"War. Huh. What is it GOOD for?"

The title of this blog comes from one of many protest songs that were popular during the Vietnam War. The song is "War", which was sung by Motown artist Edwin Starr. As you can see in the video, there are scenes from the Vietnam War accompanying the song. I remember those scenes. They were broadcast nearly every night on every network channel. Even though my father was a load master in the Air Force on the C-131s and C-141s during the Vietnam War (dropping troops, supplies, guns and ammunition in country, taking the dead and wounded out), I rarely dwelled on the possibility that he might not come home one day. That was simply too much for me to handle at that time.

At the height of the Vietnam War, my family, which consisted of my parents, Richard and Mary Shortt, their oldest child (me), my sister Tamara and my little brother Ricky, were transferred to Clark Air Force on Luzon Island, the Philippines. I was eight years old when we arrived, and ten years old when we left. Here we are in our off-base housing in 1966, a few months after we arrived in the Philippines. The occasion was my parents ninth wedding anniversary, which was on the 4th of July (And I'm writing this blog the day after the Fourth of July, 2017. If my parents were still alive, they would have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary yesterday.) My father took this picture. My sister and I baked a chocolate cake with the assistance of Audrey, the young lady who is also in the picture. She helped my mother around the house, and looked after the three of us when my parents went shopping at the commissary or attended a function at the NCO Club (Non-Commissioned Officers). Mom is partially seen in this picture, holding the knife. I'm next to her, holding one of the candles. Ricky is peeking around me; Audrey is standing next to him, and Tam is enjoying the frosting from one of the candles.


This idyllic scene from the history of the Shortt family overseas adventures was inevitably interspersed with reminders that across the South China Sea, there was a brutal undeclared war, oh excuse me, "military action" going on. Reminders of that "action" surrounded us all the time in the Philippines, not just on the tape delayed network news broadcasts, but very tangible, sometimes brutal ways.

When Dad was gone TDY (Temporary Duty Yonder, and I have no idea why it's called that), we continued with life just any other military family stationed overseas. We attended school (except for Ricky, who was two when we arrived and four when we returned to the States) at Wurtsmith and Wurtsmith Hill Elementary Schools, church at the generic Protestant Chapel on base (there was a Catholic Chapel, and maybe even a Jewish temple, although I'm not sure about that), and of course, PLAY TIME. I'll have to return to that subject in a future blog. We did some hardcore play time in the Philippines!

Interspersed with those memories of life as a typical family living in a foreign country during the 60s were these reminders that there was war going on. The first ones were what I now call "dinners with strangers". At the time, I considered them unwelcome intrusions into our normal family routine, which was dinner time. My parents used to invite G.I.s  over for dinner quite a bit. Since I was an eight year old tomboy who didn't like to be called in from playing dodge ball with the other American kids or trying to capture geckos during my personal war with those reptilian creatures, it was unsettling to come home and discover that we had guests dining with us. That meant all of us kids had to be on our best behavior. That was something I loathed, but Mom had read and memorized every page of Emily Post's books on etiquette. She drilled that stuff into our heads, and any violation of the rules was stopped by her withering glare that promised great discomfort would be in our immediate future. So I seethed inwardly, and maintained my best behavior throughout dinner.

What I didn’t know back then was that our dinner companions were young men who were about to be deployed "in country" to Vietnam. They were all in their late teens and early 20s, and they represented all branches of the Armed Forces: the Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force. Some of them showed up in their uniforms, others in civilian clothes. All of them were effusive in their praises of Mom's down home Southern cooking. I was confused by their reactions. To my siblings and me, it was nothing more than a typical Shortt family dinner. I remember one night we had pink beans cooked with bacon, rice, cornbread and collard greens. We had two young White men dining with us that night, and they kept talking about how wonderful the food was. One was a sailor dressed in the typical white uniform, and the other guy was in the Army, but he was dressed in "civvies", aka civilian clothes. Both of them kept saying that it was the best meal they had in a very long time. Really? My eight year old mind couldn't grasp that concept. Pink beans with rice is the best meal? I preferred my mother’s macaroni and cheese and fried chicken.

It took me decades to understand what those two young guys were really saying. They had been eating mess hall food and K- rations for at least six months.  As a family, we sometimes had dinner at the NCO Club, but the food served there was like a gourmet feast compared to the mess hall meals. And the K-rations bore no resemblance to anything edible.

What was particularly disturbing to me was the realization that the G.I.s who shared those dinners with us were young enough to be "older brothers" to my siblings and me (the average age was 19), and even more distressing, far too many of them came home in caskets or severely wounded and traumatized.
One of the reasons why I began remembering these events was the direct result of watching two documentaries on Amazon Prime Video: "The Hornet's Nest" and "My Vietnam, Your Iraq". In "The Hornet's Nest", I was reminded of how young the soldiers who ate dinner with us were, and even more startling, many of them in this particular documentary were the same ages as my own children. My youngest child was born in 1986, and I still consider her "my baby". All of the young people in the film were someone's baby. And some came home in caskets. That brought tears to my eyes, as I replayed the times my mother drove the three of us out to the flight line to pick up our father after he returned to Clark Air Force from another mission in Vietnam. We had to wait until he was done with debriefing, which seemed to take an eternity. In the meantime, Dad's crew was busy tossing out what appeared to be large, black plastic bags from the tail end of the C-131. I asked Mom about them, but as she usually did whenever I asked her a difficult question, she ignored me. 

Eventually, I figured it out through my youthful process of deduction. There were several dark blue Medevac buses parked about 20 feet away from our blue station wagon. (Please read about the Medevac airlifted thousands of wounded soldiers out of Vietnam: http://olive-drab.com/od_medical_evac_fixedwing_vietnam.php and here: https://www.stripes.com/news/vietnam-wounded-go-1st-class-on-air-ambulance-1.292349) I knew the guys who were laying in the cots were wounded, so...that's when it hit me. The crew was tossing out the bodies, those who would never open their eyes in this realm of existence again. I never said anything to my family about my revelation. It was so horrible that I thought it was best that I keep it to myself. 

It's the ugly reality of war, and for some mystifying reasons, we keep sending our young people off to either die in them or suffer traumatic physical and/or psychological wounds. 

I wish I could write with absolute certainty that the catastrophic, ruinous wars are part of our past, but that would be a fabrication. I hope that no parents would ever have to bury their sons and daughters killed during another war because the world will finally experience everlasting peace. However, we know that even after the devastating World Wars of the 20th century, the United States of America has been involved in one seemingly continuous military conflict after another. Moreover, it appears to me that the current administration would prefer to send more of our young people off to die for reasons that grossly illogical instead of finding new ways to solve the problems that we have in this country. It's so tragic. 

Pray fervently for peace and unity, America. Hug and kiss your sons and daughters; tell them how much you love them NOW. Tomorrow might be too late.
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Emotional Incest

On being plus-sized