Memories of Vietnam
It’s that time of year when the heat vanishes with the sun, the breeze whipping up the change in temperature. We’re sitting in the dark, and he’s whispering. I can see the tears suspended in his eyes, refusing to fall. He blinks and they momentarily retract, only to slowly reappear. He wipes his eyes.
“I want to tell you, but I can’t.” His whisper is broken, barely audible above the breeze.
I touch his shoulder and he flinches. I leave my hand there, and he doesn’t move away, his body tense under the smooth of his shirt.
“The fear . . . you don’t know . . . .” The whisper breaks and he moves away from my touch. I tell him no, I can never know.
This was not the first time he had talked. His nickname in the military was “Animal.” The nature of his position was such that he had frequent contact with other units. Practically every unit had their own “Animal,” someone whose actions had earned them that moniker. But when stories were traded, and it came to light what he’d done, he was the Animal.
He was ashamed. He had never told anyone. It was the few people who were there who had spread the story. They were long gone.
Almost 40 years had passed, and he had told me some things. He’d been shot, and lay there for three days, terrified that the enemy would find him. It left him angry, hating.
He’d gone out with a small group to find out what had happened to a reconnaissance team that had failed to return. They found them, all dead, their heads on sticks. He’d been shot on his way back, and they’d left him, as they had orders to do. He knew they would come back to find him, but the fear seized him and his mind was wild with it, for three days.
He asked me to get him a beer. Now, we are lying in bed. He is whispering again. I tell him it’s okay.
“I killed a man.” I say you did what you had to do.
“No!” A whispered exclamation. He is shaking. “I didn’t have to . . .”
He looks at me, the anguish and fear emblazoned in his eyes.
“I saw red, a veil of red, like blood. . .” His whisper trails off to silence.
By his estimation, he’d been in almost 300 fights since the war. He would go looking for them. He would drink, and he would go looking. Always, the veil of red would descend, and he would fight.
He had scars. He’d been hit over the head with pool cues and beer bottles. He’d been shot, stabbed, and had a finger severed and reattached.
He’d eventually stopped drinking, and stopped fighting.
The drinking returned, but more controlled. He was drinking now, and the memory wanted out. He made me promise not to tell anyone. “Don’t tell my kids . . .” The whisper. I nodded.
This story is written for our veterans who fought and suffered, and still suffer.
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