It has been thirty two years since I was in the jungle in Vietnam. Some days it seems more like another lifetime, other days, it might have been yesterday or today. This day some old friends came to mind.
I recently visited with someone I had not seen since those days. We laughed and reminisced and remembered the good and the bad times. Both of us have kept the other close in our hearts but not in our lives. It was a healing experience, full of joy and pain.
One of the surprises was that he and I were together for only three months. It might have been since childhood for the comradeship we've felt all these years. It made me think that most of those we left behind in that place of war, we knew only for a short time. What awesome amounts of our consciousness's they have occupied in spite of our limited times together.
While in therapy at the Topeka VAMC, we were encouraged to release our ghosts. We did mock funerals and talked and cried a lot. With the help of those good people I was able to find relief from the haunting memories I had carried too long. Now, those wonderful warriors rest easy on my mind if I am careful and do not immerse myself in that past.
Today is a celebration of those who didn't come home with the rest of us. We remember that their lives were cut short, their life's chapters closed in the paddies, jungles and mountains of Vietnam. Perhaps the greatest honor the rest of us can bestow is to regard our own lives as sacred and full of meaning. It is difficult to stay above the quagmire of feelings left from our experiences but what better way to salute our brothers and sisters in arms than to rise above the pain of their deaths and give freely of ourselves to others.
I am including two poems that celebrate the memories of one of my great friends from those days. Perhaps they will speak to the losses you feel.
May he and all the others who have left this life because of our Vietnam experiences, rest in peace. May we also remember all those who have sacrificed their lives in the name of war; ally, enemy and comrade.
With great respect,
To: G. Washutt, USMC
I see you standing in a Nam-time mist,
huddled like a jungle quarterback
calling end runs, life you win, death you loose.
Your eyes peer out like hidden VC
from behind your camouflaged face,
you a real leader to those who follow
through a Hell of booby-traps and bloody ambushes.
We share peaches from one can,
plastic spoon clicking against your teeth
as Goose Creek and Wyoming mountains
slide easily from your tongue and for
a little moment you frame gentle farm boy eyes
in Marine issue glasses and we are creek kin,
mine a scant two hundred miles from yours,
back in the world, where we both once lived.
Ten years later, my wife sips stale coffee
in a Sheridan café, while I drive
to the hillside trailer, gray like a pagoda
with brown dog turds standing guard.
Your old man covers fear with gruffness,
I hide mine behind a ten year wall.
Mother Washutt, graying, sends me with tired eyes
to the holy shrine. A hometown boy I never knew
peers out from between Zenith rabbit ears
while a pimpled face beneath
promises forty percent chance of rain in the night.
A Marine that wasn't you, wears Dress Blues.
"Son, this pitcher'll make your mama proud someday!"
A polished Silver Star hangs like a God's Eye
over your daddy's ancient sears recliner.
In this foreign place old reels start playing
my movies on the wall by the big hall mirror.
My jungle tongue won't speak of Goose Creek ghosts
and I stare at the floor while Mama wrings her hands.
I walk out cold, like I walked in, and drive
ten more years to a paint-chipped table,
where my wife sips more coffee while I visit my past.
At the wall I find your silent name
and reach out to touch you one last time.
My Voice is Not Stilled
Once I cursed at jungle vines
as I crawled in Vietnam.
I was the warrior Prince and sang
my song near the DMZ.
I met the enemy at CamLo and screamed
at him in fighting rage.
He died silently on an ugly hill
and I died silently beside him.
In the terrible thunder of war
We waited, unspeaking of time.
Now I laugh with mountain trout
in mirrored pools of Goose Creek.
I sing with summer winds,
strumming tops of Bighorn pines.
I whisper springtime meadow secrets
to dancing bees in crocus ballrooms.
I cry tears that fall with leaves of quaking asp'
and rest on flags of prairie grass.
In the wintertime I speak
the soft swoosh of a child's sled
on fresh Wyoming snow.
I wait, unspeaking of time.
Robert Sasse is a Marine veteran who spent his tour of duty with various organizations within 3/9/3 MarDiv. He lives with his wife and 12-old step-daughter in the Mogollon Mountains of southwestern New Mexico, and is currently working on his first novel about a Vietnam veteran.
Robert Sasse would like to hear from readers and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org