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March 3, 2005

Everything We Had

I just finished reading the book "Everything We Had: An Oral History of the Vietnam War" by Al Santoli. I've had the book on my shelf for nearly two decades. Some little punk gave it to me back when I was still huddled down in the piney backwoods of Mississippi. He was just one of those little chicken-shit trailer-trash back-woods kinda people you'd find living under bridges down by a creek, poaching game to stay alive. He never had any money. Just a few quarters and that's where I met him. Playing video games down at the Mini-mart.

He got some money one day, I don't recall how. I knew though because he showed up in a zoot suit with the suspenders and the shoes; the whole nine yards; a classic Beau Brummel. I'd only seen people dressed that way in black and white photographs. But Christ he was proud of those clothes.

But anyhow, he gave me this book and I assumed it was fiction, and of course I wouldn't touch it. I wasn't into fiction. I was reading The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzchnitzen and "80629: A Mengele Experiment by Gene Church.

I was trying to read some of Hunter S. Thompson's works since he'd just killed himself. I'm a huge fan of his works, but I just couldn't read Fear and Loathing again. It's kind of like putting Wish You Were Here or Animals into the CD player. It's just pointless because I can't hear them any more. I've heard them so many hundreds of times, that I just literally don't hear them when they play.

So, I grabbed "Everything We Had" out of the antique barrister bookcase and it had the just the edge I was looking for. For some reason I had assumed it was fiction, but it isn't. It's a gripping portrayal of vietnam war written by thirty three vietnam vets. It's not a political book with some bullshit pacifist agenda "we were wrong to be over there" or "this is why we lost". Just kinda of a first hand view of the war and what it was like to be in a cornfield in Nebraska one day and the jungles of vietnam the next. Very powerful book.

Here's an excerpt where Al Santoli tells the story of a medic welcoming new recruits at the hospital:

A couple of us were just kind of hanging loose out in front of the main hospital building, which was a big, corrugated- tin pre-fab. About forty new guys were lined up there to have their shot records checked before being sent to their units.

The guys were all new, their first couple of days in- country, and they were all wondering what it was going to be like. Joking, smoking cigarettes, grabbing each other in the line--it was pretty loose. I mean, nobody was saying, "Straighten up. Stand in formation," none of that. People were just kind of leaning up against the building.

All of a sudden, four choppers came in and they didn't even touch down. They just dumped bags. One of the bags broke open and what came out was hardly recognizable as a human being. For those of us that were just sort of standing there looking in the direction of the new guys...it's not the kind of thing you laugh at. Irony or satire...things get beyond words. All the guys stopped laughing. Nobody was saying anything. And some people were shaking and some people were throwing up, and one guy got down and started to pray.

I said to myself, "Welcome to the war, boys."

Posted by Peenie Wallie on March 3, 2005 at 10:21 AM


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