Da Nang

Da Nang (Prop N): a seaport in central Vietnam.

In my mind’s eye, it is the responsibility of a writer to share what he or she feels, not just what is known to be true.

I don’t personally know anything about Da Nang.

Although the Vietnam War was ending as my viability for soldiering was nearing, I followed it like every other American—quietly and reverently watching the body bags of our young men return from a conflict we were realizing more and more had been birthed in lunacy.

Actually, there’s only one specific memory I have of Da Nang.

Da Nang was and ever will be associated with a fellow named Bobby.

Bobby was a nineteen-year-old Gospel-quartet-singing acquaintance who, because he was nineteen, had great fervor for the music and not so much reverence for the rules and regulations of the religious kingdom of the day.

He drank a little bit, he cussed a lot, he laughed more than he cried, and he chased girls until he finally caught a few.

He was delightful to be around and might have been considered a hypocrite had it not been for the fact that when he sang the tunes of the cross and the anthems of the resurrection of Jesus, he expressed the sincerity of an angel.

He was a believer.

He not only believed in God and shaped notes from a Gospel song, but he also believed in America.

It would never have crossed his mind to duck his responsibility to his country, even when that burden landed in his mailbox as a draft notice, to serve the nation in a bloody police action worlds away.

Bobby received his notice in March.

He was off to basic training in late April.

He was home for a short leave in early June.

He was shipped to Da Nang in Vietnam by July 4th.

And he came home in a box by Halloween.

That’s how I remember Da Nang—Bobby, with his chubby, silly grin, wearing a cheap, bright-colored polyester suit, singing Wouldn’t Take Nothin’ for my Journey, Now with a tear running down his cheek.

The history books cite the progress of nations by wars and innovation.

But as human beings, we reminisce the passing of time by those who have warmed our hearts.

 

Brigadier

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Brigadier: (n) a rank of officer in the army, above colonel and below major general.

Sometimes foolishness gets a pass, but it has to be legitimate foolishness. Dictionary BI’m talking about that fresh kind that just slipped out of your stupid brain because of your ignorance. If you’ve done foolishness before, you can’t claim that it’s “innocent foolishness.”

I did a foolish thing.

I was so young, self-inspired and full of false confidence that life decided not to punish me for my presumption.

My younger brother decided to join the army. Considering he had never even played with army men and walked with the sensitivity of a marshmallow, the idea was ludicrous. But it was in full swing before any of us realized that he had sauntered off to be a soldier.

The first we knew of it was upon receiving a call from basic training, where he pleaded for us to “get him out of there”–or he was going to commit suicide.

Now, I can discuss with you the unfairness of him placing me in that situation, but instead, I will tell you that in an attempt to be a good big brother, I called the army base where he was doing his imitation of G.I. Joe, and talked to a Brigadier General. Now, I don’t know exactly what a Brigadier General is, but it sounds a whole lot more important than me.

For some reason, he took my call. I don’t know why. Maybe he was just a nice guy. Maybe he couldn’t believe that someone was asking for his younger brother to be released from basic training.

His first inclination was to laugh at me. After all, you can’t maintain a volunteer army while promising a money-back guarantee. If everyone who was displeased with the accommodations at “Fort Kick Your Ass” was released immediately, we wouldn’t have enough soldiers to march in a small-town parade.

So on the first call he chuckled.

On my second call, he took the fatherly approach, explaining how the military works.

On the third call he appealed to my patriotism.

On call 54, he asked me if I knew how powerful he was.

But somewhere along the line, on the 93rd call, he paused. This is what the Brigadier asked me:

“You’re going to keep calling me until we release him, aren’t you?”

I replied, “You can just stop taking my calls.”

“Then I would have a suicidal assistant to deal with,” he presented.

I really don’t know what happened.

I don’t know if what I said made any difference at all.

But this fine Brigadier General realized that I was sincere and that my brother was not even suited to the rigors of being a back-up in the chorus line.

They released him.

It was a miracle.

But actually, it was an expansive piece of grace … granted by a man who was trained to be ruthless.

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Armed Forces

dictionary with letter A

Armed forces: (n) a country’s military forces, especially its army, navy, and air force.

I came of age in a time when joining the armed forces produced the great possibility of returning home in a body bag.

It was not very appealing–especially since I was surrounded by friends and peers who abhorred a war where other friends and peers were going–and disappearing from memory like a puff of smoke.

So even though I am greatly appreciative of those who serve our country in the military and I understand the concept, I find it difficult to celebrate any evil, even if it’s a necessary one.

Killing people is deadly, whether it’s in defense of the innocent or to follow the maddening instructions of a crazed dictator.

I know that philosophically and spiritually, there is a distinction. But since I have been around human carnage in my lifetime and can still recall the smell of blood, my stomach becomes a little queasy when too many flags are waved and too many young men and women march off for a cause.

I look for that ground where I can stand, which permits me to support the troops without ever supporting the wars. Most people will not grant me such turf. No, I must applaud the death and destruction along with the dedication and determination.

It leaves me in a quandary.

When I was a young man I had a friend named Bob who, within a two-month period, received his draft notice, went through basic training and died in battle.

It shouldn’t be that easy to kill someone. It should take more than sixty days, don’t you think?

So chalk me up as one who is tearfully appreciative of the service of my fellow-Americans as they guard against tyranny–but also as one who will struggle against another war.

 

 

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