Ed White, Vietnam veteran
Edgewater, MD, USA
I arrived in Vietnam 2 months before my 19th birthday in January, 1969. Two days later I stood atop Hill 10 about 15 miles southwest of Danang and marveled at the spectacular beauty as a huge red sun set behind the Annam Mountains. Two days after that, I stood next to the shallow graves of 3 marines I'd known since boot camp. They had obviously been tortured for some time before they'd died. Sickened, we loaded their headless bodies into armored personnel carriers to begin the trip home to their families.
By the time I celebrated by 19th birthday I had watched as 30 more marines and many more Viet Cong were similarly sent home or perfunctorily buried were they lay.
Ten months later I woke up screaming from yet another nightmare while recuperating from heat stroke, malaria and shrapnel wounds at a Naval hospital in Japan. Doctors and nurses paid little attention to my screams. The ward was filled with armless, legless and mindless men all vocalizing their particular horror. Shortly after, I am told I have "recovered". I was sent home since I'd never be able to withstand the heat of Vietnam again.
Thirty-one years later I get up each working day and drive through the bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic to my job in Washington, DC. I have a wife, two ex-wives, two children, two cats and a townhome near the Chesapeake Bay. I've been a plumber, policeman, student, lobbyist, hippie, typographer and a manager of other workers. I pay my bills, watch baseball, mow my lawn, wash my car and do all the things every middle-class white American male does every day.
And, every day, without exception, I think about Vietnam. Sometimes I think about the people who live there or the awesome natural beauty. More often I think about the bugs, snakes, rats, vines, heat and pungent smell of decaying human flesh mixed with the diesel fuel used to purify with fire.
A part of me will always be in Vietnam. No amount of counseling or tears, no amount of memorials or parades, no amount of medals or "Thanks!" will erase the memories of a 19-year-old boy who went to a war and came back.