People sometimes talk about life altering experiences—war is one of those experiences. Each generation seems to have its own war. For me it was Vietnam. My war was over fifty years ago and yet it was only yesterday. I can’t explain it.
There was a before Vietnam and an after Vietnam. And after Vietnam nothing was ever the same for me again. It was, as the first paragraph suggests, a life altering experience—down the rabbit hole and back up again. Robbed of everything.
Robbed of my: naïveté and innocence, my trust, my compassion, my virginity and my sobriety. As I watched this documentary it struck me how easy it was to relate to these tortured souls hiding in the wilderness. I longed to escape too—and for short periods of time I often did. Whether it was hiking and camping solo (or with my dog Major) in the desert or silently running mountain trails it was about: peace, quiet, tranquility—and most of all solitude. Having left civilised society behind for war I could never successfully integrate back into it upon my return. Neither could these veterans.
Listening to their stories is listening to my story—to a greater or lesser extent. They struggle to communicate their thoughts and feelings but it’s impossible—their anger, distrust, paranoia and isolation are always present even when temporarily subdued and controlled. Always the fear that it will boil over. The overriding emotions are anger and betrayal, the overriding need is solitude, the overriding fear is loss of control. America is quick to send its young people to war where they often become damaged goods but less quick to really heal them. I support the troops is an empty platitude unless accompanied by real action.
Brother Joel and I are world trekkers who travel the world full-time (365 days a year). No home, no roots, no commitments. It’s a good life for me—I can hide in plain sight instead of disappearing into the wilderness. I don’t have to explain myself to others or pander to authority. I can just be me. It’s going to be more difficult when we get too old to travel full-time unless I just drop dead in my traces while on the road. The thought of being tied to a permanent place, with all that entails, frightens me—movement helps to keep me sane. Maybe a secluded mountain cabin with a fireplace, dog, cigar and a bottle of Scotch.
Field Notes: I enlisted in the Marine Corps DEP (Delayed Entry Program) in 1965 at the age of seventeen. When I graduated from high school I entered boot camp and graduated #2 in a platoon of sixty-five graduates (over eighty recruits started). I followed up boot camp with four weeks of infantry training, twelve weeks of specialist training and finally four more weeks of advanced infantry & jungle warfare training before heading to Vietnam in early January 1967. I was a nineteen year old Sergeant and squadron Operations Chief with 1st MAW at Chu Lai and returned to the USA 08 February 1968 – Sergeant S. F. Dennstedt 1965-1971 (Vietnam 1967-1968).