Thursday, October 9, 2014  
Search By Keyword
Breaking News Alerts
Email Alerts
Email Address
Text Alerts
Mobile Number
 )  - 
Mobile Provider
standard messaging rates apply
Affordable Care Act
Overall, do you believe that the Affordable Care Act will better your situation?
Memorial Day Years Later
5/21/2014 3:37:44 PM

By Jim French

Once again, thinking about the wars around the world, I am frightened because all I want to be is in tranquility. As I write this, secure in my space of work, the sounds of young children passing on their way to church, as their mother tells them to hurry along. It reminds me that on this day as I do my inconsequential work, our military men and women try to make-do in the rubble of scenic mountains that even those born to the land find hostile.

There is a slight rain above me. The Sunday breakfast is warm in my belly. The shower was hot and there is cold beer in the afternoon, and I’m still troubled.

Weeping is useless. Pity will not help them either. Combat soldiers are the loneliest people in the world. When I was doing my turn in the jungles of the Mekong Delta with the 9th Infantry Division as a Navy Combat photographer, the average age of those killed was 23 year; six out of ten had been in service less than two years, three out of ten were married. Of the 57,0000 killed, over 7,0000 were African Americans.

We must all carry our personal memories of combat and there are no porters anywhere to assist those who are persecuted by their private anguish of war. Now it is another war that holds the front pages and crowd the television screens.

But I have been in one and that’s enough following combat troops as a correspondent, knowing their agonies but never sharing them. I am fortunate because my wounds were minor and was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation and a Bronze Star, but I have paid in other ways. There is the memory of a young soldier sighing as the last act of life happened in the lungs of A man already dead.

It is then that a man appreciates the high-stepping of a high school band, the baton-twirling of shapely drum majorettes along King Street, the sound and fury of war far removed from their thoughts. Now the ’talking’ heads on radio and the ’experts’ on television spar with callers who narrate their macho feelings to go over there and kick butt and get it over with, but this is not the type of war where you’re identified by your uniform, but the stealth of an avowed enemy with the single mission of killing Americans, damn the color.

I think of war as one man dying, as one man running crouched across a meadow, as one man cowering in a ditch, as one man firing, as one man falling, as one man brave, one man at a time, doing what no man should be asked to do. Sailors die, too, and airmen and so do the artillery battery and I’ve seen men roast in the steel gunboats in the Mekong Delta. I hope you are spared that.

All this I know and after Hitler it was supposed to be finished. But there are still the warlords on earth and kids must die and hurt because of their insane visions. It was never over. When will it end? And our Politicians argue in their own elegant ways, following a protocol of nonsense. And then our soldiers, on both sides die, one at a time, the world ending for the dead, unless you’re a martyr waiting to be greeted at Heaven’s Gate by those awaiting virgins. I believe the Gamecocks will rank among the top-five this football season and still no one moves with more agility than Derrick Rose but my mind can’t hold these thoughts.

It is then that I appreciate the calmness of Colonial Lake, a late evening stroll down King Street or greeting a tourist on a corner free of artillery fire. I know there is corruption in local politics, and Blacks here have been cheated the same as they are in other places. But I have seen too many dead in city streets and the rice flats of Vietnam not to welcome the reprieve of living on this Memorial Day.

We were in Dong Tam, Vietnam. It was a Charleston kind of day and the narrow waterways, jutting like sprouts in a sugarcane field, was just as mean and dangerous as I-26 on a rain-slick day. I had just grabbed a ride aboard a helicopter and caught up with a 9th Infantry Division platoon heading downriver at I a.m and deep into Viet Cong territory over a watery highway dubbed “Route 66.” It was recoiless rifle fire and rockets that hit our Navy armored troop carrier and to this day I always say a prayer of thanks to my God when I stooped to pick up my dropped camera.

Will the Gamecocks maintain a solid defensive team? How about those Charleston Riverdogs, will they have the juice to make it all the way, and what about the Stingrays can they do it again? How many of you this Memorial Day will remember that the mother and father of slain Edward Snowden in North Charleston by a cop who went blameless, and four white youth who are yet enjoying their freedom, and that Ed Snowden, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, dead when he should be rejoicing!

If came again in Nha Bay (Now-Bay). We didn’t have enough hot beer to go around, there weren’t enough of anything. I went downriver that night aboard the hospital boat captained by a Black Navy boatswain’s mate named Al Buster from Norfolk, Va. We laughed and joked and spent the night on the portable helo flight deck rigged to take in the dead and wounded after a search ’n destroy mission. It was rumored and it was related to me personally by a Viet Cong fighter, that they would never attack a boat if they saw a Black sailor in sight. From the medicine locker we drank grain alcohol and orange juice, talking sex and more sex, until we were called to move out. Another gunboat took up our position and within an hour we were recalled to that same location. The white gunboat crew had been hit hard, some shown in the photo essay on this page. You must be lucky to last. Being Black didn’t hurt.

You think rap is polluting the kids growing up? Why is there so much dope and so many juvenile delinquents? Our way of life is taking away their desire. We got all the space gadgets, buying cars before they understand, cell phones, tablets, and $200 sneakers. You want them to be decent and law-abiding, too?

We were in a river inlet along the narrow expanse of Route 66. We were hit hard. A platoon sergeant said “Jim, lay down, we’ll gather around you.” They didn’t know me, I lost my notes. I don’t know their names, but no one has ever offered to do more for me, and that is what I will recall this Memorial Day 2014.

So I sit here, safe in this Spoleto village, and my memory is dim now, but where is the chaplain who gave the last rites to an infantryman?

He was numb with fear and dumb with it and he shook and wept but his eyes were tearless as if he had used up all the sorrow left in the world. Then he was gone, beyond medical help, all alone.

Blessed are those who don’t know what I mean on this Memorial Day. Mercy!

Visitor Comments
Account Login  

  need help?  
Current Conditions
Charleston, SC
Radar & More >>
click ad below for details
Show All Ads