I have no doubt that what I did on the battle field in Vietnam 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 except by warning them that the enemy was close at hand and tipping them off as to what the enemy planned to do. 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, an unrelenting psychological malady. The memories never fade. They will be with me always.
The percentage of our population that are veterans is shrinking. The number of combat veterans—those who served in the military and saw combat—is at the vanishing point. I only know two other men who are combat veterans. Both, by sheer coincidence, were navy corpsmen, battlefield medics for the Marines in Vietnam. Both have my greatest respect.
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.