Right when I thought I had pretty much read everything there was to be read about the Vietnam War from the soldier's/veteran's perspective, a small manila envelope found it's way to my door. As it turns out, there were some things I had failed to learn.
This isn't an easy book to read. It is painfully easy to follow, but it sure isn't easy to look at. What I mean to say is that, is there anyone who likes to look at their own skeletons in the closet? Not me. But it is something we all have to do if we ever plan to get anywhere in this world.
I shall ask Mr. Mitchell's forgiveness in advance if I speak incorrectly of his past. It is not my intent to do anything but shed light on the plight of the Native American Vietnam veteran. They are rarely spoken of, written about or honored. These men are all bigger people than I. If my grandfathers had their hair cut off, land and language stolen from them, I am not sure if I would be so eager to serve a government that had done this. I sometimes hear people ask, "Why don't the Indians just get over it? That was a long time ago." My answer would be, they have. They have fought and died for this country since before this country even had its own name. It seems odd to me that despite a man's heritage, he can be expected to lay his life down in a foreign land, maybe even for a foreign cause, but in his very own homeland, he is not honored for that sacrifice. That is so disrespectful and sad. Those are some of the reasons this book is so difficult to read. And that, like it or not, it isn't so easy to "move on" or to "get over it."
There are many scars a man can possess. A bullet wound will heal, ask a soldier with a Purple Heart. It may even be worth a good story or two. Scars on the forearm from jungle rot will make people gasp, but it doesn't hurt the veteran anymore. But there are some scars on the inside that, try as you might, you can't get to them, you can't bandage them or suture them. You can't blow them up, you can't ignore them, you can't outflank them and you can't run from them. They become part of you: in a way, they are you.
Then the question becomes "How do you live your life with the person you have been made to be?" The author speaks with great eloquence of this. He seems to have few regrets about serving his country, and yet one can barely hesitate when asking why? He has been ignored, taunted, refused and mistreated. What would you do if the tables were reversed? That is your big question. Would you be able to rise above it? Would you sink beneath that burden? I was halfway through the book when I thought I could not continue, I did not want to find out what happened to the author on the breakneck pace of self-destruction he was on. I figured someone else must have finished writing the book for him, for surely he was in prison or dead. He is neither. Please read on if you hit the middle ground, as I did. The ending will touch your heart.
The author looks you square in the eyes, as is the way of any honorable man, and he never lets his eyes blink through the entire book. It made me want to look away, to cry in shame, anger and want to have met this man back then to prove not all people are like many that he had met. I wanted to tell him that people don't treat veterans that way in Oregon. That he would have had it better here. But I don't really know that, do I? Maybe I see things from the eyes of a person who has always had the door opened for me, always had options, never been afraid to sleep for fear of what my mind would do while I tried to escape into slumber. I am safe because of the sacrifices men like Mr. Mitchell have made.
I have always been safe. Maybe that is why I felt so helpless reading this book. It just didn't feel right. I was left unsettled. But maybe that is the purpose of some things in life. Shake people up now and then. Challenge some of their notions, shake their ivory towers, maybe some of us will fall out and jog some sense back into our heads. It should not matter to me or you if the Vietnam War ended 30 years ago or 30 minutes ago. The fact is that millions served, thousands sacrificed all that they had, their lives, souls, minds, arms and legs. I have given them nothing in return. What have you given them? A parade? A job when they needed one? A swift kick in the teeth? A hand? I donít know what you are going to do, but I can make a suggestion. Read this book. Then think about it for a while. Then decide if there isn't some little something you owe a veteran you know. I know what I am going to do. I shall start off by writing Larry Mitchell a letter of appreciation. I think I shall also make him a batch of cookies - every soldier needs a box of cookies in the mail.
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