I’ve mentioned in passing several times a photo prominently displayed on the wall of my piano room. The artist-photographer Ann Gonzalez took it. It shows the last pair of jungle boots I wore in combat in Vietnam. Ann added a caption, the watchword from my novel, Last of the Annamese: “Do what you have to do, whatever it takes.”
During my many trips to Vietnam between 1962 and 1975, I spent most of my time supporting U.S. military units, both army and Marine, with signals intelligence support on the battlefield. I was under cover as an enlisted man of the unit I was supporting. That meant I wore the uniform of that unit and combat boots. Over the years, I had many different pairs of boots, some all leather, some half canvas and half leather (jungle boots, as in the photo). I no longer have any of the uniforms I wore, and only one pair of boots survived, those in Ann’s photo.
The photo haunts me. Those empty boots with the words beneath them suggest that their owner did do what he had to do, and what it took was his life. Men and women in the military put their lives on the line to defend their country. I did the same thing when I went into combat with army and Marine units in South Vietnam. I survived, but Ann’s photo is a testament to those gave up their lives for their country. I knew so many who did. I will always grieve for them.