Our second favorite Texan (Tom Cruise has top hono–? Oh? TED CRUZ has top honors) has returned from furlough repentant in his ways and has submitted a story for our contest in honor of Peggy Lee–oops!–I mean PEGGY DOBBS!!! (I know Peg will forgive me for messin’ with her…she always did!)
The trouble with Gary’s story is that there is both too much of it and not enough. Too much to be officially entered into the contest because of the 1,000 word limits, but not enough because it’s a damned good story. We published this story a while back, but it is worth a repeat.Gary has been under contract with his publisher to produce another novel and you can find his published works at www.whiskeypress.com
Here is what Gary sent us after having tea with Ted Cruz.
From Behind the Wall
by Gary Clark
It took you twenty-eight years to get to The Wall, brother. Vietnam was a bitch, wasn’t it?
I’m glad you’re here. It’s never too late. Just take your time with those last few steps. Not many people around the park at two o’clock in the morning. It’s quiet. Just the way you planned it. I knew you’d come – just a matter of time. That’s the sixth cigarette butt you’ve crushed into the pile beside the tree you’re leaning on. Take your time. Don’t give up on yourself.
Standing back here behind the memorial wall, shoulder to shoulder with all 58,209 of our brothers who came home draped in a flag, we watch and pray while you rest, hiding behind the tree, facing away from us, rubbing the palms of your hands together, digging deep for the courage to turn around and take those final steps to complete your journey. This monument is like a one-way mirror. We can look out, but from your side, all you see is the reflection of your face on the polished black granite between our names. This is a place for you to look back at yourself and heal.
Remember when we were in high school, playing football, basketball, and running track? We never looked past graduation. For us, high school was the world. We drank, partied, raised hell, dated the most popular girls and drove the fastest cars in town. We believed high school would last forever—that we’d be young forever—always be as happy and carefree as we were at eighteen years old. The world was ours.
Then Vietnam came into our lives. We watched while our country split, some of us for the war and some of us against the war. Me and you and our group kept our hair short, wore regular clothes, and stood and put our hand over our hearts and sang when the Star Spangle Banner played. The others retreated into an anti-war world of long hair, colorful clothes, flower power, drugs, rock and roll and free love. They burned their draft cards and the flag we stood for. We hated them, thought they were un-American, laughed in their faces, spat on them, and called them queers. In their drug-induced euphoria, they laughed at us and danced in the park. When we came back from ‘Nam, they hated us, called us baby killers, laughed at us and spat on us. Now I’m not sure who was right and who was wrong.
Think back to the night we won the state basketball championship and how our mothers cried after the game because we told them we’d joined the marines. My daddy cried too. He coughed and hid his face trying to keep anyone from seeing him cry. So did yours. They held back and I think they damn near exploded trying to keep all their fear and emotions inside. They were veterans of the Korea. They knew how war was and wanted to protect us from it. That was their war. Vietnam was ours. We had to do it.
I just saw you turn and try to look this way from behind that tree but then you jerked your head back. It’s ok, brother. Take your time. You’ve been fumbling with that cigarette for ten minutes. Go ahead, light it and don’t feel guilty because you’re not back here with us. It just wasn’t your time.
Remember marine boot camp? Dang, what a trip that was. Growing up I thought my daddy was strict, and then I thought Coach Cole was hard on us, but Gunny was the devil in the flesh. You know, it wasn’t until we got to ‘Nam that I figured out what all his hollering was about. In all our firefights, above all the noise and confusion, what I heard was Gunny yelling in my ear. I did exactly what he taught me to do. That’s what kept me alive all that time. Gunny’s back here behind the wall with us though.
I see you looking this way from behind that tree again, brother. It’s time. Take that one last drag off your cigarette, stomp it out and come on – one step at a time. It’s not as hard as you think it’s going to be. Just one foot in front of the other. We always swore we’d be there for each other, no matter what. I’m here, brother. That was our pledge.
I remember that day when we were somewhere out there in the jungle, who the hell knows where we actually were. I think that whole dang country was jungle and it always rained and there were snakes as big as tree trunks and mosquitoes as big as humming birds. But that day we had worse problems than snakes and mosquitoes.
B52s dumped tons of bombs that shook the mud under our feet and our boots sank deeper and deeper in that sticky stuff. Napalm flared all around us. The vapors burned our eyes and cut off our breath. Gunfire and mortars burst our eardrums. Charlie’s screams filled the half-second silence between mortar blasts. We were surrounded—nowhere to take cover. Panic set in. Some of the troops went crazy and stood up to holler back at Charlie, then took a quick round to the head or chest. I looked around to see where you were but couldn’t find you in all the chaos. Then I got my war face. I yelled and fired blind and crazy into the jungle like everyone else, hoping I’d hit something or someone.
HQ reported via radioman that MedEvac choppers were half an hour away and until they got there, we were on our own. Rounds were still coming in from all directions and I heard one zing past my right ear and thump into somebody behind me. I never turned around to see who it was. I didn’t want to know. Troops were yelling in pain and screaming in fear. They fell, bleeding into the mud.
Then, in a brief second of clarity, I leaned into the noise and listened for Gunny’s voice, but he wasn’t there anymore. That’s when the bright light flashed right in front of me. I felt the concussion from the blast. The heat and mud and shrapnel penetrated my body. I always believed if I got hit it would hurt like hell, but it didn’t. I remember it blasted me out of my boots and left them stuck in the mud when I went flying backward and crashed down between two kapok trees. There was no pain. I pulled my arm up to try to wipe the mud off my face, but there was no hand there. I raised up on my elbow and looked down at myself. Bright red blood saturated the mud on my chest, and the red sludge poured off to the side, dripping into the brown water. Even as bad shape as I was in, I felt calm. To me, none of it made any sense anymore. It wasn’t real. I tried to call out for you, but I couldn’t get any air.
Suddenly out of nowhere you were there, kneeling beside me. You reached down and used your sleeve to brush some of the mud off my face. You looked scared and confused and I tried to tell you it was ok. I moved my lips but nothing came out. You cursed and threw your weapon in the mud. Then sat down beside me, pulled my head in your lap and looked up toward heaven. We prayed silently.
Looking down at me, you pulled off my helmet, brushed my hair back and just before my eyes closed, you raised your shoulder and wiped away the tear that hung off your cheek then leaned and whispered in my ear, “I’m here, brother.”
You’re almost here, brother. Just two more steps is all. Take a deep breath and those last steps. I see you digging deep to find the strength to touch the wall, reaching for my name. My hand is behind my name. Now I feel your cold, sweaty palm pressing against my hand as you stand there quivering from feelings you don’t know how to deal with. Lean on me, brother. Those are tears of bravery, not cowardice, let ‘em flow.
Leaning with all your weight on the wall, staring at the base of this enormous black granite memorial, I hear you whisper, “I’m here, brother.”
Welcome home, brother. I knew you’d come.