Wednesday, October 27, 2010

some thoughts on turning 60 on 28 October 2010

Tomorrow I will be 60. It's hard to believe. I don't
feel anywhere near it.

When I was 18 I did not know if I would survive
the night(more than one) in the A Shau valley,
in Vietnam.

I have had to live with something that happened there.
And, I've felt the pain of that night ever since.

I survived nightly sapper attacks-suicide bombers. They
were freedom fighters. During one of those attacks two Marines
came running towards our bunker in the dark of the jungle night
screaming ‘the gooks(I don’t use such words; it's what they said)
are all around us…we’re gonna die’. They were terrified. My team
leader, Chief, (a Seminole Indian who once saved my life, and thus
his own:-) and I covered their mouths, and drew our knives to silence
them. I looked 360 degrees every few seconds. I put my K-Bar
(combat knife) to my man’s throat while Chief whispered, “Shut the
F*ck up. Get back to your bunker. Keep your head down and eyes and
ears open…and don’t bring them over here!”

They ran back afraid of us. I had given my man a look meant to
scare him far worse than what had just terrified him. It was a
stone cold look. He wasn't seeing a human being, but someone scary. It wasn’t that
I had no fear, but panic is deadly at those times. Somehow, I was
always able to suppress the fear, because I had to be alert...or
I'd be dead.

We only had seconds. It wasn’t the first time that we had drawn knives
to quiet Marines in panic on that hill. We evacuated our bunker; it was
unsafe by then, and went uphill a bit, and hid behind a large tree with
bushes. Within minutes those two Marines were screaming in the agony of
their last seconds of life. An NVA (North Vietnamese Army regular) sapper
was knifing them in their bunker to prevent their escape before his satchel detonated killing all three.

It was horrible to listen to. They were begging, and one cried aloud ‘Oh God’
just as the satchel detonated. His scream pierced the whole night...A loud explosion…an eerie silence, and the night was just beginning. This is a bit of
what I did, experienced and saw when I was 18; just a boy. War is not noble;
it is horrible and criminal. It leaves civilians and combatants traumatized
for life...and trying to make sense out of their lives.

Those Marines were 50 feet away; then we were 100 feet from the nearest bunker.
We were at one extreme flank of the ridge, and survived that night with a K-Bar
in one hand, and a grenade in the other. Much of that and other nights are completely blacked out.

In the morning my Plt. Sgt gave me some rags and asked me to clean the bunker.
He said 'We got two new men coming in on the copter, and we don’t want them to
see it like that.’ I was his radioman. There were three in the 4-5 months before
I humped(carried) it. dead, wounded, and dead; radiomen are a snipers favourite target. I survived many.

I entered the bunker with too few rags to wipe up blood, bits of bone, flesh
and insides…from top to bottom, and on every wall and crevice. I started to
break down before I was half ways done. I told myself 'You can't do this.' I
said it twice, and stopped the tears. I didn't want to break down like i'd
seen others. But, to me, what was worse was that another Marine might see that
I was or had been crying. what a thing to worry about.

In boot camp, and infintry training they don't teach, or tell you that you
might have to put a knife to another man's throat when he's in panic, or
breaking down from the terror. Had I been there longer...i don't like to
think about it. In training they also don't have classes on how to wipe up
human remains. To tell Marines in training those two things...would sort of
put a damper on their eagerness for combat.

But, those two men, and everything that happened on that ridge-Fire Support
Base (FSB-twas LZ[landing zone] to me) Cinnungham is with me every day and
night. We sent them back; we had no choice. I survived, but others died.

During my medevac to the Third Medical (Med) Battalion (Batt) in Quang Tri
our copter set down at a distant fire base for 10 minutes. While waiting in
a mist I saw body bags stacked up like cordwood four to five rows high
awaiting their final journey home. They were laid out on the tarmac maybe
20 yards long. I stopped counting at 240. I felt numb and completely dead

I got out of the Marines on 11 May 1970, and no amount of alcohol would
obliterate what I had seen, done and experienced. A measure of the effects
of Vietnam on me is that I have almost always carried a backpack for most
of the 40 years since I came home. My bed blanket is a green and black
sleeping bag; camaflauge colours. I put it away when with a woman.

My government treated combat trauma in and after WWII and the Korean War,
and in subsequent wars. Vietnam veterans were left on our own. There are
over 58,000 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington,
D. C. But, over 100,000 have taken their own life since returning from
Vietnam. And, since 2004 or 06(?) at least 18 veterans commit suicide
each and every day. The VA (Veterans Administration) doesn’t factor in
those who died in car accidents while speeding, or other forms of suicidal behaviour. I call 18 deaths a day an epidemic.

Yet, God has blessed me. I survived. I know that there is a God, and in
Vietnam there was 'Chief' (Paul) for when God was too busy to save

When I came home I felt like (as someone said) 'an old man in a young man's
body.' Like in my 50's at 19, 20, and 21...somehow it changed and, since
then I've always felt and acted younger than my age. Some women think I'm 48
50...until I tell them.

I have been blessed by God to have gone to war twice, and not hurt, or be
mean to a civilian. But, I was part of a brutal occupation force.

I have been blessed to have been married(there were as many bad as good
times-and i'm glad to be divorced...and will meet the right person).

I am blessed to have had two wonderful children, Kyle and Nora. I almost
delivered my daughter with a male nurse, but thankfully Doctor Vivian
Hernandez(?) came in just in time.

I have been blessed to be born in Boston (what better accent?
Cork:-) To have lived in Vermont, Ireland, and the Netherlands.

To have visited Nova Scotia (birthplace of my paternal grandfather),
and Ireland (I had three Irish grandparents).

To have visited España (Barcelona (three times), Granada ( la Alhambra, Ronda,
Girona, Cadiz,(Playa de Cadiz, Catedral de Cadiz, Plaza de Mina),
Sevilla and Sitges. Me encanta Barcelona y Granada; No sé que me
gusta más

To have lived in and visited Amsterdam, Haarlem and Zaandam,
and have been to Leiden, Den Haag, Utrecht (love them), Rotterdam,
Arnhem,and Nijmegen.

To have visited Antwerp, Leige and Bruxelles (Brussels).

To have seen the beauty of Paris, the Seine, the Musée d'Orsay,
The Louvre, the Ile de la Cité(and a lovely Tunisian cookie shop),
Notre Dame (the Catholic Church sold postcard inside that I could
get much cheaper on the street-the Church is a business), the Eiffel
Tower, and much much more.

I loved Nîmes, and Carcassonne, and also saw a bit of Montpellier.

I was blessed to visit Köln Cologne-a favourite city of mine),
and Düsseldorf Koblenz, and stood at the place where the Rhine
and the Moselle river merge(it was at night)

And I hope to see much more

I have been blessed with good health (mostly) and good friends,
and a wicked sense of humour...sometimes that has gotten me into
trouble (I apologize to all those Marines who I woke up between
3-6 am, when I came in and deliberately turned on the lights to
wake every poor fella up; except for those dead drunk[I was pissed
drunk] and then said that I had a message from the LT (Lieutenant)...
and that they only had one, two or three hours till wake go
back and get some sleep while they had a chance:-)

To Dave O'C i'm sorry...I apologize and I'll never that again...I
doubt that we'll ever be in the same class, but I wouldn't do it.

And I've endless curiosity.

And, when I've felt down and at my lowest I know that I'll feel
better when I have a cup of coffee. The best place now is 'Cork
Coffee Roasters.'

So, if I awake tomorrow I will thank God, or inshaallah,
and pray that I get my novel out this year....and give thanks
for what I have seen, experienced and survived.

Some of the pivotal things that happened to me in war
are on my blog under these two titles.

These two below are on my blog
‘The Girl I Met on Christmas Day 1968-Da Nang’

‘What War Is and Does to People:
'The Girl I met on Christmas Day’ Dan Nang 1968’.

Bless you all

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