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.
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.