Storytelling: Why I Tell My Stories . . .
Copyright 2002: Richard Guthrie. All rights reserved. (Copy permission at bottom)
I'm telling this story because I'm afraid that if it doesn't get told, it will fade with the generation that lived it. And leaving the story unrecorded would be a great wrong.
This is a story about some simple, every-day working-class boys in the late 1960's. Many had girl friends, went out for the high school football team, delivered newspapers and got summer jobs so they could buy a car. The story is not about all American boys of that period. It is about some I knew who answered their nation's call to service and were sent to Vietnam as fighters. Most of them did not ask to be thrown into that mess -- a Cold War endeavor turned hot -- that left nearly everyone confused, and our nation divided.
Our men were mostly draftees, called up before their twentieth birthday, and few among them had actually even voted for the representatives of our people who made the decisions that sent them off on this traumatic adventure. The heroes of my story knew full well that there were ways out of the draft. Rich kids could and did regularly get deferments for education, or serve with the weekend warriors of the National Guard; and it was no secret that thousands of American youngsters crossed the border into Canada so they wouldn't be home when their call came. And not only did our men know there were ways to evade serving, they had a good idea of what was coming. For thanks to television, our public was treated to some fairly accurate, explicit coverage. So for the first time in our history, our men and the public at large were able -- within hours of the bloody events -- to see up close all the horror and the gore that the news reporters could get.
The soldiers I knew went despite all that, and once there they did what they were told as well as they could. They tried their best to do their nation's bidding, to do what their leaders ordered. Along the way, they paid dearly. They suffered the terror you can only feel alone, some pitch black night in a foreign land, waiting along an obscure trail to ambush an enemy who might happen along and will try for your life if you don't get him. They knew deep stress, sleep-deprivation, hunger, the fatigue that comes from five miles on the double under a fifty-pound pack in air so hot and wet you can scarcely breathe. They knew thirst, filth, disease. They lived night and day with the expectation that an unexpected mine exploding in their midst, a mortar round, or random rifle shot would in an instant change their world forever. Nearly all of our troops in the field suffered, witnessed the loss of buddies they loved more powerfully than their own kin. All the while, the leaders who sent our soldiers over there slept each night in safe, manicured suburbs, on clean sheets, and deplored the fact that their surreal representations were failing to persuade the American public of the necessity for the human waste. Our men went for a year knowing what was coming. They returned to a conflicted, confused and hostile population. The taxpayers who had paid their way to Vietnam, in some perverse way, then held our soldiers responsible for the way the situation turned bad.
I'm telling this story because those soldiers' acts of bravery and sacrifice deserve every bit as much praise as the accomplishments of any American Soldiers before them. Vietnam is a chapter of our nation's history that merits as much reverence and ink as the chronicles of our heroes of Yorktown, Gettysburg, San Juan Hill, Chateau Thierry, Iwo Jima, Normandy, Heartbreak Ridge. Yet the trauma that our veterans suffered at the hands of our own population left many so stunned they could never talk about their experience, much less write or sing the praises their accomplishments deserve.
Our men went, and they soldiered with distinction. In the late sixties, they served as well as any before them, "Greatest Generation" hype notwithstanding. I am writing because I must to do what I can to sing their praises and keep the memory alive. I'm trying to help ensure it lives on, as it should, to be an inspiration for future generations who one day again will be called to defend our way of life.
Copyright 2002 Richard
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