I grew up reading about war. I was fascinated by Green Berets, Army Rangers, and Navy SEALs. I read story after story and book after book about the fighting in Vietnam. I never cared much for historical research type books. I wanted the stories, the personal experiences, the war stories. These are the kind of stories that I write now, about my own wartime experiences.
I remember reading Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, where he described the death of a soldier as “boom, down. Zapped while zipping.” It’s a great book, and his writing can really help a reader get into the mind of a soldier. How are they feeling? How can they do this terrible job? What is it like? He doesn’t glorify the war. He doesn’t talk about explosions and massive firefights. It is just a simple, yet deeply expressive, explanation of his experiences in combat. While describing the physical burdens carried by infantry soldiers, O’Brien dips into the emotional burdens too.
He discusses dark humor and macho and dehumanizing language. It is all 100% true, and with a change of weapons, uniforms, and lingo, it could apply to almost any war.
“Boom, down. Zapped while zipping.” This phrase sticks out to me, because I don’t remember it happening so quickly or silently in my war. It was an explosion. BOOM! It didn’t go down. Smoke, fire, shrapnel, flesh, it all went up. We went up too, up to the intersection where the rocket came from. We unloaded, firing everything we had available. Machine guns rocked those buildings.
Glass. Glass went down, and so did bits and pieces of the walls that we were firing into. Brass shell casings went down to our feet. When the Air Force flew over, bombs went down. Smoke and flame went up. Pieces of roofs, wood splinters, and other debris went up. Then they came down, along with the walls that held them up. BOOM! CITY BLOCKS WENT DOWN.
Two weeks later, our brother-in-arms went down, to join those who went before him, and all those who have since gone.
Gone, but not forgotten.