When I was seven or eight, one Sunday, my parents loaded three of us five kids (my sister being away at college at the time) into the family station wagon and headed over to San Francisco to visit my aunts (Dad’s sisters) who lived there. This would have been in 1966 or 1967. I suspect 1967, because of two events transpiring after we were done with the visit. My father, who was quite conservative, yet also had quite the puckish sense of humor, decided to take a bit of a drive through the city — in the course of doing so, going through the Haight-Ashbury district in all of its Summer of Love glory. My mother, who, when it came to being straitlaced, was so uptight she made Queen Victoria look like Stormy Daniels, was thoroughly horrified at the display. My father commented many years after the fact it took all he had to not burst out laughing at my mother’s freak-out over the long-haired hippie freaks. I, having no cultural point of reference other than what I saw in the immediate, thought it was quite awesome. It wouldn’t be until decades later that I became a Grateful Dead aficionado, though. But I digress.
We made one final stop before heading home, that being the beach. I don’t remember much from the stop, but I do remember standing at the water’s edge looking out at the ocean and wishing there was some way I could shout loud enough for my oldest brother to hear me.
He was in Vietnam at the time.
He and I wrote letters to one another. In one of them, for my birthday present, he included a smudge at the bottom of the letter, noting that unfortunately, this was all he could send in the way of a present: a smear of genuine Vietnamese mud. My father wasn’t alone in our family as far as a puckish sense of humor goes.
I was one of the fortunate brothers in that my brother came home alive from Vietnam after two tours of duty. He passed away in 2012 from complications of a stroke, although there has long been lingering suspicion misdiagnosis at a VA hospital was a contributing factor.
My brother didn’t talk much about his experience in Vietnam, although he did often wear with pride a hat that read “Vietnam Veteran – We were winning when I left.” He was my bookend in being a rock-solid conservative, with our three siblings in-between all on the hardcore leftist side of the aisle. It’s made for some extremely strained relationships over the years.
After my brother passed away, my sister shared a letter he sent my father, purposely excluding my mother for reasons which become apparent upon reading. Note that my father was a veteran who served in World War Two and Korea.
12 November 1966
What I am going to say will be most unpleasant, but we just spent a hell of a night up here at Tai Ninh. Here’s what happened.
At 9:00, the Viet Cong hit our position with heavy mortar, recoilless rifle, and rifle grenade fire. We hit the bunker and stayed until 10:15 when the attack was over. A flare ship started illuminating the sky, but one was a dud. It hit the aviation section tent, but it hit a man who had been in Vietnam less than a month. The force practically scalped him, and the flare ignited. The man was killed instantly. I ran over there, just after the attack with a jug of water to help put out the fire caused by the flare. Quite a bit of damage was done to the inside of the tent. Men with fire extinguishers and me with my water jug (which had just been filled) tried to put out the flare (which is next to impossible.) The flare started exploding, so we hit the ground. After that, somebody said that a man was hurt badly. I went over to see if he needed some water, but he was dead when I got there. The sight was unnerving.
We finally hit the sack after midnight. Then at two o’clock in the morning, they really mortared us. We lost twelve men, WIA, two seriously (Both should live.) A mortar round landed three feet from our communications tent and RTT van. The attack lasted until three-thirty. After the attack, I was detailed to wash the blood from the inside of the RTT van. I won’t go into any gory details of either event.
I came out without a scratch. I did not panic nor was there any extreme fear on my part. One never knows how he will react to an emergency.
Our battery suffered 25% casualties during the attack. I am all right, and they moved heavy artillery in this morning, 155mm SP howitzers, to protect against another attack tonight. We should get some sleep tonight. I hope that I never have to write another letter like this again. The danger has passed, so be thankful that I pulled through OK, and go to Aunt Beth & Hazel’s house for Thanksgiving. You have a lot to be thankful for.
Later on in Vietnam, in another attack, my brother rescued fellow soldiers in the line of fire, putting himself in harm’s way while doing so. The adrenaline was so strong it wasn’t until during a shower hours after the attack he noticed he had been wounded himself. For his actions, he was given the Bronze Star. Although eligible for the Purple Heart, he never applied for it as he felt he had only been doing his duty. Typically Luke 17:10-ish for a man of unshakable faith.
Our father passed away in 1999. Following September 11th, my brother and I commented more than once that while the loss and grief often stripped our hearts bare, we were both glad he was not there to see the Twin Towers fall due in no small part to the Clinton administration’s utter failure to properly respond to the Al Qaida threat. Namely, kill your irrational sworn enemies before they kill you. There is no other way to confront satanic evil.
I do wish more than anything my brother was still here so we could share our thoughts on politics and our beloved Indianapolis Colts. Yet at the same time, I am thankful he is not here to see how the Biden administration has so utterly, shamelessly wasted the lives of his brethren in arms who bled and died in Afghanistan, even as the government wasted the lives of his brethren in arms who bled and died in Vietnam. I am thankful he is not here to see our government cower to the Taliban. I am thankful he is not here and thus will not see what seems to be inevitable, namely, American citizens brutalized and worse in Afghanistan while our government wrings its feckless hands.
I look forward to the promised heavenly reunion with myself, my oldest brother, and my parents. Until that day, I carry on as best I can in telling the truth, be it spiritual or political. In this way, I honor that which is, and those who are, worthy of honor.
Dear God, how I miss my brother.