Saturday, 4 January 2014

Guest Post: by Jack Sturiano, Vietnam veteran

I loved the recent 1914 post because it evokes that elusive state that existed before war that is forever lost once it comes. That blissful Eden, perhaps of ignorance or just plain "human uneventfulness", as Siegfried says about much of life in Siegfried's Journey, where the "idea of oblivion attracts him after life's fitful struggle".  I also learned some American history of which I was unaware.

In April 1965 I joined the US Navy. In March 1965 a battalion of Marines had landed at Danang.  I did not know this. I joined under a program called 120-day delay - the object being to have the recruit finish high school.  I signed for a 4-year enlistment.  My father went with me.  There was a draft then and, since I had neither the grades nor the money nor the wish to go to college, if I didn't enlist I would have been drafted into the US Army. I turned eighteen in May and graduated on June 30th and was in boot camp on July 9th.

I had been there a few weeks when, one Sunday morning, a fellow recruit came running in with a newspaper that we weren't supposed to have and stated to us all "we’re at war with Vietnam!"  I was truly shocked.  Vietnam?  I had never heard of the place. In those days that part of the world was always referred to as Indochina, never as its individual states.

The newspaper article was in response to more marines having landed in Danang. That fellow that day said something very prophetic.  He said we were at war. The USA never declared war, and went out of its way not even to use the word, but it was war none the less.  After the war the USA didn't want to call it “war”.  It was the Vietnam "ERA" and we were its veterans.  I always thought it should have been “ERROR".

I was a boy, "ardent for some desperate glory".  Our parents brought us Vietnam and my high school that had so many smart kids graduated 730 of us on that June day.  Most went to college; a dozen, like me, went into the military. My high school probably graduated more draft dodgers than veterans.

I passed by one day a few years back. They actually had erected a small memorial to those alumni that had died in Vietnam. I knew one of the fellows very well. We used to work together stacking cans at a supermarket and taking beer as well as we left on Saturday nights for dances. He had a beautiful sister.

We never thought of war or saw it coming.

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