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Viet Nam Generation Journal & Newsletter

V3, N3 (November 1991)

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My Last War

Ernest Spencer

I've done three wars and I've had enough. I survived Vietnam. I was a founder of Nuremberg Actions out at the Concord Naval Weapons Station where I helped win one against the Gipper, during his pathetic incursion into Nicaragua. Yea team! But, I got my ass kicked bad in this last one. So I'm hanging up the guns America. Fuck it. You turds are on your own.

"I don't give a shit what you say Ernie, you was on patrol out there at Orinda," Jerry my shrink said to me. I had just agreed to let myself be institutionalized for the next seven or eight months in a VA hospital. I'm glad ole Georgie and that half wit partner of his, Danny boy, think that the Vietnam Syndrome is behind us. As usual though, we fucked up Vietnam vets have failed to get the word. There is a long waiting list to get into the PTSD program. "Don't feel bad, Ernie," Jerry my shrink said to me, "the Gulf War fiasco done stirred up a whole lot of shirt for all of us. Jerry is a blood, disabled Vietnam vet and VA Vet Center counselor. He had just recounted for me how he went berserk while in a barber shop. It was the afternoon that CNN broke the story live, on TV. Some Korean war vet started cheering. I don't have to give you the details, but after Jerry got done telling the clown what he does for a living and what he has to see very day, the guy apologized. Profusely.

What was I doing at the Orinda Bart station, that Jerry claims was a "patrol?" Just vigiling. I swear to god, I was just standing silently with a few other peaceniks, holding a sign, when I got assaulted. Two weeks in a row. Back in '87 we called ourselves the CONCORD FOUR. Every evening Lloyd, Margie, Jean and myself would meet out at the tracks and silently vigil. I resisted getting involved actively in this latest noble cause of ours as long as I could. Shit, man, if there's one thing that Vietnam taught me it's the survival one. All the flags waving, yellow ribbons and women having their first orgasms in god knows how long, while singing God Bless America, told me I had better stay low and shut up. But, I'm an old sentimentalist and a soft touch. When the shelter in Baghdad got bombed and I watched America's denial (blame the victim), I felt obligated. Yes, I know. I'm co-dependent. Lloyd was enraged. He called and suggested we reform the Concord Four. I felt like Gary Cooper going out there to Orinda Bart, the first time, on February 13. Yes, I know, an unlucky number. Why Orinda? Because Lloyd and Jean live there and it's the wealthiest neighborhood on the BART system. "the belly of the beast," as my girlfriend Pat says. I had dusted off my old piece, my weapon, and held it up for the public to see. "Veterans for Peace," is what it says. I am a provocative fucker aren't I? We showed up for the evening rush hour. Five to six-thirty p.m. Boy did we piss people off. But, as usual, we said nothing. It was too much for one upstanding businessman in a suit and tie. Donald Stone, besides the obscenities and the finger in my face, tried to punch me out. Too bad for Donnie this old gunslinger is an ex pug. His round house punches caught arms only. Yeah, I still remember how to keep em up high. What I didn't do was counter. Oh, he was so open for my famous overhand right, but I didn't. I don't know what's happened to me, but I've become an absolute sissy in my old age. I calmly called him brother and let him go. And of course the police show up after it's all over. I was so cavalier when I declined to press charges.

I had a very troubling series of dreams the night before week two. In it my lieutenants kept coming to me in the battle dress crying and hugging me. They kept telling me how much they loved and needed me. As usual, I was in a bar, the officers club, I think. I kept reassuring them that their old skipper would take care of them. I was in civvies. I was macho. I was 'the Man", once again. Two of my lieutenants from Vietnam had written from the Gulf, around Christmas time. Their letters were very nostalgic. They're colonels now and were getting ready to lead their regiments into battle. They knew it was coming. And yes, they know their ole skipper is a fucking peace nut. It don't matter to them, they know what I did for them when it counted. You'd be surprised how understanding marines can be sometimes.

I had a bad feeling about going out to Orinda on February 20, week two of our once a week vigil. But, Margie called and she was counting on me being there. Margie's a former Marine. She's not too macho. A real sweet grandmother, in fact. But she is addicted to peace. So I'm an enabler, I guess. I carry my feelings on my face. When I showed up at BART with my girlfriend, Pat, Lloyd and the rest of our gang was already there. Lloyd took one look at me and said, "What's wrong, brother?"

"I don't know Lloyd, I got a bad feeling about this," I said. It had been so long, I had forgotten. Towards the end of my tour in Vietnam (twenty three years ago), I had honed my senses to the point that I had become psychic. I knew when we were going to get hit and I was always prepared. I now attributed my feelings to the dreams I'd had the night before. Wrong. I watched Donald come down the escalator. We stood about 75 feet beyond the exit stations. He didn't see us until he went through the exit. Bingo! he went ballistic. Oh, dear friends, if looks could kill. He was carrying a big, heavy brief case and reached in and threw something that was plastic. Then he changed the briefcase to his right hand and started in with the middle finger of left like he was trying to masturbate his nose. He walked behind Helen who was on the left end of our short gray line and nailed her from the back, with his briefcase. Lloyd and I, being the two males, played our roles. We broke ranks and moved toward Helen. "Stop," Lloyd shouted. Donnie nailed Lloyd with his briefcase. Then, as though in a trance, he came onto me. I can only imagine what a woman being raped must feel like. He broke my finger on the first swing of his briefcase. Stupid me, my hands were open, instead of shut like I'd been taught. After several more blows from Donald I made an on the spot decision.

"Sir," I said, "This is two weeks in a row that you've assaulted me. I'm placing you under citizen's arrest." He went calm when I embraced him. I took him up against the wall and that is when it happened. What's it?

What really fucked me up in Nam was not the gunfights, which I had mentally prepared myself for. What fucked me up was what I had not prepared myself for, the shelling I had to take for 77 days at Khe Sanh, without being able to fight back. A BART employee in blue uniform started screaming, "Let him go! Let him go! You've got no right to arrest anyone." This incited the crowd, that turned into a mob, and it gave silent Donald new courage. The mob went absolutely bullshit. Businessmen in suits and stylishly dressed businesswomen circled me while I straddled Donald. Their screams filled the gentle Orinda air.

"You're a fucking traitor," they so proudly screamed, "We're telling the police that you started all this." I was so distracted that I didn't even do beaver shots on the women that loomed over me, circling, looking for an opening to kick me. And that is when 'it" happened. I've never done wide awake flashbacks until then. NVA in full battle dress became superimposed over the figures of America's upstanding citizens in proper business attire. Then my old daemon from Vietnam screamed at me.

My daemon in Vietnam was my "second voice". It would guide me as I'd lead my rifle company on patrol. It would question me, by pointing out danger areas, things to be concerned with. "Who is the enemy!" that old voice kept screaming to me as the figures of my old enemy kept flashing on and off the businessmen and women, who circled me like a pack of angry wolves. "Who is the enemy?" Indeed. No one got in a kick. There's one other thing about me that I'm noted for. "The look." I've had guys that tried to take me on during my old brawling days say after the fight that they knew I was going to kick their ass. My look hypnotized them. I kept making eye contact with those brave American warriors in suits and ties and they'd back up every time I did so. As soon as the police drove up, all those brave Americans disappeared like Danny did during Vietnam.

The cops took our statements, cited Donald and let him go. "Don't worry," the BART cop reassured me. "He's got real good IDs, and I told him if he did it again we'll arrest him." How reassuring that was. He also told me that he'd turn it over to the DA and they would contact me to her my side. Having been the victim of the Contra Costa County's District Attorney's officer during my concord days, I'm sure you all realize how confident I was that justice would prevail. Peace makes one so cynical, doesn't it?

As the trauma of the event began to wear off, the pain took over. Yes my friends, there is an adrenalin rush in combat and when I flashed back I got a good dose. I didn't even realize my finger was broken, my back and neck were severely strained and I was full blown PTSDed until several hours later. But, when I came down, what a crash.

After Jerry listens to the story, he tells me it was me that was responsible for my condition. "How many different ways do you know how to kill people, Ernie," he asked?

"How many ways are there?" I responded.

"Exactly," he said. "Ernie, you're a dangerous weapon just waiting to go off and one of these days one of them assholes out there is going to push you too far and you're going to really lose control. It's time for you to go into the hospital, my man." That prick made me break down and cry, when I realized that I have no power over this monster that possesses me.

"But, Jerry," I pleaded. "I been working on my shit for six fucking years now."

"Yeah, well it ain't been enough," he said. "And you got to learn to stay away from that shit that can trigger our condition. What would have happened to those fucking cowards in business suits if you'd have been carrying your M-16? Automatic, there would have been a whole lot of dead motherfuckers out there in Orinda, right?" Who am I to argue with my shrink? So I'm going to get my PhD in PTSD. I'm waiting to get into Menlo Park which for Nam guys is the equivalent of a law degree from Harvard or Boalt Hall. And fuck you George.

P.S. I checked and found out that the DA's office was going to let Donald off with just a terrible tongue lashing. Yancy was probably going to lick his ass. So I did my duty and went down to let them know that I was not just some hippie scum, like they think we all are. I took with me copies of the letters from my lieutenants. They let me talk to the newest assistant DA. He had just started a month ago. When he read the loving letter from one of my lieutenants on the official Marine stationery, he almost fell out of his chair. "Holy shit," he said. I was an artillery FO with 1/4." 1/4 is one of the battalions commanded now by my former lieutenant. There's more. This new DA is a Latino. I'm Asian. He thanked me for "paving the way for guys like me to become officers in the Corps." I was the first if not only Korean rifle company commander in Nam. I told him about how his DA's office had all the time in the world to arrest me and book me and jail me during the Concord times. But, now when I come to the DA to request that Mr. Stone be charged with violating my civil rights, his office won't do a thing. "Can you believe what that mob did to me at Orinda," I asked him?

"Yeah, man," he angrily said, "I can't believe it. Them rich white folks with silver spoons in their mouths ain't got any of their kids or grandkids over there fighting. It's guys like you and me that's got to do it for them."

"Brother," I said, "if you feel that way, how can you handle it?"

"I just close my eyes to it," he said. "I concentrate on what I got to do to make it." He seemed so sad. I didn't let up, now that I had his attention.

Ernie Spencer is the author of one of our favorite Viet Nam war novels, Welcome to Vietnam, Macho Man.

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