I'm No Hero
August 11, 2010
|“Thanks for serving to preserve our way of life,” said Mrs. Horseley, the director of the Veteran's Day program at Malad Elementary, as she guided me toward a row of chairs in the auditorium. “Heroes sit here!” she said, smiling sweetly.|
I just looked at the row of chairs, some occupied by old men, veterans, sitting stalwart and tall in their seats, with a proud look still burning in their eyes. I turned and with a tear in my eye said, “I don't mean to sound insincere, but where do I sit... because I'm no hero. No, not a bit. I simply went where my country asked me to go. I went because I'd been raised in a God-fearing family who believed in brotherhood and freedom with all their hearts. I was raised to believe with every fiber of being; God truly inspired our leaders, guiding their every decision. So
Gary Jacobson - Vietnam 1967
|how could I not answer my countries call for help... without question or pause? Wouldn't anybody?|
I didn't do anything special to set me apart, or merit special consideration when I answered the call. I just went where my country told me to go, that's all!”
“Sure, it wasn't long before I found myself in the breach of a fiery hell... but men of honor have no choice. Soon... too soon, I was marching into a jungle, armed and dangerous. There, my first day in the Le Hong Fong forest, everything stopped for the most horrible split second in my life. Three shots ripped the sweet and sour saturated air of the aromatic oriental night. My head filled with tangled cobwebs as I hugged the dirt at the bottom of my foxhole, listening to the sucking sound bullets make, hot lead fingers of fate whistling just over my head dispatched on a mission to kill by strangers I hadn't even met. Sickened with quiet horror, I knew one bullet could determine with a touch whether someone lived or died tonight.
I felt more alone, helpless and abandoned, than I'd ever felt in my life. I could do nothing as a million thoughts swarmed in me like angry bees, listening intently for the sound of men coming to kill me, men preoccupied with my dying, men who had dedicated every fiber of being to the precept of reuniting me with the dust from which I came. I trembled uncontrollably as the agents of death rode the perfumed jungle breezes overhead, deadly assassins probing the decaying overgrowth, probing the darkness, hovering maddeningly in the toxic vapor, slashing and nipping leaves, pocking earthen bulwarks of my foxhole.
This was the life into which I'd been dropped, and I felt like I was going mad! Muscles along my jaw stood out like taut cords, my teeth clenched, locking tightly, with every nerve and sinew strained to breaking. I must have looked like an idiot... a scared out of his wits, green behind the ears, tenderfoot newbie, idiot. I struggled to keep the nauseous sensation aching in me at bay, but my head hurt as if pierced with a thousand knives. My legs cramped and burned from prolonged crouching in the hole. My heart pounded in wild staccato rhythms. I hyperventilated in short, throbbing gasps as I peered into the night, convinced despite all logic, that each breath would most certainly be my last.
“Welcome to the Vietnam Hilton,” someone alongside me in the dark hole whispered caustically. I nodded at the shadowy figure crowded beside half a dozen others crammed into the depths of the fighting hole. My mouth was sticky-dry with cottonmouth, thick spittle swelling in me like a white mucous glue. Streams of sweat burned my eyes, flowing down my forehead in dirty rivulets from oven-like heat of my steel pot, blurring my vision, disorienting me with stinging, salty, wetness. Sweat tickled my ears. My mind played wicked tricks on me.
I seriously questioned if I had been hit, wondering if it was sweat or blood oozing down my clammy neck. I was obsessed with the thought. I felt sudden urgings to run my fingers through my hair to see if it was red and matted with sticky blood. But I dared not move....sure even the slightest movement would attract the attention of dusky marauders of the night who lay in wait out there just waiting for me to move, just waiting for the chance to slit my throat. So hot, tired, dirty, consumed with a terror that got worse and worse, I remained stagnating still.
What bugged me most was my complete impotence, the inability to do anything at all about what was inevitably going to happen in this war. I could only wait for what was to be... to be! Life or death was decided here with little more fanfare than the rolling of the dice. I felt so very vulnerable and exposed... more scared than I had ever before been in my life, knowing someone was out there in the dark night waiting to kill me.
Brrooom!!! Suddenly an abruptly ruthless sound cracked the perfumed jungle with the clarity of a thunderclap, by far the most frightening sound I'd ever heard. The horrid sound split the fragile night air with a savage thrust, echoing and reverberating in tremulous volume that blended high-pitched tenors and sonorous basses in terrible harmony in resounding cacophony shaking the ground, jarring it. The shock stunned me for a chillingly frightening second, in a way that provided sure proof that the end was very, very near.
“Satchel charge, drop and cover,” someone yelled. I buried myself into the deepest cranny of the foxhole, unashamedly covering my ears, pummeled by the pandemonium into submissive meekness, as for one awful moment, night turned to grotesque day. Soldiers around me were instantaneously bathed in strobe-like light, still-life caricatures clustered in a frightened heap in the bottom of the hole.
Someone in the dark void prayed desperately, rapidly, spitting out the words as though firing a machine gun, as though each word might be his last. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” The man repeated his supplication unashamed, over and over in utter despair, sometimes whispering as if talking to angels, sometimes almost shouting, competing with the loud sounds as the night erupted around us.
“Jesus Christ, Nigel... you want to live forever or something?” A voice grumbled profanely in the dark.
Another spray of automatic weapons fire hit the ground around our foxhole, and buzzed into the trees behind us. “I think I'm hit,” I mumbled, shaking and cursing to myself, on the very verge of tears. I had felt the bullets bore into me. I'd felt them! “God... is it like this every time?” I asked no one in particular. I checked for blood and felt for bullet holes in my fatigues... but nothing. An unsurpassed thrill rushed through me that this time death did not find me!
Larry Oertel saw it all. “Yeah, pretty much every time. Happened to me my first night too. Imagination and fear get to you. The bullets might miss by a mile, but you feel them. They might not have got you this time... but the night's young,” Oertel whispered. “They'll try again.”
A medic appeared out of the night, but just as he was about to drop into the hole next door to help a screaming soldier, a couple of deadly reckoned rounds tore into his face and chest. I could see him as he rolled back, groaned a couple of times... then died! I was sure he was dead. Most of the left side of his face was gone. I couldn't take my eyes off of him. I'd seen antiseptic death in funeral homes before, but nothing prepared me for this. I smelled the horror of death caustically pungent in my nostrils that night, smelled his blood and guts, saw his grotesque, wild-eyed, frozen stare, saw the pink essence of his being ripped open before me.
The firing subsided to a few sporadic rounds, an occasional explosion, and yelling... lots of yelling! I strained to see through waves of elephant grass into the thick jungle, avoiding sight of the dead body we couldn't do anything about until daylight. Now as before, I could only curse the dark that hid my enemies in a gloomy shadow of night, a night that had become my enemy too. This was the first of many nights on combat patrol in Vietnam... days and nights that melted into a mass horribly the same... nights I thought would never end... and sure enough, it hasn't. I still think of them... dream of them... and again I'm there reliving them... smelling their pungent odor!
So I'm no hero! I would rather not have had to go, if there was another way I don't know. Sure, I've got a purple heart for the time I bled... something of a miracle, because people who saw me then thought I'd soon be dead. My captain called the Purple Heart “A move-too-slow award.”
Well it near cut life's silver cord. But I survived! I just slugged it out with Charlie toe-to-toe. Though the Vietnam War's now blowing in the wind, heart and soul still rend. For I know that history repeats itself. Vietnam was only one in a series of “Wars-to-end-all-wars.” So though I crossed the devil's deadly path, I still feel Charlie's demonic wrath, deep in my soldier's wearied mind, forever honoring buddies left behind.
Now I dream of rogue bullets that death's questions ask, killing their favorite task...
I see in dreams where through fetid jungle they tore, doing their killing chore, so quick, so clean, as through my heart again and again they careen. Memories suck me in from future cast, forever taking lives, yet not the last...
So I'm no hero... as you can plainly see. When the roll was called to stand for their country, I stood... that's all!
Heroes are men endowed with great courage, who with great strength sway bloody fields of carnage. Heroes are men of bold exploits favored by God, bearing noble purpose born of native sod. But I... I did nothing witty or wise. I'm just one of the countless little guys, doing his duty against war's bestial ogre cunning, fighting, hoping, searching, fearing, humping... surviving! I marched with thousands of brothers-in-arms alongside, through valley's shadow where patriotic spirits guide. For Uncle Sam seeds of war I did sow in patriotic heritage planted long, long ago. I faced warlord Ho Chi Minh's fiery breath, going deep and deeper into bowels of his shadowed death. Mine was a warrior's soul arising above cannon's roar, like on eagles wing, bearing naive and gung-ho this boy next door, above a soil enriched with soldiers seeping blood, nourishing the soil of sweet-and-sour earth, getting down and dirty in Nam's blood and mud.
I was just a link in the chain, sent by duty's refrain, our world's freedom to proclaim. They say war measures the depth of a hero... allotting a young boy's ruin mid thundered guns aglow, acts of killing like cancer in the brain, where are born new senses war does indelibly ingrain. As combat infantrymen for the longest year fates defy, virulent beasts rage inside till the day I too die. But I'm no hero! Not at all like Rambo.
To this day I live with war etched into my lifetime, always watching for movements out of rhyme, ever listening for sounds that don't belong, always with feeling abounding something's wrong. I still roam triple canopied jungles where I lost the boy, in eye-high elephant grasses where I lost much of life's joy.
Vietnam was a duty you could not with honor refuse. Respect for goodly values I will always choose. There was no choice but to do it, or self esteem lose. For there comes a time when you have to pay your dues, to beloved honor uphold, to keep this the land of the free and the bold, for country, for neighbors, for family, for God... for self!
About Author... In 1966-67, Gary Jacobson served with B Co 2nd/7th 1st Air Cavalry in Vietnam as a combat infantryman and is the recipient of the Purple Heart.
Gary, who resides in Idaho writes stories he hopes are never forgotten, perhaps compelled by a Vietnamese legend that says, “All poets are full of silver threads that rise inside them as the moon grows large.” So Gary says he writes because “It is that these silver threads are words poking at me – I must let them out. I must! I write for my brothers who cannot bear to talk of what they've seen and to educate those who haven't the foggiest idea about the effect that the horrors of war have on boys-next-door.”
Visit Gary Jacobson's site for more information
Comment on this story