Saturday, October 1, 2016

Old Memories. Maybe why we should remember

Around this time, nearly 50 years ago. A kid who'd opted out of college, thinking he couldn't afford it, wanted the GI Bill and thought the easiest way for it was to enlist, in the Navy. After all, ships didn't go to that new place, Vietnam, right?

So as we follow what happened, in late 68 he was up near the Laos border with Vietnam. Maybe even on the Laos side, just a bit. 50 kilometers or so. Few now know what that meant, that it was illegal, that our president, Nixon, said we were not there. Our SecState, Kissinger, confirmed that, so no, I guess that corpsman couldn't have been there with a platoon of Marines from the 3rdMarDiv, could he.

Anyway, in this imaginary world, in the wooded are you can see behind the squad in the back, a firefight ensued about a hour after this was taken by the chopper pilot that flew us in. A quick one, the opfor wasn't more that a few VC I think. Couldn't have lasted more that 15 minutes or so, the last few just silence while we listened. The corpsman was near the squad leader, a Sgt., a few meters back. No fire for 5 minutes, the corpsman started forward, going from left to right, across our squad formation. Confirming everyone was ok, no wounds.  

Near the middle, a semi-circle of sorts, the corpsman finds him.  He didn't really know him, a few beers at the base club, chat here and there. He's on his back, arms outspread. Back of his head has a large section gone, laying in the mud a foot or so away. Another odd thing, his right boot is off. and his sock.  His M-16 is stock down, pointing up and away. His foot, toe, is in the trigger guard of the rifle.

The corpsman squatted there, looking, figuring, wondering. Why the fuck would he remove his boot and sock, put the barrel of his rifle, and pop off a round through the top of his mouth?  WTF? 

Doing his job, the corpsman looked the Marine over, then noticed the large blood stain on his utilities. In the crotch. He'd take a round right in the genitalia. Turning him over, an even larger stain just below his butt in the pants. 

Wasn't hard to put it all together, except the pain he must have been going through. And the anguish, mixed up, ignorant, misinformed information he had. Only option out, right? 

The corpsman zipped his bag up, tagged him 'KIA', checked the space that indicated no further examination or autopsy required. 

Another day in the bush, back then.  But soon, I and those like me, will be gone.  Just like the last WW2 guys and Korea guys are gone. And I mean gone, what we did, and most importantly why we were sent off to do it, is going to be gone, kaput. It wasn't all for the good and glory, kids. Sometimes the stuff we did was not right. We didn't know, but we did it. Take a lesson. 



  1. God love you, Mike. How'd you get through that?

  2. honestly? by having the survival rate from dust off to mobile surgical.I triage. I smiled sympathetically at those with a liver injury, those with a whistling aorta that meant a laceration, i did triage. Know what that means?

    Yeah, Martha, you do. Sorry.

    For somereason, this fall ain't a good one for me. It wasint tthat long ago that this all happened, in the Ia Drang valley to start with, then spread out for two years.

    One of the good things of my ilk going is that these memories, and detritus, will finally be gone from public arena... life. Like WW2, it'll be theory, something that happened, to other people. Some, like my son and daughter will have vague memories, but that'll be it. Poof, a dust we will be headed towards the dustbin of history.

  3. Don't bust yourself up, Mike. Lots of us didn't know what was going on in those days, or why.

  4. Account repeatedly reverts to third-person narrative, something I recognize. My grandsons are half Vietnamese. Their other grampa --ông nội-- and I have resolved never to speak of those years. His is one of the good minds into the company of which I retired 7 years ago. Yours is another. I'm glad you're here.

  5. Mike, I have two granddaughters who show me every day that the world is their new experience. I gently remind them that history unlearned is history repeated, but I won't be here to see if the lesson stuck. Perhaps humans are hardwired so. We must teach them to be nice, and think about old pictures they find in the backs of drawers.

  6. I know this wasn't an easy article to write, but I'm glad you did. Based on what happened in Iraq and other places, it's pretty clear to me that we haven't learned a GD thing.

    We can't go to a foreign country and defeat an opponent that doesn't wear uniforms, and won't stand and fight us. Especially so, when our rules of engagement totally hamstring our military. Throw in the fact that we are there based on fabricated reasons. Not good odds...

    I wish that people would talk about it, and do it loudly.

  7. I hope you keep writing the stories down. I hope it helps you, in some way, too.

  8. Thanks Mike. These stories need telling, unvarnished and factual. I remember when I read about Dresden for the first time. And wept and had nightmares.

    If only for the young to understand and not repeat.