My Vietnamese Babies

by James Patrick Casey

James Patrick Casey, 1LT, Infantry, (retired), commanded the 3rd Platoon of Company C, 3rd/1st Infantry, 11th LIB. He was WIA on June 12, 1968.

If Vietnam is a part of you, you simply cannot avoid it.  Each of us, I would think, has a different perception of this sorrow.  Each of us deals with it in one's own individual way.  I would suggest to you, in a very strong and respectful fashion, that sorrow is the hallmark of Vietnam.  Please understand, as I am sure you do, that this is my perception, these are my feelings.  I put them out into the air and let them go their way.

I came to the conclusion some years ago that I would never "put Vietnam behind me."  It is as much a part of me, if not more so, than my ancient paper route, the way a summer breeze felt when I was eight years old or the overall wonder of my childhood.  I have learned to use what this sorrow has given me to try to produce happiness.

I had great difficulties in my early years after the war putting it into perspective and accepting the fact that it was a part of me forever.  For five years I could not sleep unless I had a loaded .45 under my pillow; literally, I could not get to sleep without it.  Finally, a night came when I did sleep without it.  Slowly, ever so slowly, I made peace with my demons.  I gave them some room and we have existed together in a rather comfortable fashion for a long time.  I realize that they are not something separate and apart from me.  They are me.

My sorrow from the War is not the personal deprivations I experienced (living conditions, etc.) nor is it the loss of so many comrades (though it takes my breath away to this day).  My sorrow, certainly, is not my wounds or the stinking malaria that still comes back every now and again.  My sorrow, for all time, will be the children.  I saw so many of them killed and wounded.

I had two experiences in the jungle where children died as a result of my actions.  In one instance, we were involved in a vicious firefight in a small ville; the kind of firefight that comes over you like a sneeze with its suddenness.  I tossed a grenade into a hootch that several VC had run into a moment earlier.  An instant before it went off, a five year old boy ran out of nowhere past the hootch.  The grenade went off and blew a grapefruit size hole in his side.  I ran to him and picked him up.  He bled out white in my arms in thirty seconds.

The second event was another firefight where I and two of my troopers saw a figure running away at a great distance.  Commands to halt went unheeded and we fired.  The figure dropped.  When I approached, it turned out to be a young lad of about 11 - 12 years old, unarmed.  A good portion of his skull was gone.  He was still alive and we were taking heavy fire.

I knew he was going to die and I knew I could never get a medevac in for him.  I gave him a syrette of morphine thinking that with the head wound it would kill him.  It did not.  The heavy fire continued.  We had to get out quick.  He was holding onto my thigh with an iron grip.  I ordered my men to leave and put a round through his head.

These, then, are my Vietnamese babies, as I have always called them.  They are with me every day, and not a day passes that I do not think of them and talk to them in some way.  They are my sorrow.  They are my cross.  They are my Vietnam.  There are some days, every now and again, when I am driving down the road and I think of them and begin crying in an uncontrollable fashion.  It passes and I am fine.  To this day, I have a great deal of difficulty in even listening to a child cry.  It breaks my heart.  These events took place in war; yet they belong to me.

There are times, not infrequently, when I am infuriated by having had this experience of Vietnam.  My wife of thirty years, to this day, knows not to walk up behind me.  A loud, unexpected noise causes me to start for the ground.  I look at a piece of terrain in military terms:  fields of fire, high ground, ridge lines, etc., and then I look at the beauty of the land.  I cannot sit in a restaurant without being able to see the majority of people there.  I wonder what my life would have been like without all of this.

Yet I would not give it up.  The Good Lord, in His mysterious way, allowed me to see and experience all of this and then gave me the strength to put it into a proper perspective.  I have learned that you have to make your own light in the darkness. No one else can do it for you.  If you do not make your own light, then you will become the darkness.  I never wanted that to happen to me.

Do not carry unnecessary crosses.  Vietnam pierced my heart.  There is no room in it for anybody other than my Vietnamese babies.  I hope that all of you have made some peace with this darkness that is Vietnam.  I refuse to let it damage or hurt me anymore than it has already done.  I can look it square in the eye now; yet it has been a crawl up the mountain to be able to say that.  It is amazing, truly amazing, what we can absorb and how we can endure.

"I have beheld the agonies of war through many a weary season; seen enough to make me hold that scarcely any goal is worth the reaching by so red a road."  Thomas Hardy

We have all walked in that far off, dark world.  We have all spoken to demons.  We have all been allowed to return with the knowledge and wisdom we gathered in that terrible place.  The passing of the years has taught me that, in the midst of that gargoyle world, there was beauty.  The beauty is in the lessons of life learned in that place and carried forth into our respective lives.

I have no doubt that each of us has been successful in our respective endeavors because of these lessons.  I have no doubt that each of us is viewed in our respective communities with some degree of awe (overt or covert) as having been through what few humans ever experience.  I have no doubt that each of us sees life differently than most other humans because of the lessons.  I have no doubt that each of us views a child, hears a laugh or observes the simplest things in life differently than most other humans because of the lessons.

We are, each of us, messengers.  I think that each one of us realizes this fact.  I think that each one of us recognizes and welcomes, with open arms, the enormous responsibility of being such a messenger.  One has to be a gentleman to have walked this far.  There is no doubt in my mind that you are a gentleman.  As proud as I am to have been given the task of the messenger, I am equally proud to walk with you.

"And yet, and yet, Is this my dream or the truth?"  William Butler Yeats

A tribute
To all those American crosses throughout the world,
To all those magnificent Americans who loved their country enough to give up their lives,
To all who answered the call whenever and wherever,
To all who left behind loved ones because they did love them,
To all who suffered the wounds of battle either in flesh or spirit,
To all who had the courage to walk on the Dark Side,
To all who live with the ghosts of that faraway place,
I am humbled by your quiet dignity.
I am awed by your unselfishness.
I am proud to have walked with you.
On this Independence Day, I do not forget you.
Rather, I celebrate you.
Your are the colors of The Flag
And the breeze that gently moves it.
Than you, my dear friends.
God Bless:  Charlie Three Zero Out

This reflection by James Patrick Casey was originally published in the July-August-September 2000 edition of the Americal Newsletter.  With his permission, it has been posted on the FSB Hill 4-11 website.  For a point of reference, the title "My Vietnamese Babies" was provided by Charlie Wood.

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