Last week was an anniversary for me, marking forty years since I went over the bow ramp into Chu Lai in Viet Nam. It also marked the fortieth anniversary of the first young man I served with being killed, he somehow fell off the debarkation net and got smashed between a 73 foot LCM-8 (landing craft) and the ship before the weight of his gear sent him to the bottom.
His name is one of many on The Wall in DC, the first of those I'd served and lived with. He wasn't the last. I've been avoiding The Wall all these years as I've avoided wearing anything green, now with this upcoming trip I can no longer do so. Avoid The Wall, I mean, I still have no green in my wardrobe, such as it is.
I'm not much for joining, I never joined the VFW or American Legion, I'm not one of those 'professional veterans' one sees at every sort of event and I have no idea where my meager collection of medals and other military gewgaws and doodads ended up. I've never been to a unit reunion and have no particular desire to do so. I don't even get those letters anymore, I guess they gave up when I never answered.
I had, and still have a huge resentment toward a certain tall, horse-faced Senator from Taxachusetts for stirring up old memories and bringing back the dreams that spoiled my sleep for a decade or more. On the good nights the young men that never grew old would just visit as they were, strong and happy, on the bad nights I'd see them as they were when last I saw them.
I don't know if there is a point to this, except that I'm going to put on my 'weddings and funerals suit' and going to pay my respects to some old friends that I've neglected far too long. I'm not a fit spokesman for them, not after spending so many years hiding from them in a bottle, so I shall not try to speak for them. All I'll do is put on my Sunday best and go ask their forgiveness for not doing enough to keep their memories sharp and clean. I've never done near enough for them. I don't know that it's possible to do enough but I could have done more. I should have done more. I never had the courage to face their families and tell them what fine young men they were. I should have done that. Instead I hid.
It's past time I put this survivor's guilt behind me.