Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Last night on Sixty Minutes, there was a segment on "homeless" vets. It was hard to watch and I don't know how I feel about it all. I think here is how I see it. All combat vets experience difficulty coming home from war. It is what war is. You get it in your psyche and it never gets out. Does it make you become an addict. No, not really. Does it contribute usually to bad decisions which in turn put vets on the "street?" Does the country owe vets anything special. Simply, they do. It is part of the unspoken commitment of the country to vets. The episode last night proved that we're not doing enough. I talk to people all the time about checking in with the VA hospital. Get signed up for medical, even if you don't need it. It is a good backup sustem and they owe you and could never repay you for what your sacrifices have been. 

I remerber the day like it was yesterday. B Company had just had this gosh awful firefight. It went on for what seemed like forever. In actuality, it only lasted a day. We had sustained about a dozen KIAs (kiiled in action) with about twice that many badly wounded.
I had just left the company when it started. Probably a company sized unit of NVA (North Vietnam Army). They were regulars, not guys in black pajamas.I took off to Phu Bai to the hospital to see my troops. They were really banged up. I was always pretty crushed after I saw them and knew that the grim reaper would probably claim a few more and if not, some would lose arms and legs and sight. War was a sorry business.And for me, by this time in my tour, I knew the war was bullshit. I had been reading stuff and simply had to do everything in my power to suppress my feelings to the Higher Ups. They were still doing what they do, bullshit to me but to the ones I was exposed to, I could deal with it. They were mostly just doing their jobs I guess. I was down to a double digit midget and figured I coud do this standing on my head.I was the chaplain, the poor man's psychiatrist and needed to focus on my own misssion of being the chaplain. I did the religious stuff. For men at war, ritual is important. And, I could accept the "Foxhole Religion" idea. They could sort it all out after the war.
I was bone tired and walked outside, not really outside but these mobile hospitals were set up in such a way, they snaked in all kinds of directions with kind of hubs which were like a bunch of intersecting hallways. Most of the rime, I got lost but this time for some reason, I found myself at the right spot. Across from the hospital was the Chaplain's office and my absolute best friend, Father Vince. I had first met him in Basic at the Chaplain's school in Brooklyn: good old Fort Hamilton. It was the Army's best kept secret. Right at the foot of the Verazano's Narrows Bridge, fabulous is all I know to describe it. To think that we were getting paid when I often felt like we should be paying someone to be in such a glorious spot.The chaplain's school's basic was suppose to teach us how to be soldiers. For most, they failed miserably. It was two or three months of a combination hell, play, study. We learned to wear the uniform, salute. I stood in front of the mirrow for hours practicing my salute. We went to the field and played war. It was at a camp in Virginia called Camp Picket. We made a joke: Camp Pickett, way down in the thicket. When we finished Basic, we were suppose to be ready to go to war.Father Vince was this "Eyetalian" and proud of it, Giamono, he would say and elongated it, Giamonooooo. We would laugh. He took me under his wing and vowed to show me anything and everything in New York. He would introduce me as a guy who hated yankees but was OK. I learned that in a big Italian family, to have a priest was a big honor. In Vince's family, besides him, a sister was a nun.
Standing in the little outside waiting room till Vince finished talking to some young troop, I made up my mind. I was quitting the war. How do you quit a war. Damn if I know. Maybe Vince had an idea. Regardless, I QUIT.