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When Our Troops Come Home

When Our Troops Come


Ken Jones, PhD

When Our Troops Come Home

When Our Troops Come Home

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Copyright 2008
Ken Jones, PhD

Cover Design by
Francine Dufour
When Our Troops Come Home

For my brothers

Ned Neathery

Jim Bondsteel


Gabe Rollison
When Our Troops Come Home


Preface to the Original Edition 4

PART I The Cauldron

Chapter 1 8
Chapter 2 15
Chapter 3 17
PART II The Iceman
Chapter 4 21
Chapter 5 26
Chapter 6 28
Chapter 7 33
Chapter 8
PART III The Journey
Chapter 9 34
Chapter 10 37
Chapter 11 41
PART IV The Medusa
Chapter 12 43
Chapter 13 46
Chapter 14 48
Chapter 15 50
Chapter 16 52
Chapter 17 55
Chapter 18
PART V The Morass
Chapter 19 59
Chapter 20 61
Chapter 21 63
Chapter 22 65
Chapter 23 73
Chapter 24 79
PART VI The Metanoia
Chapter 25 88
Chapter 26 91
Chapter 27 93
PART VII The Reflection
Chapter 28 97
Chapter 29 99
Chapter 30 105

Credits for Chapter Quotes 113
When Our Troops Come Home


You are not alone. You, the families and friends who await their return –
you, who have experienced combat and know that your world is forever
changed. You are not alone.

Across the decades and generations we, who did our trigger time in Vietnam,
look to you with pride and admiration for who you are – America’s warriors
- the one percent who serve.

We understand the fear and rage and guilt you experience, the nights without
sleep and the need for the next adrenalin fix. We understand the bond, the
love that exists among warriors. We understand how, at first, there are no
words to express the losses you have endured, or the guilt of having

Understanding these things we who served in Vietnam have an obligation. It

is simply this: That never again shall a generation of America’s warriors
have to endure what we endured on the long journey home.

This then is a beginning, just one of thousands across our country.

When Our Troops Come Home is a description of an interior journey for
warriors returning from combat. It is offered as a gift to families and friends
who desperately want to understand. And it is offered to our warriors as one
more voice reminding you that you are not alone.

Ken Jones
Anchorage, Alaska
May 26, 2008
Memorial Day
When Our Troops Come Home

Preface to the Original Edition

Even now I recall them; space enfolding itself in majesty, the infinite blue of the
clear winter sky extending beyond forever; the immaculate miles of white on white; the
ridgelines and mountaintops articulating the solitude of being - the Brooks Range. March

I had stood hours before, staring blankly into the humidity and heat, beside the
runway of the Tan Son Nhut Airbase in the Republic of Viet Nam. I still recall the
helplessness and terror of sitting in the window seat, three rows behind the trailing edge
of the 707's right wing, as it taxied onto the active runway and surged toward its takeoff
speed. For most of the month prior to my departure we had been in the Iron Triangle
with the 101st Airborne, trying to stop the 122mm rockets that were raining in on the
airbase during the 1968 Tet Offensive.

I knew that there was no such thing as being short so long as I was within range
of anything in Viet Nam. It was the knowing that turned my knuckles white as I gripped
the armrests and watched the world accelerate along the tarmac outside the aircraft

The last time I was blown up was eight days before I was supposed to leave the
country. There was no such thing as short. So I watched and ate the fear and willed the
aircraft into the sky.

As the jet climbed and turned outward bound, the old staff sergeant sitting next to
me leaned over and offered his reassurance. "Relax son, you're going home." My aching
hands let go of the armrests. I nodded and tried to smile. But even then I knew, there
was no longer any such place as home.

As I watched the unfolding beauty of the Alaska winter I felt like a hundred-year-
old child seeing snow for the first time. The aircraft made a sweeping right turn and
headed south. I slept. Finally, we were out of range.

The PA system awakened me. Not the words, but the click of the microphone
button just before the flight attendant's announcement. We were beginning our descent
into Anchorage, Alaska. This was a refueling stop. We could deplane for an hour or so
if we liked. Moments after the stewardess' announcement, a male voice came over the
system in an authentic impersonation of the impersonal monotone flight attendants use
for landing announcements. It was one of the grunts who had been seated up forward.

"Gentlemen, in preparation for our arrival in Anchorage, please bring your tray
tables, seat backs and stewardesses to their full upright position for landing."
The resulting cheers and laughter started exhausted men moving again.
When Our Troops Come Home

When the aircraft stopped, a stairway was pushed up to the front door. The doors
were opened and it took only seconds for the cold to sweep through the cabin. All of us
wore short sleeve, khaki summer uniforms. Deplaning was swift and stumbling.
Brilliant sunshine. How could there be this much sunlight and such intense cold? Inside
the terminal I stood shivering. Even here it was only seventy degrees. How could people
live in these temperatures?

I saw her walking toward me. She was old. Forty, maybe forty-five. She smiled
at me. She walked up and offered me a blue, half-sized, airline-issued blanket.
I gratefully accepted. I remember her. The blanket stopped my shivering and her smile
made me warm. She turned and disappeared into the milling crowd. I didn't get a chance
to thank her. It was one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me.

When Our Troops Come Home is the continuation of the journey begun in the
frigid sunshine of Anchorage in March of 1968. The journey took sixteen years. This
book is about trauma, specifically, the trauma induced by combat. It is a story recounted
in metaphor and symbol and direct experience. This is the nature of interior journeys.
Such material is intended to be read twice, once with the mind and once with the heart.

During the past three and a half years I have had the opportunity to spend
moments and hours and days and months with human beings who have experienced
trauma. It has been my honor and privilege to share in these people's anguish and

healing. Much of it as a result of my time spent as a volunteer counselor at the

Anchorage Viet Nam Veterans Outreach Center. Many of the men and women I have
spent time with were survivors of combat in Viet Nam. There were also a number of
wives of Viet Nam survivors who were desperately seeking answers to questions they did
not understand; questions about the pain and silence of their husbands concerning
anything to do with Viet Nam.

Trauma, whatever its form, is devastating. It tears the mind, shatters the soul and
breaks the heart. Trauma leaves a human being cut off and isolated. If the pain is not
shared and dissipated, it becomes impacted.

Over and over again I heard the words that "had never been spoken".
The assumption, expressed by the person with whom I talked, was that they were alone in
their anguish. They felt relief when someone spoke their language. It was the same with
me when I began my journey.

It is my hope that, as we spend time together, you will come to understand that,
although this story is recounted around the trauma of combat, it is the possibility of
healing from trauma that is paramount. The nature of trauma is to force people to face
meaninglessness directly. The symbols of a person's life are obliterated. People are left
alone with only themselves. In the desolation and aloneness, through the love of those
willing to share their pain, the mystery of life is renewed and affirmed.
When Our Troops Come Home

Lest anyone be misled, let me say that I am not a psychiatrist or psychologist or a

social worker. I am a grunt. I was trained in recon. I just say what I see.

Truly, there is a place called home. To the lady who met me at the Anchorage
Airport so many years ago - thank you.

Ken Jones
June 1987
Eagle River, Alaska
When Our Troops Come Home


When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 1

"First up in the morning, as usual - old men have

guilty dreams - I start the fire and build the coffee.
Our culture runs on coffee and gasoline,
the first often tasting like the second."

Edward Abbey
Down The River

August, 1967. Southwest of Chu Lai. Our cav platoon is linked up with a
company of South Koreans. ROK Marines. The area we're going into is seven miles
wide, twenty-three miles long. It has been declared a free fire zone. It is a VC staging
area. The locals are VC supporters. Our mission is to burn or destroy every structure
and kill anything that moves. People. Animals. Livestock. Anything. Everything.
Search and destroy.

The company of ROK’s has four U.S. Marine advisors, a captain, a sergeant and
two enlisted men. I'm driving the lead track, three zero. It's my job. I've already been
blown up once. I know what this is about.

Hot. It's only mid-morning and the sun beating down on our tracks makes the
metal so hot that our gunners have to sit on their flack jackets. Nobody wants to stand
inside the track when it's moving. We all know the mines are out there.

Nothing. Moving. Waiting. Moving. Nothing. An embankment ahead.

A stream. Banks too high and steep to negotiate. Dense brush beyond.

"Three zero, three six. Find us a place to ford."

"Three zero, roger."

"Hang a left, Ken."


We move out. The rest of the tracks herring-bone. Tracks in column, alternating
their front slopes left and right to establish clear fields of fire. Our track moves on,
paralleling the stream. The feeling settles in. Intercom.


When Our Troops Come Home

"This sucks."


We move on. The stream turns south. A slight rise to our right front. A steep
drop, maybe fifteen feet down. Sand at the bottom. Fifty meters across. A negotiable
slope on the opposite side. No other place to pass. Stream bank where we came from.
Drainage ditch ahead of us.



"This really sucks."


"Three six. Three zero."

"Roger. Go."

"We got a place to ford."

"Roger. We're moving up."

"Three seven, three six. Move up and cover three zero."

"Three elements, three six. Move east and come on line. Cover."

The tracks move out behind us. We wait. I climb out of my coffin and watch the
tracks move toward us. The ROK's are moving in a crouch. Bayonets fixed. They don't
like it either. The Marine captain is riding three six. The sergeant and one of the enlisted
men are on three seven.

Jim Fleshhood is driving three seven. Jim is my best friend. He's been blown up,
too. We both know.

Jerry is a twenty-seven-year old staff sergeant, my track commander. His eyes

haven't stopped searching the ravine and brush beyond. Our gunners are behind their gun
shields. Ready. Jesus, it's hot.

The tracks and infantry are almost to us. Three seven moves to our left rear.
Clear field of fire. Three two moves to our right rear. Same thing.
When Our Troops Come Home

I look at Fleshhood, the top of his head and his eyes visible above the driver's
hatch. We just look at each other.



"There's a mine in there."

"I know. You see anything?"

"No, but I know it's there."


The rest of the tracks are set.

"Three zero, three six."

"Three zero."

"The ROK's are sending squads through to secure the other side. Cover."

"Three zero. Roger."

The ROK's move out. Low. Quick. Nothing. Across the sand. Up the opposite
bank. Nothing. We wait. Nothing.

The crack of the radio startles me.

"Three zero. Three six."

"Three zero."

"Let's go."

"Three six, three zero. There's got to be a mine in there. Do you want to sweep it
or walk it first?"

"This is three six. Do you see anything?"

"Three zero. Negative. But it's there."

"Three six, roger. Move out. Slowly."

Jerry and I look at each other. We were blown up together last month. We know.
When Our Troops Come Home

"Well, Ken, you heard the man."

"Yeah, shit." Into the coffin.

"Three two, three six."

"Three two."

"Three two, follow three zero. Stay right in his tracks."

"Three seven, three six."

"Three seven."

"Three seven, hold what you got until three zero makes the far bank then follow
three two across."

"Three seven, roger."

I hold the steering levers and depress the accelerator with my right foot. The
track moves toward the rise. Up the incline. Up. Up. Nursing the levers. Waiting for
the track to counter balance and drop down the opposite side. I hold my breath. Waiting
for the explosion. The track falls forward. Forever. Crunch. We're on the down side of
the slope. Nothing.

I hit the accelerator. Sand flies. Up the other side. Shit. We made it. I explode
out of the driver's compartment. We made it. Jerry and I smile at each other. Three two
is hauling ass across the sand. Right in our tracks. Jesus, we're alive!

Three seven is approaching the berm. ROK infantry coming down on both sides.
Three seven is coming in at a slight angle. Jim's a good driver. Let one side of the track
land before the other and it helps absorb the shock. Front slope in the air. Starting down.
They're going to come down slightly to the right of my tracks. Slightly to the right.
Maybe a quarter of a track width. Ten inches maybe.

The blast knocks me backwards. My legs catch the rim of the driver's hatch.
I pull myself back. Three seven is invisible in the black smoke. ROK's are down and
screaming on both sides of the track. Some just disappeared.

"Six, three six. Dust off! Dust off!"

I rip my headset off. I don't remember running across the sand. The nightmare
When Our Troops Come Home

Three seven is on its back. Top hatches against the embankment. The rear door
is lodged in the sand at the bottom of the ravine. No way to get inside. Black smoke
billows up from underneath. I can hear the fire without seeing any flames. ROKs are
moving their wounded away. The fuel tanks are going to go. I can hear Fleshhood. He's

"Get me out. Please! Get me out!"


"Please get me out. I'm burning!"

There's no way. There's only six inches between the embankment and the driver's
hatch. The barbed wire that was coiled on the front of the track is tangled around

Panic! Dig at the sand. Someone else is with me. Maybe two others.
Digging…Digging…Crunch. The metal coffin moves. Three five has pulled to the top
of the berm and is trying to bulldoze three seven up. Thirteen tons of metal stuck on its
back. Crunch. Some clearance.

Jim is screaming. The smoke is choking us. The snap of machine gun rounds
beginning to cook off from the heat inside three seven.

"Try the other side!"

Can't see. I fall down the slope. Choking. Tears streaming. Crunch.
Three seven shudders. Around the back. Clearer on this side. A slight breeze.
Snap…snap…snap…snap. I hear the rounds ricocheting inside the track.

He's just laying there. The Marine sergeant. Forehead resting on his arm. No
one else around. Just me and the Marine. He looks up. The eyes. Quiet. Very calm.

"I'm stuck."



"Oh, Jesus, I'll be good. Please get me out!" Fleshhood pleading. Others
shouting. Three five's engine roaring. Crunch. I can see daylight under the front of the
track. Hear the scuffling and yelling from the other side.

"Jim! Grab my hand!" someone yells. They're getting to him. Jim screams as
they pull him out through the tangled barbed wire.
When Our Troops Come Home

The Marine. "I'm stuck."

"What's stuck?"

"My leg."

I bend down to look. See the flames inside. Snap…Snap…Snap. Two bodies
already burned black. The gun shield is across his left leg at mid-calf. Right leg clear
but jungle boot and fatigues already smoking.

"Gimme a fucking' fire extinguisher! I need a knife!"

The fire extinguisher appears in my hand. Crunch. Others around. The Marine
and I are alone. Nozzle pointed at his free leg. Swoosh. A white cloud. The
extinguisher freezing in my hand.

"Hit it again!" Crunch.

The gun shield doesn't move. The Marine groans. Head on his forearm. More
fire, reaching us now. Crunch. His fatigues ignite. Crunch. Pull.

"Pull, goddamn it!"

"I can't move."

The smell of flesh burning. The extinguisher is empty. "Where's that fuckin'
knife!" Snap. Snap. Crunch.

"Wait." His hand reaches for my left arm.

"I'll get you out. Just a second."

"No. Wait."

The knife appears. I start to crawl in. The Marine and I are on our bellies. Face
to face. He's on the inside. I'm on the outside. Shit, it's hot. I start to move. He grabs
my flack jacket.


"Bullshit. I gotta get you out."

Quiet eyes look at me.

Snap. Snapsnapsnap.
When Our Troops Come Home

"Shoot me."


"Shoot me."

"I can't."

"Please. Just shoot me."

"I can't."

"Please!" Teeth gritted. Eyes quiet.

Time stops. Just the Marine and me.


Snap. Snap.


The M-16 is in my hand. Charging handle back, a round ejects, the bolt springs
forward. Another round chambers. Safety clicks off. On one knee beside the Marine.
Holding his hand. Muzzle to his head. Quiet eyes. Finger on the trigger. Snap. Snap.
Snap. My mind shrieking. Trigger moving back. Quiet, quiet eyes….

Wake up! Sweating. Bile in my mouth. I cannot remember if my weapon ever

I walked away from three seven. I have not yet walked away from the dream.
When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 2

"I've had all that I wanted of a lot of things I've had.

And a lot more than I wanted of some things that
turned out bad."

Merle Haggard
Wanted Man

Death did not come peacefully in Viet Nam. It did not lie on satin covers,
surrounded by flowers and grieving loved ones. Death was not attended to by skilled
professionals competent in the art of giving death a peaceful appearance. In Viet Nam
death raged, full blown and evil, from the bowels of the earth.

Death shrieked in ecstasy amidst the screams of the wounded. Death glided
effortlessly through the gunfire, pausing only briefly to assure itself that the mutilated
body that another young man held in his arms had no pulse. Death viewed its handiwork
with satisfaction as the scorched, tree-like husk of an incinerated human being was
stuffed, amid retching and curses, into an olive drab plastic bag.

Ever present, death clung defiantly and in jubilation to the absurdity of Viet Nam.
Death exerted its dominance through all of the human senses, especially the most primal
sense, the survivor’s sense of smell. What did Viet Nam smell like? Diesel fuel, cordite,
and death. Survivors did not come back to the world with maturity. They returned very,
very old.

Viet Nam is like herpes. Once you get it, it never really goes away. I went to
Viet Nam when I was 19. I spent 15 years watching, listening, and trying to understand.
I have been a detached observer - being most comfortable in my aloneness.

Our time here will be spent in a sharing of the personal side, the feeling side, of
an experience that, for those of us who were there, is an ever-present reality. My body
was transported back from Viet Nam to Oakland, California in 1968. It took me years to
realize that I died in Viet Nam.

In Viet Nam men were not killed in battle. They died in firefights.
Firefight - an interesting euphemism. Like a rumble after a high school football game.
The theory seemed to be that if the language of war could be made less specific, the act
could be made more palatable. Somehow things were never called by names that
conveyed meaning to anyone who was not a participant.
When Our Troops Come Home

Even name became nomenclature. The killed, maimed and missing became KIA,
WIA, MIA. The language of high-tech war. Detached, dehumanizing, unmeaning words.
In an emerging, high-tech America, Viet Nam refocused our attention on the personal
component of war. The purpose in Viet Nam was never to win. The purpose was to kill.
High-tech death is sudden. Without dignity. Body bags are the epitome of high-tech
death. Mass produced, non-descript, sanitary. While reading Elizabeth Kubler-Ross'
book, On Death and Dying, I was most struck by the length of time in which the patients
had to die.

There were few details given on how men died. The high-tech funeral in Viet
Nam was a memorial service. The difference between a memorial service and a funeral
is that at a memorial service it's easier to forget why you are there. Total acceptance can
be used as effectively as total denial to isolate the living from the dead.

Memorial services never had bodies. We arrived alone. We survived alone.

We went home alone. We survive alone. The most poignant lesson being that survival
does not guarantee anything. Especially continued survival.

I knew a platoon sergeant that came to Viet Nam with the expressly stated
purpose of either winning the Congressional Medal of Honor or being killed. I watched
him get blown to pieces when he stepped on an antitank mine. The rest of us were
relieved that we wouldn't have to be there when he won the medal. And we cried for

So far we have seen Viet Nam as a painting. A flat surface where the artist uses
perspective to evoke feeling and emotion. Viet Nam is not a painting. Viet Nam is a
play. One in which we still participate. A friend of mine once said that God was a
comedian playing to an audience who was afraid to laugh. Perhaps it is time for us to
perform the closing act. To allow the emotion, the feeling, the hurt, the vanity, the
humor, and the tragedy to come to fruition.

For me, the anthem of Viet Nam is Richard Harris singing MacArthur Park.
To this day I do not understand the words. And it makes no difference. The music
touches me. The music is America in motion. Going nowhere. On and On. The
cauldron of Viet Nam. Viet Nam survivors cling to their reality. There is nothing in fast
food America that offers a comparable level of intensity.
When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 3

"I saw the pain in their faces over and over again.
Most of them haven't cried yet. The fear
of not being able to stop crying is still too great."

Mark Baker

Survival is the most intense, internalized, selfish, self-sustaining feeling I know.

It is a feeling, once learned, that affects every action. Survival is so primitive in its
origin, so all-consuming in its intensity, that it colors my perception like indelible ink.
For those who learned survival in Viet Nam it is a laundry mark on our soul.

The survivor lives with the guilt and pride, the anger and love, the fear and
exhilaration every day. For those of us who were there, perhaps this is a hand in the
darkness. A knowing that there is at least one other person who understands. One other
person who knows. One other person who cares and says so. And, if there is one,
perhaps there are others. To live with Viet Nam, is like watching your five year old
daughter die of leukemia. More importantly, to realize that to step beyond survival is a
reaffirmation of life.

Viet Nam was a land of rolling hills, plains, high mountains and marshes.
When the monsoons came the rain conformed to the contours of the land. Emotions,
intentions, dreams, and beliefs are the natural contours of the survivor's mind. The
storms encountered in Viet Nam both fit and changed a survivor's mental landscape.
Like the monsoons sweeping over the countryside. Remembering is different than
reliving. Veterans remember. Survivors relive.

The difficulty in integrating survivors back into American society is a shared

responsibility. From a reality of concern, intense camaraderie, and shared moments
amplified by ever present danger, the survivor returned to a world largely devoid of
close, mutual emotional involvement. The "me generation" of an emotionally
protectionist, individualized America.

There is a stereotype of the Viet Nam survivors as antisocial, psychopathic,

aimless, drifting, trained killers. Men enraged, possessed, capable of unspeakable
violence. For years movies, television, books and magazines seemed transfixed by this
image. In a sense it's true. In the same sense that would permit an action thriller to be
made about epileptics.

The survivor is, by Darwinian definition, a killer. Just as there is no crime

without a victim, there is no survivor without the situation to be survived. Perhaps our
first step toward peace is the recognition of our willingness to kill.
When Our Troops Come Home

The survivor knows that he is, in fact, a killer. He has killed before. In the
appropriate situation he would kill again. If war is the outward manifestation of our
belief in competition, perhaps the recognition of cooperation is the basis for peace.

Why is it that rape is more anxiety provoking than murder? Perhaps because the
victim remains alive to relive the experience. Survivors are victims of psychological and
emotional rape. Asking a survivor what it felt like to kill is like asking a rape victim,
"How was it?" Rape victims and combat survivors can learn a lot from each other.

The artist who specialized in survival used vibrant colors. Red, orange, yellow,
intense shades of green. It is difficult to learn to use pastels and create a comparable
sense of aliveness. Viet Nam was not living. Viet Nam was aliveness. An awareness of
the moment in the sensuous presence of the moment. The survivor now finds few events
that allow the celebration of life in its most intense sense. An awareness of life based on
the personal awareness of death. Real, immediate, felt, understood death. Edward
Abbey makes the comment in passing about the survivors of Korea having a "40 mile
stare". In Viet Nam it was the same look described as a "1,000 yard stare". Everything
seemed to be compressed and distorted.

Viet Nam provided the drama in which men and women experienced themselves
in the extreme. Survivors returned with intensified personalities. They returned as who
they were magnified a thousand times.

Photographs, even film and videotape, do not convey the awareness of combat.
The survivor has encountered the reality of direct experience. Returning to a world of
second-hand information and active uninvolvement is disorienting. Returning from a
world of continuous present to one of assumed tomorrows is unnerving.

The survivor, like a top that has lost its angular momentum, wobbles. The ability
to regain momentum, to stabilize, no longer depends on the circumstances of the
environment. It depends on the survivor's personal capacity to redirect his own energy.

Love was one of the most intense emotions experienced by survivors in Viet
Nam. It was seldom perceived as that. Love was materialized most frequently as its
antithesis; horror, rage, slaughter, and destruction.

Love exists beyond the illusion of its sexual expression. Love is loyalty. Love is
commitment. In the techno-macho illusion of Viet Nam the science of counter guerilla
operations did not acknowledge the emotional basis of high-technology war.

The drug problem in Viet Nam was not heroin. It was adrenaline. Drugs offer an
altered state of consciousness, a different awareness. A perception of reality that is
altogether real for the user. Survival is an altered state of consciousness. The concept of
time is distorted. There were only two times a survivor in Viet Nam was aware of. The
When Our Troops Come Home

date he was due to leave country and the present. The right here, right now. Everything
else was illusion. It was "other time".

Survivors played with "other time" like children reading the National
Geographic. Far away places, beautiful photographs. Discovering the past. Speculating
about the future. But when the word came to saddle up, "other time" was folded and put
away. "Other time" is part of the unresolved question for survivors.

In Viet Nam "other time" was used to construct fantasies. Fantasies about home.
Fantasies about places and people and about how time would be spent. The fantasies
constructed around people were the most intense. Fantasies about important people;
wives, girlfriends, parents, children, friends. People who had cared. People who would
care again.

The fantasies grew. They grew because in a reality of death, hurt, and gut
grinding fear, what a survivor wanted most was love.

The need for love was so great, so intense, so heightened by his Viet Nam
relationships that the fantasies the survivor created were beyond what any of those
important people could comprehend. Survivors seldom asked for love. They expected it.
In the reality of Viet Nam they had experienced love in an altered state. In that altered
state they had created the structure and fabric and intensity of a love that they could not
communicate. A love so powerful that it literally denied death.

The people the survivor came home to, the important people, simply did not
understand what was expected, what was utterly, totally needed from them. And the
survivor had forgotten how to ask.

Once home, the "other time" fantasies created so carefully for so long crumbled.
So, for the survivor who found himself suddenly in a world of uncaring people, Viet Nam
became his "other time". The survivor retreated within himself to the aloneness with
which he was most comfortable. Alone. Like dying of a heart attack during the
Christmas rush at O'Hare International.

As a survivor I felt the exhilaration of personal invincibility. The taste of

seeming immortality. What could I face in the real world that was more demanding than
what I had experienced in combat?

Viet Nam was here. Now. The most perplexing quality of home was that there
was always a tomorrow. How does an adrenaline addict satisfy the need to live in an
altered state, perched on the edge of annihilation, in a world where tomorrow is assumed?

The survivor lives in a world alone. For alone is where the fix is sought.
Where the rush is felt. The survivor was not taught to win, to expect, to savor victory.
The survivor learned to survive. It is the survival ethic that served so well and now
haunts the survivor.
When Our Troops Come Home

The survivor seeks the physical and emotional high of an altered state. When the
current environment does not provide the high directly, the survivor manufactures his
own. The pursuit of survival for the sake of survival. Not to win. Not to grow. Not to
achieve. The survivor does battle within himself to maintain his identity as a survivor.
The survivor was stripped of every shred of America's cultural facade. In a single
moment he stepped through the portal into the infinite emptiness of beyond. He saw the
human condition directly. In the seeing his mind was torn. His soul was shattered.

The fear of winning is real for a survivor. Winning implies completion.

A finishing. A void. An emotional vacuum. What fills the emotional chasm if a survivor
wins? What in the present reality of America provides the impetus, the stimulation, the
high? If I am not a grunt, who am I?

A survivor quoted in Mark Baker's book, Nam, has a similar perception:

"Civilian level is bullshit… you get in a fire fight and you see exactly who's who. There
wasn't anything phony. It was all very real, the realest thing I've ever done. Everything
since seems totally superfluous. It's horseshit". For the survivor, survival is living.
Everything else is just waiting.
When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 4

"You admitted to error! The trouble with you,

Jakob, is that you have no convictions. Maybe you
didn't make an error, but a discovery. No wonder
you've had so little success."

Russell McCormack
Night Thoughts of a
Classical Physicist

Viet Nam was not the loss of the American vision. It was the beginning of the
transition in which we now find ourselves.

The Zen tradition of Japan has, for centuries, used a riddle called a koan to draw
its students to their own realization. Among the more commonly known koans is one
that states:

You know the sound of two hands clapping. What is the sound of one hand clapping?

The answer to the riddle cannot be deduced from rational, logical thought
processes. If the student is to progress, it is the result of a comprehension, a realization, a
knowing of the answer. An awareness completely outside reason. A perception arrived
at by unasking the question. I sometimes wonder if Viet Nam was not posed as the
ultimate American koan.

Was Viet Nam right or wrong? The question has been continually restated since
the mid-sixties. Could it be that the answer is beyond the context of the question?
Perhaps the problem is that the question has not yet been unasked in a form that will
provide us with comprehension.

Viet Nam produced a generation of trained skeptics. Those who know that
appearances are not reality. The knowing that a peaceful appearance is a prelude to
violence. From a world of knowing to a world where even the questions have not been
clearly stated. It's too bad that Jane Fonda and Green Peace cannot devote as much
energy to saving survivors as they commit to saving whales. Jane, where were you when
we needed you?

Viet Nam was not a random, murderous chaos played out across the landscape of
time, space and the American consciousness. It was a carefully orchestrated, shared
experience of a generation.

Viet Nam was a shared experience for all America. An experience that polarized
our people. An event that created both the combatants and the protesters. Viet Nam
brought back intense emotions to an unfeeling technological culture. America continues
to relive Viet Nam. If it is true that a life of moderation is best achieved by living some
When Our Troops Come Home

time in extremes, then perhaps we are moving toward moderation. We have intensely
experienced war and the protest against it.

In a world perceived in the clinical terms of science and technology, emotions

inhibit progress. While humanity may deal in feelings, governments are formulated and
maintained by the strength of technological innovation. People are governed by the
bureaucracies they deserve.

Viet Nam was not an isolated historical event. It was a progression. Rather, a
focal point of a progression. Warfare, once defined as an extension of diplomacy, has
reached the point where it is recognized for what it is. Suicide on a mass scale. A drama
played out by individuals on a grand scale. There is no good, no bad. No manifest
destiny to be fulfilled. War is killing. It is not the passive act of dying. It is the
dynamic, purposeful, premeditated act of killing. Viet Nam played like a coming
attraction for high-tech war.

The high-tech world is one in which the language itself is a kind of shorthand.
The words and acronyms convey precise meaning to the participants and leave the
uninitiated struggling to comprehend. So it is with Viet Nam.

Viet Nam was high-technology warfare. High-technology war implies killing and
being killed without ever seeing the enemy face to face. It makes no difference whether
the means are NASA technology or bamboo technology. The result and effect are the

Survivors remain victims by their own choice. Survivors purchased Viet Nam as
a book of direct experience. To read, to relive that volume as a nightmare, or as a
reference manual for formulating an insight into living, is also a choice. As it is for the
survivor, so it is with the nation.

Survivors are people specifically trained and well schooled at working effectively
in small groups. The groups that merged and diffused while maintaining their own
integrity. In a world of national unions and multi-national corporations, why would an
entire generation of Americans participate in an experience that prepared them so well
for quick, incisive reaction to immediate situations? I suspect that we will find out.

Isn't there something tragically humorous about a nation that had the audacity to
export its culture in the Peace Corps also manufacturing the experience of Viet Nam?
Would it change our perspective to consider the military in Viet Nam as a Peace Corps
with weapons?

The seeker and the knower have different, seemingly irreconcilable perceptions of
Viet Nam like the snapping of a large rubber band. The seeker sees the rubber band.
The survivor feels the snap.
When Our Troops Come Home

The survivors who were able to "adjust" were those fortunate enough to find a
person who sensed that beneath the actions and words of anger and resentment was a
consuming need to experience, to re-experience love. Love at the same level of intensity
as it was experienced during the survivor's lifetime in the mountains, jungles, and
swamps of Viet Nam. The need still exists. The need is growing. Both the seekers and
the knowers are beginning to have an awareness of the need to share the experience of

The problem with scientists' petitions for peace and disarmament is that they don't
have the armies necessary to enforce them. It is totally in character that as descendants
of Aristotle we maintain that war is justified to preserve peace.

Guilt, that insidious, non-specific, anxiety-provoking, persistent, American

symptom still infects our consciousness. Like a low-grade infection. The guilt of
sending. The guilt of going. The guilt of not going. The guilt of coming home. Like a
never-ending public crucifixion.

For the observer, the seeker, time is organized along the linear span of yesterday,
today, tomorrow. Past, present, future. Events, experiences perceived and organized in
relation to linear time.

A society so intently focused on time, schedules, todays and tomorrows was not
prepared to integrate the thousands of survivors whose perception of time was forever
altered by Viet Nam. From a world of untime the survivor was transported to a place
where a gold wristwatch is a status symbol.

For the knower, the survivor, linear time has little meaning. The survivor
experiences time through the association of intense emotions. Events, actions, music,
words, sounds, smells and situations in the present trigger a reliving of the past. And in
the moments of the reliving there is no past or present or future. There is only the

Seekers would hope to find definitions, stereotypes and prior experience to

describe, specify, define Viet Nam. In prepackaged America, Viet Nam was not a
K-Mart war.

The seekers suspect. Survivors know. Peace is not a state of unwar. Peace is
Peace. War is War. We assume we cannot live with war. We are unwilling to choose
peace. We face death by default.

Science, the capacity to conduct high-technology warfare, and the governments it

perpetuates have their egos invested in quantified, measurable, physical reality. As a
creature of physical reality, man is most comfortable dealing with events, activities and
situations that can be physically manipulated. National policy is an extension of the
research laboratory.
When Our Troops Come Home

The fear of success has been identified as a personal anxiety for Americans.
Could it be that its national corollary is a fear of peace? War, the preparation for, the
diplomacy to prevent, and the anxiety over, is an active, energy consuming process that
can be pursued in the manipulation of physical events. War is a logical, technological,
masculine process.

Peace, the actual attainment of peace, not unwar, is threatening. It is anxiety

provoking. Peace is a state of being. An intuitive awareness. Peace is. Peace requires
no physical manipulation to maintain. We have no technology for peace. No wonder we
are so afraid of it. Peace is un-American.

If the seeker would know what a nuclear confrontation is at a personal level, ask a
survivor what it is to survive the detonation of an antitank mine. At the personal level
there is no winner, no loser. There is only survival. In a high-technology war all the
munitions are labeled "To Whom It May Concern".

The question currently posed is whether the American people can survive the
transition of their own government from a belief in war to a belief in peace. As, with the
survivor, for whom the war is not over, so it is with the structure of our national psyche.

Mediocrity is not moderation. Just as unwar is not peace. It will be interesting to

see if America has the character to live in moderation. Viet Nam was a real life fantasy
where the individual lived out his greatest fears and aspirations. An "other time" where
all that was best and worst in America's children displayed itself in a multi-dimensional,
quadrisonic, mosaic.

From observation and insight, Newton postulated that for every action there is
an equal and opposite reaction. His mathematical proofs laid the foundation for classical
physics. From classical physics through the quanta to the nuclear age. How would our
world be different had Newton formulated the proofs that for every action there are an
infinite number of equal and opposite reactions?

For all of us, the knowers and the seekers, this is an invitation to accept. In the
quiet of our time here, to understand that we are all truly survivors of Viet Nam.
When Our Troops Come Home


When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 5

"Here is a test to find whether your mission on

earth is finished: If you're alive it isn't."

Richard Bach

"…His unswerving commitment to his duty and his unselfish sacrifice are a credit
to himself, his unit, and the United States Army."

The words came forth with no conscious effort. How many times have I heard the
words? How many wives and parents and children heard the words? The starched,
neatly folded American flag presented to them formally. The three volleys of seven shots
fired and echoing in the distance. The loss, the hurt, the desperation, the disbelief set to
music as a long bugler plays taps. And the feeling described so well in a song from long
ago settles on me, "Is that all there is?" Even now, the feelings come without the words
to express them.

What do I have to say to the parents who lost their child, to the wives who will
never feel their husband's arms around them again, to the children whose fathers never
came home? I'm sorry?

Wasted. A shorthand term for the act of killing. A synonym for the dead. A term
based on the assumption that a person's death had even less meaning than their life.

My daughter is two and a half. Children are very profound people in small
bodies. Jenny had not spent time along a mountain stream before. A week ago we went
to one.

We stood on the bank next to a fallen tree. The trunk created a quiet place in its
own backwater. It wasn't long before Jenny discovered throwing pebbles into the eddy.
I watched, enjoying her play, caught up in her pleasure of discovery. The untime of
perception. There were green, growing leaves. The sharp taste of pine needles.
The motion of running water. The quiet caring of the sunlight.

I looked out into the stream. It's springtime and the melting snow forced the
current irresistibly downstream. I looked at Jenny. Pebbles ready, concentrating on the
task at hand. The stream moved on. The water didn't seem to care whether or not a
Three-year-old threw pebbles in its way. And I realized what I knew. She was changing
the course of the stream forever. Minutely. Infinitesimally. Microscopically. Yet
irresistibly. The stream would never flow quite the same again. It didn't seem to care, its
surface moving on, and it was changed.

"Daddy, are you sad?" "No, sweetheart. I just love you very much."
When Our Troops Come Home

Those men were not wasted. Lives are not wasted. Death is not wasted.
The manner of a person's dying is as meaningful as his life. The statement of a loved
one's dying changes us forever. The statement is important. I cannot be sure what those
men said. I am beginning to understand what I heard. Are you listening?

To the survivors whose sons and husbands and fathers did not come home, there
is something that is very important that you understand. Those men were family to us.
We loved them. When they were hit, we did everything in our power to keep them alive.
When a man went down it was like a child with a piece of meat stuck in his throat. The
reaction was immediate. It made no difference that dishes and silverware went flying,
that glasses spilled and bowls overturned. Somebody was there. We tried. We tried so
hard. We cared. We fought to keep them alive long enough for the dust off to get in.
We yelled and screamed and pleaded. We held them in our arms and prayed. They were
family. They were a part of us. We loved them. And sometimes there was nothing we
could do. They had already decided. But they did not die alone.
When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 6

"A man is rich in proportion to the number of things

he can afford to let alone."

Henry David Thoreau


Viet Nam survivors seldom talk about their experiences. How do they verbalize
the rancid, stinging, spoiled, ammonia stench of the sun baked dead? How do they speak
of the intuition of the ambush they walked into? How do they convey the unspeakable
process of growing old in a young man's body? How do they bring the awareness of
knowing to rational conversation?

The survivor knows absolutely that it is possible to care without feeling. The
survivor reads people's souls in their eyes. "What you're saying is so heavy," the lady
said. "There must have been some funny things. Some humorous experiences. Tell me
about the countryside. The people. Your friends."

"Do you know what I did?" responded the survivor.

"No", the lady said.

The survivor was watching her eyes. Knowing, before he spoke, that the lady had
sand bagged her soul.

"I killed people. It was my job. I was very good at it. Sometimes it feels like
that's what I did the very best in my whole life. I killed people."

"You mean when they attacked you?" Her voice was toneless. Detached. Like a
teacher dissecting a frog in biology class. The survivor read her eyes.

"I mean, I ambushed them. I mean, I waited stone silent in a moonless, shadow
blackness and when they walked by me, I blew their lungs out with an automatic weapon.
They never knew I was there."

The next question was unasked. It swelled in her eyes like a wino's vomit.

"You mean it wasn't a fair fight?"

The question thumped against the survivor's chest. An unexpected medicine ball.
It had simply never occurred to him that anyone would conceive of Viet Nam as a fair
When Our Troops Come Home

The lady's eyes dropped to her folded hands. The survivor studies the texture of
the tablecloth.

"We were talking about how I feel," he said. "Do you really want to know where
my feelings come from?"

And in the silence that followed, the lady's eyes never left her hands. "No.
No, I don't think so," she whispered.

The survivor had been home from Viet Nam for 15 years. The lady was his

Caring without feeling. Caring so much they will not feel. Caring without
feeling. Original sin. Caring without feeling. Sinners condemned. Survivors.

When do the tears come? What triggers the release? How do we heal the
wounds? The yelling, the screaming, the pleading, the praying. They aren't enough.
How do we heal the wounds? How do survivors heal themselves?

Is it the uncried tears that are necessary? The tears that hover at the brink so often
and are stoically withheld. Why not just find a quiet place and cry? Alone. Together.
Is it because the survivors are afraid they'll never be able to stop?

In Viet Nam no one ever looked down on a man who cried. The tears were
accepted. Acceptable. Crying was a part of the experience. There were times when the
situations, the feelings, were so overwhelming that the tears were the only link with

What's different now? Do survivors care less? No. I think they care more.
But thinking is not feeling. Survivors have worked very hard not to feel. They have
carefully, arduously constructed a state of emotional amnesia. Years of diligent effort,
day after day, to create the ramparts of objectivity. The survivors have forgotten the
feelings crouched waiting behind those walls. The survivor has chosen to forget.

Survivors fear feelings. Afraid of the lethal, pent up power. Like a waiting
claymore. The survivors fear disability. Released feelings may assault the very structure
of their life. The vulnerable person inside the carefully constructed, analytical, logical,
facade may be swept away. The survivors fear for their lives.
When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 7

"Before I went over I knew a couple of friends that

came back. I asked, 'What was it like?' and they
didn't know how to explain it and I didn't
know what I was asking."

Al Santoli
Everything We Had

Day by day. Moment by moment. Casualty by casualty. Body by body.

The survivors began to freeze their emotions. At first we thought a wall was good
enough. We still cried. Cover. Protection. These were the first order of business for the
survivor. Profanity became the shorthand to express emotions. Humor. Laughing too
loud and too long at nothing. From physical vomiting to the emotional dry heaves was a
relentless progression for the survivor. Viet Nam evoked a vernacular of profanity not
only in the delta and highlands, but also on the college campuses.

The walls built to contain the hurt and pain and rage and desperation were not
enough. Walls could be breached. Walls could be broken. The individual could still be
reached. The neurological circuits began to overload.

The tracheotomy performed in the dirt with a pocketknife and the hollow bottom
half of a ballpoint pen began to take its toll. Walking through the villages, where
children and pigs lay side by side after the artillery lifted, left its mark. Being ambushed.
Being mortared. Incoming rockets. Friends simply vanishing, either on dust-off
choppers or in body bags, never seen or heard from again. The fatigue. The endless
tiredness. And finally the one situation, the single moment, the last ounce of bullshit.
The day the dry heaves stop. The fuck it day.

The day the circuits finally short out. Snap! That's it. That's just fuckin' it!

On that day the earth's axis shifted. What was tropical became arctic. The tears,
the puking, the feelings froze. In an instant. The day hell froze over.

The final, ultimate acceptance that feelings do not alter the situation. The day the
survivor reached a knowing that his own feelings were more dangerous than incoming
fire. The recognition that feelings make no difference. Killing makes no difference.
Dying makes no difference. The wounded make no difference. Ground taken, villages
burned, the body count, make no difference. It don't mean nothin'.

And all the hate and rage, all the love and hurt, all the caring and concern are
summed up in that one unacceptable, and profoundly simple statement: "Fuck it".
When Our Troops Come Home

The naïve, young warrior had become a death broker. He has assumed the
perspective of a survivor. The Ice Man. His only function was to get himself and as
many of his people as possible out. Whatever it took. The player who had given his all
and suddenly realizes that the game was rigged before he ever took the field. Someone
had bet on the point spread. The point spread that would become known as Peace With

The reality was a piece of shrapnel in the throat. The reality was a piece of a leg
blown off. The reality was a piece of a lung shot away. The reality was a piece of paper
marked "remains nonviewable". The reality was a piece of the survivor's soul. Piece
with Honor?

Each survivor experienced that day. For me it was the day three seven blew. For
another survivor it was listening to his friend trapped inside the cockpit of a B-52 going
down over North Viet Nam.

Emotional cryogenics. The survivor imploded. Like a star collapsing on itself.

The black hole. The event horizon at its edge where time stands still. No yesterday.
No tomorrow. Only the here and now. Only the knowing.

Survivors do talk about Viet Nam. It's the intensity of their language that's
When Our Troops Come Home


When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 8

"Morale is the greatest single factor in successful


Dwight D. Eisenhower
June 23, 1945

Forgiveness. Acceptance. Thawing. Who will forgive the survivor for the
enormity of his acts? Who will accept the primordial intensity it takes to remain
unfeeling? Who is prepared to accept the deluge of tears that must accompany the
thawing? Forgive? On what basis? With what justification? The survivor stands
convicted by his own actions. By his own memories. Guilty as charged. How does the
survivor admit to his family that he is guilty of acts and feelings, which, in any civilized
country on earth, would be met with prison if not summary execution? Murder. Arson.
Assault and battery. But we elude the real question. How does the survivor admit such
actions and feelings to himself?

The survivor learned his emotional lessons as a child. He internalized them on

his fuck it day. Big boys don't cry. Crying never solved anything. Stop crying or I'll
give you something to cry for. When tears become unacceptable, then what? Fuck it!

Sometimes the survivor tries to pretend he was a supply clerk in Saigon. A typist
at Cam Rahn Bay. The survivor uses "other time" to try and create alternative memories.
It doesn't work.

My oldest son played basketball on a junior high school team this year. One of
his teammates was a Viet Namese boy. A good athlete. Quick. Agile. Assertive. Built
well for his age. Muscular. Especially his legs. I would go to practices and games and
watch him. Watch his legs. Fascinated. Absorbed. Fixed on his legs. I could never
bring myself to say hello. His legs were those of the VC and NVA I killed. Muscular,
sinuous legs. From the weeks and months of humping equipment down the Ho Chi Minh
Trail. I wanted to say hello. I needed to say hello. I hurt to say hello. Could I forgive
myself? Would he forgive me? I have not yet said hello. Fuck it.

I just want to go home.
When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 9

"… This made the Viet Nam conflict symbolic,

even mythological, from the outset. The ideological
battles eventually became more real and substantial
than anything taking place in the field, which placed
the combatants in grave danger, for they were not
trained for mythological warfare."

Walter H. Capps
The Unfinished War

Guilt is the morea eel that lurks in the crevices of my mind. Waiting. Waiting to
tear my throat out if I ever make the mistake of swimming too close. Guilt is the slimy,
gooey slug that wanders endlessly across the trails of my memories. Guilt is the metallic
shades of brown and green covering the skin of that huge snake coiled on the tree limb of
my imagination. The snake ready to drop and strangle the life out of me in a careless
moment. Guilt is the black shiny eyes of a starving rat hiding just beyond the door of my
consciousness. Guilt is the death stare of an opossum squashed on the highway leading
to my dreams. The death grimace. The bared teeth. Guilt is the tapeworm in my soul.

Know how to get a tapeworm out? Starve yourself for two or three days. Open
your mouth and hold a piece of food just in front of your teeth. The tapeworm slithers
out of your stomach and wriggles up through your throat, attracted by the food. Grab it.
Inch by slimy, putrid, retching inch pull it out.

That's what guilt is. Guilt is disgusting. Guilt is loathsome. Guilt is disabling.
Guilt is the cancer of the spirit.

For the survivor guilt is like having too much to drink. Needing to vomit and not
being able to. The survivor searches for the emotional equivalent to shoving a finger
down his throat. The release of being able to puke and collapse. Guilt is the
wheelbarrow in which we carry a whole wardrobe of other feelings. Insidious costumes.
The trappings of evil and dangerous men. Men who have the potential for violence.
Men who cannot be trusted, especially alone with their own feelings.

Look at this. Look at what's in here. Ah, here's the ensemble of aloneness.
Unworthy, unlovable, unforgivable. When I wear these I am most detached. No one can
see me. Least of all myself. The secretive attire of the stuck, powerless, guilt-ridden
victim. The survivor.

Who packed this bag? Are these the clothes I chose for myself? Looking at
what's in here, item by item, I'm appalled by my own creativity. Why do I keep them?
The rational, conscious me has no idea. The addict knows.
When Our Troops Come Home

The adrenalin addict knows. That camouflaged, face-blackened, cold-eyed, flesh-

consuming addict knows. For he is the one who dominates my "other time". The one
who seeks the rush from reliving the moments of pain and exhilaration. The addict who
fabricates illusions of aliveness on the never-ending stage of my memories. I must keep
these costumes. I must keep them with me always. For how else can I conceal my real
nature in a world of nonusers?

Guilt, the habit of the priestly order of the Ice Man. Savored, luxuriated in,
retained as the last vestige of a time that history would rather forget.

Look at it. Look at this thing we call guilt. Look at it in the light of your own
awareness. Disgusting, maggot-infested, putrid, stench-filled guilt. I've shown you
mine. What about yours?

Remember how we found Charlie in the bush? We went out wandering around
until we got hit. It was stupid. Walking through the bush, wanting to get even, just
waiting to get blown away. Why? So we could call in the gun ships or tac air or fire
support and smoke Charlie before he got us. When you think about it, doesn't that pull
the hair on your leg a little bit? Live bait. Live goddamn bait! So pumped on adrenalin
and rage that, even though we knew better, we went anyway.

And for what? To come home and find out we were warmongers and murderers?
Killing and dying in a place we had no business being. Remember? Everybody said so.
And we began to believe it. Even the people who agreed to send the troops in after
Tonkin Gulf said we didn't have any business being there. An immoral war they called it.
As if there was any other kind. Shit.

The war we could never win. That's bullshit too. I remember a friend saying that
his unit wasn't losing when he left. Well, we weren't losing when I left either. We were
kicking Charlie's ass. We were getting hit. We were losing people. We were tired and
exhausted. But we were there. Every damn day we were there. We got blown up and
shot and burned, but we were there. We gave everything we had to keep our people
alive. We did the very best we could. Goddamn it! We were not losing in the field. Not
when I came home. Not when any of us came home.

I am really tired of pushing the wheelbarrow load of bullshit around that smells
like a loser when I know I did the very best I could. Just like you, I gave every goddamn
thing I had!

Angry? You're goddamn right I'm angry. Somebody had to be responsible for
Viet Nam. Have you ever heard anybody stand up in public and say, "I'm responsible for
this?" Have you ever heard a Congressman or a Senator or President say "I'm
accountable for what happened over there?" Maybe they did and I missed it. I haven't
heard anybody say it lately. You know what happened? You and I were the ones who
did it. We pulled the trigger. We called in the air strikes. We leveled the villages. We
When Our Troops Come Home

killed the civilians. You and me. The people in the bush. We did it. Accountability by

You want accountability? All right goddamn it, I'm accountable. Me! I did it.
I was sent there to kill people and I did. I was responsible for keeping my people alive
and I did my very best. Many times my best wasn't good enough. And I'm sorry. You
want somebody who's responsible for the death and carnage? Okay you got it. It's me.
Me, goddamn it! But I'll tell you one thing. I'm not pushing this load of bullshit one step
farther. Not one more step. They can take this load of guilt and shove it! And there's
something else. There's nothing anyone can say or do to me that will be any worse than
what I've already said and done to myself.

I quit. I'm going home. My wife needs me. My children need me. And I need
them. Fuck it. I'm going home.
When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 10

The softest thing in the universe

Overcomes the hardest thing in the
That without substance can enter
where I know the value of non-action.
Teaching without words and working
without doing
Are understood by very few.

Lao Tsu
Tao Te Ching

Isn't it quiet here? This place called acceptance. Clouds forming effortlessly.
Quietly going about the business of being clouds. Constantly moving, ever changing.
Energy free to be itself. Content. Accepting. Isn't it quiet here? Moving through the
mist. Peaceful. Going home.

Isn't it strange what acceptance can do? Pastels envelop me. Warm, feeling
textures that radiate aliveness in a way I have not known before. I wonder who the
decorator was? Marshmallow substance clouds. A soft place. A place that simply is.
A strange, wonderful, alive place. This place called accepting.

"No, wait. I can't go home yet. It's too fast. Too easy."

"Ken?" A voice from nowhere. Everywhere.


"Why can't you go home?" No one else here. Just me and the clouds. And the

"Because I haven't been forgiven yet."

"Don't you think accepting is enough?"

"How could it be enough? There must be some kind of penance to pay.

There must be something more intense than just accepting.

"I thought you left your load behind."

"Well, I did. But it can't be this easy. What about all the killing and suffering?"

"What about it?"
When Our Troops Come Home

"I must need to be forgiven. Don't I?"

"Look around you, Ken. What do you see? What do you feel?"

"I don't see anything. There's nothing here. Just these clouds. And the only thing
I feel is a breeze on my face."

"Do the clouds need to be forgiven? Should the breeze apologize?"

"What? What kind of question is that? How do you forgive a cloud? Forgive it
for what? Forgive the breeze? The questions don't make any sense."

"Haven't you seen what clouds and wind can do, Ken?"


"Haven't you seen the smoke and flames of the forest fires started by lighting
exploding from the clouds? Haven't you seen the winds rip homes and buildings apart
leaving people dead and homeless?"

"Well, sure. But those were thunderstorms and hurricanes. What has that got to
do with me?"

"Don't the clouds and wind need forgiveness?"

"This is crazy. Why would I have to forgive the wind and clouds? It's not like
they destroy things on purpose. It just happens sometimes."



"What makes you think that you are any different than the clouds and the wind?"

"Are you telling me that accepting is enough?"

"For now…. If you are willing to let it be."

"But I'm a man. A human being. I can't go around killing people and just
accepting my way out of it."

"That's true. You are indeed accountable. Understand, too, that whatever you
were, whatever you did, the price has been paid. If forgiveness is so important to you,
then you are forgiven. Forgiveness is something that must be accepted too. Do you
understand what you know?"
When Our Troops Come Home

"Can I go home now?"

"Please do. They're waiting for you."

I can feel the voice smiling. Leaving.

The clouds are drifting away. The earth feels solid and warm beneath me.
Drifting, moving, parting clouds. It won't be long now. Quiet. Feeling. Caring. No
longer empty. Peaceful. Content. Accepting. Going home.

Do you see them? In the distance there. Waiting. The people I have missed so
much. The people I ached to be with. Do you see them? It won't be long. They're
smiling. They've waited so patiently. My sons, Garon and Ryan. My little girls, Jenny
and Jillian. They're smiling. Their daddy is coming home. And Peggy, my wife, my
best friend. Fifteen years we've been together. Fifteen years she's been waiting. Waiting
through the dreams and flashbacks. Waiting through the long silence. Waiting through
the darkness. Patiently waiting. "Peggy?"

"Yes, Sweetheart."

"I made it."

"I knew you would, Ken. I love you."
When Our Troops Come Home


When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 11

"… 'Come here and I will show you the punishment

given to the famous prostitute who rules enthroned
beside abundant waters, the one with whom
all the Kings of the earth have committed
fornication, and who has made all the population of
the world drunk with the wine of her adultery.'"

The Book of Revelation

Chapter 17: Verse 2-3

Will you sit with me awhile? I'm here in my place again. The brightly lit, open,
airy, family atmosphere of the local pizza parlor. Gracious people here. They've
reserved my table. The one in the large back room where the children's birthday parties
and little league award ceremonies are held. The table in the farthest corner with wood
paneled walls on two sides. My table. The safest table in the restaurant.

It's mid-February 1984. A year since we last talked. A year, can you believe it?
Twelve months that vanished in a blur and lasted forever. I "came home" about this time
a year ago. In the interim I have learned that coming home is not being home.
The ghosts came with me. And with the ghosts come the feelings. Guilt. Anger.
Aloneness. These fluid, filmy, vaporous entities that hover around the brink of my

We talked about the wall. The breastworks built to constrain those feelings.
This has been a dismantling year. I have been spending my time unbuilding the wall.
Quietly. A brick at a time. Chink. Chink. Chink. The gnarled dusty, broken-fingernail
hands of the stonecutter. One day at a time. Excavating. Finding bits and pieces of

I've read books about Viet Nam; each one a writer's conversation with himself
that can finally be shared with those willing to listen. And I have come to understand
why I have so diligently avoided the novels about Viet Nam. As I suspected, it is in
those pages that the images of the ghosts reside.

I have discovered something else in this past year. I have fought it, railed against
it, shouted obscenities in its face. I have discovered that coming home is only the first
step in the journey. Coming home is not the same as being home.

She slips seductively through the shadows. The sound of silken motion.
The faintest echo of her footfall reaching deep inside me. Her image, her sound, her
fragrance, calling me. The most alluring woman I've ever seen. Dimly, barley
discernable, the flickering light from a distant source silhouettes her body. Lithe.
Enticing. Her suggestion communicated with inaudible clarity.
When Our Troops Come Home

The woman. The most beautiful, supple, desirable woman I have ever
envisioned. She wants me. She has chosen me. Magic in her movement. Her breasts
rising rhythmically with each breath. Her slender waist and rounded hips tapering to the
inviting, invisible solidness of her thighs. Long, slender, silk-enshrouded legs. Her
ankles and golden sandals intermittently seen through the swishing of her translucent
gown. Raven black hair accenting the contours of her bare shoulders. The amber depths
of her eyes reflecting my desire as I approach. Cunningly sultry. She conveys the purest
essence of woman. The woman all men seek. The woman beyond the woman seen
monthly in our magazines. She's there awaiting me in the vivid, muted colors which are
beyond the limitations of the photographer's lens.

Beguiling, seductive, wanton. Waiting there for you. Can you resist her, young man?
Don't you want to come with her?
When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 12

"Being self-taught, they cannot be expected to show

any gratitude for culture they never received."

The Republic

November 1982. The Seattle-Tacoma Airport. The Horizon Club is a lounge

area that Western Airlines maintains for people awaiting flights. The club is separated
into three sections. The entry contains a reception desk and small bar area. Four lounge
chairs arranged in pairs, facing each other, with small tables between them. Beyond is a
larger room. The television stands watch here. A sofa and some over-stuffed chairs sit in
attendance. The third area is for phone calls. Sofas back-to-back in the center of the
room, facing the chairs next to the walls. Three phones on tables between the semi-
comfortable chairs.

It's late afternoon. The drizzle turns to rain against the windows. For most of us
here it's comfortable enough. About as comfortable as possible for bodies in transit.
Lounging people, reading people, waiting people. The television mumbles on. Six
o'clock. News time. Who cares? I put my magazine down and withdraw to the phone
near the back wall. Time to call Peggy and let her know when I'll be home.

The phone call is completed. Relaxing now. Settling in. Everything is fine at
home. Peggy has a way of bringing back my smile.

The atmosphere has changed. There's static in the air. A fingernails-on-the-

blackboard sensation. A commotion in the TV room. The strained, restrained voice
grasping at me.

"You don't know what you're talking about. Why don't you just shut the hell up!"

What's going on? A man moving toward me. Moving faster than the
accommodations would dictate. An angry man. Conversations have stopped. The TV
commentator drones on, concluding his nonstory about Viet Nam. The man excuses
himself as he passes in front of me and sits heavily in the chair next to mine.

Quick impressions. Six feet, one. A hundred eighty pounds. Age? Early thirties.
He looks solid in his brown tweed sport coat and tan slacks. A business traveler. The
open collar of his pale blue shirt conferring an attitude that he's more concerned with
doing business than impressing anyone. Seems like a good man to have on your side.
He's hurting, though. Struggling to gain control. I know the feeling. He'll be OK.

The apparition appears. A young man. A kid. Neatly tucked into his blue, three-
piece, dress-for-success ensemble. Frail, almost anemic looking. Energetic. An
When Our Troops Come Home

energetic anemic. Blonde hair prematurely thinning. Wire rim glasses. A plastic smile.
He has to be either an actuary or a Yale divinity student. I don't know who he is and
already I hate him.

My man looks up from the chair beside me as the neoprene person slides by me
and takes up a position on the couch facing us. A ragged voice speaks from my friend.

"I was out of line. I apologize."

Plastic man won't let it be.

"Oh, it's OK. Gee, you feel very strongly about Viet Nam. I'm really interested.
I studied the war in my political science class."

My friend is struggling again.

"Look, I'm really sorry. Why don't you go back and watch television?"

The kid is either totally insensitive or incredibly stupid. Maybe, probably both.
The conversation rambles on. The academician posing long, involved, philosophical
questions about war and social justice. My friend's responses are clipped, constrained
variations of yes or no.

The mouse is enthralled with his own dialectic. My friend is enduring. He made
the mistake of giving his position away and he's paying the price.

Me? I'm just sitting. Legs crossed. Hands folded in my lap. Watching.
Thinking about how may different ways you can kill someone with a newspaper.

The kid really doesn't understand what he's dealing with. How could anyone be
so naïve? He doesn't realize how close to the edge he is. Rambling on and on. Words.
Overused words. Unmeaning words. Like a child picking the scab on a mule's leg. If he
picks long enough, if he picks deep enough, if he draws blood, he's going to get the shit
kicked out of him.

The receptionist walks back to announce a flight departure. My flight. Come on

back, Ken, you've got a plane to catch. I stand up to leave, and hand my business card to
my friend.

"I was there," I offer. "I'll be in my office tomorrow morning if you want to give
me a call."

"Thanks," he says.

Saturday morning. Alone at my desk. The phone rings.
When Our Troops Come Home

"This is Ken Jones."

"Uh, Mr. Jones, I was at Sea-Tac yesterday…."

"I know. Did you kill that son of a bitch?"

"No, I let him skate."

"Yeah, too bad…."

My friend had been a Marine lieutenant in I Corps. An infantry platoon leader.

We talked for two hours. The first person I had really talked to about Viet Nam since I

I don't even remember what we talked about. I just knew that I was talking with
someone who spoke the language. Another person who needed to talk.

Our conversation finally wound down to goodbyes. I haven't seen or talked to

him since. Like so many other good friends, I can't remember his name. And I'll never
forget him.
When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 13

"I must confess that my own personal feeling about

mortality has never been of the keenest order, and
that, among the problems that give my mind
solitude, this one does not take the foremost place."

William James
Human Immortality

Dreading the quiet. Longing to be alone and fearing the aloneness. Home again,
alone with the ghosts.

The flashbacks recede to be replaced by a numbing, empty, gripping in my chest.

Some of the important people have listened to me. They listened with their hearts and
those things that they could not understand they accepted.

In their acceptance I began to find myself. There are some journeys better left
unstarted. Once begun, however, the voyage must be completed. The passage is a
wasteland. Coming home is not the same as being home. On the way to being home,
I must make friends with the ghosts.

The journey through the psyche, the self, the soul. There is nowhere to hide. The
high ground where I stop to rest dissolves into the mist. The gray, bleak land where the
ghosts reside. Chest deep in the frigid waters of the swamp. Mud sucking soundlessly,
relentlessly at my boots. Moving on in a place without contours, without landmarks.
A land without relief.

This can't be! I'm home! I paid my dues. I spent my time. The war is over.
God, where am I? How can I be so alone?

It's bedtime at our house. One of my favorite things is tucking Jenny in at night.
Our special time. Snuggled in close. Her back against my chest and stomach.
Two spoons in a drawer. My arm around her little chest. Smoothing her soft blond hair
so it doesn't tickle my nose. The motion of the waterbed giving way to its warmth.

"What shall we sing?" I ask. A little hand emerges from the cover. Thumb and
first two fingers holding the invisible song. I take it from her and put it into my mouth.
A father-daughter bedtime ritual.

"Oh, that one. OK….'On the twenty-third day in the month of June in
eighteen-fifty-four. A hundred whaling, sailing men set off for Greenland's shore….'"
When Our Troops Come Home

A rousing sea chantey, its tempo attenuated to a lullaby. A song learned in the
long ago hootenanny days of the early sixties. Peggy sings the children's songs. I sing
the songs I remember.

"Greenland is a dreadful place. A place that's never green. Where there's ice and
snow and the whale fishes blow. And the sunlight's seldom seen."

The little hand again.

"What's this one?" I whisper.


Not the song title but I know the one she means…"There is a river called the river
of no return. Sometimes it's peaceful and sometimes wild and free…"

A song of love and a voice calling from the endless ongoing passage along a
A quiet, lovely sleep song. A song that evokes sleep and the quiet transition to a little
girl's dreams. The words flow without the conscious thought of recollection. Jenny's
breath rustling the hair on my forearm.

He's resting quietly now. The unused rice paddy is hard and cracked. My left leg
curled underneath me. His back across my folded leg. My arms holding him. Holding
his spirit in. The shadow of the blown-out track bequeathing us shade. Its hulk offering
protection from the firefight still raging to our front. The left rear portion of his skull is
gone. Surgically removed by a piece of shrapnel from the rocket that took out his track.
Not much blood now. More seeping than bleeding. The reddish gray matter of the
wound luminescent even in the shadows.

Fluttering, sleepy eyes. Thankful eyes. Unspeaking lips. "It's OK, babe. I've got
you. The chopper's on its way. Just hang on. I got ya'."

Whump. Whump. Whump. The life giving sound of an incoming chopper. No

field dressing large enough to cover the wound. Only the filthy, sweat soaked, olive drab
towel around my neck. Have to keep the dust out of the wound. His head covered. My
face buried in his shoulder. My body shielding his from the tempest of the landing

"Hang on, babe. You'll be OK. I got ya'…."

"Daddy you're hugging me too tight."

"I'm sorry sweetheart…. What song should we sing now?"
When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 14

"Every torpid movement they make tells you that

they are tired, that they'll stay tired until their tours
are up and the big bird flies them back
to the World. Their eyes are dim with it, their faces
almost puffy, and when they smile you have to
accept it as a token. There was a standard question
you could use to open a conversation with
troops, and Fouhy tried it. 'How long you been in-
country?' he asked. The kid half lifted his head;
That question could not be serious. The weight was
really on him, and the words came slowly. 'All
fuckin' day,' he said."
Michael Herr

Four a.m. Just another morning. I've showered in the dark. Just another habit.
I'm uncomfortable with light this early in the day.

Up against the wall. Not digging, not hauling bricks, just hanging on. I've been
here for a day or so. Heavy-handed, limp-legged. The crushing pain in my chest. The
gripping hurt in the center of my being.

No reason I know of. Nothing specific to associate it with. Like a daffodil being
smothered by cow shit. Come on Ken, get control of yourself. Come on you asshole,
suck it up! Oh, God I hurt.

The pressing, gripping, overwhelming sense of loss. I feel my solar-plexus tense

to ward off another onslaught. I'm going to be overrun by something I can't even see.
Clenching the lip of the sink. Move! Do something. Attack! Fumbling for the shaving
cream. Smearing the lather on an unseen, unfeeling face.

Heavy. So goddamn heavy I'm going to fall through the floor. Fall through
myself. Fall into the crunching, gnashing mandibles of eternity. Fall into the utter total
darkness. The absolute blackness of the all consuming nothing. Ed Abbey's words
overwhelming me…. "The outback of beyond." The place the man Jesus wandered
through when he was contemplating suicide.

The light switch next to the mirror. Keep moving. Squinting my eyes against the
glare. Searching for the razor through the firing slits of my eyes. Razor in hand.
Looking up to the mirror. Looking up to face myself. And there they are. The two
glistening trails, one from each eye, disappearing into the white puffiness of the shaving
cream. The contrails of emotion.
When Our Troops Come Home

No! No, not now! I haven't cried in sixteen years. It's the law. My most basic
rule I'll never cry again…. Older than I ever thought I'd be…. Older than I ever wanted
to be. Fuck the wall! Screw this whole goddamn trip. I'm not ready for this.

8:05 a.m. The first phone call of the day.

"Hey Ken, how you doin'?"

"I'm terrific, Bob. How are you?"

And as we talk my mind drifts back to a recent conversation with Peggy.

"Ken, do you ever feel like you're living two lives?"

"Only all the time, sweetheart….only all the time."
When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 15

"…We violate the laws of Christ and Newton and

wonder why our children wind up in porno films…
We have brought the American nation to that grand
plateau where insanity is a greater problem than

Marlon Brando
The Formula

So very beautiful. So charismatically wanton. She has little need for words. Her
acts, her movement, her being attract, posses the young men through whom she gazes.

A woman who insists and resists, who encourages and disavows. Her beauty is so
alluring, her unspoken desire so intense that mothers have feared and been cajoled by her
throughout time.

So compelling in her desire, so reassuring in her manner that, however

reluctantly, mothers are seduced by her charm and poise. A knowing woman. A
passionate woman. The woman a mother can never be. The woman who will
consummate the mother's son. The woman in whose passionate embrace resides the
claim of manhood.

And so the mother releases her son. The same son whom, only perceived
moments before, she had cuddled as an infant. The same clear-eyed baby who sought the
nourishing sustenance from this mother's own breasts. This toddler she taught to speak,
who delighted her as he learned and grew. The boy she took to his first day of school and
quietly wept for at the beginning of their separation.

The same small boy she spent anxious, sleepless nights with bringing down the
fever. This boy the mother protected and nurtured over years of happiness and hurt,
exhilaration and juvenile despair.

The mother remembers these things. She keeps them in the silver box, inside the
top right-hand drawer of the dresser in her soul. Special trinkets. Indelible memories.
The first visit by the tooth fairy. The first report card. The first time the neighbor boy
blackened her son's eye or kicked him in the groin. The special Christmases. The note
pad he made for her in Cub Scouts.

This most precious part of herself she now releases to this other woman.
Trembling, uneasily reassured, her hand slides down his arm and briefly grasps his

"God be with you," she whispers.
When Our Troops Come Home

The fathers have known her. In their own way. In their own time. The father has
looked into her eyes. He has had his affair with the woman. He knew her directly in the
passionate, clutching grasping way that men often seek to prove themselves. Or he has
sought to know her vicariously, lustfully in the unfulfilled manner which left that deep,
abiding, unspoken, unspeakable question, "Would I have been man enough to satisfy

Now this same woman beckons his son. The father knows his limitations.
The self-imposed limitations etched in his being by years of silent questioning and the
enervation of experience.

And so, as the boy's fingertips drop loosely from his mother's grip, he looks to his
father for final reassurance.

The father, who has known her, looks beyond his son to the woman's outstretched
arms. The faintest scent of her perfume once again fondles his nostrils. The fleeting
glint in her eyes seals his heart. There are no words he can speak without disclosing his
most intimate relations.

The father who has lusted for her looks at his son. He seeks the searing heat of
her body for himself. A woman he will never truly know. The woman who is the answer
to his question. She stands there. Compelling. Tempting. Waiting. Powerful. Perhaps
the risk is worth it. Can his son answer his question?

The father’s answer was instilled long ago in preparation for this moment.
The unspoken message is there for the son to see. "You have an obligation as a man…."

And it is the father's heart that is stricken as the son turns to walk away.
The fathers knew better. And they let their sons go, anyway.
When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 16

"If not in the interest of the state, do not act. If you

cannot succeed, do not use troops. If you are not in
danger, do not fight.

Sun Tzu
The Art of War

The wife lies in their bed next to him. She knows his affair has already begun.
She knows intuitively, deeply, profoundly.

"But why you?" she asks for the hundredth time.

"Baby, I have to."

"No. You want to!"

"It's the same thing, sweetheart."

Already, despite their lovemaking, their quiet moments together, their need for
each other, she knows that she is losing him. The son to his parents, the husband to his

It is the wife who feels most threatened. For she must contend with an unseen,
unknowable mistress. The woman who has no form, no substance, no antidote.
The woman, so becomingly attired, leaves the wife cold and shivering. Hate filled and
grief stricken. Why can't others see what she sees?

Why can't her husband sense the same dread so present in her own being? If only
the woman would appear to her directly. If only she could reason with her, come to an
accommodation. But, to the wife, the woman is unseen, a phantom, a specter.

In her heart the wife knows that if ever she encounters this woman face to face
she will kill her. And in that moment, that clarity of comprehension, the wife meets the
woman. She knows. She accepts. She assumes. There is nothing she can do.

The words are caught in the damp gasp of her throat.

"Oh, please don't go."

"Baby, I gotta go."
When Our Troops Come Home

The children are not consciously aware of the woman. They only know that
mommy has been crying a lot and hugging them more than usual. Daddy has told them
he has to go away for a while.

It's an exciting day. A trip to the airport. Masses of people. Lots of men dressed
just like daddy. The children and the wife wait while he stands in line. The little girl,
still sleepy from the early start, sits with her back against the chair, her black, patent
leather shoes not quite reaching the front of the cushion she's sitting on. Her miniature
thumb resting comfortably in her sleepy mouth, a lock of hair curled in her tiny fist.

The little boy's head resting on his mother's leg. Heavy eyes trying to take in all
the bustling activity around him. The wife quietly stroking her little boy's hair. Her head
and heart reverberating with the thoughts and feelings that are reserved for women who
hold their children while their uniformed husbands stand in line for an airplane ticket.

The gate area is crowded. The children are in their parents' arms. The final
moments. Waiting for the hammer-fall of the boarding announcement. Hugging their
children, catching brief, constrained glimpses in each other's eyes. Moments, thoughts,
feelings too intense to express. Not trusting themselves to speak. Waiting.

"Daddy, when will you be back?" the little girl asks.

"It's going to be quite awhile, sweetheart."

"Can we talk to you while you're away?"

"I'll send special letters just for you."

"I don't know how to read."

"Mommy will read them to you."

The little boy looks up from his father's lap. "Where are you going, Dad?"

"I'm going to a place a long way from here, son."

"Dad, is there a war where you're going?"

"Yes…yes, there is."

"You're going to the war?"

"Yes I am, son."

"Will you come back?"
When Our Troops Come Home


Honest answers. Satisfactory answers. Reassuring answers. Fatherly answers.

The neutral, metallic words of the boarding announcement press them more
deeply into themselves. The final embrace. So many unspoken words. The little girl's
head rises slowly from her mother's shoulder. Sleepy eyes barely open. A daughter's
special smile. He puts his son down on the plastic contoured chair. His wife's eyes plead
one last time. He bends down to lift his carry-on bag.


"Yes son?"

"When I grow up, I want to be just like you."

"I love you, son."

The aircraft is ready. The woman is waiting.
When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 17

"A sacrifice is pure when it is an offering of

adoration in harmony with the holy law, with no
expectation of a reward, and with the heart saying
'It is my duty'."

From the Bhagavad Gita

Can you see him lying there? The son, the husband, the father. The one face
down in the paddy, curled as tight as a pill bug, trying to merge with the earth. He's
waiting for the one-five-fives to lift their barrage of the tree line. The wooded hillside
that has vomited death on him and his family all afternoon. The same deadly hillside he
has traversed for months.

The cacophonous symphony of shell after shell landing so close that the smoke
rolls across him like a foggy shroud. The concussion of exploding rounds hammering his
body. Pulverizing his psyche. No place to go. No terrain feature elevated more than the
twenty-inch high paddy dike that has given him shelter. The concerned segment of earth
that has concealed him from the incoming automatic weapons fire all afternoon.

The bodies are all around him. The burning, melting husk of the medevac
chopper testifies to the intensity of the firefight and the accuracy of the unseen enemy
gunners. What he has seen and felt and lost today are his forever.

The earth shakes. The wood line is cleaved by the relentless, malicious intensity
of the artillery. He screams above the roar. He screams obscenities and prayers.
He screams to see if anyone can hear. He screams to confirm his own existence.
Satisfied, he hunkers down and waits. Inside the screaming echoes and re-echoes.
The shrill silent scream of a bad tooth when ice water hits it. The scream of terror and
rage and hate. Some things a soldier is issued. Others he owns.

The last round of the fire mission blends with the first. The shelling has stopped.
There is no place on earth as quiet as a battlefield in the first moments after an artillery
barrage lifts.

Spitting out the dust, feeling the gritty texture of dirt on his teeth. Yawning to
relieve the pressure in his ears. Trying to hear above and through the ringing in his head.

There is movement around him. The sun is moving toward the horizon. Soldiers
are glancing left and right, reorienting themselves, assessing the damage. The barely-
heard, metallic, squelch-interrupted voice on the radio asking for a situation report.
When Our Troops Come Home

The movement freezes and recoils under the withering eruption of weapons fire
from the tree line. The unseen enemy is still there. Dug in so deep that even the artillery
hasn't forced their withdrawal.

He's reaching the breaking point. The rounds gouge at the earth around him.
The spinning, whizzing, swishing whisper of rounds going by so close he can hear them
searching for him. The tears well in his eyes. He is approaching that moment when
death is more acceptable than the terminal waiting.

Stress has a way of bringing a family together. No order is issued. No command

is given. There is simply a snap in the family's collective consciousness. The surge
begins. An empathic, psychotic, explosion of men and weapons and death. Running.
Stumbling. Falling. He yields himself to the bizarre. Daring anyone, everyone to kill
him if they can. That special form of insanity referred to as heroism under fire.

Sweeping forward, firing, reloading. Firing. Firing. Firing. The adrenalin

overrunning his system. Terror transformed to rage. The desperate, chilling, passionate
need to get even. The lust to kill an unseen enemy face to face.

The ragged line of men sweeps into the bunkers and fighting holes. Casualties
and dead men ignored in the mayhem.

There he is, the black-clad body of a dead Viet Cong. The holes in his chest still
oozing the clotting, red fluid.

He pauses to look at this, this man. And all the hurt, the loss, the terror and rage
seize at his being. A dead man not dead enough. The physical incarnation of all that is
evil and deceitful, all that is repulsive, all that has torn at his guts and soul lays there
before him. Totally lifeless, and not dead enough!

The knife in his hand plunges again and again into the black, filthy uniform.
Ripping, slicing, dismembering. Possessed by the rage. Overrun by the need to
obliterate the very essence of this creature.

Hands grip his arms and shoulders trying to drag him away. Still he clutches at
the tattered rags. Gouging. Slashing. Screaming. Crying. And in the final act of
defiance and contempt he tears the flesh from the enemy's neck with his teeth and spits it
back into the face of the ragged cadaver.

The rage evaporates. The orgasm of death is satiated. The gripping, tugging
hands of his brothers loosen. An arm surrounds his shoulder, hugging him, leading him
away. As they walk back down the hillside, he looks back one last time. The form is lost
in the shadows. His gaze lingers. The empty, penetrating, lifeless stare. This day he has
learned to hate.
When Our Troops Come Home

In the vengeful act of killing he has obliterated that which can kill him. He has
killed death. He has instantaneously achieved immortality - until the next time.

Can you see her? Reclining on the cushions. The hint of a smile at the corners of
her simmering lips. The self-assured presence of a satisfied woman. Can you see her?
Seducing the generations. Beckoning your children.

The anger, the outrage. The repressed, concealed, boiling hatred. The hatred for
gooks, for the place and situation that cost our lives in a wasted, senseless, abandoned

The hatred and violence of emotion directed at an activity, at a war which we

were not permitted to win. The double bind of committing everything I had to surviving
and yet feeling that, as long as I was still alive, I had not given enough. The unspoken,
simmering willingness to kill again in combat. To kill endlessly, completely, willingly.
To endure until death overtakes me. To kill until I am in turn killed.

And in that final moment as I feel myself moving into the long spiral tunnel,
aware of my life's blood returning to, enriching the earth; losing control of my muscles,
feeling the warm presence of urine saturating my groin; in that fleeting, glorious, sought-
for and cherished moment, finally, totally knowing that I have given all that I am.

Given not of patriotism, not of a splendid vision, not of a sense of rightness.

Simply giving. Having already died and been killed so many, many times. Having held
those others who preceded me in their final moment. Owing the earth, owing those
others a body. A debt finally, freely paid. Resolved.

The only gift she will accept. The sacrifice she demands.
When Our Troops Come Home


When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 18

"For modern secular humanist intellectuals have in

the main followed Plato and Descartes over the
abyss into the insane delusion that the true essence
of man lies in disembodied mental activity."

Norman O. Brown
Life Against Death

My study is a quiet, comfortable place. Floor to ceiling bookshelves are built into
two walls. One wall has a counter top with cabinets above it. The fourth wall is solid
glass. The view from the window overlooks a high desert. The house is built on the side
of a steep mountain. The back of the house looks up a near-vertical face of rock.

A dirt driveway winds its way from the house down to a two-lane road on the
valley floor. The front of the house faces west. Evenings are glorious. Golden clouds
yielding to the brilliant orange incandescence of desert sunsets.

The thunder and lightning storms hold us in their arms and speak of life and
death, humanness and immortality. Dazzling bolts pat the earth on the butt; loving,
powerful, energy regenerating the magic of our souls.

This is the place where I am free to write. Free to share. Free to explore, to dare,
to be.

I love this place for it is where my energy merges with the earth and through her
with the vastness of the universe. It is here that I will write of things that will speak with
my soul.

It's about a mile and a half from our house to the road where the mail box stands.
The grade is fairly steep despite the winding course of the driveway.

Each morning I run down the driveway. Holding onto the banister of restraint
against the beckoning of gravity. Luxuriating in the desert's symphony of quiet.
The magnificence of the infinite sounds of life erupting from the seemingly still-life
mosaic of mountains and brush and sand. Sounds without objects. The language of life.

Mail collected. Back up the hill. On the downward trek I was conscious of the
outer world. The upward journey draws me inward. Eyes focused eight meters in front
of me. Painfully aware of the gravity I joked with going down.

Pulse rate climbing. Quadriceps in urgent consultation with the reasoning portion
of my brain. Letting go. Settling into the rhythm of moving up the hill. A basic skill,
really. One foot in front of the other.
When Our Troops Come Home

Near the top. Almost home. Rounding the bend where the pine tree shades the
drive. Just a few more yards. Attack. Charge! The last remaining feet. Home again.
Breaths coming deeply. Sucking in the dry mountain air and exhaling it in great, steamy
droughts. Sweat soaking through my tee shirt, dripping into my eyes. The exhilaration
of being home in the desert. The satisfaction of living where I belong. A place where
even going out for the mail has meaning.

No, I don't live here yet. This is the place my heart retires to as I sit in airports
and hotel rooms and pizza parlors writing memos to myself.
When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 19

"Greed for results and misjudgments of pace are

always harder to spot in yourself than in others. I
cannot afford pride so I trot like some philosophical
Aesopian ass down the California roadways, sorry
not to cut a handsome figure, but hoping that this
humble pilgrim's gait will carry me all the way

Jim Shapiro
Meditations From The
Breakdown Lane

All right, Ken, enough is enough. You've been wandering around in this fog for
years. You know what has to happen to get on with your life. Just get it done. Nobody
has ever described you as a cutting intellect, but in your more lucid moments you're at
least semi-rational, so let's just get the job done. What has to happen to get you what you
want? What do you want?

I want to be home, to spend my "other time" with Peggy and the girls. To be
home and available to spend time with Garon and Ryan. To be home living out our
dreams for the future, sharing in the moments of their creation. I want to be home.
I want to be at peace. I want to be one congruent person again.

OK, that sounds reasonable enough. How do you get there? What has to be
done? What's your action plan?

Well, I think I need to find a quiet place. I need to focus my mind and I need to
let the tears through. You know, just cry for awhile and then everything will be all right.

So what's holding you back? You're the one with an attack mentality. Do it.

I've tried, more than once. Sitting quietly in places that should have been safe -
the kitchen table in the early hours before sunrise, the silent conference room in the
retreat house of a monastery. In hotel rooms. Driving along the long, flat stretches of
Interstate Five.

I have reasoned it all out in the ongoing conversations with myself. Yet,
whenever I decided that today is the day, now is the time, whenever I mentally excluded
all the distractions, when I intellectually stand alone with myself, nothing happens.

When I go in search of feeling, of insight, of peace, there is nothing. Not the

nothing of stillness and quiet, but the nothing of the absence of anything. The nothing of
numbness. The nothing of the insoluble, unsolvable riddle.
When Our Troops Come Home

I know the sound of quiet guns. What is the sound of peace?

The words and music drift through my mind. "Let it be, Let it be. Let it be. Let
it be. There will be an answer. Let it be."

There is something happening, something deep and basic. I can sense it, but it is
more than a feeling. I am aware of it, but it is more than an intuition. There it is again.
The micronic shift of tectonic plates. No visible difference in my surroundings. Raising
the hair on the back of my neck like the build-up of the atmosphere's electrical charge
before the lightning strikes.

There is movement. The sense of movement I can only see out of the corner of
my eye. When I look directly at it, it disappears. It is time to recall myself as bamboo
and vines, to melt, to blend into my surroundings. It is time to wait.
When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 20

"Sooner or later, the self-image becomes not worth


George Sheehan
Dr. Sheehan on Running

Waiting. Drifting. A day at a time. Deciding that waiting is an acceptable state.

Part of the journey. Deciding to work effectively, to see what develops, to spend
enjoyable time with Peggy and our children. Trusting myself to sort through the morass
of conflicting emotions and irreconcilable thoughts. Trusting Peggy to be there when I
need a hug. Trusting Jillian to come pattering down the hall exuding her realization that
"Daddy's home. Daddy's home." Trusting Jenny to climb up on my lap after dinner for
our special time together. Trusting that my world will continue. Trusting myself to be
home. Trusting myself to wait.

It's been flitting around the edge of my consciousness for a couple of weeks now.
Skirting my awareness. The recognition and denial of knowing what I must do.
Understanding what I need to do to resolve the hurt and anger, yet avoiding the decision
to press on. No more. Please, can't I just stay here? It's not so bad. I'm in control
again…sort of.

The waiting turns to repressing. Building to the critical mass which requires
movement. Forward motion. Dealing with the guilt made me vulnerable to the hurt.
There are days when I wish I had my guilt back.

But I know what I'm looking for. I'm seeking that special continuum where
emotions and thoughts coalesce. The convergence zone of feeling and knowing.
A satori, of sorts. A place, a moment where I can see what I see. An illusive, illusory,
ill-defined, inclusive place.

I remember that mystical day when I was in the first grade. The moment when
I gazed up at the white letters inscribed on the long green sheet of paper above the
blackboard. I remember the relief and ecstasy when I finally realized that the letters
didn't spell anything. Those letters weren't some totally incomprehensible word I was
expected to be able to pronounce before I could graduate. That's what I'm looking for!

It's time to go. I know that I can't attain what I desire until I've been there.
A place I dread. The place that I must pass through. No matter how divergent my paths,
how rambling my pursuits, the length of my wanderings, this one thing I know: I must
eventually pass back through the portal if I am to be home.
When Our Troops Come Home


When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 21

"Do not wonder at this, for it is the condition of the

true lover that the more he loves, the more he longs
to love."

From The Cloud of Unknowing

I cannot see the nothing any more. I recall my initial encounter with the abyss
fondly now. Oh God, if I had even that perspective left. I do not know where I am.
I don't know who I am. I am standing at the threshold of a tightly sealed door. A door I
cannot see. A door whose presence imposes itself upon me intuitively. Directly. A door
whose mass increases exponentially with every effort I make to will it away.

Here I stand. A traveler in the infinite emptiness of beyond. Beaten.

Whimpering. Exhausted. Stripped naked of all that I was. All that I am, standing alone
in the darkness. After sixteen years this is all that I have been able to salvage of myself.

An empty body. A shattered soul. A broken heart. The remnants of a warrior. The
composite of a grunt. My mind cannibalized itself. Finally blown into tiny pieces by the
ricochets of thoughts and reflections pinging off the infinite looking glass of " if only."

There is nothing left of what I was except the memory of remembering that I used
to remember me. Therein lies my nakedness. I am no longer the warrior and without that
persona I have no perception of who I am. I accept the darkness. The blackness holds
my soul, my heart, my self in the silence of its being. So it is in the darkness that I find
myself. Regaining consciousness in total blackness after the years of self-sedation.
To finally begin to regain consciousness and realize that I cannot see. To have come this
far, to be almost home, to have endured the self-consuming fear, the brutal isolation, the
inward directed rage, for what? To wake up and see that I am blind?

Here I stand. The pieces of my soul in a green plastic bag. The remnants of my
heart sutured with concertina wire. So tired. Oh, God, just let me die. Please. Grant me
just one solitary moment of peace and let me die.

Too tired to stand any longer. Folding. Collapsing. Sitting. Me before the door.
Holding onto my Self.

"What have you got there, Ken?"

"My heart."
When Our Troops Come Home

"What happened to it?"

"It…got broken."


"I don't know. I…ugh….was trying to come home. …My soul was shattered….I
was hurt bad…you know? And when I got to where home used to be it was gone. There
were just people…screaming…."

"What were they screaming?"

"I don't remember,….it was just so loud. I was holding my chest….It really
hurt…and all the people were screaming….It was crazy."

"Did you try to talk to them?"

"Yeah, but I really hurt and I couldn't speak very loud….They couldn't hear me."

"So what happened?"

"I don't know exactly….I was just sitting on a curb listening to the
screaming…and…ugh…I began seeing and hearing all at once…together…you know?
I could have handled either one by itself but having them both on me at once…it was too

"Did you stay on the curb?"

"Yeah, there was nowhere else to go….I was just trying to keep from getting
stepped on and hold my heart together."

"Did someone step on you?"

"No…not really….I just seemed to see more of what I saw and hear more of what
I heard…and I was holding my heart as tight as I could and there was this searing, tearing
pain in my chest and this awful ripping sound…and I looked down and my heart was just
laying there…broken. And then I didn't feel anything any more."

"Then what did you do?"

"Nothing….I just picked it up and kinda' sewed the parts together with a piece of
barbed wire I had with me."
When Our Troops Come Home

"That didn't hurt?"

"No...there wasn't anything left to hurt."

"How do you feel now?"

"I'm afraid."


"Because I have come this far and the door is closed. And I don't have anything
left to give….Actually, I don't even think I'm afraid any more….it just feels so sad."

"Why sad?"

"I don't know. It feels like the only thing I've ever really done is endure and now
it's finally down to this…down to the dying…all that way…and I don't even know what it

"That is sad."

"Yeah, the only thing I've really learned is that no matter how bad you hurt you
can always hurt more… you know?

"Yeah, I know."

"God, I hurt."

"Yeah, I know, Ken…may I hold your heart?"

"You want to hold my heart?"


"I've never let anyone hold my heart."

"I know. May I hold it?"

"Will you be gentle? It's really sore where the flesh has grown around the barbed

"I'll be gentle. Why did you sew it together with concertina?"
When Our Troops Come Home

"It was all I had."

"You didn't have any bandages?"


"Where did they go?"

"I used them all on my brothers."

Watching as he holds my heart. Tears falling from his eyes. Silent tears. Tears
that sizzle as they drop from his cheeks and meet the enflamed tissue of my heart.

He looks up. He looks at me directly.

"You really hurt don't you, Ken?"

"I told you I did."

"How come you haven't told anybody?"

"Oh…at first I thought no one was listening…then I realized I just didn't know

"There's so much hurt here."


"What's in the bag, Ken?"

"My soul."

"Why is it in a bag?"

"Ugh…because it's in pieces and I was afraid I'd lose it."

"May I hold it?"

"Ugh…No. No I don't think so."


"Because you already have my heart. I can't give you my soul too."
When Our Troops Come Home

"Why not?"

"Don't you understand! I gave my heart and soul once. This is all I have left, a
couple of pounds of flesh wrapped in barbed wire and a body bag full of pieces. I can't
give my heart6 and soul again! I couldn't survive being wrong again. Don't you

"Ken, do you know why I'm here?"

"No. I don't even know why I'm here."

"My job is to put these back together for you."

"Oh, thanks a lot. Where were you when I needed you?"

"I'm here. You didn't need me until now."

I hear what he says and I clutch the bag that holds my soul. I sit, knees drawn up
against my chest, staring at the door I cannot see.



"What do you want more than anything else?"

"I want to be home."

"And you can't get there, can you?"

"No…I don't think so. It's too far. It's just taking too much energy to hold
together what's left of me."

"Do you really want to be home?"


"Ken, when you give me your soul I have something to give you in return."


"You know all about enduring, don't you, Ken?"
When Our Troops Come Home

"Yeah. I think so."

"I'll tell you something you don't know."


"Faith is the other side of enduring."


"Yes. It's the living side of enduring….May I have your soul now?"

"You really do know about these things, don't you…hearts and souls?"

"Ken, you can't go where we've been and not know about hearts and souls."

"It seems like I should know you. Are you a grunt? A Brother?"

"I'm a brother. May I have your soul?"

"It's all I have."

"Yes. And when you give it to me I will give you all I have."

"And I can be home?"

"Yes. I'll show you the way."

Hesitantly, I unzip the bag. He stretches out his hand and I pour the shattered,
broken pieces into his palm. And deep within my core I know what I have always known
and only now recall. All decisions are final. There is no going back. What is is.

The brilliance of the light is immediate and does not startle me. The exhaling
explosion of despair and anguish is violent and quiet and I am safe. Beyond, above,

below through the chaos of compassion I watch his eyes and know the healing has
occurred. And all the tears withheld for years cascade through my being. No longer
stoically withholding the tears of anguish and rage but releasing the sobbing, weeping,
grateful acceptance.

"Ken, what do I have in my hands?"

"My heart and soul."

"Are they separate?"
When Our Troops Come Home

"No, they're together. They're one."

"Then this is my gift to you. I give you back yourself. Be gentle with my gift."

"I can have me back…the me of me?"

"Yes. It's a gift. Will you accept it?"

"Accept it? I ugh…I don't know what to say…I don't know what to do…"

The smile he offers is from one who has known me intimately throughout time.
A brother's smile.

"Ken, when you are a whole person you don't need to say or do anything.
A whole person does not react. You respond."

"Respond? I don't understand."

"Sure you do. Here," he says handing me back my self.

We stand facing each other. Just looking. Seeing. Fully present in the infinite
pleasure he derives from giving, and my tears will not stop.

"I have given you, you. Is that right, Ken?"


"And how do you respond?"

"I don't know."

I try to engage my mind to find some adequate form of repayment.

"We are brothers. Is that right?"


"And how do brothers respond?"

"I don't know!"

"Ken, when Peggy holds your hand, rests her head on your shoulder and says,
'I love you', how do you respond?"

"I say, 'I love you, too'."
When Our Troops Come Home

"There it is, brother. I love you."

"I love you too."
When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 22

"The mystic never presses his luck. He accepts the

vision, tells few if any, and does not expect to see it

George Sheehan
Running and Being

June 13, 1967. North of Chu Lai. The new summer sun rises behind us as we
stand down from the morning perimeter alert. The first filmy smoke of a cooking fire
ascends from the cluster of hooches outside the perimeter four hundred meters below us.
A Lambretta, fully packed with gooks, sputters south along Highway One to our left
front. Someone behind me sees it too and wishes a mine on it. The grating of a helmet
liner removed from a steel pot. The clinking of holes punched into an empty C-Ration
can to make a stove. The crinkling of the plastic wrapping torn from a block of C-4 and
the hissing sizzle of a chunk of the plastic explosive igniting to heat a canteen cup of
water. Someone turns on a transistor radio just in time to have the AFRVN disc jockey
bestow his ubiquitous curse on us for the day, "Gooood morning, Viet Nam!" Sorry

"Hey, Jerry, what's goin' down today?"

"Light duty. There's a sweep laid on for tomorrow with the 25th. We gotta’ recon
a route into the mountains."

"Who's going?"

"Three Zero, Three One, and Three Two."


"Half hour….Grab something to eat. Check the weapons and the track and I'll go
up to the CP to see if there's anything else happening."


Bodies shuffle. Latches click open the covers of the sixties and the fifty.
Charging handles and bolts slide back on sixteens. Weapons checked. Ammo belts laid
back into the guns. Magazines tapped into the M-16s. I walk around to the front of the
Three Zero, drop the wooden splashboard and open the engine cover. Three Zero Delta.
The driver. My job is to make sure this baby will go anywhere it has to. Today that
means up the side of those mountains west of us. Tom walks around the corner of the
track. Tom's one of our gunners. Excitable kind of guy. Likes to fire up his sixty. Good
When Our Troops Come Home

"Hey Ken, what's happenin'?"

"You know. Same shit, different day."

"Hey man, I'm a day shorter."

"Shit. You ain't short 'til they fly you out with no legs."

"Sheeit. Not me baby."

Our ritual is over. The grunt's daily eucharist concluded. I reach inside the
engine compartment to start checking belt tension and fluid levels. Tom leans up against
the front slope of the track and watches the smoke from the cooking fires below us.



"I had a strange dream last night."

"Oh yeah. Well, why don't you change your shorts before we move out."

"No, man. I'm serious."

"Yeah? What was it?"

"I don't remember all of it. I just remember you and me and sarge and Smitty all
sitting on a bench in this long corridor. There was a screen door at one end and the other
end was out of sight."

"What were we doin?"

"Nothin'. We were just sitting there looking at a while wall across from us."

"Did we say anything?"

"No. We were just sitting on a bench looking at the wall."

"Huh. Well we ain't been anyplace where there's a wall lately. It must not be all

"Yeah. I guess."

Smitty comes around the other side of the track.
When Our Troops Come Home

"Sarge just called. Wants us to pick him up at the CP. Three One and Three Two
are moving to the gate. You ready?"

"Yeah, let's go."

I climb up the front slope and drop into the driver's compartment. Tom scrambles
up the other side to his gun. Smitty is ready to ground guide me out of our position on
the perimeter. I reach down, pull and turn the master switch, press the starter switch, the
engine kicks over and hits. The track comes alive. The throbbing pulse of the engine.
The pungent fragrance of the exhaust fumes. Shift lever to reverse. Yank the laterals
back to unlock them and look to Smitty.

Both his hands are open, motioning back. I depress the accelerator. We roll
backward. Smitty clenches his right fist. I pull back to the left lateral and the track
backs, turning left. Smitty clasps both hands together and I stop while he climbs up to
his gun.

"Go!" he shouts.

I step on the accelerator. Pull back hard on the right lateral and move out amid
the chorus of "Fuck you's" and "son-of-a-bitches," as the dust we kick up settles onto the
C-Rations and into the coffee of the crews still on the perimeter. Yep. Today is going to
be all right.

Jerry, our track commander, is waiting at the CP. I've already heard the radio
registering complaints with the CP about our speed through the firebase.

Jerry is yelling acknowledgment of something to the CP tent as we pull up. I stop

and he climbs up into his turret behind the Fifty. I wait for the intercom.

"Goddamnit Ken! How many times have I told you not to haul ass through the

"Sorry Sarge. My foot slipped."

"You lyin' fuck."

"Where to?

"South on Highway One. I'll tell you when to turn off."


We rumble away from the CP at a sedate ten miles-per-hour. Three Zero is the
scout section leader. We're always lead track. We're special and we know it. We're
When Our Troops Come Home

allowed certain privileges. Not included among them is raising a cloud of dust to settle
in the first sergeant's morning coffee.

Three One and Three Two are waiting for us. Doc is aboard three two. He is
unreal. He really hates this place, but he won't let any of his people go without him, even
on a little nothing mission like today's.

Doc's from West Virginia. I don't think I've ever heard his real name. It's always
just Doc. What else is there? Of all the special people, he's the Man. We can do
anything and if we aren't dead when he gets to us, Doc will get us out.

Three tracks in column, fifty meter intervals, moving south on Highway One.
Laid back. Idle chatter about turn-off points and possible routes on the radio. Shackled
map coordinates on the destination relayed and confirmed. Points on a map that are
meaningless even when we arrive.

A narrow-gauge railroad track stretches parallel along the west side of the
highway. It's built along the top of an embankment to keep it above the rain that collects
in the flat land during the monsoon. There haven't been any trains on the track for years.
Now it's just an obstacle we have to traverse.

Intercom. "Ken, what do you think, can we make it over that embankment?"

"Yeah. I can make it but you better hold onto your ass when we start down the
other side."

"OK. Slow down."

Jerry gets on the radio to lay out the plan for Three One and Three Two. Nobody
is very excited about it. The bank is steep with a narrow plateau at the top. The trick will
be to apply enough power to make the top of the grade without doing a forward roll down
the other side.

We're ready and the expected comment comes over the radio as we hang a right
off the road. "Man, is this really necessary?"

Down into the ditch along the road. Easy. Now up the slope. Flat out. Pressed
all the way back in my seat. The track is headed up at full power. The angle is so steep
the embankment disappears and all I can see is blue sky. Oh shit. Power.

Power. Power. Driving by feel, not sight. Waiting for the first hint of a
downward motion. Ammo cans and equipment sliding and banging against the rear of
the track. Hearing the curses of my gunners above the engine roar as they fight to ward
off the weight of the sixties and their gun shields while they cling to the top of the track.
My palms wet with perspiration. Totally committed to being one with the balance and
power of the track. There it is! The first sense of downward movement. I wait an instant
When Our Troops Come Home

and yank back as hard as I can on both laterals. My eyes slam shut. My lungs fill and I
freeze with my hands cramping from the tension.

The track stops its forward motion and rocks back and forth, its center spanning
the sections of the narrow gauge railroad. I sneak a look to the front and see the hills
bobbing up and down. I look up toward Jerry. His eyes are staring straight through me.
His knuckles are turning white holding onto the gun shield surrounding him. His mouth
is moving but he hasn't let go to turn on the intercom. It's OK. I read lips. As I look
back at him his eyes focus on me and a laugh erupts from our centers at the same time.
The frozen moment vanishes in a rush of adrenalin, and I stoically accept the accolades
pouring through my headset.

"You crazy fucker! Get us down from here!"

Nothing like a little hard reality to refocus my attention. Timing is the key now.
I have to let the arcs we're rocking in suppress, then add just enough power to ease us
over on a downward cycle. Accelerating on an upward segment of the arc can still flip us
backwards and upside down. Timing the arcs. Up. Down. Up. Down. Timing.
Timing. Timing. Starting down. Touch the accelerator. Ease up on the laterals. Down
we go. Oh shit! The bottom of the embankment comes full in view as I fall forward and
my right cheek slams into the edge of the driver's hatch. Goddamn! Laterals all the way
back. Tracks locked. We're sliding like a bobsled almost straight down. I can hear all
the equipment which had come to an arbitrary resting place on our way up, gathering
momentum as it slides and falls forward. I hunch up waiting for an ammo can or radio
battery to smack into the back of my head.

All the way down. We jolt to a stop and I hear the increasing intensity of the
curses coming from Tom and Smitty. Animals. They obviously have no appreciation for
a master craftsman at work. Laterals forward. Apply power. We move onto the level

"Three Zero, Three One. Did you make it?"

"Three One, Three Zero. That's a roger. Piece a cake."

I climb up out of the driver's compartment, holding a rag against the cut on my
cheek. Jerry is smiling, watching for the front slope of Three One to emerge above the
top of the embankment. Smitty and Tom are throwing equipment to the back of the track
again and sorting out the ammo cans.

There's no question that Three One Delta and Three Two Delta are going to bring
their tracks over. They'd never live it down if they didn't. The show is funnier watching
it from this side of the embankment.
When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 23

The reason why men are so anxious to see

themselves, instead of being content to be
themselves, is that they do not really believe in their
own existence."

Thomas Merton
No Man Is An Island

Three One and Three Two both make it, the vehemence of their objections to our
route duly noted as they pull up alongside of us. Doc is shaking his head in disbelief, as

It's 10 a.m. The route we need to check is through the foothills leading into the
mountains about a mile to the east. Dry paddies, open country between us and the hills.
No villages. No gooks. Nothing. Just ride over, take a look, make it back to the road,
get some beer off one of those Lambrettas this afternoon and head back to the firebase.
Besides, we'll have a great story to lay on everybody tonight.

"Ken, you ready?"


"Let's move out."

Flat ground. Haulin' ass. What a kick. Three One to our left rear. Three Two to
our right rear. Nobody traveling in the dust. All right!

The hills become more distinct as we roll toward them. They're brushier and
steeper than they looked at first. Now I see why they sent us out. The hill in front of us
drops off sharply to the flatland. The hill itself looks negotiable, but there is a vertical
face about eight feet high that separates the paddies from the hillside. It's so straight up
and down, it almost looks like it was man-made. The face goes out of sight in both
directions around the hill. We stop.

"Ken, can we go up that?"

"No, man. I can't go straight up. We gotta find a place where there's a slope or
blow one out with C-4."

"I don't want to blow one out. The gooks would have it mined by the time we get
back tomorrow."

"Yeah, well, which way?"
When Our Troops Come Home

"Head south."


We turn left and move out. Three One and Three Two form a column behind us.

"Ken, move out into the paddies a ways so we can get a better view."


We keep rolling south looking for a break in the wall.

Half a mile south of where we first encountered the embankment is a broken

down segment. It's old and weathered, washed out by the runoff from the monsoons,

"Jerry, how 'bout over there?"

"Can you make that?"

"I think so. The slope's OK but we may throw a track if the ground doesn't give
going over."

"You want to try it?"

"You see any place better?"


"Let's do it."


Right lateral back hard. The track swings toward the wall and I line up on the

"Looks OK, Sarge."


The earth is softer than it appeared from a distance. We start up. A small
depression lies beyond the wall. No sweat. Up the slope. Looking for a route up the hill
beyond. The track starts its counter-balancing descent. No sweat.

The roar of the detonating mine is so loud I don't even hear it. It's a shape charge
going off under the third road wheel four feet behind me. The flak jacket hanging over
When Our Troops Come Home

the back of my driver's seat disintegrates. My face contorts as the hurricane of dirt and
fragments hurl past me. There is an immense stillness.

As I open my eyes I look down on the husk of Three Zero wallowing in the dirt,
the dust cloud rising from the explosion. I see Smitty trying to get to his feet behind the
track. Tom is laying face down twenty feet to the right. Jerry is twisted and motionless,
still inside the turret that was blown forty feet to the right of Three Zero. Three One's
track commander is already on the radio, and I know without hearing, that a dust-off will
be coming for them shortly.

It's so quiet. Doc is already moving toward Smitty at a dead run. Three Two is
pulling to the left to provide cover. The driver and right gunner from Three One are
running toward Tom and looking for Jerry in the smoke and dust.

What's the hurry? The floating quiet is so peaceful. And the music.
The music is coming from somewhere behind me. It's so incredibly beautiful. I can see
the shadow cast by the increasing brilliance of the light behind me edging toward the
body slumped forward in Three Zero's driver's compartment. The music fills me. I'm
going home. It's so easy. So effortless. I look again at the furor and carnage below me.
I understand and I am no longer a participant.

The music draws me. I begin to turn toward the light, the source of the symphony
I feel. As I turn, my eyes stay fixed on the form in the driver's compartment.

The knowing pervades me. If I turn toward the music, if I look at the light, I will
never return to my body. There's a pulling of me. The overwhelming awareness that it is
my choice as to whether I return. I want to go home and it isn't time. Somehow there is
the knowing that the light is always there, that the music is continually present, and that
my choice now is to return to the unmoving form inside Three Zero.

The form flashes toward me. My eyes shut tight and I feel the impact as I
struggle to release the breath trapped inside of my body. Doc has my head in his hands
as I open my eyes again and try to focus my vision.

"Ken! Ken! Can you hear me?"

"Yeah." I hear him faintly over the ringing in my ears and the pounding,
throbbing pulses surging through my arms and legs.

"Are you all right?"

"Yeah. Where's Jerry?"

The following minutes are motion and weakness. Stumbling. Being helped.
Trying to remember where I'd seen Jerry lying somewhere in the confusion. A chopper
comes in and all four of us are loaded aboard. No one says anything. We just look at
When Our Troops Come Home

each other without expecting anyone to see us. The most bizarre impressions are how
fast everyone is moving and the fact that all four of us still have all of our arms and legs.

The dust-off chopper comes down at the 25th Infantry's battalion aid station.
Drifting off. Listening for the music. Looking for the light. Coming back. Vaguely
aware that I am sitting on a bench between Tom and Smitty in a long corridor. We are
staring at a blank white wall.
When Our Troops Come Home


When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 24

"The draftees who fought and died in Viet Nam

were primarily society's 'losers', the same men who
got left behind in schools, jobs, and other forms of
social competition."

The Forgotten Generation

Sunday, May 26, 1985. The drive in from Bethesda to D.C. is easy and quick.
My sister-in-law is a lifelong resident of the Washington area. She's gracious and cordial
and light, easy to ride with. Her comments about the road construction and the
description of the landmarks flow easily. I appreciate her more than she'll ever know.
She's covering me as the fear rises.

History comes quickly now. The lush greenness beside the road gives way to the
banks of the Potomac. The Watergate Hotel on the left, nondescript and poignant.
The overhang of the Kennedy Center casts its shadow of unfulfilled hopes across the
highway and we drive through the coolness toward the Capital Mall. Bending. Turning.
Left. Right. The dome of the Jefferson Memorial across a reflective pool to the right.

A sense of drawing closer. We turn left onto a broad avenue, four lanes, two each
direction. Large buildings to the right, a park to the left. The point of the Washington
Monument emerging above the trees. The sign parallel to the street says Constitution
Avenue. The car pulls over to the curb. The marker on the lawn says Interior
Department South.

I get out, open the back door and pick up the sealed manila envelope and the
faded green coat.

"I'll give you a call when I'm ready," I say.

"OK," she replies. I appreciate her simplicity and understanding.

The light changes. She drives away. I wait on the curb, holding the envelope in
both hands, the coat neatly folder over my left arm.

The walk signal flashes, so I walk. South across Constitution, up onto the
opposite curb to the junction of several asphalt trails. To the left front is a lakeside pool,
a concession stand immediately to the front three hundred meters out. The trail winds
along the pool bank, arrives at the stand and then diverges again.

Farther to the left a wooded island is set in the lake. Access is across a wooden
bridge from the north bank. A pair of geese paddles out of the shadowed channel toward
open water, passing the morning in casual conversation.
When Our Troops Come Home

To the right front the ground rises in a gentle slope. The brush obscures visibility
beyond. A path parallels Constitution. The sign points to the right and asserts itself
directly. Viet Nam Veterans' Memorial, it says. Heavy words, and I become aware of
the heat and rising humidity.

I was here once before, in the spring of 1983. I have felt the immensity of the
Wall. The Wall knows who has come to hide in illusion. On that morning two years ago
I had come to pay my respects to those I considered separate and apart from myself.
Those who were a half step slow or at least unlucky. Those who did not survive.
Those I had neatly put behind me.

As I disappeared below the horizon of the Memorial that morning, the Wall
absorbed my arrogance and reflected my illusion in itself. When I turned to face its
presence, the Wall hammered at my being, shattered my illusion, left me cracked and
broken. The Wall gazed through me and I was overwhelmed by the knowing that the
names inscribed on its face were not disassociated men and women. They were an
intimate part of me. I was overcome by the knowing that if I had really done what was
expected, my name would be inscribed along with theirs. The Wall showed me no pity
and I fled, jaw clenched, head down, desperately needing to run away. And so it was at
the Wall two years ago that my journey began.

Walking in the direction of the arrow now. Over a slight rise. Past the counter
and hooch and bamboo cage of the MIA exhibit, manned by vets in camouflaged fatigues
and tiger suits. I'll stop there another day. Today what little courage I have is very
limited and extremely fragile.

Ahead of me, on the left of the trail is a group of teenagers and their chaperones.
They've off loaded from the tour buses parked at the curb and they're milling around
waiting for stragglers.

I angle off the trail to the left, walking out across the grass. The memorial begins
to emerge from the close horizon. First, the tip of the West Wall. Growing deeper and
larger with each step. Close enough. I kneel on one knee. The coat folded neatly in
front of me. The manila envelope resting patiently on top of it. The depression to my
left and up toward an irregular tree line on the left. The West Wall is obliquely present in
front of me as I gaze along the axis of the East Wall.

Watching. Watching the couple with a baby in a stroller rise from the ascending
path before the Wall. Watching the group of teenagers jostling each other as they
approach the beginning of the descent at the East Wall. Their conversation and banter
only a murmur at this distance. Kneeling alone in the grass. Watching. Waiting.
A temporary, chosen solitude.

A roar impresses itself to the southwest. Washington National Airport is beyond

the far horizon. A trijet, DC something-or-other, surges into a blue, cloudless, domed
When Our Troops Come Home

expanse. The roar builds and diminishes as the jet turns outward bound and fades into a
different future.

An oriental gentleman walks by, twenty meters out, moving from right to left.
We look at each other and do not speak. We pose no threat to each other, and on this
morning neither of us considers the other pertinent.

It's time. I do not want to go. I am compelled to go. I choose to go. Picking up
my coat and envelope, I turn back to the right toward the podium which stands sentinel at
the intersection of the trails.

A friend has asked me to look for a name in the Book of the Dead which resides
on the podium. The name he gave me is written on a yellow note slip, one of the items
sealed inside the manila envelope. Around the podium stands another group of teenagers
wearing white painters' caps with their tour group name stenciled on the front. They
aren't moving, and I feel a sense of frustration and a flash of anger at not being able to
approach the book in quiet and solitude.

I look at the envelope in my hand. To consider opening it now, in a giggling,

chattering crowd seems somehow a sacrilege, and I ask my friend's forgiveness as I move
past the group with the envelope still unopened. The contents of the envelope were given
into my care by my people, in sacred trust which I will not desecrate.

I feel my feet absorbing the unevenness of the square, unpolished, granite

cobblestones as I move slowly along the path leading to the point of the East Wall.
Before I am ready the cobblestones turn hard right and become large rectangular granite
slabs. I am not yet prepared for the descent.

The end of the East Wall forms a stiletto point as it rises from the depths.
Yet even here names are engraved in the polished granite.

Two or three steps forward. The Wall begins to grow on my right. Now it is
time. I sit down on the edge of the Wall. The coat still folded at my side. As I look at
the envelope in my hands, I'm aware that the woman park ranger has started to move
toward me, her ponytail waving below the brim of her park ranger hat.

I look at her directly. She starts to say something and her eyes move from the
envelope in my hand to the faded olive drab cloth beside me. Her tone and manner
soften. "Sir, may I help you?" she asks. I try to reply, but the best I can do is to raise my
hand, shake my head and offer a smile.

She smiles in response. She's heard the unspoken request before. A little space,
please. Just give me a little space. She nods and moves away. A very gracious lady.

My eyes fall back to the envelope and I watch my hands slowly tear away the top.
There is one item which is necessary now. The rest I'll save for later.
When Our Troops Come Home

The ring is silver and solid and heavy. On its face is the insignia of a U.S. Navy
diver. The emblem of grunts that breathe bottled air. The ring is worn and faded,
durable and proud. It is imbued with the presence of the man to whom it belongs. The
man who asked me to wear it for him here, to be consecrated at the Wall.

I place his presence on the ring finger of my right hand, next to my own ring.
A small gold ring upon which are inscribed two interlocking circles. As I watch my fist
clench and see these rings side by side, I realize what is different about this morning.
Today, with this ring on my hand and the envelope in my keeping, I do not have to face
the Wall alone. I know what I did not know two years ago: I am us.

I do not come today in the arrogant self-assertion of a survivor. I come in the

reverence of one who knows and cares and lovingly remembers. I come with the
humility of a veteran. I come as one who has asked the permission of his people to be
I come as one who knows that their permission is granted.
When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 25

"It is, unlike marriage, a bond that cannot be broken

by a word, by boredom or divorce, or anything
other than death. Sometimes even that is not

Phil Caputo
A Rumor of War

Laying the envelope down gently on the edge of the Wall, I stand quietly alone
among the tourists and unfold my coat. The starch breaks easily as I slide my arms
through the sleeves. I feel the sun settling heavily on my shoulders and it makes no

As I button the front snaps the Combat Infantry Badge sewn above the left pocket
adheres itself to my heart. It is one of the signs of family kinship among those who walk
the Wall and those who repose within its majesty.

I begin the descent. the Wall accepts my presence. I am not looking for a name,
for all the names are mine. The Wall rises, offering its fellowship in the steady
increments of my steps. Flowing with the Wall into its depths.

The roar of a departing jet joins us and I stop to face the polished granite. There,
moving across the reflective ebony surface, is the image of a climbing aircraft. The
symbol of a Freedom Bird. A symbol which had lost its meaning. A symbol reborn on
the face of a sheer granite wall.

The moment is over and it is time to walk. Downward to the point where the East
and West Walls merge. The innermost part of the Wall. Its deepest point. Its living

Here I stop. I wait for a brother to finish transferring a name from the rock to a
sheet of paper. He walks away gripping the name. Holding his brother.

I approach the Wall and kneel, opening the envelope, offering the gifts my people
have sent with me. A poem. Handwritten on yellow note paper and carefully folded.
The most intimate thoughts of a brother who is himself embarked upon the journey.
Gently I place his offering at the base of panel One West, below the year etched in the
stone: 1975. And I commend my brother's thoughts to the care of Richard Van DeGeer,
whose name is engraved there in the rock.

The white tapered candle I lean against the V of the Wall, and at its base I lay the
small silver cross one of my sisters has asked me to return to her. I kneel in silence.
There, to the right of the V, is a note leaning against the Wall, written by the family of
When Our Troops Come Home

one who rests here, its message so direct and personal that I immediately strike the words
from my memory. All the words but these: "Long gone and not forgotten." My tears
flow quietly for all those to whom these words are spoken.

The candle and cross are placed carefully back into the envelope. I stand and step
back to the edge of the grass. I have nothing to say. I wish only to be present here.

Two brothers stop in front of panel Seven West. They talk to each other quietly
as they search the face of the Wall. They find the name they seek. It's just above eye
level. Their conversation stops and the Wall enfolds them. They each begin to shake
their heads, left and right, in silent affirmation. They hug each other for a moment. The
man on the right, head down, tears glistening on his cheeks, walks toward me. I extend
my hand. He takes it. This moment I am strong. I can help him carry his ruck. I'm here
for him. Our eyes grip each other as solidly as our hands. No words are spoken. No
words are needed. If it cannot be expressed in our faces and in our grip, it could never be
said in words.

We stand together, facing the Wall. Sharing ourselves with the brother who
remains. His arms outstretched, palms flat against the stone, head down. Finally his
head raises and he looks one last time at the name that, for him, gives life to the Wall.
He turns, wipes the tears on his sleeve, and walks toward us. My brother beside me takes
him in his arms and allows him to let the anguish spend itself. When the tears have
dissipated, he puts his left arm around his brother, reaches back to pat me on the arm,
and together they move off through the crowd.

The man beside me on my left is wearing a suit and tie. The lapel pin of the
101st Airborne and the wheelchair he's sitting in testify to his right to be here.

"How are you?" he says.

"Hanging in," I reply.

Being here with him I begin to catch glimpses of the conversations flowing past

An elderly, gray-haired lady with a Southern drawl: "I didn't know there were so
many. I'd seen the number, but I didn't know it was so many…."

The teenager dressed like a salmon lure, "Hey, what is this anyway?"

A brother talking quietly to his wife, "I got him medevaced out but he died in

"Are you all right?" The voice comes from beside me. The lady is wearing white
shorts and a pale blue sleeveless top. Her baseball cap is on backwards. It's white with a
gold bill pulled down to keep the sun off of her neck. The cap is covered with pins and
When Our Troops Come Home

ribbons, jump wings and buttons. The green plastic name tag pinned to the side says
Volunteer, Park Service. She cradles a copy of the Book of the Dead in her left arm.

She's about forty, tanned and blond. Steady blue eyes with silverfish blue eye
shadow. She's pretty. Naturally attractive. And just now she's beautiful, the same way
every nurse is beautiful when you first regain consciousness.

"Are you OK?" she asks again.

"Yes ma'am."

"Will you stand back please?" A requested command to those near the V of
the Wall. Down the east walk two men carry a wreath. Red carnations set in green. In
the center is the glaring Eagle of the 101st.

The men set the wreath on a tripod at the V. The back leg secures the page of
poetry I had offered. The man in the wheelchair moves over to the wreath. Hands are
shaken. Pictures are taken.

I am here to take in this moment for another of my brothers. One of the survivors
of Firebase Ripcord. An unknown piece of high ground at the edge of the Ashau Valley
where American men were sacrificed for bags of rice in 1970. My brother will make his
pilgrimage to this place. But for today I am here to represent him as his people silently
salute the wreath and the commitment of the Airborne.

I have done what was asked of me. The Wall has accepted me and the offering of
my family. It's time to move on. As I move up the path along the West Wall I watch
only the feet of the person in front of me. It is no longer necessary to see the granite
It is enough to know that for a space in time I was granted the honor of standing in the
presence of The Presence.
When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 26

"The children of the bright, good parents were

spared the immediate sort of suffering that our
inferiors were undergoing. And because of that,
when our parents were opposed to the war, they
were opposed in a bloodless, theoretical fashion, as
they might be opposed to political corruption or
racism in South Africa."

James Fallows
What Did You Do In the
Class War, Daddy?

The breeze whispers by to reassure me as I move away from the west end of the
Memorial. The trail here is asphalt again. People in shorts and T-shirts cast quick,
puzzled glances as I walk toward a bench still wearing my field jacket.

The bench I sit on is hard and solid. It's painted flat black. The back and seat
bolted to a wearever metal frame. Across the path at the edge of the grass is a huge oak
tree. It might be a maple but I need an oak right now, so it's oak. It feels good to have a
friend that big.

"Do you mind if I sit here and have a cigarette?" It's my blond lady again.

"Is this your first time at the Wall?" she asks.

"No, I was here once before."

She holds the cigarette in her hand but does not light it. She looks across the
passing crown and absently fixes her gaze on the Wall.

"Lots of people go through here," she comments. "About 70,000 yesterday.

A lot of veterans…a lot more tourists. Tree people, I call them."

I smile at her observation. I've seen them. The vets stand and sweat and cry.
The tourists walk by and go sit in the shade.

"Yes Ma'am, I have seen some tourists."

For a moment she's quiet. Pensive. The reflective moment passes. She stands up
and puts her unlighted cigarette back in the pack.

"There are people on my grass." The sternness in her tone surprises me.
When Our Troops Come Home

She looks at me. Her blue eyes soften. "I share the grass with vets," she says. Her eyes
move back down toward the Wall. "I don't let tourists walk on my grass."

I watch her move off through the crowd. I love that lady. I hope she gets to take
one of those salmon lure specials to her taxidermist.

The sun glints off of metal to my right front. In passing through the Wall I had
forgotten the statues were here. The contemplative quiet that had settled over me is gone.
The statues were not here two years ago. How could I have forgotten? I'm not ready for
this. What little courage I did have was expended at the Wall. I don't have anything left
to walk over there with. It's too far. It's too much. I've seen the pictures. I'm afraid of
their eyes.

A clear view of the statue is blocked by people and small brushy trees. It's a
portion of one of their heads that's reflecting the morning sun.

If I stay here, I'm safe. No I'm not. I lean forward and rest my elbows on my
knees. There is absolutely no doubt. I am not ready for this. And I have to go anyway.
How could I have forgotten! The sunlight is so heavy. There are too many people over
there just now. Better I should wait. The crowd begins to thin. Where are you people
going? Please don't go.

I stand through the heat and humidity that have taken up residence on my
shoulders. It's the longest short walk I've ever taken. A dozen steps bring me to the edge
of the dispersing crowd.

An oblique view. The closely cropped head of the black soldier. Sleeveless arms
in his bronze flak jacket. An M-16 in his left hand. The sling has been removed.
Magazine inserted and I know there's a round in the chamber. This is it. This is as far as
I go. People taking pictures have occupied all the ground in front of the statutes.

There is a quiet whisper. Not a command. Just a request. "Please. Come stand
where we can see you." I don't want to go and I cannot not go. A lane opens through the
people. I feel my pulse rate going up. Somewhere deep inside me I hear a sigh that pulls
me ahead. I look at the ground as I walk. I fear the eyes.

I know when I am centered on the statutes. I don't have to see. They tell me.
This is silly. These are bronze statues. Inanimate objects. I have nothing to
fear…except the dread.
When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 27

"… 'having been' is still a mode of being, perhaps

even the safest mode."

Victor Frankl
The Unheard Cry For

The earth between me and the statues is damp and bare. Countless feet deny
vegetation any chance at all here. A small diameter metal chain is threaded through the
eyes of metal posts about ten inches high surrounding the statute's base. The bronze
sculpture itself is set upon a raw slab of granite. I resist the pull to draw my view

The center figure's boots are laced, skipping eyelets near the top, and I remember
the calluses that grew within my boots. I remember my last few days in country at the
93rd Evac. I had a mattress to lie on, and real sheets. I finally got to take my boots off
and I remember how my feet dried and cracked and oozed blood and a clear watery

I remember how I tried to walk down the center of the ward on the outside edges
of my feet. I remember the pain. I look at the bronze of the statue and I see my feet.

My gaze moves upward and I see fatigue pants. Beneath the trouser legs I know
that the sinew and muscles are alive. I remember how my quadriceps quivered and raged
against my mind for the last fifty meters up a hill. I remember the black slimy leeches
that attached themselves to me and sucked my life away. And I remember how, even
after I reached the point where leeches didn't mean nothin', how loathsome they were.

I stare at the unmoving statue and I see my legs.

I see the pistol belt on the center figure. The magazine pouch for a .45 on the left
where I wore mine. The holster on the figure's right hip. And I remember what the blast
from a .45 can do to a man's face and how the back of his head explodes in splinters of
bone and multicolored goo. Most of all I remember having gooks so close that you could
kill them with a handgun.

The center figure stands straight and tired, his left arm reaching slightly back.
His right arm beginning to rise. Fingers and thumb extended and separated. The sunlight
reflects off of his taut forearm and I see the veins that course the blood and adrenalin
through his body.

The hands. I see the hands and I remember the filth. I remember sunrise in the
bush. Sunrise, when the steam is exhaled from the earth. The quiet movements along the
When Our Troops Come Home

perimeter. I remember the cuts from thorns and razor-sharp grass, how each cut became
infected and swollen overnight. I remember how each morning began by clenching my
fists so the scabs would crack and excrete the pus and water. I remember the short,
intense milli-second of pain just before the wounds broke open and swollen claws
became hands again. It was a ritual. A daily exercise that reminded me of the rage.
In the act itself I became mean and got into the mood to kill.

I see a hand outstretched. A hand suspended in time and space, and I see my

I see the fatigue shirts on the men who stand beside the center figure. Sleeves
rolled up. I remember how the shirts were always wet, and how they tore to give the
insects access to my torso, and how the stench was all-pervading and how we tried to sit
upwind from each other, and how finally we were just too tired to care. And I remember
what it felt like to try to spread 160 pounds over a six-foot, four-inch frame. I remember
how we looked at the open sores on each other and watched our bodies rot.

I see the statue's shoulders and I remember the all-consuming ache. I remember
the perpetual discoloration from the straps on a ruck. The broad bands of green and
yellow and deep purple that descended down from the top of the shoulders to wrap under
the armpits.

And how we felt fortunate to have the bruises because we had been spared the
insufferable heat of a flak jacket. Flak jackets that absorbed shrapnel so that a man could
be spared to live his life without an arm or a leg.

I remember the dirt that was ground into the pores on the back of my shoulders.
How it became infected and inflamed into giant pimples the size of a quarter. I
remember how the bottom of my stomach would fall out and I could not restrain the tears
when the impacted sores were lanced and squeezed. And the ungodly sting of the
antiseptic that was applied afterwards.

I look at the shoulders of this unflinching bronze statue, and I remember.

They are my shoulders.

The statue on the left puzzles me. The figure wears a bush hat. An M-60 laid
across his right shoulder. His pistol belt is under his fatigue shirt. I remember doing that
once and how the belt chafed the skin off my sides and the clips that attach the canteen
covers and ammo pouches gouged pieces of flesh from my body. The ammo belt he
wears has the points of the rounds facing in. Carrying ammo like that will eat you alive
and jam a sixty in a heartbeat.

Then I realize that the third figure is a new guy, the boys who became old in a
single morning or an afternoon on a hot LZ with no support and nowhere to run.
I remember the terror of being helpless and vulnerable and wanting to die because
everyone around me had. And the rage at being left alive to do it again.
When Our Troops Come Home

I see their bodies standing there, erect and inert, and I see my body.

Finally, not wanting to and yet needing to, I look upon their faces. I see the
exhaustion and vigilance etched in their cheeks. I remember the weeks along the border.
How my eyes were swollen nearly shut from the mosquito bites, and I remember lying
beside trails, afraid to move, while the insects crawled up my neck and into my ears.

I see their mouths and I remember the lips that breathed life back into men who
had already died. I remember the profanity and involuntary gags when ham and muthas'
was all we had left. And the satisfied smile when there was just one more tin of pound
cake or peaches.

Relentlessly, gently they draw me to their eyes, into themselves. The eyes that
have gazed into the void. The eyes that have stared into the infinite nothing and seen it
all. The eyes that know what is. The eyes that say that "it don't mean nothin'" is a double
negation. It means everything.

They stand guard now. Two on and two on and two on in perpetuity. For they
are the witnesses who watch the Wall. They stand alert and watchful as they testify to
bonds renewed when a veteran finds his brother's name in the granite. It is their duty to
bid the final farewell to the souls who are released from the stone each time the living
and the dead are reconciled. As I look upon these bronze figures I know what they see.
They see it all.

Standing here in this group of people I recall who I have been. The sun and
humidity ascend together. It's hot and I sweat and I stand. The corner of the manila
envelope moist and crumpling in my left hand. Everything I want to say is stuck.
Lost somewhere very deep.

Standing alone in the crowd. Hearing shutters click. There are few audible
comments. The people just look. Two little blond girls pose in front of the figures for
their father's snapshot. I'm not really seeing them until I realize that they're looking at
me. I smile. They relax. The camera beside me snaps. They move away and I think
about how nice it is to have so many lovely blond ladies to share this place with today.

In my momentary distraction from the figures I realize the people I was standing
next to have moved away and no one has taken their place. People are moving behind
me, but no one is standing or walking in front of me any more. I want to thank them for
their consideration but I feel too vulnerable.

It's less than fifteen feet from where I stand to the statue. An infinite abyss. I can
no longer raise my eyes. I study the chain and posts at the base of the bronze reality.
I count the brown, dried, crinkled maple leaves gathered before the figures.

I feel embarrassed and ashamed. I stand in isolation before my brothers for
When Our Troops Come Home

I know that I no longer have the look. I remember the me who shared their gaze and I
know that I am no longer that person. It is an ever-living part of me that I can recall if
need be, but it is no longer the me of me. The anguish of separation rises from my soul.
It builds and crests and sweeps toward me from within. The tidal wave of grief, the
mounting, rumbling tremor of loss. The roaring surge within echoed by the accelerating
jet engines beyond the trees. A Freedom Bird, pulling me away.

I can't go. I can't stay. In the mounting, soaring blast I hear the quiet, whispered
reassurance. My feet move. Eight steps to the base of the statue. In my mind I know
that the center figure did not move. In my heart I know that his right hand reached out to
grasp mine. I hold it tightly and my soul hears his voice: "Farewell." I raise my head to
meet his eyes. The words I cannot say are said. In the presence of the receding roar I
speak them plainly, distinctly. "I love you." It is all I have to offer. It is everything.

Those behind me will testify that the figure did not move and in that moment, as
he held my hand, I saw my brother smile.
When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 28

"So you need a teacher to learn that there is nothing

to learn."

Roshi Philip Kapleau

Zen Dawn In The West

I don't remember leaving, but here I am walking through the adolescent maples.
The trees that form the irregular line I had seen earlier this morning. It's cool here in the
shade. I glance down to make sure I still have my envelope. I do. I notice the damp
spots on the front of my field jacket. It was hot standing in the sun. I sweated a lot,
especially my eyes.

Just walking. Absorbing the coolness. I think about my blond lady somewhere
down by the Wall. I wonder if she'll reclassify me as a tree person. It's OK if she does.
I paid full price for admission. I'm tired. I'd just like to sit down for a few minutes.

Not far in front of me is a single maple tree. It stands at the edge of the grassy surf
where the sunlight laps the shadows. I walk up to the tree, place my hand on its trunk
and push. It doesn't move. That's what I need right now.

I sit down. The earth and grass beneath me are moist, but not damp. I lean back
against the maple's trunk. The tree is a good snuggler. I just need to rest for a little

Looking out across the grass. Looking down the slope. The entire Wall stretched
out in front of me. The lady park ranger is containing the crowds at the east end of the
Memorial. There is a constant motion in both directions before the Wall. Here and there
a single brother stands as I stood earlier. One of the volunteers adjusts an aluminum step
ladder in front of panel Four East. He climbs up and transfers a name onto a sheet of
white paper with his flat carpenter's pencil. He descends and hands the name to someone
I cannot see. And the people keep moving by.

I look again at the Wall and see something that had gone unobserved when I was
up close. On the East Wall all the names are dressed left. The right margins are ragged
on each panel, but they move in formation toward the left. On the West Wall the lines
are reversed, ragged edges on the left, perfect margins to the right. The names sweep
along the Wall from both sides and converge at the V in two perfectly-formed lines
facing each other.

The tears come again, and I don't care. The granite says it all. The wall reflects
us as we are ragged and irregular at first glance, but when it truly counts the brothers
come on line. The Wall holds me to itself again, and I allow the hugs to be there.
When Our Troops Come Home

Movement to my front. A group of teenagers has bailed out early and are heading
up the slope from the center of the Wall toward the trees, toward me. I try to suck it up.
I'm not ready for a group of pubescent tree people.

The tan legs and white tennis shoes move past me in a blur from behind. I see the
back of a pair of white shorts and a light blue sleeveless top going down the hill. I smile
when I hear again the forcefulness of her command. "Move off the grass, please." She
sweeps through the group like a quiet, righteous claymore. They break and hurry off left
and right.

My blond, tanned lady doesn't even look back. Somehow I have the feeling that I
haven't been out of her sight all day.

It seems like I've been here for hours and years. Maybe I should go. No, there's
something not quite right. It's a feeling, an intuition. I've been to the Wall. I've been to
the statues. What more is there to do? What more can be said? Why do I have this
feeling that something is somehow unresolved?

Birds flutter and land and speak in a rapid, minigun trill above me. It's quiet.
Two geese swoop past from left to right headed for the pool I saw this morning.
They lower their voices as they pass the Wall. They know. They're residents here.
When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 29

"If any man thinks he slays, and if another thinks he

is slain, neither knows the way of the truth. The
eternal in man cannot kill: the eternal in man
cannot die."

From the Bhagavad Gita

I feel heavy. Long day. I draw my knees up to my chest, fold my arms across
them and rest my head on my forearm.

I sense him more than hear him.

"I was wondering if you'd be here." I say the words without looking up.

"I've been here all day," he replies.

"Oh yeah? I didn't see you."

"You were busy."

"This is a heavy place." My words come out as more of a sigh than a sentence.

We sit for awhile. The birds come and go. The sunlight erodes a patch of

"So how ya' doing?" he asks.

"I'm tired. I feel OK except….what are you doing here?"

"I knew you had one more hill to hump and I thought you might need a little help
with your ruck."

"Man, there can't be anymore hills."

"There are always hills, Ken. This one's just a little steeper than most."

"Cut me some slack. I walked the Wall and I've been to the statues. I just want to
head back and spend some time with Peggy. Man, what else could there be left to do?"

"It's not what, Ken. It's who."

My head snaps up. The lethargy vanishes in an instant gush of awareness.
When Our Troops Come Home

"Oh no! No, not today. Not now. Please!"

His eyes are steady. He's strong today, and I am weak and afraid. "Ken, it's today
and it's now. I'll be back in awhile."

And just like that he stands and walks back into the trees. Oh God, I'm alone.
I can't believe he just left. How could he just leave? No. No. No. My head falls back
onto my arms. No, not today. Not today. Not today.

I hear the solitary steps approaching. Centered on me. And I know that no matter
where I was those steps would be centered on me. The rustling of the grass stops. Oh
no. He's right here. Oh God, no.

The tears begin to run down my cheeks even before I look to confirm his

Slowly I raise my head. I try not to see, but they're there. The scuffed, sweat-
stained jungle boots. The fatigue trousers bloused. Tied off with the shoelace sewn into
the hem of the cuff. God it can't be. I fall back against the tree trunk. Palms flat on the
ground. Searching for reality. Coming to grips with the fact that this is my reality.

I stare straight ahead, past his knees, begging the Wall to save me. God, please
help me. I raise my head. His jungle fatigue shirt matches the trousers, faded olive drab.
On his left chest picket is stenciled the insignia of the United States Marine Corps.

He's looking down at me. His face is easy, neutral. His sandy colored hair close
cropped. His tan deep and radiant. He wears no name tag. He doesn't need one. As I
look into his eyes I see quiet. The quiet, quiet eyes. He is my Marine.

The last ounce of anything I had left evaporates. All I can do is sit on the grass,
sobbing and sobbing. The words repeating themselves through my lips over and over and

"Oh man, I am so sorry. I am so fucking sorry…"

I'm choking on the tears and I can't see and I can't stop crying. I'm aware that he's
kneeling in front of me, and I flinch as he lays his left hand on my shoulder. My head
shakes involuntarily left and right. No. No. No.

"Man, I'm so sorry. I couldn't get you out and you were burning…and shit!"

His left hand slides up to cradle my head. I feel his right arm encircle me.

He leans forward and pulls me to him. My whole body stiffens. No! And I
collapse into myself. My face is buried in the hollow of his shoulder and my hands claw
When Our Troops Come Home

at the back of his fatigue shirt. He holds me so tight and I cry and cry and cry and cry
and cry. Years of tears pouring over my soul. Utterly spent and still shuddering.

My nose is running and clogged. I can't breathe. I take a deep breath and push
back. Gently he lets me go. I turn my head; place my finger against my left nostril and
blow. I swab away the tears and dampness from my face onto my sleeve.

Oh God, I'm so tired. I'm struggling. Trying to bring myself back to where we
are. The gasping breathes moderate. The film in my eyes begins to clear. I can see
again. I rub my hand across my face and feel flecks of grass adhere to the dampness on
my cheeks.

He's sitting now. Legs crossed. Holding a blade of grass between him thumb and
finger. We just look at each other. I want to cry all over again and there aren't any tears
left. So I just look.

When he speaks, his voice is even softer than I remembered. "Ken, I wanted to
see you today because I needed to tell you how sorry I am."

I hear the words but they don't register.

"What? You're sorry? For what?"

"I was scared and hurt and I was so afraid of burning. And I had no right to ask

"No right? Man you were down and I couldn't get you out. I tried….If you hadn't
stopped me I would have tried to cut your leg off and drag you out…."

He nods without looking up.

"I know. But I knew I didn't have that long left….if you had crawled under that
track you wouldn't have come out either…."

"Yeah, I know."

"Ken, I'm sorry."

"Me too brother…me too."

We both look at the blade of grass he twirls.


When Our Troops Come Home

"I was listening when you said something awhile back that was right on."

"What was that?"

"You said dying was serious but not fatal."

"Yeah, I remember."

"You were right," he says.

I think about what he said for a minute before I reply.

"Well, I think so. I never saw the light, but I heard the music."

"Well, I can tell you that you are right."

The birds sweep back into our tree, chatter, and fly away. I'm aware that there's
something between us. Not anything that separates us, but a bond that binds us

I'm looking down as I start to say the words but realize I need to say them directly
and raise my eyes to his.

"It was August 1967 when the shit went down. That was a long time ago. But ya'
know…I don't think there's been a day in all that time when I didn't think about you….
And there were a lot of nights, too…. You've been closer to me than any living person.
In all that time, I never got to tell you that I loved you."

The tears form in his eyes and begin to overflow. His voice is quiet and a little

"No. No, you're wrong, Ken. I heard the words…every day. Ken, that's the other
thing I needed to say to you."


"That I love you too."

"Yeah. I know."

It's time to go and somehow we both know it. We stand and brush the grass off of
our pants. As we stand there I have to ask the question.

"Where are you going?"

His smile is real. His teeth are white and even.
When Our Troops Come Home

"Ken, I've needed to talk with you for a long time. Now I'm going home."

"I hear that. Home is a good place to be."

I reach out to hold his hand one last time. He takes my right hand in his and
covers it with his left. There are so many things I want to ask and none of them matter.

There's just one more think I want to know. "I never knew your name."

"Ken, if I told you my name, what would you do?"

"I'd go find it on the Wall."

"Ken, would you rather have one name or all of them?"

My eyes shift from his face to the black granite memorial behind him.

"You're right…I'd rather have them all."

He smiles and lets go of my hand.

"Goodbye, Ken."

"Goodbye, Brother."

I watch as he turns and walks out of the shade down across the pool of sunlight.
He walks casually for fifty meters or so and then, perceptibly, his bearing changes.
His heels begin to plant themselves more firmly in the sod. The lady park ranger herds
some tourists out of his way, but does not acknowledge his passing. His arms swing
freely now in sure fluid motion. Nine inches to the front. Six to the rear.

I cannot hear the beat he walks to, but I know that he hears someone calling
cadence. The crowd at the center of the Wall moves without knowing, and a lane opens.
He steps over the low, single chain at the edge of the walk, takes six steps forward, and,
as quietly as he spoke, he merges with the Wall.

I stand still for a moment. Back to my left, as a breeze rustles through the leaves
about me, I hear the word spoken by a solid bronze voice: "Farewell." My brother has
gone home.
When Our Troops Come Home

Chapter 30

"In the actual living of life there is no logic, for life

is superior to logic."

D. T. Suzuki
Zen Buddhism

It's time for me to go, too. One last look at where my brother no longer resides
and I turn back toward the trail behind me. It's time to go back to the world, back to
where it costs money to reach out and touch someone.

As I walk through the trees, seeing the veins in the leaves ducking under the
branches, I feel the man walking beside me.

My words come out with more than anger than I intend.

"How could you just leave me like that?"

"Ken, what you two had to say to each other was between the two of you."

I know he's right, and my anger is gone.

"So how do you feel, Ken?"

"Shit, I don't know...empty and full…sad and happy. I feel like crying and
laughing. I don't know how I feel…except that I don't feel numb anymore."

He nods his understanding.

"Where are you going?" he asks.

"I was going down toward the pond. There are some pay phones down there."

"Will you come with me, Ken?"

"Where are you going?"

"Let's walk back over by the Wall."

"Man, I've been to the Wall. What do you want from me?"

"Will you come and see?"

I'm too tired to argue and this is the man I trust. What's a few more minutes?
When Our Troops Come Home

The last fifty meters one more time.

We're at the edge of the trail that runs east and west behind the trees.
He's waiting. I really want to go to the phone and call Peggy. Later.

"Yeah, I'll go with you." I hear myself say the words and I still don't want to go.

We step onto the trail together and turn right. Back toward the intersection of the
trails where my brothers stand watching the Wall. Our steps are easy, steady. I take off
my field jacket and fold it over my left arm. The Combat Infantry Badge is still sewn
above the left pocket, but somehow it's different. I smile and he sees me.

"What are you thinking, Ken?"

"Nothing really…. I was just looking at the CIB on my jacket."

He nods and smiles and he looks at me.

"It don't mean nothin', right?"

I look back and I know what he's saying. One of the last pieces breaks loose
within me and floats to the surface where I can finally say it.

"Yeah…it means everything. And it's all different than what I thought."

We come to the trail intersection and turn right again. Past the quiet crowd and
clicking shutters. I see two brothers standing next to each other looking up at the statues.
There's no need for us to join them. They're covered.

We walk on through the lime green pants and pink shirts, through the baby
strollers, through the camouflage shirts and tiger suits. Past the bench I sat on earlier,
to the east end of the Wall.

There are hundreds of people below us, some standing, most just quietly walking.
My lady park ranger is still moving folks off the grass. I can't see my blond lady.
The sun is past its zenith. It's hot.

"What do you see, Ken?"

"I see the Wall."

"Pay attention. What do you see?"

I've never heard his voice this stern. It's scary.

"I told you. I see the Wall."
When Our Troops Come Home

"Ken, stop looking at the past and tell me what you see."

The confusion has me. I don't know what I'm supposed to see.

"Man, I don't know what you want!"

"I want you to look at the living and tell me what you see."

Finally, I understand.

"I see people."

"What kind of people?"

"Hell, I don't know. They're just regular people. I know who the brothers are
among them, but most of them are just people. Tourists.

"Why do you suppose they're here?"

"I don't know. Maybe it's part of their tour."

We start to wind our way through the crowds, walking down into the Memorial
again. The Wall is present. It's strong and enduring and safe. The Wall is a given, and,
as we walk, I watch the people.

"Look into their eyes, Ken. What do you see?"

I try to do what he asks, but most of the people up the east side are looking at the

"I can't see their eyes."

"Why not?"

"They're looking down."

"What do you see then?"

"It feels like I'm looking at people who don't know where they are….No, that's
not right….they know where they are and the hurt is really on them. It's like a hurt they
can't even talk about."

"Have you ever seen that look before, Ken?"
When Our Troops Come Home

His words slide effortlessly through my ears and grab my heart. I understand.
Damn, I'm losing it again. Right here in a crowd of strangers.

"Yeah," I say, "I know the look. It's the one the granite reflected back at me the
first time I was here. I had to run away."

"But you're back today. How come?"

"I had to come back."

"If you ran away once, what allowed you to come back?"

"My people. Peggy and our children…and my brothers and sisters who had been
where I had been. They loved me through it - through the rage and the guilt and the
anguish - through the nights that never ended and the days I couldn't face. They were
always there. Always. My people loved me through it - and you were there."

How can there be so many tears? I feel his arm around my shoulder. I'm grateful
for his hug.

"Ken, look around. Most of these people aren't grunts. A lot of them don't know
a single name on this Wall. Some of them didn't even really know there was a war going

"Yeah, I know it…but how could they not know? Shit, these are the people we
wanted to see when we came home. Where were they when we needed them?"

"Ken, did you hear about the homecoming parade in New York City?"

"Yeah, one of my brothers marched in it. I was really glad I wasn't there."


"Dick told me that they were marching down one of the streets and there was a
big sign some people on the sidewalk were holding up."

"What did it say?"

"It, uh…it said, 'Please Forgive Us'."

"That bothers you, doesn't it?"

"Yeah…yeah, it bothers me."

"You're not willing to forgive them?"
When Our Troops Come Home

"No. I mean, yes…I mean they were just regular people. What is there to
forgive? They didn't know. They couldn't know. All they ever saw and heard was the
media bullshit. How could they know what really happened in the bush?"

"It's Sunday, Ken."

"I know…so what?"

"Tomorrow is Memorial Day. Why are you here today?"

"Shit, because the politicians and press will be here tomorrow."

He doesn't reply. We're approaching the center of the Wall. The wreath is still
here, and the poem and dozens of single roses laying next to the granite.

I feel like one of those flowers. Cut off and given. Letting the sun absorb me.

"Ken, when you and your brother were talking back in the trees, did you ask each
other's forgiveness?"

"No. Not really. It was there, but it was never said. It wasn't necessary."

"That's right. There is a bond between you. A bond that most people will never

"Of course….He's my Brother."

"Ken, there are people who will never comprehend what it is to have a Brother.
They will never have a family…not in the way that you know family. They won't ever
expose themselves to the risk. And in fighting off their own pain, they inflict it on

Somehow, I know he's right. It doesn't make sense, but it is what is.
And I know it.

"Ken, there are always going to be those people who would rather kill than live.
For you to be home, truly home, those are the people you must be willing to forgive."

His words are right, and their very rightness enrages me.

The words come hard. The selector switch on rock and roll.

"Bullshit!" Those people killed us. Day after fucking day. Year after year.
This Wall wouldn't be here if it weren't for those bastards that sucked us dry."

"You're shaking, Ken."
When Our Troops Come Home

"You're fuckin' right I'm shaking. You might be right, but I ain't doin' it! I'll
never forgive them."

"Ken, it's the last fifty meters home. Are you going to quit?"

"Oh fuck….it's too much. No one has the right to expect that of me…of any of
the brothers."

"Ken, I don't expect it of you. I'm just telling you what is. Forgiveness is the
steepest part of the hill. To hold onto that hate means that you can't be home."

In my soul I know he's right. I feel pieces of the crust cracking. Still I fight it.

"Why me? Why the brothers? Man, all the shit we've lived with and endured….
Why us?"

"Because you know how, Ken. You had a term for it in the bush. You're the 'man
on the ground.' You become what you participate in. You have been healed. It was a
gift. And now you share the responsibility. You are called to be what every grunt who
comes home is called to be, a wounded healer. Ken, you told me that what you wanted
more than anything else in the world is to be home. Is that still true?"


"Then it is time to forgive, just as one of your brothers told you. It is time to
forgive…those who would not forgive you…for losing a war…they would not let you

"But they're still killing people and getting our people killed. How can I justify

"Ken, you have been a killer. You of all people know that killing can never be
justified. It can only be forgiven."

My mind reels and spins, searching for some way out. Something. Anything.
But he holds my eyes in his and I have nowhere else to go…except home.

The words are spoken because I have no other choice and I know it. Being home
is all that matters. My family has already paid enough. No one will stand in my way.
No one.

"Ken, will you forgive them?"

"Yes. I will fight them until they do me for good and I will forgive."
When Our Troops Come Home

I look at the Wall, the wreath, the roses, and the people. The enormity of what I
have just said sinks deep into my being. I stand and shake my head in disbelief, and the
commitment becomes a part of me. And I know what I know about my people. Few
people love like a grunt, because very few ever had to hate the way we did.

It seems like a long time since either of us has spoken. He starts to walk along
the trail up the side of the West Wall. I follow. As I catch up there is a question that
comes out as a statement.

"It feels like something very heavy got laid on me. I don't know what it is."

He smiles and continues to walk.

"Nothing was laid on you, Ken. You picked it up."

"OK, whatever. But what was it?"

"It was accountability, Ken."

"Accountability for what?"

"The accountability of life for life…of life to Life."

His words trouble me.

"I've spent so much time with death that I don't know anything about life."

"Of course you do, Ken. You just don't know what you know yet."

"Well, wait a minute, are you going to be around to help, or what?"

He stops as we reach the west end of the granite. The place where I began the
day. He looks puzzled for a second, but his voice is soft and gentle.

"Ken, I thought you already knew….I'm closer to you than you are to yourself."

As soon as he says the words, I understand. I'm embarrassed to look at him, so I

look down among the crowd.

"Sometimes I get real scared. I just needed to hear you say it."

He steps forward. His arms extend and we hug each other. As we stand alone
among the throngs, I hear his question.

"Ken, will you share your grass with the tourists?"
When Our Troops Come Home


He hugs me tightly and pats me on the back.



"Welcome home."
When Our Troops Come Home

Credits for Chapter Quotes

Edward Abbey
Abbey, E. (1982). Down The River. New York: E.P. Dutton.

Richard Bach
Bach, R. (1977). Illusions. New York: Delacorte Press.

From the Bhagavad Gita

Mascaro, J. (1962). The Bhagavad Gita. New York: Penguin Books.

Mark Baker
Baker, M. (1981). Nam. New York: Quill.

Norman O. Brown
Brown, N. O., & Lasch, C. (June 1985). Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical
Meaning of History. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press.

Walter H. Capps

Capps, W. (1982) The Unfinished War. Boston: Beacon Press.

Phil Caputo
Caputo, P. (1977). A Rumor of War. New York: Henry Holt and Co.

From The Cloud of Unknowing

Underhill, E. (Feb. 1998). The Cloud of Unknowing (1912). Whitefish: Kessinger
Publishing, LLC.

Dwight D. Eisenhower
June 23, 1945
Effos, W. (Ed.) (1970). Quotations Vietnam: 1945-1970. New York: Random House.

James Fallows
Robbins, M. S. (2007). Against the Vietnam War: writings by activists. Lanham:
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The Forgotten Generation

Lombardi, N. I. c. The Forgotten Generation. Philadelphia: Xlibris Corporation.

Victor Frankl
Frankl, V. (1978). The Unheard Cry for Meaning. New York; Simon and Schuster.
When Our Troops Come Home

Credits for Chapter Quotes

Michael Herr
Herr, M. (1968). Dispatches. New York: Avon Books.

Merle Haggard
Wanted Man
Lyrics by Bob Dylan

The Book of Revelation

Chapter 17: Verse 2-3
Holy Bible (1967). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

William James
James, W. (1977) Human Immortality. Boston: Houton, Mifflin and Co.

Roshi Philip Kapleau

Kapleau, P. (1979). Zen Dawn In The West. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press.

Lao Tsu
Feng, G. and English, J. (Trans.) (1997). Tao Te Ching. New York: Vintage Books.

Marlon Brando
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Producer), and Avidson, J (Director). (1980). The Formula

Russell McCormmach
McCormmach, R. (1982). Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press

Thomas Merton
Merton, T. (1955). No Man Is An Island. New York: Harcourt Brace Javonovich.

Plato. (Dec. 2006). Plato the Republic. Sioux Falls: NuVision Publications, LLC.

Al Santoli
Santoli, A. (1981). Everything We Had. New York: Ballantine Books.

Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau, H. D. (Dec. 2007). Walden. Minneapolis: Filiquarian Publishing, LLC.
When Our Troops Come Home

Credits for Chapter Quotes

Sun Tzu
Griffith, S. (Trans.) (1963). The Art of War. London: Oxford University Press.

George Sheehan
Sheehan, G. (1975). Dr. Sheehan on Running. New York: Simon and Schuster.

George Sheehan
Sheehan, G. (1978). Running and Being. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Jim Shapiro
Shapiro, J. (1982). Meditations from the Breakdown Lane. New York: Houton Mifflin
and Co.

D. T. Suzuki
Barrett, W. (Ed.) (1956). Zen Buddhism: Selected Writings of D. T. Suzuki. Garden City,
NY: Double Day Anchor Books.