It Doesn't Matter Which War You Were In

by James Glaser
April 20, 2006

It doesn't matter which war, or which branch of the service you were in, it doesn't even matter what age you are now. War veterans have some shared experiences that transcend the differences in time and place.

I was sitting in the waiting room at the VA Clinic last week shooting the breeze with a vet who served in the Pacific before I was born. A while later a young vet joined us, and come to find out I was fighting in Vietnam before this guy was born.

There we were, three generations of American veterans talking about our individual wars almost like it was the same war. I have noticed that WW II vets are now more likely to open up about what happened to them. I think they were silent for so long that now that they are near the end of their life, they want to tell some body about their time in battle.

All veterans learn that most people don't really care to listen to what happened to them unless it was something pretty spectacular. Even guys who were real heroes don't think they are, and they feel their story is nothing special to talk about. So the average soldier, marine, sailor or fly boy have tended to keep their stories to themselves.

There is something about sitting in that veteran's clinic that lets a guy open up. I think it is the fact that the guy sitting next to you could have gone through something like you did. Maybe it is that you don't know the guy next to you, and chances are slim that you will ever have the same appointment time together again. What ever it is, a lot of vets feel they can talk about their war in the VA waiting room.

So like I said, I was sitting there with two other generations of veterans. The older vet was on a "tin can" in the Pacific, and the Iraq War soldier had returned home six months ago. I was a Marine in the Nam in '69. Some how we meshed, and it was like talking to two buddies your own age.

The fear you experienced is the one thing that is universal with every combat vet. Your story might be totally different, your branch of service and theater of operation on the other side of the world, you might have religion and the other guy not. You might be waiting to have them look at an old war wound that is bothering you, while that other guy is there for just a routine check up, but when you get to talking, that shared fear that grabbed you on the battle field is something that can bring you together.

That sailor on that ship in the Pacific told us about the Kamikazes flying into their ship, and then he showed us some of the scars from the burns he had fighting the fires hoping to keep the ship afloat out in the middle of the ocean. I talked about how you could tell if a round was going out of the tube or coming in. It had a special 'thunk' you learned to hear. I also talked about what it was like walking through Hue City not knowing who was a good gook, and who was a bad one. The Iraqi vet told us about driving around in a unarmored humvee, and seeing the lead vehicle take a hit from a road side bomb.

All three stories were from different wars, different times, and different places, but that feeling of fear that each of us felt in our war stayed with us till now and that WW II vet said we would have it until the end. He is 83.

Fear in combat is universal. While in action you learn to deal with it, and the rush of adrenaline your body starts pumping out as the fear rises usually covers it until the action is over. After the action is over every one is different on how they handle what they had just been through. I would get sick and feel better, some guys would shake and shake, and other guys needed a drink or a joint.

You come home to the real world, and you want to forget that fear, but some times something will set it off. Many Nam vets say it is the sound of a helicopter or the smell of diesel fuel. I don't know what set these other two guys off when they start thinking about the war, but I do know they felt the same thing I did, and it terrified them, and it still does.

War is war and some things are the same in every one. Ask any Vet.

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