The Naked, Running, Screaming Girl

by Norman Miller

You Look like you could use a friend.

Her tight, short, red skirt and stiletto heels accentuate her taut ass, swaying hips, and well-formed legs. She climbs onto the barstool next to mine and turns to face me. The skirt’s so short that there’s no allowance for modesty. I catch a glimpse of a blue thong before she crosses her legs. The top three buttons of her blouse are undone. There’s an unrestricted view of nice cleavage and pink areola as she leans towards me. A nipple peeks out when she moves just so.

Her only jewelry is a silver chain around her neck and silver studs in her pierced ears. I don’t think she’s wearing makeup. She’s built like the proverbial brick shithouse, but she’s just a kid. I think she’s younger than my granddaughters. She tosses her head to move strands of long, auburn hair out of her face. It’s a practiced move and she’s very good at it. God, she’s cute! I wonder what her story is. I’d like to know but she’s here to work, not to talk about her life.

“You look like you could use a friend,” she says. Her voice is soft and sexy with a hint of Valley Girl. “You can call me Candy. Why don’t you buy me a drink and tell me what’s bothering you?”

 I turn away and look at my shot glass while deciding if I want to answer. If I stay mute, she’ll go seek another warm body with a wallet and I can drink alone. That’s my preference. I don’t want to buy what she’s selling. I should ignore her, but I don’t.

“Why do you think something’s bothering me?”

“Because you’re drinking in a hotel bar…alone…at midnight. You can talk to me about it if you want. I’m a really good listener, especially in bed. If you take me up to your room, I can demonstrate.” She flashes a smile. It’s not real.

“I don’t have a room here; I live outside town. I don’t want to go home and I don’t want to go to my bed. That’s why I’m drinking in a hotel bar…alone…at midnight.”

I raise my hand like a student wanting to be called on. The bartender’s standing across the room, watching what looks like an ESPN channel. He’s probably wishing I’d leave the bar with Call Me Candy, so he can close. Tough shit. I’m here until two A.M, the closing time mandated by the State of California. “I could use another,” I say, in a raised voice, to get his attention.

“Is the lady drinking?”

Lady is a bit of a stretch. She’s a hooker and nowhere close to the legal drinking age. The fact he doesn’t card her tells me he knows those things and they have a working arrangement. Is he her pimp? Does she pay him in coin-of-the-realm or sexual favors? I look at Call Me Candy and she nods. She wants a drink. Her mouth gapes and a pink tongue slides out between straight, brilliant white teeth. The tip caresses ruby-red lips. I wonder how long ago the braces came off. Maybe last year, when she was a Sophomore? When I was younger, that move would’ve stoked my fire, but her attempt to seduce is amateurish and hasn’t changed my mind. I’m willing to buy her a few drinks, but I won’t take her to bed. Like I told her, I don’t want to go there—even alone. I know what’s waiting.

“I’d love a scotch,” she says, leaning closer. She’s trying hard to make a sale. She lays a hand on my forearm. It slides down to brush the back of my hand and, eventually, her fingers land on my inner thigh. They massage the muscle, gently squeezing in and out, like a shopper checking to see if a mango’s ripe. She moves the fingers to my crotch and gropes for a moment, before pulling her hand away. Her expression tells me she’s surprised she didn’t feel anything hard.

I’m sure most men would’ve taken the opportunity to do a little stroking in return. I can tell she’s disappointed that I haven’t. She would’ve allowed just enough touching to peak my interest before discussing price. She looks around, and I figure she’s searching for a more interested John. Regretfully for her, I’m the only customer in the bar. Will she leave? I shouldn’t encourage her to stay but I wouldn’t mind a little company, if she just wanted to talk. Oh well, it’s her choice. I fumble with my wallet, extract two twenties and lay them next to my empty shot glass. “Scotch for the lady and me until this is gone,” I say, to the bartender. Call Me Candy smiles her fake smile again.

She shows her gratitude by trying harder to encourage me to rent her for the night. She takes a sip from the full shot glass placed in front of her, leans back and re-crosses her legs; allowing an even longer look at her scanty, blue thong. I can’t believe how smooth those thighs are—all the way to the top. I look away. I’m only interested in talking.

“Why don’t you want to go home?” she asks, trying to re-engage.

“Something there scares me.”

“What could be in your home that’d scare a big, strong guy like you?” Her smile and flattering words are phony. I wish she’d quit working and just be herself.

“My bed.”

“You’re afraid of your bed?”

“I’m afraid of what’s in it.”

“What? Do you have a wife or girlfriend there?”

“There’s no wife. I’ve had three. They all left me. There won’t be another. I gave up on girlfriends years ago. They’re a waste of time, money and energy.”

Call Me Candy giggles and leans closer. I feel a soft breast rub against my shoulder. Her left arm raises and fingers caress the back of my neck. Her head’s so close that there’s warm breath on my cheek when she whispers, “I’ll bet I could handle whatever it is. Why don’t you take me home and I’ll show you?” She must think I’m suffering from a sexual dysfunction she can fix because of the vast experience she’s gained blowing the high school quarterback.

“You can’t fix nightmares,” I say, shrugging her off and sliding my stool a little bit away. She frowns. I guess she doesn’t appreciate being rebuffed. This time, I’m certain she’ll leave. Now, for some reason, I’d like her to stay. I just got my disability check, so I have plenty of cash. I take five more twenties out of my wallet and lay them on the bar. “Those’re yours if you’ll drink and talk with me. But, you’ll need to be satisfied with doing those two things here. I’m not taking you home with me.”

It’s late, and it’s unlikely she’ll get any other offers tonight. The bills are snatched from sight. I toss back my drink and wave at the bartender to refill the shot glass. Call Me Candy has taken only the one small sip from hers. Since then, all she’s done is swirl the amber liquid in the glass. Her hand quits moving and the scotch comes to rest. She looks at the glass for a moment, raises it and swallows the contents in one gulp. She grimaces and gasps. She’s not yet learned to handle the harsh burning. I don’t think she realizes her tongue pokes out to collect the last drops hanging on the lip of the glass. It’s the most sensuous thing she’s done all night. Licking her glass like that would better advertise what she has to offer potential Johns than caressing their necks. She interrupts my thoughts before I can tell her.

“Nightmares? Are you saying having me in your bed would be a nightmare?”

“I have nightmares every time I sleep. I scream and thrash around and become violent with whoever’s near me. That’s why my wives left me and took my kids. That’s the real reason I don’t have girlfriends. I don’t want you in my bed, or to be in it by myself, for that matter.”

“What do you dream about that scares you so much?”

I never shared the contents of my dreams with any of my wives; or anyone else. The VA therapists said I should talk or write about them, but I’ve never been able to. For some reason, I decide to tell her. Perhaps it’s because I’m paying for her time. Perhaps it’s because she’s caught me at the right stage of drunk. Perhaps it’s because the bartender is just far enough away, engrossed in the replay of some sporting event, and there’s nobody else in the bar to hear. Perhaps it’s because she’s just a child herself who, unlike most adults, might be hesitant to point a finger at me and voice disgust about my part in what happened. Perhaps it’s because I’ve finally decided it’s time to tell someone. Whatever the reason, or for all these reasons, I decide to answer her question. It’ll require a history lesson.

“Did you know Phan Thi Kim Phuc was nine, when AP photographer Nick Ut took a picture of her, naked, running, and screaming on a road near Trang Bang, north of Saigon?”

“Huh?” Call Me Candy grunts. “Who’s Fanty Kim Fuck?” I don’t correct her pronunciation. Vietnamese names are difficult to say, even if you speak the language.

“She was a Vietnamese girl whose back had been burned with napalm from a bomb dropped by a South Vietnamese airplane. She was running with four other children to escape the flames and pain. The photo was one of the iconic images of the Vietnam War and it shocked America. People think of war as men killing each other. That makes it easier for them to accept and justify. They seldom think about what happens to the children caught up in the fighting.”

“I’ve seen that photograph,” Call Me Candy says. There’s a puzzled expression on her face and her head tilts a little to the side, in the manner of a person trying to remember. The expression fades, her head straightens and she nods. “Oh, yeah. I remember now. My World History teacher had it hanging in her classroom with other historical photographs. I’m sure it’s the one you’re talking about. It was near the door and all of us looked at it every day when we were leaving. Then, one day, it was gone.”

“What happened to it?”

“Mrs. Richardson, that was my teacher, said a student’s mother had filed a formal complaint with the school district and demanded it be removed. The superintendent gave her a choice: take it down or lose her job.”

“A student’s mother complained about the photograph? Do you know why?”

“Well, the girl was naked. If you looked closely, and we all did, especially the boys, you could see her vagina. The mother said young, innocent minds shouldn’t be exposed to depraved, disgusting, obscene photos meant only to excite boys and demean girls.”

I empty my glass and call for a refill. I wait until the bartender pours the drink and walks back to his TV, “Some mother was concerned a photograph showing the genitals of a nine-year-old girl, who was running to save her life, would make the boys horny and embarrass the girls? The average age of a soldier in Vietnam was twenty-two. That’s what? Only five or six years older than you and your classmates? How about the effect on theyoung, innocent minds’ of those G.I.’s that watched her and others being burned alive by congealed gasoline?”

There’re lots of them. Nameless girls and boys.

“You saw her, didn’t you? You were there. She’s who you dream about, isn’t it?” Call Me Candy nods in affirmation of her statements. She’s made a deductive leap and her smug expression is that of a television detective who’s just solved a murder case. She’s so sure she’s got it right.

“I never saw her. I only saw the photograph. It was taken in June, 1972. I served in the Nam from ’68 to ’69 and ’70 to ’71. I just mentioned that photo because almost everybody remembers it. Phan Thi Kim Phuc isn’t the naked, running, screaming girl in my nightmares.”

“Then, who is?”

“There’re lots of them. Nameless girls and boys, toddlers and babies who’d been shot, stabbed, or blown up by artillery or aerial bombs. They all weren’t naked and they all weren’t running, but every one of them that didn’t die immediately, was screaming. I held many of them as they gasped out their last breaths. The one I dream about most is the school teacher’s daughter.”

Call Me Candy chugs her drink with less grimacing and no gasping. She sets the empty glass on the bar and calls for a refill. The bartender raises his eyebrows at me and I nod. “You’ll need more money,” he says. He must be thinking I’m more drunk than I am. There’s no way he’s poured forty dollars’ worth of scotch. I don’t argue. I don’t argue with anybody about anything. I’ve had my fill of fighting—even just using words. I have a difficult time extracting bills from my wallet because my fingers don’t want to work. I hope it’s only the scotch affecting my manual dexterity; I’ve heard Parkinson’s is hereditary. After a few moments, I toss two more bills on the bar.

“Those are C-notes,” Call Me Candy says.

“Really? Well, whatever we don’t drink up is yours.” This time, her smile looks real and I like it. I say it again, louder, so the bartender hears me. I don’t want him to accuse her of stealing it. I’m sure he’ll get his share anyway. Probably more than his share.

“Who was the school teacher’s daughter?” Call Me Candy asks, as her glass is refilled. I swig my drink and point at the empty glass. He fills it too. He takes away one of the hundreds and returns with a crumpled wad of bills. I don’t count it; I already know he’s cheating me. It’s his Karma. I wait for him to walk away before answering. My story isn’t for him.

“I’ll tell you about her in a while. You need the backstory to understand. I commanded an Advisory Team in the Central Highlands. There were no schools there and I decided the local kids should have one. We advisors had a fund to tap for reconstruction and re-settlement projects, so I had plenty of piasters to spend. I picked an old, one-room, brick building in one village and paid for a basic remodel. The village chief wasn’t too interested, but I encouraged and cajoled until he agreed. I requisitioned all the things needed: desks and chairs, books, pens and pencils, writing paper, a blackboard and chalk. Lots of chalk. I went to the provincial capital and hired an unemployed teacher. The man I chose was reluctant to accept my offer, but he finally agreed. He had a wife and daughter to feed and was desperate to find work.”

“Why was he reluctant? If he was unemployed, it must’ve been a real opportunity for him.”

“He knew it was dangerous for him and his family. Looking back, I realize he tried to explain that to me, but he never said it was a stupid idea or flat out refused. See, in the Vietnamese culture, subordinates never question decisions made by superiors. It’d be an incredible insult. It’s that ‘Face’ thing. My position as an advisor gave me status equal to a district chief. That was pretty high up in the hierarchy. Only province chiefs and the national government outranked them. That prevented most Vietnamese from objecting to whatever I decided.”

“You had a lot of power,” Call Me Candy says.

“I did. And, it was my duty to use it wisely. I wish I had. I wish I would’ve listened, but I didn’t. Like the words in the song, ‘I did it my way.’ I made sure to schedule my visits to the other hamlets and villages, so I could be at the school the day it opened. The village chief and the teacher wouldn’t help cut the piece of cloth tacked, like a ribbon, across the doorway. They insisted I do it. I never understood why, until later, but it probably saved the village chief’s life. Seventeen boys and girls, aged about seven to fifteen, filed into that single classroom that first day. I taught a short lesson on the English alphabet and used plenty of the chalk doing it. I planned on helping teach English as many days as I could, before my DEROS. That’s the date my tour ended and I could go stateside. I hoped if they learned the basics, they might find work as interpreters with the U.S. Military or civilian contractors and have better lives. Apparently, they didn’t need to learn too much.

The ARVN interpreter assigned to me spoke very little English. I’d had a quick course on the Vietnamese language at the Advisory School, just enough to understand and say some basic words and expressions. I learned a lot more of it living with them. Mostly, we communicated in French. Thank God for the three years of it I’d taken in high school.” I stop to take a sip of my scotch. I don’t chug this one. I’m getting close to that tipping point between awake and passed out. I’m also buying time before I have to tell the rest of the story.

“I think that was a good thing you did,” Call Me Candy says, perhaps to fill the void.

“Victor Charlie didn’t agree with you.”

“Who’s that?”

“In the phonetic alphabet, Victor and Charlie are the words for the letters V and C. The bad guys were the Viet Cong, so we called them VC or Victor Charlie or just plain Charlie, depending on the situation. Anyway, the local chapter of the VC didn’t want the school and they closed it.”

“They hurt those kids,” Call Me Candy guesses. “I’ll bet the school teacher’s daughter was one of them.”

“No. She was too young to go to school and the VC didn’t hurt the students. They just taught them a lesson. Charlie believed the villagers’ purposes in life were to grow food for them. They expected the kids to work the rice paddies like their parents and grandparents had done, for as many generations back as anyone could remember. They didn’t need to go to school. And God help any of them who wanted to learn English and work as interpreters for the Americans. Of course, the village chief knew this. He’d tried to warn me, in his own way, but I didn’t listen to him any more than I’d listened to the school teacher. I was the all-knowing American advisor with rank, status, and government money to burn. I decided the village needed a school, so he was obligated to do what I directed, even though he knew better. I’ve always wondered how he convinced those kids to participate. They all knew what could happen to them.”

“I don’t understand,” Call Me Candy says. “If they didn’t hurt them, how did they teach them a lesson?”

“One night, less than a week after the school opened, my Advisory Team was several miles away from the village, conducting nighttime operations with the local RF and PF. We heard gunfire and explosions coming from the direction of the village and knew Charlie had attacked. The VC knew we had to use that road to get to the village and they were waiting for us. It took close to an hour to fight our way out of the ambush. When we did get there, we found several people dead and wounded and a lot of destruction. The school house had been demolished. The students were kneeling, in a group, in the rubble, and would not get up and leave. The VC had told them to stay kneeling there until morning, while contemplating whether or not going to school was really that important to them. Nothing I said or did convinced them to move or convinced their parents to move them. Nobody even brought coats or blankets for them. Did I tell you it was monsoon season? It was pouring rain. Those kids were soaked and cold, but none of them left until daybreak. They knelt there, staring at the teacher lying, face-down, in front of them. Charlie had cut off his hands and tossed them to the side, before shooting him in the back of the head. The message was clear: School was not allowed and nobody should ever touch the American chalk.”

When the tears start, they’re hard to stop.

I pause to finish my scotch without ordering another. Call Me Candy is staring at me. It looks like she’s going to throw up or run out the door. Maybe both. She takes and exhales several deep breaths and seems more composed. “Oh, my God,” she whispers. “You said your nightmare is about the teacher’s daughter, not the teacher. What happened to her?”

I nod and resume talking, before I find a reason not to. “A child was screaming in the hut the teacher called home. I ran there, with my medic right on my heels. Of course, it was wet and muddy outside, but I couldn’t fathom why there was water all over the dirt floor of the hut. The teacher’s wife was lying in a small puddle; she’d been shot in the head too. Next to her, was their three-year-old daughter. She was a beautiful little girl with a friendly smile that could light up a dark room. She’d always run to me when she’d seen me coming. I’d grab her and toss her into the air, while she laughed with joy. I’d taught her to pump her fist and shout, ‘U.S.A!’ before I’d give her a piece of the hard candy I always carried in a cargo pocket of my jungle fatigues. Now, she was lying in a pool of muddy water, on the dirt floor of a squalid hut, squirming and screaming. Except it wasn’t her.”

I pause because I’m choking up. I’m a seventy-year-old man and the memory’s making me start to cry like a sissy-boy. When the tears start, they’re hard to stop. Will the teacher’s daughter be my nightmare visitor again tonight because I’m talking about her? I shudder at the thought. 

“If it wasn’t her, who was it?” Call Me Candy asks. Her eyes are huge; her face is ashen. She reaches out to hand me a paper napkin from the bar. I’m embarrassed, but I accept it and wipe my eyes. I don’t want to finish the story, but I have to. I need to finally tell somebody what I saw that night.

“It wasn’t a ‘who,’ it was a ‘what.’ It was a grotesque, lobster-red, parody of a human child, with no face and most of the skin from its upper body blistered and hanging in folds around its waist. Other blisters were forming on the skin remaining on its arms and legs. My medic pushed past me and knelt at the side of the writhing, screaming creature and I wondered what he was going to do. He injected a shot of morphine and looked at me. I nodded, and he injected more until it quit moving and the screaming stopped. I knew he’d killed it, and I was relieved.”

Call Me Candy is shivering. “Oh my God! What’d they done to her?”

“A woman, who’d been hiding in a nearby hut, told me what’d happened. Two VC held the mother, while others stripped the girl, sat her on the dirt floor and poured twenty-five-gallons of boiling water from a cauldron over her head. She said the girl’s screams were horrifying. Apparently, the VC hadn’t intended to kill the mother. They wanted her alive to tell everyone what would happen if they shouted out support for the ‘Capitalist American Pigs,’ even if the person shouting and pumping her arm was a three-year-old girl who had no idea what she was saying and doing. Even if it was just a child who wanted a piece of candy. But, somehow, the mother broke free and attacked one of the soldiers with a rice cutter and they shot her. I caused the VC to torture that girl and kill her parents. It was my fault they died. I was arrogant, stupid, and wouldn’t listen. I’ll never forgive myself for that. The teacher’s daughter wasn’t running, but she was naked and screaming. I wonder if that mother at your school saw a photograph of what the VC had done, do you think she’d be upset if the girl’s vagina showed?”

‘War is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things.’

“I can’t believe anybody could do something like that to a child,” Call Me Candy whispers, shaking her head side-to-side. “The thought of it will give me nightmares for…oh!”

“Yeah, you got it. I dream about her and the of hundreds of other kids I saw shot, burned, and blown up. Some lived, but they were horribly disfigured. Men lost arms and legs because they stepped on land mines or played with unexploded artillery shells and bombs. I was nineteen on my first tour, twenty-one on my second. Do you think seeing those things might’ve messed up my ‘young, innocent mind?’”

Call Me Candy shakes her head. “It’s so awful just hearing about it, but you saw it,” she says. Tears roll down her cheeks and I hand back the napkin.

“Yeah. It’s awful for all combat vets, regardless of what war they fought, but most won’t admit it. We deny our PTSD, medicate with alcohol and drugs and suffer in silence; often alone. Occasionally, the dreams get so bad one of us eats his or her pistol. Everybody who knows us, knows we’ve changed; knows we’ve experienced terrible things, but we seldom tell anybody what we saw. We don’t want to talk about it because it stirs up the memories we’ve tried to put to rest.  The Peace Company printed a poster in 1966. It read: ‘War Is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things.’ Boy, did they get that right.”

I turn my shot glass upside down on the bar and slide off my barstool. 

“Where are you going?” Call Me Candy asks. She actually sounds concerned.

“I’m going home to my bed. I need to find out if sharing this with you helps with the nightmares or makes them worse.” I grasp her hand, raise it and kiss the back of it. “Get a life, Candy. It’s not too late. If you keep whoring, you’ll be having your own nightmares before long. That’s the best advice I can give you.”

I don’t stumble too much as I head for the door; I’m not as drunk as some nights. I hope the therapists are right and talking about it helps. But, what if they’re wrong?

The Field Trip

by Randy Harritan

On Sunday morning First Lieutenant Hostetler, the Company Commander, came into the hooch and asked Harry if he'd ride shotgun with him to visit some nuns. Harry and the Lieutenant had gotten to know each other and spent time discussing the evils of the world. The Lieutenant was Catholic and seemed to know every nun in II Corps.

They loaded some supplies and, with the Lieutenant driving and Harry carrying his M-16, headed out to find the nuns. He had a map and, after an hour, they reached their destination.

This place was poor even by Vietnamese standards.  A cinderblock building stood in need of repair in the middle of a fenced compound. A lecherous looking, bent over individual loped out, opened the gate and waved them in. He stared up at them with head cocked and drool running from the corner of his mouth. The man didn't speak but made slurping sounds when he breathed. He was ugly and odious.

What kind of place is this?

It's a leper colony. The sisters are friends of mine.

“What? You brought me here with no forewarning. Hadn't lepers died out? Aren't they biblical abominations? Can we catch this stuff?”

“Calm down, Harry. I wouldn't come here if it were contagious. They need our help.”

They needed help all right. The place was wretched. The people were gnarled, bent and obviously had an objection to water:  a pig sty with no pigs. The Vietnamese shunned these folks and considered them cursed. Cast-offs. Not wanted in the cities or towns or villages. Even the place given them to live was third rate, a stinky bog. Jesus embraced the lepers, but Harry could not be so gracious. He, however, now understood the biblical symbolism. They did have a cow but she resembled the other inhabitants. A lanky thing with protruding ribs. She was a dowdy gray with long skinny legs, bulging eyes with no cud to chew. Her long sad face expressed indifference.

What kind of place is this?

Harry didn't mingle. He stayed close to the lieutenant. The nuns were in full habit despite the heat. Those black and white outfits tugged up around their necks with hats pulled low made a stink sauna. They smelled no better than their charges. Surely God would have understood shorts and a tee-shirt in this circumstance. The sister superior must have been very devout.

Harry was relieved when it was time to go. The trip back was uneventful. The lieutenant told him that the sisters were from his hometown and he felt a need to help them. Harry admired both the sisters and the lieutenant for caring for these poor rejected souls. His mother used to say, "There's a lid for every pot," and he was glad these good souls existed but didn't want to be one of them.

A month went by and the lieutenant asked Harry to accompany him again to the leper colony. This time he said “leper colony” up front. Guess he didn't need to be so coy. Harry and the lieutenant loaded the supplies and headed out. This time Harry drove. The lieutenant found out that Harry had his military driver’s license and insisted on being chauffeured. Harry chuckled to himself that he had been driven around by an officer in the first place.

As soon as they arrived at the leper colony the hackles went up on both of them. Something was up. No one came to open the gate and Harry saw the cow lying on its side, tongue hanging from her mouth and touching the ground. Cautiously they opened the gate to enter the compound. The smell was still there but there was the added odor of blood and death. Stillness greeted them. Lifeless bodies arranged as only happenstance can do. God’s final fuck-you to these miserable souls.

 The pale horse of death was traveling silently beside them as they made their way to the main building. Crouched and wary. Harry and the lieutenant worked their way through bodies not stopping to check them. Ugly in life, grotesque in death. Some staring at nothing and others hiding their faces as if ashamed to have existed. Fauna in the distance moving, shaking. Daring the two men to do something about the tragedy.

They made their way to the block building where they found the two nuns. The unblinking eye of the window saw everything but refused to comment. Executed. Shot at close range in the head. Some of the blood was still liquid. They had missed the murders by only a few minutes. The lieutenant, repining, needed time to gather himself. He had just lost a couple of close friends. Non-combatants. Ladies of God. A senseless deed committed in a pre-historic rage that led to the unthinkable. Harry stood guard at the door wondering why the flower of American youth was asked to fight and die for these people.

The trip back to base camp was long and quiet. Harry's heart ached for the lieutenant. He was hurting. They drove in the stillness of death. Harry's only thought was "Why did they have to kill the cow?"

 

                                                             POST SCRIPT

For years, when this incident crept back into Harry's mind, he would lament the death of the cow. Oh, that poor creature, not hurting anyone, minding its own business. Killed for being. Not letting his mind wander from that iteration.

Then one day, nearly fourteen years later, reality wrapped its bony fingers around Harry's conscience and demanded he deal with the tragedy. All that senseless death. The Sisters, one with her head turned looking at her canonical sibling. The other, the first one executed, still on her knees with her head on the floor and most of her face missing. The poor afflicted men and women who were terrorized and shot for being sick. The nihilistic perpetrators who were undoubtedly South Vietnamese, not the enemy.

 Was he sick? Insane? How could he grieve for the cow in the midst of all that horror? Why did he not care for the humans? His drinking increased. His sense of self-loathing reared, and the depression was ever present. He would close his office door near lunch time so no-one could invite him to lunch, then feel rejected because they didn't. He was spiraling into an abyss.

He was alone. Desperate. His wife allowed no talk about the war: Her position being she had it rough too while he was gone.  He had two beautiful children, a great job, in-laws whom he loved. He had to figure out what was wrong.

 Harry's Mother-in-Law was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1984 and died within six months. His nonchalant attitude surprised everyone, especially Harry. He knew help was needed and fast, but where?

Harry joined Alcoholics Anonymous, worked the program and, with the help of like afflicted men and women, worked his way back to sanity. Eventually Harry came to the realization of the symbolism of the cow. The coping mechanism it provided. The short-circuit it prevented. How it enabled him to continue, in a fashion, with his life. He was thankful for that cow and could finally replace its singularity with reality.


The Eyes

by Glenn Miscikowski

Accepting the invitation to go deer hunting in Northern Wisconsin with Mr. B and his sons on their farm became a no brainer.  The first deer hunt after leaving Nam six months earlier.  Arriving at 3:00 PM, Mr. B opened the car door and hugged me.  “Glad you made it.”

The trips became an annual ritual of friendship.  These trips renewed friendships, talking about past experiences and new challenges, sitting by the fireplace with a Budweiser.  The bellowing laughs commenced after anecdotes of the latest blunders, old girl friends or a new car.  Everyone shared one crazy event with the group, no exceptions.

The talks left me disconnected for an essential element was missing.  Nothing changed between us yet everything changed around me.  Did they feel the void as well? 

The fourteen-point buck roaming the woods became the topic of conversation at breakfast.  Deer stands were selected based on buck sightings over the last week.  Mr. B placed salt blocks and bushels of apples at several sites.  

I located a comfortable deer stand for the first day of the hunt; the deer are following their normal patterns, not spooked. My deer stand provided stealth, visibility and comfort.  With a bit of luck, a buck may cross my path.  Mr. B walked pushing the deer through the area; arthritis affected him while sitting.   

The temperature opening day dipped below freezing coupled with a mesmeric, gentle falling snow.  The large snowflakes blocked visibility to a degree.  I cuddled up to a couple of large toppled maple tree stumps.  My back and head rested comfortably on the stumps.

The lack of sleep and comfortable surroundings produced the sedative, out like a light. I sprang up hearing my name. Mr. B stood not ten yards from me.

“Glenn, Glenn,”

“I’m here.” 

“Did you see him?”

“See who?” 

“I was trailing the big buck for the last three hours.  The swamp swallowed his tracks.  I got a glimpse of him; he’s magnificent.”  He knew I dozed off.  I looked like a snowman.  He looked at me, then proceeded to backtrack trying to pick up the tracks.   

The trips became an annual ritual of friendship.

I brushed the snow off my jacket and pants, became vigilant of the surroundings.  The snow dropped a beautiful white carpet quieting the woods. A couple of grey squirrels chased each other through the trees. They showed off their agility.  Slivers of sun flashed through the woods causing momentary blindness ricocheting off the snow.     

The squirrels stopped chasing. I heard the audible muffled clump, clump.  An animal moved stealthily through the woods towards me.  My body became rigid. Breathing became difficult to control. The ambushes in Nam triggered the identical response. My hands squeezed hard on the stock. The inside of the gloves felt damp. Come-on, clear your head, get back to the world. What the hell is wrong with you? 

God almighty, the buck walked right out in the open not twenty yards from me.  This magnificent creature sported an enormous rack.  He stood broadside. He dared me to pull the trigger. The black eyes remained fixed on me. I raised my weapon and depressed the safety. My finger applied pressure to the trigger with the scope cross hairs on the beast.  This buck is mine. 

The trigger wouldn’t depress.  There must be something wrong with the gun. What the hell is wrong with me?  Shoot him, Shoot him.  Looking through the scope I took two deep breaths and tried to relax.      

The buck remained motionless for ten seconds, snorted at me and dipped its head, returning in the direction of the swamp.

Two minutes passed, Bang, Bang, Bang.

I heard Mr. B yelling. The magnificent creature never had a chance. 

The black eyes stared at me seeing him on the white carpet.  I wanted to look away but wouldn’t. The innocence in those eyes haunted me.  One of God’s creatures deserved a better fate. 

My eyes watered looking at the beast.  Mr. B cocked his head giving me an odd stare.  I shouldn’t care what others think. I earned the right to express my feelings.  In Nam, emotion demonstrated a sign of weakness even when one of my men went down.  For me to show an outward show of emotion became rare, but for this creature.   

This buck earned my respect; he deserved to roam the woods managing a harem of does.        

 The local bar celebration became loud and joyous continuing into the wee hours of the morning. Mr. B gave willing hunters detailed explanations how he bagged the beast.  The stories changed as the bottles stacked up.  He became the county hero for a season.

Mr. B looked disappointed after telling him my decision to head home a day early.  My child being sick became the excuse.  I knew after today’s hunt something is wrong with me. 

 Mr. B hugged me.  “Take care of yourself.”

The drive home became a personal reflection.

Two friends part knowing one of you will not return.  Mr. B witnessed my change in demeanor. I wished we talked about what happened.  No one, not even my wife, initiated a conversation about the past.

The creature’s eyes staring at me transported me back to another time, another world.  Sgt. N smiled at me as he crossed the stream climbing up the hill onto a wide trail. He was the third soldier in his column.  I heard the haunting blast.  The chilling reminder that shit happens.  Sgt. N stepped on a 155 or anti-tank mine.

I still remember screaming, running to the disaster, “Why Lord, Why?”

Descending the conical hole, Sgt. N’s eyes were vacant, staring out into the nothingness.  I closed the eye lids of my fallen comrade. The medic and I put half a soldier in a poncho.  I never cried after carrying and gently setting him in the chopper.

Concentrating on Sgt. N’s eyes and not the mutilation of his body kept my sanity in check. If I let my emotions surface no telling the outcome.  

My recurring dreams continue to haunt me seeing Sgt. N’s eyes staring at me.  The hollow stare rivets my psyche.  Why him, and not me, on the chopper. 

Strange, I would die for my men but never cried for a fallen soldier. My eyes watered for the beast. The enemy never received my dignity. Seeing bodies after a firefight or baking in the sun on a trail, they became an inanimate doll. A doll never possesses a soul. I didn’t hate the enemy.  Survival became the only objective for my men and myself; bring my men home. If the Vietnamese invaded our space with weapons, we retaliated. 

Not pulling the trigger on the beast went against all of my past experiences.  The beast lived for another two minutes.  In the scheme of life, my action made no difference.  Somehow, those two minutes meant a world of satisfaction to me.

I’m trying to understand the mask I wear. If I pulled the mask off my face, would I still be who I think I am? I feel a numbness and coolness to life.  Deep emotion eludes me.   I couldn’t cry holding my son for the first time returning from Nam, but for the beast I cried.    

The suffering and death are in the past.  I’m trying to get to a better place. I hope this is the first step in feeling life.    


Revelation

by Richard H. Geisel

How long does one repent and hide inside their skin?

Attending VA PTSD group yesterday reliving the past morphed into tight chest, sweat and anxiety attacks.  In attempt to talk about my dreams and stay detached the stoic wall collapsed. I went home exhausted and couldn’t wait for the safety of my bed and the covers over my head.  Once inside my cocoon the dreams started.

It is 4:30AM and I awake crying. The room is dark with a sliver of moonlight piercing the shutters. Not to disturb my wife, I go downstairs to my refuge, the morning sunroom. The garden is dark, security lights mysteriously off. No signs of birds, squirrels or deer. Only the subtle edges of the shrubs and flowers are visible. The garden had changed. This is not the once proud statuesque garden where my thoughts would walk.  Quietness pounded in my ears.

Sitting motionless I stopped crying, my ribcage hurt from the heaving.  Thoughts wave over me as I relive the dream.

Mountainous emerald ancient boxwoods created a tunnel to travel through, a time tunnel. I was walking in the alley behind my home trying to get home.  Each time I approached the back chain link gate tightness twisted my stomach, only one small step and I was home. Go through that gate.  Don’t be afraid.  My family is there, safety is there.  For years I had relived this dream, this Groundhog Day dream. No reunion, no safety, no family.

Tonight, as I walked towards the gate a small figure was waiting and waving.  Golden curls circled her cherub face, her toes gently touching the ground.  As I approached the petite girl stretched out her hand towards mine.                                                                              

 Should I take her hand or run. Is she real?  Does she want to harm me? Hundreds of times I got to the gate but could not touch the latch.  Fear froze me to the ground.  Before I was able to move she caressed my hand in hers.

“Daddy, it is alright, don’t be afraid, please come in with me.  Mommy and I have been waiting for you for a very long time”.

I started weeping deep in my stomach. Suddenly I was awake in bed, my wife slowing breathing beside me.

The beauty of the garden was gone, withered in my mind. The bile taste of fear growing in my throat.

 A distant steady clopping grew louder. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are riding tonight. They are coming for retribution, for payment.

How often the sunroom and garden had given me peace. There is no peace in my dreams and the PTSD group is less than a band aid on the inner fear.

Is the reality there is no garden and my retreat in the sunroom is a dream? Does relief only come when you pay, and who do you pay?

How long does one repent and hide inside their skin?

Will my life be nothing more?

Can the little girl find me again and bring me through the gate into the peace that has no name?

I pray the little girl will find me again and bring me home.



Crashing an Officer's Only Air Cav Party

by Steve Tedder

I saw information online about a reunion for the Cav unit of the 101st Airborne Division, “Alpha Troop”.

There were a lot of pictures and info about the unit but something was a little off. All of the pictures and stories were of pilots, both Warrant and Commissioned. This wasn’t about the entire unit, only the pilots. I discovered that they were having a reunion in conjunction with the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association in Nashville.

My curiosity brought me to look them up. Not only did I find them, but they’re actually having a reunion in two days? I start blabbering to my wife about it, saying we have to go. She reminded me that I had not been invited; it was for pilots only. Plus she was taking our daughters to Kings Dominion. Some damn kid named Britney Spears was performing. I responded in the only way I could, “Are you kidding me. You would pass this up for a nobody singer in a short skirt? This was Alpha Troop! You know, A Troop, 2nd Squadron, 17th Air Cavalry, 101st Airborne.”

She did have a point, the girls came first. I would just have to go alone. But come hell or high water, I was going.

Mid-way between Knoxville and Nashville reminded me of the Skyline Drive. The mountains and valleys were beautiful. This is when the enormity of what I was doing set in. Perhaps this is kind of rash and stupid. The reunion is for pilots only and I was not a pilot. Maybe I should just turn around and go back home.

All the way to Nashville, the only thing that kept me headed west was I had nothing to lose and a lot to gain. The worst that could happen would be told nice seeing you, now kiss off. But maybe a few of my pilots would be there, the ones I had flown with.

I did not have to ask for directions to Alpha Troop once I entered the hotel. A large sign in the lobby said “Welcome Alpha Troop” with an arrow pointing the way to the “Hooch”. I saw twenty guys sitting at the tables. Most were talking and drinking beer. I tried to recognize anyone. Nope, I didn’t have a clue who these people are. Damn, what do I do now?

I walked around for a better look, after all it had been 27 years. I grabbed a beer from a cooler. Still no one I knew, but they were definitely Alpha Troop as most were wearing Cav hats. Several of the guys sat watching an 8mm home film one of the pilots had taken in the Ashau Valley with a camera taped to his helmet. The film showed the Cobra pilot’s view of making gun runs on enemies running in the open. Rockets, mini-guns, Blooper, the whole nine yards.

A guy comes up beside me and I glance to see if I know him. I can’t exactly place him. He heads for the door. Then it hits me. Damn, it’s Mr. Todd without the handlebar mustache. I give chase but he’s in a hurry and I don’t want to run up behind him. So I yell out, “Hey, El Toddo. Is that you?”  He twirled around and said, “No one’s called me that in twenty-five years. Who the hell are you?”

 “Steve Tedder, do you remember me? I flew Observer in the Scouts”.

With a big grin he put me in a bear hug, “Of course I remember you, how the hell are you?” I replied fine, married with three daughters, living in Virginia.

I asked him where he lived.

“Why do you ask?”

I told him that I had often wondered if he was living in an underpass somewhere in L.A. I remember him getting shot and crashing on the side of a mountain.

Laughing, he pulled his pant leg up to show me the damndest scar I had ever seen, half of his calf was gone and the skin was white and gnarly. He almost lost it after getting hit by a .51 cal. After nine months in the hospital the Army discharged him. His wound motivated him to go back to college and get his degree.  Then law school. He gave me his business card.

“Damn, you are really doing well.” The card identified Richard Todd as the Assistant Attorney General for the state of Alaska.

I asked El Toddo, “You don’t think they’ll kick me out do you? This is for pilots and I wasn’t invited.”

He told me to follow him back into the Hooch where he introduced me to Bob Karig, the president of the association. I was told that I was more than welcome. Bob led me to a table where several men were sitting and introduced me, telling them that I had flown with the troop as an Observer.

The word spread that a non-pilot member was in attendance and a few of the guys I knew came over.

The first was Mike Streeper who I had never flown with but remembered for his immaturity and brashness. Mike had also been medevac’d home from Nam, having been shot down and fractured his skull from crashing through triple canopy. Glen Veno, who I always assumed was Canadian, talked with me about our time together. When I asked him why he painted a Maple Leaf Flag on his helmet he stated that he grew up in Michigan and just loved Canada.

Another pilot I recognized was Gary Green. One of the most highly decorated pilots of the Viet Nam War. 1st Lt. Gerald “Gary” Green received the Distinguished Service Cross, 3 Silver Stars, 4Distinguished Flying Crosses, Bronze Star w/”V”, 4 Purple Hearts. 60 Air Medals, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, plus he had one of the few Battlefield Commissions of Vietnam, promoted to First Lieutenant.

Gary Green was definitely a legend, not just in Alpha Troop but among all Vietnam Pilots. There was just one problem. I didn’t like him one bit. Not only was he a damn lunatic he also had a mean streak when it came to practical jokes. Our last encounter hadn’t gone well at all. I did learn from Veno that Gary was medically retired from the Army while stationed in Germany not long after Vietnam. He was driving recklessly through a village on his motorcycle, crashed and had a leg amputated. Next he went to South America as a flying mercenary. He returned to the states a multi-millionaire, bought a large ranch in Colorado and owned several aircraft and his own airstrip. Every year Gary invited his friends from Nam for a week of camping and horseback riding.

Before leaving the hotel Bob Karig invited me to accompany them to Ft. Campbell the next day. When I offered to pay he replied it was too late for that. Everything was paid in advance and he didn’t want to do any extra paperwork.

The next morning I got on the bus with Streeper and Veno for the ride to Campbell. We were welcomed by the entire troop, then went to the airfield for a demonstration of the helicopters currently used by the Army. They would also have a Cobra and LOH fly in to show the new guys a piece of their heritage. The commanding general of the 101st was also expected to greet us.

When I asked why a Two-Star General would do that I was told our very own Major Teddy Allen had gone on bigger and better things after Nam. He retired as a Two-Star and in the 80’s had commanded the101st Airborne. I remembered him as a demanding typical West Pointer who flew Missions as C&C (Command and Control). We certainly didn’t cross paths in a social way.

They had actually rolled out a red carpet for us.

They had actually rolled out a red carpet for us. We had a flyover of Apaches and listened to a very long speech from the two generals. Then something that none of us expected happened. The entire 2nd Squadron of the 17th Air Cavalry came out in formation and saluted us, which we returned. I was actually feeling proud to be a Viet Nam Vet.

We then went to the “Dining Facility” as they now call the Mess Hall. To say we were amazed at the changes from our Army to this All-Volunteer Army is an understatement. It had everything that a 4-Star restaurant could offer, even several salad and desert bars, everything had the calories listed beside each item. I couldn’t believe it.

A voice off to my rear asked if the seat next to me is taken. I replied no and was surprised to have Gary Green and his wife sit beside me. He asked how everything was going and if I was enjoying seeing what the new Army was all about. We talked through the entire meal. Just like old friends. He even insisted that I come out next year with my family and visit him on the ranch. Me???

Shortly afterwards we went to the Squadron Flight Line and they had their toys on display. The OH-6A Loaches that we flew were a thing of the past. The Army had upgraded the old OH-58A Kiowas that I had flown as an Observer in 1970. They were now called OH-58D Kiowa Warriors and they looked nothing like the originals, were outfitted with cameras, computers and infra-red sensors. They even had rocket pods in addition to the mini-gun, which is basically all we carried, plus my M-60.

When I asked about the funny looking mast on top of the rotor I was told it was a camera/sensor and the pilot could see what was around him by looking at the video monitor. The Captain giving the orientation explained how they trained to hover in the trees with only the mast showing. Once a target was detected they would pop up, fire missiles and beat feet before the enemy could react.

I was flabbergasted. “What about the little bastard underneath you with an AK, wouldn’t that make you a great target, just hovering there?” He tried to explain that wouldn’t happen as the area would be secured. Oh well, they’ll learn just like the Army always does - the hard way.

The Captain that had given the talk on the Kiowa came up. I asked him to look inside the LOH at our Turn and Bank Indicator. He stuck his head inside and said that he couldn’t see it. I laughed and told him that I would hang a nut on a string from the front strut and that’s what we used. He simply shook his head and laughed.

Finally the moment we had all been anticipating arrived. A familiar WHOP WHOP WHOP and buzzing sound came with two of the most beloved helicopters from our time making straight for us. A LOH followed by a Cobra from the Army Heritage Museum landed close to the Kiowa. After shutting the engines down, our entire group went up and checked them out.

The LOH was outfitted with a mini-gun and the doors had been removed, looking exactly like it did in Nam. Not only that but it had the marking of Alpha Troop with the red band on the tail boom and crossed sabers on the nose. This wasn’t done just for us, it turned out this particular LOH had been assigned to Alpha Troop in 1971. The people at the museum had marked it to show its history.

Streeper and I waited our turn and climbed in, he in the right seat, I in the left. All I needed was an M-60 Machine Gun on a bungee cord and a box of grenades. Memories just flooded back; I hadn’t been this happy in many years. Gary Green came up beside Streeper and said he wanted to trade places. I started to get out and he said that he wanted a picture with me sitting in the Observer’s seat.

After a few moments I whispered and asked if he remembered the last time we had sat like this.

He said it was something he’d never forgotten. He also said that it was one of the few times he could remember being scared shitless. I asked why he hadn’t had me court-martialed for threatening him. He said I was a good observer and that he may have reacted the same way. Wow, my whole world went round and around when he said that.

Here is what happened so long ago.

I had been in the troop less than a month before I was scheduled to fly with him. A few of my fellow Scouts warned me that he was a great pilot but he also had no fear of dying. That he could do things with a Cobra or Loach that no one dreamed possible. Hell, he even landed once in the A Shau and captured an NVA soldier.

We were flying at two thousand feet with the Cobras and a Huey behind us. As we approached the mountain range north of the valley I noticed we were slowly increasing our altitude. I didn’t give it much thought. I’m just sitting there enjoying the scenery. Out of nowhere the aircraft violently slips around pointed in the opposite direction. At the same time every warning light on the instrument panel lit up flashing like a damn Christmas tree and the warning buzzer screamed in my earphones. We’re dropping like a stone right over the top of a jungle covered mountain. HOLY SHIT, I’m going to die. I squeezed my eyes shut waiting and wondering if I’d feel anything when all of a sudden the noise stops and we’re flying again. I opened my eyes and everything was back to normal, no noises, no warning lights no falling. Then I heard the laughter in my earphones, Gary laughing his ass off. I had pilots practice auto-rotations many times before. But never a 180 degree auto-rotation and never without knowing what he was going to do beforehand.

I thought I was going to die and this asshole did it on purpose? Watch this, you son of a bitch. I reached down and pulled out my .45 from its holster between my legs. Cocking the hammer back I pointed mere inches from his head and said, “You ***, you ever do that again and I’ll blow your *** brains out. Do you *** hear me???  Our eyes met and I could tell I had gotten his attention.

My hands were still shaking as I replaced the pistol back into its holster. We didn’t say much after that.

We continued out and completed our mission. He did live up to his reputation by hovering around a lot but we did find and kill enemies with no damage to us. As soon as we returned to Phu Bai I just knew that I was going to LBJ (Long Bien Jail) but nothing ever came of it. I did inform our platoon leader Captain Robert Baker that I would never fly with that mental subject again, and I never did.

But here we were back in the world twenty-seven years later and he’s acting like we’re best friends.

I spent an uneventful day on Saturday meeting new friends and mostly talking about our lives since Viet Nam. We walked around Nashville and not once did I feel out of place. I was invited everywhere and participated in all of the events. I learned a valuable lesson: whether we served in Alpha Troop at the same time or not we were truly a “Band of Brothers.”

Sunday morning we had a farewell breakfast. Many of the guys said a few words about the great time they had renewing old friendships. At the very end I stood and said my piece.

“I want to thank all of you for not only allowing me the honor to be with you but making me feel like a Brother. I started out as a Grunt in my tour and graduated to Flying Observer in the Air Cavalry. I did that not for the hot meals and safe bed to sleep in at night but simply because I wanted to be the best and you all know that we were the best in any branch of the military. You guys are the bravest pilots the world has ever known and it’s an honor to be considered a friend among you. However, let me tell you one *** thing about this reunion, without the enlisted men who flew with you, that you depended on to keep the ships flying by staying up all night replacing engines or patching bullet holes while you were drinking beer at the Officers Club. Yes, I did fly beside you and volunteered to do so. But, I never had a say on where we were going or was even asked if I thought some of the crazy things you did were a good idea. Make no mistake, my trust in you to bring us both back was absolute. But I must say, if you wish to continue calling this the Alpha Troop reunion you should include the enlisted men who supported and fought alongside you. Thank you again for welcoming me so warmly.” Amazingly every one of them stood and applauded. A lot of them actually came up to me and thanked me.

I returned home happier than I’d been in a long time. I told my wife that she and the girls really missed a wonderful time to which I was told that they actually enjoyed the Britany Spears Concert.

In 2001 the Reunion was again held in Nashville with over 120 members of Alpha Troop in attendance. Both pilots and enlisted men. Two years later we had over 160 members show up and I got to meet up with most of my fellow crew chiefs and Observers. Plus my wife and daughters were with me.