Sugar-Coating the War

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

As Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady” would say, “Aren’t we special!” Yeah, we were. Or at least it sure felt like it, and a lot of the time we were certainly treated like it.

SUGAR-COATING THE WAR

By Al Garcia

As Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady” would say, “Aren’t we special!”  Yeah, we were.  Or at least it sure felt like it, and a lot of the time we were certainly treated like it. 

Being a member of the press, even military press, changed the way we were perceived, not only by the average American GI, but by some officers as well.  It was heady at times, especially when visiting outposts and units when I was billeted in officers’ quarters, given a private driver, or accompanied a general on his private plane.There were no limits, or little oversight, as to where we could go, and when, or who we could speak with, or what story to pursue.  It was an interesting situation we found ourselves in, at a unique time and place.

I recall the faces and the places, more than I recall the names, of the men I met and spoke with throughout the Mekong Delta (IV Corps).Each face had a story and a history behind it.  My talks always began with light-hearted chit-chat.  That was the easy part.  That was the part where they would tell me about their hometowns, their families, their dogs named “Sandy,” and about going back to finish school, or marrying their girl.  There was much of that.  I guess it made them feel a sense of the normalcy that they no longer had.  I guess it helped bring a part of their lives back - the part that had been snatched from them, and the part that now helped them get through each day.

Interviewing and speaking with guys “on duty” doing their daily routine, whether it was an Airman mechanic repairing a jet at Binh Thuy Air Base, a Navy Seal preparing for a mission up the Mekong, or a medic stationed in a house turned clinic in downtown Can Tho, my objective as a military journalist was simple.  These were all “Advisors” now, there to assist and train, and I was there to tell the story of the transition of “soldier” to “advisor.”  To report on the waning “American War,” and report on the “Vietnamization” effort, or rather America’s graceful attempt to return the war to its rightful owners. 

Yet, in between my coverage of the “Vietnamization” effort and “we’re just Advisors” mantra, I saw the reality behind the curtain.  The reality of what was going on was etched on the face of each American GI I spoke with.  It was engraved in the bewildered look in their eyes, in the uncertainty of their voices, and even in their words.  And it was my job to take their raw words, actions and “feelings,” and report back to America:  “All’s good on the Asian Front,” accompanied by a picture of Little Billy or Little Jack, smiling and confident, brave and resolute.

But behind the curtain, behind the camera, and with my notebook closed and pen tucked away, when sitting with these same young men “after hours,” enjoying a beer or a drink in their company pub, or sitting on top of a sandbag-filled barricade, there was a much different picture and story to tell.  And these were the pictures and words that were forever planted in my mind by confused, disillusioned and questioning young men and boy.  These were the stories and words that would never reach a piece of paper, or see the light of day, but rather remain buried in the recesses of my mind, and in scribbled notes.  And as my best buddy and fellow correspondent told me not long ago, “In the silence of the night, . . . [we] all . . . shared the same thought . . . we just wanted to go home.”  And in Vietnam, silence sometimes was deafening. 

And for those of us who did come home, we learned that home would never be the same again.  For like Vietnam, home was now just another memory in the mind of the lost boy we had left behind in war.  There was no sugar-coating the war.  Boys went in, and vanquished, weakened and scarred men walked out.  Young, naive combat journalists were no exception.


Submitted: June 14, 2021

© Copyright 2021 A.Garcia. All rights reserved.

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AdamCarlton

Powerful writing. Weren't there all sorts, though? Not just the displaced decent folk but also bullies, sadists and crooks who doubtless saw opportunities denied them back home. A small minority of course.

Mon, June 14th, 2021 3:33pm

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Reply

Of course. We are the "melting pot" after all. But for the most part, most of the guys were decent. But you are right, and I met them all.

Mon, June 14th, 2021 8:59am

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