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Here’s a little war story I never told anyone. Not a horror story or a trauma story. It’s just a story I never told anyone.
So a little background. Vietnam. 1970. The Central Highlands. 4thInfantry. Just outside a village called An Khe.
Every war, there are always tales of folks who “go native”, as the old saying goes. Nam was no different. I heard these stories. There was the story of a G. I., who stayed in An Khe. It was said that you could spot him now and then, someone tall wearing Vietnamese clothes. One time I did spot a way tall guy in the village, although whether he was a “round eye” or just a tall Vietnamese, who knows? I did have one buddy who was discharged “in country”, and went to live in Saigon.
So my buddies and me, we were musicians. Army bandsmen. 4thInfantry Division Band. Like musicians everywhere, we knew how to party. After hours, we had our own bunker in which, well, let’s just say the dope smoking was prodigious.
Our company was divided between “heads” and “juicers”. Mostly “juicers”. They, too, could do prodigious drinking, some of them a case of beer a night. There was one straight guy in the whole company, a guy from Columbia, Missouri – funny I’d remember that.
Anyway, we did our duty, and some of us even got medals. But when the off hours came, party tonight for tomorrow we die.
The “heads”, we were cool. Hippie soldiers. Plenty of weed, plenty of cool sounds. Jimi. Janis. Crosy, Still, Nash and Young. Chicago. Joe Cocker. When, as the sun set, the sounds “In A Gadda Da Vida”, you’d think we were Doper Pied Pipers. “Heads” from near-by units would join us, for our party reputation was as obliging as it was commodious. Medics. Mechanics. A physician. Drivers. And lots of grunts from Charlie Company, our neighbor.
So one night I’m giving “shotguns”. First to this grunt, a buddy from Charlie Company. Then I use this same huge Montagnard pipe to give a “shotgun” to my buddy Poncho next to him. Poncho asks me to take the stem off the bowl, to get as thick a dope stream as possible. Only without the stem out comes a “shotgun” of the dope embers and burning seeds and sticks and such. Like embers off a forest fire you could get high off of. Off runs Poncho to get some water. And me and the grunt laugh our asses off. Then he says, “I’m going to miss you guys.”
“Yea, I got a week left in-country.”
“Wow, man, you’re so short you could crawl under snake shit.”
“Well, here’s the thing. I want to get discharged in-country.”
“Why? It’s a beautiful country, I get that, except it’s so totally fucked.”
So he tells me the story. He meets this Vietnamese woman in a village out in the bush. They fall in love. They intend to marry. Except the Army won’t let him marry this woman. So, when his tour ends in a week, the Army intends to ship him home, and discharge him in the States. But he’s got a plan.
He’ll do his duty. Give the Army every last day, hump every last “klick”, every last kilometer. But on his last day in the bush, he’s going to volunteer to walk drag. That’s the opposite of walking point. So, on that last day, in that last hour, on that last klick, his plan is simple. His squad on that jungle path does a column left, and he turns to the right. Puff, Missing In Action. And back to that village and his beloved.
Almost fifty years later and I can still feel the silence as he finished telling his plan.
The next day was the next day. The next week was the next week. One day, I ran into one of the grunt’s buddies. True to his word, puff, disappeared into the bush.
I have no way now, as I had no way then, of verifying anything about the story. That’s what I was told. Still, I saw stranger things in The Nam. I have every reason to doubt the story. And every reason to want it to be true.
I don’t remember his name. I don’t remember where he came from. He was Black, had a great smile, could tell a hell of a story.
And I like to think of him now and again.
I like to think of that village, where there’s a tall Black fellow wearing Vietnamese clothes. He’d be a village elder by now. I like to think that tonight, one of his grandchildren asks him to tell a story. What were the Americans like?
And he tells a story of these crazy musicians.
Copyright 2018 John Samuel Tieman