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The American Man
In society, people interact with each other on a regular basis and yet never know that person they say hi to every time when they walk in for work, or sit next to in class. We think we know them, but only the person they are in public is what we see.
My boss, who I have worked for more than two years, is a regular 60 year old guy with wife and sons, who owns a bar and works for a living. I interviewed him, because I knew he was a Vietnam veteran and diffidently would have lived a crazy life. I just never knew the extent of it…
Chris Graham, officer of one of the deadliest platoons in South Vietnam fighting guerilla warfare, ended his military career with five bronze metal stars, the forth highest metal that can be achieved in ground infantry.
Before the military, Chris showed high expectations in high school as well. He went to Pewaukee High School and there he played football. Being All-State, All county, MVP, he had a bright future in football later on. After his last game of the season senior year, his coach asked him what schools he was going to apply for knowing he would get in with a scholarship. Chris replied, “I’m not going to school, I’m going to Vietnam, because I want to see if I can handle it.”
The way Chris put it; he wanted to go into combat all his life. Being the big tough, courageous man he was, he gave up possible fame and fortune to prove he was strong enough to handle combat.
In March 1968, he was sent off to training camp in South Carolina were “they trained you as if you were going to die everyday, hour and second,” Chris said. But after 28 weeks of rigorous training, he was sent off to the battle of his life.
What you hear from t-v shows, documentaries, and books does not compare to any interview with man willing to share every detail of hell. He began with the statement, “we were built as machines, trained to kill. The only mission assigned in our squad was search and destroy.”
The first day out their, he was assigned officer of the deadliest platoon in South Vietnam. The soldiers he controlled had been out there for more than seven months while he only had one day. On that day his squad crossed a log over a river and a bomb blew up, exploding a soldier into pieces and another went drifting down stream with only the upper half of his body. Two weeks later he scratched his ear only to find a chunk of the soldier’s brain from before.
His worst story yet, was when he had to kill children. A young boy and girl were operating a machine gun and had Chris’s squad pinned down for 25 hours. He managed to sneak round, get a clear shot, and took it.
In the interview, I asked him if he still remembers all those terrible memories. His response, “Every single person I killed and lost, I remember their face.”
If that’s not bad enough, coming home from the war civilians threw batteries at the soldiers getting off the buses in San Francisco. One hit Chris in the tooth chipping his teeth and another hit him in the chin giving him five stitches. As if the war was even over for the soldiers.
The things Chris and every soldier saw were not things that could be put in the past. Getting a real personal view from this question, I asked if any men in his platoon went crazy after the war. He said in a serious tone, “what are you talking about?, were all crazy and messed up in the head.”
After that interview, my respect towards my boss was never so infinite. A man that gave up everything as a choice and serves this country is a hero of mine. To live through the deepest wounds that could be inflicted on a man’s mind is incredible, but to live a normal life after is unbelievable.