On May 18, 2017, I posted “My War,” by Frank Hooper, aka Fleabaggs. It’s the best thing I’ve posted on this site. The response on SLL and The Burning Platform, where it was also posted, was overwhelming, heartfelt, and particularly poignant among the many vets who commented. The beggar picture served as inspiration for a passage in my work-in-progress next novel, The Gray Radiance. As my tribute to Frank I’ve put that passage below, after “My War”.
My War, by Fleabaggs
This is the most important story SLL will post this month, or maybe ever. It’s an honor to post it. Read it beginning to end and study the pictures. This is the story Americans don’t want to hear, and these are pictures from which they avert their eyes. From Fleabaggs, a Vietnam War veteran:
I have started to write this a hundred times in 49 years. I would like to have used Our War but don’t want to presume to speak for all us Nam Vets still alive who were really there for a year or more. Nor can I speak for all the families of Nam Vets and all the millions of Vietnamese whose major crime was living in Vietnam at the time.
I do presume to speak for myself and my dead buddies who told me their stories as we commiserated in a dark corner of a seedy gin mill where we had been banished. I do presume to speak for some of the families I knew and my mother and the civilians who had an impact on me while I was there. I’m going to show you a picture of a few whose story never made it to the U.S. It’s shocking so stop here if you want to remain comfortably absolved in your sweet fantasy of non-involvement. This is not about “ME,” it’s about us.
Please indulge me while I set the terms of engagement here. I’m not worried about what you think of me or my views. When I say ‘THEY’ you know who “THEY” are so don’t jerk my chain with that kind of stuff. Go back to the Miley video you were watching. When I say “YOU” you know if you are “YOU” or not. If you are not “YOU,” but are offended that I might mean you, go to your therapist and ask her how you became such a thin-skinned oversensitive little prick.
This is not a Rambo story either. For the majority of us guys who were there from Jan. 68 onward, shooting and being shot at was the easy part. The hard part was the rest of what war is about. If you were in Khe Son in 68 or something like that, then yes that was hard. And just to qualify that I know what I’m talking about, I’ve been pinned so low by some guy with a 47 that I was scooping a hole with my cheekbone to get my head lower as my hair was being parted. I was also on my feet moving around 22 or 23 hours a day with very little food. When we got 1 or 2 hours to rest we were so wired we couldn’t sleep. We found a spot to lay down and listen to our heart pound and then back on our feet for 3 weeks straight. TWICE.
Combine that with having seen the proof that it was all staged and I cracked up. When I came to I was trying to choke a buddy and I just started bawling uncontrollably. I was never the same again. In hindsight I realize I made a choice to never feel ever again and set out to do just that.
One of my closest buddies from school got drafted and found himself in Bumdeal Vietnam where nothing ever happened. He’s standing in a wet trench in the Monsoon for hours every day waiting for nothing to happen. Then he gets to go back to a smelly sandbag hooch to rest and his buddy is escaping to La La Land with some pot and a squeeze tube of morphine from a kit. 3 months later he’s sharpening his needle on a nail file and cooking smack over a Zippo, wondering how this happened. He’ll be able to quit pretty easy when he gets home he thought. But I just can’t go back out there tonight without it. Just 8 more months. On the flight home he gathered up what little dignity and self-respect he had left, thinking that he was still a hero for sticking it out. A month later that little shred of hope was gone.
He had no idea how he killed that many old women and babies without remembering at least some of the details. So much for the quitting. 2 years later he died with a needle in his arm. I’m not excusing our bad decisions after we saw the farce that it was. I’m saying that was what happened and that we had lots of help getting to that point. We were not going to disgrace our families by deserting or going to Leavenworth and getting a BCD. So we put on our best pair of man pants, sucked it up and muddled through.
We were typical of the other vets I knew who are gone or are so far into the psychiatric machine they will likely never resurface. We all fell off a Norman Rockwell calendar and into a bankers’ war. It never occurred to us that the government would lie to start a war. Why should we? Our parents would think God lied before they would believe the government would lie. Presidents and Congressman lied sometimes, but not the U.S. government.
We left thinking we were heroes. Our moms gushed with pride at us in our uniforms, the girls went ga ga, we were part of something we could believe in, we marched to John Philip Sousa in boot camp, life was good. Here is something I posted to describe what it was like for me and so many others I knew. Some people online were giving what I thought were moralizing sermons when they commented on the anniversary of the Mar.16 My Lai massacre and Lt. Calley.
I was there for the 68 TET offensive, the counter offensive and 2 mini Tets. I would never dream of sitting down next to a woman who is 8 months pregnant in the august heat and say “I know how you feel Darlin”. when you’ve been shot at from 50 ft. by someone you can’t see and are required to call in for permission to shoot back. When 2 little boys blow themselves up while trying to blow you up, when you see one of their arms twitching 30 ft. away. When you go without sleep or food while on your feet moving around for 3 weeks twice. When you see Westy dining with Raquel Welch in the light of a patio and you’re heart and guts and balls ache so bad you cry inside. when someone at the airport tries to gently tell you that you have white hippy spit down the back of your Dress Blues. When 45 years later that same liberal hippy wearing birkenstocks extends his faggy hand and says “THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE”. When your family is ashamed of you. When you are treated like a freak at the VA Hospital and you have to see a shrink just to get medical attention. When you no longer have anything to believe in and you fall into booze and drug induced self pity, laying in the gutter with your pants full of crap and you piss yourself just for the warm feeling. When you’re down to 100 pounds with no teeth in a dark parking lot trying to give a blowjob for a drink or a hit. When you cry your heart out wondering what the hell is wrong with you. When you just murdered your dog for protecting your sweet mother over not giving you more drinking money. When she looks at you with hurt and despair and says “how could anything like you come out of my womb. When you’ve turned your back on a desperate woman begging for money with a dead baby because you were brainwashed into thinking she was going to buy weapons with a crummy dollar while never thinking she may have a live baby to feed in an alley somewhere. Then I’ll talk to you about Lt. Cally. You didn’t rob my buddy and the rest of us of what little dignity we had remaining. You ripped it out of our souls violently and left a gaping sucking wound that never healed. It scabbed over a little but we could always feel it. Meanwhile you let the bankers off free. Some of you didn’t mistreat us but you didn’t defend us. How many of you canceled you accounts in protest or sold your stocks or did anything but lower your eyes and say “I don’t want to hear about that”.
Most of that was from my own story but others turned it inwardly. I never had the opportunity to do what Calley did while on duty. But after my crack up I did indeed take the low road off duty with some American civilians because I knew I could, so I don’t claim sainthood. I was young and wanted to repay someone or anyone. I took the evil and the evil took me. It made me it’s Bitch. It took me places I didn’t want to go and did things I didn’t want to do with people I didn’t want to do it with.
Many more committed a 100 forms of suicide. Violence, drugs, booze, etc. Few did what I did. Before any of that happened though I would like to show you some pictures of what we saw frequently after Tet. Refugees coming in by the thousands from burned out villages with nowhere to go except to the next large village until they reached the bigger cities. We had no idea how to cope with what we saw. 3 months of SERE training don’t prepare you for this kind of suffering. An old man and 2 old women in an alley where he is offering sex with them in desperation. The look on their faces. The woman I mentioned with the dead baby. She was too old to sell her body but not old enough to get the pity of an old Mama San. When I got home people told me I was exaggerating or lying. Do you have any idea how bad that knife feels. The 2 kids in the top picture would most likely end up like the one in the bottom. This was done to him purposely. We saw hundreds of these kids who were maybe 9 or 10. How the one in this picture lived this long is a genuine miracle. They had their bones broken and reset in the most horrible positions but always with one hand able to beg for money. Then they were starved to the point where a leg would look like your thumb. After that they were dragged out at daylight and dragged in at dark for the rest of their unfortunate lives. They were wherever there were Americans with money. This was done with our full knowledge and consent. How? All the reporters, politicians, bureaucrats, USO performers and Top Brass saw this and yet it never got reported to my knowledge. The kids who were cute and unscarred were sold to the sex vendors for sex and torture or anything the new owner wanted. If we break down into chaos because of any of the 100 train wrecks coming and you are separated from your kids and you don’t think this will happen to them, you might want to rethink that. Make arrangements for them even if you don’t believe it will happen here. If you had the money you could buy anything in Saigon. I’ll give you just one of many reasons I know what I know. I shacked up with the sister of the vice president’s mistress for 3 months. There was no welfare or self pity checks over there. Life would chew you up in a New York minute. She had a kid in a convent to pay for in the Philippines. I’m not willing to incriminate myself explaining the money for that or where I got so much info on the real deal. I was young, adventurous, outgoing and curious and people have always wanted to confide in me. I never ask, I let them talk and I don’t violate their inner sanctuary by laughing or putting them down or analyzing them by running it through my sick mind and telling them what they really just said.
Then there were the feral children all over. In spite of my determination not to feel again they always won our hearts over. The affection and care they had for each other in spite of everything was heart warming. They knew the deal and they weren’t about to be caught by the goon squads. No one that I knew could avoid seeing these kinds of things very long and after 3 months here we all knew how phony it all was. Seeing all these people suffer over it just made it harder for us to cope with. After we got home and endured the abuse heaped on us there was no longer anything to believe in for most of us. The results of that kind of demoralization was felt by our families in ways we will never fully know. I went to visit the parents of some of my buddies before the funeral as was the custom for close friends. It’s impossible to describe the hurt and despair. These were the nice guys, not the selfish wretches like me.
I think it’s timely that I waited this long to write this. We haven’t learned from watching this new group of our youth coming home perhaps even more messed up than we were. We seem hell bent on sending even more “over there” to make the world safe. Our own country is nearing civil war and I read comments online of a kind of eagerness to see it that troubles me. I don’t think that group of people knows what that will be like. Killing a fellow human being is incredibly hard, ugly and messy. It will follow you forever and if you do it because you could instead of because you had to, which many will do. I can only pray that it won’t be one of you reading this. There is a fine line between defense and just meanness because you know you can get away with it.
I’m done now. I wanted to write more but it’s not there. I made a promise to God that I would do whatever I thought he wanted me to do fearlessly for the rest of my life to make up for the evil I did in the old one. I don’t know if I have yet but when I do face him shortly I will be able to say I was no coward in these 35 years of peace he has given this undeserving wretch. I was never presumptuous enough to ask him to let me in heaven, I only asked for freedom from the torment in this life and he granted it. I have never taken a dime of anyone’s crazy money or the meds that go with it. Please don’t insult me with that welcome home stuff or thank you for your service stuff. I don’t play that.
I would like to thank Mr. Robert Gore of Straight Line Logic and gifted wordsmith who will soon be the first N.Y. Times best selling author residing in Gitmo for helping me with this and getting it posted. Also the people on TBP who encouraged me to do it.
Crazy uncle Frankie Fleabaggs who lives in the attic.
From The Gray Radiance
When Nick tried to pay with piasters, the old man shook his head. “Dollar.”
Nick handed him a dollar, wondering if the locals had to pay with dollars and if he had been overcharged. The man gave him back a quarter. Perhaps he hadn’t been overcharged. He left the quarter on the counter and walked out on the street.
There were beggars everywhere, but one was so different, so grotesquely distorted, that all Nick could do was stare. He was on a board with wheels. It looked like a skateboard, but the board was bigger, maybe three feet by two feet. At first Nick couldn’t make out the geography of the body, a randomly put together stick-figure doll. He was dressed only in a dirty cloth of indistinguishable color around his midsection. You couldn’t say if the beggar was sitting or lying on the board. He rested on his elbows, his arms emaciated twigs that might snap under the load. One hand was folded back at an acute angle to the wrist, an angle so severe a normal hand couldn’t form it without breaking bones. The other hand was outstretched, the language of begging. His entire rib cage was visible. At the knee of one straw-thin leg it looked as if the lower part had been attached backward; the foot pointed in the opposite direction of the knee. His other foot somehow rested on the small of his back, his leg positioned in a way no contortionist could match.
The beggar was anywhere from thirty to fifty-years old. There was something timeless in the dark eyes that watched Nick. Not imploring, no bitterness, no hate. They were a vessel, a summation. Of what? Malevolence that could break a man, or boy, cripple and mutilate, turn his body into a prison, leaving him fit for one occupation: alms. Acceptance of an intolerable fate? Somebody had broken him and put him back together and was profiting from his condition. At the end of the day, what happened to the beggar’s bowl? Where was he wheeled? Who took his money?
Look at me if you will, the beggar’s impassive eyes seemed to say, but this is the way of the world. You are just as misshapen as I.
They stared at each other for a long time. Nick pulled out his wallet, took a dollar and put it in the bowl. Ever so slightly, the beggar nodded. It wasn’t gratitude. Acknowledgement? Maybe. Because he had looked at him, seen him? Probably. Most passers-by wouldn’t muster more than a glance before they hurried on.
Rest in peace, Fleabaggs; you’re with God now.