“Vietnam Memorial” by Ryan McFarland is licensed under CC BY 2.0
By Myles Blumenthal
The city of Cleveland has it easy, with their Walmarts and McDonalds. I never had these necessities that the citizens have. Without me there would be no Walmart or McDonalds anywhere. Without me, there would be no Cleveland, no Ohio, and no United States of America. These people don’t know the terrors I faced to save their lives from the communist threat.
Me? I served in Vietnam. Drafted at the age of nineteen, and sent right into the heat of the action. I will never forget the horrors from when I first got there. I was just a boy when I first experienced loss. It was the most devastating moment of my life, but it did give me a wakeup call; that this was Goddamned Nam.
It was in the middle of basecamp. The birds dropped off ammunition that day, but I had no need for it. Jimmy McFarlane, my comrade from Akron, crept up from behind when I first felt the cold hand of loss as my ear caught, “Hey Chess Master, you want to play some chess?” Chess Master was my code name, because I had an undefeated win streak of two games, the best in the squad. At first I was hesitant to accept his enticing offer, but Jimmy was a sly dog. He convinced me to accept his challenge, which was the worst decision of my life. We set up all the pieces. I was black, and he was white. It all happened so fast. He moved his pawn, I moved my pawn, and he moved his queen. I still wake up in the middle of the night screaming as I hear McFarlane yell, “Checkmate!” Two moves! That was the first battle I lost, and it haunts me to this day. I still can’t get near a chess set, while the Queen of the Brits enters my nightmares. I will never again face the horrors of that day again.
That wasn’t even the worst of what happened in Nam. None of the citizens of Cleveland will ever have to deal with the mosquitos or the cockroaches that are as big as your hand. They will never have mines outside their doorstep. They will never have the weight of equipment on their shoulders. They will never have to live near a jungle like I did.
I became a man in the jungles of Nam. It was just outside basecamp where I had to get water for the platoon coming back. The Tan My river flowed about two hundred yards from basecamp. It was the only fresh-water source that we had. It was a sunny day when I first grabbed the empty canteens for the platoon. I wasn’t sure what was within the jungle; all I saw was darkness. I took all the canteens and slowly walked a whole two football fields into the unknown. This was nothing like the tulips and tomatoes that my mother grew in her backyard. There were plants as big as my head, and spiky bushes with no roses, only tulips. One small misstep would have plunged you into the deep abyss of Nam, one that has swallowed too many of my former comrades. The worst part was the mosquitos. They surrounded me like I was the newest teen pop sensation of today. It took me an hour, but I finally made my way to the river, and I had to go pee. So, I went pee in the river. This pee was the longest pee I had ever had. It went on for a whole three minutes. I kid you not! Three minutes! After that pee, I knew I had become a man. No boy could have peed for that long. I walked back. I didn’t even fill up the canteens. That was a boy’s job. I was a man. All the boys could drink my piss!
The citizens of Cleveland have a diversity of food. They’ve got Chinese, Mexican, and Italian at their fingertips. In Nam, we only ate chicken. This was the cheapest food that the US Army could afford. It was unbearable to eat chicken day in and day out. Sometimes, I had to prepare the disgusting, old, processed chicken. Imagine preparing the same food over and over again. Waiting for the chicken in silence for hours is a real test of patience. Not being able to season the chicken with my mother’s Cajun spice was the most painful part. Without the Cajun, it’s just chicken. Eating and preparing tasteless, bland, rubbery chicken was the real mental game of the army that took a toll on me. I can no longer eat chicken. That’s the worst part. I used to love to prepare chicken. Every Thanksgiving in Cleveland, I would cook chicken for everybody on the block. I used to love it, but after Nam, all chicken was rubbery, bland, tasteless and unbearable to eat. Cooking chicken was my one true passion in life. Now that that’s gone, I am just a miserable old man with no purpose.
That’s right, I served in Nam. Well, served the soldiers their food, that is. The terrors I witnessed while in Nam were unspeakable. Without me, there would be no soldiers to fight. Without me, there would be no democracy. Without me, there would be no United States of America.