Laura Wilkerson

Laura Wilkerson
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USA
Birthday
July 27

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Salon.com
Editor’s Pick
NOVEMBER 15, 2011 3:12PM

Vietnam Flashbacks

Rate: 4 Flag
            My uncle, Charles Carroll Sales died June 25, 1968. He died when his helicopter crashed in Bien Ho, South Vietnam after he had been drafted at the age of 19. If Charles had lived he would be 63 years old today, instead he his Panel 55W Line 038 along with 55,000 others on the Vietnam Wall.
             I don’t remember Charles at all except from a Polaroid already fading to white three years after he died but I witnessed firsthand how his death devastated my grandmother who never had another happy Christmas after Charles died because in their last communication he promised her he would be home then. He was, in a casket in a cemetery off of 9th Street . I witnessed how the death of her baby brother threw my mother into a tailspin that contributed to the breakup of my parents’ marriage and I remember my Uncle Terry being repeatedly arrested throughout my childhood for protesting the war that took his beloved big brother’s life. Charles had no political ideology. He was just a working class kid doing what his Country told him to do. What I learned from this, from the models provided by Charles and Terry, was never blindly do what you are told to do. Ask questions and confront authority if the answers don’t make sense.   
            After my parents’ divorce my mother dated an bonafide American hero named Larry. Larry was awarded a Silver Star for bravery after holding off a nest of snipers who had killed all his comrades. Larry managed to single-handedly kill five Vietcong that night while huddled in his tank surrounded by the bodies of his dead buddies. Only Larry didn’t kill these people once, he killed them again and again and again in his nightmares both nocturnal and not. Sometimes we used to visit Larry on his weekend passes from the Veteran’s Hospital’s mental health unit in Louisville , staying at a Holiday Inn with a heart shaped pool. Larry was a strikingly handsome man but the thing I remember best about him were his horror haunted eyes that stayed sad even when he smiled. Larry’s nightmares ended on Chris tmas Eve, 1991, when he hanged himself in his home to escape his torment. He was 40 years old. You can look at the Wall all day long and never find Larry’s name but he was killed by Vietnam all the same.
            I thought a lot about Larry and Charles when  my eldest son turned eighteen and registered for the draft. I think about how I don’t want to spend every Chris tmas in mourning for a son stolen from me by an arrogant and ill-conceived war. I think about not wanting to visit his name carved into some black gash of grief, his life ended before it barely begins. I think about how I never want to find my son hanging like a Chris tmas ornament to escape terrors to real to bear, inflicted by an enemy who wins even after they are dead. I think of all the soldiers who lost their lives, literally and figuratively, in that horrible, senseless war and how we owed it to them to make sure such wars never happen again, a debt we’ve failed so miserably to honor.
            My son turned 18 and it was with fear that I watched him walk to the Post Office to send off his Selective Service registration card, but with hope too, as he stopped at the Courthouse on his way home and also registered to vote.

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Did you ever see the episode of THE WEST WING where Mrs. Landingham said about Christmas, "I miss my boys."
Your essay reminds me of that moment. Same sense of loss and frustration.
Moving, sad beyond words.
"Larry didn’t kill these people once, he killed them again and again and again in his nightmares both nocturnal and not. Sometimes we used to visit Larry on his weekend passes from the Veteran’s Hospital’s mental health unit in Louisville , staying at a Holiday Inn with a heart shaped pool. Larry was a strikingly handsome man but the thing I remember best about him were his horror haunted eyes that stayed sad even when he smiled. Larry’s nightmares ended on Chris tmas Eve, 1991, when he hanged himself in his home to escape his torment. He was 40 years old. You can look at the Wall all day long and never find Larry’s name but he was killed by Vietnam all the same."

Outstanding piece of writing, and a sad, tragic story. Thank you for sharing this with us.
War is fine except for the killing. I was in Vietnam in 69-70 but did not kill anyone as I was serving as a conscientious objector. The scars from this war were not unique. Korea and earlier wars created the same scars among the living. Yes, war is hell.
Bravo!!! - look into conscientious objection if there's ever a draft again.
Laura: As you say:

"You can look at the Wall all day long and never find Larry’s name but he was killed by Vietnam all the same."

Many, many people have died or had their lives ripped to shreds by what happened in Vietnam. You've given testimony to that miserable fact. The damage continues to this day; visit any VA hospital. Any drunk tank. Any homeless shelter. Guys who, as the saying goes, resorted to "self-medication" because they could find no relief from the nightmares of their youth.

People talk about how hideous it is for a young boy or girl to have their innocence stolen by a pedophile. It's the same story for kids who were drafted out of high school to serve their country. 55,000 of them died in combat. I know of more than one vet who told me he sometimes thought they may have been the lucky ones.

Sar is hell? That phrase doesn't begin to tell the story.
I hate to sound flip, but your son will never have to worry about being drafted. Reinstating the draft would be political suicide because it would destroy the military-industrial complex that we all tolerate because it's someone else's kid. And so long as they keep the economy in the toilet, there will always be enough of a willing supply of soldiers that they won't need to draft any. And finally, most of our wars are now fought by video game addicts hanging out in Nevada - there's much less need for boots on the ground.
Right on Jeremiah Horrigan!
Dienne's got a point there... still not a fan of the military though.
Beautifully written and so sad. The ending was perfect with registering to vote.
Laura this was a great blot. You really write well. I liked Your cursing one as well.