This is an embarrassing story. Such disclosures are invariably healthy and I am not unfamiliar or unwilling to be the butt of any joke…long as it’s funny. Over the years, an occasional yearning arises to reconnect with the fragmented memories of my past…and the internet enables such obsessions.
The CO of my advisory team had arrived in-country two weeks ahead of me, so I became XO (2nd in command) when I joined them. My first nite we were savagely attacked (described in First Nite from my memoir, Return To Eden). He was slightly wounded early by an errant frag during the firefight. Two weeks later, patrolling with a separate element, he took an AK round thru the right buttock. He spent four weeks in-country, left with two Purple Hearts, a CIB and Bronze Star…and I became CO. The five earlier commanders lasted a total of eight months.
I’d remembered his thick drawl and tho there were multiple possible spellings of his last name, I typed into Google “Arkansas…and his name”. I got several hits, found an article that seemed to describe the guy I remembered and wrote to it. One of his friends passed it along for his approval and I received a telephone number. This was big for me, over all those years, I’d had no contact with any member of my team. I was pretty keyed up when I made that call to him.
It’d been 42 years but he remembered me and we slowly exchanged memories and our lives since that time. He’d gone into law enforcement, as had many of our returning vets. He said that I was the first contact he’d had since that time, too.
He seemed pleased to hear from me. Then he recounted his memories of that first nite under fire. It began around 1 AM, pitch black in our bunker and I’d left him searching for his boots as I crawled around to the river façade where Charlie was lobbing mortar rounds and the occasional B-40 rocket, one of which later grazed him and knocked us all off our feet.
Here’s the thing. He began telling me his version of the story and his timing and rhythms suggested this was a story often told, to great effect.
“Our bunker was shaking with concussion and I looked over at you and all I could see was the whites of your eyes, they were so big…” Now, I don’t doubt that my eyes got pretty wide that nite…but he was searching for his boots in darkness. There was no light to reflect anything, I’m certain he couldn’t even see my face. But this was clearly one of his favorite war stories, all about his new black XO, with eyes like saucers in his first action. I suspect this had produced many guffaws over the years from appreciative audiences.
I leaned back for a couple seconds, took a breath and continued our conversation. After all, in my chapter, I’d been pretty critical of his planning, having failed to install a chopper pad inside our perimeter – the absence of which necessitated my doing some fairly scary shit later that nite to evacuate our casualties.
Our conversation ended…we haven’t reconnected since. And after a few days, I e-mailed him the chapter that I’d written about that nite. Hope he took it as well:) I’m not sure what I‘d expected or hoped for…but probably not to discover that I am the butt of a joke for some redneck peace officers in Oklahoma…