In my review of Mark Treanor’s A Quiet Cadence (http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com/bookreview/a-quiet-cadence-a-novel), I cited Treanor’s use of the sentence, “There it is.” Those of us on the battlefield in Vietnam used that sentence to express our despair over a meaningless war that we didn’t know how to win.
When I reviewed Treanor’s book, my unspeakable memories of grisly deaths on the battlefield came back in full force. Thanks to his explicit descriptions, I remembered with renewed vividness the men killed by my side in ways so brutal that for years I suppressed the memories until they emerged to haunt me in flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, irrational rages, and depression. Those reactions, I eventually learned, are all symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI), the mental disorder that unbearable experience inflicts on the soul.
The men I was with were really boys. The average age of a troop on the battlefield was nineteen. I knew these guys in a way only possible when men fight side by side. I lived with them—slept beside them on the ground, sat in the dirt next to them eating C-rations, used their latrines, and went into combat by their side. When they were killed, what was left of them, often not much, was shoveled into a body bag to be shipped home for burial.
It was from these young men that I learned the sentence, “there it is.” It meant, that’s the way this war is, and there’s nothing we can do about it. We can’t change it. We have to live—or die—with it.
I spent thirteen years of my life in and out of Vietnam giving all I had to win the war. We lost. And I’m left with excruciating memories. There it is.