CONTAINS SOLDIER LANGUAGE
“You know how they say absence makes the heart grow fonder?” TK said one night when Fourth Squad sat on the bunker near the hooch. “Sometimes that’s a crock of shit.”
The squad had come in from ambush that morning, slept until the heat of the day made sleep impossible. Between noon and about six o’clock, nobody did much of anything. It was the time of year of dry heat, when the entire country seemed to bake beneath a relentless sun. That time of year, the Vietnamese had enough sense to put off work after noon. Only mad dogs and Americans went out in the afternoon sun.
When the heat lessened, Frenchy and Reese walked to the PX and bought two cases of beer and carried the beer back to the platoon area. Two cases would be six each, enough to enjoy, but nobody would be hungover next morning, when Fourth Squad relieved First Squad on perimeter duty.
When TK made his remark about absence, O’Mera said, “I don't know about that. There’s girls in Philly I’m a lot fonder of now than I was a year ago.”
“Yeah,” Reese agreed. “I remember girls I wouldna looked at too much in high school, I’d sure look em over now.”
“That’s not exactly what I meant,” TK said.
O’Mera said, “I miss all those girls at Dodge Park. Some of them weren’t all that much to look at, but like Reese said, I’d sure like to see them now.”
“Ahh,” TK grunted. “That’s ‘cause you’re all horny.”
“You got that right,” Bo said. He glanced my way. “Hey, Tom. When’re you gonna get us another trip to Long Binh?”
I laughed and said, “When they start giving three-day passes.”
“Man,” Bo said, “why don’t the army realize we need a little relaxation now and then.”
“They got a in-country R&R center in Vung Tau,” Reese said. “Course, I don’t think they’d let us all go at the same time.”
Bo laughed. “I can see that. A whole squad goin on R&R.”
“Yeah,” Allen said. “All of us descending on civilization at the same time.”
Bo said, “It’d be your first time, right, Professor?”
Allen grinned as he looked at Bo. “That’s none of your business, is it.”
“Well,” Bo said, “all’s I know is you ain’t never talked about any women you had.”
“I think,” Allen said, “the important word you used was ‘had.’ To me, that denotes using a woman for your own gratification.”
“Well sheeit,” Bo said. “Let me write that down.”
Allen said, “Do you want me to spell the words for you?” Bo just laughed.
“You’re missing the point,” TK said. “I wasn’t talking about the absence of pussy.”
Frenchy laughed. “That’s the only absence that counts around here.”
“No,” TK said. He shook his head. He took a long swallow of beer -- Black Label or Hamm’s or Reisling, almost never Budweiser or Schlitz. The REMFs always got to the PX first and bought up all the best beer, if the good stuff ever made it to base camp to begin with. All of us figured the real REMFs, the ones in Saigon or any other city, got to the air base or distribution point where beer first arrived in-country, checked shipping manifests and bought most of the Budweiser and Schlitz straight from the warehouses.
“No,” TK again said. “I’m not talking about an absence of pussy. What I mean ... Say somebody gets a letter from a girl.”
“Aw, shit,” O’Mera said. “You got a Dear John letter?”
“Man,” Bo said. “What’s wrong with a girl, she writes a Dear John letter. I mean, don’t you put up with enough shit already?”
TK said, “You’re missing the point.” He lit a cigarette. “Paula broke up with me when I was in Basic. She said things just weren’t the same anymore.”
“I guess not,” Frenchy said. “You were puttin up with all that bullshit from drill sergeants, she’s back home, got nothin to do on Friday night.”
“Yeah,” TK said. “Anyway, I got a letter from Paula yesterday. Paula’s at college now, and she said ...” TK laughed. “She said she just can’t believe I do the things she reads about in the papers, sees on the TV.” TK pitched his voice high. “‘I just don’t see how you can burn those villages and do unspeakable things to women and children.’”
“No shit?” Bo said. “She write you that?”
TK nodded. “She did. This morning, I wrote back. I said, ‘Well, darlin’, I’ll tell you. Hooches go up real fast when you apply the proper flame. Dumb fucking gooks don’t have enough sense to build proper houses. And as for the unspeakable acts, well, you’d be surprised how easy it is to put a dick in a gook pussy. Wide as a fucking barn door. And kids? They don’t run so fast you can’t cut ‘em down, even on rock ‘n roll. That’s full auto for you dumbass civilians.’ I signed it ‘All my love, Tom.’”
All of us about fell off the bunker laughing. Frenchy said, “You really tell her that?”
“Damn straight,” TK said.
Bo said, “Well, Home, I figure the army owes you some kind of award. Above and beyond the call of duty, as they say.”
TK said, “What really pisses me off is ... Paula’s known me all my life. We went together two years, and I get a letter like that. I mean, she gonna believe me, I say nobody I know ever burned a village, raped a woman, shot a kid? Fuck, no. She sees it on TV, doesn’t she? She reads it in the paper, doesn’t she? Who’s she going to believe, me or some fuckin idiot journalist?” He drank about half his beer. “I guess that letter shows who she believes.”