Old men sit at cafe tables telling tales bringing up memories from the decades behind them. Sharing this clipping with a group of Viet Nam ground pounders produced the suggestion that I read “Dak To” by Edward Murphy.
My best friend sits quietly on the side of the newspaper photo that my mother sent me years ago not long after he made the climb up that hill located not far from the Dak To staging area. I was in Pensacola, Florida getting my Ensign bars and beginning a long climb through the Naval Aviation training process. My uncluttered mind was unable to grasp the full impact of this image. I had read a number of ground pounder and helicopter pilot books to get a sense of the horrors that fast mover crews missed doing their jobs in that war. While the tensions could be intense flying the missions we flew, they rarely included the gore that those on the ground would experience.
Jim and I never talked about this stuff. I only got a glimpse into his war years talking to his wife when I was trying to get him to attend our 35th prep school reunion. She told me he had survivors guilt being the only one in his group of soldiers to come home again. I am not sure if it was a squad or platoon that composed the group. 10 or 40 is a large number when counting comrades in arms. We, in VA-196, lost 5 people from our squadron on our cruise. They just did not land back on the ship. Jim’s friends were beside him on the hill. We never talked about it.
Reading the book, I sense him trudging through the bamboo, elephant grass, and under the dense canopy of jungle while NVA soldiers sprayed them with all sorts of hostile objects of war.
He died twice in his life. Once when he was 32 from a heart attack…they brought him back. He died again at 52. We never talked. Once close, the war separated us mostly because I was too immune to what really happened. I miss him, though I do sense his presence as I read Dak To.