The Map

by: John Irving
(ex-CW2, Alpha Troop, 7/17th Cav

© Copyright, 1998

 
  
The Map
Time passes, Wounds close, pain dulls, As scars heal. Once again I'm tricked Into believing It's Finally Over. Then my eyes, unbidden, Grasp that ' J ' shaped Coastline in Asia, On a map of the world. Where were you when the first man died? Where were you when his family cried? Once again these names Draw me closer, ever closer, So close I can't see them Without my glasses. Once again these places, That time, jump out Clutching my back Thrilling my neck. Whoa ! Stop ! Once again, again the room spins as I flash back anew to that huge airport where I first came to the Nam. Senses assaulted, hot Hot HOT, burned dung smell. Humid as a steam bath, Fetid as a swamp. Where were you, when an 18 year old boy left for Vietnam and returned with eyes 10 years older than his 19 year old body? Can you understand what those eyes reveal about places and things you who are protected never have to know? CRACK ! "Incoming !" Sonic boom 122 mike mike Katushkas streak inches overhead, 50 pound warheads explode so hard my soul is shaken. Where were you when we began taking rocket fire casualties just 10 minutes after arriving in South Vietnam? Where were you when one of my men on his second day in-country was killed on his 18th Birthday? An Kke, Quin Nhon First fire fight. Top says "Your buddy's dead !" That can't be right ! Where were you when my best friend triggered a landmine then died in my arms, covering me with body parts, and bone fragments? Where were you when I arrived in that war torn land, age just twenty-one? Doing what my government asked me to do and what my fellow Americans expected me to do. Pleiku, Kontum, "Enemy in the Wire ! !" Outgoing, incoming, "The Nam's on fire !" There! on the map The A Shau Valley ! GOD! Grunts're dead at A Shau, We fought all week. Where were you those long, dark, and frightening nights when we sat in the mud and the rain waiting for the enemy? Ban Me Thuot, Nha Trang, Got shot down, I flew again that afternoon, Got shot down again ! Where were you when our men turned up missing, became P-Oh-Ws? Seventy-nine Prisioners of War have been seen in Asia since 1972. 2,096 Americans are still missing, un-account-ed for. Why aren't you there now, searching, while our men are STILL missing? Khe Sanh, Quang Tri, Hue, Phu Bai. Marble Mountain, Da Nang Nui Ba Dinh. Vinh Long, My Tho, "He's shot through the head !" Rach Gia, Chi Lang, So Many Friends Dead ! Where were you when we arrived back on American soil? Did you curse and throw rotten eggs at us? Why aren't you at the funerals we go to for our comrades who poisoned, continue to fall to dioxin and Agent Orange? 58,229 Americans died in Vietnam. Since the war ended 150,000 vets have committed suicide. Why aren't you howling in pain? Why do starving homeless Vets sleep in cardboard boxes, while criminals get free medical care, wholesome food and shelter? Why do prisioners have huge law libraries and get to sue the government? Why do we spend billions on foreign aid while denying Vets adequate medical care? Where are you as Veterans' rights are threatened every day? Where are you when the V.A. man denies our benefits and claims? I held myself together and kept the wolf so far from your door, that you and others can pretend that the wolf never existed. Where are you now when a sound, or a smell, or a dream touches that part of me buried so deep that I wake up screaming? Whoa ! Stop ! They're just names On a stupid map and It was so long ago.... Why can't I stop crying?
n Irving ex-CW2, Alpha Troop, 7/17th Cav
 

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