It’s a long time ago now. The scars have healed, or mostly, and it’s been a while since I woke up in the middle of the night screaming ‘Charlie’s on the wire, Charlie’s on the wire.’
But still, if it does happen, I turn over and go back to sleep, telling myself that I’m probably too old to eat toasted cheese and watch ‘The Green Berets’ late at night.
You see, a nice Canadian lady travelling in Vietnam asked me for a blog about Vietnam, and I’ve been thinking about it. I’m English, and even if I was an American, I’d have been just too young to be drafted.
Yet thinking about it, the Vietnam War has somehow ricocheted through my life, impacting marginally in so many different ways. When I looked at the photos posted on Facebook of meals purchased from street vendors in Hue, it brought to mind how in 1968 I cycled home from school in time to catch the news. Day by day I would watch the retaking of Hue, ARVN Rangers (Army of the Republic of Viet Nam) and US Marines fighting to take control of the city was early evening viewing.
But I remember other things. A discussion on the radio in the mid 1970s where one lady pointed out to another that the US Feminist movement only really took off after the Viet Nam war finished and demanding equality was no longer demanding the right to be drafted. If the war had been fought for another decade, where would the women’s movement be?
And then, at an AGM of the Youth Hostel Association, in the late 1970s, the Treasurer was picking out trends in usage. He pointed to the figures and showed how the YHA had taken a hit when the war ended, and thousands of wealthy young American men went back home. Apparently the Swedish tourism industry took a bit of a hit at the same time.
You know, I’ve always wondered about that. Across the US there are men older than me, born and brought up with all the advantages of birth, prosperity, education. Yet they managed to somehow avoid the draft which seems to have fallen disproportionately on those without any of those advantages. Some of them must have spent forty years looking down on white trash and coloured lads who did serve their country, because for them there wasn’t the bank of Mum and Dad to fund deferment or flight. I often wonder if that sort of thing rots the soul of a country, and whether in the next twenty years there might be some healing as that generation finally passes away.
But then there were tourist photos of Danang. (Sorry but for me it’s still Da Nang.) Again to me in memory it’s an airbase, and I can still remember the footage of the planes taking off and bombing enemy troops who were massing at the end of the runway.
But again Vietnam has been part of the soundtrack of my life. Someone sent me the link to a Youtube video of ‘Paint it Black’ by the Stones.
I sat mesmerised by the film footage, I was once more the twelve year old who’d just cycled home, had his tea and was sitting watching the news.
Or last Sunday someone gave me a lift. As I got into the car and we moved off, the ‘Ride Of The Valkyries’ started playing over the car radio. Well you know how they say that a sign of being cultured is to be able to hear the ‘William Tell Overture’ without thinking of ‘The Lone Ranger?’ Actually being cultured is being able to hear the ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ without thinking of ‘Apocalypse Now.’
There again, back in the ‘70s, I knew a lad who was heavily into left wing politics. What is it they say, if you’re not a socialist when you’re 20, you’ve got no heart; if you’re still a socialist when you’re 40 you’ve got no brains?
But this guy was an activist to his core. He used to go out there, door knocking at elections and telling people they had to fight for socialism.
A year of two later, I remember him talking about the day he grew up. He’d knocked on one door and the man of the house had come to see who was there. My mate launched into his ‘fighting for socialism’ spiel and the bloke had just looked at him until finally he’d dried up. Then this chap, an ordinary working man (and I’m lying because to be honest there are no ‘ordinary’ people) just asked “How many dead do you want our family to contribute?”
Well I think my mate had managed to say ‘What?”
So the chap explained. “My Dad got a touch of gas in the First War, he died before me and my Brother were called up for the Second War. I got home, bit battered but I came home, my Brother is buried out in the desert. Anyhow our little sister ‘married a Yank’ and we got a letter yesterday. Her son, my nephew, has just been reported missing in Vietnam. So that’s what I’m asking you lad. How many more dead do you want our family to contribute?”
So for all those lads, I recommend Steve Earle, Johnny come lately. If you can listen to that without your eyes going damp, you’re probably too young to have people to remember.
But the world is smaller now. On a wargames email forum there was one guy who was a regular. He always wrote with the caps lock on because it was easier for him to read, and every so often he’d ‘go off on one’ and the moderators who kick him off. But they’d always let him back on because he was a Vietnam vet and he’d had a rough time since then one way and another.
Anyway one time he was telling how he’d actually been at the retaking of Hue. So I replied telling him that as a kid I’d watched it on telly and he hadn’t waved. So with caps lock on the message came back ‘LOL WELL I’M WAVING NOW JIM’.
And I think about those lads, my age or older, whether they wore faded olive drab or black pyjamas. A lot of them have had trouble over the years one way or another. A lot of them have bad attitudes and aren’t happen as politically correct as they should be. They might not even be as respectful to authority figures as they should be either.
Me? I’m not judging them, I wasn’t there.