We got our first high speed computer in the spring of 1996. By high speed, I mean it could do more than be a word processor or play some rudimentary games. We brought it home, spent some time reading all the documentation with it, about five minutes or so, and then set it up and turned it on.

And we were thrilled and amazed by all of the options, the sound, the full motion video and all of the convenience we knew it would bring. I affected my superior air and walked away, giving my son a chance to go exploring. I knew he had to go to bed, sooner or later. When he did, and my wife wasn't looking, I started reading up about the modem and all of the included Internet software.

My main reason for buying the computer, or so I told my wife, was to finally write the book. I think I've planned this book for almost thirty years, talked about it, thought about it, and outlined it. I'd always promised her that the book was only being prevented by the lack of the proper tools. I said this, knowing a perfectly capable typewriter was hidden on a back shelf in a downstairs closet.

The real reason our need for a computer outweighed the lack of funds was I wanted to go searching.

I left Vietnam in the early fall of 1968. Came home after three years and started rebuilding a life that I hadn't really experienced. I was eighteen when I left, a graduate of one of life's hardest accomplishments, high school. I went over young and came home ages older. I had spent the last three years learning a trade that didn't equate well with civilian life and didn't translate into anything that I could use. So I learned a new craft, married the first woman that came along, and learned later that while I could make decisions about life and death, I was still too young and inexperienced to make decisions about love and relationships.

As I made mistakes and learned, I also experienced rejection and disrespect and all about how "on your shield or with it" was not such an archaic thought after all.

I spent almost three years in Vietnam with people who became, if not my extended family by law, then most certainly by blood. I knew all of their secrets and goals, and I shared with them the fear and the anger, the humor and the pride, my knowledge and theirs, but mostly life and death. And when I could no longer control the fear and the impeding death that I knew would catch up with me, I said short, all too quick good-byes, and left them.

I didn't know much about the Internet, but I had heard all of the promises of unlimited information and the ability to reach out and make contact with anyone, anywhere in the whole wide world.

I made one attempt and hooked up with a major server and then learned that I couldn't afford it. I live in a rural area, and the phone bill was more than we could afford.

So our high-speed, new computer became a word processor and a game processor. Oh, it did it faster and with more flashing lights and nifty sounds; but, still, it merely supplemented the old one; it didn't replace it.

I had to hide that secret use away again, making the usual excuses. "None of them will remember me " or "they're probably not interested in talking about it," and I was able to live with that because, after all, it had been nearly thirty years; and it probably didn't matter anymore.

But another year went by, and I learned more about the Internet; and now there was a local server, a phone call I could afford, and I decided to try again. I turned on, hooked up, and plugged in, to paraphrase a slogan from many years ago.

I found them--not the actual people I was with, but guys that had similar experiences as I did and were looking themselves for the same reasons that I was.

I felt a floodgate release--memories and stories that happened 12,000 miles and a lifetime away came pouring out, and I was finally able to tell someone who would understand, all that I had experienced and suffered. And the real truth of what it was like, being eighteen years old and having the power of life and death.

But, after a while, I began to realize that it wasn't everything that I had hoped it would be. There was something missing, and it took awhile for me to realize what it was. I got the usual medals they passed out; and some extra ones that said I had done a good job, maybe even a heroic one.

But they didn't satisfy my need; and there wasn't anyone I could really explain it to, not even my new-found comrades in arms, who I hadn't met, other than as words on a screen.

The medals, and the words on ancient mimeograph paper, could only describe in glowing terms what had happened. They left out the emotions and sounds, the smells and the fear.

I tried, several times, with family and friends, to explain what I really needed and never could receive. I couldn't explain because I didn't understand myself; and, as time went by, the frustration built up.

But late the other night, sitting in a dark room after everyone had gone to bed, I finally realized what I, and what I suspect all of us, were searching for. We needed the acceptance and respect of a family of strangers whom we had walked away from three decades ago and had not had the courage to face again, all these years later. There was only one thing I had been searching for and that was the knowledge and the assurance that I had done good, had been accepted as a member long ago, of the people who had become my blood family.

I still haven't, but I will soon. I'm starting to track them down; and one by one, they're telling me that they've missed me and still think about old times and in faltering terms, never vocalized as it's against the rules, I know that they still love me. And maybe now I can get some peace, and I can finally start to believe it.

I did good.

Copyright © 1997 by James C. Harton Jr., All Rights Reserved