Suzanne saw the book in the library and thought that I might be interested in looking at it. It’s title, Larry Borrows Vietnam. A large coffee table book, if that’s what a book of war photographs can reasonably be called. Borrows was considered to be one of the twentieth centuries greatest journalists. There is a photograph of Borrows in the book. The look of exhaustion on his face and his eyes reflect the horror that is only known by those who have witnessed the magnitude of death brought on by every war.
The book sat unopened for several days. Today I sat with the bright Tucson sun streaming through our living room window and looked through the Borrows book.
My first thoughts those of simple curiosity. Would I see any photographs of my Vietnam duty area North of the city of Hue. Would there be any of my 101st. Airborne comrades in the book. As I turned more pages my thoughts and my feelings changed. Pages 36 and 37 showed ARVN soldiers and U S advisors standing and casually looking down at the bodies of fourteen or fifteen young dead Viet Cong. Pages 52 and 53 show U S soldiers standing at attention as the flag draped metal caskets of dead U S men are being loaded for transport back to the states.
I remembered the first dead that I had seen shortly after being in country. Pages 142 and 143 shows two photos. One a priest giving communion to soldiers and the other, jungle fatigue clad men holding hands and praying. I remembered a morning on Firebase Gladiator as a priest passed out the wafers. As I turned the pages, it seemed the faces began to change. The weariness of war and death became the stare of the young men. Page 158, a young white soldier holds close, the motionless body of a black soldier. Brothers without a color difference. Page 166. A medic wraps a pressure bandage around the chest of a GI. His head wrapped in a bloody bandage that has streaked his face in blood. It’s the look in the wounded man’s face that is telling. His is the blank stare of death.
Two last photographs show another side of war. A side we today hear about in Syria and every other country that is torn apart by years of war. Stories I’m afraid we rush through in order to get on with something more pleasant. A young Vietnamese woman lays on a stretcher while an ARVN soldier kneels by her blood covered body. Two other Vietnamese women are rushing by, running to escape the slaughter. On the next page, a young Vietnamese child is laying on his back. He is a beautiful four or five year-old boy. His little shirt is covered in blood and there is a puddle on the ground under his head. His brown eyes are open and yet I’m not sure if he was still alive when that photo was taken.
It has been forty-seven years since I returned from Vietnam. I’m now an old man. The images and the memories have never, and will never leave me. Just as they never left my father’s memories of World War II. No man or woman that has ever experienced the inhumanity of man against man will ever again be innocent. There is nothing noble about war, there is only death. There has never been a day in my lifetime that has been without a war in some country. In my worst moments, I’ve come to question if it isn’t in man’s nature to kill his brother.