The perfect shot
Every year when March comes around, I start thinking about 1971 — the year I made the perfect shot. I call it the perfect shot because for me, it was one in a million. For as long as I could remember I had never, ever been able to hit anything with a pistol, no matter how close it was or how many times I fired at it.
Before I continue, I must say that I’m a true believer in fate. I’m not saying your whole life is fate, but there are special times in your life when you experience something good or bad, it doesn’t matter which, that’s out of your control. The experience seems to follow a well-written script that just flows from beginning to end, and the experience seems to end before it begins. That said, let’s go back to 1971.
Imagine, if you will, that you’ve just jumped from the window of a helicopter that’s half buried in the mud. Your shirt is soaked in blood that isn’t yours and you land with a thud in elephant grass that towers over your head. You have a gripping fear at your throat, the wet your pants kind of fear, and now you’re running through the tall grass and it’s grabbing at you, cutting your face and arms. but you don’t mind because you’re more afraid of what’s behind you than what’s in front of you. You have a pistol in your hand but you don’t even know it.
Now, the very next thing you know, you’ve taken the perfect shot. All of a sudden you’re a sharpshooter and can’t miss a target. If it was a paper target that was hit by the perfect shot, there would be bragging rights, beers bought, and backs slapped. However it wasn’t a paper target. It was a man. I saw the spent cartridge shining on the ground before I knew I even fired the pistol that I didn’t even know was in my hand.
See what I mean — fate.
My mind, all of a sudden, went numb and I was moving in a script-like motion that I had to follow and could not deviate from. That’s the way it was in March of 1971. Later that same year, I had a similar experience but I don’t want to go into that. But I do think that it too was fate. To qualify as fate, everything has to be perfect — the timing, the people, the weapons, the helicopter crash, and the elephant grass all had to be just right.
I spent a couple of months in the mental ward at a military hospital in Quin Nhon after that fateful day. They taught me how not to think of that day and my perfect shot. I stored it away for many years and it was almost forgotten when fate pushed it up and out of my memory. It arrived with a bang when I least expected it. When that memory came up, it brought another and another until they were falling on my shoes and I found myself high-stepping around them, and I’ll tell you why.
They say every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So too does fate. It has expected and unexpected results. Long ago, I had thought I may have to kill someone once I was in the Army. I thought about what I might expect as a result. I didn’t think about what might be unexpected. Nothing, I mean nothing, was as I expected.
You see, I had a plan. I was to go to war, kill lots of enemy soldiers, become a hero, go home and marry my high school sweetheart, and live happily ever after. That was the expected. What I didn’t expect was the fact that the same bullet that killed one person would also kill me. By me, I mean my spirit. With no spirit, a man is an empty shell, a zombie. I was an empty man going through the motions of living his life.
It was 30 or so years before I would sober up enough to think about what had happened. I wanted to tell someone about it, but that never happened. I had surrounded myself with other veterans, including my brother Michael, because veterans don’t ask too many questions and they understand if you freak out once in a while. I think we took turns freaking out, now that I think about it.
Now I’d like to make a statement about what made me this way, at least what I think made me this way. It turns out that the government has been playing with the minds of its soldiers. You see, WWI and WWII had problems with something they called “shell shock.” In those particular wars, it was customary to send soldiers to war as a group and everyone knew everybody else. Thus, when someone was killed, it was usually someone they knew and they suffered shell shock immediately and it was disabling.
So, to make a long story short, the government thinkers came up with a system called D.E.R.O.S that was designed to delay the symptoms of shell shock, sometimes for years. The D.E.R.O.S system sent an individual soldier to war essentially by himself. He arrived by himself at a unit where he didn’t know anyone else, fought besides those he didn’t know, and when his year was up, he went home by himself. The system worked because when someone was killed, the shock of it was postponed for who knows how long because you didn’t even know the guy’s last name most of the time.
I also blame this little game for the fact that, over the years, more veterans committed suicide than there were soldiers killed in the war itself — many, many more. Now, in the current conflicts, they seem to have switched back to the old system of sending over soldiers by unit where everybody knows everybody else. Go figure, because that system doesn’t work either.
Anyway, to this day, I do not trust the federal government, doctors or lawyers, and if you are smart, you won’t trust them either — unless of course you’re one of them. But in that case, you’re a lost cause anyway because I’d be willing to bet that unless you work for the VA, you could care less about veterans anyway unless they’re paying you.