Viet Nam 30 Odd Years Later

Received a phone call this morning from a former college classmate of mine who I have not seen since 1971. We were both originally in the class of 1968 but were both asked to leave in 1966, we both enlisted in the Army in the summer , not necessarily because we believed in the war but rather because the draft would have gotten us and we were at least able to choose when we went in.

My friend was brilliant. A gentle southerner who know more about the Civil War than I knw about anything. I bumped into him briefly at Fort Benning as I was finishing the course and he was halfway through. While he ranked at the top academically, he was at the bottom in terms of demeanor and was washed out. He ended up in Viet Nam but fortunately was placed as a librarian. I fear he would not have lasted long in the field.

We both returned to college after our three year stints. I had lunch with him several times a week. He didn’t mix much with his new classmates, essentially was now a loner.

When Nixon announced the U.S. invasion of Cambodia in the spring of 1970, many colleges joined in the student strike which protested the invasion. Though having served in the Army, my friend felt passionately that the mission was wrong. He travelled to Washington D.C. intent on getting the entire country to join in the strike. Classes were cancelled for a couple of weeks. When the strike failed to spread to the entire country, we returned to classes. Fortunately for me most exams were cancelled and we carried our grades up to the point the strike started.

My friend did not return to school but rather stayed in Washington. I later learned that he had a breakdown and was in a hospital. Over the past 36 years I have received infrequent emails and handwritten letters often running to 12 1nd 15 pages.

This mornings call was depressing. My friend is living in a single small room in an assisted living facility. He no longer has a car and is dependent on a very few friends to help him escape for an occasional decent meal away from the institution. He has not worked in many years. All family have either died or have moved away. He talks to a brother weekly but only sees him every five years or so.

He asked about my mother, wife, sons, job, Maine, my retirement, a recent medal and a myriad of other things.

His last comment before we hung up was that he was afraid of dying. My assumption was that he meant dying alone.

Viet Nam ended a long time ago. The effect on my friend continues.


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