Tag Archives: returning soldiers



“.…The C-130 rolled to a stop at the south end of the single air strip.  The four of us jumped off, and proceeded to unpack our gear.  The plane turned around, and slowly taxied towards the opposite end, to drop off the other 14 men and supplies, and to pick up any wounded.  This was a warehouse base for distribution of war materials to those allies cultivated by the spooks.  It was located approximately 200 miles from our camp at the border, and the spooks regularly flew in supplies.  It was just another spook base that did not exist, at least according to our government….”

“….We began the ritual preparation of stripping down for the field, and unpacking our gear.  As always, we were in the habit of helping each other to tape everything down, put on our camo, and prepare for war.  I was scanning the terrain through my binocs, when I noticed movement at the tree line.  I could see gray uniformed men coming out of the trees.  The NVA was in those trees, in numbers, and they were moving forward to that end of the airstrip…..”

“.…We were all scared, shitless.  There were probably as many as four or five thousand men, in those two regiments of NVA, attacking the opposite end of the air strip.  We knew if they found us, we were dead.  They might keep Uncle alive, for trade, but they would not keep the rest of us alive….”

“…..Trough our binocs, we saw the plane sitting on the runway.  Men were loading wounded, and within minutes, the C-130 was taxiing in our direction.  It lifted off, and we could see they had not even unloaded their equipment.  Paul informed Uncle that they would be coming back with reinforcements, and to pick up any wounded.  We knew that was not going to happen, and waiting would translate into suicide, so we took our chances and followed Uncle, hoping to make the border, and stay alive….”


“…From the time Jim and I got back to Vietnam, from our ‘back to the world’ vacation, all we heard about was ‘troop buildup’, on the part of the NVA.  It was nothing specific, just the rumor that was flying around the military.  Everyone was talking about it, but there were so many rumors, that no one paid much attention.  We even heard rumors that the spooks were asking for a couple of battalions of Marines to take into Laos, to help them.  At that point, we knew something was going on, but we did not seem to be on the Army’s ‘need to know’ list and we were kept too busy, to dwell on it….”

“….Two weeks before the Tet offensive, the spooks warned of a major enemy troop buildup in Laos and Cambodia, and requested large numbers of Marines and Army Infantry to send in.  The political environment forbade that option, so the government’s response was to send 18 Special Forces soldiers into Laos to deal with the situation.  Uncle, Paul, Jim and I, were in that group.  Hog was unable to join us, as he was still in the hospital, recovering from a previous adventure….”



“….Tragically, the Guerilla Infantry remained experimental; because in the first hour Da Nang, while waiting for orders, we were placed in a large Quonset hut that was destroyed, forty minutes after our occupancy.   The enemy dropped a huge mortar shell on that hut, and ended the experimental unit.  Before that explosion, I was a member of the first company of the Guerilla Infantry to land in Vietnam, about 280 men.  Most of us were nineteen years old, and didn’t think for a moment that we could be a tempting target for anyone.  We felt safe in that giant military base.  When crowded together, we made one great target for some Viet Cong mortar team, and they could not resist.  We were all talking, nervously staring out the mosquito netted windows, when the shell hit….”

“….I recall annoyance at the guys behind me for shoving, or so I thought for a fraction of a moment, then my face hit the net, my feet left the ground, and my head burst through it.  I was out of the hut, flying through the air, my body stinging on one side, from the slap I received.  I rolled and bounced a few times, as I hit the ground.  When I stopped, my ears were ringing at a painful volume, and I wanted to take a nap.  I fought that urge, and got my knees under me.  It was difficult to open my eyes.  My fingers felt the reassuring warmth of the earth, as I got on all fours, but I was dizzy and could not get up for a minute.  I waited for it to pass.  My eyes opened.  There was a terrible smell all around me.  I had a sheet of something on my right shoulder.  I was wondering what happened, when it slid off and made a plopping sound.  The instant I looked at what fell off my shoulder, I vomited.  It was a long stringy sheet of skin, with a tattoo in it.  I retched, over, and over, until I was empty.  I was not sure if I could hear yelling, or if it was my ears ringing.  I got to my feet, and saw others doing the same.  The stink was incredible.  There were sounds of trucks and voices.  My dizziness was passing.  I was wet and looked to see why, a decision I’ll forever regret.  Blood and shit, and bits of intestines, were all over me.  I shuddered in revulsion and stripped off my clothes, unable to stop the convulsions of a new wave of violent retching.  I was naked when I stood, the second time.  A couple of guys joined me, after a few minutes….”

“….One of them said, “Let’s get away from this shit.”  We all agreed, and walked toward the closest tent.  There were six of us when we got there, but no one would let us in because they watched us walking toward them, and every one of us had to stop along the way to retch.  We gathered in front, not capable of arguing.  Then, an angel of mercy came to our rescue, in the form of a sergeant with a hose.  Six naked cherries stood groaning in gratitude, as he hosed us down.  The sergeant hosed us, patiently, and said the only words I remember that day, “Welcome to the Nam, boys….”




“…We moved through the jungle, struggling to be as silent as shadows.  Unexpectedly, we came upon a clearing and froze before trying to cross.  Why the jungle stopped growing was a mystery to all of us.  Even the normal sounds were absent; no birds, no insects, no rustling of twigs, just silence, still and oppressive.  The atmosphere was uncomfortable and vaguely familiar.  The slightest hint of death wafted through the air.  Someone whispered ‘burial grounds’.   Nodding in unison, we remembered the eerie adventures of exploring neighborhood cemeteries, as children.  Our eyes darted furtively, the hair on our necks needed rubbing.  As our hands massaged away our tingles, every one of us noticed, every other one of us, busy doing the same thing.  A group snort of self-conscious embarrassment huffed away the quiet….”

“…Aware we were walking into something unusual, we cat walked and tip toed, while entering the clearing.  We didn’t wish to intrude, wanting to respect the privacy of the dead.  A silence hung over the graves and violating it felt sacrilegious.  The occupants’ resentment of our intrusion seemed palpable to the air.  The place felt menacing and aware.  As if the agony once experienced by the dead, remained.  The place blocked out the world.  We felt dread strong enough to make us clutch our weapons tighter….”

“…Hidden away in the highlands, forgotten by the world, a troop of soldiers lie buried.  Whoever they were doesn’t matter, now.  Their last battle was fought, long ago.  They are at peace.  They do not wish to be disturbed.  Their grave markers have rotted into implied forms, leaving only the slightest trace of having ever been.  Even the grave mounds have flattened out.  We stood on the same ground where those nameless men gave their all, and realized we were following in their footsteps.  Here we were, enthusiastically taking our turn to fight and die.  We were looking at our own future, and knew it.  How many years would pass before some future invader would stumble upon American graves?  What would he think?  Would he wonder who we were?  Would we have died well, in his opinion?  Would it matter?  That was the first time I realized Vietnam was a land of unending war.  A thousand years of invasions had flooded this land with blood.  Nameless thousands of soldiers had died, fighting countless battles here.  No one remembered and nothing was accomplished, the soldiers kept on coming, and kept on dying….”

Excerpt from “Heirs of Honor” – Caught Off Guard

Waiting in the shadows was strangely confusing. I was trying not to be spotted by standing motionless, but I had to force myself to do what should have been instinctive. I kept catching myself preparing to walk out of the shadows, almost forgetting I was trying not to move. As time went on, I felt more disconnected from the situation, as I struggled to remain still. I was desperate, caught in a surrealistic jungle. I yearned to run in order to get rid of this confusion.

Two steps into the plan and my temper flared, as pain exploded from my foot the instant it touched the ground. I hopped about on one foot, fighting the fire in my other, thinking seriously about shoving a hand into my mouth to prevent my own scream of agony.

Balancing precariously by planting my ass against the tree, I managed to pull a large piece of glass out of the heel of my wounded foot. I almost lost it then by yelling, because I discovered an even greater depth to my stupidity; I was not only barefoot, but wearing only my skivvies.

My reaction was one of furious disbelief. If I waited for the most opportune moment, it would never come, and my rage would soon stun me into inaction. Without another thought, I ran into the darkened jungle and kept moving, anything to prevent the confused anger from catching me, to say nothing about those fucking gooks with flashlights.

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Unbelievable? If you’ve ever had a nightmare you know that NOTHING is unbelievable!

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Excerpt from “Heirs of Honor”

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army regularly sent Special Forces sniper teams into Laos and Cambodia, two countries their Government denied entering.  Their assignments took them deep into enemy territory.  Military policy forbade airborne evacuation across an International border, so they were left to rely on each other, and their training and endurance, to get back to South Vietnam.  Many teams never returned.

Although presented as fiction, this book is based on truth, long ago buried by the “official version” of Government and Media, documenting the intensity of that war, and the difficulty for soldiers to simply slip back into civilian life after surviving the chaos of combat.  “Heirs of Honor” documents the lives of men that by virtue of their assignments, were required to swear an oath of silence, and though highly decorated for their actions, they leave no public record of their deeds, or existence.  Their records have been sealed to avoid embarrassment to their government, or contradiction of official policies.  They gave their lives, without hesitation.  They deserve to have their story told, if only in fiction.  It is the only way I know how to honor them.  “Heirs of Honor” is a story of men enduring the horror of war, and their struggle to retain their sanity, as they come of age.

Unlike the soldiers of today’s wars, who are honored and praised by a grateful population; the soldiers of our war in Southeast Asia came home to a population that, for the most part, hated and shunned them, blaming them for losing the war, indeed, for the war itself.  Many combat vets took their own lives, unable to survive ‘back in the world’.  By 1985, more than 80,000 Vietnam veterans had committed suicide.

Even though the veterans of today’s wars come home to a population that professes to appreciate them, today’s veterans encounter the same sense of alienation as the Vietnam veteran.  They still have to fight for their benefits.  To America’s shame, very little seems to have changed.


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Excerpt from Heirs of Honor – Forward

It is a law of nature that opposites attract, and I am living proof of that statement.  As an idealistic ‘flower child’ in the late 60’s, the great love of my life turned out to be a soldier, come home after three tours in Special Forces.  His five man team operated out of the Laotian/Cambodian border camps, dropped into countries we never went to, and told pickup would only be possible if they could make it back across the border.  As with most combat veterans, surviving the jungles of Southeast Asia was far easier than coming home.  The wife of every combat vet knows all too well the torture of her husband’s ‘survivor’s guilt’, as well as his sense of alienation from everything; only feeling safety in the company of other vets, able to share the dark humor developed by all for survival’s sake.  I learned about war from the men who lived it, and shared their pain with each other on my living room floor.

“Heirs of Honor” is based on their lives, and is presented as a fictional account of the ‘all too real’ war they lived through.  Most died in Vietnam, and those who came home were never the same.  All are gone, now.  This book is meant to honor them, and to free them from the oath of silence forced upon them by their government, if only for their own protection.
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How the fuck could I be so stupid?  What the hell was I thinking?  An angry barrage of self-criticisms roared through my mind, as I hid in the shadow searching for a way out of the situation. The gooks had cut me off. I could not believe I’d been caught taking a piss outside of the camp. A sharp throbbing pain radiated up my leg, convincing me I had been hit.  I felt hobbled hiding in that tiny shadow, my frustration and anger resisting every thought of finding a way out of this predicament.  I was on the brink of self-destruction if I did not start thinking clearly and save my rage for later.  I was furious with myself for pulling such a stunt.  I was no cherry and yet here I was outside the wire, cut off and wounded.

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Anyone who has not experienced a flashback really can’t have any idea how absolutely real, this-is-happening-now, oh-my-God earthshaking an event one can be.  We’re told it’s all in our heads.  Get over it.  Well I’m here to tell you folks… It doesn’t work like that. I wish to hell it were so simple!

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For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a soldier.  I wanted to prove myself in battle   This is how my greatest test began….

“Our team was limping towards an international border; so naturally we were not where we were.  Laos was a shit-pit country and we’d overstayed our welcome.  The natives were doing their best to kill us, from the moment we arrived.  The irony was we were looking at South Vietnam as sanctuary, as if it was a safe place to run, because that’s exactly what we were doing.”   

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A friend sent me this article last week showing ‘before, during, and after’ pictures of combat soldiers that have survived their tour of duty.  If it is true that ‘the eyes are the windows to the soul’, the photographs depicted in this article give a clear visual record of that fact.

My husband is a survivor of three combat tours during the Vietnam War.  Although the war was physically over for him almost forty years ago, he remains haunted by it to this day.  I can see it in his eyes and hear it while he sleeps.  The war will never end for him.  He still runs through those jungles, every night.  He still hears his dead team mates call to him in his dreams.  When he leaves the peace and safety of home and goes out into the world, he is on constant alert.  His eyes are always darting about as he scans his surroundings, always looking for possible threats and escape routes… always on guard and always ready for battle.

I have seen, first hand, how combat affects the human soul and permanently changes the soldiers that live it.  Innocence, once lost, can never be recovered.  My husband is still the same soul that went to war to fight for his country, but he is forever changed, hardened. At times he is seemingly inexplicably both filled with rage, and saddened.  He will never overcome his survivor’s guilt, he can never go back to the young man he was before his soul was forever scarred by war.

There was a time in this country when it was against the law to teach slaves to read and write.  The reason for this was that slave owners feared educated slaves.  They knew that once someone learned to read and write, they could not ‘unlearn’ it.  They knew an uneducated slave was easier to keep docile, while an educated slave could be downright dangerous.

The lyrics, “How you gonna keep em’ down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree” are from a popular World War I song and gives another example of that simple fact.   Once you ‘know’ something, you are forever changed by that information.

Even if they survive combat without physical wounds, the horror of combat and survivor’s guilt leave veteran’s permanently scarred.  They can never be the same as they were.  Their new personas are unrecognizable to everyone they knew, and far too often, to themselves as well.  The person they used to be is dead, buried under the burden of knowledge and experience they now carry.  The person that returns to the world has experienced sights, sounds, and horrors that loved ones cannot even begin to imagine, let alone understand, or relate to… so even though the veteran looks like the same person, they are not, and can never be, again.

I have met enough combat veterans to know that it is the same for each and every one of them.  They are all like my husband.  They all suffer permanently from the damage done to them by their experiences with War.  They all need help to return to the world.  They need the patience and understanding of people that love them.  More than that, they need the acceptance of those people to be unconditional.  The veterans who have been damaged by exposure to combat require acceptance for who they are now. For the most part, they are unable to cope with demands that they return to who they were, before they left home.  That is as impossible as unlearning to read.  The people that love a combat veteran must love them enough to accept the person they have become if they ever hope to help that veteran to heal. They must accept the fact that the person they knew before the war, is a casualty of that war, and will never return.

That is the only hope a combat veteran has of surviving their return to the world.  Our veterans have sacrificed so much for us.  We must not abandon our soldiers.  We must accept them, love them, and do everything within our power to help them as they struggle to survive their homecoming.   Returning veterans may not be the same people we remember them as, but they are still our husbands, fathers, sons and daughters, neighbors, and friends.  They have put their lives on the line, and they deserve our support.

If you want to get a better understanding of what I am talking about, I suggest you take the time to read “Heirs of Honor”. The author, my husband, lived the Vietnam War. He still lives it. His experiences will help you understand YOUR veteran better.