The word “buddy” has two distinct but related meanings to me. One comes from my time in the military and my years as civilian under cover as military in Vietnam. My buddy was the man fighting beside me. The bond I formed with men who stood beside me in combat is the strongest bond I have ever experienced.
The second meaning comes from my years as a helper and caretaker for men dying of AIDS. I was their buddy. In the gay community back in those days, a man who was a buddy was not a lover but a committed friend, there to help out with no sexual ties or even implications. I was straight. All seven of my patients were gay. They all died.
In both settings, men who accepted me their buddy did it knowing that I was not one of them. The army and Marine enlisted men I worked with on the battlefield in Vietnam knew I was a civilian signals intelligence operative there to help them by tipping them off to what the enemy was doing, where he was, and which units he had deployed. The gay men I worked with during the AIDS crisis knew I was straight. Yet both the soldiers and Marines and the gay community accepted me without bias.
The men I stood beside in combat were young. The average age was nineteen. I lived with them—slept on the ground next to them, ate C-rations sitting in the dirt beside them, used their latrines, went into battle with them. Some of these fine young men were killed by my side. Their deaths scarred me for life.