Of Love and War: The Story of a 90-Year Old Veteran
August 09, 20193 min read
I’m 90 years old now, with none of the energy in my limbs that I had before and a ruined memory. Old age is strange; you have plenty of free time, but you know it’s running out. I can’t help but think back to when I was 30–strong and resolute. That was when I had the misfortune of fighting in the Vietnam War.
Of all my life experiences, ‘Nam taught me the most about life and how to live. If there were three words that could describe that war, they would be blood, fire, and death. I lost many friends in the time I spent in the Vietnamese jungles, and I don’t think I’ve recovered from the experience.
American troops were herded off to Vietnam in the 1960s to fight a war for reasons that didn’t matter to us. Some days there would be no fighting. Other days there was hardly a person left alive. We’d wait in ditches for hours to avoid the enemy. There was really no telling when we’d be ambushed.
With the attack on Maddox and the airbase at Pleiku, we lost all chances of getting back to America. Operation Rolling Thunder began soon afterward and our days were punctuated with explosions, gun discharges, and death. Bodies fell around us as we longed for home, crouched in trenches with tar on our faces. The American flag flashed on every uniform and flew high all around me yet; I longed for home.
That is, until Pinkville.
The media called it the Massacre at Songmy. The official name is My Lai Massacre. But we called it Pinkville—and I still remember how Pinkville ran red with blood.
When men are off fighting somebody else’s war for years (We’d been in Vietnam for four years now), things go south. Men lose their self-control and in frustration, become deranged. One platoon of soldiers, stationed at Pinkville did things just cannot describe. Despite my efforts to forget, I still remember one thing: the American flag, grey and red from ash and the blood of fallen civilians. As I walked past it, it moved ever so slightly. I lifted it to reveal a little, perhaps four years old, Vietnamese boy. He was scared, clutching to the stars-and-stripes desperately. I tried to pull it from him, but he wouldn’t let go. And then I heard troops coming in our direction—and covered the boy with the flag again.
They ignored me, a lone soldier standing beside a fallen American flag, and went on with their order for the day. The symbolic significance of the life that the American flag had saved that day struck a chord. Freedom. Liberty. Equality. Justice for all. Standing up for the weak and the helpless—all that the American flag represented was plain and proper in front of me.
I did not rest until I had gotten the little boy to safety. I don’t know what happened to him afterward. If I went to Vietnam today, I wouldn’t know him. But I know that every June 14, when the flag is hoisted high, I look upon it and remember the greatest thing I’d ever done: save a life because that’s what this flag means to me. It means humanity.