Here’s another installment of Waiting for Westmoreland excerpts. This time in Vietnam. Next time back in the US. Maybe the opening hook–or maybe later for that. 🙂
Only a Salvador Dali painting could do justice to life at Bearcat. It was that surreal. Eating, sleeping, showering were all so different even from the austerities of military bases in America. Jungle foliage surrounded the hard-packed mud/dirt of the base camp, kept at bay only by tractor blades and defoliant. Much more peculiar was the human environment. These were people whose language and culture I did not understand—not the Vietnamese as much as my fellow soldiers. We were in a hostile, very foreign place, most of us for the first time in our young lives. Partially freed from the constraints of military discipline applicable on American soil and with drugs and alcohol readily available to assist, suppressed quirks and previously hidden subcultures came out in the open. Vietnam was a crucible, heating and compressing psyches. Necks got redder. Drawls got longer/slower. Moonshine making/drinking possum hunter/eaters were a puzzle to Down East lobstermen or Windy City slickers, and vice versa. Open discussions were mumbled in my midst about Toms, Jemimas and Oreos. My friend Jackson’s name never came up among the accused, despite his transformation.
Since I had seen him at Ft. Meade, barely a month before, Jackson had shed the guise of Huey Newton. Now he played the role of Rochester, Jack Benny’s man. Instead of the “Yass, boss,” that Rochester always said to Benny, it was “Yass, sergeant” from Jackson. It was accompanied with a happy hop-to-it attitude, instead of the sneer common to earlier times. What the hell had happened to Jackson? Later on, I would see the wisdom of his change in behavior. This was a cloak of compliance, shielding him from harm in a place where opportunities abounded to deal with “uppity n****s.” Clearly, some other brothers had quickly clued him in. Why risk a “friendly fire” accident for the sake of ego or pride while here in Nam? The score against whitey could always be settled later on “back in the world.”
I watched all the episodes of the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick PBS series about the Vietnam War. An amazing work. Brought back memories and I learned things I didn’t know. Look for a guy in a fatigue jacket, sunglasses and a beard standing along a war in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during John Kerry’s testimony. Oh, it’s in episode nine, about 34-35 minutes in (may vary with your DVR or computer; right after Kerry says, “biggest nothing.” If you didn’t watch the series you should–pending any issues with PTSD, of course. It confirms my opinions and much of what’s in my book, Waiting for Westmoreland, about America and the war.