Usually when we get these self-confirming apocryphal stories they happen in taxi cabs with drivers who are all too willing to indulge their passengers worldview if it will get them a bigger tip, but storyteller Austin Bay whips up a whopper over scotch in canteen cups (“there is no more pleasureable a vessel for imbibing booze“) with all the seen-it-all war weariness that he can muster:
Iâ€™ll add a personal story. In 1999 I briefly served as deputy commander of a Hurricane Mitch recovery operation headquartered in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. An earthquake (6.6 magnitude) struck the region and damaged our barracks area as well as several of the dikes our engineers had erected along the Motagua River. We had to evacuate our barracks, in the midst of heavy rains spawned by a tropical depression. The day after the quake I flew to the US air base at Soto Cano, Honduras, to meet with our regional commander. After I met with the brigadier general in command I: (1) washed and dried two sets of BDUs and (2) bought a bottle of Chivas at the PX. The next morning I caught a plane flight back to Guatemala, and transfered to a helicopter to fly back to our base.
That night I took the still-boxed Chivas to one of the troops â€“a tired, exhausted fellow who had earned a gift so precious. He shook his head when I passed him the scotch. I told him, â€œYouâ€™ve earned it.â€ He looked at his watch, observed we were ten minutes from midnight, and said â€œYou and I are now off duty.â€ I sipped a thumbs worth of scotch in my canteen cup (there is no more pleasureable a vessel for imbibing booze).
We chatted for about twenty minutes, about my trip to Soto Cano, about the task forceâ€™s new job (earthquake relief), about the lousy weather, about how tired we were. The discussion of weariness led the conversation to our advanced age and years of service, which in part explained the conversationâ€™s next turn. My friend asked, with a glint in his eye: â€You remember what John Kerry said about those of us who served in Vietnam?â€
â€œI was in Vietnam in 1971,â€ my buddy continued. â€œI didnâ€™t commit any war crimes and I didnâ€™t see any. Kerry said we were committing war crimes everywhere all the time.â€
Remember, readers, this is 1999. Weâ€™re in a creaky barrack, wearing t-shirts, BDU trousers, and boots. Earthquake aftershocks occasionally boom â€“and the booms sound and feel like heavy artillery. And he mentions John Kerry.
â€œI despise the man,â€ my friend said. â€œHe lied and benefited politically from his liesâ€¦.He lied about me.â€
I simply listened â€” thatâ€™s what you do in a moment like this. I remember noticing I still had scotch in my cup. He had barely touched his drink. He took a long sip, put his cup down. Plop. Period. End of moment.
The man had served honorably in Vietnam. He had served nobly (another word those of the noblisse oblige set have trouble with). Twenty-eight years later this admirable American soldier was still pulling duty, this time on a humanitarian mission in another jungle. For some hard cases it may seem odd that in a midnight moment of reflection John Kerryâ€™s ugly Winter Soldier spiel would intrude. But Kerryâ€™s trash talk had tarnished the manâ€™s honor â€” and that sense of deep insult and betrayal had lit a long, slow fuze(sic) of righteous anger.
Uh-huh. Yeah. They talked about John Kerry. His name came up. Just like that
Then this manly man’s man told Austin:
“By Grabthar’s Hammer I hope that John Kerry will never be president, particularly if this great country of ours is attacked by Islamojihadists, possibly using airplanes in a coordinated attack a mere two years hence…give or take. No, by God, I want to be led by someone who kept the gooks out of South Texas during those last dark days of the Vietnam war when our hands were tied by the media and we were…this …close to winning.”
Then he stared into his empty cup and I thought I saw a tear start to form, but no, he looked up at me with eyes like a tiger, a wounded but proud tiger, a tiger who had seen too much and fought so bravely. And then he raised one leg and let loose with a high piercing trumpet blast of MRE-induced gas. To my ears it sounded like reveille; a call to arms. Suddenly I felt my own eyes start to tear up.
God, I love war.