My Vietnam war ended 44 years ago.  I have gray hair at one end and flat feet at the other, and perhaps you do, too!  But I don’t feel that old.  Still 19 inside.  Still marching off to see what battle is all about and if I’ve the courage to face it.

Today’s young soldiers look at me, bemused, expecting to see the fires banked.  A war they see as way back there in the Stone Age is nothing to be upset about this century.  They don’t understand that my war can never end.  Theirs may not, either.

There were as many Vietnam wars as there were soldiers and civilians to fight them.  A million wars a day, I figure, when I was there at the height of U.S. troop strength.  A million Yank, ARVIN, Aussie, Kiwi, ROK and Nung wars each day.

Plus the wars back home – of those who never fought.  Among them were the guys who ran away when the call came or hid out in college deferments or faked medical problems.  There also were those who had the moral courage to go to jail to protest what they saw as an unrighteous war.

All – all – were scarred in some way by Vietnam.

The war in Vietnam was a catalyst for much of what changed America in the 1960s, much of it good for the country.  It amplified calls for black liberation, for a new role in society for women, for a radical freedom for the energetic young.

Vietnam also changed the way Americans think about their government.  Looking back, it’s hard to believe the country was ever so naïve, but before the war we trusted our political leaders to do the right thing.

Scars and politics aren’t why the Vietnam war will never end.  It cannot end because I have in me what many other veterans feel – that thing Civil War veterans called “furious regret.”  Regret that we as a people failed ourselves and our dreams and what we hope is our better nature.  That we did the unnecessary thing and made a war that did not need to be fought.  When we could have taken a better, cleaner road.

A couple of years after I mustered out, I was in Paris, living lean, trying to become human again.  A veteran of France’s Indochina war stopped me on the street to demand money.  He was homeless, ragged, drunk, crazy.

“Give me money!” he said, “because I held the line against Communism before you stupid Americans even heard the word ‘Vietnam.’”

Yes, I thought, you held the line, but what line was that?  France lost its war.  The U.S. lost its war.  And there he and I were, two veterans adrift in a city that had forgotten the war and the soldiers sent to fight.  

I gave him money.  I gave him money less out of generosity than superstition – I had been where he had been and I didn’t want to be where he was now.  But there was something else.  I realized then that his war would never end – and neither would mine.

* By the way, if you’re a Vietnam vet, you know what this title means – hope, in a confusing and bitter place.

 

(c) 2014 Steven Hardesty

stevenhardestyOp-Edhollywood starlet,hope,vietnam warMy Vietnam war ended 44 years ago.  I have gray hair at one end and flat feet at the other, and perhaps you do, too!  But I don’t feel that old.  Still 19 inside.  Still marching off to see what battle is all about and if I’ve the courage...Recovering forgotten and overlooked military history