Posted by: johnhourihan | July 8, 2013

Even wars get old


A group of us had grabbed a three/quarter from the motor pool, drove out to the laundry point and drank a lot of Chianti, and it had been a few days until I could keep Kool Aid down. But this was the morning I returned to the living, crawled out of my bunk, threw the canvas flap back on the GP Medium tent and stepped out into the white sun and red clay of my world for the past two years.
It seems strange to have been so drunk and to have remembered so much.
The Radio Research outfit I was in wasn’t actually in a rear area, but we were doing a rear-area type job.
The highlands of Pleiku was not the safest place in Vietnam, but we seldom left our compound to trek out into the wide world of war.
They told us when we arrived that we weren’t even supposed to be here. It was supposedly against the Geneva Convention, which is probably why the ASA, the military wing of NSA, was referred to as radio research. It gave us an excuse for all the huge antennae in the field opposite our tents.
I plunked myself down just outside the tent in a plastic chair we had bought in town and stared out at the guard line. Concertina wire accordioned around the company area like a razor sharp mother snake protecting her young, and, every 20 yards or so, sandbag bunkers rose 12 feet high and eight feet square with makeshift wooden awnings on top to keep the rain off the unlucky soldiers guarding the compound at night.
I hadn’t been on guard duty for the past six months. It wasn’t that my name hadn’t come up on the roster. I just didn’t go.
For us, the war had droned on too long. I think we began to lose interest when the peace talks in Paris bogged down because the negotiators couldn’t agree on the shape of the table.
From that point on, the entire focus of my war effort was on how many days I had left and how I could survive it and go home. If peace on earth could be held up by the shape of a table I couldn’t find the importance of making southeast Asia safe from communism.
Most of us had been idealists when we signed up, but sitting here, outside a dust-covered tent in a four dollar plastic chair, with a hangover and the hot diesel air from the burning drums of human waste that had been pulled out the back, from under the outhouses that sat on the outskirts of our perimeter, my belief in ideals melted away.
A friend, a brother, made his way up from a few tents down the dry dirt road that split the company area. He clutched his M-14 in this right hand and his olive drab baseball cap in his right. With each footfall a small cloud of fine red dust rose to his knee.
“Hey, Wop, goin’ to chow?”
He nodded, I rose and we walked together to the mess hall in silence. As we walked I locked in an empty magazine to keep the dust out of my weapon.
We had been here too long, and there was so little left to talk about.
“How many days you got left?”
“42 and counting.”
“You?”
“Too many to count.”
At home, in Massachusetts and Michigan, our families waited for the boys they sent to war to return home.
They couldn’t know that that would never happen.
By the time we got to climb aboard a jet plane back to the states, we were different.
While our peers went on to college and protests and free love, we went to war, formations and we mostly had to pay for it.
It seemed we paid for a lot of things while we were away that we never got when we came home.
But we’re not bitter. Not now. It’s been a long time.

But that doesn’t mean we have forgotten.

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Responses

  1. Nor have you been forgotten. Not by those you truly represented!

  2. Thanks John


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