A Forgotten Keepsake

I was in Vietnam for so long on so many trips between 1962 and 1975 that my memory of where I was when in country fails me. When I moved to my new house last summer, I came across a paperweight that I got in Vietnam. One of the army units I was supporting gave it to me—that much I remember. In its center is the symbol of the Army Corps of Engineers, a medieval castle between two towers. That tells me that the soldier who gave it to me must have been a member of the corps.

The paperweight is round, about two and a half inches in diameter and a little more than an inch high. It is made of mottled marble, black and brown. It’s heavy enough to use as intended, to hold down papers. When I hold it in my hand, memories of fellowship and teamwork seep through my brain. But I can’t nail down the where and the when.

Like so many objects I have from those days so long ago—my jungle boots, some odd coins, a coffee mug—the paperweight makes me feel again the tropical sun from the dry season, the never-ending moisture during the monsoons, the chilly nights in the highlands. It brings back untethered memories of the smell of sweat, gun smoke, and rot. I see young American male faces smiling, crying, in pain.

Most of all, my mementos make me remember the brotherhood that comes from fighting side by side with others. As I’ve said before, the strongest bond I’ve ever known is that I shared with the men who fought at my side. That bond lives on today, even though I’ve lost track of all the men—kids, really, nineteen and twenty years old—I knew on the battlefield. My strongest memories are of those who died in combat. Their deaths scarred me.

So I hold the paperweight in my hand and feel the coolness of the marble. And I remember, for better or for worse, the most vivid time in my life.

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