When I arrived in South Vietnam in May of 1969, I was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group which was headquartered in Nha Trang, a city located in Khanh Hoa Province on the South China Sea. This lively and attractive coastal resort city then, as now, was known for its beaches, diving sites, and offshore islands. Unfortunately for me, I was not there to sightsee and didn’t really get to experience the sights and sounds of that well known vacation spot.
Six months ago, I was about to turn 80, or as my family likes to call this birthday a decade transition. My youngest sister, who hosted my mother’s 80th birthday celebration wanted to know what I was going to do about mine. My children wanted to know if there was anything I would like on my birthday. Normally, the family would have a party with all the brothers and sisters, children and grandchildren, and aunts and uncles with the number approaching 35 or 40 people. I am the oldest family member and the only person other than my wife who would be at a party who had one vaccination shot with the second one scheduled. COVID had changed a lot of family gatherings, and this would be no exception.
I would like to tell you a war story, one from someone who’s never set foot in a warzone. It is not a story about a battlefield, nor is even from my time in the service. It is a story about my summer vacation, and it is about the Weight of war. It is a heavy story, yes, but I’d like to share it with you, and ask that you help me carry it.
One year ago, I accepted an invitation to the graduation ceremony of the Providence Clemente Veterans Initiative. As each graduate spoke, I was in awe of what PCVI meant to them. What caught my attention was the ease of connecting their military experiences with different aspects of the curriculum, the humanities. I was on the edge of my seat, grasping onto every single word as they expressed their gratitude for this course.
Last month I was in Williamsburg, VA with my family. I wanted to see the Virginia War Museum and what was remaining of the civil war monuments. While in the museum I fell and ended up on the marble floor. My son-in-law and the museum staff eventually got me in a wheelchair and out to my car, but I soon realized that I couldn’t communicate with the lower part of my left leg. At the emergency room, it was determined that my injury was the result of a catastrophic failure of the quadricep tendon of my left leg. I went through surgery. The day after I was feeling out of sorts and complaining of chest pains and it was determined that I had a heart attack.
Beirut is a beautiful city, a mixture of the new, the old, and the ancient. It has been referred to as the “Paris of the Middle East,” with beautiful beaches, modern hotels, universities, and businesses to support tourism. Cedar forests surround the city and lead to majestic mountains just an hour, or two, drive from the beaches. The great cedar forests are intertwined in Lebanon’s persona, and a single cedar tree is the centerpiece of the Lebanese flag. The mountains are home for skiing and other activities during the winter months. The neighboring city of Byblos has been continuously occupied for 7000 years; and considered one of the birthplaces of humanity. Life has endured throughout the cycles of violence in the country’s long history.
“Welcome to IHOP, how many in your party?” asks the older woman at the counter as she ushers in the all-night partiers looking to sober up, early risers looking for a caffeine fix and families looking for a meal after a long flight. Each time the door opens the sounds of traffic is mixed with the sounds of planes landing and taking off from the airport, not a quarter of a mile away. I cannot seem to hear anything but the blood swelling my veins. The thump, thump, thump of my heart is getting louder as my scope of vision is narrowing. I try to revert back to my training to slow my breathing and open up my field of vision; I know that if this was taking place in a combat zone this could be deadly, but this isn’t a combat zone, this is at home in IHOP on a peaceful Sunday morning.