|A boy off to war ...|
Our generation came mostly from small unheard of towns and we were sent to a place that was unknown to us. We had no real clue where we were, the names of where we were stationed, sent, or even moved to and from.
For me, the moment I stepped off that plane in Vietnam, everything in my world would be forever changed, even before I realized it was. Something inside removed me from the world as I knew it, never to be regained.
The war would take us down paths only heard of from others, or in our own bad dreams. War was filled with horrors that can't be explained through words, movies, or in conversation, unless those horrors were discussed with another combat vet who walked the same path as we did.
As a brotherhood, we are unable to explain what we saw and experienced to anyone, or even remotely help others understand what we endured. In some ways, many of us envied those that never went. Then again, there were lots of us who were as ashamed of them as they were of us.
We had better reasons to dislike society than most back home who were against us for so many reasons -- and most of those reasons were wrong. There was no way to explain our world to them. They had already closed their minds to the real side of us that no one knew.
In coming home, our survival instinct led us to withdraw from everything and everyone. No one knew a thing about us until many years later, and our scars run deeper than even we can imagine. Old wounds heal slowly, if ever at all. I truly believe there is so much about our war and us that will never be known, or told, because so many cannot and will never be able to share their experiences.
Being a combat veteran changes you. In combat and with all that is going on around you, life seems to stand still. Your life is so focused on just that moment in time that nothing else exists. That's all you have, just those tiniest of moments where you either live, or die. There are no time outs, days off, breaks, and there is no reset button, if you lose. There is only life, or death, and you know you will be one of them, and you know you will see both, and if blessed, you will learn to live with all you endure for the rest of your life as best you can.
The bond between combat vets is that each truly knew the value of someone's life and they did whatever it took to ensure their safety, even to the point of giving your own life to save them. This was something we either had, or didn't have. It didn't make you a bad person, or anything else. There were just situations we were in that dictated how our lives would turn out at any particular point in time. It was something we still keep with us to this day. We took care of each other. All that mattered was survival and making it back home.
We learned each day what it took to live for another day. Life goes on, as they say, but a Vietnam combat vet's life seems to be on hold for the most part. A part of our life was taken away and never given back, ever. The world went on, but we stayed behind to ensure the freedoms most people now days take for granted.
|The "stare" ...|
A vet sees the faces of real people, some that we knew, lived with, fought with, laughed and cried with. In many cases, we saw them leave this world and all we could do was pick up and move out to the next battle.
We had no time to reflect, or ponder, about what just happened. There was no time to mourn, because if we let our guard down, we might be next. At times, we became like zombies, blocking it all out, but it never went away. We just moved it to a safe place in our hearts for a more appropriate time and place in our lives to grieve for those we lost.
For those of us that survived, how we are each day, what we say, how we act and react to things is a direct reflection on us as a group. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We earned our rights every day in country and no one can ever take that away from us.
To this day, we still take care of and represent each other and the families of lost loved ones. They suffered more than anyone. If we want people to remember us at all, then we must hold our heads up high, be strong inside and out, and let them know we are the American fighting spirit that stands for everyone. Whether they accept it, or not, is their decision, just like the decisions we had to make over there. We all make choices in life and then we learn to live with them, but we have to believe we made the right choices during our time. That is our legacy. We have to hope others will understand some day.
So as we all move on in life, please take a moment and truly try and understand what is inside us as Vieynam vets. Good-bad, right-wrong, it doesn't matter. The bottom line is, we all showed up and no one ever backed down or away, and we never ran and hid. We stood our ground for each other, our families, friends, and knowingly or not, we stood for this great nation and we were willing to lay down our lives for her. NO ONE can, or will, ever take that away from us.
|A vet at The Wall|
Again I ask the question to all of America, like the one we asked in our war. "Was it worth it?" It's something to think about as our world continues to turn.
If anyone wants to know the price of freedom from our war, it's written on The Wall. Touch it and it touches your hearts forever. It speaks volumes. All you have to do is listen and learn.
For vets, as we see our people up there, we see a finite moment in time, like a photo just taken, of our fallen comrades, a fine detail of everything. Time truly stands still for those of us who survived and are able to see our friends even for a brief moment. For those on The Wall, time has stood still for eternity.
We on the other hand must make a longer journey. Like when we were in country, we saddle up, lock and load, then head off to another point in time and start all over again. Our time with them is also forever frozen in place, and our hearts and minds will be in that same place forever.
As I've said before, "You can leave the Nam, but the Nam will never leave you." What a price we paid just to be here, however brief or long it may be. Each generation has it's own path to take. This one was ours. There were no shortcuts.
Other Articles by Michael Lansford:
Promises Made, Promises Kept
Pilots and POW's
The Last Firebase
Sayings and Poems
A Couple of Stories
The Last Road: A Vietnam Vet's Perspective
Holidays in The Nam
FNG Initiation and Humor
Life Prepared Me for Vietnam
Leavings at The Wall
Honoring The Wall
Life in the Jungle
In My Own Words: Part 1
In My Own Words: Part 2
Part 3: The KIA
Hill 937: Part 4
“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale
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