I never served in Vietnam, but I saw the carnage of that war firsthand on my paper route. It was not on the pages of the paper, where most of my generation saw it, but in the wards of the Yokosuka Naval Hospital in Yokosuka Japan where the Navy and Marine wounded from that war, came to recover, and sometimes die. That was my paper route.
It was the best job I ever had. I would sell the ‘Stars and Stripes’ bed to bed in the hospital each day after school. After my route was done, I would hang in the rec room and play pool and ping pong until it was time to go home for dinner. And the message that my new friends told me there was always the same: “Kid, don’t EVER join the service and get mixed up in this war.”
I decided to take their advice. Although I grew up in a military family — my father was a career naval officer – and I considered military service an honorable path, I had seen firsthand the carnage of war. One time was especially memorable in the hospital. There were so many boys on stretchers in the hallways waiting for operations that you couldn’t pass someone without sliding sideways. I suspect it was during the Tet Offensive back in 1968.
A couple of years ago, I was down in Washington D.C. to visit my parents’ gravesite, at Arlington National Cemetery. I got up early and went down to the Mall before the sun came up. There was nobody else around. I went over to the Vietnam Memorial and walked slowly down and ran my hand across the whole length of wall and thought about all those young men that I had seen there.
I don’t remember any of their names, but on this Memorial Day, I’ll think about their sacrifice — again.