I’ve written here a number of times about the bond that forms between men who fight side by side. I’ve said that it is the strongest bond I’ve ever experienced. But I’ve never devoted a blog post to that bond, what causes it, and what it’s like.
I’m not a psychiatrist or sociologist, so I can’t talk in scientific terms about the bond. I can only tell you how it affected me.
I have to start by stressing why men fight in combat. They may have been put in harm’s way because of their desire to defend their country or their devotion to God or their determination to fight evil. But on the battlefield, men fight for each other. In combat, they fight for the lives of their brothers fighting at their side. They are determined to keep their fellow combatants alive even if it means giving up their own lives.
The feelings among men fighting by each other’s side is the strongest love I’ve ever experienced. Soldiers and Marines don’t call it love—that’s too sentimental. But that’s what it is.
I’m sure I didn’t experience that bond to the depths that other men in combat did. I wasn’t there to shoot and kill the enemy. I was there to provide information about the enemy—where he was, the size and identity of his units, what he was doing, what his intensions were. The men by my side were the fighters, intent on destroying the enemy and defending each other.
I have no doubt that what I did saved lives and hurt the enemy. But I didn’t personally kill enemy soldiers. I had no way of directly protecting the men who fought by my side. I was armed with a .38 revolver to defend myself, but I never used it in combat. That wasn’t why I was there. So my sense of kinship with my brothers fighting at my side could not have been as strong as it was between those actually doing the fighting.
And yet it is the most intense love I’ve ever felt. Emblazoned in my memory are the moments of death of men who fought next to me. I can’t talk about them. It hurts too much. Those hideous events, along with the ghastly happenings during the fall of Saigon, are the source of my Post-Traumatic Stress Injury. The memories never fade. They will be with me always.
When I’m with other veterans, especially those who served in Vietnam, I know the bond is still strong. A quick nod, a brief look in each other’s eyes, a handshake—we recognize each other. Nothing needs to be said. We each know we put our lives on the line for each other and we’d do it again.