NOTE: This article was originally published at Newsvine in March of 2010. It is reprinted for the Memorial Day weekend.
Well, I was in the Regular Army back in the Seventies, but I didn't see any action. In fact, I joined up the month after Saigon fell and never got past Missouri.
So, my service was pretty minimal.
Every Memorial Day I think about my old friend Hutch. He's gone now. We did a lot of things together like camping and fishing and hanging out in his garage. He didn't talk about himself much.
Hutch was a door gunner on a Huey for two tours in Vietnam. He never offered any details and I didn't ask.
I knew he'd been to 'Nam, but it was six or seven years before he told me how he got that Bronze Star I spotted by accident at his house. I had never seen it before, and I finally worked up the nerve to ask him about it. After he downed the greater part of a bottle of scotch while we sat out in his garage, he finally opened up a little. He had received the medal on his last tour.
Hutch and the crew had landed in an open field to pick up some soldiers who were under heavy mortar and machine-gun fire from the tree line. Several Hueys were already on the ground when they arrived. The incoming fire was tremendous. When Hutch saw a mortar shell explode about a hundred yards away, he also saw a guy fall to the ground where the shell hit. He left his weapon and ran out to pick the guy up.
When he got there, he discovered it was his best friend - they had joined up together. On their first tour in Vietnam they served in the same unit. On Hutch's second tour, they had been separated. The guy had taken a hit to the legs. Hutch grabbed his friend by the armpits and dragged him toward the Huey. Bullets zipped past and mortar shells exploded everywhere.
About halfway to the Huey, one mortar shell dropped directly between the wounded man's legs. His friend was killed instantly, and a lot of him ended up on Hutch. But Hutch was almost untouched because his friend's body took most of the blast.
Hutch finished dragging him back to the Huey. Then he went back out and helped a few more guys aboard the chopper, before everyone made a quick exit.
Hutch was never the same after that. He told me that when he came home from Vietnam, people spit on him at the airport. He knocked the holy crap out of one of them and he landed in jail for a few days. He began drinking heavily and finally ended up as a Delayed-Stress case.
Hutch eventually found a steady girlfriend and they lived together for many years. She managed to keep him from going completely off the deep end. He was able to hold a good job, but he smoked three packs a day and drank a half bottle of liquor nearly every day. This finally brought him serious heart problems. He had his second heart attack in the mid-1980s while leaving his parents' house after a holiday dinner - and dropped dead right on their front doorstep. He was only 42 years old.
Every Memorial Day and Veterans' Day I think about him. If I'm out camping I fire off a few shots and say something.
Hutch told me once:
'The Fourth of July don't mean s__t to me. I mean, there's nothin' wrong with it. Barbecues, fireworks, and all that stuff. But Memorial Day. That's MY day.'
He was really a nice guy. No name on the Wall, he was just another 'unofficial' casualty of the war.