Thursday, April 13, 2006

BROTHERS IN ARMS



This morning, while waiting for the bus, I spotted a black gentleman about my age sitting on the bench. He was dressed for the job: brown coveralls, work boots, and a tool-belt. But it was his baseball cap emblazoned with a 2d Armored Division – “Hell on Wheels” unit patch that caught my eye.


I was in the 3d Armored – “Spearhead.”



I felt no qualms in walking up to him and starting a conversation.

“Hey, good morning. I was with the 3d Armored.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah, Spearhead.”

“Oh, yeah. Where were you, Nam?”

“Nah, Germany. You?”

“Korea.”

“Ugh.” And we laughed, and got on the bus together for the ride downtown.

“How’d you adjust to Germany?” he asked.

“Piece a cake. Didn’t draw a sober breath for three years. How ‘bout Korea?”

“Same,” lots of laughs from both of us. “But there was lots of stress. We were on alert all the time.”

He asked if I used my benefits, and I told him all I wanted was a flag on my coffin to confuse my friends. We laughed some more.

Of course we got around to Iraq, and we were both clear: troops were dying for nothing – just the same as any other war. We were also clear that people who had never borne arms should never advocate for war.

We ended up with, “Well, at least we can say ‘We served.’”

When he was getting off the bus we shook hands, and I said, “Take care, brother,” and he said, “You too, soldier,” and I was touched with affection and what I thought was pride; and what’s been troubling is I’m neither proud, nor ashamed of having "served" my country. It's hard for me to even say, "I served," because service requires a willingness I didn't possess; and I didn't "do my duty," because I've never thought there was any duty to be done.

I went into the Army because I got my draft notice and couldn’t come up with any alternatives. I took an extra year on enlistment because my recruiting sergeant told me it would keep me out of Vietnam, and I got an Honorable Discharge because they never caught on to all the fun I was having.

When I mustered out I hated anything that had to do with the military, not for anything I’d done, or the military had done to me, but for its ultimate purpose of systematic slaughter - and I took to the streets with the most vehement protestors. Eventually all my memorabilia hit the trash can, and I even sold my field jacket in a bar in Iowa City for five bucks for a few more beers.

No, I’m not proud. I’m relieved at having gotten through a civic right of passage more profound than getting a driver’s license or reaching legal drinking age, and that I wouldn’t wish on anyone; I’m nostalgic about a bunch of guys hanging out, playing games, breaking rules, and beating the odds; and I’m angry at having been manipulated by the civic Pharisees so “pride of service,” could worm its way into the real feelings.

The pride wasn’t real, but the surge of affection for that gent from the 2nd Armored was the same affection I feel for fellow alcoholics because of our shared experience and knowledge of some little piece of the “dark side.”

And it’s not so much that we served, as we survived.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You tell it well, take it from another survivor, an khe, vietnam, 66-67

6:37 PM  
Blogger Lisa Davis said...

A profound civics lesson on this Veteran's Day.

10:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home