 1 wedding, I never found a need to be at the VFW either.
Some of us found other ways to spend time in a manner that slipped Brothers into jobs at “good” employers where Nam Vet got the application trashed fast. It took a little time, but we had damn near 70 Vets getting paychecks by 80.
Funny what can be accomplished with a list of defunct Colleges and Bankrupt companies as long as you keep your mouth shut.
Didn’t open my mouth in public till 92 standing at the bar at a political thing. Fellow in a cheap suit, public school “teacher” was leanin on the bar from his stool expounding on the stupid bastards who went to the Nam, and how worthless they came back. He fell off the stool and left in an ambulance. Police report said his head hit the bar rail. I tried to help him, as I made sure he knew how stupid I was.
Couple years later I met a fellow who talked about how lucky he was his dad had the money to send him to a Draft Counselor. Seems the counselor and a Dentist had quite a racket installing braces that got your status changed to 1-Y. By then, Clinton was in the White House and I had a real good understanding of the new AmeriKa. They did what they did, I did what I did, it is what it is.
I still have a hell of a lot of questions.
With all the computers and all the databases we now know Nam Vets spent more days in combat that WW-2 Vets who rarely hesitated to point out THEY were in for the Duration.
Has anybody looked at a database to see how well Nam Vets did back in the States? Was there a superior record on staying married for Vets who were married before shipping out? How’s that stack against people who weren’t military in a society with a 50% marriage success rate?
Probably better not looking at the data, it might prove Nam Vets are the sane, stable people.
Where the hell did the America I came of age in go?
The WWII guys did not have much use for us in the old days.
I tried to talk to some Pearl Harbor survivors all taken up with
combat only to find that none of the were aboard ships that day or even made
it back before the Japanese were gone. Stunning for sure. Even causing PTSD.
But not combat. Not being that cauldron of abysmal fear and self-loathing for
being so disabled and piteous in the pain. So, I moved on and said nothing.
Don’t mean nuthin’
Semper fi, and thanks for this really neat and long story of survival after coming home.
This comment has some age on it, but not as much as me. I remember when I tried to do the VFW I will not use the language they used to describe me and all the other Vietnam Vets. This was in Georgia and Florida. Did I have issues with tat D@#) right I did. Greatest generation ever threw a Brother out the door. Left a lot of bitter deep inside. I have devoted myself to Veteran issues over the years,and yes I have received years of treatment for my service to include a 3 month stint at the VA Hospital PTSD treatment program in Fort Harrison they were GOOOOOOOOOODDDDDDDD I can never thank them enough it was ROUGH am I cured NO but I have tools. Vietnam Vets said never again God Bless all who have and do and will wear a uniform of the American Services
Yes, I am a life member of the VFW and I could not go years ago. They are better now. The local American Legion threw me and two other Vietnam
Vets out a couple of years ago and although I’m a life member there I’ve never gone back. I don’t like to think those kinds of thoughts I had
that night in their parking lot. The three of us calmed down and went home. PTSD is a bitch. It don’t mean nuthin’
A Marine buddy of mine were talking a few years back he says we all have it”PTSD”, maybe he’s right?
I do not doubt that a bit Ronnie. If you saw stuff and did stuff you can’t get out or take
back then guess what. There’s a dissonance that takes place inside the braid of human beings
that will not let things just fade away….not in one lifetime, anyway.
Thanks for your comment and for the support.
I also came back on a Starlifter. I was the last(first) rack right center bottom just after the ramp. When we left Camp Zama we flew over the pole and refueled in Alaska before going to Chicago’s Glenview Naval Air Station. While the plane was being refueled they made everyone get off except me. The pilot came by and told me I was in too bad of shape to be carried off and so forth. I was in the Army, trained as a heavy eqpt. mech., but wound up in the combat engineers sweeping roads etc.
One person walked up to me in a parking lot several years ago and asked me if that was my car. I said yes, and he thanked me for my service! I was speechless and finally got a thanks out. My daughter did not understand, and I hope she never does.
Thanks for the history lesson, take care, and have a good rest of your life.
A fellow starlifter rider
Starlifter. What a great name for an airplane that fittingly looked the role too.
That flight was a memorable one although I was injected into such a foggy wonderland. The semi-clear plastic bag I was
in was so surprising. I wasn’t afraid and my pain was reduced to a tolerable level. I couldn’t figure out where
we were all going, however. But it seemed I was going to some place better than I was leaving….and it was.
When I got my first medical leave temporary release to visit my apartment in Daly City I immediately got home
and then went on my crutches to the Presidio where I sat on the edge of that cliff on a bench all day, just staring
at the Golden Gate Bridge. To this day I see that bridge as somehow coming home.
Thanks for bringing that back, fellow traveler. Starlifter.
James you have me. You write the way I am. The way I think and the things I can not put into words. Thank you
I write the way you are. Now how damned cool is that! What a think to say. One simple sentence that goes in like
a slippery spear, straight to the heart of the matter. I don’t get much nicer compliments than that. Who could.
Thank you so much…
I have been reading your series with interest and passing it on to my friends. I was an instructor of artillery at Ft.Sill and can vouch that the Marine officers that passed through were sharp and a little more attentative and dedicated than the majority of new Lts we instructed.
Tom Titus writing and your response to him was touching and revealing.
I am sorry about your losses and appreciative of all of you that served.
Thank you, Jim! I had some vet indicate that I could have culled all
my knowledge about artillery from other sources.
I told him that I had researched deeply.
I’d gone to Fort Sill for some research and graduated, certifying that research.
Then I’d gone to Vietnam and researched some more.
There I used what research I’d garnered from the excellent Fort Sill stuff
and been certified with a Purple Heart for the learning.
Anyway, you being what you were…well you know.
No Internet education is going to replace or imitate much about the complexity involved with what you know.
Thanks for coming on here to write and to read.
Semper fi, and thanks for the gift of life you guys at Fort Sill gifted me…
Thanks for sharing you write well I spent some time in Quang Tri.
Just Quang Tri. Like that was nothing. Right. What a pit of an area during those
brutal years. Thanks for making a comment on here. Many guys haven’t reached the point in
coming home were they can do that but many are reading your words and identifying.
I’ve read some of the comments about the VFW, I was Navy, ’65-’68, I went where BUPERS sent me, ended up almost 2 1/2 years overseas duty, the closest I got to combat was a Black Sea Patrol on a Destroyer, for the entire time we were there they had every fire control system they had locked on us, plus they had a ship shadowing us all the time and constant over flights by bombers, no place to run, no place to hide.
After I got out I inquired about membership in the VFW and they told me I could not join because I had never served in combat. A few years later a group of Viet Nam vets were at an air show, I introduced myself but once they found out I had never been to Nam I was ignored, hey, like I said, I went where BUPERS sent me.
I stop by the local VA hospital just to keep my name I the system and I have been very active over the years in amateur radio, our big event is in November when we provide, free of charge, communications for the Wounded Warriors run, several thousand runners participate each year.
I am so sorry you were spurned John, by both the VFW and those Viet Vets.
Most vets are not like that. In fact, I have never personally met any of the real
deal guys who have ever done anything but accept immediately all those who served, no matter in what
capacity. It’s like we don’t have enough friends? Please. So you are most welcome here.
I went to the American Legion in my town and was asked to leave. I was with another Vietnam Vet who
had quite a distinguished background from over there too. He got tossed with me. We stood out front in the
dark and didn’t have to speak. We were both thinking about the dark at the bottom of the A Shau Valley, only
the gurgling turgid river waters and the ever present buzz of mosquitos mission. I don’t know what was
in my friends mind that night but the phrase “get some” did pass through mine. We left after a bit. Glad nobody
came out of that door that night. I feel your pain, my friend.
Thanks for coming here and saying something and also for reading the story that brought you.
thanks for the walk down memory lane. I have to much to say so I wont. too much. life sucks but I’m fine. 11b40 cib 1968 4th
The walk through memory lane. Thats the first time anyone on here has used that phrase.
It’s true, of course, although possibly a little gentle as a descriptor for this story.
Thanks for liking the story and your writing here…
Me and my friend were joined as Social Members in 1973 at our local Legion. Got pissed and never went back. Many of my fellow Nam Vets have the same story. But things have changed and been a member since 1985. Also life member of VFW.
I would try out the local VFW but, since I also publish this little feisty local newspaper (the Geneva Shore Report at genevashorereport.com) I don’t think my welcome would be without some uncomfortable fireworks in accompaniment. Just the local thing. The paper is lot like Thirty Days but about life around our small lake…but thank you…
Yes I came home in 1972 after 21 months with the Americal and the 101st , 198th recon 1/6 th inf. 1/327 101st, I went to the vfw in Alvarado tx ,they told me I was not welcome, for I had not seen enough combat, c.i.b. Bronze star with v device,..these were men who fought in ww2, to which I looked up to. Not after that, they didn’t have a clue what we had been through.we seen more combat in six months than they did in four years.
The Class of 46 had a tough time with us. For one thing, so many of them went
but so few actually served in real combat zones. The ones that did are okay but that’s rare.
The whole movie mythology thing from The Sands of Iwo Jima to Rambo was all about the super
human and super macho male warrior. The guy who is tough at everything, knows every weapon
and every martial art. Oh, and that attitude…you know the one. So you walk into a VFW or an American Legion
and don’t say anything, just keep to yourself. Does not take long to be typecast and isolated. One of those.
I went the legion once as a life member and even had my old card. They told me to come back after they had checked
me out with national. I never did. Didn’t go back for the card either. Fuck it. Fuck them. It don’t mean nuthin.
I worked on those starlifeter and I am glad I did and I am proud member of Vietnam Veterans Of America. Went where They said to go.
Thanks for chiming in here lonnie. You Starlifter guys and gals were just terrific.
I wish the staff at Oakland Naval Hospital had been as professional and caring.
PTSD my lifelong companion. Not welcome, but always with me, Vigilance, anxiety, twitching.
Weed helps sometimes, sometimes just sitting quietly in the dark helps.
Nothing helps. I breath in and I breath out, like I did in the Ashau.
We arrive at the pinnacle with this next segment and then plunge down into the valley you know
so well and can never forget. The valley where so many of us spend good portions of our lives,
supposedly coming home. Thanks for coming on here and writing about it.
It’s never going away but, like when you were there physically, it
helps to not be there alone. You are not alone here….
Semper fi, brother,
Viet Nam 70-71 Back to the wall. Can’t go outside at night with brite lights on me. I have to be in the shadows. Never thought about why. It’s just the way I am. Thanks for putting this in a new prospection. Old Army Sargent
PTSD. For life, it just seems like it should not be. The ‘get over it’ thing
should have some logic to it. But not really. The door into reality is how I describe
going into the shit. You can’t pry reality back out once it gets inside you.
Thanks for writing and for reading.
It’s insidious, it pops up just often enough to let you know it’s around, but mostly time helps. I don’t know what triggers it, could be a tv show, something read, a mental picture, but maybe not. The loss of the full use of my left arm is a reminder. The scars in the mirror are there every day looking back at me, but I’m so used to seeing them it’s normal. I’m not afraid anymore, but I don’t sleep well for the most part. I medicate on doctors orders, I drink too much, but at my age so what. I enjoy watching my grandkids grow up, I worry about my son who shows signs post Afghanastan, I’m afraid for him.
Another interisting read Mr Strauss, thank you again.
Thanks Dale. Glad you have found some way to ‘slip on through’ the filmy mist of PTSD.
Nothing you can ever get your hands on and coming at you from directions that are
unpredictable and certainly not understandable by others around you.
Thanks for liking the story and taking the time, courage and trouble to comment here.
Thanks James….weirdly finding myself humming the song.
Careful there David. You might start missing some of those crystal bars.
Open the pod door, Hal. Kind of a thing. Thanks for writing that and liking the story,
which is what I am interpreting here.
Well Jim, you just woke my dumb ass up. I had never given thought to the fact that I always try to sit with my back to the wall and feel uncomfortable if my back is to the door. Now I know. While I did not go through the shit as you did, it was still Nam.
Thanks for thanking me. I understand some things about PTSD and the paranoia because of my
own PTSD problems. I make no bones about understanding it all. My pleasure to speculate on things and
gain some approval.
Thanks for your comment and your support.
My Marine older brother is home on his 30 days for 6-month extension number two. Double dates, dinner & a movie and I’m in the back seat of a 65 VW bug and Steve slows to a red light…and some yahoo pops a cap. Next thing I know, I’m scanning the street from behind a bus stop bench, asking a bit, looking for the shooter. My brother laughed himself silly and pointed to the car next to us that had backfired. I still don’t know how I got out of that car. I’m still a little jumpy, look for that “my back to the wall”-seat…but that’s just the way I am. Next month’ll mark my 70th year of life, Valentines Day the 49th anniversary of my return from the War. I don’t have enough time left to use it thinking over the War. But the stories, such as this and your “Thirty Days…” saga are too good for you not to tell,as you so well do…and for me to read and think over. Thanks.
That back to the wall thing. I always wonder about that. Why do I do it? Like
nobody can just shoot through the window behind me? Like I’m going to watch each and every
person who walks in the coffee shop to see if he or she is armed and might be a threat? Maybe once.
Not now. But there I am. I’m a hero in my own mind, yet when I came home from all the medical shit
and processing out and getting a shitty job and not having anyone understand or even care to, I went home
to my mom and dad. They went looking for a house and I went along. In the back yard of the closed place we all went
in the yard by the pool when we should not have. A giant German Shepard rushed across the yard with his mouth gaping open.
The ‘hero of Vietnam’ instinctively grabbed his mom and pulled her in front of him. The dog turned out to be friendly.
Everyone laughed and then proceeded to tell the story on into history about the returned hero of Vietnam saving his mom from a vicious dog.
The hero is home, living in memories, like you. Those memories are so mixed up with reality and crap all slathered together that they form some kind of twisted
internal image. Is there any wonder that I am always in search of redemption? Like you? Like us?
Yes I always sit with my back to the wall, my wife is trained to give me that seat. Turned 69 the other day, had a flash back today, it never goes away, counciling helps, God Bless you brother.
USMC Vietnam, 68/69.
The right counseling does help. Group too. But it sure is hard as hell or maybe the luck of the draw
in finding counselors or fellow group members you can share the reality with. The real war stuff simply
has no place inside the family or even when shared with close members of your community. Our reality was
adjusted and their reality was not. You cannot argue realities, you can only gaze silently across the
gulf that separates them. Thanks for writing here and liking the story.
Sir, I served with the 4/73rd Armor 1st ID in Germany in 72 and
I had the honor of serving with those returning from the Nam.
I was an eye witness to how their experience affected them and
I had the honor of flying to the states with heros who’s names are
On the wall. Your writing reaches a very deep memory with me.
I appreciate now in my years advanced, how fortunate I was then.
And how fortunate I am now when I speak with my brothers and sisters
Who have served. I thank you Sir for speaking with us and for your
Thanks for writing about what you feel Dean. There were many wars within that war and mine
is only one story, about me and a few others around me. Thanks for liking what you read
and then making the effort to write something.
Great read very thought provoking I also was snubbed by VFW after returning I could join but not as a WAR Veteran only as a Vetern never did and also never stepped foot in a VFW after that, Semper Fi. I’ve been reading your “Thirty Days has September ” really takes me back to 68 in Chu Lai / DaNang sometimes I forget to breath before I get to the end, keep going can’t wait for next writing and THANKS
I’m a life member of the VFW and the American Legion. I spoke at the Legion
in Lake Geneva and then got asked to leave. They even investigated my past
with the national but did so under the wrong name to conclude I was indeed not
a member. I’d spoken against the idea of having an open bar for a buck a drink
and inviting in the community because local bars have to have liquor licenses and the
bartenders have to have clearance and approval to serve. I felt it was unfair for
the legion to break the rules like that. Well, that was the end of me!
So, I’m out here with Lucy Ricardo and the Friends of the Friendless!
Thanks for your support and the reading. The next segment will be up on the morrow.
I too am a life member of the VFW. Ever since I got back from VN I’ve had anger issues(always inside, never let it out), back always to the wall, watching everybody. When I find myself smiling about something I immediately stop like a switch is flipped and it seems l i’ll keep I don’t deserve to be happy. Can’t explain it but that’s been my life for over 40 years….
PTSD has so many variations, my friend. It’s hard to generalize and some of it is based upon
what you brought to the field of combat, what you experienced while you were there and then
what happened when you go back. Tremendous variance in those things across the spectrum.
The VA tries to generalize the whole thing, and DSM V too. But there you are and here I am,
similar but not. Sorry about your response but it is better than some others and it seems
you’ve adapted somewhat. Take care.
I’ve never gone to a VFW or any of that. I go to the VA for Meds and to keep my name in the system, that might help keep funding for someone, who knows.
I was a Grunt (11B10 light weapons infantry), we all did are job the best we could. Try to keep everyone a live so we could come home. Myself I married a week after I got out. My wife has always let me have my quirks which make it good for me. I try to let it go! The quirks are the same that other keep saying, back to the wall, seeing the exits, don’t like crowds, etc…. Jim, thanks again for the writing.
Thanks for liking the writing and I’m so happy about the marriage. So many couples died in the Nam or right after.
My wife could not recognize me physically or mentally when I got home. I’d gone from a happy go lucky college guy
to this rather creepy think caricature of a man with a bent toward pyrotechnics, weaponry and waiting for an imaginary
enemy to show up. My wife remained. Your wife accommodated. Nice work.
Right on again about the wall to your back and loss. I have a combat vets group, been together a long time, all Nam vets. We don’t talk much about combat, I think, no I know that we don’t want to open that can of worms. It’s funny when we decide to grab some pizza and beer, all twelve of us head for the corner table. It’s cool if you loose because they have your six. Loss is tougher. Lost my Dad in 92, WW2, Korea, 2 tours in the Nam. Army Infantry, he always wondered why I joined the Corps😎 He took the hometown round. Semper Fi! Keep up the great work. Peace K3/1
Thank you Tom. Sorry about your Dad. The corps is special in so many ways, to those
of us who chose that direction. It’s also not very exclusionary. You don’t have to qualify quite so badly as really want
what it is the corps is all about. And, if you get to be an officer you’ve got to go into substantial debt with the credit
union to buy your uniforms! Jesus Christ! My overcoat was $175.00 in the late sixties! That alone was a lot of money to
a lieutenant making 330 and married. Then there were the whites, gaberdeen, greens and blues. Jeez. And you had to have
the sword and it had to be engraved! Thanks for liking the story and commenting here.
Funny(not)I didn’t put together the thought behind sitting never with my back to a door. Now i do have a good idea since my tour of duty in Nam. My family and friends know this and when im with them they wait for me to pick the seat.the VFW can go to hell the way we were treated. They are closing clubs right and left. Serves them right
James. Never forget that almost eighty percent of veterans never went out into the ‘heat of the night’ like you. Some of them know about what that
must have been like and are smart and kindly enough to write on here about being lucky, as they really were. Those of us who went out into that vicious
part of the real world should never resent them because so many of us came back without close war buddies…because our buddies are on that wall. And we don[t want the guys who didn’t have to go out there or avoided it to have died too. I don’t and you probably don’t either. That would just add to that burden
you carry invisibly off and back from your right or left shoulder. You know…you can almost see the guys if you flick your head around quick enough.
The VFW was and is not ready for us. Society was and is not ready for us. We, and those who have the intellect and ability to truly get it, are all we have….and that has to be enough.
James, I flew aircrew in P2Vs in the Navy Aircorps. I got out in 1965 and immediately went into culture shock. My friends were afraid to talk openly about what we did in the service because they could be fired from their job or beaten up. I got into fights with people who didn’t appreciate veterans back then. About 8 or 10 years ago I was just standing around in my American Legion uniform after a Memorial Day parade and a little boy of about 12 came up to me and shook my hand and said, “Thank you for your service.” I had the hardest time ever to keep from crying. No one had ever said that to me before. Since then people have said it many times here in the state of Maine and people have even paid my restaurant bill without letting me know who they were just because I always wear a hat that says, “U.S. Navy VP Association” and I wear a miniature set of my aircrew wings on the front of it. It is probably Viet Nam era people doing a lot of this stuff now and not even bothering to make themselves known. But the change from 50 years ago is great.
I was having a bad day. It was back in Evanston, Illinois in 2001.
I was outside an Albertson’s store I’d just been asked to leave because the manager of that store
was mistreating one of those underprivileged kids working at the end of my isle filling bags.
I said something and was tossed out. It was the only grocery store in that part of
the town so that was important.
I was so upset that I got in my car and promptly backed into a pole.
I didn’t have the money to pay to bring that car back to specification at the time.
The “v” stayed for a long while.
I got back in the car and sat, finally noting a small white piece of paper
under my windshield wiper blade.
“Great, just heap it on Lord,” I said, out loud, getting out of the car.
I grabbed the note and ripped it from the blade, expecting some comment |
about my driving or parking or whatever.
I unfolded the small piece of paper.
It read: “I saw your Purple Heart plate and wanted to tell you how much my family
and I appreciate what you did.
We wrote this together. God bless you.”
I cried. That little note got me through.
It let me not go back in that store and ruin that woman’s and my life.
From then on, every time I looked at the “v” in my bumper
I thought of that note and smiled.
Yes, people can help and they do have an effect. Sorry to tell my own story.
I did not mean to diminish your own.
I was Air Force Tuy Hoa A.B. May 68-69. I refueled aircraft and that was my war effort. I was never shot at and our base was only mortared twice and they miles away from us. I have no regrets nor do I suffer from PTSD. A boyhood friend of mine ,Bob Stoddard was severely wounded while with the Marines and I realized there was serious shit going on in those jungles.
I look back now and after reading these stories I don’t think I could have gone through what the Marines did in that awful place. I think I would have been a sniffling coward. I am thankful my mind does not have the horror that is always in the back of your minds and dreams. I do not feel guilty because I had it made during my tour, you had a choice and you chose the Marines knowing what was ahead of you ,thats why I joined the Air Force hoping I wouldn’t have to go over there. God Bless you bloodied and muddied Marines and I pray for peace in your mind and soul.
Thank you Buzz, for that rundown of your own background, so truthfully delivered.
It’s okay that you missed that show. You did plenty for the country otherwise.
I don’t think very many Marines, by the way, had any clue about what was ahead in the
Nam, but thanks for thinking we did and were brave enough to go anyway!
And thanks for commenting here and reading the story…
Damn, You sure nailed that one. Good job I guess; at least its true. Thanks
Thank you Wally. I tried to publish that one in several of the most supposedly patriotic magazines on the planet
but no joy. I loved that the VFW let me know that the story ‘portrayed service members in a weak and disrespectful’ way.
Ah well, the publishing world is a narrow body of owners who only accept material from the relatives and friends of themselves and other
‘owners.’ Real life. Just like Hollywood.
But thank you. Once I got used to the idea that I wasn’t going anywhere as a writer, I actually got much better as a writer. Free, so to speak.
Thanks Jim, once again.
The “experts” are talking about removing the D from PTSD. There is a continuum of effect and affect from traumatic stress. Some of us push it down, and it comes back (or maybe it’s closer to the surface) many, many years later. Some live with it all the time and function in way that don’t show. Then there are those for whom it is a functional disorder, and they are those that care about them need help and support. Slowly, the wider world is starting to see that a problem exists. Understanding it is another matter.
Interesting. I have yet to read the chapter on PTSD in the new
DSMO but I’m sure it’s interesting. I am always wondering about when
they’ll come up with another potential ‘cure’ so they can stop paying
disability to returning veterans who’ve so far qualified for such payments.
When it comes down to it with veteran care it’s almost always about the
money and the VA would much prefer to pay people taking care of the vets
than the vets themselves. Just the way life is. thanks for the update in
I also came home on a gurney and attached to many tubes/IVs, full facial wrap w/ 1 open spot for my left eye. I guess I was lucky in some ways, I had my own personal Doc ( a Major) all the way from NAM to Fitzsimons Army Hospital-Aurora/Denver, CO (1971) almost made it thru 2 combat tours.
Yep..call me a ‘grunt’if you want, but I actually liked being called by my nickname; ‘Ghost’ which my team tagged me with.
I was 1 of those LRRPS that didn’t want to come back to the world as I was comfortable in the bush and the world had nothing more that I wanted (anti war people/hippies/etc.).
45 years later (most of the physical combat wounds have healed to a degree) I still find a spot in a restaurant against the wall, taking into account where the exits are, looking at every table/booth near me & my family.
My wife & daughters know this scene thru & thru and they always wait for me to pick the spot I feel that is the most secure.
As for me enduring life…hell came back to kick me in the face on 17 August 2004, when 2 Army Officers appeared at my house early morning in Boise, Idaho to inform me that my Son (only son) had been KIA near Sadr City, Iraq.
I knew something was wrong when I couldn’t sleep that nite & early morning and I had a forboding feeling.
My son was the 1st Soldier/Veteran buried in the new Idaho State Veterans Cemetery 30 August 2004, per special permission of the Idaho Governor who personally knew my son & myself. The cemetery was officially opened to internments 01 November 2004.
So now I have the label; NAM Vet (LRRP/Ranger) & Gold Star Dad…double whammy to the soul!!!
Apologize for being long winded…you’re spot on about the VFW & other excerpts in your writing which I can definitely identify with.
My Son held me as a HERO even among his guys in his 10th MTN unit, because of what I did in NAM, being a member of a LRRP team, jump school then Rangers and he almost duplicated my training, which makes me doubt myself my self worth as a Dad.
I should have kept my medals/awards hidden away in the old military trunk and not even spoke a word of what happened.
Today for me: 100% disabled-VA rating, will not participate in any group sessions, nor 1 on 1, have been known to call out the bull shitters, wannabes & the glorified REMFs when ever I see them wearing beaucoup dress up crap and teach my daughters the proper methods of shooting to be survivors not victims.
RLTW….H Co Rangers 75th / E Co LRRP 52nd Inf 70 & 71 III Corps
Jesus Christ, Tom! What can i say about what you’ve written. I get it.
My brother and I were in Vietnam together because we didn’t know any better. He was Army at Bien Hoa and I was
artillery (supposedly!) out of An Hoa.
He got wounded before me and was in Tokyo. I was wounded and in Yokosuka. I was much worse off. He came to see me before he flew home. It was a tough time.
His plane crashed and he died upon arriving home. Your son, my brother.
That loss was worse than what the Nam threw at me. And I will die with my brother always nearby, with me always knowing that whatever I’m doing he could do it better. And treasuring those thoughts.
You were a great Dad. There is simply no way we can predict anything at all, although the medals in the trunk is more me today because having them out didn’t create the kind of reaction I thought it would. When I had them on a wall, just after the Nam, some guy at a party said he’d seen the very same medals for sale at the local thrift store.
I can’t share your pain but I am a brother in both your combat background and the loss of your son.
We might talk one day.
Not about that stuff but simply about how much we’ve seen that nobody else knows about. All the way, brother, up the hill….
Oh, and thanks for saying what you said and liking my story….
Screw The VFW they didnt want us when we came
back, they liked to point out it was a fucking conflict
and that made us ineligible.
Most of them probably were desk jocks or something
Oh well, I enjoyed the writing as always, please, excuse my spelling
my mind gies faster tgan my finger and the finger loses
Hell resubmit with the Anerican legion, they treated
us good, dont know why.
Well thanks for the read and the memories
my wife akways picks out a table so I can have a wall
to my back , she still dosent understand why, maybe I dont
Yes, the Legion was better. Nobody much joins or goes anymore though.
The new guys coming back are more like Viet vets rather than the WWII guys who
started these clubs and don’t want to go drink and hang out there.
You have your back placed against the wall not for protection but so you can
see everything in front of you. It’s called flank security. It’s automatic once
your been in the shit. It was the stuff you didn’t see coming on on the road or path that
got you so now you try to make sure you can see it all.
Semper fi, and thanks for the reading and the comment.
The VFW magazine made a mistake. Resubmit it. Still relevant.
No, I won’t resubmit Vern. I understand where they come from and their funding and all.
They have little interest in guys coming home damaged. They are about the mythology and
there’s little impact I’m going to have on that. I don’t need to publish anymore, other than here
where the real guys and gals can find me and the real stuff.
Thanks for that though. The company of men like you keep me going….
Hell,they won’t even publish commentary letters after they’ve solicited for them.Your right,its all about the myths. Thanks.
D. sorry but they are looking for one slant and one slant only, and that has nothing
to do with what warriors sent abroad have to accommodate themselves to or die. The magazines are all
about benefits, scholarships and support of everything the military does. That’s not the real world
any of us have lived in who’ve been through the wringer. And they are not going to publish comments from
the real deal guys like you and I. Period.
Semper fi, and thanks a million. I’ll publish you all day long…
I realize this is not all that relevant to your story, but I am grateful for the following lines : No, I don’t really want to be alive anymore, but that is different. Suicidal is weak, and I’m not weak. I’m here. And I’m okay.” My husband died not quite a year ago, suddenly after almost 38 years of marriage. This is the most accurate description of how I feel that I have found. Thank you.
I love your writing. I lost friends in Vietnam and some that died from AO related diseases. Your writing makes what they went through easier for me to understand.
Thank you Kathi. Real grief has a fierce inner fire to it that burns through days, nights and time in between.
Few understand it even when they are going through it. Every experience is braided to the pair bonded being now gone.
To be alone does not describe it. I am so sorry I reached you so deeply. I am so sorry that those words would resonate so
deeply inside you. It is hard to share grief but it can be done. There are others on this site who know what you know, and live
what you are living. firstname.lastname@example.org is my email address. Send me a note and I’ll give you my cell number.
Thanks so very much.
Very sweet and heartfelt reply James.
You are most welcome and thanks for writing that on here. I’m not Junior anymore, but he’s still down there somewhere.
Semper fi, and Happy New Year.