Vietnam and Waiting for Westmoreland–Two Anniversaries

This an extended excerpt from an article by John Maberry that appeared in the October Eagle Peak Quarterly.

Most people, I suspect, celebrate anniversaries as special occasions. They exchange cards or gifts and perhaps go out to dinner. These anniversaries aren’t like that. They are reference points in the tapestry of life. They’re signposts of events that have significantly affected the trajectory of my existence or describe it.

My arrival in South Vietnam came fifty years ago, in September 1967. Ten years ago in September, I published the memoir, Waiting for Westmoreland. (WFW)

This special feature in the Quarterly is more of an observance of those two anniversaries than a celebration of them. It’s also an announcement of a special tenth anniversary edition of WFW coming later this fall. It will feature a new cover, a foreword by an accomplished friend who’s known me for forty years, a brief preface and an expanded epilogue. Those ending words will include a few paragraphs from an update to WFW. My human revolution (a profound change in one’s character—a fundamental benefit of practicing Buddhism) continues so I must share it. The current plan calls for that book to be out two years from now but perhaps it will come sooner. I have a sci-fi novel to get out next year and another novel in 2020. This is my Third Age and I cannot relax too much.

The memories of Vietnam are as vivid as though it were last year—or even last month. Memories of sweating in the shade of tropical heat. Taking turns awake on the berm surrounding the base camp at Bear Cat, sleeping atop rock hard sandbags. Listening to the brothers talking about the two Mister Charlies they were fighting—the Viet Cong and Whitey. Watching how the drinkers and the dopers responded to nighttime alerts—the former in a daze, slowly, and the latter with no impediment. So a few months in, I joined the smokers—buying the shredded salad sized bags of marijuana that went for five dollars. Eventually I gave into the illicit sex too, in shacks with walls made of ammo crates from American munitions.

In WFW, I recounted my loss of innocence and the shattering of illusions about America’s virtue. We weren’t really there to fight for and protect those people. We were there fighting the Cold War by proxy. Fearing that the “domino effect” could mean the loss of all of Southeast Asia to Communism. Many soldiers and their superiors called the Vietnamese by racist epithets such as Gooks or slope-heads. Five American Presidents, I later learned, could have avoided the deaths of more than 58,000 Americans. But at every decision point, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon took the wrong turn. Then they lied incessantly about what was happening and why were there.

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