“War, huh, yeah. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.”
– “War,” Edwin Starr
I first remember thinking there was something wrong with him when he threw himself on the floor after a balloon popped directly behind him. He lay prone on the floor, only his head slightly elevated. Eyes scanning, sweeping the crowds surging through the newly-opened mall. Searching for the source of the gunshot-type sound still resounding in his brain. Just like he was taught to do.
He had been away. Sent to a foreign locale called Viet Nam. A land with an exotic name that eventually became a land with a toxic name. He spent his year and came home. Unmarked and unwounded. But mental wounds and hidden scars are not always apparent.
He went to Viet Nam a naïve young man, full of hope and an idealism that had been impressed upon him, imprinted upon him his whole life. God was on his side. Indeed, the enemy of his country, his family, was godless. He was protecting his family, his country, his very way of life. With God on his side, how could this war against the godless be wrong?
Rivers of blood mixing together so as to become indistinguishable from each other. From soldiers in different uniforms came the cacophony of agonized screams. Screaming for their mothers in anguished voices that made English as unintelligible as Vietnamese. Men with different uniforms missing the same body parts. Godless and godly pleading for an unseen but hoped for deity to bring help, relief, peace. Men with different uniforms lying next each other, dead, once again proving that death is non-discriminatory.
Death the great equalizer, releasing his chosen from the weariness, the sadness, wretchedness of those still physically alive. Their futures stopped like a watch that has run down with no omniscient hand to wind it up again.
Time spent in country. Losing brother after brother after brother. A downward spiral leading to resentment, fear, jealousy, longing, loneliness. Resentment of those who had lied to him. Fear that he would be sacrificed just to make someone in Saigon or Washington look good, to look like they actually knew what they were doing. Jealousy of those who had avoided coming to this cesspool of human suffering. Longing for a hot meal, hot shower and a dry, clean bed. The loneliness of loving and missing his heart’s love, but having more and more trouble each day just trying to remember what she looked like. Feeling deep inside that there will be no winners in this war. Only losers.
Feelings of being misled, misinformed and misdirected. All of which leads to anger. The anger of not knowing who hijacked his idealism and why. Who stole his hope. Who took a sledge hammer to the naiveté of his youth and replaced it with this avalanche of anger, desperation and despair. And the unfathomable internal deadness.
His only goal became survival and getting back to the World in one piece. Whatever the cost.
He survived and returned to a changed America. His old friends, once his partners in the great ideal of American righteousness, view him as a freak. An outcast. A babykiller. His life’s love has become distant, not able to understand the reason for his ongoing nightmares, nervousness and guilt at having survived while so many didn’t. He has become detached from everyone. Especially from himself.
I first remember thinking something was wrong with me when I came home. Now I know I was wrong. Now I know that I am every soldier.