By Jack Bryant
November 1967, Vietnam
“Grab your aid bag Doc! We gotta roll”
I had only been in Vietnam two months and had participated in just two small skirmishes—no major injuries. As a medic with the 11th Armored Cavalry tank company, I was relieved that my responsibilities consisted mostly of treating toothaches, cuts and burns and various body fungi.
But this was different. Less than a mile from our position a bus carrying more than 70 unarmed Vietnamese civilians had been rocketed by Viet Cong. My tank platoon had been called to provide security and medical help.
My first sight of the total carnage and horror of war literally froze me. Blood everywhere. Bodies everywhere. Screams of pain and terror in a language understandable by everyone. The stench of burning flesh and gunpowder. The smell of fear. The smell of death.
Welcome to the war, Jack.
Thanksgiving Day, 1967, I helped put 29 civilians, mostly women and children, into body bags and lined them along the roadside. The Vietnamese authorities would pick them up later.
That day I helped evacuate more than thirty
seriously wounded civilians. That day I helped bury arms, feet, hands, legs
and other unidentifiable body parts. That day I listened to the cries of
children who did not understand what had happened. And I listened to the cries
of mothers who did understand.
November 1991, Shreveport, LA
Today, my in-laws are coming for dinner. I am fortunate to have in-laws such as these. We not only get along together but we actually enjoy each other. I look forward to watching the Dallas Cowboy game with my Texan brother-in-law. I look forward to playing Canasta with my father-in-law as my partner. Later tonight, my family will meet my brother’s family at our parents house. My wife (and best friend) of 30 years is busy putting the final touches on a Thanksgiving Day feast. She has worked for three days on her homemade rolls. She doesn’t often have the opportunity to make them.
My teenage daughter is in her room talking on the phone and playing her radio too loudly. This is irritating, but this time I let it pass. She doesn’t drink, she doesn’t smoke, and—thank God—she doesn’t do dope. I’m happy. I have a lot to be thankful for.
But as I open the drapes and look out the window, I see my neighbor’s trash. Black bags of leaves and grass are lined along the roadside waiting for pickup. They remind me of body bags lining a Vietnamese roadside and memories of that Thanksgiving Day in 1967 assail me.
After a moment I close the drapes and walk over to hug my wife. She understands. And I am thankful.