The official Sebastian Junger community
Well Sebastian, I finally caught up with you. It has been 4 years since we last met and had dinner at your restaurant. We did not have dinner this time so I owe you one next time I see you. I enjoyed your talk today and there was one jerk-off that I wanted to say something to but did not. I am not the most cultured person around and when I talk I tell it like I see it.
Needless to say this has cost me trouble now and then as well such as being kicked out of Malaysia in 1978 for telling an Immigration man he was full of shit. But that is another story for another day. Let me get back to the one for today.
I will also touch on the relationship with the troops you stayed with there as well and the courage you talked about. But back to the jerk-off.
This man was the bald headed prick that said he was a journalist (probably BS) and had written for Rolling Stone Magazine. He claims to be from the Left of the country and even though you say you are I do not believe it. You are a patriot that does things most in that room today would never have the balls to do or want to do. They are the "couch potato" warriors that live their lives through other peoples work, sweat and tears and blood. But I guess that is how it has to be or all of us that have actually been in combat would be stumbling all over the other "wanna be's".
This man asked you did the soldiers that were killed in the valley wasted their lives or died in vain. What a fucking stupid question. How the hell would you know? Do you talk to the dead soldiers and ask them what they think? Of course not, so how would you even be able to answer that question? Why would he even ask it? Chances are he has never been in the services and if he was and by chance he would most likely be a REMF sucking up to some officer to keep his ass out of the bush and away from harm.
Let me tell you the answer to that question and I am not a psychologist, pyscharist or psychic that talks to ghosts. I am an ex soldier that was in combat in 1966-67 with the 173rd Airborne Brigade(sep) A company, 2nd Battallion and saw a bit of the going on in Sierra Leone during 1997. I was a gunner on the M-60 among other things. Any one that knows the history of the "Herd" knows what we did in country and we did it well and with honor. I was with SgtMajor Charles B. Morris at Xuan Loc where he won the CMH for an 8 hour fight there.
Now to the question that man asked. I would say that 99.999% of the men killed in action would never ever say they died in vain and that their sacrifce was wasted. We all know/knew that death and dying was an occupational hazard and that it could happen at any time and any place.
Many soldiers did many things that you do not hear about during the wars and helps the locals when they can. but you never hear about that and all you get is stupid questions as the man asked you.
Worse than dying would be to have a limb blown off or your balls blown to the next country and so on. As to dying we all took it as a given and something that could happen. None of us are supermen and indestructable. To be honest deep down in our hearts we were glad it was the other guy that was killed and not us, even if no one will say it out loud.
All of the soldiers I knew, for the most part in vietnam, were there because they wanted to be. Some wanted to be tested in combat and see if they could take it. That was my reason as my dad was in WW2 and in combat so I wanted to see if i could handle it. I did in my own way and I guess I passed the test as I am still kicking (and my balls are still attached to my body although my wife says she will rip them off if she catches me messing around!) and did not let my buddies down in any firefights there. But no matter if we were there on our own wishes or we were drafted, it was where we were and we did our job.
As far as I am concerned not one soldier that died in battle died in vain and their death was not a waste of life. It is a fact of life in a war. So for the man to ask a question like that was totally uncalled for and to ask you especially in front of a lot of people shows how stupid and insensitive he is to all aspects of that area of questioning. How does he expect you to answer? " Sure all the soldiers that died in the valley was a waste of life?" That would be real bright wouldnt it even if you thought that in your quiet moments. I can just imagine the Military hearing you thought something like that. So I say tell the jerk-off to fuck off and keep his questions to himself or ask sensible questions.
We (soldiers) may whine and bitch about the country, the people, the war, dying and most of all the people back in the states trying to stop the war with protests and such. We had a job to do and we did it to the best of our ability and some even did more than the required amount and they are the heroes. Sure we were all scared and anyone that was not was a mental case or had some serious problems with reality.
But we did our job. If it meant staying on a mountain top for months or staying in a valley as yours for months and then moving, well that is the way it goes. How fucking many Hills did we take in Vietnam just to walk off after we fought for days and lost many people getting to the top? How about Hill 875 that killed off most of what was left of the 173rd 2nd Battallion? How about Hamburger Hill that was a terrible battle and they just left after they had taken it? What about all the Hills that had no damn name that we fought to take and just leave? That was not our choice to question the powers that be in that matter but do our job."It isnt ours to reason why, it's just ours to do or die"
Soldiers are workers and we are given jobs to do and we do them and move on. We may not like it but that is the way it is. I am sure that soldiers since the cave man days asked the same questions but they did the job. So asking why we walked and fought up any hill or mountain is an excercise in futility.
Next you talked about the Taliban with one leg shot off trying to get away and when he went to the virgins in the sky the soldiers cheered. Why not cheer? Do you not think the Taliban cheers when it blows the legs off an American or any foreign troops? I can remember one day in Xuan Loc when me and a NVA soldier had something similar to "Dueling Banjos" deal going.
He would shoot at me and duck behind an small palm tree and i would pop up from behind my 2" tree trunk and blaze away at him.(I must have picked the smallest tree in the whole jungle to hid behind). I do not know who was the more scared--him or me. But when I tricked him and put 20 rounds from the M-16 through his chest and made a hole the size of a volley ball that you could see through for a moment, dont you think i cheered? Hell yes i did and i wanted to jump up and do a jig but the lead that was flying around was like a sheet and it would not have been very prudent to jump and dance.
Cheering can be a release of the adrenelin you have called up during the fight and the fact that I won is enough to cheer. War is a game of sorts and when you make a winning move you cheer, gloat or whatever you want to do. I would feel no pity for the taliban man as he paid his price and took his chances just like i did in Nam and he lost. Sgt Morris who is mentioned above had 37 holes in him when the battle was over at Xuan Loc. He had many men in the platoon killed that day and when I saw him in Saigon at the hospital I asked him if he took any of the killing and war personal and he said no. It was a job and at times we are better than the other guy at doing it. I like the line from" Patton". " You are not here to die for your country you are here to make the other poor son of a bitch die for his."
Yes war is hell and when you win a little you feel like celebrating even if non combatants cannot understand it. It may seem cruel or inhumane but it is life. If that tailban had died of lack of thirst I am sure someone would have commented on it. Hell he was the enemy and he had done his best to kill Americans and others so when he bought the farm no one was sad about it. One less shithead trying to kill Americans that will not get the chance.
I enjoyed the response to the question about how you fit in with the soldiers and the fact that they would talk around you after awhile. I do not think it was they were just used to you I think it is the fact that they trusted you like a fellow soldier and why not talk around you? They talk to each other and at that point you were one of them. Just because you did not carry a weapon did not mean you were a stranger to them. The men knew you were with them come hell or high water and you would not leave them just because your "rank" if you will, would have let you go. You were one of the "boys" and they trusted you as they did each other. You were family and that is the main thing.
Someone asked you about each time you went back how did you feel and you looked forward to it. That is totally understandable to me and anyone that has been that position. It may be different for you but it was a job and one that you liked. And once you have been shot at seriously you never forget it and it can be addicting. but what is worse is coming home to a mundane job you cannot stand, with people you do not know and trying to fit in. there is no excitment in that no matter how much money you make. Watch the Hurt Locker at the end and that sums it perfectly. Going back to something that may kill you is far better than dying of boredom at a safe 9-5 job. You know the risks and you are willing to take them even when it is in the back of your mind it can kill you.
you miss the guys, even the ones you dont like and it is a time and place where no matter what or who you like the combat and the soldiers around you are a family like you will never have in the states or even with your real family. Combat makes you aware of life much more than any job can do. It can be addicting but that is life as well. we never had a lot of crazy glory hounds in our outfit but they are there and they get you killed or make heros of all of you. We had a 2nd lieutenent(?) that came out and told us he was there to get some medals. It got so bad we had to tell him that if he got killed he automatically got the Bronze Star. This guys was nuts but i think he took the hint. I do not mind getting me killed but I do not want some glory hungry idiot to get me killed.
you are glad to be back and when the shit hits the fan you ask your self have you lost your mind? It is the obvious question like asking why you are jumping out of that perfectly good C130 when you know it is going to land soon. But deep sown in your heart you know why you back in harms way again. You like it and you are with a group of guys that closer to you than your family and it feels like home away home.
As to fear it is there and you have to use it to your advantage. I know all about looking over a wall to see the guy the guy that is trying to blow my head off. It is all you can do to not think about taking right between the eyes and do you job but you do it. (Besides that if you get right between the "running lights" as we say, you will not know it anyway. So why worry?) I know that in the Xuan Loc battle i pissed my pants and I like to say it was because I had to go and I could not jump up and tell Charlie to stop the firing for a minute so i could take a wiz. Maybe it was because they scared the piss out of me. Who knows? I like the story that I could not stand up and stop the war to wiz. :)
Courage is there and it is something not talked about alot, as Sebastian said. To me it is like asking the price of a car or something you want and the salesman saying if you have to ask you cannot afford it. Courage is there or it isnt, in my view. We all do what we had to do in the war and i think at times we have a lot of courage and at times we are missing some. the situtation dictates the amount at any given time. I have seen great acts of courage and i have seen acts of cowardice as well.But who are we to judge what is right and what is not?
One person asked about PTSD and I have mixed feelings on that one. Too many people have used that for an excuse to get money from Uncle Sam. Sure war is hell and all that but once you have been shot at a few times it is not all that stressful any longer. you have learned how to do you job and how to not get killed (hopefully). I do not know how it is in the mountains of Afghanistan but in the jungle of vietnam it was so boring at times you wished for alittle firefight to break up the boredom. Notice i said "little" or preferably a VC come running out from somewhere and we all had a chance to pop a cap at him and break up the boredom of the day.
I still have flashbacks at times and had one just recently. It was so real I could smell the jungle but does that mean i have PTSD? Who knows but I like to think I came out of the war at least as good as i went in. I think it used to be called "shell shock" in WW2 and as all things it seems to have evolved into something else like PTSD. I am sure it exists but I am not sure how many soldiers have it or pretend to have it.
Ok I going to stop now as i know I have digressed from the main point of the article but I felt it was the best way to answer what I listened to today.
So Sebastian, as I have said before, you have done your duty to the country now and it is time to let others do it. You are far more courageous than i am and you have balls the size of grapefruits but there is a time to quit while you are ahead and you are ahead. But as i said and as you said, it feels good to get back to the friends you have made and the life away from the daily grind is far better than doing nothing that makes you happy or keeps your attention like a war can. Leave the wars to other people now and enjoy life with your wife.
Take care of yourself and have a good life and future and i will try to see you more than once in every 4-7 years.