Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Vetnam -- One Hell Of A Story

I had just come down from a seven minute sensuality contest with one of the prettiest dames I had ever laid eyes on. Skin soft. Mounds firm. Stomach flat, and a racey set of legs that delivered what the rest promised.

There was something of intimacy and sadness in those crystal blue eyes that said more about this woman's angel face and long black hair. She was like a lonely mare whose time had passed but still looked as good to me as the mare looked to a stallion.

The cool breeze battled against the heated stench being radiated off the sun cooked cement. If felt good against a sweaty skin. I took in a deep breathe of the heat, slid out the pack of Cool Super Longs, pooped open the box and pulled out the menthol laced pipe tobacco smelling cancer stick.

Once in my mouth, I turned against the wind, cupped the lighter with my hand and dipped the tip into the gold tipped flame. I breathed in. Nothing like having menthol in your lungs after a woman treats you to her honey scented warmth.

I looked up, he was still doing a long circle to my right. Tall and built like a well seasoned Green Beret.
He came over to me.  His face was hard with a hint of a scar on his face where a steely knife from a frenzied assailant tried for the jugular but was to dead to strike true.

"Can I buy a cigarette from you?" he asked in a voice that didn't match his body.

"Why don't I just give you one instead. You don't mind if its menthol?"

The big man shook his head. I whipped open the pack and handed him one.

"Need a light?

Again, big man shook his head.

He walked away a few lights down, pushed his back against the pole and pulled out what I expected to see. It was definitely Nam bought. The lighter was a flip open with your thumb liquid filled type. The sharp spring action of the top made that familiar pop the top sound and the engravings on it looked like the work I had seen in Siagon.

I could smell her before I heard her.  Had I not, at the very least, she would have a black eye. She walked like the breeze.

"See you've met my brother?"

"Your borther", I said incredusiouly.

"Okay, he's actualy not my brother. But step brother. Never been the same since Vietnam. Used to be fun, loving and easy going. They turned him into a cold, shell of a man who could cut you up into pieces and not miss a good nights sleep," she said in a dry matter of fact way.

"So why do you..."

She put her finger over my lips and told me to not ask with those story line eyes of hers.

"He makes me feel safe. That's all you need to know...that and the fact that your cools are in his pocket.

"Don't go there soldier boy," she warned softly. "Let him be."

She was of course right. His reaction time was lightning fast as I never did see the lighter light the cigerette or go back into his pocket.

"Besides, I rather enjoyed you," she said in a way that I knew was truthfull. "I haven't been that aggressively plowed into since my dead husband did me like that."

"Do you know, for such a beautifull woman. You sure have a 'to the point way' with words."

"Well, when you were married to a Green Beret, speak your mind and get to the point.

"So, I'll get to mine. Charles died near Kea Sanh during Lam Son 719. Got killed by friendly fire.

Little bit of me died with him.  The part where I would never marry another man."

She paused for a moment, pulled out a pack of Marlboro Lights and handed me two. I put one between my head and my right ear. She light hers and then lit mine.

"Not Menthol but better than trying to tackle that bear over there", she advised.

"You're a reporter, aren't you?" she asked without expecting an answer.

"Is that painted on my butt somewhere," I asked.

"No, but the fact that you were in Vietnam is with that tatoo on your arm. And a lefty, no less."

"Guilty as charged," I said my body going through the motions of surrundering to her.

That made her laugh. The chuckle wavering through her as her long hair almost caught fire being blown in her face, she pulled her hair back behind her head and tied it back with a rubber band.

"Tell you what, you listen to a sotry about that man two light poles up and I treat you to seconds.


How could I refuse?


"Then speak softly as I am and so he can't hear you, Okay?"

"Okay" I said in a softer, quieter tone.

"That man over there is Robert Crowley..."

"Wait a minute, THE Lientenant Colonel Robert Crowley???"

"One in the same."

"I did a piece on him when I was in Siagon. He served 5 tours in Nam from 68 to 72."

"Yes and he won the Congressional Medal Of Honor...

"And then proceeded to TKO his commanding officer. Which of course destroyed his career in the military", I said with respect and awe. "But no one knows why he decked the Colonel."

"I do.  I've had to relive that nightmare over and over again at least once a month for the past 40 years."

"Gawd he still looks young," I said sizing his face I had just mentally photographed against his age.

"That's what plastic surgery can do for you when half your skin gets melted off your face by napon bomb dropped on a helicopter going into a hot LZ at Firebase Ranger."

"Bad timing?"

"No deliberate. The fast mover saw the chopper approaching the LZ and asked the Colonel for abort orders and the Colonel told the pilot no, proceed. I know this to be true because I talked to the pilot who dropped the bomb.

"That doesn't make sense," I said with anxiety flavoring my words.

"If you think about if, it makes a lot of sense if your career was riding on the amount of NVA KIAs you could net from the this skirmish. You've got hundreds of NVA with their focus on shooting down this helicopter and not on the fast mover about to buring them alive into ashes.

"According to my sources, the helicopter was about 50 feet off the deck when the bomb went off below them. Since Robert could hear the radio chatter, he ordered everyone to close their doors and push up the windows.

"The chopper was completely engulfed in flames, crashed on its side and rolled away from all the napom towards the friendly forces. Roberts co-pilot and door gunner were killed instantly. Robert got out.."

"And saved both the crewchief and a second man from a fiery death despite having a borken leg, " I said with confidence like I knew the story by heart.

"Actually," she said, "He saved three. A gay Second Lieutenant by the name of Carmichael."

That toook me a moment to digest. They I replied, "The Colonel's son was gay?"

"Robert decked Carmichael after he was awared the Medal of Honor because Carmichael couldn't have the name tarnished by his gay son."

"Robert was a basket case when he got home both mentaly and physically. I love him before and after so I took him in. There were days whien I wish I hadn't and days when his sunshine drenched my life.

"Do you know what a man in torment does? He tries killing himself with booze. The bottle never talks back. I learned to listen, put cold compresses on his head when he went into hot sweats. When he screamed in pain and agony, I soothe him with love and words of comfort.

"It has taken a long time, but he's learned to live with a limp and the sounds of the high pitched screams only a dead man makes as he is burned alive. These are the memories Robert could have taken with him but he won't."

A beeper goes off, she pulls it out of her purse and looks at it, upside down and backwards, I read the words, "Dr. Savanah Livigston, confirmed appointment for Private James Simmons at 10am, your office.

She slipped her pager back into her purse.

"See that building across the street?"

"The one that looks burnt down?"

"There were 12 people on the third flloor who were traped by the flames and the fire department was too late to save.

"Robert saved all 12. That's my Robert. That's a real hero. Ready to be one when needed."

"You coming back up?"

"Let me get another cigerette from you and I'll be right back up."

She handed me a cigerette and went back up stairs.

I focused my thoughts and my eyes on a man two street lights away.  Off in the distance was the lonely sound of a late night freight train rumbling on steel through the sticky, muggy curtain of an ink black night.

I wondered at the moment when he flipped the last of the cigerette out onto the street, how we build heros for the moment. But they were always there and never go away.

And as he faded back into the ink of black air, I realized that heroes never fail at being amazing. Instead, we fail them by not being, as Dr. Savanah Livigston put it, "ready to be one when needed."

Walking up the stairs to her room, I  thought to myself, this is going to be one hell of a story. One, only a hero would dare to write.

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