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Monday, September 27, 2004

I Don't Know War


I didn’t write this piece but I salute the man who did. He has said exactly what so many veterans have been thinking for so long. When I returned from Nam, my roommate in the 82d Airborne was SSGT Charles B. Morris, awarded the Medal of Honor while serving with the 173rd Airborne in Vietnam. I know firsthand it’s true that warriors like Charley are tormented in their dreams and cry out in their sleep as they re-fight their battles; yes that I know from bunking with him.

But one thing I never heard him do was boast.

Not once, not ever.

May your troubled spirit forever rest in peace, Command Sergeant-Major Morris.

Russ Vaughn
I Don't Know War
(author unknown)

I'm not worthy to question John Kerry's war record. Because I don't have one. I spent the Vietnam War in elementary school. And the four years I was in the Army were all behind a desk. My fort was unofficially known as "Uncle Ben's Rest Home."
So I don't know anything about war.

Though I do know a little bit about men who've been to war. I've been around plenty of those. Like my stepfather. He got bunged up pretty bad in France. I know that because I saw him in a swimming suit once.

But he never talked about it. Not once.

If you asked him about the war he'd tell hilarious stories about basic training, or where the guys he served with were from, or how fun it was learning to fly the liders, or the time they stole the ambulance to go into town and get drunk in France,
or a few of the phrases in German he learned. But he'd never actually talk about the war.

Unless he was really drunk.

In which case he still wouldn't talk about it. He'd cry about it. He'd put his head in his arms in the wee hours of the morning and sob to himself about how the men around him were broken and torn when the gliders crash landed into the French countryside.

But that was only once or twice, and that was never about him.

And the little box of medals at the bottom of his footlocker never came out.

It was kind of the same way at the Legion and the VFW. Every day he'd check in at both places, to sign the book and to have a beer, and I would tag along. All those men had been in the service, and most had been in combat, but I never heard a war story.

Lots of Army stories, and Navy stories, sure. About guys they knew and leaves they were on and officers they messed with. But nothing about the war.

It was the same way in the Army.

In my day, it seemed like everybody above staff sergeant or captain had been in Vietnam. I went in 10 years after the war ended but the guys on the second half of their careers had all gone.

You could tell when they wore their dress uniforms. But that was the only time.

Men didn't talk about what they'd done in the war. They didn't boast of their accomplishments. They didn't brag about their medals. But if you chanced to see them in their dress uniforms, with the rows of service ribbons, you could read their history there, you could see that those who'd done the most spoke of it the least.

Like one of our drill sergeants in basic training.

Buffing the floor in his office one day we saw the service ribbons pinned to his Class A uniform on the coat rack. Comparing them to the poster in the company day room we learned he'd gotten the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
We asked about them and he made us do push-ups for being nosey.

The night before graduation, when he welcomed us as fellow soldiers, we asked him again, we almost pestered him. Finally he relented and gave us two sentences: "I was in a war. I got hurt."

And that's all he'd say.

Kind of like a man I know, who received the Medal of Honor. One night he stood in a long line to shake hands with Colin Powell. The man, because of the nature of the event, wore his medal around his neck. As he came to Colin Powell the man said,

"General, it's an honor to meet you."

And Colin Powell responded, "No, sir - it's an honor to meet you."

Anyway, I know this man, and he's often asked to tell his story, of how he earned the Medal of Honor. And he never does. Oh, he answers, and he talks, and he inspires, and he talks about the war. But he neglects the part about the lives he saved and the courage he showed, and instead talks about a young Vietnamese man who helped him to safety when his legs were too shot through to hold him anymore.

I don't know anything about war. But I do know a little bit about men who've gone to war.

And none of them act the way John Kerry does.

None of them brag about, boast of, talk about or otherwise try to benefit from their service. They don't prostitute their time in uniform for personal gain and ambition.

They all modestly and insistently say that they "didn't do anything." They minimize their contributions and put them in the context of the similarly courageous and noble service provided by their comrades.

A true hero doesn't boast.

In fact, he kind of keeps his deeds to himself. Which is what makes John Kerry so different. Which is what makes John Kerry so unbelievable.

I don't know war. But I do know war heroes.

And John Kerry's damn sure not one of them.
Well, Russ, the good news is this: John Kerry will not be President - At least I don't think he will. Despite the Rather Biased news in America, I don't think he is doing as well as people let on. The Debates I think will decide the election, and Bush is going to nail Kerry for every Waffle, Waiver, Flip Flop, and lie he has been telling since he came back from Nam.

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