Tim McDonald's thoughtful article about a break he took from a recent media tour of Vietnam to visit Chu Lai, where I was stationed during the war, has moved me to the verge of tears. Part of it is an old man of 60 looking back through the mist of time, knowing he'll never again look back that far in this life. The other part of it is having done a tiny something for this country.
I am proud of that. Very proud. Even though I am sure I was a terrible soldier. At least I was there. My country called and I answered. I didn't agree with the war, but I went. Maybe it would have taken more courage to go to Canada. I don't know. I do know it makes me feel good to have served in the Nams during 1969-70.
I told Tim to look for the ghosts. Like the ghosts I told Tim about when 12 or 15 GIs came into Chu Lai from the bush. They were infantry. Young, cool guys with an easy gait. All in good shape, tending toward thin.
They were going to the Post Exchange. No weapons, save a couple of them with knives attached to their shoulders. Pant legs tied to keep the leeches out. Some had colorful beaded necklaces.
Their manhood wasn't in question. Everybody gave them a wide berth. Guys, including me, were reluctant to even look their way. Chu Lai was primitive. To these boys, though, it had to seem like Gay Paree. They had seen stuff nobody ought to ever see. They had heard the men and the monkeys in the jungle scream. Killed and been killed.
They were in Chu Lai on a three-day stand down. Then it was back to the Show. They were the coolest and deadliest-looking guys I have ever seen. They walked assuredly and hardly talked at all. I will never forget that. Those were warriors, my friends. Those were the ghosts I told Tim to look for.
November 16, 2006
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