PLEASE, Stop Thanking Me For Serving In The Military
That son of a bitch, I’m gonna shoot him down.
That fuckin colonel up in that spotter chopper, he’s gonna get us killed.
DON’T MAN…you’ll go to the stockade if you do, they’ll send you to Leavenworth for life.
I don’t care, they’ll never know who shot it down…Charlie, they’ll suspect.
DON’T MAN, think about the chopper pilot, he’s not giving you the order to go into that wood line, he don’t need to die.
STOP IT! ARE YOU THANKING ME FOR MY MURDEROUS DESIRE TO KILL AN AMERICAN OFFICER?
We were soaked, first from the all night monsoon falling on us again as we staked another ambush patrol where two rice paddy dikes intersected three clicks southeast of Binh Phouc. Then, soaked in our sweat as the south Asian sun baked morning into afternoon while we inched along a trail approaching a nameless nipa palm-lined stream that we crossed, raising our weapons above our heads to keep dry. We forded the water in single file, one hand grabbing the fatigues of the trooper behind in case of a deep spot or strong current. Then, to continue down more paths, constantly vigilant of the trip wires, stopping all progress as we exploded the booby-trap grenades at the end of the wire. FIRE IN THE HOLE!
Some of us had read Joseph Heller’s CATCH-22, an anti-paean to the absurdity of war penned by a veteran of our fathers’ generation. We were composing the words of our own senseless Baby Boomer war novel. Every day our question…WHAT ARE WE HERE FOR?
As we passed a vacated bunker of hardened mud, two feet high, deep enough for a NVA regular to lay in wait, we saw a hand on the ground, severed at the wrist, decaying, with no trace of the body from which the hand had been. Someone had folded the fingers over before rigor mortis stiffened the signal, one finger remained upright, the middle digit, a FUCK YOU greeting to all that passed.
Please don’t thank me.
I dislike being thanked, because I never intentionally gave anyone, or my country, a gift.
I was drafted, thus forced into combat labor, without my consent, for two years.
I often refer to it, not-always-snarkily, as being human-trafficked.
By the way, the impressment of American sailors by the Royal Navy was one of the causes of our War of 1812.
As sincere as your words might be intended, I didn’t get drafted in order to give you a gift.
Consider, as a citizen of US in 1968 I was forced by law to be conscripted in service of the US Army in an undeclared war. Just how removed is this abduction from the practice of human trafficking?
On the edge of a paddy stood a farmer’s hut, deserted, but only for a short time. The peasants had vanished, leaving behind household items, a few chickens that appeared disease-ridden, and their water buffalo, a beast of burden common in the Mekong Delta. We helped ourselves to souvenirs, set the thatched roof of the hut aflame with Zippo lighters and shot the beast on our way out.
What exactly are you thanking me for…stealing a peasant’s farming tools, his silk pants, shooting his livestock?
A high percentage of the US Army recruits during the late-60s/early-70s were drafted. Ground combat units such as the one I was assigned were composed of nearly 100% draftees.
Charlie was watching us, quietly. The number of booby-traps told us we were close to their stockpile of rice, to their arms cache, to their bunkers where Viet Cong slept during the day so they could mortar our position at night, or blow up a bridge on Highway 4. We often patrolled with a Tiger Scout, or chu hoi as the Vietnamese called them, repatriated former(?) Viet Cong presently working for us. On this day Duc was our boy walking point, a human mine detector. We generally walked along the raised earthen dikes that separated the paddies where rice stalks grew, filling deeper with water by the day with the monsoons. Each trooper walked leaving a gap of 5-10 yards between one another (“Don’t bunch up, one round will get you all!”). I pulled up the rear, constantly spinning around to check for any activity behind us. I noticed a halt in this procession, Duc had stopped and was very deliberately inspecting the trail before him. Our entire squad, ten of us or so, focused on this teenage boy who spoke no English. Carefully he inched ahead, probably looking in vain for a trip wire that wasn’t there. Then, all of a sudden, I watched a cloud of earth rise from up underneath him on the dike. It grow higher and wider, raising Duc in its grasp a few feet above, then dropping his body into the paddy. I saw all of this before the sound waves of the explosion reached my ears, no more than 50 yards away. Duc’s weight had probably triggered a pressure-detonated booby trap wired to a retrieved 60mm mortar round that had failed to explode upon previous initial contact and re-engineered by Viet Cong for this purpose. As our medic rushed ahead to treat him, he never lost consciousness, although he did lose a lot of blood. His legs were as mangled as if dogs had finished chewing on them. We radio’d for a chopper to medivac him to the 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon and took a timely break until it landed.
After Duc’s dust-off our patrol continued, and we knew there was bad news ahead. The 2-seat Huey circling overhead offered our battalion CO a commanding view of the wood-line ahead of us, and the order was to penetrate and make contact with the enemy. Our squad was being led by an overweight lieutenant who had been in college ROTC in Texas only a year before. We called them “shake-&-bakes” and held no confidence in them as leaders of men. At this time I took over as radio operator, which placed me directly behind the Lt in order to facilitate communication. It also put me in direct conversation with the voice overhead ordering us to proceed toward some mystery mayhem. At his next command to go forth, I pressed the microphone on the receiver and spit and croaked into the mouthpiece, UH, BRAVO-1, SAY AGAIN, UNABLE TO RECEIVE, YOU’RE COMING IN BROKEN AND DISTORTED, basically indicating we couldn’t follow orders we couldn’t receive. This exchange would repeat a couple more times to convince the CO we couldn’t hear his orders. As the Lt listened to my attempt to sabotage a direct order from his boss’ boss, he turned around toward me to grab the radio and in his reckless twirl he set off another booby trap, this one a small buried grenade that sprouted black smoke and jungle dirt to rain all over both of us. His back was peppered with dozens of pieces of shrapnel, but that was the extent of the damage, truly he was the walking wounded. So, with another medivac en route, we paused for another break. Upon arrival, the Lt insisted on throwing down the yellow smoke grenade himself and guiding in his own dust-off. Now, the remainder of our squad needed to get out of this wood-line, and with the Lt evacuated, there was no one in charge. I handed the radio to a trooper in exchange for his M-79 and started through a path, soon to spy a trip wire. With the intention to withdraw safely back so to explode this booby trap, I crossed a clearing and felt my right leg on fire, a burning that I tried to run away from except I was no longer on the ground. My legs were running, my body was rising, I was being moved against my will, I fell, and seconds later, as our medic cut away my pant leg I recognized I had set off the explosion. I was hospital bound, with an applied empty tube of morphine pinned to my shirt to alert the hospital staff of my sedation. The third dust-off of the day landed, and as they lifted me onto the floor of the Huey slick, Duc was still there, lying next to me, alert, with an angelic smile as he recognized me as a fellow traveler.
I was thankful. I had my legs, my dick, my balls, I believed I’d be OK, if only this pain would subside. This intense pain reset every cell my body possessed. This sharp, ceaseless burning…I couldn’t even identify its source, this sensation transformed my every thought. The hot shards of metal tearing my flesh off the bone changed my outlook immediately, like a transfiguration. I didn’t want anyone to experience this, not the Viet Cong, not the juice head rednecks we despised back in the base camp, not even the battalion colonel whom I had wanted to assassinate just a few minutes before, I didn’t want ANYONE to ever feel the pain I was in at the moment.