I Was One of the Lucky Ones

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

I was one of the lucky ones. I did not earn, nor do I deserve gratitude. I, and so many others, who experienced Vietnam, were just lucky. And now, we cope and hide the tears as best we can, and try to sleep through the night, and through the memories that keep alive the faces and voices of those who were as lucky as us.


By Al Garcia

Some time ago I attended a book reading and book signing event for my book “Where the Mesquite Tree Grows.”  The event took place at the Getsemani Presbyterian Church in San Benito, Texas. 

I was pleasantly surprised by the great turnout and reception.  It was truly heartwarming and much appreciated.  Joining me was author Beto Conde, an established Valley writer and Vietnam veteran himself, with three books under his belt.  I was the beginner, or the novice that evening.  I listened and I learned.  I heard Beto’s words, and I felt the passion and the anguish of his words and his memories.  And I was humbled by his experience in Vietnam, and by his frank and moving recollection of an episode in his life that has left him with PTSD.  It was difficult to even begin to comprehend the injury and the damage that was done so many years ago to him and to so many other young boys and men.

Like many times before, that evening several individuals came up to me and said, “Thank you for your service.”  And, as I have done many times before, I acknowledged and thanked them for their words and their sentiment.  I know they mean well.  However, deep down, in truth, it is hard for me to accept those words.  Those words belong to the young men and women who were injured, maimed or killed, and to those who returned home mentally and emotionally damaged and scarred for life.  I, you see, was one of the lucky ones.  As I have said so many times before in my writings, while in Vietnam I saw the best and worst of men at war.  I saw the total disregard of human life.  I saw greed at its vilest.  I saw the use and abuse of women and children.  I saw our humanity demeaned and betrayed.  Yet, I was one of the lucky ones.

What brought back the emotions of my service in Vietnam, was a statement made a few days prior to my presentation.  A man made the statement, “I don’t like soldiers who got captured” in battle.  It offended and insulted me and the young and brave men who suffered the agony and torment of war and all its repercussions and consequences that it had on so many young lives.  When I heard that comment back then, my instinctual retort was simple, If he thought so little of our captured soldiers, what must he have thought of all the young brave men killed or maimed on the battlefield? 

I recall this day so vividly in my mind, because I woke up with so much going through my mind.  You see, sharing my recollections of war, as I did that evening in San Benito, always ignites something within me that makes me think and feel too much of days and nights in a place so far from home, and so far away from the safety of a life I used to live.  I have those sleepless nights sometimes.  That was one of those times.  And it is at times like that that I will get up and write and think and remember, until I feel the tiredness overtake me and whisk me off to a dreamless sleep.

So, that evening, I heard the words “Thank you for your service.”  Yet for many of us who were lucky enough to return, or at least for me, I feel that those words should be reserved for those who saw and felt the fires of hell, and who now live each day inside a shell of what once had been.  Like many soldiers who returned from Vietnam, many of us walked off a plane, stepped upon the green, green grass of home, and fell to our knees and kissed the ground.  Glad to be home.  Glad to have survived.  However, we were not met or welcomed by anyone.  We were not paraded down city streets, nor given the keys to the city.  We returned to silence.  We were not the conquering heroes returning home from war, like our fathers and forefathers before.  We were defeated and vanquished boys and men.  And we returned in the dark of the night, silent and alone. 

Vietnam was a travesty.  A mockery to human decency.  A charade perpetrated upon us, and an abyss of constant sorrow and anguish for the innocent caught up in the politics of greed, power and abject lust of pure hate and evil.  And in America, the conscience of the nation finally awoke the reverie and the apathy that had overtaken the heart and soul of our existence as the lighthouse to the world.  Light finally pierced the darkness that had engulfed us and consumed us.  But for many, the damage and the finality of hate and ill-conceived glory had already consumed them.  For so many, their blood and tears now drenched the fields, streams and rivers, and jungles and mountains of a place so far from the land of the free and the brave.  Too many can still see the killing fields, covered with the shattered dreams of boys and the discarded remnants of lives that would never see the dawn or sunset of another day. 

That was Vietnam.  That was my world growing up in my America as a young boy.  That was my nightmare then, and still.  This is the constant vision in my mind that wakes me up in the middle of the night. 

I was one of the lucky ones.  To know that many came back to find a hollowness where once a life had thrived.  To know that many chose to end their nightmares and their pain because they could not live with the constant sights and sounds and smells of death, or the visions in their minds of frozen faces and sightless eyes that penetrated the human soul.  To know that young boys left and aged and damaged men returned.  That’s what Vietnam did to a generation of boys like me. 

The silence of our nation spoke to us when we returned.  And so, we blended back into our roles as sons and brothers, friends, husbands and fathers.  We returned as shadows of ourselves.  And now, as time continues to overtake us and consume us, we relive the moments and recall the faces and hear the voices of our past.  And we are saddened by the memories and by all the lost dreams and betrayed promises of our youth. 

That evening, when I spoke about my book before a gathering of people I did not know, and where Beto spoke words that brought back thoughts and memories that hurt my heart and soul, reignited feelings of fear, of anger, and of rage, that is still so real and so strong.  That is the legacy of Vietnam.  A generation of lost souls.  A generation of broken men who wake up in the middle of the night to voices and visions that haunt their dreams.

I was one of the lucky ones.  I did not earn, nor do I deserve gratitude.  I, and so many others, who experienced Vietnam, were just lucky.  And now, we cope and hide the tears as best we can, and try to sleep through the night, and through the memories that keep alive the faces and voices of those who were as lucky as us. 

Submitted: May 24, 2021

© Copyright 2021 A.Garcia. All rights reserved.

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