Never Forget, Never
Memorial Day, 2007
I remember being twenty one in August of 65, the week of my birthday, and standing alone on a hill near Chu Lai, looking out over the only road and admiring the low angle textures of the light on the South China Sea. The gulls circling above the villager’s fishing boats, pulled high on the beach beyond reach of the tides, the last of the fishermen in the distance walking in twos, returning to their homes for the night.
I stood there alone with the breeze slowly drying my sweat soaked uniform, alone with the taste and smell of the ocean and it’s limitless life, alone with the eternal sound of the surf as it stretched its’ fingers toward the ancient boats.
Off to my left, up the coast a few hundred yards was a mess area, tents and equipment sandbagged against the madness of the day, and a bit nearer to me, two large walk in coolers.
I could hear the low humming sound of their generators almost hidden below the steady music of the sea.
From my right on the road below I heard the sound of a six by coming up from the south where we had been that morning. It passed in front of me and I could see the sweat stained faces of the two Marines in the front seat, and as it went by to my left I could see others in the back.
The truck slowed and pulled to a stop near the walk ins and several Marines unloaded from the rear as the driver and shotgun got down. The Marines gathered at the rear of the six by and began to unload their cargo. I stood quietly as if knowing that some great change was about to occur, I felt a tension in their movements as they opened the truck and removed three body bags that they carried, almost gently, to the nearest walk in and placed them inside.
Returning to the truck they turned back to the south. As they drove by, the shotgun looked up at me standing alone on the hill and a nod of recognition passed between us, as if in silent acknowledgment of the strange and terrible thing we had shared. Then, they were gone and the surf sound and life smell of the sea returned on the breeze. I stood alone there and watched as the sun dropped low in the hills and I wept.
More than forty years now separate me from that day, yet I remember every detail of that small fragment of my life with more clarity than anything I have ever known, and sometimes when I am alone I return to that place and that time, and I weep. Alone
I wrote this small piece about this time last year and thought that I’d repost it today in memory of those who will never come home.