Wayward Son, Chapter 12
There are as many lessons and stories that came out of Vietnam as there are soldiers who went there. It remains a signature moment for my life. Until 9/11, America declined to send troops all over the world for insignificant political reasons. Now that lesson seems to have been forgotten. But I learned that dying isn’t to be feared. The accident that killed me also saved my life. The fact that it was in a jeep is an irony that hasn’t escaped me. The early Jews were right. So were the Buddhists and the Taoists. The god that can be talked about is not God. The hospital is where I really returned from Vietnam. There were a lot of casualties there with me. But the near destruction of my body made me face the loss of my soul and spirit. To get them back I had to figure out they were gone. Lots of guys had it worse than I did in Nam. I know. Some of them were in the hospital with me. Some, like me, made it back home. Some didn’t.
My fiancé dumped me the day of the accident, on the Ides of March. That turned out for the best as well. I needed more help to recover than she could ever give me. Eventually, I found a good woman. I was even smart enough to marry her. She ended up taking a lot of shit from me that didn’t belong to her. But she stuck by me and I am eternally grateful to her. Survivors of any disaster (and Vietnam certainly qualifies) always ask themselves the question why? And there is no answer. It’s dumb luck. Humans throw rocks down mountain slopes and create avalanches that wipe out herds of deer. Why does one animal die and another live? You can go crazy trying to figure out why. A lot of vets did. Even worse than dying is trying to live without knowing how to go on.
What keeps me going is the knowledge that at least I can ask the question. Alpha Battery’s courier can’t. It as simple as that. But I figure I owe it to him to not throw my life away. He’d trade places with me in a minute if he could. So would Jacob, who in that horrible instant, realized that blowing your head off is a stupid thing to do. The real burden of survivors is understanding that Vietnam was the real world. It’s suburban USA that is not real. The history of human life on earth is pain, death, and suffering. And fighting like hell to survive. That’s what made coming home so tough. This world is the one that isn’t real, not the one we left in Nam. We all have our breaking points. Reality catches up with everyone sooner or later. Pray that you will be ready.