Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Forty Three Years and Counting

Amored Personnel Carriers, APC's, sit on the road together awaiting orders, Republic of Vietnam, 1969

I turned 18 in May of 1967 and graduated high school one month later. I had a job. I had been working at a grocery store since before I turned 16. Now, school was out and I went to work full-time.

I had a car. My dad made this big thing about transportation and how it was necessary for survival and taught respect for it. That meant your feet, your bicycle, your car or whatever mode you used to get to where you wanted to go was to be of great importance and taken care of.
Now I don’t remember any particular thing or lecture from him about this, I just still have it ingrained in me that transportation was important. Maybe this is why I travel a lot. I'll be leaving on Wednesday for a trip to Atlanta to attend a reunion of the unit I served with in Vietnam, the Triple Deuce.
In high school, I did most of what I had to do to get by. I passed everything. Usually, it went down to the last minute with some report or paper or test I had to take. Threatened often with being withheld from the next grade, but I never thought I wouldn’t get through it.
Graduation, Proviso East High School, 1967
I dated a lot earlier on. I met a girl where I worked. She was a year older than me and went to my school, but the student body was so big that I never saw her at school until I met her at the Jewel. That was the big grocery chain where I worked. It was in the neighborhood where I lived.
We went steady until she graduated and then split up for a short while. We ended up dating again on and off, but I dated other girls too, and between my job, my car and my girlfriends, I was a busy guy.
Sometime in 1969, Republic of Vietnam
Talk about living in the now! That was it. My life was simple, sweet, fulfilled. I didn’t read the paper or talk about the news. We had TV but I rarely if ever watched a program besides Ed Sullivan as he would showcase a current popular band that we were hearing on the radio. He would have them on live to do a song, I remember watching the Ed Sullivan Show a few times, but never the nightly news. You know, groups like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. They were seen for the first time on Ed’s show.
As a new arrival, I was given the most dangerous job, APC Driver
Sometime before I finish telling you this story, it will occur to you how dumb I was. It occurred to me as I sat in a rice patty 12,000 miles away from home. It is raining and seems to never stop. Even then, I could have achieved awareness of the rain, the soil, the plants. I was aware of nothing at that time in my life.
I was inducted in April of 1968. April 12th. The first in a series of dates and times of year that turn my life inside out every time they show up on the calendar. 
My health suffers. My stress level soars. I tremble and live on the edge. I didn’t know that was why until many many years later, but I know why now, around this date, I feel like crap. April 12th, 1968. I say it and I want it back. I can’t help but wonder how I’d handle it today.
Thanksgiving 1969, L to R; Underwood, Sinn, Hietmeyer, Spadoman and Wilson
I remember taking a bus, actually the same bus route we used going to high school when I was taking the bus to school, before I had a car. In those days, you rode the city bus to school for a quarter. That was the student fare. It was the regular Madison St. bus that went from my neighborhood, right past the high school, to the Forest Park induction facility office.
Nui Ba Den, The Black Virgin Mountain. The only relief amidst an ocean of rice patties
There, we were given breakfast by a very nice bunch of old ladies. Moms, I’m sure, of other soldiers, or wives and widows of Veterans, making sure we were well fed and sent off properly. I want to believe that they were crying for us on the inside. I want to believe they knew what fate lie ahead for us all. I still had no idea. I still have this shame for not knowing, not realizing, being so dumb, so out-of-touch with the gravity of it all.
I am jealous of those who actually thought about it beforehand and decided to go to college or dodge the draft all together by going to Canada. Even those who got married and fathered children either on purpose or accidentally knew more than I. Can I find peace? Can I get rid of the shame? Will I ever heal?
Miller applies the Spadoman moniker on the 4-1 Track
We got on a bus which took us to downtown Chicago and the huge draft induction facility. I think this was on Jackson Blvd. We got off the bus and got in line. A long day of doctors prodding and a lot of time spent in your briefs standing around with a bunch of other guys in their briefs. All as natural as can be, all in order, all just the way it would become as the way the Army does things. 
I was assigned to a Mortar Platoon
By the end of the day, I was in the Army. In one of the lines, we picked up this piece of paper. It was green and in a plastic sleeve. There were a few pink sheets interspersed with the green ones. I got a pink one and the guy behind my wanted to trade, he got a green one. I found out later the pink guys went to the Marines, the green ones were for the Army.
The day went on into night and by 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning on the 13th of April, we landed in Shreveport Louisiana. It was my first airplane ride. I don’t remember a thing about it. We were given a pill as soon as we got off the bus. We were told this was saltpeter and it was to inhibit us from wanting to get laid. I don’t know what it was really, probably a salt tablet, it's hot and humid in Louisiana, or maybe it was saltpeter, I was too busy to think about getting laid.
Ready to move out, yours truly top left
We had been up since early the day before. I think I might have dozed off a few minutes here or there but I don’t remember. All I do remember is that we had been treated politely up until that point. After arriving in Shreveport and getting on another bus, we were broken down to the lowest common denominator. Stripped of self esteem. Stripped of values. Stripped of our souls. Taught how to kill but not how to heal.
The guy on the right is Tilsch, monsoon season, Vietnam 1969

From that moment on, I can remember only a handful of nights when I have slept all the way through without the help of drugs, alcohol or exhaustion. Was the Army that smart to be teaching us and helping us to get used to the fact that we would not have one peaceful night after they send us to Vietnam? I still wonder as I edit this. It’s 1:04 AM on April 12, 2011. Forty three years later and counting.


Amazing. I had to go back and edit the posting as I didn't add the word Peace at the end. My trademark, forgotten for one night.  Please forgive me.


Lydia said...

I am sorry for the pain of all these years. Your writing here is compelling and the addition of the photos makes it all the more so. If, somewhere along the way, you had lost all of these pictures I am sure you would be able to visualize every scene. I cannot believe how much you changed from the shot in 1967 to the next shot taken in 1969.

I was pretty clueless at that time, although my parents made us watch the news. I remember feeling angry at her that I had to sit and listen to how many guys had been killed that week. I wanted to shut it out. Five years or so later I married a Vietnam vet (Navy) whose brother had been a Marine in Nam, and the two of them told me stories that opened my eyes to really what had gone on. My ex- was really screwed up and our six years together were marred by violence. Nothing could have changed that. The damage was already done.

Take care this 12th.

Marilyn & Jeff said...

What a cruel way to grow up; you went from a fun loving boy and thrown into a mess that I will never know about. Please don't call yourself dumb; before the mess you were young and enjoying life.
I am sorry for all you have suffered then and since, for all the pain that you carry around you. All I can say is that I wish you peace now and always.

Anonymous said...

I wish you peace today and always. Safe journey to Atlanta, to your reunion and back to home. DJG

Jeannie said...

I can't imagine.

I think, back in the day, many of us were conditioned not to question authority - we did what we were told. That was what was expected of us. You were being a good citizen. There weren't so many willing to break the law for a cause then so go easy on yourself. You simply didn't know. Hindsight is 20/20.
Chances are, you even thought there might be some glory in it. To many, a soldier was still a hero.
You were young. And trusting. And not so interested in what was going on out there. This is not a fault. This is just how it was.

Your rude awakening had to have been traumatic. Being prepared for it might have been helpful but I'll bet you'd have been shocked anyways as warnings would have had little meaning to you.

Life isn't fair.

Your sacrifice though is the reason why there are peace rallies now - and efforts to avoid war. The powers that be can't get away with what they did then - probably a low spot in history for martial waste. If mankind ever learns to live without war, it will be because of that war. That's historic. And you were part of it. There were many just like you. Do not accept the shame and guilt that others would prefer you to carry for them. Being naive is not shameful. It can only exist in an state of innocence. And your innocence was taken advantage of. Be proud that you survived. Be proud that you did not become hard and murderous (even if you might have problems with anger because of your experience). You are a good man who had to do very difficult things. And you survived.

Breath deep.

Mel said...

Forty three years and counting.

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

I'm not certain what I can say that's not been said.
I'm not happy for those experiences--wasn't 'right' or 'loving' or 'just'. They were what they were--and they're a part of what's brought you to 'here'....where your feet are today.

I'm proud to know today's YOU.
I know that's a conglomeration of all of the yesterdays--still proud of you..and for you.

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

Sorrow said...

No need to worry, I saw the peace in my mind
I keep peace in my heart
I whisper it to the wind
and weep it every day.
My grandfather lived to be 78, and after all the things he saw in 2, he never slept and had hours, days, weeks when he was lost to us.
There is something that war carves out of a person, that nothing can ever fill.
A piece missing, for always...
but it never means that the piece left isn't Radiant, loving, compassionate and very much needed in this world.

Margaret Pangert said...

Hi Spadoman~ Wow! Young and handsome... and in Viet Nam! Thank God you made it back, but I'm sure it never leaves you. Plus you should have received more care and respect when you returned, but because of all the controversy not much was done. They finally built the incredible memorial wall in Washington DC in the 1980's. Have you seen it? Your journey has been marked with much pain, but it has led you to a wonderful, lifelong marriage and to the appreciation of the Native American traditions. Much peace, Margaret

Sara Chapman in Seattle, USA said...

Thank you for sharing. It's not your fault. Even if you had read the news, nothing could have made you understand the experience beforehand. My then-husband went into the Marine reserves because he thought it would prevent him from going to Viet Nam. It did, but the military itself did something to him that was never undone. He was never able to feel after that. Such a pity.

Keep searching for a way to heal. You will find it, I am certain. Peace to you, as well.

mig said...

Oh 'Man, I'm always astonished when I read novels and autobigraphies about teenagers who actually did understand what joining up was really all about.
I have to forgive the stupidly ignorant and self absorbed child that I was then and I also have to forgive my Father who, like the vast majority of returning soldiers from the first and second world wars, had nothing they could bear to say about it.

You probably feel that you have much more to forgive your young self than a bit of ignorance but what with the brainwashing that armies exel at and the horrible confusion of events that hit young soldiers as soon as they find themselves in the field maybe it's worth remembering that you aren't that boy any more and forgiving him.

Respect to you 'Man for adding to the understanding that we need about the awfulness of war and of sending boys out to be savaged by it. And love and hugs to you for your endurance and courage in surviving to become a loving person with a fabulous family.

rebecca said...

i love you.
it is that simple.

let's never forget to come and go in peace.

you are a constant teacher of that.

sleep tight friend.

Pamela said...

dearest friend mr joey spadoman, thank you. keep healing joe, you've come a long, long, long way on your healing journey even if you can't always feel it. and we see it for you on those days when you cannot! you're a big piece of my peace. you rescued your Heart and Spirit out of that pit to become a peaceful warrior. you are a shady corner place with good soil where peace and healing grow...for yourself and for many others. you and I know that innocence is not the stuff of shame or guilt; innocence is a beautiful natural thing. PTSD is a sneaky treacherous thing, creeping up, chewing on bones. sometimes it gets a person face on the ground. I thank the Creator who gave you such a voice to write with and speak with, so honest, from your Heart. know that we love you.