combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 01 Number 02 Spring ©Apr 2003

Kindness Too Can Be Hazardous

The forthright gratitude for simple favors and the innate courtesy for minor kindnesses was one of the most endearing traits of the Montagnards. Their enthusiastic acceptance of new methods and imported techniques, which didn't violate some animistic taboo, for the improved condition of their village was practically astonishing, given their primitive culture. Small successes drove us to greater feats of ingenuity, and made us outrageous scavengers, beggars, and thieves.

My inherited Bahnar maid had been souvenired an electric-iron from my predecessor; and she awkwardly squatted on the floor of my hut to diligently press my clean clothes. The concept of clean clothes is somewhat relative in a minimalist setting, where the salt rimmed and dirt embedded fabric was washed enough to rearrange the stains, and fix them into new places with starch.

On a rare visit to the Pleiku PX, I noticed an ironing-board, and bought it. I proudly presented my dubious prize to my skeptical maid, and mimed the act of ironing as instructive orientation. My smug self-congratulation was interrupted shortly thereafter when I chanced to return unexpectedly to my room, and surprised her into falling off her precarious perch atop the erect ironing-board! Which of us was more astonished is debatable; but I'm still chagrined by my inadequate directions, omitting the stipulation to stand beside the contorted contraption! I now realize, in retrospect, just how thoroughly abnormal, if not perverted, my innocent request must have seemed to this decent and dedicated woman, who smiled without teeth!

The modernization of the hinterlands suffered another reversal when hapless ignorance confronted pathetic zeal. Hindsight makes me wonder why we wore starched fatigues in the field; and just what the hell was an ironing-board doing in the combat zone anyway?!

by Pan Perdu
... who is a former soldier and VA counselor; this work has been excerpted from Fragmentations, a book in progress.