By Wm. Caughey
Fiftyeightthousandonehundredthirtytwo names blasted into black granite demand a syllogism.
Major premise: 58,132 Americans, untold Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, Thai's, Filipinos, Koreans, Australians, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, most of the court at Elsinore, and Wayne are dead.
Minor premise: There must be a reason for all those people to die.
Conclusion: Maybe Tom Stoppard was right.
Maybe Tom Stoppard was right and Wayne knew it all along--after all he left before the end of Scene I. Nineteen years old, from New Jersey, a "FNG" (Fuckin' New Guy), a green pea, a jeep, an outsider, a scapegoat. He tried too hard, we were too cool...
But first the scene.
1969, Philippines, Clark Air Base, Vietnam burns across the horizon and the sun sets in the haze. If you stood quietly at three a.m., you could hear the screams.
Cargo planes - flew out day and night with supplies.
Cargo planes - flew in day and night with casualties.
They loaded the casualties into big blue busses for transportation to the hospital - fifteen miles an hour, red lights flashing, litters and plasma bottles dangling in the windows. If you stood quietly at three a.m., you could smell the smoke.
We took the FNGs to the Medevac Terminal as sort of an initiation.
See the blood.
See the guts.
Nope, can't happen to us, not us - we're immortal. We're Security Police, Sentry Dog Handlers, ninety-five pounds of paranoid German Sheppard and a .38 caliber revolver. We guarded the "ultimate smokey sunset" - the nukes.
Tactical nuclear weapons with 35 acolytes; fighter bombers on eighteen
Thirty-five Nagasakis in a nanosecond.
Stress (but they didn't call it that then).
Gotta let the boys blow off steam!
They gave us town--Angeles City--twohundred bars, twothousand bar
girls, and every licit and illicit drug in the world.
Women and horny nineteen year olds.
It was heaven.
We were depressed.
And the war went on.
Wayne appeared just like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (hereafter R&G).
The lights came up, and he was there.
Someone called for him, and he answered. He could have done the Army and Mekong Delta or the Marines and Khe Sahn; but, no...too risky. Maybe the blue bus. Maybe more. Wayne took the Air Force.
R&G on the road to Elsinore find the Player, an omen, a signpost, a
foil, a mentor or at least a source of dramatic irony. R&G sense the
Player's the thing, the key, the answer. Isn't he traveling to Elsinore
too? Maybe he can explain the knock on the shutters.
What is wrong with Hamlet?
Can you really toss all those heads in a row?
Does he love her?
Does he hate her?
Which way does the wind blow the hawk, the handsaw the hacksaw?
Is there a God?
No non sequiturs.
Finally R (or is it G?) Says:
No, it is not enough, to be told so little-
to such an end-and still, finally, to be
denied an explanation-
And the Player replies:
In our experience, most things end in death.
There you have it. The Player knows the play or at least the Cliffs Notes or the review in the Times...of London that is.
Wayne's Player showed up in the night, on the next guard post.
Teller of tales, and now you see it - now you don't.
You see, guarding is easy; just stay awake and the dog does the rest.
But, guarding is boring--alone and homesick. Armed forces radio, but no
Adrian Cronaur. Wayne found his Player, and his Player found him; and
they talked of town. Strange bars that invented decadence, The Rape of
the Sabine Women, and the rape the fourteen year olds.
Opium journeys edged with speed, dirty sheets, warm beer, the clap, and Jim Morrison's Oedipal End at three a.m. Step outside, smell the screams, hear the smoke.
R&G's Player tries to explain, doesn't he? Not sure. Maybe. Maybe he knows they won't listen; so, he can tell them. Maybe they already know. So why don't they turn the goddamn boat around and go home. Go ask Hamlet or Claudius "Why? Do they have to die?"
Did fiftyeightthousandonehundrenthirtytwo plus have to?
Aside: Was it Stalin that said? "One murder
is a tragedy; ten thousand is a foot note."
For God's sake William, aren't five murders and a suicide enough fodder for tragedy? For God's sake America, the black granite seems to go on and on and on.
Wayne and his Player did the town, the dope and the magic. But Wayne's Player never told him. I know; I stood by watching and listening, a Greek Chorus of one: "Watch out! Stay away from this Player! Danger! But, uh, no, stay away from me, too; too cool me."
One night, the Player shows Wayne the best trick of all:
Take all the bullets out of the revolver but one.
Spin the cylinder, snap!
Cold barrel, right behind the ear.
Pull the trigger...
Click, you live.
Boom! You Die.
Right out on the acid edge.
Magic. A jump across the opium abyss?
Nope, a parlor trick, slight of hand; the player palms the bullet. It's dark; no one can see the cylinder's empty. Wayne's Player can play, but no fool he.
Clap sick. What will mom say? VD, dirty, sin, guilt, Catholic sin - guilt; we find this out later.
Take five out.
Spin the cylinder, snap!
Cold barrel right behind the ear.
It was said that while he lay in a pool of blood and brains, a debate raged about how to get the dog safely away. Confused and terrified, the dog wouldn't leave his side--protecting him. Barking and snarling, the dog stood his ground; and finally someone was sent for who knew the dog and then...then they got to Wayne. You see, it was obvious that Wayne was a goner; but the dog, the dog was worth $10K.
A tragedy? Yes. Like Hamlet? Not sure.
Did Wayne really ask any questions? Did the Player answer? Would I have answered? Did I know? Did anyone really know? If we answered, if anyone had answered, would Wayne have listened?
Objection, your honor!
Calls for speculation as to
the state of mind of the deceased!
Besides, it was over twenty years ago!
But I knew.
Next night, I have Wayne's post. Chalk marks on the asphalt with a blood stain at the head. My dog won't go near, good excuse for me. I take all six bullets out and put them in my pocket and button it--TIGHT!
You see, I've been asking questions since I can remember: third grade current events - Civil Rights Movement. I raise my hand. "Why water hoses and police dogs?" Sunday school. "If God created all the animals AND Adam and Eve, who made the dinosaurs?"
Poor teacher--a volunteer, too. A junior heretic, a baby liberal - a smart ass! WHY?
But when they called (the draft board), I answered - no Vietnam for me, no blue bus; and I knew they'd never use the nukes - right? They just never got the chance.
Day before I leave for basic training, anti-war rally in Los Angeles in front of the Century Plaza Hotel:
"Hey, Hey! LBJ! How many kids you kill today?"
Lyndon didn't answer till it was too late.
Mayor Daley pulls an Iago in Chicago.
Later, the Ohio National Guard goes crazy.
Khe Sahn, and B-52s carpet bomb Laos and Cambodia.
Was Johnson crazy?
Rusk, Rostow, Westmoreland,
Kissinger - Nixon Crazy?
No rhetorical questions.
Questions, more questions!
Then I woke up at three a.m. with the bus drifting by, red lights flashing; and I whisper..."Can I go home now?"
Not wanting to take any chances, I left all six in the cylinder.
It was John Lennon, rain, the runway approach lights, and some good Thai dope (one by-product of all those cargo planes) that saved me. Swear to God.
I had one joint left; and I was afraid if I didn't smoke it, they'd find it, and Nixon wouldn't get the blame. So, with my revolver in my hand, I smoked the whole thing; and, as I started to buzz, it started to drizzle.
They turned on the strobe approach lights; and as they flashed down and the rain drops fell through the flashes, the drops became diamonds. I guarantee that no matter how depressed you are, you cannot commit suicide while singing "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," soaking wet and stoned.
I opened the revolver, put the bullets back in my pocket, and never unbuttoned it again.
So, maybe John was my player, maybe George, maybe Ringo; I think Paul was dead then. Maybe I didn't need a player...maybe it was God. Maybe. More questions.
Are R&G so confused that they allowed themselves to be murdered? Were they so stupid that they allowed it? Are they really in the past tense? Present tense?
Did Wayne know the parlor trick or not? Two Penicillin shots would have cured him in seven days; did he know? Did he ask? Why did it start raining? Was Paul dead? Why did we all answer the call?
Go ask Paul on the road to Damascus.
Fulton Sheen or Owen Meaney. In the end, it's rhetoric, non sequiturs, and post hoc ergo propter hoc while the bands play on.
Major premise: We are all God's fools.
Minor premise: This only bothers some of us.
Conclusion: Fiftyeightthousandonehundredthirtytwo names blasted into black granite, untold Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, Thai's, Filipinos, Koreans, Australians, Hamlet, Hamlet's Dad, Gertrude, Polonious, Ophelia, Laertes, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Wayne...are dead. Under the bus.
I'm still alive. Tom Stoppard's alive, too.
Hold the curtain!
Turn up the house lights!
No one leaves till it's over.
What did Tom Stoppard really know and when did he know it?
Sure the show's over: AFRVN played White Christmas in April, John
Wayne left town, and they threw the choppers overboard in the South China
Sea. Good night Saigon, and good morning Ho Chi Minh City.
"Sorry, little fellers, we guess you'll just have to leave by boat; be careful!"
But, one last question deserves one last answer.
What did Tom Stoppard really know?
Sitting in the capital of a faded empire with all but its Irish blood dried, with all of its monuments crumbling and forgotten. Stoppard smirks, and Guildenstern says:
I've lost the capacity
for disbelief. I'm not
sure I could even raise
a little gentle skepticism.
Even the least of us know that the world should not be a place where parents have to bury their children.
Please contact Bill Caughey using this automatic email form.