Saturday, January 17, 2015


....the real deal



"That   strange feeling we had in the war.
 Have you found anything in your lives since to equal it in strength?
A sort of splendid carelessness it was, holding us together."  -Noel Coward
                The cold beer tasted good -- El Presidente.   A mellow flavored beer made with rice in the Dominican Republic.  Jewish German refugees originally brewed the beer in honor of Presidente Trujillo back in the forties when they were running from Hitler and settled on the north coast of the country.    The sun was already settling into the western sky as I stood and gazed out over the green expanse of the hillside below my villa.       The turquoise colored water of Vieques Sound beyond the shoreline helped to sooth my emotions.    As I lifted my eyes to the horizon and studied the small island of Culebra, the conversation I had just finished on the phone from a Doctor Williams in Florida now played back in my mind.  Williams said things like, "...he doesn't have long now... he is slipping in and out of consciousness."     Jesus, I thought in sudden anger -- it just wasn't fair.
I have always been careful about promises.     I can remember people saying, "But, you promised”.     Then you were on the hook.      So, as I have grown older and maybe a little wiser, I started being more careful when it came to making promises. Still, I have made a few promises that I fully intend to honor -- no matter what -- if it's at all possible.
As the years have passed in my life, I now only have three or four real friends, the kind of friends that you would do almost anything for, and I have entered into sort of a pact with two of them.    Yes -- I made promises and I pray I will be able to keep them.     You never know in life's game of chance.   But James "Jimmy" Jones and I go back a long way... nearly twenty years.    The promise I made to Jimmy was that if he was dying, I would find him and be there when one of the guys from behind that long black marble wall reached out for him.... and Jimmy knew what he was talking about, 'cause Jimmy had been dying for a long time now’.
Before I met Jimmy, he did a couple of tours in Vietnam when he just was out of his teens.    In fact, he was just 21 when the military was through with him.    Sort of used him up and then dumped him out on the street.    
My name is Scott Martin.   I've been playing cat and mouse with old man death myself for almost sixty years.   I've been playing the long odds, and so far my luck has held.  Still I know its craps for all of us sooner or later.
My old man was in the big one, WWII.    My mom and I survived the attack on Pearl Harbor hiding under a table in our military apartment while my dad's ship, the light cruiser, USS California was going to the bottom in the harbor.  He was re-assigned to a heavy cruiser and left for the 'duration' -- in other words, he went to the eastern Pacific and didn't come back until the wars end.    
Mom and I finally made it back to the west coast, where we waited out the next four years -- mom passed the time building B-24 bombers for the McDonnell Douglas Company in Long Beach.
I enlisted in the military when I was a few days past 17 and did the whole tour -- twenty years.      When my Navy career was over, my marriage to the mother of my two children was over too.  It was then that I said fuck it and sailed off into the sunset -- literally.   I had learned how to sail in Japan after two tours in Vietnam, from '66 to '68.      It was the most important thing that had happened in my life, a pivotal point -- that and those years in 'Nam.
It was when I sailed into St. Thomas in the late 70's that I met Jimmy.  And now, Jimmy is in the Veterans Hospital up in Miami, and I am on an airplane to fulfill my promise.   I am glad I can do it -- but there is nothing I can do about Jimmy.
Jimmy was originally a Texas boy -- a military brat.    The whole family was military men for as far back as anyone knew.  I guess Jimmy didn't really have a choice, he just knew that he would one day join up, but he never expected Vietnam...     I know I didn't.
I was the new kid on the block back in those heady days of arriving in Charlotte Amelia after a year out of Florida aboard my sailboat Gypsy.    I found the little watering hole on the waterfront the first day I dropped anchor off the Coast Guard Station across from the old pink Customs House.    The Carousel became my official hangout, partly because Smilin' Jack, the West Indian who ran the joint welcomed me with those incredible pearly white teeth smiling out of that black face of his, that first day I walked in and ordered a cold Heineken, and partly because I would meet Jimmy.   
That first day he was holding court at his end of the bar.     I had seen him give me the once over as soon as I came in off the hot street and slipped into the well worn barstool under a lazy overhead fan that helped chase the heat and the bugs away.   He wasn't overt about it, but he sized me up in a micro-second and then went on with his business.    Jimmy was about thirty and well built, with a casual manner.   He was a typical gringo with sandy brown hair, a neatly trimmed beard, and soft friendly blue eyes that hid his true thoughts.  He wore the standard garb of the island expatriates -- shorts, sandals and a faded tropical shirt.   A pair of expensive Ray Bans sat on the bar next to his own sweating bottle of Heineken and a wad of bills.

It was on my third visit to the Carousel, when Jimmy walked in and took the empty stool next to me, calling out to Smilin' Jack, "Give us a couple of the green ones, Jack..."  Then he stuck out his hand and said, "The name's Jimmy”.

“Scott”, I answered, taking his hand and feeling his strength testing mine. We hit it off right away, and went through the old drill -- where you from?  Where you been?  And where are you going?   Within a week, we were beginning to get tight.
Still, Jimmy was, if not secretive, reserved.   He talked in generalities, nothing real, skirting the personal -- but if you listened close; you could gather the fragments and put together a cohesive story.  Jimmy seemed easygoing and friendly, but he was still wary, and I could sense he was hurting; something was eating at him deep inside.   I knew he was carrying some baggage from Vietnam, most of us were, some more than others and some more than they could stand.   Suicide statistics were already beginning to surface from VA hospitals and veterans groups.    War does things to men and women, but it's the guys that usually wind up with the monkey on their backs and not just the emotional chimp.    There were a lot the guys using drugs as a crutch.   After all, most got started on the best grass, opium and heroin the golden triangle could produce.   I can remember guys talking about Tai Sticks, high grade grass, soaked in opium -- you did one of those on Friday, and didn't come down until Monday.
World War Two had its share of causalities called survivors, and Korea was a bitch -- a real mind fuck -- a war that wasn't a war, and for the first time we heard about 'brainwashing', but 'Nam turned out to be in a class by itself.  'Ya had to have been there, and if you weren't... well, you just would never understand.    And that was because 'Nam was a media war -- oh shit -- it was a 'conflict'.    Yeah -- it was a war that came right into your living room and shared the dinner table with you and the kids and we were supposed to take the best trained and equipped army in the world and kick those fucking little zipper-heads back into China where they belonged, bringing freedom and prosperity  to the Vietnamese -- whoever they were.    
Of course, not everything that was said and did made its way into the homes of most Americans.    In reality, most Americans never knew what was really going on -- not then anyway.
Vietnam was a rock and roll war -- rock and roll -- lock and load.  There were Temptations, the Supremes, Jefferson Airplane, the Mamas and Papas, Joe Tex and the Rolling Stones.     It was a psychedelic war and the grunts all wanted to be flower children in San Francisco, getting their share of the young free pussy, instead of pounding the boonies in some nameless valley or jungle or wading knee deep in shit through a stinking rice paddy.    It was a war with peace signs, and beads, and necklaces strung up with dead Vietcong ears and the Ace of Spades left in a gook's mouth --psychic ops they called it.   The Vietnamese were a superstitious bunch of fucks.    It was a war of the 15 to 1 ratio -- fifteen remfs (rear echelon motherfuckers) and one guy humping a sixty pound pack with a M16 in a fire fight.    It was a war of supply sergeants getting rich selling everything that wasn't nailed down out the back door of the base and into the streets of Saigon, Chu Li, Da Nang  and dozens of two-bit towns and villages.   It was a war of starched khakis for majors and colonials, with air conditioned clubs and hooch's and R&R in Tokyo.  It was a war of the Saigon Cowboys, pimps on wheels, and MACV, White Mice, and raven haired whores calling out, hey GI, "You want make boom boom" or "buy me drink -- I love you, no shit."   It was a war of the LBJ stockade and the Big Max with twenty thousand inmates, and it was a war of the Black Rose -- sure fire death from some sweet pussy.   It was a war of deceit and lies, double cross and waste.  It was dumb, stupid, and truly a war of older men playing with young men's lives and of course, it had been Jimmy's war.
It didn't take me long to figure out that Jimmy was a drug dealer.   He was hooked up with some money men from Puerto Rico.   There would be a mule up from Columbia and the transfer in St. Thomas and the delivery in Puerto Rico -- easy and smooth.    The rule was, we didn't talk about it.
We became brothers.   Vietnam was the glue and St. Thomas was a time and place where friendships came together -- hanging out -- drinking -- smokin' dope -- chasing the ladies and living the life.
Jimmy's dad had been a full bird Colonel, and there had been an uncle in Europe, flying bombers, a hero, and the great grandfather, a brigadier, in the Civil War. 
It was a legacy and a tough act to follow.     The draft was eyeing young Jimmy not long out of high school in New York.  Jimmy beat 'um to it, and enlisted.   It was early '66 and he was nineteen.

The army sent him to Georgia for basic training, and there he qualified for the Airborne Infantry with advanced training.    He learned the ways of the bush and swamps.    The army was methodically planning on making a professional killer out of this eager young man.
We were manning the bar one afternoon.   The tourists were crowding the streets on Back Street and in Drake's and Palm Passages.    It was a splendid day with rich blue sky and cotton candy cumulus clouds floating over the harbor filled with yachts and cruise ships moored up to the West Indian Docks.     We had passed a joint earlier and now we were quenching the inevitable thirst with cold beer.     I had seen the ragged and pitted scars on Jimmy's leg many times, but I had never asked about it.    The question just rolled off my tongue.  "Tell me how you got those scars on your leg?"
Jimmy looked over at me, almost quizzically, like a silent why?   Then he relaxed and said, without emotion, "Got shot!"
        I nodded, looking out the window at the people passing by, thinking better to push it, the overhead fan was oscillating, a little out of balance... it made a whoosh, whoosh sound...always in the background.   Smilin' Jack had the jukebox turned low and island music played softly.
Then I heard Jimmy start up.  "It was an insertion."    Then he laughed and said, "Ya know what my first job was in Vietnam?   Burning shit!   I had been assigned to the 90th Replacement Unit and as a buck-ass private in the rear ranks, we had to fish out these 55 gallon steel drums cut in half, out from under the shit-houses with long hooks... then pour diesel oil in 'um, stir 'um up and burn up the shit."   Jimmy wrinkled his nose. "Christ, I can still smell the aroma -- what a mixture -- diesel and shit!"
A real piece work was passing in front of the Carousel.   Young -- cutoffs and a thin tie-die cotton tank top, with grapefruit sized jugs swaying in step -- she was gone in an instant.               "...well, that didn't last long.   There was always a fresh plane-load of new recruits coming in -- things moved pretty fast in those days.     You know how I got to the 'Nam?"   Jimmy looked over at me."
I thought I knew, but shrugged.
"The army flew us into Bien Hoa on a charted Branif 707, all painted out in some wild- ass design by Calder, with a half dozen mini-skirted stews serving us catered food. They had to squat instead of lean, or you would be looking up their tender asses.  I had a hard-on for ten hours."  Jimmy smiled with the memory.     "Our welcome committee was some VC loosing off mortar rounds on the airfield.  We had to maintain a holding pattern until they got that under control."
I was still thinking about those Branif Stewardesses -- the gold mines between those girls legs were only being plowed by the brass on their RON's (remain over night).

Smilin' Jack caught my eye and brought over a couple of fresh bottles.
Jimmy seemed to be on a roll.   "...when the shit burning job came to an end I was sent to the Forth Infantry Division out at Plieku, up in the central highlands.   You know, typical grunt stuff, fucking cannon fodder.  I was not a happy camper.    Then one day this guy shows up in these fancy fatigues and everyone knew what they were. Tiger Fatigues -- set them apart from the rank and file.     He had sergeant stripes -- staff, and he wasn't much older than I was.   He was on a recruiting mission for Long Range Reconnaissance (Lrrps).   He said they traveled light, ammo and food, and worked in small groups.    The long and short of it was four of us volunteered."   Jimmy paused and chugged down some beer.
He was working into it now.  "They sent us to Nha Trang, the Special Forces camp for training -- insertion, extraction, rappelling out on big wire rigs.   We were instructed with special sniper rifles." Jimmy's voice trailed off for a moment.
"Sounds to me like a hit team." I injected.
Jimmy grinned.  "Exactly, then he picked up the story.    “Well, there were four man sniper teams, using modified and silenced M14's and 308's, six man ArcLite teams spotting for B-52 raids up on the borders of  Laos and Cambodia, and the supply trails -- Steel Tiger the Navy called it. 
Special Forces was also running nine man Killer teams, eight GI's and one Montagnard, and twenty man raiding teams, two military and eighteen Yards, strictly assassination type stuff, in and out of country."
"So... where were the orders coming from?   Was the CIA running the show?"  I asked.
Jimmy hesitated a moment.
"In other words”, I picked it up, "these insertion teams were primarily a military operation.  The planners decided certain people needed taken out for the good of the war effort... is that right?"  I asked once more.
"You got it."  Jimmy seemed momentarily relieved.  "We had to take cameras with us -- we had to assassinate any individual that was not beneficial for our mission. If the slope had rank, we would take him alive if possible.  The higher the rank, the better odds for survival.    Otherwise, we would shoot everybody else, take photographs for a body count, pile up the weapons, toss incinerary grenades on them to melt the stuff and take pictures of that too.    All the film went back to the intelligence people."
It seemed as if I had to lead Jimmy through this thing.   "So -- uhh -- so, you're out on a mission, and things go bad."
Jimmy swilled the last of his beer.   Smilin' Jack was already reaching into the box.  He sat the two fresh ones down and ambled off. 
"Yeah... you might say that.    This one job, I was the team leader -- twenty years old, of a nine man killer team.  We went out on what we called a 'Happy Day Ambush'.    We set up thirteen Claymore mines to go off simultaneously.   It was basically an L-shaped ambush, with an M-60 set up to strafe the killing zone and the rest of the guys spread out with thirty round clips on their M-16, and fragmentation grenades ready.  Off the road we would run detonation cord."    Jimmy gave me a wink. "We would get in position and wait.  We wanted no less that thirty people and no more than one hundred in the trap and when we got 'um -- 'click' -- we would light off the claymores, cut loose with the M-60, the M-16's and the 'frag' grenades.   The claymores would blow the gooks off the road, then the fragmented DETCORD would blow the remains back on the road and the M-60 would continue to chop up anything that was still moving -- the whole thing might last for two minutes.  Then we would split into twos and move in, pop anyone who was still moving, unless they had rank and were what we called survivable.  Of course we would grab souvenirs -- pistols, belt buckles, and insignia -- all the personal shit and anything that even remotely might be Intel."  Jimmy paused, obviously deep in the memory.
"What was your rank at the time?"
Jimmy slipped back into the present.   "I was an E-4, but later they gave me a couple of blood stripes.  I had E-6 once, but lost them... well, that's another story."   Jimmy chuckled.
"So, you are telling me, that you were running this team as a buck sergeant... making those life and death decisions?"
"Absolutely.  Believe me -- I wasn't the only one."
"What about the time you got hit?"  I interrupted.
“Yeah... well now.  It was another insertion.   We had intelligence about a force of North Vietnamese regulars.   They dropped us in about 5:30.    It was still light out and the bush was thick and damp -- hot and sticky -- we were soaked with sweat and already stinking -- you never got over the fear.  We located a trail that looked good for an ambush.   I sent my assistant team leader down the trail and I moved up -- just a little recon -- about one hundred meters out.  It gets dark in the woods.  The bush was creeping in with the shadows and night sounds starting up.  Fucking air was alive with insects, always buzzing and biting... fucking bugs.    Then, I saw this guy… he was cutting bamboo sprouts, looking for fruit -- he was scroungin'.    So, well, let’s see -- uh, I had a 12 gauge shotgun -- pump action, and a Browning 25 in my boot, and a nine millimeter here," Jimmy patted his left side”,I had bummed the High Power Browning from some other agency people.   I slipped up on the dumb shit and butt stroked him in the back of the head.   I wanted to take him for Intel, but there was this other guy in a tree that I didn't see, and like a flash, he dropped out and stabbed me in the chest.  I grabbed his arm and rolled with him and pulled free.  Uhh, we carried -- uhh, our team was called Apache Raiders -- the Indians.”"
Jimmy was excited and having a hard time keeping the story in sequence.    "...the fucking gook had a 50 caliber shell casing with a blade sticking out of it... that's what he stuck me in the breastplate with -- I mean that's what saved me, the breastplate.    When he hit me, my shotgun went out behind me, so I grabbed him and rolled, then I jumped up -- then the guy starts to get up."  Jimmy was breathing a little faster.   "I pulled my Tomahawk.  We carried these Tomahawks, a double blade with a skull spike.  I whacked him like this -- whoosh."  Jimmy made a sideways sweeping movement. "Sliced him across both his eyes, then again." He made an overhand chop gesture. "The gook dropped to his knees and raised his hands in the air -- there was blood everywhere -- I musta' hit a big vein -- he was trying to yell, making these chirping noises -- like a frightened bird -- then,  I went whack again -- popped him in the forehead -- but, I couldn't pull the hatchet out, so I kicked him in the chest.
Then this other guy comes out the bush and starts shooting.  He hits the VC I was fighting with and a round slams through my leg, which flipped me up in the air and I hit the ground hard.  I was trying to shake it off and I am thinking my team is back at the ambush point and I am hoping they can hear this shit happening.   I'm saying to myself...what the fuck.  I still had two weapons on me, plus my Fairbanks commando knife -- uhh, I didn't even realize I had it -- I was scared like a motherfucker.   So, here I am, on my ass -- I start scooting backwards, just trying to get out of there and now I can hear some other gooks coming, they're talking shit -- the guy that shot me is still taking shots, mostly into the woods and I'm still scrunching back.    Then all of a sudden, my shotgun comes up between my legs -- just like a giant fuckin' hard-on -- I mean, ho-ho-ho.    I had double-aught buck in it and the last one was a slug -- seven rounds.   I blew apart the dink that was popping rounds and a couple of dumb shits that stuck their necks out, then I got up and hauled ass."  Jimmy seemed to make a sigh of relief, like he was back in the bush. "I got back to my team and for some reason I thought I was gut shot. I didn't realize I had been shot in the leg --blew part of my calf off -- more superficial then life threatening.   I mean, my team almost blew me away -- they were set up on a defensive when they heard all the shooting.    If I hadn't been crashing through the bush like a goddamn bear, screamin' and hollerin'...”   Jimmy eased off the stool. "Gotta take a leak."
Smilin' Jack moved up.  "Jimmy don' be talkin' too much o 'dem war stories.    He told me a few 'tings sometimes late at night, when no body else be aroun'."   Then he headed off for some guy wanting a fresh beer....
My own tours in Vietnam had been with the navy.  I had never been in the boonies, or humped a pack and a M-16 or been in a firefight, but I had spent almost two years of my life, working sixteen hour days, months on end, without a break, once logging almost one hundred days at sea on Yankee Station, flying combat sorties round the clock, briefing the pilots, waiting for their return and finally giving up on twenty-nine of them.  It was another facet to the war.    How can you describe this monster attack aircraft carrier, with its warplanes and missiles and bombs -- a living, breathing, fighting, war machine -- an ultimate weapon -- equipped with five thousand humans, all dedicated to keeping it alive and ready to wage war.   Still, I had a dry bed to sleep in, except for the sweat from the ninety degree heat in the berthing compartments and then there was the constant noise of generators, ducting, jet aircraft engines whining at impossible decibels, the thunder of returning aircraft slamming onto the steel deck.   The thousands of pounds of arresting wire screeching across the deck after trapping a landing bird and all the other countless sounds of men and equipment working aboard the floating airfield -- day in and day out.
I looked up from my own thoughts as Jimmy slipped back on his stool, reaching for the green bottle.    Casually, I asked.  "So -- uhh, what happened next -- out there in the sticks?"
Jimmy looked a little tired... in fact; he had been saying he felt like he was always on the verge of getting the flu, lately.  "Well, out on long range recon, we were always set-up with good backup -- we had the old prop driven Skyraiders, loaded for bear.   We had choppers with two electric mini-guns -- uhh, you know -- gattlin' guns -- cut down a whole field in seconds.  Yeah, we had super backup, well, depending on the climate -- the weather.    After, I got back to my team, we called for a chopper, to get the fuck outta' there.   I still thought I was gut shot, but, it was my stab wound, bleeding like a motherfucker, soaking up my shirt down my chest.   Now, we always carry... uhh, we had four morphine syrette -- uhh, spring loaded ones -- uhh, everything we wore, we all wore in the same place, so if a man went down, you could get to his shit in the dark, or in a cluster fuck.    Shit -- we knew -- ehh, we got to get outta' there.   We beat feet for the LZ (landing zone) where the backup is on the way, I mean, we had basically just inserted, but it was already twilight.  I was on the radio, third man back, talking on the radio -- uhh, I ran into a tree.   Boom -- I'm knocked flat on my ass and the radio goes sailing off.    Fuck -- I'm laying there -- stunned.   Then I could hear the VC and I could hear dogs.   First time I ever heard dogs.  We had no Intel on the VC using dogs, nothing, nada.   I was saying to myself.  'Holy shit... here they come!'    I had some stuff I had bartered from the Christians in Action (CIA) guys.  A canister of what we called 'happy gas' -- makes 'ya shit, piss, and puke and burns your eyes like tear gas and I had some smokes too.   So I lit off this stuff, hoping to cause confusion and give me some cover, then I grabbed up the radio and hauled butt.    Christ, I almost got shot again, by the team, when I got to the landing zone and by this time a couple of the Skyraiders which had gone north and dropped their ordinance came in with a full load of 50 calibers.   They started cutting up the area to the west, where the NVA regulars were still moving in from.    Well, we were all huddled up, waiting for the pickup and I got myself washed up a bit, and looked at my leg -- it looked like hamburger -- eh, you know my calf -- was, eh, shot -- and I was bleeding pretty good down there and I had a couple of nicks from grenades going off."  Jimmy sucked in his breath.  "You are supposed to stick your morphine syrette in your collar, so if you pass out, uhh, they know.  These are spring loaded ones -- pow!  I shot myself up.   I mean this is combat, right.   The fuckin planes are coming in, shooting up the place, we're shooting -- spraying the fucking area... trying to keep the perimeter clean. Uhh...there was a whole bunch -- we didn't realize how many bad boys were in there...uhh, they didn't give us the right fucking Intel -- honest, we thought we were setting up next to a battalion, but, we later found out it was part of a goddamn division and we dropped in right next door.     We skirted, uhh, the guys getting the fruit were the guys from, uhh, the NVA battalion that were coming ahead and scrounging for food -- for something to eat.  Ha!
                "I looked at my leg again, I was scared.   We got a call in from the chopper -- they said, OK -- we're coming, we're coming to get 'ya -- almost there.   Uhh, they were called the Crocodiles and the Ghost Riders.    They were going to bail us out... uhh, and they were good people, we could depend on them, but if it got dark, we were fucked.    And, uhh, I kept looking at my leg, it looked like a mess and I started feeling... bad.   I shot myself up again.  Another morphine syrette -- pop -- threw it away.   Shit... all of a sudden, I couldn't talk on the fuckin' phone.   I handed it over to my assistant team leader, Marlow.  I mean, he really grabbed it outta my hand and I'm trying to hang on to my shotgun -- two pops of morphine -- shit.     Then the choppers came in and were spraying the perimeter with...uhh, those mini-gun slugs were taking care of everything.  But the NVA really didn't want us knowing their strength, so they weren't pushing it.  Oh, they wanted our ass, but it wasn't worth it.  Then the gun ships came in... Uhh, the old slicks, not Cobras -- but, the Hueys, with those gattlin' guns.   Four of those guys hammering the shit out of everything.   Then the two pickup ships.  As they dropped down, the noise was deafening.   There was dust and debris scattered everywhere.  I saw four of the team get on the first chopper, then the second bird set down and I was thrown in that one -- uhh -- Christ, Tony Sullivan was the last guy out.  He jumped on the skid, hanging onto the door jam, when the fucker lifted off.  I was looking around, trying to focus, looking at Sullivan and the door gunner.   They were looking at me.   I could hear these people talking -- I guess I looked pretty bad -- the cuts and stuff and I had blood all over me from the chest wound, my leg looked like shit.”
                "Then the med guy is standing over me and he's pulling out a fucking morphine Syrette.  I can't say anything, my mouth don't work and I'm thinking, fuck, I'm outta' here -- this guy is gonna' OD me and he did, he fuckin' popped me -- just -- eh, probably because he, ehh, he had been on so many medivac type stuff and this wasn't a medivac chopper, but for him, well, it was the same shit.   Now, I'm laying there and I couldn't move -- then I was out! “
                "Now, Sullivan, while all this shit is happening, I mean, it's really only seconds... he got shot in the ass -- falls off the chopper and lands on his back, on a root, like a punji, sticking out the dirt and it goes through his side, the fleshy part.   I had been looking at his face and he was smiling and laughing and then he disappeared and that's when the med guy hits me with the morphine.  Like shit, Scotty, I made it out and now I’m gonna’ fucking die from an overload of morphine.   I was out of it!   Sullivan, thank god, only fell about twenty feet and the door gunner jumped out when the chopper sat back down and pulled him back in."
It was Heineken time, and I signaled Smilin' Jack....
Jimmy relaxed a little bit, stretching his shoulders. "Well, anyway, we wind up in this med station, like MASH.   I'm laying there.   They got all my clothes cut off and I'm coming around.   I'm still drugged up but I can see in this mirror them working on my leg.   It was like someone lifted this huge weight off me, I knew I was OK   I knew my leg was OK -- I shoulda' known all along... but, when the ammo is flying, and the adrenaline is pumping, you ain't thinking about leg or stab wounds.   You just are re-acting.”
                "A week later, I am still in the med station... in the ward, and all my guys from the team come in.   They are all fucked up -- sick as dogs -- all of them.   What -- uhh -- what the fuck happened, I wanted to know.   They had snuck in and stole a bunch of meat from an artillery unit.   Some honey hams -- it was bad -- they all got food poisoning.    They had been laid up for days and were still weak as hell.   I mean, Jesus, they coulda' died from fucking green ham for Christ sake, right in the middle of the 'Nam.     Hey, man... that's enough war stories for now."
"OK, Jimmy”, I said.
After a year of sailing the British and US Virgin Islands, I finally decided to move on.   Jimmy and I would always team up when ever I was in Charlotte Amelia and he eventually set up camp in Puerto Rico.   We were always going to be friends, even though we both walked our own paths.    And our paths did continue to cross one another for years to come. 
                We didn't see each other for more than six years at one stretch, and when we did, I knew something was wrong with Jimmy.   He was ten years younger than I was, but he was showing his age.   For a long time, I thought it was the drinking and the life, but we finally both agreed he had to get some answers.   After a series of tests in a San Juan Veterans Hospital, he got the bad news… leukemia.    We both also knew it was the 'Nam sucking at him again.  Agent Orange!    Jimmy wasn't the only one.     One thing about Agent Orange... it was non-discriminatory.   It went after the officers’ right along with the enlisted swine.  That shit really leveled the playing field.
I had decided to hang with Jimmy for awhile.   It's tough getting a death sentence tossed in your face. Jimmy needed his friends.   Sometimes we would find a little strip of sand with a stand of palm trees, take some beers in a cooler and some rolled ones, then sit and get stoned -- talking the shit -- remembering the times and the life.     
As much as we hated the 'Nam, somehow, we loved it at the same time.  How perverse.
"You gotta' promise me something, Scotty,” Jimmy said one of those times we sat getting high on beer, grass and the memories.  
And that was it…I was weak, and even though I remembered the curse of a promise, I said, "Sure, Jimmy, anything 'ya want, amigo."
"If 'ya can -- try to be with me when I check out, man."  Jimmy reached out and gave me a hug.
I felt the tightness in my throat. "Hey, bud -- you're gonna' be around a long time -- don't worry about that crap."
"Yeah -- you're right." He laughed without vigor. "Still, just promise me -- OK?"
"Sure, Jimmy, sure."
Years back, Jimmy had met a gal named Patty.   She had been the best thing that had happened to him and his life had been good those last years.    I had met Patty a couple of times -- we got along good.  Now, I would see her once again, not the best of circumstances.   Still, I think she always knew what she was getting into and they had been a great couple and there was the love.
I never knew if Jimmy realized that I was with him in the end.   I held his hand one sunny afternoon a couple of days after I had got to him.   I could hear birds singing outside, and palms rustling and swaying.   The sun was low in a lonely sky, casting long shadows on green manicured lawns.  I could even imagine the sound of a gunship chopping the air.  I thought I felt him squeeze down just a little, and then he died....
The sun was high over Vieques Sound.  The sky is the same rich blue color I had seen it so many times over the Gulf of Tonkin -- over thirty years ago.   I try not to think about the 'Nam much these days, but it has carved out a comfortable nitch in my mind and we have come to live with each other.   Sort of an agreement.
There is a sweet smelling sea breeze cooling the hillside, and a pair of Redtail Hawks are soaring in the updrafts, their sharp eyes studying the vegetation, below, looking for a meal.   I can see the offshore reefs breaking over the rocks and coral, surrounded by the breathtaking hues of the water and there are a dozen or so sailboats tacking off... somewhere.    I have a good view from my balcony.
                I took a long pull on the cold beer.   That was all I allowed myself these days, along with an occasional glass of wine with a fine filet.    My pot smoking days were long past, another time, another place.
Jimmy was laid to rest in a Veterans Cemetery; a field of crosses, simple upright stones and stars of David, back home in Texas, along with his daddy, the uncle and the old civil war brigadier.   The army sent a detail and a guy played taps nearby, while a smart gun salute was rendered.   The low rolling hills guarding the burial grounds were alive with Texas Blue Bonnets, yellow daisies, and wildflowers.   Way off in the distance, there was a thunderstorm rumbling -- like the sounds of far off mortars.   There is a single star carved on the white stone -- for the Silver one he got when he was twenty years old, after some bullshit mission back in Vietnam.    The medal that Jimmy always used to say, "Don't mean shit, man."  Still, I never got one.    Yeah... Jimmy's war was over, but one day all the guys from the team will get together once again -- Tony, Dave, Miguel and all the rest, and tell the stories....