Author's Name: Tim Leach
Title: "8 Days From War Zone C, Skinny Dipping, Little Lead Omens"I met my true love eight days after my return home from active duty in Vietnam and discharge from the army. This encounter blossomed quickly jnto romance—a romance that nearly got me killed.
My post-war brush with death occurred less than 48 hours after my marriage to this bright, pretty English teacher from New Jersey, JoAnne. My near- fatality was due to some extra baggage I’d brought back from the army--- an uncontrollable hostility toward all military officers. As an enlisted man I’d found my officers antagonistic, aggressive, bossy, brooding bullies.
The worst was a mini-major who clearly suffered from “little man” delusions of Napoleonic grandeur. He was supervising construction of an overly ambitious artillery command bunker of his own design—a plan which we judged to be about as stable as he was. Darkness was rapidly descending and we were under pressure to hook up more cords, cables, generators and aerials to more radios and switches than we’d ever even seen before. We had less than half-an-hour to prep for radio control transfer. A smooth hand-off was crucial because the radios would be coordinating the fire of nearly 40 pieces of artillery--- critical fire support for a major offensive targeting a crack Ninth North Vietnamese regiment.
Nine or ten of us were down in this ark of pending disaster hooking things up, while another ten or so were still on the roof, adding a few last sand bags to a roof already over two feet thick with a random crosshatch of tree trunks, steel girders and a layer of sandbags, ponchos and tarps. Suddenly we heard ominous creaking sounds, then the snap of a large branch breaking, then a few more creaks, the pace accelerating. None of the building materials were attached to other building materials. Nothing was nailed, hinged, tied, stapled or bolted . The tree trunk pillars stood balanced in mud holes two feet deep, all top-heavy with a ton or more of bagged sand, steel, and wood. Impending darkness reduced visibility. When the creaking grew louder and more frequent, those of us working on the radios hauled ass out from under with a damned good idea what would come next. But the major, by now crazed with anxiety, seeing his career collapsing with his bunker, started screaming at us to get back in there and finish setting up ASAP. Soldiers to the end, we obeyed.. Our sense of duty was quickly rewarded by the roar of a total cave-in, spewing dust, splinters and blood in chaotic profusion. The girders dug deepest and hurt the worst—one dug into my scalp sending blood down my face. As soon as everything stopped banging and falling there was a moment of shocked, stunned silence. Then press gang roofers, who were knocked around but unhurt, started digging like dogs, clawing roof from floor, pulling out bodies, all alive, thank God. The major cursed, strutted and stuttered, blaming all of lower rank.
In my first eight days home, I got into two fights due to my officer hang-up.
But my new love JoAnne, I was convinced, would save me from my delusional, paranoid, anti-social self and tame the furious beast within. A beautiful person in personality as well as appearance, she was clever and as good-looking as any co-ed on campus. Her blonde bubble-style hairdo framed blue eyes that twinkled a bewitching daytime starlight. The addition of a heart-melting smile easily predisposed all who met her to like her. Her well-developed social conscience drew her toward the inner-city high school where she practice taught and planned to continue teaching.
JoAnne and I met in a student lounge on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis, where she was an English major finishing her teaching degree. I had returned from Vietnam a week or so earlier, to complete the last nine hours of my undergraduate degree as preparation for no particular job, calling or career what-so-ever. Actually, JoAnne, being a literature lover, knew of me through poems I had sent back from Vietnam that were published in the university literary magazine.
When we met I was sitting at a table talking to a 30-something politician who recently had held some junior post in the Kennedy Administration. He was boring me with tales of his political exploits, intending to impress but having the opposite effect. Then this vision of loveliness appeared. She knew the politician, but she smiled at me as she asked if she might join us. He introduced us. I felt something akin to electric shock as she and I made eye contact. Six weeks later we were engaged and eight months later we were married.
But the adjustment from Vietnam to civilian life was not easy. Under my easy-going boyish façade, I carried at lot of emotional baggage. Even my marriage proposal, as I remember it, was delivered in anger in the middle of an argument.
Fast-forward to the evening after we were married as we drove home to our apartment after a pleasant dinner at my parent’s house. We lived on a busy street with a steady 8 to 10 PM traffic flow at 35 to 45 MPH. Our duplex driveway involved a sharp turn which could only be made from the center lane. I guess I didn’t signal. As I was crossing the curb lane to turn into our driveway, we heard the urgent honk of a horn. I leaned on my horn angrily. This was clearly a road rage situation. I stopped and got out of the car and stomped over to his driver’s side window, clamping my right arm through the rolled down window. The driver was a guy about my age, trim, tan and with a military haircut. I said, without thinking,
“I’ll bet you were an officer in Vietnam,” meanwhile cocking my left fist.
He began to roll up his window, trapping my right arm. As he accelerated, I was pulled off balance. My feet barely touched the pavement for a few yards until I managed to free my right arm by throwing my whole body backward. This move also hurled me into the path of on-coming traffic. Dusk reduced visibility. A car was heading toward me. Its brakes screeched, but it was going to hit me. I jumped way up in the air, pulling my feet up. As I came down my soles glanced off the car’s bumper. Then somehow I lurched backward, arms flailing, and landed on my feet just in front of the stopped car. Through the windshield I saw a young Black man’s face, eyes wide, probably with shock and terror. As soon as I moved out of the away, he took off. I staggered back to our car. Inside, JoAnne cowered against the passenger side door, half whimpering, half sobbing. To make matters worse, accusingly, I thrust my bleeding hand through the open driver’s side window. In a cold slow voice I said,
“You see what I get for being married?”
As if to underscore this Kodak moment, blood dripped from a cut under my wedding ring, beating a steady tattoo on the empty driver’s side seat. We parked and stumbled up the stairs to our new second floor apartment. I headed for the bedroom, pulled off the bloody ring and have never worn it since.
What do you think are the odds this marriage survived? Forty nine years as of June 1, 2016. Amazing, isn’t it? Do you think we’ll make it to 50?
I’d say yes, as long as no one shows up in uniform.
From a small plane, sun-flecked tickertape rained,
weightless as butterflies fluttering down on a village,
leaflets with cartoons peasants could understand.
They did, packing with alacrity all they could take.
The head man led the parade, then oxcarts crammed
with possessions, squawking chickens tethered on top,
pot-bellied pigs trotting after, then families on foot,
heavily laden. Backpacked infants were eerily still.
The elders, lame and ill, stayed to tend graves, fields,
and a shrine. They lined the outward route like a broken
fence, defying the leaflet message: leave or join your
ancestors. Those left behind didn’t hear it coming.
Flying high as a stork, the B-52 cast no shadow,
nor did the bomb that dug a nest of death for the old,
ill and disabled. The crew of the B-52 never saw
triple-canopy jungle, huts and flesh vaporize to mist.
Ground water, rich in humanity, seeped into the hole
like blood pooling in a wound. Weeks later, a patrol
stumbled on the crater— reborn as a swimming hole.
Off came weapons, uniforms, boots to helmets.
Naked as new-bourns, laughing, splashing, we flashed
back to summer fun as kids. Guests of ancestors,
we swam in a blood bath of enemy.
Half a life later, half a world away, my wife and I
were guests at a B & B run by a retired air force colonel
who flew B-52 bombing missions over Viet Nam.
At his oasis hacienda near Phoenix, we swam
in his palm-shaded pool. He was deaf from jet-roar—
me from artillery, so we talked loudly. With reverence
due medals of honor, he later unwrapped from a freezer,
rattle snakes, insisting they’d come to life if thawed.
Little Lead Omens
Our joyful fingers ripped the Christmas wrap
as crisp as full-dress uniforms from boxed squads
of little lead soldiers.
Sprung from dye-cut cardboard foxholes,
molded to heroic poses, our troops
8always won toy wars boys waged.
Years later, little lead bullets ripped open
gifted boys grown to fight in real war—
action figures out of it.
Each lay at attention,
tagged, bagged, boxed, and sent
by air freight home,
with an officer’s thank-you note.
Remains were flagged, churched
and hearsed in parade-dress send-off.
Then payback: a purple heart
for his that failed; a silver star for his
unlucky one, and ribbons for tying up
loose ends—grief, anger, guilt, love
and loss. A firing squad took aim at forever
spacious sky. A bugle blew, gone the son.
Patriotic laundry, the flag was folded
by squared moves to a tri-corn pillow, for
blood, bone and star-stitched bruise.
To the giver of toy soldiers, was given back
the wrap by a wind-up troop in dress-blues,
from white gloves that left no fingerprints.