A Vietnam Vet

My sister-in-law is dealing with Hurricane Harvey and the flooding. While nowhere near as devastating, I was reminded of the first flood I went through after moving to the woods. Which reminded me of the first Vietnam vet I met.

Flooding in this area hits hard and fast. Whitewater rivers are forced between canyons and boulders and drop steeply, unlike the farming area where I grew up. There, the water rises slowly and spreads out, and sticks around. A whitewater flood takes trees and houses and roads, and then drops fast.

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Someone’s trailer a couple days after a flood

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Our road after a flood widened it

This first one flooded the road I lived on. The road is two lanes through the forest with no shoulders and just big trees up to the edges. It was night as I came home and out there it’s pitch black at night. No streetlights or house lights. Just my headlights in the little Subaru Justy, reflecting off moving water.

I got out of the car to see if I could tell how deep the water was, or if I could make it across. There were tree branches floating in the reflected light. As I stood there in the dark, a big man came out of the trees and stepped up beside me.

“I don’t think you’re going to make it,” he said.

I seem to remember being frozen, probably not even breathing.

“But I’ll go across and check for you.”

And off he went, wading through the moving water, followed by a dog that also came out of the trees.

On the other side, he raised a flashlight, waving me forward, and disappeared back into the trees. I drove across slowly, with water sloshing up high on the car, knees shaking, wondering if that had really just happened.

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The river on a calm summer day. See those rocks in the back? They’re underwater in a flood.

He lived rough somewhere in the woods during those years. I regularly came across him, with his dog Katie, when I’d be out walking old logging roads or trails. He’d materialize from the trees, share my company for a bit, and then fade away.

Most times he was in this world. But occasionally something would send him back there, back into that war. One time it was a small airplane flying over. He told me not to be worried, that it wouldn’t stand up against his anti-aircraft missiles, and pulled out this huge old revolver.

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The logging road where the revolver was pulled.

Living off-grid at the time, we had an outhouse. Since I was the only one living there, and the views of mountains and ridge were beautiful, I rarely shut the door.

Until the day, out walking with him, and he told me he’d found an old trail that crossed the ridge above my place, and how he could see our whole place from up there.

I closed the door after that.

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The ridge. The outhouse was on the other side of the cabin.


Eventually, someone got Veteran’s Affairs involved, and he was set up with counseling and resources, and even a little house in a nearby town. I missed him stepping out of the woods and walking with me.

One day, a couple years later, I was ‘down below’ at a grocery store and here he was, still big and bushy-bearded, pushing a cart. I saw people looking sideways at this man. I saw how they sidled away from him when he came right up to me and said ‘do you know me?’.

Of course I knew him. I gave him a big hug, asked after Katie, who was elderly and waiting in his friend’s car. I asked about his little house, which he thought was okay most of the time. But some days, he said, he had to get out into the woods.

I left, wondering if he’d found someone else to walk with out there, or if he remained in solitude with his past.

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Remembering War

The anniversary of the end of the Vietnam war today. I remember that ending. Sadly, I saw this anniversary mentioned in few places in the internet world/news. NPR had a story about visiting the memorial wall, which I have also seen. But other than that the internet seems to be full of the usual celebrity fluff, cat videos, and tag lines such as ‘When I saw this it blew my mind!’ and prompts such as ‘Hit Like if you agree!’. Oh, and please let us not forget invitations to play games.

This anniversary though, is especially poignant for me because these were young men, 18, 19 years old. The age of my son right now. I worry about his ability to grocery shop let alone heading over to be part of things no one should have to go through. And yet, have we as a people learned anything? At the end of each war we think, now we know better, now there will be no more. At least until the next one. I would like to start a debate, even at the risk of that debate becoming a shit-storm.

Please don’t interpret my comments that follow as support of Hilary Clinton, or as a slam against specific religions or even about race. I don’t mean to slide into arguments/discussions that can’t be resolved, such as religion and politics. I’m talking war here, nothing more. Although, that topic, too, will never be resolved.

It seems, throughout modern history, we have been led by men and there has been war. I have no facts to back this up as I am not a philosopher, sociology professor, anthropologist, or historian. Yet it seems to me when there have been riots as are happening frequently now, the looting and destruction are predominantly young men. I ask, what is it about men of a certain age, to seek out violence? Of all the murders committed throughout society, what is the percentage of male killers vs. female killers?

When a man sends a son off to war it appears to be a fearful moment of pride. When a woman sends a son off to war it seems to be just fear. Yes, yes, I know that’s a broad generalization. I know there are exceptions to everything we say. Yet I still can’t help but wonder what would happen if we returned to a matriarchal society, to women who were healers and mothers first. To religion that recognized the female as equally divine, such as goddess and god, not just a male God. Again, I am not slamming or supporting one religion over another, just wondering what would happen.

Honestly, I think in these days not much would change in spite of a somewhat idealized hope. After all, we have women in the military, women are strong and capable and able to fight, shoot, and defend. And as a woman I’m proud of that.

But would there be war?

I guess we won’t know until a day when our leadership is not made up of only old, rich men.

For today, I remember Vietnam, those who never returned, those who returned but never healed, and those who had to let them go. I remember all who were touched by that war, on all sides of the conflict.