Monday, December 03, 2007


Do you remember the song “Bridge over Troubled Waters”, by Simon and Garfunkel? Part of the hook in the song goes,

“Sail on silver girl,
your time has come to shine,
all your dreams are on their way,
see how they fly,”

It is one that I will always identify the most with my Vietnam experience. There were two Boeing 707’s (silver birds (girls) in my mind - to make the analogy work) that flew into and out of my life almost exactly one year apart. The first a classy champagne filled Pan Am flight - white with blue lettering, and the second a sleeker looking Northwestern bird - silver with red lettering. One took me into the shadow of evil and the other brought me out; a little different, but alive.

I suppose time passes so slowly in war zones like these, because you are aware of each minute you are alive. Aware of each hot muggy breath you take, and each minute you lie on dirty damp sandy sheets and try to sleep during the day or night. Aware of each minute you fight off sleep on post, and the sound of each close “kachunk” during unfriendly fire, even the muffled thuds thirty miles away. It is the awareness that someone who does not even know you, wants to kill you just to survive themselves, and it puzzles your every waking moment. Awareness of one friend lost and another wounded. It could have been you. You are always aware of the darkness and the present silent danger.

It seems to take an eternity just to fill in Miss FIGMO’s head, but you religiously visit her locker-alter each day - paying homage and penciling in a daily sacrifice to help get you to the next day - one more closer to going home.

Time goes by so slowly (and time can do so much) that you again feel you have always been there and that home is only a dream. You begin to feel you will never leave. One way or the other you are not going to get out of there alive. It was predestined - what was meant to be all along. That is why having a car, maybe a wife and some kids, seems so unobtainable to a 19 year old. It is because you were not meant to have those things. You were meant to come here and die. The mind plays funny games with you under this kind of isolation and stress.

Nevertheless, one day, you are actually SHORT and you shout it for the first time! It feels good, at least as long as the beer last. When you are alone it actually scares you. You hear stories of guys who were shot in the back getting on the plane, so you’re afraid to push your luck by celebrating too confidently. The numbers actually begin to scare you around 70, then 50, then 30. You eat less and sleep less - its paranoia at its best. “Oh my precious Lord…please let me make it out of here. Please!

The day finally comes and you have 3 days left. You shout silently inside as you board the plane for Saigon, to await the “silver bird” that will take you home to the round-eyed women. You color in number four and board the plane.

You also get to shout “SHORT and FIGMO” at some green weenies, but the boasting is shallow. Deep inside you know how they feel, but you do not want to show your fear for, or to them. You are an American man, a war worn veteran, and you have to keep up appearances, so you mock them and let them know the hell they face and that you are “short”. They did it to you, so you do it to them.

As you can see, you never leave Vietnam. It is with you all the time, just waiting for a moment to spring back upon you and make you remember. It all survives - the good and the bad.

The last good was the Northwestern “silver bird” that sat cautiously at the end of the runway on day number 1. The engines run up to speed and then the clacking sound, as the wheels pass over the breaks in the runway. It gets faster and faster, then silence as the wheels leave the earth. However, there are snipers sometimes, so every breath is held until the steep climb seems high enough and is finally punctuated by the rumbling thud of the wheels retracting and sealing off the rushing air.

NOW YOU CAN SHOUT, “SHORT!” Everyone leans over for one last glimpse and cusses the fading land behind them. Relief overwhelms you. The weight of the world is lifted you want to cry and hug everyone, but you cannot. You just shout “SHORT!

Our “silver girl” was sailing on. Her time to shine had come, and all our dreams were on their way!

The way the world is today, war is ever present – a way of life for each successive generation. Sometimes I think we are all getting short. I just wish that all the world leaders could experience a SHORT TIMERS CALENDAR just one time in their life. It should be a prerequisite! Maybe then, we would never again have to make copies of FIGMO calendars for our children to take into war.


Miss Trashahassee said...

I wish you didn't have to go through all that.

Thank you.

Mushy said...

Ms. Trash - I'm sure glad you aren't hiding that purdy face anymore, and ya got them teeth the hat too!

Ah, I faired pretty well...for the most part. Thanks.

pat houseworth said...

Pan Am Going over(and back and forth from Hawaii on R&R), and Braniff International, a purple one, coming back.

Sarge Charlie said...

Great post my friend, I could feel it as I read it. The sad part is that for eons of time, old men have sent young men to war, that is a fact and it cannot be changed.

Divalicious said...

I'm amazed at how you can always peg such details and how you tell the true horror stories. Sometimes it scares me to "be there". You're the man, Mushy.

Hammer said...

I can just imagine how it must have felt to be taking off in that silver bird and saying goodbye to that place.

Ralph's Homespun Headlines said...

Great post.
I have finally gotten around to adding you to my links - hope that is okay.

Mushy said...

Thanks Ralph...I've had you covered for some time now. It's strictly voluntary!

~Fathairybastard~ said...

Another vivid description man. You make the fear and anxiety come alive. I flashed on a scene from a great Russian movie about Afghanistan while reading this. I'll see if I can find the clip I'm thinking of and send it to ya.

I also thought about the planes that brought the POWs back from the North in ‘73. We were in Missouri when they flew those guys back. I remember seeing tears streaming down my fathers face as we watched Capt. Denton say those famous words, and I remember the video of the guys erupting in glee when they were told they had cleared North Vietnamese airspace. Thought of all that when I read your description.

~Fathairybastard~ said...

OK, check this out...

Just before this scene, a soldier who just got into the country runs into another soldier about to get on that plane to go home. Two guys from the same home town exchange hugs and laughs, and the departing soldier hands the new one his good luck charm, saying he doesn't need it any more. He's on his way home. He get's on the plane. The rest is in the scene above.

Suldog said...

Mushy - Every time I come here, I'm happier that I found this website. Your writing about Vietnam, and your experience there, is magnificent.

"...dirty damp sandy sheets..."

My skin crawls just thinking about it, my friend.

Mushy said...

Yeah, FHB, I remember watching that too and even today I get that lump and have to choke it back, unless I'm alone and then it's flood of emotion.

The clip is right on...exactly what we all expected as we lifted off!

SUL - Thank you man...I had a hard time with that particular one. I'm kind of glad they are behind me now, but something is still unsaid. Maybe it will come later. Thanks again for you kind words of support, MY friend.

~Fathairybastard~ said...

Well hell, here's the opening scene.

Mushy said...

FHB - Yeah, I figured that out in the first one, but that makes it complete. Nothing changes except the flag. War is the same for all young men.

Scott from Oregon said...

When my Pops got out of the Air Force and we left The Middle East, he got a job flying those silver girls and we moved to California.

(Lots of song lyric possibilities in that bit, eh?)

He did some of his early non-military flying, flying into Vietnam. Ironic isn't it?

BRUNO said...

I wasn't lucky enough to have a SHEET---although I did have a TARP that I was very "intimate" with!(Sorry---couldn't resist breaking the tension!)

But, seriously---I enjoyed the way you ended this story. Yes, that last paragraph.

Indeed---what IF...?

Anonymous said...

I will think of this post evry time I see a 707..nice work Mushy

GUYK said...

FIGMO! yep.

david mcmahon said...

Mushy, we're so lucky to have you. Simple as that.

I always loved the 707s. Great design. Strong as hell.

Lin said...

Mushy, I didn't even stop as usual to read previous comments. For what ever reasons, I found this one the most incredibly, personally moving of all your previous Nam stories. There is something about conflict, mortal or otherwise, something that your words have touched upon here that touched me deeply and profoundly. Thank you. That's all I can manage to say at the moment.

Mushy said...

DAVID - I'm lucky to have you all! Thanks.

LIN - You certainly said a mouth full! Thank you so much...your words mean more than you can imagine to me.