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My Recollections (cont)

July 29, 2011

Yesterday I spoke about my pretty normal service experience up until actually going off to Vietnam.  I left from San Francisco, as did most of us I guess, and remember clearly the song “If You’re Going To San Francisco”  which I think was written about the Hippy experience of the 60’s but to me it has kept an entirely different meaning.

I really sort of enjoyed the service up until this time.  Being a poor Polish boy from the city I never really had done any of the things that we had to be trained to do.  I had never camped in the woods, shot a gun or even held one.  Putting up with all the harassment was sort of amusing to me.  I was a bit older than a lot of the kids that I was training with since I had already graduated college.   This made me see that whole thing from a different perspective.  Since I knew we were needed and there wasn’t much they could do about it but make us do push-ups or some other silly punishment was not much of a threat.  I was proud to be doing my duty and making my parents proud and if this meant Vietnam then so be it.

Now, however, I was getting on a 707 jet and going to Vietnam.  Even though I knew I had orders to go to Vietnam ever since OCS, it was something that I really just didn’t think much about.   But now, it was real. This next part was a bit of gallows humor and I don’t mean to take PTSD lightly but perhaps if you look at it another way you may see that others have experienced some of what you are going through and have come out the other end and can laugh about some of their terrible experiences.

The airplane was completely packed.  I would be arriving in Country (Vietnam) at the tail end of the Tet offensive.  I don’t remember exactly how many soldiers and other servicemen were on this plane but I do know that it was completely packed.  I could see on the faces of others that everyone was feeling like I was.  We had brave faces on but we all knew that this was serious business.  Since I can’t talk for everyone, I will just say that I wasn’t terrified but I was realistic.  I wasn’t hard to imagine the possibility that I would not be returning home.  I have always been a positive thinking person so I mostly assumed that I would return but still….

The flight lasted 20+ hours, as I recall, but finally we were circling the airport where we would be landing.  No one knew just what to expect and we could see Vietnam under us as the plane dipped its wings for the landing.  I was getting more tense by the minute and the plane was very quiet considering how many people were aboard.  Then from the back of the airplane I heard someone shout out, “Well, at least it won’t be this crowded coming home.”

There were nervous laughs coming from around the plane.  This soldier had put it into words exactly.  Statistically, it probably was true, some of us, on this plane, were going to die.  Others would be badly wounded and survive with continuing medical problems.  The other group that probably none of us would have thought of, were those of us who’s experiences would scar them emotionally with PTSD.

I won’t talk specifically about my experiences in Vietnam.  Many had much worse duty than I, since I was mostly behind the scenes but I can tell you that I experienced my share of painful memories.  I will skip that so as not to rekindle anything for the readers of this blog.  I have found that, for me, it is best to keep these to myself realizing others had worse than I and none of it is worth bragging about. Mostly the real feelings came from coming home which I will talk about in another blog.