We went to a Veterans Day Concert yesterday, and it was quite moving.
Before the music–60’s and 70’s (and some dancing)–started, there were a number of heartfelt speeches by distinguished veterans of the Vietnam War.
One lady was a nurse in Saigon working 16 hour days tending to the wounded and dying from the battlefield. She joined the army after 8 of her high school friends from her small hometown were killed in the war. The nurse told us how on the flight to Nam, they were told to look to the person on the immediate right and left of you, becuase one of you will not be coming home.
Another speaker was a special forces Army Ranger who was fighting in North Vietnam on very dangerous covert missions. He led many draftees, who he said had only minimal training, yet fought bravely on missions with bullets flying overhead and mortars and rockets pounding their positions. He described one situation where he knelt down to look at a map with one of his troops, and as they were in that psition half a dozen bullets hit into the tree right above their heads–if they had not been crouched down looking at the map, they would’ve both been dead.
A third speaker was a veteran who had been been hit by a “million dollar shot” from the enemy–one that didn’t kill or cripple him, but that had him sent him to a hospital for 4-6 weeks and then ultimately home from the war zone. He told of his ongoing activities in the veterans community all these years, and even routinely washing the Veteran’s Wall Memorial in Washington D.C.
Aside from the bravery and fortitude of all these veterans, what was fascinating was how, as the veterans reflected, EVERYTHING else in their lives was anticlimactic after fighting in the war. The nurse for example read us a poem about the ladies in hell (referring to the nurses caring for the wounded) and how they never talked about the patients in Nam because it was too painful, and when they returned home, they had the classic symptoms of PTSD including the hellish nightmares of being back there.
Indeed, these veterans went through hell, and it seems that it was the defining moment in (many if not most of) their lives, and they are reliving it in one way or another every moment of every day.
Frankly, I don’t know how they did it being dropped on the other side of the world with, as the special forces Vet explained, maps that only told you in very general terms wherer you even where, and carrying supplies for at least 3 days at a time of C-rations, water, ammo, and more–and with the enemy all around you (“there were no enemy lines in this war; if you stepped out of your units area, it was almost all ‘unfriendly.'”). One Vet said that if you were a 2nd Lt., like she was, your average lifespan over there was 20 minutes.
The big question before we go to war and put our troops in harms way is what are we fighting for and is it absolutely necessary. For the troops being sent to the battlezone, everything else is just anticlimactic–they have been to hell.
(Source Photo: Dannielle Blumenthal)