Sunday, July 8, 2012

Something's Happening Here


Postcards From Paradise
July 8, 2012

More "postcards" at recuerda mi corazón.

Nui Ba Den, The Black Virgin Mountain, Republic of Vietnam, 1969
Hard to explain how this crooked photo of a mountain in war torn Republic of Vietnam in 1969 during the monsoon season can be a postcard from paradise, but it is. This volcanic mound, jutting from the vast flatness of the rice paddys Northwest of Saigon, had an almost hollow interior formed by a series of tunnels that were a stronghold for the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. The Americans and South Vietnamese forces controlled the top and bottom of the mountain on the outside. A visual memory from the time I spent there.

Let me explain why this is paradise. Something fantastic has happened over the past couple of weeks. Something I haven’t even mentioned until today. I haven’t felt like writing anything for a while, but now I do. Like someone told me "It's okay" or like a freight train that sits on a siding, waiting for a faster train to pass, then, all of a sudden, starts up and moves along on its way.
I got an e-mail from a guy I served with in Vietnam. I knew him. I remembered knowing him when I was there, yet when I would see his picture, my mind drew a blank and I couldn’t for the life of me remember his name, and no one else of the few guys I am in contact with, could remember it either.
The e-mail was simple. It just said that this was the third e-mail address he had found for me and wondered if I was still alive. He also told me that he was in one of the pictures I posted on the Triple Deuce website where I said I couldn’t remember his name. 
As soon as I saw the name as the sender, I remembered the guy in the photos and remembered his name.
I told him that he had found me and that I remembered him and his name. We’ve been going back and forth for a while now, every e-mail longer and longer in each direction. Reliving the fact that we do, indeed, know each other and were there together in that rice patty hell hole called Vietnam.

That's me holding Buddy on my shoulders as Howard, the guy that sent me the e-mail, looks on from the turret of an Amoured Personal Carrier. We called these 22 ton behemoths "Tracks" or APC's. Howard is from Washington State, it says so on the side of the track

Don’t get me wrong. Vietnam is as beautiful a place as anywhere else, physically. It was the circumstances that put us there that made it a hell hole. We recalled a few incidents, not in detail, just a mere mention of “That night” or names of places like Ben Cui, Nui Ba Den, Tay Ninh or simply saying “The rubber”. One of the names that keeps popping up is Sergeant Jacobs. We all knew him as “Jake”.
Then, even more talk about life after the war. We are finding we walked similar paths since we returned home way back 43 years ago. We have both mentioned the wonderment of our own existence by muttering words questioning our own survival, not only while there dodging bullets, but here at home, through the addictive drug and alcohol abuse, health issues, changing jobs, anger, depression and other PTSD behavioral symptoms. We both honor and respect the women in our lives. 
Yours truly, as the driver of the APC. The new guy always had the job as the driver because the threat of hitting a mine was great on the roads and the guys with more time in country would pass on the dangerous driving task to the new guy.

The women are called the life givers because of their unique ability to bear human life. Yet women are so much more, as in our cases, as they have kept us alive and saved us from ourselves and certain death of not only our lives, but if our spirit.
It has been good to connect. He says so too. We will talk soon on the phone. A visit to see each other must be made. And of course you know that it doesn’t take too much to have me start planning a road trip. 
I tell you, we picked up automatically, like we just experienced the war last week.
I’ve sent some photos, so Howard can tell me who some other guys, whose names I forgot, are. He already told me the name of one guy who I was frantically trying to remember his name.
Jennings, Spadoman, Duke, Buddy and Howard showing off eating the steak we stole from a visit to the base camp

Not sure what will happen next. Encounters like this can be strange as they dig up so much dirt. Let’s face it, the experiences of combat infantry soldiers can be quite brutal. Even if we don’t recall details, and we don’t, the memory lives in our heads and we recall it in our dreams and even conscious thoughts. We cry. We feel sorry. We feel guilt, we feel so many emotions. I don’t expect you to understand.
But I understand. And we both agree, so far, that the experience made us who we are and there is no way to forget it. In my own case, I don’t think I want to forget it, although there are parts of it that I don’t want to see anymore. And we do see these things. We see them often, relive them. Hard to imagine, I would wager, that simple decisions now can make me feel like I am in a war zone fighting for my very life. Something as simple as "What would you like for dinner, honey?" See, I told you, you wouldn't understand.

Interacting with the locals

That’s the thing about PTSD. We have learned to accept these thoughts, these memories. We hold them for our eternity, and when another Veteran Brother comes along, like Howard, all we need do is say a word or look into the eyes and know it’s true and we lived it and came out the other side.
Howard is going to try to get the the reunion of our Triple Deuce Vietnam group in Colorado Springs in September. If he can’t make it, I’ll be headed to Seattle at some point. When you’ve made it this far and have had a few health experiences like heart attacks and such, I get antsy and don’t think I should, or could, wait until next year. In my mind, tomorrow will never come, so I need to do what I need to do today.
The squad leader, Jennings, and me, showing off a captured Russian made Rocket Propelled Grenade Launcher

Howard signs off every e-mail with the word “Peace” and a wish for Peace to me and my family. Can you believe that? Can you believe that we hardened off Warriors still seek Peace and have since we set foot in country. Good to know I am not alone anymore.
Having Howard step back in to my life is like a healing, a cleansing. It tells me it’s okay to cry. It’s okay to be sad and it’s okay to laugh, at the war, and at ourselves.
If this hearing and remembering my friend Howard isn’t a postcard from paradise, I don’t know what is.
Peace

18 comments:

Mary said...

Nice.

Kim Mailhot said...

This postcard from paradise fills me with hope. It also makes my heart grateful for the healing, the reconnection and the true peace that comes from you two Warriors reuniting.
Peace, love and light to you, Man.

rebecca said...

your post comes at most interesting time in my life. my father went to vietnam when i was in high school.
he turned 40 during his stay there and was chief of the hospital base. he wrote in a letter to my mother "i am going to do all i can to make a difference in the lives around me to justify being away from you and the kids."
for christmas my mother presented me with a journal of every letter my father wrote home from vietnam. i decided to begin reading it on the date the letters began with his flight to vietnam in late may. i read his letters in the quiet of morning on the same calendar day they were written all those years ago.
it is like having my father back who died of lung cancer from agent orange 14 years ago. the letters are so deeply reflective of his promise to make a difference. he met every single incoming helicopter with wounded no matter the time day or night or how many hours he had all ready worked without stopping. as chief he dedicated himself to making changes to support the young men on the front lines, implementing rotating schedules to get them to the hospital base for showers, volleyball, movies,cold beer, barbecues and camaraderie.

as i read his words he returns to me with so much volume and presence i can "see" him perfectly, from that time in our lives.

yes.
i understand the power of the events you shared with your buddies. i understand too how there is paradise in this bond that rivets you all together in a way that defies time and distance.

thank you for each word and photograph, for remembering, honoring and sharing.

and for coming and going in peace.

Stephanie said...

Well, between you beautiful words and Rebecca's I am sitting in the cool of the studio with tears streaming down my face.

I often think of the dichotomy of the lush paradise of Vietnam and the hell of what was going on there.

How fortunate that you have these photographs still to remind you of the strong friendships that must have been the saving grace of being in such a place. Hope you are able to see your friend.

peace to you my friend

ArtMuseDog and Carol said...

Powerful post ~ in Gibran's book The Prophet he writes of the interconnectedness of life's joy and sorrow ~ My husband was in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne when our son was born ~ only to come home and get killed scuba diving ~ (1st time out) ~ yet he survived Vietnam ~ go figure ~ It taught me the value of life and how fragile it is ~ thanks for sharing ~ ^_^ (A Creative Harbor)

somepinkflowers said...

{{ for some reason(s)
i am crying
now
so
i will B back later
when i can better see... }}

joanne said...

wonderful tale, and great pics....I guess the 'paradise' part was in the reuniting, eh?

vietnamvet70 said...

Hi Joe :

Great story !!! Thanks for sharing !!

"Welcome Home" Brother !!

Larry

B Co. 2/22(M) "Triple Deuce" 1970 Vietnam and Cambodia

Pamela said...

Dear Joe, How about if I just say thank you and a big wopila. Bless you and welcome how and peace.

Jeannie said...

I can feel your relief, and joy at reconnecting with someone who really understands. Some of us can imagine but that isn't the same at all- I know that I don't have the ability to fantasize my life on the line in a foreign country - the atmosphere, the food, the smells that movies can't deliver. I'm so glad for you. I hope you get to meet up sooner than later.

Rachel said...

What a great postcard from paradise, I'm glad that you are reconnecting with Howard and that it is bringing healing in your life! ~Peace

Mel said...

k.....

Both you and Rebecca brought tears.

It's a postcard from Heaven--a gift from G-d.

No, I can't profess to understand, but I celebrate that you've crossed paths with a kindred soul that does.

((((((((( Spadoman ))))))))))))

Amazing. Wonderful and awesomely amazing.......

Irene Rafael said...

1969 you were in vietnam and i was graduating from college in santa barbara, california. two very different worlds. a world which friends drafted into the war at the time could not explain nor could I understand. today you have given me a glimpse into your time there and the life long bonds you formed with a shared experience. i recently unexpectedly encountered someone i hadn't seen in 35 years. in a handshake i was transported back in time to memories from another lifetime ago. it's like that. a letter. a photo. triggered mutual experiences. yours though included a life and death struggle so the bond was even tighter, even more intimate. you haven't spoken of this in almost 35 years but today when you wrote you touch me and I'm sure everyone who read your words. now i understand more completely your wish for peace . no, you are not alone anymore.

Cheryl said...

Thank you for sharing the photos of you and your friends in Vietnam. I have many memories of friends, school buddies, lovers, who came back from 'Nam but none would show me pictures. Instead they would show me their guns. If you come to Seattle, give me a call so we can meet up.

betmo said...

namaste my friend :)

Laurie Beth Zuckerman said...

I am so moved by your story. You are such a powerful writer, Spadoman. I wish you and your buddies a rich and healing reunion. You are obviously on the right road to recovering your deepest feelings.

Lea said...

A chance dip into Rebecca's postcards, led me to your post today... and I am so moved by what you have shared here. You and this amazing band of men are more than brave, you are heroes in my heart and mind. I am so moved by the love you have for your wife, your family and friends, and your precious grandaughter, who is so lucky to go on adventures with you. You write and express what matters to your heart from such a deep and real place... and show me things I would not dare to touch, they hurt my heart so... but through your eyes, I can. As to the reunion, I know what you mean when you say it stirs things... when I know I have to do something that is so difficult for me, I know with all my heart that I must, I just stay as focused as I can on this very moment... which sometimes stretches forever... and somehow, I step through, gratefully step through... Thank you so for sharing these postcards from paradise and you.

marshagreenfield said...

That time in the US history during the war in Vietnam is horrifiing. war is horrifying. america was supposed to be fighting rightous war, but it makes you wonder if it is all politcal BS.
freedom and soldiers fighting for freedom and dying is very hard to understand. i honor you for your sacrifice, and i feel for the horror of it all. its understandable not to speak much of it, so thanks for sharing.