Monday, October 24, 2011

Heroes Who Fought in Vietnam; Only 25 More Days

    Several years ago I had another strange dream.

    There was a long corridor, stretching far from sight. Odd doors thronged both sides, doors that made me crawl with fear. I edged closer to the eerie noises coming from the millions of doors on either side of the endless hall.  Blinking exit signs hung above me.  I looked around, confused.  Where was the exit?  
    I gazed farther along the ceiling, my eyes suddenly catching on exit signs that hung above each door.  The place felt like an old hotel, the kind I'd stayed in when my dad went out of town.  Green designs weaved throughout the beige carpet and I tip-toed across the straight lines as I walked along.
Photos of Lake View Garden Hotel, Wuhan

    "How did I get here?  How . . ." I heard someone scream behind a door. "How, do I get out of here?"
    "This is war, man," another guy said.  "You're protecting the country.  We're protecting the country!  You can't leave yet." 
    "But they don't even appreciate what we're doing!"
    I stepped back, wrapping my arms around my chest and clinging to my light shirt.  The place reeked of death as if mortality pulsed from the wall-papered walls.  
    The exit signs, the only light in the hall, flickered as a wind ripped through my skin.  I shivered and wished there was a way out, but even as I turned around, I realized the hall didn't end.  It went forever in both directions, like a big circle.
    "My, my.  You've finally arrived.  And why is it that you've come?"
    I jumped, looking back to where nothing had been before.  A small man hobbled toward me.  He stood as high as my waist and his graying beard tickled the ground.  He wore a black, fat hat and his bulbous nose bespoke evil.  "So, why have you come.  You've traveled an awfully long way, just to stand here like a mute."
    "I . . ."  I wanted to touch his face.  Poke him to make sure he was real.  "I seek the one true . . . I seek . . ."
    "Knowledge," he finished for me.
    I nodded, thinking he looked like the face of war.
    "Many have come to this hall.  Many have never left.  If you truly seek enlightenment, then you must face the rooms of death."
    I swallowed.
    "One room you must go in, though only one may fail you.  Test it now although you try, it must then completely avail you."
    "What?"
    He looked at me and tapped his foot.  "I said, one room you must go in, though only one may--"
    "I heard you, but what does it mean?"
    "You go in a room.  You're tested.  You probably won't even come out.  But if by some chance, by some act of God, you come out, then you'll find what you seek."
    "And that's it?"
    "Yep, enjoy."  He opened a door to his left.  As he walked through, he turned to vapor and I heard a distant scream.  The door swung shut behind him and I decided that would not be my first pick.
    I walked down the endless corridor, grasped a handle, opened the door, and then . . . I woke up.


    For some reason, I have strange dreams, and a few of them never leave me.  That, was one of those dreams.


    But let me go back.  I need to explain things so this will make sense.
    In July, I wrote this post: 

Dick Donathan (my uncle) Died in Vietnam

    I was surprised and delighted when, a few days later, I got an e-mail saying my uncle's fiance and her sister had found my blog!
   I sent e-mails to the sister, and after a few, she invited me and my mom to meet them and some men who had known my uncle in Vietnam.  
   I was so excited!  What an amazing opportunity.  My mother agreed to go, and so we went to meet my uncle's fiance, her sisters, and a group of marines in Vegas.
    
    I blinked and the elevator opened.  We were finally there--to meet the marines--but I couldn't gain my composure.  As I looked down the hallway, I suddenly had the strongest sense of deja vu.  
    I'm not sure if my mother knew how nervous I was because she seemed worried too.  But we went on, walking down the carpet that practically came from my dreams and the doors which loomed oddly.
    "There it is," I told my mother and she nodded, it was time to meet them.
    I knocked, but no one answered.  I knocked again, my heart beating faster and faster.  Still, no answer.  I heard someone talking from inside, "They're protecting our country,"  a man said.
    It sounded so much like one of the voices in my dream that the realization hit--I'd had a dream similar to that moment.
    "They're here," I said, and decided to try the handle.
    I closed my eyes tightly.  My hand went out to touch the metal.  I couldn't believe everything seemed so familiar.  Was I in the right place at the right time, or was I just going nuts? 
    I remembered the little man in my dream, and how his face looked like war.  His words flooded my mind, "Many have come to this hall.  Many have never left.  If you truly seek enlightenment, then you must face the rooms of death."
     "Do we have the right room number?" my mom asked.
    "I think so," I said.  "But it's locked." We backed up and looked at the room across the hall.  They were all conference rooms and various voices drifted and laughed through the doors.  
    "Well, should we go ask the front desk again?" I asked, feeling really out of sorts.
    That's when another door down the hallway opened.  "There you are," a woman yelled.  "We thought we heard someone knocking."
    She smiled brightly, truly a beautiful woman. My mom and I walked closer, then went into the conference room.
    Now, let me tell you, the second I walked in there, I started loving every minute.  Those men are amazing!  My uncle's fiance and sisters are wonderful.
    One man pulled me aside.  "People now will tell you that smoking will kill ya."
    "Yeah?" I said.
    "Well, I remember when a good cigarette would save your life."
    "How's that?" I asked, smiling. 
    "In those swamps, the leeches, they'd suck your blood and if you pulled the damn things off, their heads would stay.  But if you had a cigarette, you could burn 'em off and they'd leave you alone."
    I nodded from the irony.  
    I talked with another man after that.  He told me more about what each of the men went through, the insane weather, the swamps which could swallow a man whole; he even told me about my uncle and called him the best thing ever!  He said my uncle was  "a good man--the best there is.  Your uncle," he said, "was a good shit."
    I heard a few people talking about how Vietnam changed everyone who went there.  "We came back damaged," one guy said. 
    The next day we all said "goodbye."  I watched as one man left the hotel.  I thought about my dream and that little man whose face looked like war.  I thought of his words saying how so many people went through the rooms of death and how many have never left.
    His words hit me as I watched one of the survivors from Vietnam leaving the hotel.  He has leg problems from getting shot, but that man ALL OF THOSE MEN are still alive and they are inspiring.
   I know some of them said they're damaged, but I had to write this because when I talked with each and every one of those people in that room, I didn't see men and women who were damaged; I saw amazing people who beat the odds.  I saw strong men, willing to face anything.  Men who would stand valiantly even after the war had ended, but would still threaten to take over their futures.  Those men in that room weren't damaged--they are heroes.  They are survivors!  And I am PROUD to have met them!  Plus, now I have something to aspire to--one day, I want to be a good shit!


    So, I had that strange dream years ago; I still don't know if it's meant to be connected or just a coincidence, but what I do know it that in my dream, I was looking for knowledge and answers.  Well, when I went to Vegas, that's what I found. 


    To all of those who I was able to meet and talk with--THANK YOU!  I know Vietnam changed your lives, but I want you to know, that you have forever changed mine.  Thank you for your sacrifice.
Thank you for your time.  Thank you . . . for being my heroes.






    In closing, I wanted to share a poem that a soldier gave to  Ravi Zacharias when he was in Vietnam.

Lord God I have never spoken to You
But now I want to say, “How do You do?”

You see God, they told me You didn’t exist
And like a fool I believed all this
Last night from a shell hole I saw Your sky
I figured right then they had told me a lie

Had I taken time to see the things You made
I’d have known they weren’t calling us spade to spade

I wonder God if You’ll take my hand
Somehow I feel that You’ll understand

Funny I had to come to this hellish place
Before I had time to see Your face

I guess there really isn’t much more to say
But I’m sure glad God, that I met You today

I guess zero hour will soon be here
But I’m not afraid since I know You’re near

There’s the signal, well God, I’ll have to go
I like You lots, I want You to know

Looks like this’ll be a horrible fight
Who knows I may come to Your house tonight

Though I wasn’t friendly to You before
I wonder God if You’d wait at Your door

Look I’m crying, I’m shedding tears
I’ll have to go now God, goodbye

Strange now since I’ve met You
I’m not afraid to die



This has been posted as a sample tribute for
"The Golden Sky" Blogfest.
(Only 25 more days!  Yahoo!)