Remembering A Vietnam Veteran

…Van was something of a “doper,” and occasionally I’d seen him stoned. But after appearing before those judges, he was getting stoned much of the time, as well as drunk. I’d never seen him inebriated before that. Two small glasses of wine had been his limit. But after the trial, he’d often put away half a gallon in a day. The overnight change in him was phenomenal. His war memories bothered him more and more, and he’d talk about people he’d seen killed. “Do you know what it’s like to see your buddies die?” he’d keep saying, “Do you know what it’s like to kill a mother who’s crying because her children are all dead?”

A couple of weeks passed like this. Then, on May 18th, on his 23rd birthday, around midnight, he pounded on my door, shouting “I want to show you something!” When I opened the door I could see he was terribly upset, really angry, apparently in a violent mood. He demanded that I go with him to his place and see whatever it was that he wanted to show me. Van was not a person I cared to argue with when he was that angry; I was frightened and obediently accompanied him.

“I killed seven people in Nam,” Van was saying as we entered his apartment. “I can’t live with it any more!” He went to a drawer, took out a bottle of bright red pills and swallowed all of them in front of me.

Although I’d once rescued his cat from his anger, that evening I was afraid to grab the pills or do anything to stop him. Not knowing what else to do or say, I told him to sit down and take it easy. He did, and within minutes, passed out, still talking about his Vietnam memories. “I killed a woman who was crying because her children were all dead. … You don’t know what it’s like to see your buddies die.”

I went for help and got him to a hospital where he died a week later without ever regaining consciousness. I later learned that the red pills he’d overdosed on were Seconal, a type of sleeping pill. People also told me, “When somebody O.D.s on downers, you never want to let them sit down. You gotta keep them walking.”

In a diary we found after his death, he’d written: “Vietnam left me so alone. Why or how could I take the life of a human? Why was killing humans fun? Can God forgive me?”


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