David L Johnson, Vietnam veteran
Forman, North Dakota, USA
What follows is an excerpt from my story posted under Atheism
at http://freethoughtforum.org/. I was a medic with the 2nd Battalion
1st Marine Regiment in Vietnam. This was one of my religious experiences
in Vietnam. I have not been able to handle religion in any degree
since. Up until Vietnam I was a Lutheran.
The real shock came in October of 1967 however, an event that
was to change my life forever. We were coming out the canopy west
of Quang Tri when our company was ambushed by a well concealed,
unknown size enemy force. In a matter of three minutes, we had
lost our inter second platoon, much of the third platoon, and
a portion of our command group. As the forward corpsman, I found
myself going back along the trail to aid whoever I could. It became
clear however that where the help was really needed was in the
rear where the second platoon was nothing but a pile of bleeding
In the training that I had received to that point, in the case
of mass causalities, the people that are cared for first are the
people who have the best chance of survival. Those are the ones
whose bleeding can be stopped fast and are able to be moved. So
it was those that I focused my attention on. I did notice however
this one marine upside down, stuck in the brush like a yard dart.
He was missing both legs from the hips down. He laid there with
his bare flesh exposed like a piece of meat in a grocery story
oozing blood. I gave him up for dead only to have him pop up alive
in my arms, later. “Where the Hell have you been?” he asked. It
was a Marine I knew. The guilt I experienced was crushing. I had
no idea that he would still be alive and the fact that I knew
this person was even worse. He had been waiting for me. And I
let him down. He wanted to know how the others were doing. Clearly
he had no idea just how bad things were. The others, being his
comrades and friends, were largely dead - so I lied. I told him
they were doing fine. And he would be too. Everything would be
just fine. But I knew he wouldn’t be just fine. I was out of all
my first aid material. My morphine was gone. He was on his own,
bleeding uncontrollably, dying in my arms.
Then the conversation took what I thought was a strange turn.
I knew this man believed in God so I was expecting a prayer or
something when he muttered something about God. But what I got
was questions like “Why did God allow this to happen to him?”
He was a good Christian. How is it God did not intervene on his
behalf? Why did God have it in for him? I was stunned. I did not
know what to say so I didn’t say anything. I just held him, and
rocked him, until he died. But the thoughts that were going through
my mind sent cold shutters to my inter most core. Not only was
this man dying, he was dying believing that God had abandoned
him, that God did not care about him, that God felt he was not
worth saving. I could not imagine anything more horrible. I could
not think of a worse way to die. Never had I seen religion from
this negative perspective. Never had I ever turned the “God loves,
protects, and cares for us” coin over, until this very moment,
to see what was on the other side. And here it was.
I do not remember much after that. All I know is the sun went
down and the sun came up. I do not remember if it was a dream
but it seemed real. I felt I left my body that evening and for
whatever reason ended up in the past, overlooking the fires of
Gettysburg, before the first shot was fired. I’m not even going
to try figure out what that meant, if it meant anything, or if
it was even real. All I know is when I awake, or returned, or
regained my sanity, everything was different.
The world had taken on a whole new meaning. I no longer believe
that the world was put here for however man decides to use it.
The purpose man assigns to the world is self driven, largely from
his self-centeredness. It does not come from God. All was not
right with the world, the world and life in it needs help which
can only come from careful research and knowledgeable decisions.
There is no guiding divine hand watching out over us. Work is
not a curse. Work may be something that I must endure as a result
of social norms and pressures but I won’t go to Hell if I refuse
to. And the rulers who rule over me were not ordained by God.
And there is no life after death, thus if I suffer in the present,
I suffer in the only existence that I will ever know. Religion
for me is over. I have been to religion’s darkest pit and never
want to go back again. The chains were broken. I was free.