I Got Nothing
by: Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)
PILE the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo,
Shovel them under and let me work--
I am the grass; I cover all.
And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?
I am the grass.
Let me work.
I've been trying to put together a post, something that somehow ties in the way wartime experience runs through your life like a thread. A thread that sometimes helps with the body of the cloth, sometimes it's a detriment, but it remains always there.
I got nothing. Everything I've tried to write for the last week or so has turned out to be nothing but suck. Major suck.
An old friend, it may seem strange that a dedicated skeptic like myself would number a career Navy Chaplin, among his friends, but I do. My friend, who we derisively called "Chaplin Charlie" even though his name was Jim, is very ill. He has been developing blood clots in his legs and it seems every time they do a procedure to repair the problem, things get worse. Jim was a good and decent man who found himself in a place that was in very short supply of goodness and decency. While we were talking during a visit I made last week he remembered what he says was the most significant encounter he and I had in Viet Nam. At the least most important encounter that didn't involve a poker game. That's where we spent most of our time together. We were at a point in an action with the enemy where ammunition and men fit for action were in short supply. I saw Jim, toting a rifle and wearing a helmet with his white cross insignia taking a place on the line with the rest of us. I went over to him and suggested that he would be more effective assisting the horribly overburdened medics. I told him that he was better in providing comfort and allowing us to inflict the damage. I had his rifle and I held it up and told him that in his hands the rifle was a good man making a noble gesture, but in my hands it was a list of enemy casualties. I said "You're a good man Commander, but kindness and decency aren't what we need here. Besides, the fastest reload is another weapon. Thanks." Then I went about my business and he went to go see the medics.
We probably would not have been able to withstand another assault for more than a few minutes. Luck, and a squad of Cobras turned the day. When the assaulting troops realized that the central command structure had recovered enough to begin supporting the outer bases they broke off and went back to ground like good guerrilla fighters always do. The next time I saw Jim he was at the helo pad helping to load off supplies and load in casualties, of which there were a great many. I went over to him and tried to salute to show my profound respect. We ended up hugging instead.
We've stayed in touch over the years. He and his wife retired to La Jolla and that made it very easy. I've never gotten religion, but I've been glad to have such a good man as my friend. I've played the harp when ever he's asked me for it. Two weddings of two daughters, and next week, the wedding of a granddaughter. He wanted to go over the song list for his funeral that last visit and I told him if he dies on me I'm picking the fucking songs and to expect stuff like "Louie, Louie."
The second guy on my mind is Larry, the Sergeant Major, now deployed in Afghanistan. I fear for him, for his family. When I hear John McCain talking about a hundred years of military presence I think of folks who wear the uniforms in the service of fools. A hundred years? Alexander had one of the greatest armies in history, and they were only able to sustain a continuous combat footing for ten years. McCain ain't no Alexander.
So, this Memorial Day, I don't intend to be all patriotic and shit. There won't be any public displays from me. I'm going to be thinking about my friends, probably call a couple of them and we'll try and convince each other that shit really meant something and that God's in his fucking heaven and all's right with the goddamned world.
We know better, but refuse to say it out loud.