Not Just Names On A Wall - Please watch this Link
"I WAS THERE LAST NIGHT..."
"The High Ground"
PO Box 457
Neillsville, WI 54456
A couple of years
ago someone asked me if I still thought about Vietnam. I nearly laughed in their face. How do you stop thinking about it?
Every day for the last twenty-four years, I wake up with it, and go to bed with it.
But this is what I said. "Yea,
I think about it. I can't quit thinking about it. I never will. But, I've also learned to live with it. I'm comfortable with
the memories. I've learned to stop trying to forget and learned instead to embrace it. It just doesn't scare me anymore."
A psychologist once told me that NOT being affected by the experience over there would be abnormal. When he told me
that, it was like he'd just given me a pardon. It was as if he said, "Go ahead and feel something about the place,
It ain't going nowhere. You're gonna wear it for the rest of your life. Might as well get to know it."
A lot of my
"brothers" haven't been so lucky. For them the memories are too painful, their sense of loss too great. My sister told me
of a friend she has whose husband was in the Nam. She asks this guy when he was
there. Here's what he said, "Just last night."
It took my sister a while to figure out what he was talking about.
JUST LAST NIGHT. Yeah I was in the Nam. When? JUST LAST NIGHT. During
sex with my wife. And on my way to work this morning. Over my lunch hour. Yeah, I was there.
My sister says I'm not
the same brother that went to Vietnam. My wife says I won't let people get close to me, not even her. They are probably both right.
Ask a vet about
making friends in Nam. It was risky. Why? Because we were in the business of death, and death was with us all the time. It wasn't the death
of, "If I die before I wake." This was the real thing. The kind where boys
scream for their mothers. The kind that lingers
in your mind and becomes more real each time you cheat it. You don't want to make a lot of friends when the possibility of
dying is that real, that close. When you do, friends become
A guy named Bob Flannigan was my friend.
Bob Flannigan is dead. I put him in a body bag one sunny day, April 29, 1969. We'd been talking, only a few
minutes before he was shot, about what we were going to do when we got back
in the world. Now, this was a guy who had
come in country the same time as myself.
A guy who was loveable and generous. He had blue eyes and sandy blond hair.
When he talked, it was with a soft drawl. Flannigan was a hick and he knew it. That was part of his charm. He didn't care.
Man, I loved this guy like the
brother I never had. But, I screwed up. I got too close to him. Maybe I didn't know any
better. But I broke one of the unwritten rules of war.
DON'T GET CLOSE TO PEOPLE WHO ARE GOING TO DIE. Sometimes you
can't help it.
You hear vets use the term "buddy" when they refer to a guy they spent the war with. "Me and this buddy
a mine . . "
"Friend" sounds too intimate, doesn't it. "Friend" calls up images of being close. If he's a friend,
then you are going to be hurt if he dies, and war hurts enough without adding to the pain. Get close; get hurt. It's as simple
In war you learn to keep people at that distance my wife talks about. You become so good at it, that twenty years
after the war, you still do it without thinking. You won't allow yourself to be vulnerable again.
My wife knows two
people who can get into the soft spots inside me. My daughters. I know it probably bothers her that they can do this. It's
not that I don't love my wife, I do. She's put up with a lot from me. She'll tell you that when she signed on for better or
worse, she had no idea there was going to be so much of the latter. But with my daughters it's different.
are mine. They'll always be my kids. Not marriage, not distance, not even death can change that. They are something on this
earth that can never be taken away from me. I belong to them. Nothing can change that.
I can have an ex-wife; but
my girls can never have an ex-father. There's the difference.
I can still see the faces, though they all seem to have
the same eyes. When I think of us I always see a line of "dirty grunts" sitting on a paddy dike. We're caught in the first
gray silver between darkness and light. That first moment when we know we've survived another night, and the business of staying
alive for one more day is about to begin. There was so much hope in that brief space of time. It's what we used to pray for.
"One more day, God. One more day."
And I can hear our conversations as if they'd only just been spoken. I still hear
the way we sounded, the hard cynical jokes, our morbid senses of humor. We were scared to death of dying, and trying our best
not to show it.
I recall the smells, too. Like the way cordite hangs on the air after a fire-fight. Or the pungent
odor of rice paddy mud. So different from the black dirt of Iowa. The mud of Nam smells ancient, somehow. Like it's always been there.
And I'll never forget the way blood smells, stick and drying
on my hands. I spent a long night that way once. That memory isn't going anywhere.
I remember how the night jungle
appears almost dream like as the pilot of a Cessna buzzes overhead, dropping parachute flares until morning. That artifical
sun would flicker and make shadows run through the jungle. It was worse than not being able to see what was out there sometimes.
I remember once looking
at the man next to me as a flare floated overhead. The shadows around his eyes were so deep that
it looked like his eyes were gone. I reached over and touched him on the arm; without looking at me he touched my hand. "I
man. I know." That's what he said. It was a human moment. Two guys a long way from home and scared shitless. "I know
man." And at that moment he did.
God I loved those guys. I hurt every time one of them died. We all did. Despite our
posturing. Despite our desire to stay disconnected, we couldn't help ourselves. I know why Tim O'Brien writes his stories.
I know what gives Bruce Weigle the words to create poems so honest I cry at their horrible beauty. It's love. Love for those
guys we shared the experience with.
We did our jobs like good soldiers, and we tried our best not to become as hard
as our surroundings. We touched each other and said, "I know." Like a mother holding a child in the middle of a nightmare,
"It's going to be all
right." We tried not to lose touch with our humanity. We tried to walk that line: To be the good
boys our parents had raised and not to give into that unnamed thing we knew was inside us all.
You want to know what
frightening is? It's a nineteen-year-old-boy who's had a sip of that power over life and death that war gives you. It's a
boy who, despite all the things he's been taught, knows that he likes it.
It's a nineteen-year-old who's just lost a friend,
and is angry and scared and, determined that, "Some asshole is gonna pay." To this day, the thought of that boy can wake me
from a sound sleep and leave me staring at the ceiling.
As I write this, I have a picture in front of me. It's of
two young men. On their laps are tablets. One is smoking a cigarette. Both stare without expression at the camera. They're
writing letters. Staying in touch with places they would rather be. Places and people they hope to see again.
picture shares space in a frame with one of my wife. She doesn't mind. She knows she's been included in special company. She
knows I'll always love those guys who shared that part of my life, a part she never can. And she understands how I feel about
the ones I know are out there yet.
The ones who still answer the question, "When were you in Vietnam?" with Hey, man. I was there just last night."
Viper Ash.....A Vietnam Veteran Pays Tribute To His Brothers
They walk along the granite block
past names all etched in stone.
Among so many others here,
but feel so all alone.
So many here to touch a soul,
that passed so long ago.
And tears now streak from off your cheek,emotions, have to
There are so many people here,
who wish the pain to end.
Why not reach out a hand to them,
to listen, be a friend.
The Wall can bridge the largest gap,
it made our nation one.
We thank the nurses one and all,
and every soldier, son.
Whose names we see forever etched,
upon the granite stone.
Though painful make us realize,
that we are not alone.
The sacrifice, that you all made,
that bring us to this shrine.
Bring all those closer, left behind,
perhaps the grand design.
To help the friends and family,
to understand the call.
That took your names from off lifes list,
and place it on this Wall.
You fought a war, unpopular,
so far away.
And now you’ve found the greatest peace,
as we stand here and pray.
Beyond the Wall we hope to find,
the reason for it all.
Why you with pride went far away,
to answer duty’s call.
Perhaps the flag that others burn,
became your symbol proud.
Why you gave life, proclaim your love,
of country, very loud.
So rest in peace, my Warrior,
my nurse and doctor too.
And rest assured forever more,
we’ll all remember you.
The Wall means much to everyone,
these names on granite cast.
To keep your memories alive,
as long as time will last.
So look upon the granite face,
and touch the names with pride.
For all their spirits linger there,
beyond the Wall, inside.
The following was written by John Cut. John was responding to a poster on the Forum
for A Gathering of Eagles. The poster did not understand why The Wall should mean so much to our Veterans. I was
so struck by John's response that I acquired his permisssion to use it here. Read it carefully and you might glean some
My Dear Patrick,
I once watched a father send his four year old daughter into a group of Marines with
a live grenade. I always imagined that his last words to her were, “Here; give this to the nice man over there.”
This wonderful example of fatherhood was caught by his fellow citizens, before we could react. His body was left in ten lb.
pieces. Due to their training, the marines suffered only minor injuries. The little girl never stood a chance. This was one
of my “nows.”
Now is a simple moment of time. It is an amount of time, which for the soldier, can last
mere fractions of a second, or hours, or days. It always ends the same way, somebody dies. It could be your best friend, a
stranger, or the enemy. You need to understand the concept of now.
Now makes big strong warriors jump in front of
gunfire to save a little child, a woman or an old man.
Now makes a man jump on top of a grenade to save his buddies.
Now is kneeling at your best friend’s feet, hoping like hell that you do a good job disabling the mine he is
standing on, while trembling and shaking as you to try to perform an operation worthy of a heart surgeon and trusting he won’t
lift his foot before you’re finished.
Now is trying to put your best friend’s intestines back inside his
body, while trying to see through a flood of tears streaming down your face.
Now is lying in a hole while explosions
are all around and you piss in your pants and nobody laughs at you.
Now is holding a little child in your arms the
enemy has just slaughtered just because he wants to slow you up, while he makes his get away.
Now can make a big,
strong, 200 pound man, run screaming from the battlefield, with tears in his eyes.
Now can shut down the very essence
of a man’s soul and prevent further contact with the outside world.
Now can make you give up years later, when
danger is no longer present.
Now has produced all of our Medal of Honor winners, as well as most of those other medals.
Now can cause two reactions in a soldier; one is total self-preservation, the other is total self-sacrifice.
always begins with the realization that someone is trying to kill you.
There are no gentle “nows.” Most
come in fractions of a second and are accompanied by extreme violence. It sometimes starts with a little whiz above your head
and you thank God you heard it, because you never hear the one that kills you. A deep dark red blood is always visible.
can not be thought out or reasoned with. It can only be reacted to.
Standing in front of that dark black wall brings
back a flood of nows for me and most of the vets I know. The same happens when I see our flag burning.
Most of the
vets I know are not articulate, eloquent, word smiths. Most of us are men of action not men of words. You may not find your
answer here. I really think in your smug way, you are looking for answers. Sometimes answers take years. I hope you never
have to experience an “in the now”.
"We are not put on this earth for ourselves, but are placed here for each other. If you are always there
for others, then in time of need, someone will be there for you.
-- Jeff Warner