Conversation Pieces V: Scars

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By: Wayne Brown


You are always here when I come out on the patio to smoke. You are always here waiting for me. Don’t you have a life. Hell, it’s two in the morning! When do you sleep? I guess that is an interesting question coming from me who is up at this time of night. When do I sleep? I know the answer to that one. I sleep when the demons let me. When they don’t I wake up in that cold sweat twisted up in the sheets. That’s when I come out here to smoke, think and talk to you. I know you will be here. I can always depend on it.


You are not real even though I can see you sitting there. I don’t know your name but I know who you are. You are an extension of me. You are that part of me that yearns to know why. You live to know the answers that drive the demons in my mind on a nightly basis. You wait here for me to show up and talk about them. Smoke and talk. You think you will come to find out why. Why am I still alive when the others are dead. Why was I not maimed for life deprived of my limbs; my ability to walk or make a living. Why was I not hurt. That’s what you want to know isn’t it. That’s been it all along. Never once have you said anything. You just sit in that chair and stare at me with that vacant look in your eyes. You are waiting for an answer. I’ll say this for you, you are one patient son of a bitch.


Let me pour a shot of Jack and light up and we’ll talk just like we always do. I would offer you a drink and a smoke but I know you don’t use either. Neither did I before that stint in Vietnam in ‘67. But you know that already. You and I both know the source of the misery, but it still does not bring us relief nor does it give us the answers that we seem to constantly seek on a nightly basis. We have been over it and over it time and again but we still come up short. We don’t find an answer that satisfies both you and me. Oh, I could probably settle for a lie but you, you have got to get to the truth before you will leave it alone. I know that. You have waited a long time to have it and God knows you deserve the truth.


Remember Johnson? He was the guy who planned to buy that new GTO when he got home. He was saving all his money for that car. He was going to pay cash for it. He dreamed about it day and night. That’s all he could talk about. He had that worn car magazine with the pictures of the car. While other guys were gazing at Playboy and dreaming, Johnson was going for a drive in that GTO. It helped him pass the time. He had a reason to get through that mess; a reason to get back home. He was the first one I saw go down. The first time I had ever watched a man die. That Punjab stick made from the bamboo is a nasty trap when it comes swinging off that trip line. Poor devil never had a chance. The thing went all the way through him in a heartbeat. I was right behind him on the trail. He was on the point. If I had been on the point, that would have been me with that stick through my heart. Johnson might have lived to drive his GTO. But it wasn’t me and Johnson didn’t make it. Is that just luck?


Tommy Nelson was the platoon leader. He was a college football star. He had a good chance of going home to an NFL contract but he had to get the damn war out of the way first. So he volunteered because he knew he was going to be drafted. He was in a hurry to get over and get back so he could get started on the football career. Man, he was some athlete; one magnificent piece of human engineering. I can’t forget the screaming the day he stepped on that mine while we were checking out an old NVA camp. It took his right leg completely off the minute he ignited it. One minute you have a man who is a fine young athlete, the next you have the remains of a man with one leg. Everything Tommy planned for and worked for disappeared in that single blast. The medics packed him with morphine and a dust-off evacuated him to a field hospital. He lived but maybe he wishes that he had not. I don’t know. I just know that I could have stepped on that mine but I didn’t.


After Tommy left, I took over as platoon leader. I spent a lot of time out on the point as we worked our way along the trails. I took the point most of the time hoping that it would be me and not one of the others if something were to happen. That worked for a while. We didn’t lose anyone for a few weeks and I didn’t even have a close call although we got into our share of firefights in those jungles. Somewhere along the line there, I quit being afraid. My body and my mind just went on autopilot. I had already resolved that whatever happened would happen. I couldn’t live in fear day and night. It was eating my insides out. War is beyond the scope of anything most men know as frightening. After that first round whizzes over your head or that first mortar round explodes with a deafening roar near your position, fear sets in; fear begins to dictate your every move, your every thought. You cannot take a step with trembling in fear that it will be your last. It is paralyzing. It causes brave me to freeze up and it gets them killed. Somehow I got beyond it. Maybe that is what saved me when others around me were dying. Maybe that was the difference. I don’t know.


Eddie Rickles and I use to drink together and talk about going to California to be surfers when we got back home. That seemed like a life that appealed to both of us. We loved the sun and the sand. We would get drunk and describe our perfect day at the beach complete with the women and the waves. For all that we talked about it, we never did figure out how we were going to make a living doing that. It didn’t seem important at the time. We just knew it beat the hell out of banging around in those wet-ass jungles watching folks die on a daily basis and wondering if our number would be coming up. That makes for a long year when you contemplate your own death on a daily basis. I shut it all out. Blocked it from my mind. Eddie would bring it up but I would just change the subject to something about surfing.


We got pinned down up in the Aschau Valley chasing those ‘charlies’ off one of those worthless hills. We usually owned them one week and they had it back the next. Nobody seemed to be in the business of holding ground in Vietnam. We would trade the blood of fifty men to control a hilltop and then abandon it a week later as if their deaths had no value to the overall scheme of things. That’s how we got pinned down, moving from one hill to the next. We ran into the unit of NVA and before we knew it our platoon had been outflanked and they had our backs to the wall. We had enough firepower to hold them off for a while but they were slowly chewing into to us one by one. I called for air support and artillery but it was slow in coming that day. They had a backlog of requests according to the command post. When the NVA started dumping the mortar rounds on to us, I knew we were cooked. Three guys bit the dust on the first explosion and two more were wounded. I called for air evac and some air support again. If something didn’t happen pretty quick, we were all going out in body bags.


The close air support “Sandies” finally rolled in from the east and began to hose down the area from above. By that time, half the unit was dead. Two guys bleed to death from their wounds and lack of medical support. What a waste. I could hear the choppers coming aiming to land in the open rice field behind us. Once I spotted them coming over the ridge line, I yelled for the guys to pull out and motioned toward the field. We ran as fast as we could for the evac area but the NVA still had some firepower that the Sandies had not yet shut down. A machine gun mounted in the edge of jungle was cutting us to ribbons as we ran. Eddie was running on my right side and we were matching each other step for step when suddenly he disappeared. I dropped to the ground and quickly turned to see Eddie groaning on the ground behind me me. I ran back to him and rolled him over. He was hold his insides literally in his hands. I grabbed in my arms and I ran toward the choppers. Hang on Eddie, we are going to get out of here man. Hang on. We got some surfing to do I remember yelling to him as I ran for the chopper. Blood was all over me. I didn’t know if it was Eddie’s or mine. I didn’t even know if I might have been hit. I just had to get Eddie in that chopper and get him some help. Finally, I was there and the crew was yelling for me to get in. The other guys were climbing aboard other aircraft. I tried to climb in with Eddie in my arms. I could feel the tears starting to roll down my cheeks. Blood was dripping off the end of my fingers. I could hear voices and gunfire but it all seemed so far away. “Let go of him! Let go of him! He’s gone, Sarge, let go of him!” the crewman on the chopper was yelling at me. “He’s dead, Sarge….let go!” Finally, he pulled Eddie from my arms and I collapsed on the metal floor of the Huey. I don’t remember anything else until I woke up in the hospital. Eddie was dead and I had survived again.


Look, we been over this and over this and over this. You know the story better than me. You have heard it now for years. I’m down a half-pack of smokes and a half-bottle of Jack tonight trying to help you understand why they died and I didn’t. Why can’t you just leave it alone? Why can’t you just let it go? What is it that you have to know? Why do you need to know? Why do keep coming back here night after night and listening to me tell the same story over and over. And every time, Eddie dies. Every time. If I had been a man I would have saved him. I couldn’t save them all but I should have saved Eddie. I should have saved my friend.


I’m going back in the house now. I have swallowed enough Jack to calm the demons and maybe get a little more sleep before they return. You go on about your business and do whatever it is that you do when I am not out here. I will see you back here tomorrow night and we’ll talk again.


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Comments 26 comments

sheila b. profile image

sheila b. 6 years ago

I read about a woman who had survived the concentration camps, losing all of her family. Sixty years later she was elderly yet a cheerful woman. She said she'd been happy ever since she'd been set free of the camp. When asked why, how she could be so cheerful, she replied, "How can I not be happy?" She had accepted her survival as a gift and she felt she had to be happy about it in gratitude.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@sheila b.....that is a great attitude to attain and probably to only way to find peace. It is not for us as mortals to wonder why we are spared and others are not. God makes those decisions I am afraid. A lot of men who suffered the ravages of war and watch people on both sides suffer and die never come to terms with it as was the case with this man. Vietnam created a lot of those which I think was probably a combination of the horrors of the war mixed with the ultimate futility of it in the end. Thanks for the great comments. WB


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States

This is a very touching story as my husband has revealed more to me about his experience in Vietnam. He ended up spending 2 years there and the stories aren't pretty. What an awful time in our history and I lost friends that I grew up with also.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@Pamela99...A lot of people were deeply affected by Vietnam both due to the experience they had there and the reception they received back home. Thank God a military person can once again wear a uniform proudly in public without a given group attempting to ridicule their service. Those were dark times in our land. Thanks for the good words! WB


lalesu profile image

lalesu 6 years ago from south of the Mason-Dixon

"I sleep when the demons let me. When they don’t I wake up in that cold sweat twisted up in the sheets. That’s when I come out here to smoke, think and talk to you...

...You go on about your business and do whatever it is that you do when I am not out here."

So many soliloquies could be written between these lines, and you've chosen a keenly emotional subject and addressed it from the unique perspective of your "Conversation Pieces" style. Great read, Wayne Brown! ~ Laura


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@lalesu...Thanks much Laura. Good to see you out and about!LOL! This was one of those areas that I thought probably had a lot of one-way mental conversations so it made it easy to use in that format. As you can see, it did not come to a solution as I don't think most of those situations do in real life. They just get rehashed again and again looking for answers. Thanks for the good words! WB


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 6 years ago from South Africa

This is an awesome sentence: “War is beyond the scope of anything most men know as frightening.” To see your buddies dying, to always know one or more of them and even you might be dead before the sun sets, and to kill other humans, must have a severe, negative impact on any soul. And that horrible illogical, unrealistic regret and self-condemnation you’ve got to deal with for the rest of your life! I’m glad you survived to make this so clear to all of us: There is nothing good in war.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@MartieCoetser...I guess I was one of the lucky ones in that I was in an airplane flying over most of the bad stuff. Still, I lost a classmate from flight school when the C-130 gunship he was flying in was shot down by heavy AAA fire. We were only out of school a few months. He chose his assignment one slot ahead of me and took the gunship to southeast Asia leaving me a C-130 assignment stateside. Our choices could have been reversed had he took the stateside slot. I never forget about that or about George. Sometimes I feel like he took my place in that airplane. We never how things will work out. Thanks for the great comment! WB


Harvey Stelman profile image

Harvey Stelman 6 years ago from Illinois

Wayne, I can feel your pain. I am so sorry you had to endure that. I was lucky with a student defermant, and a very high draft #. Doc's said I would have been 4F anyway.

Only those that have been in combat know how you feel. You told your story very well. G-D Bless you, and all that serve. H


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks for the comment Harvey. George's family went through a lot of stress waiting for his remains to be found. It took over 10 years after the war ended to finally locate the site in Laos and identify the remains of all who perished on that airplane nicknamed "Thor". George's family was constantly approached by people claiming that they knew he was alive and being held as a POW. They would offer to provide additional information but always at a price. Families should not have to suffer like that when they have lost a loved one. WB


cheaptrick profile image

cheaptrick 6 years ago from the bridge of sighs

You fliers were the most welcomed sound in Nam.Thank God for the Sandie's,they saved our asses more than once.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@Cheaptrick...those were some great fliers. Also the "Nails". Forward Air fliers put their ass on the line for many many grunts time and again. There were some real heroes in those outfits! Thanks for the great comments! WB


bayoulady profile image

bayoulady 6 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

wayne, a very moving read, and I'll admit I got a little over half way and had to quit.You have a way of making it come alive. I had friends and a first cousin that did not come back alive. One dear friend's bones came back in 2001.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@bayoulady...I am sorry the subject is difficult. I am flattered that I could bring forth that realism for you. I feel there are only a few subjects that I can address in these one way conversations that work really well to allow the reader to see into the mind of the subject. I have not experienced these things. I have to write from my imagination, my interaction with others, and anything else that comes to mind to create the article. When I publish them, I am not always sure they are good enough to address the subject. I guess I get lucky sometimes. Thank you for the kind words and I hope I have not caused you too many bad memories with this writing. God Bless! WB


bayoulady profile image

bayoulady 6 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

Difficult but absolutely a grand tribute to the pain our guysand gals endured then and now. it is a good hub.


breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 6 years ago

What a moving and beautiful piece you have created here. I knew a young man, who I used to date at one time, who went to Vietnam and came home seemingly in one piece. He married, got a great job and stuck a gun in his mouth and ended the suffering no one but he could see or feel. Thumbs up Wayne for this awesome hub.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@bayoulady...Thanks for looking beyond the difficulty. I appreciate the good feedback! WB

@breakfastpop...Thank you for the good words, Poppy. I was hoping that I could capture and relate some of the pain that some of those who served in that era have experienced. One would think that survival in a war would mean everything to a person yet in some cases it became a mental prison filled with demons of the past. WB


Christopher Price profile image

Christopher Price 6 years ago from Vermont, USA

A powerful read WB.

Whether you lived it or not you sure paint the picture.

I'm pondering writing a hub that centers around something I was told while drinking with a Vet from the Korean Conflict: "There ain't no 'good war' for those that that were in it."

Even unscathed survivors are scarred.

Write on.

CP


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@Christopher Price...Thanks much Chris. I do encourage you to write that piece. It is a way to give thanks and pay tribute to those who did serve under such conditions. It also shows them that some of us understand the pain they deal with emotionally. Thanks for the good words. WB


SilverGenes 6 years ago

I like everything about this, from the style you chose to the conversation itself. It's powerful, intimate, gripping and human in an area where there is little humanity. Wayne, you outdid yourself on this one. Awesome job!


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@SilverGenes...I am glad you think so...it give it more credibility with me! This is one of the articles LT Fawkes in taking over to his reading room. Thanks for the good words! WB


saddlerider1 profile image

saddlerider1 6 years ago

Wayne I agree with Silvergenes this ranks up there with a few other pieces you wrote. It's riveting and one can feel the adrenalin rushing through your veins as you walk through that jungle of hurt, pain and death.

To witness death and destruction all around you and never knowing when the next bullet is going to kill you or a worst death trap buried under a brush. It would be nerve racking to witness the death of close comrades. One minute they are there and the next they are gone.

When your best friend was shot beside you and you attempted to carry him and hold him together as the blood gushed from his torn body and blood dripped down your fingers, I felt the hair on my arms and neck go up immediately. I couldn't fathom holding the lifeless body of my best friend in my arms.

It's scenes like this that drove good men to the bottle, drugs and the streets of America. They started out all together, sane and full of promise and dreams and the willingness to serve and die for their country if need be only to come back either in a body bag or mentally wrecked.

Thanks for this read Wayne it was most definitely one of your best and I felt the action and I could feel the heat, sweat and the taste of war and death. May all the men who lost their lives in Vietnam RIP and be in a better place than that deadly jungle. Peace


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@saddlerider1...Ken, I think you should write about a subject like this. You have the emotion, the feelings, and the insight to bring it home. I think you are missing an opportunity here. When you can show this much insight in a comment, I think you have a lot more to share...give it some thought! Thanks for the great comments. They are right on point! WB


saddlerider1 profile image

saddlerider1 6 years ago

Thank you Wayne, I have visions and like you I can take a subject, picture it in my mind clearly and build a story around it. I believe it's a gift that artists, writers, poets, inventors, scientists and great statesmen have.

I just wrote a poem and published it "Dreams on a Palette" I felt the need to write it down as it was wandering around in my head and the smell of the turpentine and oils brought it forward. Have a read and let me know what you think.

I will definitely give your suggestion consideration, I think it's time for an action adventure to come forth from me:0))) I think I can do it. Stay tuned.


ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 6 years ago from Texas

Wayne what a powerful hub. I think that its quite normal to ask yourself why one person survives and the other dies I guess God is in control of that and the only thing we can say is that it isnt our time and God help us when our time is up. My father was a POW in Germany and Im sure he asked himself the same thing and I know that the uncertainty of it all even made him feel so guilty for surviving. Hope all is well with you. I enjoyed this hub very much. Cheers.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@ladyjane1....Thanks much. Only God knows and he's not saying. Whatever the answers are, we will have to figure them out on our own. They may be the only answer too...only God knows. Maybe that's enough. My wife's uncle was a WWII POW as well. It was a lifelong experience for him. He developed traits and habits during that time that he carried to his grave many, many years later. Thanks for the good words! WB

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