Monday, August 18, 2008

the only easy day was yesterday

Just before Memorial Day this year, some of the neighborhood boys came by the house. They wanted to look at the framed photos on my office wall and hoped for a war story, a homily on military service. Some of the same boys came by again yesterday. Because I wrote the story in a journal I keep, on 5-24-08, I thought I'd trot it out for the blog.

I keep telling them, "It's not the way you think it will be." 

It's impossible to communicate the nature of physical exhaustion to those who haven't experienced it. Training attempts to prepare you for it, but it doesn't come close. I was with two friends who are dead today. We were sitting in the mud, eating small baby water snakes, squirming through the ooze by the hundreds and washing them down with polluted water from our canteens. We had not eaten or slept for four days. We were in a state of starvation-enhanced exhaustion that caused us to have vivid dreams that we experienced while wide awake. The snakes broke the hunger until the stomach acid finished them off.

So I told the boys that when you hear the pitiful screams of the wounded and dying, smell the butcher-house odors of feces and blood, roasted flesh, rotting and decay, the detritus of the battlefield, and feel the last shiver of life ebb as a friend dies in your arms and you look into his eyes and see the pupils dilate in death, you'll wish that you were never there.

The boys didn't hear a word I said. They urged me to tell them a war story. I told them that I just did.

Yesterday they came by to look at the wall, they asked some questions, and re-energized, they left. They thanked me when they left, but I don't think that I did them any favors.

1 comment:

Opus #6 said...

That is what my Uncle Bernie said about Vietnam. Exactly. He ate snakes. He lost SO much weight he was almost starved. Spiders as big as dinner plates. He can't talk about it anymore (strokes). Your descriptions are very accurate.

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