I only saw him on the weekends when he made beer runs for my high school buddies and me. We gave him a six-pack and ten minutes of our time for his trouble and then left him as we had found him, sitting at his kitchen table pulling on an unfiltered cigarette and sipping a lukewarm beer like he had all the time in the world.
I didn't see him after high school and he was dead by the time I next thought to ask about him. I don't know that he was a casualty of the war. He might have traveled the same road regardless of Vietnam. But then, he might not have.
Like most returning Vietnam vets before the release of the POW's, he was not given a hero's welcome. Hero was a term we seldom used back then; not like today when we toss it out like confetti on the deserving and the undeserving alike.
He came back instead to an indifferent, if not hostile, country. He and his fellow vets were slipped into the country singly or in small groups so as to diffuse throughout the population the "cure" they carried in their marrow, rendering it as ineffectual as a homeopathic dilution.
The "cure" these soldiers brought back from Vietnam was a potion distilled of moments: moments of bravery and sacrifice and sorrow, of bowel-loosening fear, of dehumanizing anger and hostility, of unasked and unanswered questions, moments too damaging to the soul to ever find release in confession.
It was a potion that if used thoughtfully could inoculate the nation against the disease of the god Mars. But it was ignored along with the soldiers. Vietnam vets, like the man I knew, were left to overdose on the potion in their own private hell.
The rally cry, "support our troops," was born of a sincere desire to separate our feelings for the soldiers from our feelings for the war. It was meant as a mea culpa to the Vietnam veteran and a promise that we would never again make our soldiers the scapegoats for the machinations of the power elite. As a statement of concern for the wellbeing of the individual soldier, "support our troops" is unassailable.
But like the word hero, the vitality of the sentiment expressed by "support our troops" has been sapped by mindless iteration and the Machiavellian genius of warmongers. It has become little more than a patriotic platitude on par with, "God Bless America," and a euphemism for "support our war." As a balm to the national conscience for once again consigning our troops to the killing field, it is the battle cry that leads and sustains our country in an unjust war.
In a recent Military Times Poll, only 35 percent of our troops approved of the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war, while only 23 percent believed Congress was looking out for them. The troops are telling us they do not feel supported by the politicians who sent them to the killing field for a dose of the "cure."
Against the advise of both retired and active duty military leaders, President Bush's new strategy for winning the war in Iraq is expected to include a "surge" of 20,000 to 40,000 additional troops to help quell the sectarian violence unleashed by the illegal invasion and botched occupation of that country.
A November 2006 survey by WorldPublicOpinion.org revealed that 72 percent of Iraqi Shias believe the presence of U.S. occupation forces only exacerbates an already lethal situation and wants them out of their country within the year, while 91percent of Sunnis approve of attacks on U.S troops.
Our troops, our top military leaders, and the Iraqi people are sending a clear message. It is time to for the U.S. to "cut and run."
Yellow ribbon patriots finally have an opportunity to support our troops in a meaningful way. They can begin by removing their magnetic yellow ribbon bumper stickers, by listening to the troops and helping to get them home, and by demanding that those who took the country to war with lies and deception be held to account.
All Americans will continue to abdicate their responsibility to the living and the dead and the wounded troops if they are unwilling to inoculate themselves with the "cure" brought home from the killing field.