I arrived in Viet Nam on about the 16th of February 1967. I still recall some of those initial visions I had as I left Washingtion, D. C. for Oakland, California.

I remember what I was doing to this day when the letter came announcing that I had been drafted. I was working in a grocery store as the delivery boy. I went home for lunch and there it was that letter. My mother was home that day and we were going to have lunch together. Some lunch. I recall going into the bathroom and opening that letter and and just before that first thump into the toilet there I was just me and that letter and this awful feeling. And I recall yelling as loud as I could to my mother "I've been drafted!".

And on August 24, 1966 I was on a bus headed for Ft. Bragg, N. C. for Basic Training. Eight weeks later I was en-route to Ft. Jackson, S. C. for AIT. What followed has become a nightmare for many veterans of the Viet Nam War.

Shortly after arriving in Nam and no longer burning shit ( a stantard introduction to Nam for some) I gather I was considered ready for battle and sent to Chu Chi and assigned to Co A 1st Bn 27th Inf 25th Div 2nd Platoon. I don't recall getting a list of rules. I don't recall being told anymore how to survive than I had been told back in the states. I do recall and still do not understand never being in a war zone before filling up with this balance of instant fear and  an instinct for survival that is difficult to explain.

I burned some more shit and washed some more dishes and before long I was no longer just I, "we began to have more meaning  in my life than ever before as we became the guy standing next to  me; we became the squad; the platoon; we became the WOLFHOUNDS-THE TROPICAL LIGHTNING! "

Though our stories began before we ever met, each of us from different places on the map, though we became we somewhere back in the recruiting station; or maybe it was basic training; maybe it was AIT or on the flight over or when we woke and found out that depending on each other was a new reality.

For me that fear and survival instinct melted into another reality.....would I live or would I die! The sound of frienddly and enemy fire was totally different from the ghetto sounds of bullets fired by the local law enforcement chasing the bad guy; it was totally different than the sounds of fireworks on the 4th of July; no longer was the sound of bullets noise coming out of the television nor was it the sounds heard when we played cowboys and indians and mades sounds with from our mouths to imitate gunfire. THIS WAS REAL!
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There seems to be no one way to tell the whole story. To see the "total impact" of the big picture. To know the truth you need only look around you. You need to take a second peek at the man or the woman or the child standing next to you. Look at the memorials, the books, the movies, the merchandise being but a fragrment of what happened and you still or shall I say we  find the question still remains, "Why?"

Which brings us to a new reality which immediately found tools for survival. A host of feelings that many got to experience and know about and understand them as these feelings were made present in their lives began the task of burrowing deeper and deeper into the depths of my inner self until it was as if they were no more. Feelings as we know them today, just stopped! Well, not compelely. I was allowed feelings of anger. I was allowed feelings of fear. I was even allowed feelings of sadness. Oh yes, and a great deal of false bravery. But, no kiddy stuff!!!


All this and I still was not called "man".  I was still a taste away from what was to be my manhood. And as I look back I still see those faces of the guys being  sworn in in the recruiting station. Some looking for a back door to escape. See the reality of going to war was still somewhat of a fantasy. The men were about to be seperated from the boys.

I still see the faces of the guy on the buses. I remember the look in their eyes. That look  of disassociation. That look of farewell and goodbye. One could almost picture the image of the loved ones standing in front of them waving, waving, waving for the last time.

I still see the faces as we entered deeper and deeper into the reality of war. I still recall the war games coming to an end as we got closer to the reality of war. I still recall the day we entered the reality of war.

Remember, there was a time when it may have been easier to disclose the experience of war. But, one by one the returning Viet Nam veteran met obstacles of misconceptions and rejections from society that all we could do to withstand yet another reality was to shut down, and in many cases give ourselves up to alcholol and drugs to forget!

See, society wanted to hear, but didn't want to hear.  Afterall, the place we returned to was "fully" understanding of what we had been through, fully understanding of what we were like, fully understanding of the what it was like for us in Viet Nam to the point of not just understanding .....but knowing our deepest darkest feelings. Feelings I took even deeper within 2 days after returning to the states. Feelings that have been buried for 30 years plus. Feelings...hell, I forgot how to feel.

How did society understand the Viet Nam Veteran? How is it that the question still remains after all this time, "Why?"




The moment of truth and new realities became clear once I got my orders to go to Nam. I remember that long bus ride after AIT back to Washington, DC.. Where I would have to face family, friends and America for what might be the last time. In all my newlly acquired fears, not being able to tell exactly how I felt about going to war stood out the most.

People protested. There were marches. Demostrations. Draft dodging. All kinds of feelings being expressed and acted out against the war in  Viet Nam. My family never really let me know all their real feelings either. I know today somewhat why that was. I know today the fears they experienced associated with my going to Nam. I know today, that it was truly hard for them to talk to me about it. I know today the role love played in not persisting that I talk about it. It was probably the thing that made it harder for me to say goodbye. None of us knew exactly what to say...so my family did what I did in reality...they shut down and hid their feelings too! But, I saw past some of those walls just as they saw past the wall I built around me.

As for the rest of those in my surroundings. There were cries of celebration for the soldier. There were the cries of ecncouragement and inspiration at the bottom of every glass at the bar. It too, was a sad goodbye. Still, they celebrated my going to war. Why?

I hooked up with a friend, Lonnie Upchurch those last days in D. C. We had orders to report to Oakland in 30 days. It was the beginning of the longest goodbye ever in my life. Yet it became easier, since I didn't have to do the D. C. thing alone. The D. C. thing being a period of drinking like I had never drank before. A period of finding myself at times alone with just me and a bottle and some mucic. Feeling nothing. Absolutely nothing.

I thought of fleeing to Canada. then I thought with my luck, I'd be the first one they caught. Once committing a crime came into play. but, most of the time I was too drunk or lost in the feelings of going to war that all I could deal with was living or dying.

Our 30 days got extended. Well, we overextended financially. We were late. But, knowing that we were late became somewhat of a joke. I recall once riding around the streets of D. C. and we were pulled over by the cops. Before we could pull out license and registration we informed them that we were going to Nam. We further informed them that we didn't know if we were coming back. And somehow they understood and let us go. There were other times when this new line we found "we're going to Nam and we don't know if we're coming back" worked. Hell, it worked everytime we were stopped. It also became an excuse to get lost in myself and the bottle.

However, we knew eventually that we would have  to go. Only problem was that we were out of money. As I recall, my brother worked at Fort Myer, Virginia (he was in the reserves then). He went to his warrant officer and got us some new orders cut and some new money. No longer could we elude the fact that we were going to Oakland. See, going to Nam hadn't fully set in yet. Well, for me, I still had not fully accepted the truth, but, I was on my way.

I remember arriving in Oakland and my first shock was the weather. I arrived dressed in short sleeves and it was cold in California that day. Once we finished our little stay in Oakland we were on a TWA flight to hell. I had left behind all that felt good in life......even being alive!

I was not flattered by being given a M-16 with real bullets. I was not amused by the fumes in the air from all the shit burning; rockets and bombs; and a feeling in the air of death surrounding us on all sides. And the horror of war was there all around us.

The time had come. The introduction to Nam was over. They prepared us for war. I was in the war. And I became what I had to become to survive. No attitude adjustment was necessary.

This was real!
I still don't know "Why?"
I do know I was in Viet Nam!
COPYRIGHT 2000 BY WILLIAM R. ILAM "EASY" SMITH