Sunday, November 11, 2012

three vignettes for veterans day


my father told me this story.

during world war 2 my uncle was a marine island hopping in the pacific theater.  the firefights were fierce.  one morning he and his fellow marines were near the top of a hill attempting to burn out the last of the japanese soldiers dug in at the top.  fire was everywhere.  my uncle lost it.  in panic he dropped his rifle and ran for his life.  he ran and ran and didn't see the thing that made him drop to the ground.  he leapt to his feet.  that thing was a japanese soldier who also dropped his weapon, in panic, and was running for his life.


dave m. was a hippie and a pacificist.  he was also an unfocused young man and dropped out of college.  the vietnam war was escalating and dave m.  lost his college deferral.  his lottery number was drawn.  he was in a dilemma.  should he be a conscientious objector and go to prison?  should he head toward canada?  dave m. instead bargained with a recruiting officer.  the recruiting officer said, if you sign up for an additional four years i'll make sure you don't see combat.

dave m. signed up for an additional four years.  the army made good on its promise and trained dave m. to be a radio operator.  he was stationed on a firebase.  every evening that firebase was shelled by the nva.  the first two months were a living hell.  rockets do make a whistling sound when they are in the air.  running away from that whistling sound turned into a pantomime of absurd panic.

every evening, almost like clockwork, dave m. would hear the shout, incoming!  followed by the whistling of rockets fired by the nva.  dave m. was a great reader of science fiction.  his favorites were the works of isaac asimov and robert a. heinlein.  it was in the latrine reading the foundation trilogy by asimov that he forgot the time.  his trousers were around his ankles when he heard the shout, incoming! and the whistling of the rockets.  dave m. thought for a moment, said, fuck it.  when it's time to die you die.  and was soon deeply absorbed in his book.


vic s. was a retired teacher and full-time painter.  his wife was also a retired teacher and full-time poet.  we were sitting in the kitchen looking over some sketches vic s. made when he was in the navy during world war 2.  he was stationed on an island in the pacific.  his job was to load and unload supply ships that were anchored just off-shore.  he and his fellow sailors had to take a boat to the ships.  each morning and every evening japanese zeroes strafed the beaches.  more than a few of the sketches were of exploded ships.  a few of the sketches were made when he was aboard a supply ship during an attack. 

--you could see the explosions before you could hear them.  light travels faster than sound, remember.

--were there many dead?

--oh yeah, every day some one would die.

--were you scared?

-- no!  i was 19.  the other guys might die.  but i would be fine.  i was young and dumb.  and alive.   


At 4:41 AM, Blogger Jim McCrary said...

Nice stuff Richard. And dont forget that tens of thousands of folks served in 'non combat' times, like myself (59-62 army). no there is no comparison. still, it was an education.

At 9:38 PM, Blogger richard lopez said...

absolutely, jim. i haven't forgotten. these vignettes are all stories told to me as they true stories. dave was the uncle of my first serious girlfriend. an eccentric man and brilliant. he was a great guy. he died from an anyreuism in his sleep about 10 years ago.

vic told me the story as i wrote it. he had me in stitches. wasn't bravado on his part. only youthful arrogance and stupidity.

the other is as i've heard from my old man.


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