I didn’t serve in the military. There wasn’t any one reason, but at the time I was of age, Viet Nam was ending and there wasn’t any attraction. I’ll never know if it was the right decision, but I do know of the stories I’ve listened to over the years, which were of those that came home, or served their duty in sometimes mindless boredom.
My father’s stories were few, and I wish I had realized he would be taken before I had enough sense to spend the time listening. He served in two wars: WW2 and Korea.
My father didn’t serve in combat in WW2. He was too young, so when he left boot camp, the war was over and the Coast Guard was involved with occupying Japan. I never knew exactly what he did, but it was with electronics, which were radios and radar at that time. He must have had many a tale to tell, but I only heard a comment about visiting Hiroshima. He had photos at one time. I haven’t been able to find them.
During Korea, he served on a destroyer in the Navy. I don’t know why he went back to the service, but he did and I remember his recollection of sailing through a typhoon and steaming up and down the Korean coast waiting for the North Koreans to wheel antique cannons from caves in the cliff and fire at the passing destroyer. They never came close, but the ship was under orders to not fire unless fired upon, so by the time they had the chance, the shells hit the empty cliffs after the cannons were wheeled back into the caves.
I had two brothers serve in the military. One was in the Coast Guard and the other was in the Air Force. Their stories weren’t of combat, but they had plenty to tell. The brother in the Coast Guard was involved in drug seizures and the other brother couldn’t tell me where he went when they told him to dress in civilian clothes and lose his identification.
I had a close friend, who moved home with his family and I never heard from again. He served in the cavalry in Viet Nam. He wouldn’t speak with many about his experience, but I guess he felt comfortable with me, so he told me of his night during Tet in 1968.
He had a compulsion to add an extra case of grenades to his hooch the night before the Tet Offensive. He had over half a case, but something urged him to add a full case. I asked what happened and he told me the story.
It was midnight, and the fire base was asleep, except for those on guard duty. Trip flares started going off on the perimeter and the 105’s started popping illumination rounds. Looking out the firing slit brought a scene he described as ants crawling on the side of a mound. There were hundreds, if not thousands of the enemy attacking the base. They started shooting, and spent the next few hours fighting for their lives. It reached the point he was only rolling grenades out the firing slit, which exploded and kept the enemy from getting too close and returning the honor by throwing a grenade into the hooch.
Going outside was a mistake, which I figured meant the perimeter was breached, or the soldiers were not going to take the chance and shot anything moving. The 105’s were now shooting straight ahead and using beehive rounds. The noise must have been almost unbearable, which would have only added an oppressive addition to the raw fear.
I finally asked how it ended. My friend said that the F-4’s arrived at first light with napalm. Within minutes, the battle was over and peace returned to the base. The only thing left was the assessment and cleanup. My friend pulled some pictures from the photo album he never showed to anyone. The jungle looked like a meat market. The beehive rounds had shredded and pinned the enemy to the trees in the jungle.
He had other stories, including days “humping through the bush” and being kicked from a Huey by a nervous door gunner. My friend had 80 pounds of gear on at the time and he said it took days before he could walk without pain.
All in all, his stories were reflected in his wife’s eyes. She had a haunting stare when she described losing her brother to a tank explosion and waking one night when my friend had a flashback, awoke and finally snapped from his delusion to find he was trying to choke his wife. She was part of his service too. Nobody escapes, even those that don’t go.
So, what am I trying to say? Nothing you do, or say, will ever change what has passed. You can only observe and try to put the pieces together. You never know what occurred, or completely understand the coworker, that was caught by the enemy and tortured. They did come home, but many didn’t. Monday is the day we honor those that gave the ultimate sacrifice. Remember their service and honor them with your thoughts.