July 3rd, 1978.
Eighty-two degrees outside.
Driving sixty eight mph down Millersville road
past miles of cornfields
And everything is silent.
Except the faint scream of wind escaping through the cracked driver side window
and the dull thud of tire treading on the newly paved road.
trying to understand,
while trying not to think,
while thinking too much,
while being silent.
And suddenly its
March of 1968
And Calley is calling
“kill them all dead”.
And he sees his daughter,
her Agent Orange colored curls
clinging to her face like napalm sticks to melting bodies;
her eyes burning brighter than Hanoi and Haiphong on December 18th, 1972.
He begins to cry
because its still
July 3rd, 1978,
Five pm, and
eighty-two degrees outside.
But in his mind it will always be March of 1968
or December of 1972,
because for him the war is still being fought;
monks and Morrison still burning;
Saigon is still screaming
like it was on April 30, 1975,
but everyone else just hears silence.
My grandfather has every day of the Vietnam War
tattooed on his body
so whenever somebody asks the question:
he can simply lift up his calloused hands
to their face
and remain silent.
Because the silent majority doesn’t really want to hear
a tour of duties worth of realities.
So instead he drives down Millersville road,
some morphine in his blood stream,
trying to forget thirty years,
ten thousand nine hundred and fifty days.
Everyday another bombing,
another hundred dead.
Just another everyday.
Something people don’t remember,
but my grandfather can’t forget.
Mother Teresa once said
“God is a friend of silence”,
but my grandfather found no
angels in his unspoken words,
just another thousand truths
that the bible never spoke of.
No God, no glory, just guts and guns.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau equated silence to the “image of death”.
The image so many little Vietnamese boys and girls saw instead of soldiers.
The image of the soldier my grandfather saw in the mirror.
The image of death.
The embodiment of death.
The bodies of boys in burning black pajamas.
The reason my grandfather can’t sleep at night.
The reason thousands of others can’t sleep at night.
The reason I mourn for
every single silence that has been hung over something remarkable.
See my grandfather is anything but death.
He is remarkable.
He is suffering.
He is the smell of summer strawberries,
and the memory of a young boy
born on a farm in Lancaster Pennsylvania,
on July 14th, 1943,
to a Mennonite mother
and an alcoholic father.
I could describe his life with thousands verisimilitudes,
just like every other tin soldier forced to fight in 1968.
Just like every other soldier who was everything besides a fighter.
I have inherited his stories
and I could tell them all
to anybody who would listen.
I could finally break the silence.