They’re Still Back In Country by Robert Vaughan

They’re Still Back In Country by Robert VaughanWe didn’t have PTSD when we came back from Vietnam. Well, that’s not entirely true, we did have it, we just didn’t know what to call it. Part of it was the way we came home. Most of us flew home, and that was great . . . it would get us back with our loved ones in less than two days. That was also bad.

The soldiers coming home from WWII and Korea, came by ship . . . and that gave them time for decompression, so the immediacy of the war was put behind them. Not so with the soldiers from Vietnam, we were home before we even changed clothes.

To be honest, it wasn’t all that bad for those of us who were career soldiers. We came back to a CONUS base where nearly everyone we met had been there, or were going, which meant we had shared experiences. But let us consider the plight of the part-time soldiers; draftees, or those who enlisted for one tour then left the army.

On Friday, such a soldier might be on ambush patrol outside the fence at Cu Chi, Di An, or Phu Loi. When he comes back in that afternoon, he has his travel orders, and the next day he boards a Pan Am flight for San Francisco. By Monday afternoon he is sitting in the Bulldog Drive-in in Sikeston, Missouri, the Purity Café in Greenville, Illinois, or some such place back in the U.S.

He is listening to the juke box and visiting with people he has known his entire life. Physically he is home, but mentally, and emotionally, he is still back in-country! He remembers that Creech owes him five dollars. McKay has his sunglasses. He wonders if anyone will find the three cans of fruit from the Cs that he hid behind the 500KW generator. Will the rod-end bearings that are on ADP orders come in tomorrow? What about the tire for the three-quarter ton truck? He looks around at the others . . . they are laughing, teasing, talking about things that were once so important to him, the football game with Poplar Bluff was two weeks ago, and putting the dates together, he knows that was the day Lambdin was killed. He realizes that, though he had grown up with these people, they were not there for a very important part of his life. None of them have any idea…nor do they care…where he has been, what he has done, or seen.

Where is Schuler? Where is Gilbert? Chambers? Lindell? They’re still back in country. Bostick is still there as well, and, like Lambdin, he’ll be there forever. Bevins is back though . . . somewhere in Ohio. Is he going through the same thing?

He stares at Linda, a girl he had dated a few times, and she is smiling at him, but her smile is replaced with a sudden flash of fear, and, quickly, he glances away. He realizes that he has given her the thousand yard stare, and he should apologize to her, but he can’t. She would never understand, and he’s not sure that he does.

It’s been fifty years . . . but even now, a song, a smell, a sight, will bring it all back. . . tone and tint. And if we see someone wearing a Vietnam Vet’s cap we’ll nod, and say something like “Welcome home, brother.” Others seeing us will see two old men . . . but they don’t see what we see. We are greeting a young man in jungle fatigues, maybe standing on the service deck of a Huey with the engine cowl removed, or wearing a flak jacket and carrying an M-16, or leaning against a jeep with his arms folded, or sitting on a sandbag reinforced Conex container, writing, or reading a letter.

Those with whom we served will never grow old. On the day we die, the men and women we met there will still occupy a hallowed chamber of our hearts . . . and they will forever be young.

Newsletter Subscribe

Latest Posts