35 years ago today
April 30th, 2010 by John Donovan
Thirty-five years ago today, I was an about-to-graduate high school senior. State wrestling champ, All-state football player, with a scholarship offer from the University of Missouri. Ready to move on to the next phase. I walked down the stairs to where my bedroom was, turned left, and the Auld Soldier was sitting on the couch, watching TV. He was four months away from retiring after 27 years, two wars, a Silver Star, BSM w/v, and seven Purple Hearts. He never noticed me. He was watching the news. He was watching the fall of Saigon, streaming into the family room. I just went to the couch, sat next to him, and took his hand and we watched. I've only one other time seen that look on his face. The morning Mom died. The ghosts in the room watched with us. For many of our readers, the Vietnam War is an item from the history books. For others, like me, it's a life event experienced at one degree of separation, others, at a somewhat greater remove. And for a not insignificant number of us - zero degrees of separation. Callow youth became grizzled vets well before their 21st birthday. It is that group I honor today. The ones among us who went there and have that t-shirt and polished the car with it many many times. You did your best with what you had. The failure lies rather farther up the chain. Perhaps as important - many of you made it your passion to insure that the newest group of grizzled vets didn't come home from their war to the same reception you got returning from yours. And as many if not more of you have spent many long hours, days, months, years and dollars taking care of your brothers and sisters who didn't come all the way home. Taking care of those the nation would rather have forgotten. I've read Frances FitzGerald's paean to the Viet Cong, Fire in the Lake. I still have the Auld Soldier's copy. During the Fall of Saigon, she was interviewed for the Union College student newspaper. FitzGerald won the Pulitzer Prize for her passionate embrace of the oppressed peasants simply striving for a better life free of imperialist hegemony, who apparently wanted nothing more than to establish a anarcho-syndicalist commune and take it upon themselves to take turns acting as a sort of executive officer for the week. She confidently predicted that the new, enlightened rulers of Vietnam would soon have free, multi-party elections. How'd that work out for you, Ms. FitzGerald? I'm not here to debate the ups and downs and rights and wrongs. I'm here to honor those among who went and came back. And, those who didn't. The ghosts on our shoulders. I have a few ghosts from that era too. This one's for you, too, Dad. Now is the time at the BurnPit when we dance: In Memoriam of the fallen of Vietnam. And those who have since gone down the road to meet their buddies at Fiddler's Green. John Donovan is a Legionnaire in the Department of Kansas. He blogs at Castle Argghhh!
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