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  Revisiting Vietnam American RadioWorks
     
  Vietnam Scrapbook
     


Jim Barns
Charlottesville, Virginia, United States

In recent years I have learned the story of a Vietnam vet. He went in at 18, an hometown boy who rarely been outside of his county, let alone to Asia. He was a combat medic and went through horrendous experiences. And his life since has been very troubled; many jobs, a broken marriage and a psyche that is continually triggered by nightmarish memories and that is very wary of getting close. He says that his life was saved by finally opening up to a counselor at a local Viet vet center. The latter turned out to have been a combat medic also.

My friend and I are just a year apart in age. I was a very unstable youth (bipolar) and I did have one of those letters from a Doctor. It helped me get through the Oakland Induction Center gauntlet. I feel no guilt, I was not fighting material and I was against that terrible war. But, I do feel for my friend and all those other guys delivered on that bus to Oakland. I am sure that some of them were just as weak and vulnerable as I.

My connection with Jim has echoed a friendship I had 30 years ago with a Marine viet vet. We mowed lawns in Naples,Fla. and from time to time he spoke of the war. He disclaimed bad effects for him but to me he seemed adrift. He was a sensitive guy who simply had joined up for the usual John Wayne macho reasons.

One story he told really stuck and for me has always epitomized the wrongness of that endeavor. At lunch he and his fellow Marines would look out at lake. Each day an elderly man would come poling out in his boat to fish. He'd done it for decades and probaly generations before. Paul found beauty and grace in the act and the culture it represented. One day a soldier with the casualness of reaching for another Marlboro took his rifle, sighted and dropped the old fisherman in the water. Noone said anything but the incident certainly had resonancce with Paul.

I visited Paul a few years later in another city. He was very appreciative of my visit and I have always regretted not staying long instead of rushing off to a no-account event. He seemed to have gone down. I have tried to find Paul Crow (originally from Jacksonville, Fla.) but have had no luck. Maybe this will lead to him.

Needless to say, I have a great awareness of the walking wounded. I won't go into all the reasons why some could carry on fine after such an experience there and here, but they are cogent. I am also in touch with the Vietnamese people, who have been mostly overlooked (asounding considering what bullets, bombs, agent orange and other war atrocities did to them). That My Lai incident in Platoon nailed it for me, like the above recollection.

The above are very personal prospects but my feelings are just as strong for the big picture. Back then, I was a very backward sort, just keeping my head above the water. Thirty years later I am much stronger and surer and my righteous rage about that war only grows. If I at 53 was projected back then I think that I would have had to do more than just march a few times in Washington.

One of my heroes is George McGovern. He, a bomber pilot in WWII flying 35 missions over one of the most harrowing routes, was asked what was the toughest thing he ever had to do. "When I walked out onto the floor of the U.S. Senate to oppose the was in Viet Nam. I shook." Any regrets?

"That I didn't speak up sooner and louder."

   

 

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