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Rushing as a violent swell out of the calm sea of normal sleep, I suddenly found myself unknowingly in a dreamland. But not the kind of dreamland that most kids dream: candycanes, gumdrop roofs on gingerbread houses. This place I entered I surely would have termed a nightmare on most occasions, but the reality of this dream over my senses like a blanket over a young infant led me to believe its true existence - almost as a memory. And memory it was, but not my own; one of another man - the senses of my grandfather fell upon me in this dream, or nightmare, (I'm not so sure of its true nature) in a circumstance joyful to no one.
"What do you mean goodbye??" I inquired, taking quick hold of my surroundings. I didn't understand why my grandfather and I, who seemed to be one of his buddies, were leaving the family I recognized from pictures alone – too distant to recollect.
"Son, it's about time we packed up and moved out." He said with great difficulty; I knew that this point was hard for him - leaving his family. But I had no idea just how severe this was.
" Well when will we be back?" I asked this not at all expecting what I was to soon hear.
“ Who knows? I hope very soon, but Vietnam ain’t the most forgiving of places to be, son.” I stood awestruck and speechless through the eternal journey to this unforgiving place. The feelings he felt: the surrealism, the pain and longing, all passed to me down generations and flesh and blood. The sights he saw, I saw in the flesh, the chills he felt went scurrying like chilling rats in my curdling blood. And we had only begun our journey to the true location of hell on earth.
When we arrived at the airport, the mind-emptying stress relieved from flight was soon replaced by the hope-emptying fear of one chilling sign. It read
“THERE AIN’T NO WAY” (2)
I turned to one of the ranking officers near me and asked what the sign referred to, already dreading the demolition of any positive hope left at the time. He simply laughed and sealed my fears as reality.
“ There ain’t no way you’re getting home.” (2) He replied, extending a ladder of distance and unfamiliarity to an unknown place – miles away from the boundaries of my real life. We headed to the hooch, a barracks, scared to death but inasmuch not scared enough of what put us in danger right under our noses.
Upon our arrival at the barracks, we went through the process of setting and doling out the little equipment and ammunition we had. And as we walked to our quarters, my grandfather broke his stride in a way that rivaled the breaking of mountains, and what caught his eye soon caught mine and wouldn’t let go, no matter how much I wished to be released. He saw what I now understand as the chief marker of the Vietnam War.
“Oh my God.” The only time, dream or otherwise, I’d heard him speak such language; because what marks the Vietnam War is casualty. I saw wounded men carted in by the dozens, with shrapnel lodged here and there and bullet wounds that make you believe that sign at the airport. These men I saw may add to the 46,000 that never returned home, and those that did would add to the 300,000 that returned wounded, some unable to work and unsupported by the government. (4) But it wasn’t just our men hurt. As I looked out into the forest, I saw hundreds of bodies that weren’t being helped, that weren’t being extracted to return home injured, they would die there with one common name as their reference: Charlie.
“That was awful” I murmured to my grandfather as we entered our quarters. “How can President Johnson not grasp the concept that we are in over our heads?”
“None of us know entirely” He replied with a sigh. “I mean, we are so highly outnumbered… I don’t know if we even have any chance of success in these years. He hasn’t moved to support or pull us out at any time.”
I replied, shocked, “He has shown so much indecision and incompetence in the war. I can’t understand why h-“ (5)
I never finished that remark. Rockets and mortar rounds bombarded our base, and my grandfather and I quickly ran to the underground bunker as we knew to, remembering that sign telling us there was no way back, only to soon realize that we were the only ones there. Back on the surface we asked,
“How come we were the only ones in the bunker?”
And the laughing and answer was seamless and unanimous. It simply wasn’t a fear anymore. The rockets crashing like rippling breakers of rock in my mind behind us had no bearing on the soldier’s actions.
“If you can hear it, it’s already too late anyway.” A soldier retorted. (2)
And he was right. I heard a mortar shell whistling close over us, and I caught it.
Racing away to the airport in a Medevac, I thought that maybe there wasn’t a way home. The shattered remains of my leg were strewn about like the uncalculated puzzle of a dream I was in. However, things turned worse. The airport was ambushed by a group of Vietcong, and we had to turn away from the airport to ‘safety’ or whatever that means in that war. I shuddered in fear as I realized that there may not be a way back through the other direction of the airport, leaving Vietnam, never freed of my paralyzing pessimism and fear to turn around behind me; I might have seen the other side of the depression and angst I was facing on the proverbial other side of the sign, which read:
“THERE IS A WAY” (2)
John Sydney Davis returned home after his service in Vietnam unharmed,
unbroken, and able to return to his family and a prosperous life.
Buckley Jr., William F. “Dancing in the Dark.” National Review 27 May 1977. MAS Ultra - School Edition. EBSCO. Colorado Academy Raether Library, Lakewood, CO. 16 Apr. 2008
Davis, John Sydney. Telephone interview. 17 Apr. 2008.
Krepon, Michael. “Weapons Potentially Inhumane: The Case of Cluster Bombs.” Foreign Affairs Apr. 1974. MAS Ultra - School Edition. EBSCO. Colorado Academy Raether Library, Lakewood, CO. 16 Apr. 2008
Marshall, Eliot, and Tom Geoghegan. “Calculating the Costs.” New Republic 10 Feb. 1973. MAS Ultra - School Edition. EBSCO. Colorado Academy Raether Library, Lakewood, CO. 16 Apr. 2008
Morgenthau, Hans J. “The New Escalation in Vietnam.” New Republic 20 May 1972. MAS Ultra - School Edition. EBSCO. Colorado Academy Raether Library, Lakewood, CO. 16 Apr. 2008