In about two weeks I will be attending the Khe Sanh Marines Reunion in San Antonio, Texas. As I write, my mind is full of memories that are now nearly 50 years old, yet still fresh.
My thoughts are crowded with faces and images of that place where, in 1968, I and some 5,000 of my Marine brothers, some Navy doctors and medical personnel operating the medical facility we called Charlie Med, and a handful of Seabees, and Air Force guys, endured the 77 day long, Tet Offensive siege at the Khe Sanh air base in Quang Tri Province.
We all answered the call back then. Some were drafted, most had volunteered. We went to Vietnam as naive kids and came home different. Some were hardened by the experience, others came back broken a bit for a time and had to endure their own inner struggles with the demons of PTSD. Others came back with the trauma of physical wounds that required months of healing and rehabilitation, who still suffer the effects of those wounds today. Still others came back only to be brought down by the lingering effects of Agent Orange years and decades later.
We have all lived, and continue to live our lives as best we can. We do this for the usual reasons, for the love of our families, for the good of our friends. We have enjoyed and continue to enjoy the dignity of work and making an honest living. We have, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in large ways, contributed to our neighborhoods, our cities, our country. And, in part, we did so to honor those who did not come home from Vietnam with us. We do not gather at these reunions as a gathering of heroes, but as older brothers who for a time in our youth spent time together, doing what needed to be done to protect one another. We survived. We endured and survived the hell of war together. But we know who the real heroes are. They are our brothers who gave their all there, so far away from home. They gave their all, while we, somehow, got away with giving some.
There are fewer and fewer of us attending these reunions every year. We are all in our late 60s and 70s now, some even in their 80s. Each year we have a memorial service to remember those who have died since our last gathering. It is hard for any of us to think that five decades have washed away behind us since we were young men caught up in the wild wizardry of war.
We remember those who fell there as they were at that time; young, full of vigor and bravery. Yet we gather now as men growing old, grey, bald, sometimes a little bent by the ravages of time. Life has made us all a little wiser. We have raised families and are enjoying the gift of grandchildren. Most of us are retired or close to it, but when we get together, the old camaraderie we had with those in our individual units returns as real and as vibrant as ever.
The above video is in honor of my brother and sister Vietnam Veterans. To me, you are the best of our generation. It is an honor to have served with you. May you all know the peace you deserve.