Moment of Despair

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

We were soldiers in an undeclared war, afraid to die, and afraid to cry. We were no heroes or brave young warriors. We were just innocent and naïve young boys and men, caught in a maze of entangled webs of lies and deceit.

MOMENT OF DESPAIR

By Al Garcia

We were soldiers in an undeclared war, afraid to die, and afraid to cry.  We were no heroes or brave young warriors.  We were just innocent and naïve young boys and men, caught in a maze of entangled webs of lies and deceit.

We were strong young strangers, escaping, running, hiding, or simply caught on the cusp of a manhood that might evade them and never age them.  We were strangers on a bus, with each young face hiding a different private motive, or concealing secret faults or shames of youthful indiscretions or transgressions, while some were filled with pure intention and resolve to simply answer the call of duty at a time when they were asked not to question why, but to step up for duty, honor and country, or just wait, until the draft caught up with you.  Choices were few for many of us back then, and bravery was never a choice, but a façade that arose from the very depth of fear. 

As young, restless and searching boys and men gathered at the cross-roads of their lives, it was our coming of age.  It was a gathering of young, untested egos, determined to display self-confidence and self-assurance, while deep down inside, the cries and tears of homesickness and longing escaped us in the darkness, when the lights went out and when silence extended the disturbing thoughts that maybe, just maybe, we should not have stepped to the front of the line.

For many of us, the reality of the absurdity and incongruity of war only became real upon landing in Saigon.  It was like stepping into a 1940’s movie set in Casa Blanca, or in our case, more appropriately, jumping into the illusions and delusions of the Coppola classic, Apocalypse Now -- that years after the war, captured and depicted the mind-altering consequences of war that continue to plague a generation mired by memories and by injuries of the body and the mind. 

But, on that first day in Saigon, it was the place, the time, the smell of smoke and oil, the weary and tired-looking Vietnamese people we saw, the American soldiers barking loud and incomprehensible orders, and the roar and controlled chaos around us, that awoke in us a sense of madness and of pointlessness, even before we reached the bunker as “in-coming” mortars started to rain down around the airport.  Welcome to Vietnam.  Welcome to the war.  Welcome to the madness of the human mind. 

And during the days and months that followed, we became accustomed to the ugliness and the cruelty that had replaced the gentleness and mellowness of our lives.  Feigned bravery become our way of life.  Contrived and simulated understanding and tolerance of our role and our atrocities was expected and exhibited.  We were good soldiers, all of us, even as we saw and heard so many dreams extinguished before they had a chance to blossom and to bloom.

Too many of us saw the flickering flames of promise and of hope, dowsed with the blood and tears of terrified and frightened boys and men.  Not heroes, not warriors, just ordinary boys and young men from valleys and farms, from towns, cities, townships and metropolises.  And all that is left is the deafening silence that falls over the killing fields of war, which gives way to grieving hearts and tearful memories in valleys and farms, towns and cities, and townships and metropolises across America, who mourn the loss of what could have been.

And for those of us who have shared a bond, formed and fortified with the passing days and months of witnessing and advancing the unbound horrors of war,  we are able to feel the utter sense of exhaustion and relief in faces, and in the dead eyes of those who walked way, and by those that looked back and saw only shattered remnants of lives that used to be.  Vietnam was not an easy place for young boys or young men to grow up or to dream.

Wars are never forgotten or erased from memories or from broken hearts.  War is the cruelest test of life.  It entices and deceives and then destroys the humanity within. 

But it is always the brave young soldiers who return that live the daily battle of memories that forever haunt the mind and pain the soul with reflections of war and death and friendships lost – cruelties that never seem to stop, and never cease to wound the mind and heart – again and again.

Looking back in time I remember all the fallen soldiers – too young to die, but now no longer dreaming, no longer seeing the horror or feeling the pain of war and hate that betrayed their fragile being.  They sought no glory.  They merely marched into destiny.

Bravery has little to do with dying.  Yet each and every one of them must have felt, if even for an instant, the final sense of courage, valor, and even peace, before the final breath of life – the unsought gallantry of innocence. 

I still remember all the brave young soldiers . . . and all I feel as I recall those long-lost days, are the tears that always fall into the emptiness of my soul.  For I never sensed the courage or the valor, nor have I ever felt the peace that I so long for, like all the brave young soldiers have.

And now, I find myself confronted with yet another war that is capturing our strength and resolve, and killing thousands of helpless, innocent souls.  This war is not being fought in far-off jungles, desolate deserts, or troubled spots across the globe.  This war is in our own back yard.  And the enemy is our own stupidity, arrogance and incompetence for not acknowledging or accepting the simple truth of the very science that has propelled us to heights never before achieved.  And so, the dying continues.  In my war, 58,000 young men and women died, with tens of thousands more injured, wounded and maimed for life. In this war, the death count is at 155,000 and rising, with no end in sight. 

In my war (Vietnam), it was the brave young men and women in uniform who heard, saw and experienced the agony and the anguish of death and of dying.  In this war, every American of every age, ethnicity, color or conviction, is experiencing the trauma and the strain -- physical and mental -- that war inflicts upon the warriors (our front line defenders – doctors, nurses, and medical attendants of every kind and at every level, policemen, firemen, teachers, store clerks, and service people of every type), and certainly, upon the countless guiltless who have been infected, and the thousands upon thousands who have perished alone, with one last breathe of shock and bewilderment at becoming a casualty in a war they never knew they were fighting. 

Even in this war, bravery has little to do with dying.  Yet each and every one of the more than 155,000 casualties of this war, must have felt, if even for an instant, the final sense of courage, valor, and even peace, before the final breath of their lives – and felt the unsought gallantry of their innocence. 

For many of us who have experienced the horrors of war, it seems that we are reliving the battle for our lives once again.  This time, unlike my war, however, there are no draft-dodgers allowed.  Everyone has been drafted and everyone is in harms way.  The problem, unfortunately, is that we have as our leader, a draft-dodger, who couldn’t handle the war back then, and who can’t handle the war now.  He was a coward then.  He is afraid and a coward now.

And I find myself in a moment of despair – in a war without generals to lead us, without a strategy or policies to surround and overtake the enemy, and without the ability to grieve or mourn on this battlefield called America – as the war rages on. 

And all our then-President could say was, “All is going well,” and “It is what it is.”  Where were the words to inspire us, unite us, uplift us?  Like in Vietnam, we must ask ourselves, who is there to guide us to victory over stupidity, arrogance and incompetence?  And like in Vietnam, we have the power to overtake the enemy fighting within us and against us, but do we have the courage? 


Submitted: May 23, 2021

© Copyright 2021 A.Garcia. All rights reserved.

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