|In the mid 1980s, while in Jeddah,
Saudi Arabia, I shared a villa with a fellow instructor at the Lockheed
City Compound . This was on a project with the Royal Saudi Naval Forces
that we were associated with. My roommate had served as an Air Force Ranger
during Vietnam. He was a personable and great guy. Thanks to his assignments
during Vietnam, he was also a professional killer back then. One day, he
had this great idea to throw a party for all the Nam vets around. So he
put out a call throughout the entire Kingdom, and one day, on a weekend,
our villa was inundated with Tunnel Rats, Lurps, Special Forces of all
types, Green Berets, and a lot more.
It was his show, so I simply set up my guitar, mike and amplifiers. Sitting off to the side, I played my music, singing songs, and generally keeping to myself. Grinning from time to time as the war stories of bravery and bravado were related back and forth. Chests puffing up with deserved pride. I kept to myself and played on. At one point, I did "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?", and one of them broke down in tears as the words and music struck an emotional chord within him.
The stories were being told louder and louder, and with a lot of remembrances and nodding of heads. After a long time of this, I shutdown to take a break. One of the guys turned and asked if I had ever been in the service. The room was suddenly quiet as all heads turned.
"Yes.." I answered quietly, "I rode submarines for twenty years...been in the Tonkin Gulf..."
Their mouths fell open, and many of them just stared at the floor then. Many of them had ridden the boats on their way to various clandestine missions. They knew. Some actually voiced it...
"Jesus! There's no WAY I'd do what you guys did!"
"Yeah - that took guts. You couldn't get ME to do that stuff."
That "stuff" they knew from first hand experience being with us for awhile. Almost all is classified, and I can't say anything about it.
I did mention to them about how I was strolling down a sidewalk on Rosecrans in San Diego once. People were suddenly pelting me with rocks from across the street. I was in uniform. The same people that I was placing my life on the line for.
The tales of bravado quieted down after that. They all experienced varying degrees of the same treatment when they returned to the world as well. We all there had medals, and those should be something to be very proud of. Based on the way the warriors were treated and received back in "The World", several hard realities emerge. For a warrior, medals are personally meaningless (especially those with the thousand klick stare), but they do serve as an identifier to show one another who was "in country", and therefore brothers. In my case, I was in the Tonkin Gulf.
Most of these guys were hardened killers at the ripe old age of 19. Buddies that they trained with in boot camp prior to being sent to Nam now had their blood and other parts splattered on them - most wish that they died with their buddies back in the jungle where at least they had a sense of purpose, and feel like they are living on borrowed time today.
I lived with this every day when I was "In Kingdom". My Air Force Ranger roommate was reckless to the point of insanity - involving me on several occasions! He didn't care if he lived or died anymore. For real. He was a very sharp guy, but mentioned to me on several occasions that he wished that he died with his platoon back in Nam. He lived life right on the edge. Others at that gathering mentioned the same from time to time. They were quite serious. Some sat with that distant stare.
This, again, is a true story, and it really did happen as I related it. I took their responses as high complement. From brother warriors. From riders on the storm.