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Walking Wounded

My Catharsis

Walking Wounded
1st Platoon, Co A, 1/46 Inf.

It’s been 50 years since I shipped off to Vietnam. And yet, there is still an anger that sits deep in the recesses of my psyche. I do my best to keep it there, with mixed success.

Recently it has emerged in a new way, as righteous indignation over how we vets were treated by our government and our own fellow citizens. The best way for me illustrate what I’m saying is to tell you my own story.

I was drafted in 1968. I had just flunked out of college, and was married and expecting a child. I made an appeal to the draft board on the basis of being an expectant father, but they would hear nothing of it, probably because they were all southern Democrats and I had been campaigning for Nixon since he had a plan to end the war. I certainly didn’t want Hubert Horatio “Hornblower” Humphrey in the White House. He had no plan to end the war, and was likely to continue the policies of LBJ, under whom he served as vice president.

So in early December of 1968 I was inducted, then whisked off to Fort Knox for Basic Combat Training. While there I applied for, and was accepted into, Officer Candidate School, thinking that if I spent enough time in training I might avoid deployment to Vietnam. Nixon was already in office and had started bringing troops home.

However, as my graduation date drew closer, it was obvious that I could very well get sent to Nam as a young butter bar, where the life expectancy for officers was measured in minutes. I decided to go on indefinite status as a reserve officer in exchange for a guaranteed assignment to Germany, still hoping to wait out the war, since a normal tour was three years. This meant an additional year of commitment on my part, but it seemed better to do that than to be shipped off to a hostile environment.

Just over a year later the Department of the Army told us lieutenants in Germany that they had no need for us in Vietnam. They were getting all the officers they needed right out of training. It wasn’t but a matter of weeks until I had orders for Vietnam, after only a year and a half in Germany. This rekindled my anger that had started two years previous when I was drafted as an expectant father. I had been screwed over again by the government.

Within weeks I was flying across the Pacific in a charter known as Flying Tiger Airlines, or FTA. (We vets loved this acronym, which we used to indicate our feelings toward the Army.) Upon arrival I was given command of a combat platoon and spent the first six months leading this unit in the thick jungle of the mountains. These young men were great soldiers, and we soon melded into an outstanding unit. However, my company commander was a West Point asshole, and we didn’t get along.

I was then reassigned to command the battalion mortar platoon, which put me under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Pompous Ass, who was so full of himself that if you stuck him with a pin he would take off in a gaseous flight like a balloon. I don’t know this for sure, but he also must’ve been a West Pointer. He managed to piss me off on an almost daily basis, and I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Finally the day came for my DEROS, or return from overseas. This was a plan, concocted by Robert McNamara and LBJ, to send replacement troops one by one to Vietnam, rather than to deploy existing units of National Guard or Reserves. And having been sent there alone, we also came home alone to face the disdain and hateful treatment od our fellow citizens. I well remember sitting all night alone in O’Hare, waiting for a standby flight home. The animosity of passersby was palpable.

For 20 years we Vietnam vets were treated like the pariah of society. When we got home there were no cheering crowds as we walked through airports. We were vilified, called names, spat upon, and treated as if the war was our fault. Decades later we learned that the government had poisoned us with Agent Orange while we were there. Thousands upon thousands have become deathly ill with various cancers and other ailments, and a frightening number are dying daily from Uncle’s poison.

Can you understand why I am still so angry?

I’ve recently discovered an outlet for my rage with song writing. It’s an unexpected catharsis, perhaps as effective as a good cry, which is rather foreign to me. After all, big boys don’t cry, nor do crusty old combat officers. (Wink) Here’s a sample.

Walking Wounded

We came home as walking wounded, invisible the scars we bore. Hell we saw, and hell we suffered. Just a casualty of war.

Uncle sent us to the jungle across the ocean we were flown Two million youthful sons and daughters dispatched and then sent home alone.

We did our best, we fought ol’ Charlie. We scorched the earth with shell and flame. Their villes we torched, their livestock slaughtered. They had no face. They had no name.

McNamara gave us DEROS, a plan that smelled like smoke from hell. So one by one we filtered homeward. The toll for us they’d never tell.

What reason is there for the carnage we inflicted on their land? We won each battle, then just gave up This war our nation couldn’t stand.

The eastbound freedom bird we’re flying back to the world, way over there. There’s no expression on our faces, just a thousand meter stare.

Back home again and still we battle disdainful looks, they’re everywhere. They just don’t care, it doesn’t matter what we did while over there.

Just try to fit in is now our mission. Assimilate and bear the strain. But the demons vex us daily. And no one else can feel our pain.

Scores of us are dying daily From Agent Orange deadly spray. It won’t be long, our days are numbered. Soon we will all just fade away.

We were young men when we arrived there. Fit and ready warriors we. We flew home broken, disillusioned. It don’t mean nuthin’ if you ask me.

We came home as walking wounded, invisible the scars we bore. Hell we saw, and hell we suffered. Just a casualty of war.

Two million casualties of war.

Kenneth Fendley
Kenneth Fendley
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