Within two week after my arrival in Vietnam, I knew without the shadow of a doubt I was, well, I was a coward.
I served as a medic corpsman. And according to a protocol in The Geneva Conventions, as a non-combatant in a war zone I was prohibited from carrying a weapon. Well, I really wasn't bothered about that rule. That was until I got there.
Great. Our side has weapons. Their side was weapons. Oh, I had a stethoscope. I can strangle them. I was a clueless boy without a toy.
So much for my profound humanitarian sentiments prior to my deployment. Actually, I wanted a nuclear bazooka.
I read Joseph Heller's Catch-22 in Vietnam. It captured the absurd business of war.
I loved Captain Yossarian. He was a coward too. And he was so confused about this business of war. "Why are all these people trying to kill me?" I'd ask myself. "Well, George, it's just their job," I'd reply to myself. "But do they have to have such a strong work ethic?"
And I would recall Oliver Hardy telling Stan Laurel, "This is another fine mess you've gotten me into." I used to laugh so hard as a kid during this scene in one of their old comedies. I was not laughing now that I was in country.
My favorite song was an old novelty rock 'n roll song. In the song a cavalry soldier would plead: "Please, Mr. Custer, I don't want to go."
But even if I didn't have a weapon, I had the consolation prize: drugs.
So there I was. A cold brewski in one hand and a roach clipped to the curved beak of my hemostat in the other one. And other side dishes from a friend I knew in the hospital pharmacy. Better Living Through Chemistry, as that famous head poster declared from a DuPont print ad.
Since then I want nothing to do with weapons. I know what a thur-and-thru gunshot wound does to the human torso. It's not a video game to me.
I avoid watching news coverage of any war on TV. Well, that's not quite true. I got a used TV from a fellow Vietnam vet since I moved into my new apartment eight months ago. But I'm not in a rush to have the cable hooked up. I enjoy the tranquility. So when I filled out that question in my profile for Facebook: "What are some of your favorite TV shows?" I filled in the answer: Use Your Imagination.
I also have a rather loose defintion of what the word, war, means to me given my experience over four decades ago. Rather I realized how any traumatic event becomes war in my mind.
During the coverage of the recent Tucson Massarce, I stopped watching it after a couple of days on my laptop. I started to have terrible nightmares. It reminded of those bizarre triages outside the swinging, white doors of the emergency room when casualties were taken off the dustoff helicopters. Doctors forced to make snap decision about who is the best candidate for survival.
"Guys, put that litter down over there," I remember a doctor telling us the first time I was a litter bearer. "Why?" I asked. "Can't you see he's dead?" the doctor asked rhetorically. No I didn't. I had never seen a corpse before.
But I continued to follow the news on this national tragedy in newspaers and magazines I read online.
I found out reading about this civilian war is OK. I have yet to be attacked by a noun, adjective, verb or even a dangling participle. So far, so good. But I keep a weary eye on those dangling participles. You never know.