I ran across this essay I wrote many years ago about the first gulf war. It was never published but could be true for all generations.
A Soldier’s Son
A couple of weeks ago I went up to the Oregon Vietnam Veterans Memorial to meet with some friends and pray for peace. I brought my son Jake with me who’s five and only knows that his daddy got hurt in Vietnam a long time ago.
It sounds so silly now to pray for peace. Even then I felt it was useless, that I was helpless to stop this horror. But we joined hands and formed a circle in the courtyard at the base of the monument beneath the names of who had died. Some of us closed our eyes as we stood silently in thought. Jake did a good job standing there with mostly adults and a few wheel chairs. I felt gentle as I held his hand and drifted off to where it all began.
I remembered being eighteen back then. Young and strong. I thought about landing in a helicopter in the jungle and then carrying Gerny on a poll swinging dead like some animal. I was flipping pictures in my mind. Shattered arms, dying faces. Being rocketed on Christmas Eve. A tent full of dead. For years I hated Christmas Eve.
As time passed people left the circle and then I thought about Bobby. My best bud…digging holes, sharing chow…we were good Marines. On the first day of the 1969 Tet Offensive when Red was killed and Jimmy was killed and the door gunner’s head blew open we made it. No sweat. They brought in a new squad.
On the second day more of the same. Sweeping villages, blowing up hooch’s calling in gunships and watching silver canisters of napalm drop lazily through the sky. By the third day we were hard. It was hot that day. The kind of heat that sucks your breath away. Bobby and I volunteered to go out into an open rice paddy and move a wounded corps
man. When we did Bobby was shot five times. I ran out of battle dressings trying to stop all the holes and so I tied his arm together with my sock. I remember telling him, “You’re going home pal. You’re gonna skate.” I wasn’t hit that day and that bothered me for a long, long time.
I was left hanging on to thoughts of Bobby when my son pulled away. We left the circle and walked along the path that fronts the names of the collective dead. He played beside the names of the boys from Medford and Salem and small Oregon communities along the coast that no one really knows about. As I watched him I feared that some day there would be a desert or jungle waiting for him. Perhaps it would end with his name on a panel, on a granite wall, in a park somewhere. This made me crazy. My mind began to scream. I love my boy and I wanted to take a sledge hammer to the memorial and break it into a million pieces because all that dying seems to have gone to waste. All that dying seems to have taught us, is to win.
In the beginning it was easy, this high tech war. Each night deadpan anchormen and retired generals have shown us in graphic detail our fine tuned kills. From the lunch room to the bar room everyone’s an expert now, almost looking forward to the ground war. This time it will be different they say.
And when we’ve won and all the dead are accounted for, what did we win? It’s simple, another list of names etched on a granite wall to cry about.