Ed Dean takes center stage at cavalcadeofstars this week with his story, Nam.
Be prepared, this is an emotional ride.
By Ed Dean
In nineteen sixty-five, two days before his eighteenth birthday, Alec and his two best buddies volunteered for the Marine Corps. The enthusiasm to go and fight the new red menace had infected his high school graduation class. Wars and the draft were a way of life for his generation. You grew up expecting to go in the military instead of looking forward to college; their grand adventure was war. Growing up with heroes who wore the Silver Star and Medal of Honor was infectious. Alec’s strength of character and resolve would make him the model Marine. They all volunteered for Vietnam as soon as they were out of boot camp. Their boyish fervor fell hard with their first taste of battle in the stifling jungles of Vietnam. The taste and stench of death filled their nostrils and would be forever imprinted in their brains. Their schoolboy valor would pale with the onslaught of reality.
Their sixth months of duty would find one of the trio dead and one with a million dollar wound, homeward bound. This new gestation period would transform Alec into an unfeeling uncaring fighting machine well beyond his years. The sweet cherubic face had grown sallow from pain and futility of fighting an enemy that could drift in and out of the local population at will. The next village over the hill was capable of harboring a company of Viet Cong in underground tunnels. Unfortunately for Alec, he would remain behind to see more action and watch the new recruit’s human essence mangled and blown into lumps of bleeding flesh that would garner little sympathy from the body bags that they would wear on their trip back home.
The emotional adrenaline rush of battle would precipitate added hormone levels in an already active libido and would give the young troops good cause to pursue the plethora of the young Vietnamese village girls. As in any war, the young men were pressed into service, leaving an imbalance in the sexes. Young hormones always seem to have a way of finding each other. Alec was no different, Tu Yin Tran crept into his life-like the sweet wispy smell of a full bloom jungle flower; unassuming at first but soon to overpower his senses. Her delicately carved features and lithe body gave her a serene quiescence.
Tu Yin lived in the small village just outside the defense perimeter of Alec’s Marine Company. Her elderly parents welcomed him into their home, eager for the added ration of food he provided. Tu Yin’s young brother Cao Ky grew hostile toward their relationship. Alec and Tu Yin ignored the thirteen-year old like a pesky fly.
Beautiful long evening walks through the countryside would allow their bodies and souls to bind with true love. Alec would find true happiness in the little nymph-like Tu Yin. She gave him every reason for her to become the grand passion in his life. In the depths of Tu Yin’s spirit, he could feel the power of this small but mighty soul. He would in turn give her reasons to dream of another world. Tu Yin would once again give form and meaning to his life.
Their long conversations of Buddhist and Moslem spiritual values were an inspiration to both of them. She promised with all heart-felt sincerity to follow his chosen religion. In her occidental mind she understood the fact that all great religions of the world shared one common value, the belief in the same Supreme Being. True love did not spring from their passion. It arose from the strongest bond possible, the need to survive. They shared each other’s greatest fear. To understand the finality of death in their young years gave them a bond and a hope of some possible future. To dream the dreams of every universal couple drew them together with a common strength. They clung to their shared hopes and aspirations with a fury that only the young could understand. Daily, Tu Yin was forced to look into the face of death and Alec needed all the foundation of his essence to help him face this horrible unexplainable war.
He cried with happiness on the day she haltingly announced that she was pregnant. The ensuing months would find them making plans for a marriage and trying to get the necessary paperwork to take her home with him when his tour of duty was over. He wrote Ma with all of the details of his new love. You never knew whether Ma was happy for the addition to the family or sad at losing a son. The only person to champion his cause was a Catholic chaplain.
The company chaplain was a Catholic priest by the name of Father Mathias. Everyone in the company simply referred to him as Jake. The saying they loved to chide him with the saying that, everything was Jake. Father Mathias liked the familiarity with the troops and let the name stick. He and Alec became sociable friends because of their similar likable personalities. Jake was more than a chaplain to his charges; he was their confessor, a confidant and a drinking buddy. A few beers always made Jake’s personality sparkle.
One particularly traumatic night, while the company was under siege and their collective fear filled the jungle air, Jake confessed to Alec that the reason he joined the priesthood was he feared that he was gay. Though he never confirmed his fantasies, he was afraid that one day he would.
“Listen Jake, if you never did anything, how can you be sure?” Alec prodded.
“I think I’ve known all my life Alec. It’s something in my soul that makes me think so. I can’t let that kind of mortal sin consume me. I would be damned for eternity if I gave in.” As the shells got closer, they both choked on the gunpowder and clawed deeper into the foxhole for comfort and protection. Alec frantically searched for the field phone.
“Fire Base Five, this is Delta Company. Broken arrow, broken arrow! Give me all the artillery you got. Blast the shit outta the perimeter!”
The official report would never mention the broken arrow call because that’s the way it was. The U.S. was winning the war and reports to the contrary were unacceptable. The shells rained down throughout the valley from both sides. Suddenly Jake broke into hysteria.
“Oh merciful Lord let me out, I can’t stand any more. Why are we here Alec, why? In God’s name why all of this mayhem! I don’t want to die in here, please dear Lord.”
He lunged for the top, wanting to run! Alec reached up, pulled him back into the hole, and pressed his quaking body to the ground. Jake was sobbing in fear, more for what he was than where he was. He didn’t want to die in some God forsaken country. He always imagined that his death would be in bed, at peace, surrounded by his family.
“Not here, not now, not this way!”
Alec cradled Jake in his powerful arms. Alec was built like his father, large upper torso, but slightly short in height. It gave him a strong picturesque look. It was not the first time that he had seen one of his comrades turn into jelly. Alec had made peace with his own mortality long ago. He was resigned to having his ticket punched. It was out of his hands, and he accepted his fate. The night and the attack would pass uneventfully. He and Jake would never speak about the incident after that.
The next morning would find Tu Yin’s brother, young Cao Ky running outside the perimeter screaming for Sergeant Alec. Jake was the first to approach the boy to try to calm his hysteria. Jake soon found Alec and the three were running down the road to the village. Tu Yin was lying in the partially bombed out home of the Tran family. The artillery barrage had nearly annihilated the village. Her mother was wiping her face with water, trying to wash the pain from the frail little body that displayed a gaping hole in Tu Yin’s abdomen. True to the laws of wars carnage, it is the civilians that bear the brunt of the decimation! Alec picked up the little bundle of flesh and carried her to the field hospital at the base. All the way there, Tu Yin implored Alec just to save the baby.
“Our baby, our baby, you must make the doctors take the baby.”
Alec’s gritted teeth could only hiss with “no, no never. Not without you Tu Yin, I love you. We can have more children. I need you to stay. You will be all right, I promise. Please hang on!”
All the way to the aid station, he repeated his mantra of devotion for his frail bundle.
Outside the surgical tent Alec and Jake waited and prayed like they had never prayed before. He could not lose her; he would not lose her. This just couldn’t happen! A tall gangly Army surgeon walked slowly out of the tent toward them. The look on his face spoke volumes. Their eyes met as the surgeon’s head hung low and shook from side to side. Alec bolted past him and ran into the tent. The white sheet on the operating table covered the wasted bodies of mother and child. A horrible gutted wail emerged from his throat that could be heard throughout the camp. The tear-stained faces of Jake and the rest of his buddies marked two more deaths in this land of the Apocalypse!
Three weeks later would find Alec, Jake and his squad drinking at a downtown Saigon bar. The many beers were nursing their pain and grief back to equilibrium when the door burst open and a live hand grenade flew in, only to land at Alec’s feet. He could have sworn the rapidly disappearing blur was Cao Ky. Without hesitation; Jake reached down to the fizzing chunk of metal and cradled it into his soft belly with his arms wrapped around it on the floor. The six-second fuse was about to expire. Alec looked down in horror as their eyes met for the last time! An anguished smile of compassion and relief was on Jake’s face. The explosion splattered his blood and body parts all over Alec. For a stunned second or two he stood there, face pointing skyward, he spewed choking epitaphs at God and all the powers that be! He screamed with rage at the futility of war. It was over for Alec, he could take no more of the slaughter on either side. With a hate filled heart, he ran to find the first available jeep and rode out to the countryside village of his former lover. As he pulled up to the little farming home he spotted Cao Ky from the corner of his eye. Alec headed to Cao and stopped to call the boy out.
“Cao you little cowardly bastard show me your face so I can spit in it.”
With a sudden movement from the bushes, Cao appeared with an AK 47 assault rifle draped over his shoulder. He screamed in a high-pitched immature voice.
“You call me a coward. You Americans are the cowards. You hide behind airplanes and you kill my people from the air. You are the cowards. Why you here? You steal our land and now you kill my sister and your bastard baby. Go home, leave us alone. Take all your weapons of death and leave!”
His voice was pitted with hysteria. Alec stood stunned; he watched Cao’s eyes slowly slip to the rifle. Like a horror scene from High Noon, they stared each other down. As the rifle swung into Cao’s hand Alec instinctively reached for his side arm and fired rapidly, three times into the boy’s chest. The bullets found their intended mark and ripped gaping holes into the thin gaunt chest. Cao’s eyes looked toward the house and then to Alec. He extended his hand as if to ask for help before the life slipped from his body. The scene slammed into Alec’s brain with the force of a sledge-hammer as he realized what he had done. He fell to his knees in a numbing coma. He could take no more. Slowly he raised the pistol to his temple to kill the horrific pain running threw his head. He needed to end it now. Cao’s father came up from behind him and grabbed the pistol from Alec’s quaking fingers.
“No more! No more death. My land has enough blood to feed it forever. Go! Go and let me bury my children in peace. I do not need your life to add to my bad karma.” The old man stood there crying over the body of his child as Alec wandered away stripped off his bloodied torn uniform and wandered naked into the street, clawing maniacally at the blood and flesh that still clung to his skin. It was the uniform of death that he was shedding, his way of saying that he would no longer participate as a maker of human carnage.
Alec was shipped to a hospital on Okinawa. His only solace was in the drugs they gave him and not the Psychiatrists pronouncements. By some compelling irony, he would befriend a Buddhist priest on the island. Alec would bear his soul to the monk, Hiru.
“What is the saying in the Bible? No greater love hath one man that he lay down his life for another…. You must understand Alec, that no one can cheat death! You are now responsible for Jake’s immortal soul.”
“How can I help his soul find peace?”
“Only your karma can find the way. Listen to the quiet within your inner being. I cannot guide you. Only you can find the way.”
Alec would find a way. He would assume Jake’s lifelong love and responsibilities as a priest. The blood and the truth would be buried in his past forever.
Edward Dean is a former C.E.O. and marketing manager. Ed’s sideline avocation has been to write motivational and marketing speeches for former associates. He has written four novels. “The Wine Thief” was voted the best fiction novel of Mich. in 2009. His latest novel of fiction is “Chakana, The Southern Cross” which will be published later this year.