Peace Corps Writers
War and Peace Corps — Two Corps (page 4)
War and Peace Corps — Two Corps
page 1
page 2
page 3
page 4

     The group commander, a white-haired colonel, strode in nonchalantly, smoking a cigar. His demeanor was intended to put us at ease. A shell had hit one of our hooches and there were wounded. The medical attention that should have been available was not, but we didn’t know why. There was no field phone communication, so the other TOC runner was dispatched to find out what was going on and report back. I didn’t want to leave the bunker because a continuous barrage of rockets and mortar shells were detonating outside. We expected a ground assault and I was thinking “I’ll never see the sun come up!”
     We didn’t hear back from the runner, and the wounded were still not being treated. In anger and exasperation the colonel called for a medivac chopper. In spite of the confusion and pressing concerns, the colonel assigned his orderly to make sure all weapons inside the bunker were unloaded. Even then I realized “Oh! That’s what we need to be afraid of!”
We chaffed at polishing boots and brass, wearing pressed uniforms and having fresh haircuts. These requirements ebbed and flowed as our first sergeant changed. But other NCOs took delight in “screwing with us.” One sergeant major on his way to a field unit was particularly unbearable. When he got to the field with the same attitude, someone tossed a grenade into his tent. Fortunately, he was not in it, but his tent was Swiss cheese. It got his attention. He transferred and was lucky he lived.
     When bullets were flying, there was general confusion, and some people with grudges used the situation to get even.

Before I went to Vietnam, I knew we should not be there, and being there did not change that, but knowing it before was an intellectual proposition. Knowing it afterward became an indelible part of me. Because I couldn’t support what we were doing in the war, I told the Foreign Service “thanks but no thanks.”

In 1985 I attended the Peace Corps 25th Anniversary Celebration in Washington, D.C. and visited the newly completed Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I approached it in turmoil. My first impression, besides the sight of the memorial itself, was how quiet it was. There were lots of people but the only sound was an occasional squeaky foot step or bird chirp. A sense that it was a sacred place was inescapable. Something in the air, something I could feel against my skin was also touching the wall, the sidewalk, and the statute of the three soldiers at the near end of the memorial.
     As I slowly walked along in front of the black, granite wall with its 58,000 names, I began sobbing, which shattered the silence and caused people to turn and look. I saw things people had left: a can of beer with a note, a pair of jungle boots, and a hand-lettered placard —

At the going down of the sun
And in the morning,
We will remember them.

     The people whose names were sliding past felt so near I could almost see them. I also felt the presence of the Vietnamese who died in the war, especially the children. Although they were not included on the wall, I felt them along with the American soldiers as if they were all together. My grief was for the loss of all of them, for the utter waste the war had been.
     As my weeping subsided, the silence returned, but now it is only a memory. I returned to the memorial in 1997 and again there was a large crowd but they were not quiet. There were loud conversations and yelling. Children were running, playing tag and throwing a frisbee. A park policeman giving a tour was almost yelling so he could be heard over the din. And it was twelve years later, and twenty-four years since we pulled out of Vietnam. Memories were fading. The pain was fading. That is natural and to be expected. Sadness comes because the lessons we learned, if we learned any, may also be slipping away.
     For many years I thought about the war almost daily. I suspect for those whose experience was much worse than mine, the memory of the war will stay as long as they live. Even for me it is never far below the surface. Nor do I think about the Peace Corps as much as in the past. Gradually, the 1960s recede.

Since his time in Vietnam Jim Jackson has practiced law and currently works as a law school librarian.
Home | Back Issues | Resources | Archives | Site Index | Search | About us | To contact us

Bibliography of Peace Corps Writers | PC writers by country of service

E-mail the with comments
or to be added to the new-issue notice list.
Copyright © 2008, (formerly RPCV Writers & Readers)
All rights reserved.