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T-Shirt A reflection on the Anniversary of the Fall of Saigon

© 2000, by Forrest Brandt



A skinny, bearded guy, frayed fatigue jacket and tired eyes, was hawking T-shirts near The Wall, Veterans Day 1984. Bold letters declared:

"PARTICIPANT South East Asia War Games
1965 - 1972"
across the top and underneath

Panel 09E, PFC Doug Knotts home on The Wall.
Panel 09E,
PFC Doug Knott's
home on "The Wall."
"SECOND PLACE"
I hesitated, then chuckled and reached for my wallet.
Had to have it.
 
There was an outline map of Vietnam in the background.
A line ran across it,
like the bar in the middle of a fraction,
cutting the land in half.
 
I wore it around my comrades.
Got lots of laughs.
 
But sometimes I wondered,
 
My eyes would focus just below the bar,
a place we called the DMZ
"That's where Lieutenant Al Lofton's chopper went down in November of 1968."
No survivors.
We'd been fraternity brothers before the war.
 
I could imagine a spot,
about where Da Nang should be.
My high school friend,
Spec Five Bob Fox,
spent long nights there in 1965 in a dingy bunker
listening and deciphering as Charley talked to his soldiers in the South.
 
I'd trace the thin central part of the country with a finger.
picturing the area where my junior high teammate,
PFC Doug Knott, six foot six and gawky,
was killed in 1966.
 
A half-inch above the star that marked Saigon,
was where I spent most of 1969.
 
I'd scan the fat bulge at the bottom of the map,
Where the Mekong River formed the Delta.
That's where my college room mate
Lieutenant JG Dennis Michalske,
plied the waters in a bullet riddled LST,
and taught English to orphans on his time off.
 
The shirt helped me laugh,
Escape from memories too painful to confront:
Body bags,
kids wrapped like mummies in white gauze,
a legless boot rolling off a stretcher,
a picture of a set of dual wheels from a five-ton truck,
resting on their side in the middle of a jungle road,
all that was left of the ambush reaction team for a highway 13 convoy.
 
I could see my own tour lurking in the cotton threads;
10 months of work and boredom punctuated by minutes of body shaking terror.
 
A friend, a well-meaning war protestor, wanted the shirt.
She was amused by the "Second Place,"
Wanted to share it with others,
Well-meaning also,
who didn't understand those of us who had served.
 
I wouldn't give her the shirt,
but I couldn't wear it anymore either.
Forrest Brandt

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