combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 05 Number 03 Summer ©Jul 2007

Melodramatic Guardians

The intense melodrama is embarrassing in retrospect, but emotionalism is a fault common to youthful idealists; and all three conditions would be unimaginably destroyed by future events. The troop ship that transported our unit docked at various ports to off-load other elements before our disembarkation, and the war was a remote spectacle arrayed for our survey from the crowded rails. We'd already been the subject of rockets and mortars impacting the harbors, and witness to the fire dance retaliations of snakes 'n' napes, of Puff and Spooky. When my people were gathered, I directed them to look to either side, with the admonition that not everyone would survive this tour or return home the same, and gave them the instruction to rely upon the man beside them. Later, after weeks in the field, we were on stand-down when I noticed that the FOB was unusually quiet and vacant; so I decided to wander-off to the nearby MACV compound for some companionship. An enterprising Viêtnamese capitalist had converted a small French-style house near the compound into a saloon, and there, admixed with bluelegs and redlegs, with clerks and drivers, with mechanics and technicians, with medics and advisors, sat my troops. I called them forth from the mélange to inform them that I was not authorized to be there, so could not possibly know if they had been there; but no matter what else happened, no one would return alone, and no one would be left behind. This exquisite paternalism wasn't endearing, and it could not bridge the multiplicity of chasms imposed by military structure ... neither would it save lives. Despite the personal concern that prompted the emotional injections, the experience of our shared exposure and mutual dependency would not make us friends. In fact, I didn't like some of those men, and many did not like me; but we were comrades. We'd worked together and compensated for each other's weaknesses. We'd shared more hardship and discomfort than most people ever know. We'd suffered more stress and anxiety than we ever thought possible. We'd been more intimate than lovers, and closer than most of us would ever be with our spouses. We knew things about each other that nobody else knew, and that none of us had suspected. We'd seen the best and the worst, and that knowledge has changed us ... making us impatient and pensive, practical and noble, angry and grateful, curious and wise. The distinction of comradeship is not that we were lifeguards in a chaotic crucible, but that we can be trusted to preserve and protect those hellish memories. We were willing to die because we trusted someone to remember our precious reputations. Comrades are guardians of honor.

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

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C O M B A T, the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones