By Michael "V-man" Viehman

Michael "V-man" Viehman
copyright Aug 1994 all rights reserved

As I sit here in the woods, it takes me back as it always does. I'm camped at the edge of a clearing, in the shadows. I hear an unseen jet somewhere above - military. I look through the tall stalks of grass to where the forest begins again on the other side. Clearings still make me uncomfortable. I know, in my mind, that I am safe here. But still, in my heart, I know nothing is ever as it seems. The flies and bugs buzz, mostly unnoticed, around my head. I wish I could feel safe somewhere, but I know it's just a wish. If my vision blurs for only an instant, I may find myself back there. Indeed, I never left. The caution is ingrained too deeply. I was only a Chaplain's Assistant, but my brothers taught me well - as did Chuck. Both were excellent teachers. Stay in the shadows, don't touch a found body too quickly, never put your foot where it would naturally fall on the far side of a log, senses automatically heighten at funnel points and around bends. These things just scratch the surface of accumulated knowledge. Accumulated to keep from watchin' a body bag from the inside. All learned at age 19. Just one of the guys.

At night, I have a dream. It isn't like the one Dr. King had. I will never be free. Except, like him, in death - maybe. I have it in the daytime, too - sometimes when I'm awake, and I close my eyes. It's become worse since I got the Lorus watch with the stainless steel band. It's like the Seiko I had in Vietnam. From Pacex. Remember them? I see my sun-darkened forearms, and my watch on my left wrist. I'm looking down at my hands, which are at waist level. My hands hold that which I will always see in my dreams. A helmet. Not mine. With a cover I know. I'm placing it on a rifle butt. It was part of my job. Then the Chaplain would say some words that I never heard. And this was before I lost my hearing. Then someone or a record would play _Taps_. *I hate no song more.* And then it immediately repeats with a different helmet which I know.

Everyone decorated their own cover. It was a means of expression. Peace sign, FTA, DEROS, ETS, short timer calender, pictures, nothing. But, if you were with each other for long, you recognized their helmet. And nothing finally drove home their death for me than when I had to place their helmet on that rifle butt. In the wet season, you stick the bayonet into the ground. In the dry season, you stick it into a sandbag or two. Sometimes one at a time after we got back from a patrol. Sniper or boobytrap usually. Sometimes 2 or 3 or 7 after an ambush. Each helmet caused a logarithmic progression in the intensity of the beat that still drums in my head - I wish it was me - *I wish it was me* - I WISH IT WAS ME!

It is an unreasoning guilt, you know? But those helmets weren't just helmets to me. I knew the faces under them - and the smiles - and the anguish - and the laughter - and the cries of pain. I close my eyes, and I see a helmet being lowered onto a rifle butt - I wish it was mine......

People advise me to go to the Wall for healing - for closure. Some of my advisors found healing. Perhaps some found closure. I don't think it is that simple for me. I know what I see every night - and day. And I know what awaits me at the Wall.

fifty.....eight.....thousand..... HELMETS ON RIFLE BUTTS!

I wish it was me........

Copyright 1994 By Michael "V-man" Viehman, All Rights Reserved