Michael Shearin, Vietnam veteran
Columbia, Missouri, US
The following was written a few years ago for, and published in, the newspaper of the Missouri State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America.
NOT IN VIETNAM WITH SGT. MIKE
Wandering through the trails and paddy dikes of memory, there's recollections too numerous to
repeat, even with folks of common experience. Even so, solitude brings them back with more
vividness than anything Hollywood could come close to duplicating.
There were times, when remembering was torture. The harder you tried to forget, the more you
forgot to remember, to forget! It came back anyway, in bits and pieces of reality inter-mixed with what you prayed would never happen. Some of it did...some of it didn't. In the realm of dreams, day and night, no one knows the difference. At least one thing is true, a lingering wish more could have been done, and it's corresponding regret that it wasn't.
Solitude is different from loneliness. Solitude is peaceful. Loneliness is agony. But wouldn't it be nice if feelings were so crisply simple?... unclouded?... singular? Another truth is, they rarely happen like that.
Do you remember that day? You know the one. There was only one like it...the one when the
last, final bird of freedom, came to take you away... to the land of Calgon Bouquet, where things smelled sweet and folks never wore anything green! Some of us had, (you know, the jokers who, for one reason or another, did more than one tour), several... maybe! But there was really only one...the last one.
Marines, at least in '68, called it "ROTATION DATE", almost as if we'd been sitting on
something for the last 13 months! Everybody else called it "DEROS", at least that's the way it
seems now a days. It kind of reminds you of some ancient Greek mythological something or other! Even if it did, or would have back then, it couldn't compete with what we were sure to find back in the REAL WORLD! So much for expectations!
Standing alone in the hooch, the temperature somewhere near or above 100, bags packed and the
rest of your personal gear already shipped, there's a numbness that hits you harder than anything you've known before, or since. Not even the time the [enemy] hit the bomb dump couldn't compare with the impact, nor the time(s), years later, you came home to an empty house and realized it's over for good. Yup, it's over, and like other members of our select fraternity, little sisters and all, will echo, "over, and over, and over", but...it wasn't good.
In the silence between slow ponderous steps, the only sound you were aware of was the grit of
the sand grinding between the plywood floor and your shoes. "Shoes Sarge?" "Ya Dopey! Dress Shoes. You're not supposed to travel in jungle utilities, fatigues, B.D.U.'s or what ever you're supposed to call 'em! Hell, They even got my flack jacket & helmet. I got no gun [the issued one], no grenades, knife, bayonet, bullets... NOTHING!" "Gee Sarge, no wonder you feel weird!"
That might have had something to do with it, not much, but a little perhaps. Somehow, you're
going to miss this place. As much as you want to leave, there's a desire to return, someday... when
the war's over. It's hard to admit, but you'll miss it and the guys you've been privileged to know.
Dilly, Lawlor, Pee Wee, Topfer, Cooley, Schuler, Jones [both of them!], Brother Dave, Skee [his
real name had so many Z's, S's, Y's and a few other letters, Skee was all anyone could remember,
let alone pronounce!], Mike Nelson [we called him something that sounded like Sea Hunt, but not
exactly!], Pat, and last but not least, Tex [every unit had one!]. All these guys, and more, made a big impression on you. Sad to say, only recently could their names be recalled. Glad to say, some people are never completely forgotten.
In the hooch, you swore you'd never forget these times. Back in "The World", considering the
welcoming committee's reception in your honor, [or lack of it] your vow got lost, along with your brains, in the pile of bottle caps and empty sandwich baggies that served to medicate your shame. Oh, you wanted to be proud... of your survival, if nothing else. Even that escaped, considering the friends you used to have, donated more than you. Those who took their place, somehow couldn't. If you knew then, what you know now....! In spite of all the speculation, it wouldn't change a thing.
Well, if your head really isn't screwed on straight, maybe it's a good thing the skipper didn't let you go on the last patrol. It would have been one of the few daytime operations. Most were at night, which deprived you of an opportunity to get even a really good "farmer's" tan. Working during the day, either indoors, or out driving a jeep or truck, made you look lopsided (tan on the left side), or bleached out entirely! If it weren't for some of that bottled stuff that tans with or without sunlight, you'd really look silly, or at least sillier than the orangish stuff that showed between your fingers! Is vanity a sign of mental illness?
Still standing in the hooch, the memory of how you got here floods over the bow like the waves
of that typhoon your ship skirted around. You had your 20th birthday on that ship, somewhere in
the Pacific. Pacific...Where'd they ever get a name like that? Did you know it's supposed to mean
peaceful? They should have called it "Skitzo" for the crazy way it changes from boring to gut
During more calm and quiet episodes, especially at night, in the dark privacy topside, you could
almost feel the presence of those who've gone before. There was no way to tell for sure, but for a few split seconds, only glancing off your ears, the faintest of whispers let you know "it's your turn". Not bothering to turn around, you knew no one was there. Still, there was a sense of communion with the warriors of years gone by.
This last day in "The Nam", that presence is felt once again. There are no whispers. No words
are spoken to you. Aside from a warm breeze that whistles quietly through the screens, the only
sound heard is your own voice choking out "well, this is it!".
Without warning, "Sergeant!" breaks the calm. Turning sharply, pulse and respiration up and a
qweezieness in the bowel and bladder, there stands a freckle faced PFC, outside the door.
"Where the Hell did you come from?" "I was sent to take you to the airstrip. You ready to go?"
Grabbing your gear he's told "sure". Inside the real answer remains,... "not really".