January 1971 in DetroitbyMysteryWriter©
"Hey Preacher," the voice coming from the phone shocked me. No one had called me that since my last days in Vietnam. Four years at home and still trying to get past those days.
"Jim you son of a bitch, I almost didn't recognize your voice." He had to know that it was a lie. Not more than a dozen people in the whole world knew me by that name. "What the hell are you doing calling me. I thought you were dead." I gave a resounding laugh so he knew that I was kidding.
"Nah that was my evil twin brother who died. So what you up to these days Preach?" I had a chill run through me. Not at the use of my name but at the thought that Jim obviously had something in mind.
"Oh doing a little of this and a little of that." I tried to make it convincing. I had pretty much taken over for my Uncle Deacon. Deacon was all finesse, whereas I was maximum violence. They each seemed to get the job done. I had come to hate drugs and drug dealers while in Vietnam. Taking their money didn't bother me in the least. When they resisted with guns, they died. It was a simple way of dealing with men who sold junk to kids.
"So you want to go to Detroit?"
"Why the hell would I want to go to Detroit?"
"Why hell Preach we be having kind of reunion there."
"Jim, there were exactly twenty men in our field unit and half of them are dead. It ain't going to be much of a reunion."
"Well it ain't exactly that kind of reunion."
"What kind of reunion is it then."
"Vietnam Vets Against the War is having some kind of a thing in Detroit. They want to hear our stories."
"Jim have you gone soft on me." I couldn't believe he had joined the resistance. He and I hadn't really been in the war. At least not the one they were protesting.
"They sent out a call for the Advisors to the ARVN troops. They want to ask us what it was like in the early days."
"That's nuts. Who the hell cares what it was like in the cowboy days."
"Some naval officer is promising to get it all told. He was some kinda' Seal or something. Wants to let everybody know the truth."
"Why ours of course."
"I haven't talked to you in a long time, so you probably don't know how I feel."
"Unless you're the one who has gone soft, I know exactly how you feel. It's how all of us feel. Maybe we can get the word out. If nothing else, we can shake a few of them up. Come on Preach it will be fun."
"If you knew how I hated the cold, you wouldn't ask me."
"Preach, my friends in the VVAW tell me they are going to give this SEAL all the dirt to carry to Washington. Don't you want to see what dirt they have?"
"From what I hear of the VVAW they are a ragtag bunch who can't do more than have a lot of guys in field jackets show up to burn flags. How the hell are they going to get their stories out?"
"This Seal has an in with congress. He's gonna'' get it read into the congressional record."
"Now that is interesting. Yeah Jim, I would like to hear what they gonna' put in that report." I had no idea what happened in the war after I left just a few short of years before. I wondered if I might learn something from the GIs at the meeting. If nothing else it would be a chance for me to get away for a few days.
I hadn't been in an airplane since I got home from the cross country flight in 1966. Even though I swore that I would never leave North Carolina again, I boarded the whisper jet at the local airport. I managed to fly past Detroit and on to Chicago, then of course I changed planes and flew back.
"Hey there Preacher," the old looking young man said. "Damn Jim you gained a couple of pounds and got old."
"How am I gonna' get old in seven years."
"I got no idea man, but you sure as hell did it." I grinned at him. Truth is except for the extra twenty pounds on a frame well able to support it, he looked exactly the same.
"Come on let's get a beer."
"First the bags, then the beer." I don't expect Jim knew it but I had the old Colt combat green pistol in the b-4 bag. I should have replaced the bag but what the hell, I hadn't traveled any since I returned home.
"You still got that chicken shit Air Force suitcase. God how we envied you that bag. You the only one didn't show up in Saigon with a duffle bag and a gym bag."
"That's what happens when you have a brother in the Air Force." I said it almost seriously.
We were in a cab headed for the Howard Johnson's, without a beer I might add, when Jim said, "Preacher we go to be cool here. Lots of these guys are wired."
"I don't think so. They be high on something else. Not sure if its hate or revenge but they on some kind of high. Me and you got to stay low."
"I didn't come a thousand miles to lay low Jim. You got me here, I expect you to stand up to it."
"Preacher ain't nobody gonna' do nothing to you they don't do to me. We just don't need to be startin' it."
"Hell Jim, the only way you can know it's coming is if you start it."
"Preacher, I'm serious these are some bad assed dudes. We bad too, but there are a lot of them. They say over a hundred gonna' give statements."
"Statements about what."
"Bout what they saw and did in DaNam."
"Well that's what we are here for isn't it?"
"Just be careful please."
"Jim, I'm a changed man. I don't go chasin'' after trouble no more."
"Yeah, and we made the world a better place."
"Not even a little part of it."
Half an hour later we were in the bar. Looking around we were about the only ones there without field jackets. Most were too new looking to have seen much time off the rack. The bartender looked terrified. There were a lot of rough looking guys with beards and long hair, but they seemed pretty harmless to me. Still there was a kind of fire in their eyes as if they were on a crusade, if not drugs.
One of the men recognized Jim. Jim had been there a couple of days before he called me. "Sargent Lester this is my friend Preacher Burke." I reached up and shook the slightly younger man's hand.
"So who were you with?" It was a natural question for him to ask.
"MACV," It should have been all the answer necessary.
"What the fuck is that?" He looked a little drunk. I quickly began to assess him. He was about twenty pounds of drunk, overweight. Too much soft living since he came home I thought. If it came to physical force, I was more than a match for him. Problem was several more people drifted over.
"That was them pussies that pushed papers in Saigon." The New man just looked mean.
I was surprised to find Jim answer for me. "You open your fucking mouth again honey, and this pussy gonna' put your ass in the hospital." He looked around just as cold as a morgue slab. "Don't much matter to me how many of you 'heroes' go with him.."
"MACV, was more than paper pushers Lester. Some of them were advisors to the ARVN before we ever heard of Vietnam. "What year Preacher?" He intentionally looked past Jim. He was trying to diffuse the situation.
"63," I replied not taking my eyes off the others. I noted with satisfaction that Jim hadn't either.
"Preacher was back again in 65 won his self a Pulitzer."
"Peabody Jim." I corrected him still expecting trouble.
"Oh you were with the press to? We definitely want to talk to you."
"Oh we, so you are in charge of this band of soldiers."
"Not much in charge to it. This was kinda' the idea of a Navy Officer. He wants to take testimony to help end the war, then take it Washington. He's got some kind of pull down there."
Just as quickly as the tenst moment come, it went. Every one was buddies again a minute after the man calmed it all down. "So you are some kind of organizer?"
"Well VVAW will work with anyone who is serious about ending this war."
"Man with Washington connections wants to have a meeting and you don't have a problem with it?" I was more than a little surprised.
"Well the anti war people are in congress now. We can get this stuff in the record, it will make it real not just some vet rambling."
"So it's a hundred vets rambling?" I asked it a little skeptical. It was easy to skeptical if the men in the Howard Johnson lounge were any indication of the types doing the testifying.
"When this dude tells it, it will sound like a million. He is smooth Preacher. He is gonna' take us down there and we are gonna' be on our best behavior. He is gonna' go in there and make it sound like a million of us are in the streets.
"So, is this guy serious or just headline grabbing. You know like body counts in reverse."
"Who gives a damn. He has been to the Paris Guys, so he can get us heard. Preacher they may all be trying to use us so what. We will whore for anybody to stop this war and save lives."
"So what if I but don't have anything to tell?"
"Hell make up something, we ain't gonna' use no names. Nobody is gonna' send you to jail even if you say you did something." Jim looked at me and I shook my head.
"Well we didn't see anything interesting and we didn't do anything that would interest you."
"Come on preacher everybody knows the ARVN won't fight. We have a story that they refused to save a wounded American because they didn't want to fight."
I watched Jim shake. It was just a tiny twitch in his face. That is if you didn’t know him. I was debating whether to let him blow or not. I decided not to.
"Tell you what, I want to be on a plane out of here early tomorrow. You get us in early and we will tell our story."
"Good for you," he said as he left.
"Which story we gonna' tell them?"
"How about the rubber plantation?"
"Oh one of my all time favorites."
"After about five minutes the other vets began milling around. We drank and listened to their stories. It was men telling a hundred horror stories. Probably twenty had been there but the others had heard about the stories they were telling.
"I had a buddy who was in the third, they went into a village and gang raped the mayor's daughter to teach him a lesson. You know that just wasn't right." Hell there was no way to disagree with that. The problem was the same story got told on Marines of several units, a couple of army units and even a CIA group from Loas. Did it happen, most likely yes. Did every unit in Vietnam do it as it sounded that night? I have serious doubts.
"How the hell are they going to turn a hundred guys into the horror story they want?" I asked it of Jim.
"Hell preacher, you know it don't take a lot of facts to convince the Choir."
"I guess if you get it in the congressional record with a friendly audience it goes down as gospel."
"Preachin' to the Choir Preacher."
The soldiers I met that night were genuine in their desire to make a difference. I believed that each and every one of them told the truth over the course of the interviews. How it got written down is something I don't know. I do know what happened to me the next day.
"Come on in," the tall gaunt man in the field jacket said. "I'm Robert Thomas, everybody calls me Rob." I shook his hand.
"Well Rob, I'm David Burke, and this I Jim Everette."
"I hear you won a peabody for writing about the war?" He asked it waiting to see my reaction.
"Not really, I won it for a photograph I took." For a second he looked disappointed.
"Oh like that little girl with the napalm burns?" He looked interested again.
"Cong crucified on the wire outside a firebase. It was at night and lit with a Willie Pete round." They saw an image in it that I didn't shoot."
The man thought for a minute, then spoke. "So you have some experiences while you were with the ARVN to relate to us."
I motioned to Jim. He said it about like this. "We was with the lead element to enter a rubber plantation. You got any idea what a rubber plantation looks like."
"No I've never been on one."
"It's like a forest with no little trees. Everything is clean man. Just rows and rows of trees with no brush. Charlie opened up and penned us down. Only two of the soldiers with us went down. Everybody else was hidin' behind trees. Me, I was wishin' mama had, had herself a smaller son." He saw the lost look on Robs face.
"Oh, I'm a lot of man to get behind a little rubber tree." Rob nodded.
"We was penned down big time. Couldn't go forward and couldn't go back. A hundred ARVN behind us with no advisor and about sixteen and us two under fire. Then the mortars started to fall on the plantation. We didn't have no mortars or artillery, and sure as hell no airplanes to call in. It looked pretty much like the end to me."
"How the hell did you get out?" Rob's buddy, the organizer asked.
"Those hundred ARVN troops, that everybody says wasn't worth a fuck, charged throught that rubber plantation picking us up as they went by. We chased charlie out of his positions and just as far as we could. We got his three mortar tubes, Russian by the way. The count was five ARVN ranger killed in the assault. They lost five of their own to either save us, or to kick some Cong Ass." Jim was grinning because the others were so stone faced. "I don't know which it was but they sure was a sight to see. Running with them little knives on the end of the fifty year old rifles we gave them.
"I do hope that makes it into the testimony, since it is fair to show both sides I think." I said it knowing it wouldn't. Nobody is fair when it comes to war or politics.
"Well that really isn't exactly the kind of thing we are looking for."
"Of course it isn't," I said that as I walked out.
"Why don't you call your friends at the news service and blow his cover." Jim asked that grinning.
"Jim what do you think of that war?"
"I hate the mother fucker. Don't make no sense at all."
"I could never do what they are going to do, but then maybe the ends does justify the means."
"Yeah, but you and me know them guys are getting used by the politicians again."
"We do but they don't, so let them have their 'being important to somebody' time."