Oh how I miss them, flush in the arrogance of youth, lazing in that soft year between high school and college when everything had possibility and these two boys had hair longer than mine. We shared our world and made flower crowns, sat in the park barefoot, talking about ancient philosophers, marched in the city for the war to end, missed our ride to Woodstock, and made promises that we'd be friends forever. Just like all other teens in the sixties, we were immortal. Me, Bill and George.
The day Bill got his "Greetings" from Uncle Sam we'd just come from the reservation, feeding the deer in their enclosure. George had daisies and grass all over his tie-dyed t-shirt, smiling and silly, and Bill just looked amused then serious. "I have to go" he said. We already knew. This war was taking our youth - taking our naievte, stealing our time to be creative and replacing it with killing fields. Oddly though, the boys who had done their 18-month tour and come back never seemed to want to discuss it, not in honest detail.
There were about 12 of us gathered at Penn Station to see Bill off in true hippie fashion, everyone kissing, hugging, flowers, placards of "Make love not war" all the paraphrenalia of our time. I noticed Bill and George had separated from the group and were in serious, head-bowed conversation so I inched closer.
"Take care of her, George."
That's all I heard but all I needed to. Bill and I had been about to fall off the sweet edge of new love, discovering another person you truly feel for, practicing all the time-honed rituals of passion and sweetness in that strange mix of tradition and rebelliousness. Now we'd be separated. He cared for me, I thought with a giddy butterfly in my stomach. Wish he could stay ... I wish ...
Many boys couldn't stay when they got that draft notice, and with the boldness born of fear they escaped into college, some to Canada, and over 59,000 never escaped. Then there were those who escaped deep into their crippled minds.
George did take care of me for a time before he got his personal invitation to Viet Nam and I was off to my future in college. When he finished his 18-month tour he returned basically the same but just not as silly, alot more quiet. We married, had children, and he died in 1998. He never talked about Nam and the one time I asked, I regretted it.
Bill returned after 10 months, but not entirely. He left something over there he needed to survive, so upon his return, being wheeled off the plane directly to the V.A. Hospital, it appeared he had come back but since the only real sound he could make was a scream in the night, I suppose I never saw him again after that day at Penn Station. Bill would scream about burning babies.
His platoon had discovered a harvest of tiny little baby arms in a heap, all bearing a vaccination scar. The mothers had amputated them thinking "Joe" was poisoning them out of existence. These were South Vietnamese, our allies, the people we were there to help fight the Viet Cong and communism. They wanted and needed our overpowering American help. Yet in the end they only trusted their age-old instincts, and many Americans were very ugly in that war. I saw pictures in Life, the continual loop on the evening news showing a constant play-by-play of that day's maneuvers, the inaccurate death tolls, the unusually paradoxical term "friendly fire" forced into our lexicon, I saw and heard all this but couldn't get my friend Bill to recognize a tree.
Was there ever a time humans didn't feel the need to fight bitterly for something? Does this mean it's forever inherent in our genes? Are we destined to lose the humanity we had before our first kill? Or worse, is killing part of our humanity? And someone please tell me, is there really such a thing as a "good war" ?
Bill was going to be my very first sweetheart, mycrush to remember for all my life. Fate and a useless costly war took that experience and I'll never know what that future would've held. George was a decent man but became so distant with time I felt I was working my way through life alone. Though separated, we attended Bill's funeral together in 1973. Bill was 19 when his number was called to war, 20 when his mind retreated into itself, and only 25 when his body stopped. We mourned for our friend who never returned.
I don't like war. I studied it and will not study it again. I didn't know what I was going to say in this post to commemorate Veterans Day, and still don't feel I've said anything. So I leave it to wiser spirits to end this:
" I WILL FIGHT NO MORE, FOREVER."
Chief Joseph, Oct. 5, 1877