Friday, May 18, 2012

I Remember

I Remember
The sound is deafening, even through my flight helmet, as I struggle to see through the dust cloud spreading out below the helicopter. My lungs and mouth fill with a heavy mix of musty moist air, dust, sweat and the sweet acrid odor of jet exhaust. “Loads off 20, 15,10, 5, slings slack, loads clear”. I struggle to stand as the nose of the helicopter pitches down and the tail rises – the pilot is cowboying the ship away from the drop zone as fast as possible. I listen for the sounds and feel for the vibrations that I’ve memorized over that past few months that tell me everything is running the way it should be. The intercom crackles with seemingly unintelligible phrases causing the door gunners to quickly begin squeezing off long bursts from their M60 machine guns - sweeping the canopy of green that is disappearing all too slowly below. As I move toward the back of the ship the noise level changes. I whirl to face the pocket of silence as my helmet fills with a low moan from the earphones and I watch my crew chief slump to the metal flooring.
            Somehow I’m suddenly on the floor beside him; his helmet’s rolling across the pitching floor and his head is in my lap. My hands are pressed against his body trying to hold his life inside. The helicopter pitches rolls and climbs in evasive maneuvers. He squeezes my hand for a few seconds, as our eyes stay riveted on each other’s. We have no words to say. Then as the ship steadies his grip begins to fail and an eerie stillness engulfs us.

            I see it, I feel it, I hear it, I smell it and I taste it all now, over 40 years later, just like it happened a second ago.
            I have a letter of appreciation from the department of the army, signed by the president of the United States – like so many others have.
            I have an army commendation medal, an air medal and a Viet Nam service ribbon - like so many others have.
            I lost a very close friend in war – like so many others have.

            At 20 years old I lost my invincibility, my naiveté, and my trust in the longevity and value of close relationships.

            At 50 I was still struggling to rebuild that trust, to relearn the skills, and to be viable part of valued friendship.

            At 60 nothing has changed, I close my eyes and it all rushes back just like it was yesterday…

The words and art are mine as are the memories... Load's Clear...

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