Combat is real. You think about it all the time. It was make believe before you immersed yourself in it, a child’s game, then, when you made it part of your life, it became, “No longer Make Believe”
The experience you gained became part of your solution set to deal with a world full of problems. Your mind is constantly working over scenarios about how to solve these problems without resorting to violence. I hate violence. It is a battle between taking the time to find a non-violent solution vs. a violent one which will solve the problem now, permanently. I imagine it is worse for Police officers who have to deal with violence probably on a daily basis and, of course, for those people they inflict that solution upon.
I think the divorce rate for combat veterans and Police officers is about the same, with brain Surgeons in the lead for very different reasons. Children and Family Service Workers are right up there with us, trying deal with a crazy world full of idiots, trying to hurt one another. I’m on my fourth Marriage, not counting live-ins and girl friends.
As a child I grew up after WWII, with most of my Uncles having served during and right after that world war, including my Father. War was a hidden subject that was never spoken of around the house or dinner table. But all of us kids knew something was wrong because the drinking never stopped and the explosive episodes of anger and frustration were on continual display almost weekly. As time passed by, it quietened down, especially when the the stories were shown on TV and the Books were written. I think I read every WWII story I could get my hands on as a child. I wanted to know why my uncles were so quiet, sullen and looked at me with a distant stare, always smelling of liquor.
When I first returned from Vietnam, the dreams were every night. There was a sense of peacefulness in the social environment that I could not relate to. It made me feel like, “something was going to happen any minute now… I can feel it…. It’s going to happen soon, I need to keep my eyes open and my 16 on the ready”; but, I don’t have an m-16 anymore. I don’ t have any weapon at all, just the knife in my pocket. I feel naked, alone, a target. I need to get a gun. So, I go buy one. I clean it, polish it, play with it, sight down the barrel, feel the metal in my hand, It’s like taking a pill that makes you feel secure and safe. I sleep with it, carry it everywhere I go.
I know this weapon is dangerous, having seen first hand with my own eyes many times the destructive force of these guns against human flesh, especially automatic weapons. I had been shot once, an almost near miss or perhaps a ricocheting piece of a bullet fragment. Then again it could have been a tear from a stick during the battle. I do remember hearing the bullets flying and bouncing off of the ground and plants. I can see the tracers from the bullets. I know that every 7th bullet is a tracer meaning there are 6 bullets you don’t see. I remember the thud against my right leg while I as running to get a better, concealed location. All I could think of was that they were all shooting at me. I was scared but strangely calm and dedicated to my purpose of finding cover and shooting back. Jungle fighting is not like house to house fighting. The noise, and sights happen fast you only have a few seconds to make a decision, sometimes less then that if you are being ambushed or fired upon first. House to house fighting is: setup, get ready, go in; setup, get ready go in...
The smell of gunfire is all over the place. The smoke drifts from one location to the other, sometimes so thick in spots you think you can tell where he enemy is but they are never there. The wind always blows it around, confusing you, making you use up your ammunition, “... I need to quit firing so many rounds at one time…. How many magazines have I used? How many rounds do I have left in this Magazine?” You think you see something.. You raise up and fire on full automatic (semi is so damn slow). The guys in the hole just below you curse you for dropping hot casings down the back of their shirts or bouncing off their helmets. Freshly fired ammo casing are hot as hell. The barrel of you gun is hot too… it will burn your hand if you touch it, or grab it the wrong way. I grabbed the barrel of a sixty-machine gun once as it was heading towards my face… “Ouch!”
This is just one of many firefights. After a while they can merge into one another in your dreams. I've had dreams where I saw every mission I had ever been engaged in on the side of a mountain. I could see us moving around and the enemy moving against us, all in one giant panoramic view… in color. It could smell the jungle, the gunpowder, the sweat which blended together in one giant smell. I can’t even begin to describe that smell.
The dreams that scare the hell out of me are the ones that are rearranged, a distorted, real event. In the dream there was violence which erupted into a battle, one where someone was killed. I saw “Flash Gorden”, a buddy of mine, blown out of the sky as he was being hauled out of the jungle on a penetrator hook, towards the helicopter above. It really didn’t happen but in the dream it did. Sometimes, you don’t know what is real and what is a dream.
One of the most hurtful feelings in combat is to see someone get hit. That is when the anger starts. That is when the only emotion you can conjure is the one that will stay with you the rest of your life -anger and that breathless feeling of anticipation.
For a long time, back in the States, people would ask me to speak up. I was always talking as if the enemy could hear us. You grew so used to taking in whispers, watching the other guys lips, his hand signals, that you preferred it to audible sound because, if you could hear, so could the enemy. Making noise was like being in the open, exposed, a naked target.
During the monsoon, it rained 24 hours a day. At night it was so dark you could wave your hand in front of your eyes and not see a thing. You could feel the air from your hand moving against your face, you could smell it but you could not see it. One night, while I was on guard and the rest of the guys were sleeping, or trying to sleep with one eye open and the other partially open, I imagined the enemy was coming right at us with a tank, in the middle of the jungle. I had to rationalize to myself, how would they get it up there? Surely it would make more noise than that? The damn thing is right on top of me! Or worse… it’s a damn Tiger sneaking up to take me to lunch, or an enemy soldier stalking up to slit my throat, or throw a grenade at us. God Damn rain.
I hated the rain but, it hides noise, which is a double edged sword, you couldn’t hear them either. Still, you were clean all the time and cold even when the temperature was above 90 degrees. On the mountain tops in the jungle, the rain can wash away all your body heat leaving you shivering. When it stopped raining, the jungle turned into a different world, a strange one with squishy sounds, odd smells and the every present…. Noise. It became hot again, the sweat would begin pouring out of every pore on your body. The fog would drift up from the jungle floor and waft away between the trees and leaves. The bugs and animals would start talking to one another, glad the rain had stopped so they could find food and a mate or new place to make a home. The snakes loved it, so did the spiders and of course, the Leeches, thought it was time to find a blood meal, especially “Grunt” blood. I hated those things. I bet I lost at least 5 gallons of blood during my tour of duty over there. I’ve pulled them off of body parts I don’t want to tell you about.
To be continued <<< by John Ray.