Thursday, May 29, 2008

Greater Love Hath No One

A belated Memorial Day post.

One of the frustrating things to me about communicating with non-veterans is the facility with which the focus turns to, and remains with, horror. Though there are some sad details--the hero, one of them--dies in the beginning, this is about love, and not misery.

Imagine that you arrived in Vietnam four or five days ago, the place the whole world is watching and talking about. After a couple of days drawing gear, you are driven by truck along the infamous, if you are paying attention, and you are, Route 9, which runs parallel to the DMZ about 6 miles South of it. It is dotted with lonely little hilltop outposts, all of which have been the site of at least one ferocious battle, and most often many more than that, in the last year between the Marines and the enemy. You stop at one long enough to join your unit, and go to a bunker in a night position a mile or two to the Southwest where you join another Marine in a two man position, who helps you to settle in. You are scared shitless: literally; you couldn't go if you tried.

You've set up two hours on guard, two off, and just when it's so dark you can't see a thing., there is an enormous flash and boom right in front of you; the concussion lifts you and throws you both violently against the back of your bunker. The veteran Marine is calmly talking you through it: check your body parts, still there? Are you bleeding? Wounded? You both are up now, because, as he explains, the enemy is likely to attack, which is true. There is a firefight until near dawn: killing and being killed. In the intervals, to keep you relaxed, he tells you about his sister back home, whom he loves, and how he's not sure he wants to show you her picture until he knows you're the kind of guy that deserves the favor.

At first light, he shows you how to clean up and prepare to move to the next position. He has baptized you into your unit; he has shown you, the new guy, things you will need to know to make it out alive. As you prepare to move out, a sniper's bullet suddenly kills him. Alive, and a helpful older friend, then dead; you have never seen a person die before. You move towards him, then hesitate, overcome by shock. another of the older members of the unit sees this, and tells you, "Look; last night you needed his help, and he gave it. Now he needs you to get him back home." So you carry his body to your next position, a mile or so; you have been in the field in Vietnam for less than one day, you have, barring being killed or wounded, approximately 390 more to go.

Forty one years later, you're thinking of looking up the guy's sister and telling her how much her brother loved her, and how much you loved him.

23 comments:

FranIAm said...

Oh Johnieb, Johnieb...

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Oh, johnieb....You have captured the humanity of war---never an easy thing to do---and you have done it beautifully, without artifice or sentimentality.

Thank you for that.

Jane R said...

Oh, JohnieB. Thank you. This is to weep.

johnieb said...

It's pretty much the way I remember it told, with some explanation interjected.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Johnieb, I'm praying for words, and nothing is coming. Thanks for telling the story. You've done it well.

Love and blessings to you.

BooCat said...

Tears and prayers, johnieb, tears and prayers.

Leo said...

Speechless!

eileen said...

((((((((((johnieb)))))))))))

My dad talked about something similar this past Memorial Day. He talked about the flash decision to do the most damage you could, to protect the rest of the battallion or your unit...or the guy next to you in the foxhole, in the instant you realized your done for...

Fuck 'em...we're done, but we aren't gonna make it easy for them...matter of fact..we're gonna do whatever we can to make it hard, minimize their damage, and save some more asses...

I'd never thought of it that way...the instantaneousness of it...the flash of action.

He also talked about flat out peeing his pants the first time a bullet took out a chunk of mahagony over his helmet...

Lindy said...

I wish everybody could read this JohnieB. Thank you for sharing this.

johnieb said...

Pissing yourself is pretty common, in fact.

I can't talk about a flash "decision" because I still don't have any conscious memory of it; I have to re-construct it from "where I ended up" to "what I was doing when it started."

We have a cookout at the Center every other Friday; I was getting acquainted with our new Group Leader, but saw D and the guys too. D is now officially a volunteer. We're all glad we got another woman. First impression is good.

johnieb said...

Leo,

you're not one of "the usual gang of idiots", as Mad magazine so eloquently put it: welcome.

Thanks all: I thought it deserved wider dissimulation.

eileen the uppity woman said...

Ok...that Leo just freaked me out..cuz my dad's name is Leo, and I know he don't blog...

(Or does he?)

eileen the uppity woman said...

Actually...I think my dad's point, which I didn't articulate well, was that it isn't a "decision" - it's really just action. It isn't conscious heroism...it just turns out to be heroism.

johnieb said...

"Just action" describes it.

Nina said...

I think his sister would appreciate hearing from you, should the right time come.

Know I did.

johnieb said...

I'm sure she will, but it's not my call on the timing; the person I heard this from is a wise and good man, whom I have trusted with my own life, and will continue to do so.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

What a beautiful and complex story. Thank you for posting it.

Kirstin said...

(((((((you))))))

pj said...

Well worth the wait. Sorry it took me two extra days to get here.

Whew.

Pagan Sphinx said...

Wait. Wasn't there a photo of two cute little kids the last time I came by?

I'm glad I made it over before another post took priority.

I am so blown away by your writing about your duty in Vietnam. That's all I can say.

johnieb said...

Ya might refer CR to it; I'm trying to decide whether to post at his place.

The Cunning Runt said...

Come by any time, my good man.

I avoided the Viet Nam draft by being a couple days too young - I drew a single-digit number as I turned 18, the month the draft was ended.

My opposition to the current war in Iraq is tempered by my respect for those of you who actually served in combat - I can't thank you enough for that, and hope you're getting everything you were promised when you enlisted.

Sadly, it's my informed impression that many of today's veterans aren't.

Again, THANK YOU for your service, and God bless you.

Dusty said...

Its a very moving, emotional piece JohnieB.