|Download PDF of this full issue: v48n2.pdf (20 MB)|
Dodging the Bullets
By Leon Wengrzyn
Dong Ha. Explosions rocking the ground. Fear and excitement and horror. These images and feelings still pop up more often than I care to admit. I just turned 70 years old. WTF. People ask me, did you see any action in Vietnam? It's a stupid question. As if just being in Vietnam wasn't enough trauma in itself, one has to qualify one's war experience with tales of violence and bloodshed. I tell them, I didn't go looking for action, the action came to me. I don't have a combat infantry ribbon, I didn't do recons, or ride tanks. I drove a forklift. I unloaded boats on a river and backloaded battle damaged goods. I was a flunky. Doesn't sound like much ACTION does it? Mostly boring bullshit run by a fucked up military leadership in a shithole just south of the DMZ.
My Vietnam Service Ribbon has four Bronze Star Pins on it. No, not the Bronze Stars of heroism for taking out that machine gun nest or taking that hill or some such act. These little Bronze Star Pins I'm told represented battle or extraordinary events in my war zone. I guess one was for the time we forklift drivers had to do perimeter defense because all the crazed Marines were killing water buffalos and pissing off the locals. So we threw concussion grenades in the river every night and shot up the free fire zones for something to do. Who knows. I don't tell people about the fear and bloodshed part because it is none of their goddam business.
I will only say that since the American people now see us Vietnam vets as worthy losers in the war games, there is still a disconnect between a combat vet and a joe blow vet like myself. There are many Vietnam vets who never fired a weapon. Many whose biggest fear was contracting a hideous tropical clap from a skivvy house. I knew of a guy who drove a beer truck in Danang his whole tour. All these non-combat vets are heroes to me as they survived the Vietnam experience and made it home. They are equal in my mind to the grunts and riverines. No doubt, each has a tale to tell but probably won't. Maybe, like me, they are trying to forget, but can't.
Leon Wengrzyn, E3, NSAD Dong Ha (1968-69). He is a member and supporter of VVAW.