War Stories

by James Glaser
May 10, 2002

Ever since I returned from Vietnam, people have been asking me for some war stories. It is kind of like asking a orphan, "yea, and how did your mom and dad die?" For years I tried, without a lot a success to just forget everything that happened over there. It doesn't work, things still creep back into my memory.

It is kind of strange how thoughts of a war keep coming back. When ever I drive down to Grand Rapids on a sunny morning, the flashes of sunlight coming through the trees, start me thinking about the war and everything I wanted so much to forget. Warfare sort of captures a portion of the brain and keeps everything about the war right up on top, ready to pop into your thoughts and just the strangest things can cause them to surface.

War stories are really the stuff of Hollywood, where there are good guys and bad. Hollywood always gets the pretty girl in there and either the star dies a hero or lives happily ever after. Real war stories are just short pieces, one act plays that have no plot nor any reason for being other than they have shocked the brain hard enough to put down permanent memory tracks.

I really did laugh a lot in Vietnam, Marines do develop a sick sense of humor. I could talk about all the great drugs over there and how one night we sat on our bunker and the moon reflecting off a rice paddy, made us all feel like we were all floating down a river. I could talk about the "cot" in the middle of a cemetery at Phu Bi where we all sat and smoked joints, had flares go off over our heads, saw people running at us, threw the bag of six hundred joints in the air in panic. Later we found that Marines on the perimeter saw the flashes as we lit joints and shot the flares to see what we were doing and the guys running at us wanted to get the parachute from the flares. Side light, joints cost ten cents.

It is easy to talk about these things and that has always been my way out, I could tell people about all the neat things that happened over there and just slide right on by the things lurking in my head, that wanted to come out. My problem was I was never sure that I could keep it together, if I did start talking about that dark side of war. I was constantly fighting it in my own mind, trying to keep the thoughts from coming all the way out, and that was just in my head. Trying to vocalize thoughts, I thought would flip me right out. Just thinking about war can bring a tear to my eye. Hey remember "once a Marine, always a Marine." Well Marines just can't let a display of emotions escape in public. That's not what Marines do.

When my children got to be of age, I had figured that any one of them was potential "grunt" material and I had better tell them what really happens in war. Then I started drifting over toward the antiwar movement. Always on the fringe, writing how I felt about war, but never about my war.

Most Americans have no idea what happens in war. Seeing little kids playing among dead bodies like they weren't there, even though they were bloated and stunk, let me know how long Vietnam had been at war before I got there. Americans never knew that sometimes Hollywood has it right, except it is our side that is doing the torture and yes we do torture women and kids to death. Yes, that is our America that I am talking about. Yes, our America does throw prisoners of war out of helicopters trying to get others to talk. Sometimes even though it isn't your job, you have to put Americans into body bags, even if all you have are parts of that American. No hero work there. Yes, some American troops do collect ears and wear them around their necks as trophies. And yes, American troops do kill the old, women, and children as every side in a war does.

I write this not to condemn any one, as these things are the rule of warfare. American troops are great at winning battles because we have the ability to slide down into that hell and that is what must be done to win any war. War isn't marching to a drummer, or shining medals with ribbons, nor is it a charge to glory. War today is a coordinated effort by men and technology, designed to kill as many of the enemy as possible. As in any war the killing of the enemy does cause a large number of innocent civilians to be killed also. Our government tries to tell us those numbers are small in Afghanistan, but veterans know the truth.

My war and my thoughts are a thing of the past, but they do have a thread that connects them to all wars before and after. Every veteran has memories that haunt them for life, some are better at hiding them than others, but just show me a vet that doesn't fall into deep thought when "taps" are played.

War Stories, I don't have any. As I told my kids, to protect the borders of our country, I would not hesitate. I also told them that sending some one into combat was a life sentence and that attacking some one else's borders was just plain wrong. America has attacked and bombed twenty three other countries since world war two. As the terrorists have taught us, attacking somebody else's country does not make friends.

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