Wednesday, November 11, 2009
I have been picking at my wounds again...
That one left over from Vietnam, about this time every year I pick on it running it over and over in my mind. It is Veterans Day, Mister Vu from the Law Library is one. And I am also and have mentioned it before, but I feel like everyone is - so it isn't special, but it seems to be growing unique.
They had a tribute to the veterans on McNeil Island yesterday, the lady that has been working on it really out did all expectations, and from one to three o'clock there were food and thoughts (guest speaker) for the veterans to share. I missed it, the same way I became a veteran - I served, the impatient patrons of my library, the one man show has to be there -- like the life one leaves to go out in service to the Nation in War, you have to leave normal and find the acid that will etch upon your life things that will only be you and the band of brothers and sisters that were there then.
I hadn't done much in Vietnam, the war was winding down, and the first position and unit I was assigned to was pulled and the colors sent back Stateside, the short-timers were sent back, too. Those like myself were given new units to join and continue the fight - or another unit to pack up and send back. I had ten months on Firebase Phoenix and as I was departing they got to pack up. I still remember the infantry platoon that came to the firebase to provide security, skinny worn young old men, they should have been boys. One asked if he could use our shower - an oil drum with a showerhead, and a powder canister to burn diesel in for hot water, I showed him how to light it up for that shower. I watched in amazement as the slicks brought all their mail in - they had been piling it up until they got to a basecamp and they had been out long. Not everyone is in the same war, but they serve.
My war wound was in the return to the United States, fly forever across the Pacific and land in Washington State - I don't know if it was McChord Air Force Base or Sea-Tac Airport, it was dark and we loaded buses to go to Fort Lewis and process out. At the post we unloaded, lined up, were briefed and taken for measuring and paperwork check, then we were given a really great Steak dinner with ice cream and pie for desert. I do know I have seldom have had anything in military dining to match that meal, but I was alone with strangers and I have always remembered it was all dark of the night stuff and any conversation was just above whispers. We got to nap/sleep somewhere and then shave shower and dress in the new class A uniforms with all awards decorations, rank, name tag. We were given our records (sealed) orders to next assignment and a thirty day leave with an airplane ticket to closest major airport home. Quietly loaded on civilian buses and dropped off to catch our flights.
There was one stop on my way back to Pittsburgh airport, must have been Chicago or Minneapolis and many people got up and off there. One woman, her daughter and hovering husband approached me. The lady leaned towards me and said they wanted to thank me for my service in Vietnam. I was stunned, the tough guy the veteran of whatever had just been wounded, and I never said anything as my mind tried to put my time in Vietnam with this lady and her family. She didn't know, she couldn't understand and I wasn't ready to live among civilized society I guess. So among the millions of Americans, the media, the hippie culture and the 'me first' folks - one lady reached out and touched me through all my armor and I will always bear the scar. I wish I knew she knew that was the best welcome I would receive for years for my service. That is the thank you that has always meant the most and I pick at it every Veteran's Day.
The totally artful self portrait I share is what I thought of me, in the mirror upon the shower behind our personnel bunker in Vietnam, I was that much of a mess.