There are certain days dedicated to honoring the veterans of our wars. I am happy and sad, at the same time, to have served down in a place called the A Shau Valley.
It was November the 24th when I came home from the Nam. I landed at Travis Air Force Base in California. My wife did not recognize me and had to ask me identifying questions. I was stunned, and so hurt. But I got through. I remember to this day being stuck up against the fuselage wall of that Starlifter jetliner, in a big plastic bag, medicated with morphine. I remember it all in hazy drug-cushioned detail. I got home and the medals started coming in. Yes, you get combat decorations quite a bit later. I even received one almost a year after I was out of the military. At home, I took the medals down because regular guys resented them, and inferred that I had bought them at a local flea market. I am John McCain, although never a prisoner. I am the admiral who got Bin Laden but was never involved in that. I am those vets in the cemeteries who did not get visited by the American president in the rain over there. I am still in the rain. I will always be in the rain. I am used to not really being noticed for my time in the Corps. I have a Purple Heart license plate so I do get a few ‘thanks for your service,’ and a quick departure from my attention and life.
I understand the VA spending billions, giving it to the guys and gals who are supposed to take care of me, a vet who does not want to be ‘taken care of.’ I didn’t get their classy high-paying jobs when I came home. I had nothing. No job (Reduction in Force, they called that), I got an apartment and a car I could not afford, and a bad limp from the cratered hole in my left hip bone. I didn’t understand the language of the VA counseling. I had to go along to get along. It was gibberish to me. I don’t understand this new president of our country. I get a steady litany of his cowardice and more gibberish. I listen to other veterans and am blown away by their support of this guy. Yes, the Marine Officer Oath has words about following the president’s orders. I am not in the Marines, anymore. That means I don’t have to be armed, armored and a tough Marine to go at it with a mob of starving Hispanics at the border, either. How is it that I fought against what it is my own country’s leader has become? Did Kristallnacht occur so long ago? Will my last combat still be in front of me? Must I really defend Jews, Blacks, and Mexicans when their mortal sin is merely one of cultural difference or skin color?
When I came home from the Nam. I did not mind that people were so opposed to my having gone to where I went. It was at the hospital in Oakland, California that I found out that my reputation as ‘Junior’ had followed me home from over there. It was Thanksgiving. I was trying to get over not having a morphine shot every four hours for half a year. They had decided that day that I was a drug addict. On Thanksgiving Day, since my wife could not make it across the bridge, they gave me turkey feathers strewn about my bed and a hospital room. I had read the Four Feathers by AEW Mason. I knew what the feathers meant. I forgave those people and never hunted a single one down. I know that people who have not been in real combat have no clue, and to expect them to, well, that means they’d have to be up on guard in the night like me. I don’t wish that on them. I have never forgotten that kind of treatment in the hospital.
The general public was much more forgiving, and I am still hurt by Sears & Roebuck going down. That company fixed my wife’s car so she could visit me at the hospital. They let me pay the $600 off over two years because I was a wounded vet in the hospital when the engine failed. My being wounded meant something to Sears & Roebuck. It meant a whole lot more to me that they did that. I still buy Craftsman and Kenmore products, even though I know they sold those brands. On this last Thanksgiving, I gave, and am still giving, thanks for those rare people who understood then, and now, so many years later. I am thanking all of you who lend me the forgiveness for my sins committed over there because I could not see through the fear to know that they were sins…until later. I should never, ever, have done some of the things I did. I know that, and I can handle it now. I am so sorry that so many who could not handle that are now gone, and I can’t cradle one arm over their shoulders and tell them that it was so far beyond the field of what youngsters from back home could possibly understand. I thank all of you on here who put up with the fact that I am too liberal, too willing to take care of the wounded, the poor, the down and out and the prisoners. It’s the only way I can get by. The one truly great doctor at the VA (Dr. John Bair) said it all in one word: redemption.
~ James Strauss