In a piney woods at Fort Gordon, Georgia in July, 1965, 300 or so close friends and I, Viet Nam vets to be, were lectured on the care and feeding of the M-30 machine gun by two Mutt and Jeff sergeants. The bus back to the base was late, a small group of us clustered around asking questions. We learned that they had been buddies all through Korea, gunner and assistant gunner. We were all pretty sure of our destination, we wanted to know… what is war really like?
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“Sarg… what about Korea, what was it about?"
“It was fucked.”
I remember thinking… well, why didn’t you tell somebody… why didn’t you tell us?
Okay. I’m telling.
I knew plenty soldiers who wanted to be John Wayne. I met a guy that was extracted from the jungle, hanging from a rope under a Huey that lost power just for a moment. He hit a tree at over 65 mph. Broke every bone in his body, he said. He was laid up at the Presidio for over a year. Then volunteered to come back… wanted to get right back out there. You still hear from those types now and then. The warriors. Most are gone, names on that black granite wall with so many of my friends.
I remember the ones who were overwhelmed by the random brutal shredding of human bodies, friends and foe. The hard ass curled up and crying in the bed of a truck cause he knew he couldn’t go back out again and didn’t know what to do. I remember a guy I’d known since Basic, ROTC type, who shot two Vietnamese farmers dead because he knew it would get him assigned to the rear. It worked.
In spite of all the books and movies, war has always been the same. Insanity, pure and simple. When the talking stops, when the diplomats give up and go home, people are maimed, burned, killed in the most ugly ways imaginable. There are no heroes, there is no glory, there is only destruction and death.
Sometime in 1966 I went before a promotion board of my company’s officers and non-commissioned officers. They asked me at one point what I did in my off duty hours. I told them that I was doing a lot reading, research, trying to learn why we were there in Viet Nam. The tent was silent… I looked up and every man at the table was leaning forward, anxious to hear some kind of explanation…. We are still waiting.
Perhaps… I hope… that the American government is playing some game of International Chicken. I pray that Bush and company never intend to actually carry out their threats. That they made a decision to put so much pressure on Saddam that he runs for exile. Could be. If so, I will congratulate them, just as I celebrated how Reagan’s stupidly belligerent foreign policy hastened the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the cold war.
But I know how those Colonels and Generals in the Pentagon love a war. A war insures their phony promotions and decorations, boosting their retirement pay. I’ve seen how they lie, with no concern for the tragedies that result. And who can stop them? Politicians? I don’t think so. The average American loves his Flag Decals, and My Country Right or Wrong bumper stickers. As long as it’s not their sons or daughters walking point. We live in interesting times.
The time has come to give peace a chance. I'd love to be proud to be an American.
173rd Airborne Brigade 65-66