Doug Mathewson is publisher of Blink Ink.
Twenty One Guns
That Army bus was a small one, just enough room for
the eight of us and our gear.
It was hotter than the Devil’s own oven in
the summer, freezing in the winter, and leaked both spring and fall. I lived
inside that olive drab shell for better than two full years with the rest of the
Honor Guard as we bumped and wound over and back the Appalachians through West
Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee. War was what keep us busy those years ’67,
’68, and part of ’69. We took turns driving, those of us who knew how, but when
we got to our stop it was always Larry who played Taps and presented the flag to
the family. The rest of us stood at attention, after we each fired three times.
Then Larry, horn under his arm, would salute and give who-ever the folded flag.
Then we’d drive to the next one. Little towns mostly, some places not even towns
When they sent us out from base that first time, That ole
“Just because you boys ain’t too sharp don’t mean
you can’t serve your country.
You’re doin’ your duty at home is all,
shootin’ off blanks in honor of the dead.”
We honored the dead
alright, if there was enough left of ‘em to send back home. Soldiers families
tried real hard to be strong and proud for their boy, for their country.
was the brothers and sisters, high school friends. Them all being just kids like
us, crying maybe or everything held all tight inside. Wives and sweat-hearts
were the worse. Seeing them just tore me up. Tore me up bad every time. Bothered
us all one way or another. Some guys drank enough or drugged enough not to feel
it, or maybe
just not feel it as bad.
I turned eighteen on
that bus, nineteen too, and we gave out must have been better
thousand flags. Didn’t keep one. Didn’t keep anything really, just my boots
(them being the only shoes I had). Other guys on the bus, them GI’s, came and
went, and I left in my time too. What stayed with me was the families, keeping
themselves together when they were in such pain because they didn’t know what
else to do. Young girls in tears, or worse real quiet. I’ll never forget them.
Went back my old job, or near enough. Still workin’ Dairy Queen. Just mostly on
the grille now, only mop-up weekday nights’. I see kids come in, no older than
we was. Always hungry after the game or a school play. I think; well maybe where
I was those Vietnam years was like a school play. I wished so hard the dead boys
would come in from the wings, pushin’ each other and taking their bows. The
broken hearted girls smiling now, holding roses their proud daddy’s brung ‘em.
But the dead boys were still dead, and the sad girls was left to heal them
selves all up and down them back roads.