Monday, March 17, 2008


The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Moving Wall has come to Clovis, prompting our local newspaper editor to send out this question to his mailing list: Do you have any Vietnam memories you'd like to share? At first I thought that I was still not ready to talk about those years or share those memories. I have never been able to watch movies about that war, and it's such a hard time to talk about. However, after some sleepless hours, this is the answer I sent. The editor of the Clovis News Journal, David Stevens, posted it on his blog on 3/17/08.

This is a hard, hard question, both for those who went to war and for those who stayed behind. I was up in the night thinking of what to say. This is not the story of the boy I knew who, having been trained to kill, came back from the war and murdered some people in a bar in Colorado. This is not the story of another young man I knew who left his family and his country forever because he did not want to kill anyone. And it is not about the boy who didn't come back at all, and who is named on the Memorial Wall. This is about yet another boy I knew during those war years.


One of my friends went away to the Vietnam War right after high school. I went away to college. We had known each other since junior high and had even "gone steady" back then. We dated each other occasionally during high school, but it was never serious. We wrote letters back and forth all the time he was gone away to war. His letters started becoming romantic, and he began to write about "our" love and future marriage. I was puzzled because this intensity was sudden and seemed to come from nowhere but, inexperienced as I was, I understood that he needed to make some kind of plan for a future that he could imagine while he was experiencing the unimaginable. Our correspondence continued as long as he was in the Army. His letters were passionate and all about the life we would have together when he got back. Mine were matter of fact and about the daily details of life at home.

After his discharge he came home tense and exhausted in a way that was beyond my experience. We went for a long drive with another couple. We were in the back seat; it was warm and he nodded off. I watched him sleep and was thinking how good it was for him to get some rest, when a passing car backfired and he woke and went into a crouch, groping frantically for an imaginary weapon. I pressed against the opposite door, horrified by his fierce reaction and suddenly understanding more about his war in that moment than I had ever understood before. I was brokenhearted for the lost boy I had known.

His job during the war was being a gunner on a helicopter. When I asked him how he could do it, he said that you had to teach yourself to see the fleeing people as targets. Just targets.

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