Men got ugly as they moved away from the wire--away from the flag pole, showers, and Old Spice. Those who walked for days grew uglier still. Camouflaged war paint grew splotchy under beard stubble. Sweat, dirt, and mud caked layer upon layer. Dried blood from cuts of saw grass and wait-a-minute vines added ugly upon ugly. Insect bites gave the ugly a texture, and rashes from web gear worn day after day turned skin nasty and raw. The ugliest of all were the men who walked the long walk and the soldiers from the north.
If you walked long enough and far enough, the ugly got so thick that it blurred the distinctions between men. Black and white turned a dull neutral gray. Old and young, atheist and Jew, all merged to an ugly hue of browns, greens, and grays. Some walked so far that the ugly masked friend and foe.
On a southbound Huey lay a carcass at my feet. Wrapped in a muddy, olive-drab poncho, he was ugly--an unknown soldier on the way to his tomb. Was he one of ours or one of theirs? When he stood breathing air, did he lean left or right? Did he bend his knees to Buddha or JC? I tried not to dwell too long on who he was; he was unknown to me, a dead ugly man and that was that.
I looked away as the wind whipped at his poncho. Long walkers carried their own body bags. I turned my head further as the poncho came undone from the center. Gradually, I forgot the source of so many vibrant, brilliant colors sparkling in my field of vision.
I saw reds of every shade from bright pink to deep crimson. I saw a green I'd never seen before, and rich purples, yellows, and blues. These colors seemed alive, glistening, warm and moist. Every color of the rainbow, opaque and translucent, swam in a sea of vibrant color. I saw movement as organs and tissue gave up the ghost in a brain-dead host. I saw the majesty of life leaving: Picasso's pallet in a blender.
The contrast of steel gray and drab greens in the background heightened the allure. On the outside was filth and decay, but the inside was the essence of fresh and clean. Rotor blades beat the air into submission and chopped sunlight into ray bits. Camouflaged green absorbed the flashes of light but were reflected and refracted from that which was within. The colors verily danced under a strobe, the most beautiful sight I'd ever seen.
For one who walked long and far a truth was eventually revealed: We were all beautiful on the inside.