The day started . . . weirdly. Entering Wilmington took me past the National Cemetery and its rows of starkly plain, white markers. Arlington on a lesser, but no less distressing level. In a week or so I will reach Washington and I intend to visit the Vietnam Memorial. As I started riding I recalled my moderately flippant statement when someone asked if I was riding for a cause, “Because I can,” I replied. This morning, as so often happens, I was reminded of Vietnam and its consequences and its pain and its never ending source of painful recollecti0ns and thoughts.
In the final pages of Hal Moore’s book, We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young, he says he feels guilty because his troopers died and he did not. How many times do I feel the same simultaneous gratitude and guilt that I survived yet more than 58,000 men and women did not. How many might have embarked on a similar bicycle trip, or had families, or walked in the woods, or attended baseball games or argued about football or made mistakes, or apologized or cried or died of old age? In July of this year, 45 years had passed since I left Vietnam and never does a day pass that I do not think of those who died and those who did not and the reasons we were there and a myriad of other things about that time.
So, the rest of the trip is a small token directed toward those who died and those who did not. We ravaged a country and we were ravaged in return. Lost our youth. Lost respect of those around us. Hid our fears and feelings. Shared something inexplicable with other vets when we reached for a hand while saying “welcome home.” I don’t resent those who didn’t serve or had high numbers or just lucked out. I do resent those who brag about avoiding the draft by some chicanery. Maybe that’s small minded of me. My father had the idea that we owed something to our country. He’d been in the CCC then World War II. I figured it was what we were supposed to do too. Later, I also figured out that we should not have been in Southeast Asia. That’s what made it all so hard to handle.
I do go one. <shrug> When I get back to G’ville I intend to donate some portion of my left over money to one of the many Veteran related organizations. It may be $10 or $100. Depends upon how much Gatorade I drink, I guess. .
It’s hard not to feel even more drawn to the Vietnam issue since Camp Lejeune is right over there across the road.