Bright Light

FIRE SPRANG from the earth and grabbed me, twisted my body into a deformed mass, and discarded me into a dewy patch of underbrush. I lay there writhing in a cauldron of molten pain as harsh sunlight poured into my squinted eyes.

My mouth opened involuntarily and sucked air, which sounded in my ears like tempestuous winds. A ghastly stench stung my nostrils. I grunted, struggling to swivel my head. Sunlight seeping through milky smoke burned my retinas. With much effort, I craned my head sideways. My vision, relieved from the sun's furnace glare, adjusted slowly. I could almost feel my pupils dilating.

I saw nothing of interest, save a small hemispherical object lying not five meters away. An errant breeze blew some smoke away revealing a charred helmet tinted crimson with the inscription "Mad-Dog Killer" still barely legible.

My eyes widened in sudden panic. That was Caprin's helmet. Wait. Was Caprin in front of me when it happened? I thought...yes. Caprin was in front when it happened. Must have been a mine.

My eyes moistened. I opened my mouth and tried to speak. All I did was grunt. A hoarse, animalistic grunt. Strangely enough, a sense of calm enveloped my body. My limbs went numb. I twitched my head. I listened...thought I had heard something. Silence.

There it was again. Something was in the bushes behind me. A silent rustling, like the crinkling of tissue paper. Caprin? I called out, or tried, but nothing came. I turned my head back toward the blinding sky, trying to afford myself a better view of the brush behind me. A silhouette towered over me. Caprin?

Something was wrong. The helmet didn't look right. Then it hit me--an icy realization that chilled my heart. I choked on my own breath. Viet Cong.

Another silhouette appeared beside the first. I blinked, trying somehow to sink within myself, to escape. I wiggled and grunted. They started talking to each other in dreadfully hushed tones. Confusion and fright seized my senses, allowing me no control of my bodily functions. Somewhere among the deadened pain I felt warmth. One of them laughed.

My eyes, burning with salty tears, remained affixed to the silhouettes. One of them moved. He was adjusting his gun. Pointing it. At me.

Sheer rage flared through my limbs like a brushfire. I flexed every muscle in my body. White-hot pain sizzled on my abdomen as I tried to prop myself up. I could feel the cords in my strained neck wriggling about. It was no use. I collapsed back onto the ground, emitting a raspy breath.

The two VCs started talking to each other again, this time raising their voices. One was grabbing hold of the other's gun and pointing in another direction. Yes, I thought. Tell him. Thank God they werenåt all the same. Tell him to go away. The man pointing the gun yelled at the other and pushed him onto the ground. My eyes squinted in renewed, albeit innocuous rage.

Suddenly a gigantic shadow encased my body. The VC began shaking as if he was an epileptic. I heard a distant drumbeat. The VC was thrown backward, as if by torrential wind. I now recognized the gargantuan shadow that hovered in the air like a black angel. A TWA. American slang for "Teenie Weenie Airline." I smiled. Bits of saliva rolled down my cheek.

The TWA descended -- it was obviously American -- into a clearing. As it moved down and the shadow slinked off my face, the sun beat down on my eyes with unmitigated fury. I didn't care. The Americans would be here in seconds. Still, though. The sun was bright. Very bright...

On March 2, 1964, Major Hewlard and his copilot Jackson, both of the 57th Medical Detachment, landed just east of the Mekong River. The image they saw that day will remain with both of them forever. Next to the two dead VCs, they found Corporal Erron, missing both arms and legs, lying dead in a patch of dewy underbrush, the smile still on his face.

Jeremy Shipp

copyright © 1996 by Jeremy Shipp, all rights reserved

Another War

Where are the paranoid neuroses and faded fatigues that so many of my friends' fathers keep folded up in dusty boxes? Where are the bittersweet love letters and the dramatic war stories that mark your generation? I ask how you spent those years of Vietnam and for the first time really hear the answer.

You were dodging bullets in a jungle of stone. Given the choice of being shipped away to die for a war you didn't understand or teach in the war-torn classrooms of the Bronx, you chose the latter. Rather than fight beside the angry dropouts you'd been confronting for years, you chose to be their guiding force or maybe the last supportive face they saw before their number was called. Not much of a choice at all, really.

Dodging sleeping bums like mines on your rainy walk to work, you prepare to be the peace keeper. Gangs have their own forms of warfare, and you are caught in the middle of a personal and long-standing dispute, just as you would have been oceans away in Vietnam.

So you spent those years of Vietnam sleeping in your own warm bed with your family close at hand. You watched your neighborhood thin as your peers boarded a plane to Vietnam, unable to avoid their fate, many unable to return. You stayed behind "to fix up the neighborhood," to make sure there was a neighborhood for your friends and brother to return to.

So maybe you are missing faded fatigues, but you have your own boxes of faded books and lesson plans. Boxes that hold the hopes, fears, and regrets you had for yourself and your generation. Boxes that fill the attics and cellars of everyone who was part of the Vietnam experience.

Leigh Kopczuk

copyright © 1996 by Leigh Kopczuk, all rights reserved

The Hated War

The Vietnam War. Whenever I hear that war mentioned, I go back in time, back to the "good ole days" as many say. Before the war, life was great. I was having a great time. I was a partier, the Big Man around. Then I got drafted; the war had already started, and I'd seen the pictures and heard the stories.

My Ma and Pa, they weren't too excited when they learned that their youngest son's number had come up in the lottery. They only wished it was the money lottery, not the draft lottery. They begged me to stay or go away; but I knew that if I didn't go, others would go, and I should also be fighting. Besides, my best friend was also drafted; his number was one number lower. So, off we both went to boot camp.

Boot camp. It was tough and hard, but they kept telling us that 'Nam was worse. Then one day, so suddenly I never got to say good-bye to my family, we boarded up a ship and left America behind.

We reached 'Nam. It was sweltering hot and wet, so wet I couldn't believe it. We had only been there a week when our group was ambushed, and we were all rookies--we didn't know everything. It was bad...grenades were flying, guys were wasted, guys I'd become friends with.

We were there ten months when we got ambushed again--real bad. Mikey, my best friend for twenty-some years was wasted, shot 27 times. It was a sad sight. It was hard to believe he was gone. But soon I would leave as well, with only one foot left, the other lost to a grenade.

The Vietnam War. I hate those words. That war was a cause of too many troubles. I lost my best friend and my foot. It took me years to get over my heroin addiction and my children--they're not normal. I was exposed to Agent Orange.

I've visited the wall once. I don't think I'll ever go back. It brings back pain. Pain too deep to keep away. The Vietnam War. The hated War.

Amy Robbins

copyright © 1996 by Amy Robbins, all rights reserved


We were lying, hidden in the rice paddies, when we were attacked. As the first shots rang out, I jumped up with the other soldiers and ran for the leafy haven of the jungle. As I ran, I heard the thunder of bombs behind me and the footsteps of those around me. I smelled the smoke and felt the familiar sensation of intense fear.

I ran without knowing where my feet were taking me. My heart was pounding, my mind was racing. My life flashed before my eyes. I wondered what I was doing halfway around the world from my home. Why was I here? I missed my family, my girlfriend, the comforts of home. I didn't belong here. I wished with all my heart and soul to be back home.

My thoughts soon drifted back to reality. I suddenly became aware of how quiet it was. I slowed my pace and glanced around at my surroundings. I was completely alone. The sun glistened through the jungle canopy, and I realized how peaceful this place was.

I walked on, pushing aside the thick vegetation until I heard a faint rush of water in the distance. I broke into a jog and soon reached a sparkling waterfall and a pristine pool of water. I knelt on the bank and cupped my hands full of water, splashing it on my muddy face. As the water dripped off my skin, I stared at my reflection in the pool. I was only 20, but already I looked like a tired old man. I stared into the pool, and I cried. For the first time, I cried.

I somehow made it through the war, but it was 30 years later before I learned to accept my experience in Vietnam and bring myself to visit the Vietnam Memorial. As I stood there staring at the wall and the names of my friends, I couldn't help but notice the face that stared back at me. As I stared at my reflection, I remembered that day more than thirty years ago when I sat staring at my reflection in a pool of water. The same wrinkles remained on my face, only deeper now; but the pain in my heart ran deeper than any wrinkle in my face.

Michele Venezio

copyright © 1996 by Michele Venezio, all rights reserved

Vietnam Screenplay

By Anne Hobday

Based on a real letter retold by the Sweetland Storytellers:

1st Scene -Boy's parents are sitting in a cozy room with fireplace reading letter from their son in Vietnam. -Son's voice is in background, saying, "It sure rains a lot here." -Parents look at each other and give one another a comforting hug. 2nd Scene -Mother at desk, camera looking down from overhead. There is a single desk lamp on. We see her writing back to her son, "Tell us what it's really like," on a piece of nice stationary. 3rd Scene -Boy in his leaky tent, camera outside looking in so we can see how small and cramped the quarters are. He is reading his mother's letter by flashlight. -He puts the letter down and the camera moves in to show him writing in response on a piece of crumpled paper, "You should see all the monkeys." 4th Scene -Mother is walking towards house from their mailbox. It is very sunny outside. Camera moves in so we can see her son's letter of response on the top of the stack of mail. 5th Scene -Boy is walking slowly through the jungle with a gun. We can tell he's nervous. Mother's voice soothing in background, "No, son, tell us what it's really like." 6th Scene -We hear the boy's voiceover. -First he says, "I killed a man today." We see him shooting a Vietnamese man in the jungle. -"Tomorrow we use gas." We see camera taking large shots of bombing and people dying. 7th Scene -Back at house in cozy room we see mother drop letter and start crying as father hugs her again. 8th Scene -Boy in tent looking very alone reading the latest letter from home. We hear father's voice saying, "Stop writing such depressing letters, you're upsetting your mother." -Camera moves away from tent and up overhead so we can see all the death and destruction going on around the boy. We can hear nothing but rain and weaponry. -Fade to black with sound of rain still in background. -Boy's voice quiet and sad says, "It sure rains a lot here."

copyright © 1996 by Anne Hobday, all rights reserved


Burnt Hills, NY 12027

Dear John,

I am writing to you to talk about something. As you know we are faced with a war and there is a draft. I feel I should enlist now before they come knocking at my door. I really feel it is the right thing to do. I am not scared to go fight. I have no future. I can't get into college, and I have no family.

Why did you dodge the draft at the time of Vietnam? You were in my exact position. What was it about the war that made you take off and not fulfill your obligation? Without any disrespect, in my eyes, anyone who dodges the draft is not fulfilling his patriotic duty. I understand that many were scared of dying, but you must realize that death is part of life. And if you were to die, what better way than going out with a bang?

I realize I was not there, and I might not think this way if I was. Reading about the experience and watching movies has made me think about how I would have liked to take part in this struggle. Many Americans resent the war, but I think it was a great learning experience. It brought us to a next step when we realized that we weren't completely unbeatable. We were in a different country playing by someone else's rules.

I believe that the war may have been pointless. Some believe that the communists were going to move to other countries to spread communism, but I don't think it would have ever made it that far. Others could be right, but you never know. It could have ended up like Hitler.

Well, please write back to me soon. I would like to hear your opinion.


Michael Cusano

copyright © 1996 by Michael Cusano, all rights reserved