The Most *%&%#@# War Story of All *%+&&^#% Time
Every third day is log
day. Huey’s jammed with cardboard crates of C-rats, ammo in
wood or metal boxes, precious mail, giant rubber barrels of
water slung beneath their bellies, spot our popped smoke,
dip down, swoop in, frantically unload, then they are gone.
Our mail is stuffed in a
red nylon sack tied shut with thick cotton rope. The
Lieutenant unties the bag,
reaches in, carefully hands out letters that bear names,
rank, serial numbers, unit, APO.
Abbott receives a Dear John and goes quietly berserk.
ordered home on emergency leave. Jack’s wife sends bad news.
“Shit,” he says, putting the letter down.
Ernie opens a
small flat parcel; he reads the hand printed note
accompanying the cassette. “Train Station Sounds. Train
Entering Station, Train Departing,” he says. “Always love my
choo-choo’s. Can’t live without’em.”
Jim receives an Easter Basket filled with artificial grass
and little yellow eggs of soggy marzipan. He offers them
round and we eat them.
“Nothing for you, Doc,” says the Lieutenant.
What remains in the red sack are books and magazines donated
by publishers. We pilfer the bag for Time, Popular Science,
Popular Mechanics, Reader’s Digest, a trove of paperbacks on
various topics. I grab two glossy magazines. I grab a book
written by Jan Yoors, who has lived with gypsies. Check my
watch. In an hour we’ll move out, march through the jungle.
Set up an NDP. Send out patrols. Set up an ambush. I reach
into my pack, snare the blue lined Red Cross writing pad, a
cracked Bic pen, write to the company which makes our salt
tablets. I’ve written many letters of inquiry; it helps pass
Dear Sir or Madam, Did the artist Gervasio Gallardo draw
the cover art for
S. Beagles’ latest book? It’s very beautiful. I
intend to read the story. Your reply is most appreciated.
Dear Sir or Madam, I would like to know what is meant by
‘processed cheese’. This term appears on the list of
ingredients of your dairy product, which I enjoy immensely
when I am not otherwise engaged.
There is time to write to my parents. I’m stupid.
Still seeking the impossible.
Today we killed five. Actually they were dead before we
killed them. They had walked into our booby trap. They
scream a lot. Then they are dead. The lieutenant says I’m
doing a good job. The others do the killing. I’m the medic,
remember? So far I’ve patched up six of my guys. We’re so
lucky. We’ve been killing them more than they kill us. No
one understands why they don’t bleed. We just can’t figure
that out. Oh well. I’ll be sending you something I took from
a dead man. Put it in a safe place. More when it happens.
After an hour's march we stop, set up the perimeter. String
the trips and claymores. Dig foxholes. Soon the skin mags
begin to circulate.
“Captain, isn’t she beautiful?” I say, tearing the
centerfold from its stapled spine. “I mean isn’t she fuckin
The shapely all American blonde is smiling and freckle
faced; she has inviting sexy legs, she has perfectly pouting
lips; as she leans forward her full round breasts spill from
“Whatever you say, Doc,” the Captain replies. He grabs the
handset from the RTO. Calls in our grid coordinates. Our
casualties. Our body count. “Whatever you say.”
It’s my fourth month. Patrols, jungle, ambush, monsoon.
Letters from home, holiday cheer, the glossy escape into
fantasy, these are the things that mock the clockwork of
killing time and killing people; they blunt our fear of
There are not enough machetes in third platoon. Each night
we must take turns at clearing a patch of jungle. Each man
cuts, rips, stabs the earth then hunkers down ‘till guard.
Soon men write home for machetes, survival knives, K-bars as
the Marines call them. And some men write for pistols, and
some men write for liquor, and some men who have given up on
going home do not write at all.
I tear out the coupon from a
page of Popular
Mechanics. Beneath the black and white photograph the
advertisement screams its headline in boldface letters:
ARMY SURPLUS KNIFE AND GENUINE LEATHER SCABBARD $4.95 +
SHIPPING AND HANDLING. SUPPLIES LIMITED. THIS OFFER WILL NOT
BE REPEATED. Which of course it is. Every month. Like clockwork. So I clip the coupon and write a letter.
Dear Mom and Dad,
Today the Captain gave each medic in the company a Bronze
Star. He said we did good.
He said we’re gonna win this war and that we are good
soldiers. I need a favor. Pay these people. Send me the
knife. I’ll pay you back. Do it now. It’s important. Love.
But they didn’t. I know they’re crazy. I know that. When I
was ten years old she had her first nervous breakdown. In
broad daylight I watched it happen. She is screaming and
running until the police arrive and pin her arms behind her
and she goes quiet. In high school I watched him fall apart,
become a human puddle, all but inert except for his shallow
breathing and equally shallow self. Yet I need them to help
It’s been three weeks. Why haven’t you answered my
letter? Here’s another coupon. Just send the knife. Just
send the fuckin knife. Your son, the medic.
Each day, as we march and hunt for humans I learn to
Increase My Word Power. Solve Brain Teasers. Join the
Rosicrucians. I receive the cover art of The Last Unicorn
and a handwritten note from an editor which says ‘Yes, it
was Gervasio Gallardo, you are a very observant reader.’ I
receive a typed answer on official stationery regarding the
process of processed cheese. At long last the Lieutenant
hands me a letter.
Everyone here is fine. The weather is wonderful. Your
Uncle Bill says hello. We’ve thought about the knife and
don’t think it’s a good idea. You might hurt yourself. Write
to us soon. X X X X X Mom and Dad.
Now it's my turn to go crazy. Later I will take a hand
forged machete off an NVA, strap it to my pack, use it each
night. And later still I will sleep with a loaded .25
automatic; my college roommates will say I’m disturbed. And
later, in Brooklyn, NY I will visit Chinatown, purchase a
block blade Chinese meat cleaver; for six years keep it
beneath my pillow. If there is noise I will rise up and walk
the perimeter of each room, ready to cut, slash, stab. And
much later, I will buy a
Guatemalan peasants’ machete, carry it through
Mexico, spirit it through Customs, tuck it beneath my New
England mattress, the exposed black handle within arms
reach. But for now it’s my turn to go quietly berserk, to
hate, hate, hate them.
Winter: I’m home and Uncle roars as he sits at the
Thanksgiving dinner table. We have finished the meal, and I
have told the story. Uncle roars. He roars great gales of
laughter. Salty tears tumble down his gravy face.
It’s the stupidest, funniest, most absurd war story
of all fuckin time. Yet Mother and Father are quite
perplexed. Why is he laughing? Uncle wipes his mouth, his
face, his weary brow and tells them what I must tell myself
in order to survive this tale, which I do not often tell.
D 1/7 Cav '69-'70