Didn’t plan to become a veteran
by Donald K. Sanders
Another Veterans Day has come and gone. It’s the same every year. It’s hard for me to celebrate even though it’s a holiday. I mean, it’s not a religious holiday like Christmas or Easter. I know that it’s a day that we can think about what our veterans have done for us. This is a good thing.
I, like many other men and women, never considered the fact that I might become a veteran. I just never thought about it when I joined the Army. I had other things in mind. When I signed on that dotted line, I was thinking about my younger brother, Michael. He had dropped out of high school during his freshman year to join the Marines.
The day that I took the oath that made me the property of Uncle Sam, he was already over there in the war zone without me. I couldn’t leave him there alone. I knew that if I could just get over there, in the country, they would have to send him home. By law, two brothers cannot be sent to a combat zone unless they sign a waiver. Michael had not signed a waiver.
Six months later, I was on that big jet liner when its wheels hit the ground in the Republic of Vietnam. Vietnam was a real trip. It’s outside of the box, you might say. I can only describe it like there’s a hole in the wall to another reality. The hole is just big enough for you to stick your head through it to look around. After a year or so you can pull your head back out of the hole but that’s all that comes out. Your head comes out but your mind is still there, inside of the hole.
Anyway, I’m getting sidelined here, so I’ll get back to the original story. Where was I? Oh, yeah — as soon as I got in the country, I started the wheels turning to get my brother out. Amazingly, it was a rapid process because in just a few weeks, they shipped him out of the combat zone.
As it turned out, it was nothing I had done in the manner of notifying the right people that my brother had not signed the waiver. The magic trick was the letter that I sent my brother upon my arrival in Vietnam. He took the letter to his commanding officer and that’s all it took. He was shipped out with orders to Okinawa, Japan.
As long as I was in th4e country, they could not send him back. Michael had signed up for four years in the Marines and I had signed up for three years in the Army. This meant that I could do my year-long tour in Vietnam and then go home, but then he would still be eligible to be sent back. He would still have time enough on his enlistment for another tour in Vietnam.
I had this covered too. I would have to stay there for two years or he would be sent back, so as it turned out I was there for two years, 1 month, and seven days. The day that I left Vietnam, Michael was already a civilian, back on the block, chasing round-eyed women. It worked out very nicely for me in that respect.
It was so hard for me to leave Vietnam. It was one of the worst days of my life. It seems very strange to say, but that’s the way I felt at the time. It was so hard for me to walk away from my fellow soldiers that were still in harm’s way. It was very hard and very sad for me, but they would not let me stay longer without a presidential directive or something similar.
I’m surprised that they let me finish my last tour of duty because they knew I was having some problems keeping my focus on the “Prime Directive,” so to say. For me, nothing would ever be the same again. The Army had turned me into something that I wasn’t supposed to be and for the life of me, I couldn’t get back to what I was before. I didn’t know how.
Anyway, that’s what I think about on Veteran’s Day. I think about how lucky Michael and I were to make it home at all. We were pretty screwed up, but we were alive and we had each other. We still have each other and when I look at him now, I still see my little brother, inside of an old man’s body.