(Editor’s Note: This post was first published on 18 November 2013.)
I call myself the “Old Soldier” because I fought in the Vietnam War. I served with the 1st Cav (Airmobile) Division as a 105 mm howitzer artillery crewman. Yes, I came under fire (mortar and sniper). I was lucky and survived and received no physical injuries. I was nineteen years old when I served in Vietnam. But even after I rotated back home to Pittsburgh and was discharged from the army about one year later, I knew the war had messed up my mind.
Writing was my outlet. Writing kept me sane. Writing was my personal self-help program of therapy. I became a writer not because I wanted to, but because I had to.
And except for a few short stays in the psychiatric ward of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, I was more or less able to keep it together.
Even though I found it impossible to hold down a steady job or to have a long-term relationship with a woman, I feel lucky. I feel I did okay. I kept writing. I went back to college and got my BA in 2003, won a K. LeRoy Irvis Fellowship for graduate school and got my MFA in 2006, both degrees from the University of Pittsburgh.
Now I’m retired with a modest but steady income for the rest of my life, free medical because I’m a veteran and I publish one of the most exciting flash fiction magazines on the Internet. And I got no aches or pains. Like I said, I know how lucky I am. Over 50,000 Americans did not come back from Vietnam and countless more were wounded. For the Vietnamese it was even worse, much worse.
Recently, one of my writers submitted a story in which a character in the story had the opportunity of getting a good job in Vietnam. When my writer realized what she had done she emailed me, apologized for being so thoughtless and said she would change Vietnam to another country.
I told her it was a good story and I was going to publish it next month exactly the way she wrote it.
Vietnam doesn’t hurt me anymore.
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