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A Veteren's Shoes

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It’s wet here, humid; and hot, sweltering hot. My feet have been wrinkled and soaked for what feels like a year. Vietnam.

Why are we here, why do we have to be here? If it wasn’t for congress and their ‘containment’ policy, we wouldn’t. ‘We must stop the spread of communism for the common good.’ Not like it’s any of our business. There’s no reason we should be her; just because the French lost their colony, just because we’re afraid this place will turn ‘red’, it still doesn’t give us the right. This place is red enough with us here… The blood… So much blood. I’ve watched so many of my buddies bleed out here. “Tell my wife I love her,” “Tell my folks I’m sorry.” I can’t stand it.

“Hendricks, pay attention!” the man beside me hisses, “Charlie’s ‘round here som’where, I know it.”
Private Second Class Joe Johnson, J.J., or just Jay for short; he’s been here with me since I got to ‘Nam. He’s a good guy, blunt though, rude even, but a good guy. He’s always talking about being prepared for t he enemy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone with that much of a will to live.
I straighten up a bit, testing my grip on the M16 in my hands. I scan the foliage around me, searching for hostiles. Vietcong, N.V.A., anyone who may shot at us. Charlie is everywhere it seems. The Cong have some trail somewhere, Ho Chi Minh or something like that. They just move supplies around, going North to South, even into Cambodia. Anywhere you step could be an ambush.
You know, we almost didn’t even have to be here. There were supposed to be elections soon, the people of Vietnam were going to choose their leaders. ‘Course, some of them were communist, can’t have that now, can we? So we just waited for an excuse to fight. Then the Gulf of Tonkin happened, someone fired on one of our ships, not even anything that could do damage. So then the government authorizes the Resolution, and we’re off to war. Then the Draft comes, and me and my brother are sent to this Hell. A couple buddies of mine managed to get out of it, one went off to college, and the other went and fled the states. I aint expecting to see him again.
We’re coming up on a village. Kids stare at us with frightened eyes and the adults just ignore us, although I think I see an angry look or two. I’m glad for the freedom from the trees, if it is only short lived. I have to keep alert. Any one of these villagers could be an insurgent. And I sure don’t want to end up dead.
I’ve been hearing some rumors here and there… Apparently, back home, people are getting tired of the war. They don’t know the half of it, but after the TET offensive, it’s about time people woke up. My mom sent me a letter, just got it the other day. They say some college kids were protesting at Kent State, I think. National Guard gets called; they ended up opening fire and killing some of ‘em. And now everyone is crying about how tragic it is. Yet no one is that heartbroken over us out here. They need to get us out. I’m not sure how much more of this place I can take. We’re just throwing our lives away for no reason.
There’s a commotion ahead of me, a loud crack and yelling as men dive down behind cover. Someone has opened fire on us. That thought had just run through my head as the right side of my chest explodes in searing pain and sends me to the ground. I look up, in shock, someone yells ‘Medic!’, and I can’t breathe. It all happens so slowly, yet so fast. Shots being fired, men falling down, bullets whizzing all around. I’m dragged into a hut, and the last thing I see is a man with a red cross on his helmet, mouthing something along the lines of ‘You’re gonna be alright’. Then everything goes black.
**********

When I wake up, I’m in a makeshift hospital in a MASH unit. Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals. I in bandages and it appears as if I’ve been operated on. After a few weeks, I’m released. By that time, Congress had repealed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. It wasn’t long before most of us were sent State-side. Meanwhile, Vietnam still burned, the North and South refusing to declare peace. Its a few years before the South surrenders. About 1975. They say over 50,000 Americans were killed, and over 2 million Natives. All in a war that we were doomed to lose from the start.

And so now I stand here at the Wall. The monument to the fallen. I run my hand over various names, finding a few I recognize. My hand stops on one in particular. Joe Johnson. And I cry. It seems even the most alert, the most prepared, are unsafe in war.



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