Last night I was flipping channels and stopped on National Geographic's "Brothers at War." It's a documentary about the Vietnam War, and I thought, yeah, I can watch this. I lasted about ten to twelve minutes before I was no longer following what was going on with the TV, but was deep in thought about my time over there.
I don't know if it was the historical combat film that got to me as much as the "whap, whap, whap" sound of the chopper blades as they were coming into that hot LZ ( Landing Zone). I just sort of drifted off to things that happened during my time over there, and soon realized I didn't need to dwell on that. The strange thing was that my thoughts we so vivid, as if everything happened last week instead of over four decades ago. It is like that stuff is sitting right at the front of my brain all ready to pop out whenever something stimulates thoughts of that time in my life.
It is probably a good thing that I turned that show off as I don't need to go back in time like that. I know there are several things that get me thinking about the Nam. Sunlight flashing through the trees always works. A helicopter in the distance that I can't see, but that I can hear works, too. Hanging around with other Vietnam vets for sure triggers thoughts of the war. Also, after hanging out with other Nam vets I have to watch my language for a couple of days as when I slip back into the language of that time period about every third word is a swear word. I still remember asking my mother to pass the fucking butter at that first meal home. The table suddenly got really quiet, and I didn't even know I had said that.
So, over forty years have passed, but I can close my eyes and see our bunker in Dong ha and the graveyard in Phu bi with its stone and concrete dragons, the See Bees towing a twenty five foot long snake behind their jeep, and those are the nice things. I always try and dwell on those, so other thoughts don't creep in, and if I can get away from that mental subject quick enough, it's OK.
When I go to the VA hospital I can spend hours listening to WW II, Korean War, Gulf War, and Iraq and Afghan vets go on about their wars, and I understand what they are saying, but it doesn't bother me at all. You sit me down next to a talkative Vietnam vet, and I'll usually move away.
It's funny how our mind stores memories. I can't even remember my high school graduation, but I can see Nick Kane's face clear as day as we smiled at each other when we shook hands after making it through Marine Corps Boot camp together. Gypsy Rose Lee came to Vietnam, and while she was funny, it was strange to have this woman who probably entertained my dad in WWII talk to us. Her age had nothing to do with her ability to get our minds off the war for an hour. The Dallas Cowboys players came, too. We wanted the cheerleaders, but we got the players. I remember they told one huge lance corporal, a Texan, they would give him a try out when he got back to the states, but later on he did a week at LZ English, and when he and another Marine, Sergeant Mays, got back, neither of them were the same. See, I can remember them like it was last week, and I remember that the LZ got overrun by the NVA, and how neither of those two guys were the same as they were before. I doubt that the one guy even thought about football anymore. Yep, war can take its toll on you in so many ways.
Now, today we have another million plus new veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and I know forty years from now thousands and thousands of those guys, and now women, will be thinking back to their war, just hoping they can think of the mundane things—their bunker, their Humvee, the sand, or the heat, and they too will try to quit thinking about that war before the bad things start popping out.
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