Unable to Leave My Story Behind

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic

Being a military or combat journalist in Vietnam in 1960-1970 was a unique experience. . . . We saw and experienced the war differently than the regular GI or “grunt” who labored and merely existed from day-to-day in the hot humid jungles, forests and rice paddies of Vietnam.

UNABLE TO LEAVE MY STORY BEHIND

By Al Garcia

Being a military or combat journalist in Vietnam in 1960-1970 was a unique experience. 

We saw and experienced the war differently than the regular GI or “grunt” who labored and merely existed from day-to-day in the hot humid jungles, forests and rice paddies of Vietnam.  As journalists in the Mekong Delta, we travelled and traversed the beautiful landscape that concealed the ugliness of war no one understood, not even the young men fighting and dying beneath the deceiving picturesque canopy of tranquility and harmony.  Vietnam was an enigma to the mind and to the spirit of the disconcerted and befuddled young soldiers walking aimlessly and sometimes blindly in a haze of expectancy of the obvious inevitability of war.

Although as soldiers we were unable to speak up and voice our concerns, our anxieties or our apprehension of what we were living and what we were seeing, we all came to the same realization as every soldier in the field – the only reason American’s young, innocent and naïve were fighting in Vietnam was to save their own lives and the lives of their fellow soldiers in battle and nothing more.  We knew we were fighting for a lost cause, a lost war.  Everyone knew it.  Everyone was waiting for the fall to come and for the blame and finger-pointing to begin.  And unfortunately, eventually it came be.

Yet, it was the young men in sweaty fatigues with unshaved faces and hungry stomachs who had foreseen the inevitable, even before I knew it myself.  We all knew there to gain?  What hope did we have in this forsaken land, when we all knew that our Government was not “all in” and never had been?

And yet, the dying continued, and families back home were burying the dead as they were returned in flag-draped boxes.  Taps on bugles and twenty-one gun salutes became common sounds heard across the country, and our Valley was not immune.  And the normalcy of life went on, with families receiving a folded flag and some life insurance in gratitude for the ultimate sacrifice of a son, a brother, a husband or a father. 

And while soldiers in Vietnam continued the masquerade and the deception of what was taking place, families back home waited in anguish to find out which family would be next to hear a knock at their door and see solemn-faced military officers stand in silent sorrow.

I, like the rest of soldiers in Vietnam, knew that Americans back home were being told that we were winning the war.  We knew that our families were being led to believe that we were pushing the enemy back, that we were taking a hill here and a hill there, and winning a battle here and a battle there.  We knew better.  We were there.  And even the six o'clock news was an illusion, as were the stories and pictures in magazines and newspapers. 

We all knew that politicians and military leaders were doing their best to convince and deceive the American people and even us soldiers in the field, that we were winning, and that this fact or reassurance would somehow justify our entry into the war as well as its continuation, and even justify the thousands upon thousands that had been killed and would continue to be killed.  But truth be told, they simply didn't want the people to know that our Government was planning to lose.

And in Vietnam, we knew better, because were seeing and living the war from the inside in contrast to seeing it from the outside, as America was.

Nothing was easy about Vietnam.  Even though my assignment as a military journalists was not in infantry, there was nothing easy about it, for all of us who were doing our time in Vietnam were in the war together, regardless of our assignment or our station.

As a military journalist I was also part of the Vietnam story, just as much as the stories I covered and reported on.  And just like every soldier, I experienced good days, bad days, and lots of lonely days in between.

In Vietnam, all of us were in the firing zone, and our only hope was to get out alive and leave it all behind.  For survivors like me, however, too many memories still haunt us.  Memories and flashbacks we cannot escape.  But we survived.  At least a part of us survived – the part that stepped back on our own soil.  The part that saw the faces of our families and our friends again.  The part that felt the air and heard the ringing bells of freedom that we had been denied and almost lost.

But the ghosts of war, deceit and loss have become more profound and more overpowering as the years have passed me by.  I had hoped that all would have faded away with time, but instead, time has given me the memories of my fallen friends and comrades to keep me up at night or to wake me from the peaceful reverie of my sleep. 

There is an endlessness to war that never fades and never goes away -- it is called guilt, remorse and even shame.  And like so many Vietnam veterans who returned to the real world, I am unable to leave my story behind.


Submitted: May 22, 2021

© Copyright 2021 A.Garcia. All rights reserved.

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