Nobody Gets Off the Bus:
Texts made available by the Sixties Project, are generally copyrighted by the Author or by Viet Nam Generation, Inc., all rights reserved. These texts may be used, printed, and archived in accordance with the Fair Use provisions of U.S. Copyright law. These texts may not be archived, printed, or redistributed in any form for a fee, without the consent of the copyright holder. This notice must accompany any redistribution of the text. A few of the texts we publish are in the public domain. For information on a specific text, contact Kalí Tal. The Sixties Project, sponsored by Viet Nam Generation Inc. and the Institute of Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, is dedicated to using electronic resources to provide routes of collaboration and make available primary and secondary sources for researchers, students, teachers, writers and librarians interested in the 1960s.
Today you reached retirement
with a disturbed and primal conscience.
Two 12 gauge Remington shotgun shells
saturated the field of ice that separated
body count from catatonic commitment.
Drunk and stoned, down in your worst
moment, you subpoenaed yourself
into believing the mission
was more important than the man.
Benny Mays and I were fed up with jungle warfare and our tour in Vietnam. So Benny, a young black man from Watts, refused to go on a night patrol. He had a vision, warning him tonight's combat assault would not be a bargain of events. The next morning a kangaroo court was held. A rear echelon officer addressed the jury. We have not been training Barbie dolls to kill Viet Cong, he screamed. This soldier disobeyed an order. The lieutenant assumed the air of a mythical god, delighting in a perverse passion for justice, and delivered his Pied Piper offering like the last of the true believers. His voice echoed throughout the courtroom as if each word was a blow from an ax wielder. Benny, suffering chills and fever, sagged to his knees like a sunken fence.
A kid, naive and innocent, grows up reading Fenimore Cooper's novels, never thinking about the relationship between Natty Bumppo and Indian John. On the radio, in the mountains of Montana, he listens intently to broadcasts of the Lone Ranger and Tonto. Later, as a teenager in California, at the precipice of Manifest Destiny, he reads comic books and discovers Red Ryder and Little Beaver. Never once does he question what these heroes, white and red, might say to one another around the campfire after the sun has set serenely in the West. These champions, of course, have never heard of Plato, Machiavelli, or Coleridge, but neither has he. In his mind, he unquestionably believes in the willing suspension of disbelief. After all, this is the art and craft of fiction, the illustrator's airbrush, the voice-over of authority he has been weaned on. Even though cannot hear the silence of Natty's laughter, or the father-to-son conversations Red Ryder and Little Beaver have, he has always felt a sense of loyalty and love in Tonto's words Kemo Sabe. But it isn't until he is sent over to Vietnam in 1967 that he learns cowboy heroism symbolizes genocide, that covered-wagon mulishness is nothing more than aggression, that the roles of victim and victimizer and the massacred and the massacrer have been perversely reversed.
When I came back to the states from Vietnam on 7 February 1968, DEROSing at Oakland Army Terminal from midnight to six in the morning, I was hoping my entire family would be in Stockton to greet me. Only my mother met me at the bus terminal. Naturally, I was pleased to see her, but I was bitterly disappointed that no one else had accompanied her. I didn't have a girlfriend because in Basic Training she had written me the proverbial Dear John letter. There wasn't a protester or, for that matter, an army recruiter at the terminal either. I had gotten a letter shortly before I left Camp Bearcat forewarning me that a "Welcome Home Party" was being arranged. I yearned to hear the cheers and yells from my loved ones, feel the pats and slaps on my back, the hands grasping hands, the lips touching lips, the words "We're so glad you made it back alive and in one piece" that I dreamt of it for days. I almost forgot the mortar attacks and the sniper rounds. I was in a state of short timer's frenzy. I pictured a humongous party on the 4th of February, the date I was supposed to arrive. Like all good signs born under a bad sign, the '68 Tet ruined my homecoming. On the fourth of February, swarms of Viet Cong endeavored to come through Long Binh Bien Hoa's perimeter of concertina wire to get our unarmed, young butts. I had already turned in my weapon and the rest of my gear earlier during processing. Their smoldering bodies--fresh from barrage after barrage of Willie Peter rounds--lay contorted, spread eagled, and fused to their fate, symbolic of man's ability to efface man from the planet. Was it their death or my own spiritual one that created the indifference I feel now?
It's been twenty-four years since the Nam and a little over five years since my mother died. Now, a homecoming party that never happened is nothing more than an old memory, a roll of film never developed.
Victor H. Bausch earned his master's degree in English from California State University, Stanislaus, and his master's degree in Library Science from San Jose State University. His work has appeared in Slipstream, The South Florida Poetry Review, Touchstone Literary Journal, Prophetic Voices: Anthology of War and Peace; Tour of Duty: Vietnam in the Words of Those Who Were There, and others. He is a Viet Nam veteran (1967-68), a member of Veterans for Peace, and works as a reference librarian at Monterey Public Library.