During my 18-19th year on the planet I was in a place off a road described as “Street without Joy” and near the site of the famous stand of the dumbass leadership that placed marines, sailors, airmen, and troopers in harms way just so Johnson, Westy, Bob McNamara, and later Nixon could prove they had some balls at Khe Sanh. We defended a patch of beautiful tropical mountain ranges from an enemy we could not find unless he wished to be found. We trapped him with bombs and our allies, the brothers of the NVA and VC would let them go in the cowardice of the lame leaders of the ARVN. We poured millions of US gold backed dollars into a third world war at a level that by now we could have purchased a rice paddy, water bull, bamboo hut or houseboat sampan or both for every Asian we slaughtered by fault or proxy or direct intervention into their Buddhist belief system by helping the recycling process at an industrial level in our “Monroe Doctrine” and NATO agreements. We know where all the flowers have gone. We lost the best and brightest in our season of war, death, and destruction. Our smart, our rich may have bought a deferment or lucked out as they bent fate by their position in our culture. Some in a noble quest or Quixote like may have joined as many did to save the world from the red peril, or protect American virgins from foreign pillagers and fight ancestors of the yellow peril we have fought with so often and will again.
My job was varied. The Marines trained me as mos 2531, a field radio operator. When I was to be assigned overseas to the fleet they sent a few of us to mess duty and then to truck driver school. I got a military driver license up to 6×6 5 ton. During Operation Dewey Canyon I was told to guard and escort a Chaplin to a firebase as there were many casualties. I found the Father, a Navy Lt Cmdr. His utes all clean and untouched by the invasive red dust that underlies the valleys in the dry season, and turns to red clinging mud in the wet monsoon season. This was January 1969 and it was the season to kill and die young.
The hillside of the firebase was torn, the top of the mountain shaved off by explosives and like a few hundred others was nameless unless some gallant feat of arms awarded a firebase or obscure scene of a fight a name for history it would never have a name. The dark slick body bags were already laid out with the new dead in them, as soon as our chopper landed it took off with wounded that were queued up for a ticket home or patch up and back again. Trash and empty ammo boxes, c ration cans, littered the red clay and exposed rock. Smoke from small fires around the perimeter filled in where the fog met the top and fog made the place surreal. Our foes have a few bodies in the wire and these are fresh dead, flies crawling in the blown open flesh, smelling of blood and burned flesh. The serious Marine wounded were removed in the dark of the early morning by gunships bringing in ammo and fresh fodder for Mars. All the young and restless of this generation that saw a hope or chance or just a get out of town/nest/marriage/jail ticket in service to the nation or escape to a cooler frying pan or softer burning fire. The quick and the dead are evident. On this hill with rifle fire still cracking across the valley. I follow the Chaplin to some of the bodies, the good father walks around like he is at a Sunday dinner on the ground. He is smiling and handing out some hard candy and small bibles. I am supposed to unzip the bags and check for the tags each Marine is handed to wear on the chain around the neck and in the boot lace in combat. When the tag reads Catholic I am to call the padre over to give the soul forgiveness. I try to pray over each of them and can’t. I unzip your bag, yes yours, I signal to him. The priest touches the marines forehead just above the eyebrow line and dabs a spot of oil on the skin of the dead marine. The priest says a recited prayer and I am reminded of the song by the Animals, “Sky Pilot, how high can you fly?” There is a folded letter, bloodstained crumpled in the pocket of your jacket. I can see the address and today believe it is somewhere in Massachusetts. I pray we and your brothers will meet in the presence of God soon where we will be accountable for our lives to Jesus. Massachusetts, religion, war and this earth won’t matter.
I last saw you all tall and handsome at the prom, of course with the best looking girl. You were at the dance with her too, I saw you in the gym, you danced so close the teacher broke you up and you left with the girl. Now you lay in a foreign land soon to be in the cold, cold ground. The prowess you displayed on the ball field of youthful dreams is a moot point now as your muscled frame turns to putrid flesh. I watch as the padre touches your tanned face and I want to comb your hair out of your forehead. I see you are a Corporal and maybe you are allowed to grow long hair than a boot, still, it is way shorter than the back home Jodies that are taking your girl, job and car while you are here. You look to be asleep awaiting a lover’s caress and not the too little, too late watch care of a priest. We walked the earth as warrior kings but now we are no longer proud of our battles won for they are of no value in the “Big Picture”. You will look really good in your blues when the honor guard delivers the flag to your mom. They will fire the salute and go on to the next of the 58K+ and more as Satan tracks us down and destroys us with our due for sin in this body of pain. We all ate the slice of “American Pie” I will never forget your tanned youthful face, now marbled by cold and grey under the youthful blond stubble, your eyes were closed as you were asleep, your hands folded, dirty and cold white. Forever you will be the young Marine I think of when I pray to God and question Him, Why?
If we could skip your young death, if we were able to meet, if I could talk to you I would ask, Do you know Jesus? Do you love Jesus? You loved us enough to give your last full measure for our lost cause and your brothers. I would introduce you to the Jesus I know today, the forgiving, loving God of second chances. The God above all ritual, rules, and BS made up by men to control and manipulate people for power and money. I will continue to pray that our life is not in vain, that you and all my friends that lost so much in that war can know Jesus and forgive all our enemies, first ourselves and everyone else that has wronged us. Semper Fi!