Words Have Power, They Are Magic Pt 3
I wasn’t a particularly good soldier. Nor was I a bad soldier. I enjoyed boot camp where I earned the nickname Numb Nuts. That was on account of a drill sergeant yelling at me for the umpteenth time. I had always been an honest sort and when sergeant asked me something like “do you understand me Private?” I would answer truthfully, “Sir, I do not, Sir.” Which is true. I hardly ever understood anything he said. He yelled so loud and so fast all his words blended together. I learned to watch what the others were doing, that is how I figured things out. It drove sergeant crazy, my answering honestly. I refused to do anything else. Kinda dumb I know. However, because of that, he started calling me numb nuts. “Do you understand me numb nuts” the name stuck and I was known as Numb Nuts for the next couple of weeks. I also cleaned a lot of latrines.
I managed to survive boot and soon found myself on transport to Vietnam. Into the arms of Charlie I went. Literally. I was captured by the Viet Cong pretty quick. I never even fired my weapon. Kinda embarrassing, but Numb Nuts here was assigned to latrine duty and I was busy digging when I was captured. I have no idea what happened to my Phil, he was supposed to have my back. He was gone I was being marched into the jungle by a little yellow man.
The walk through the jungle is pretty hazy. We had met up with other soldiers and POWs. And we walked. And walked. Eventually we walked into a prison camp. There me and the other prisoners were divided and put by groups into cages. The cages were made of bamboo. The one I was put into with six other soldiers was about 6 by 5 and already had four other prisoners. The entire cage was made of bamboo. Thankfully, ours was tall enough for most of the men to stand. It was not true for some of the other cages. Some of the others were stuck into small cages with their feet in stocks. I learned later that for some reason Charlie considered these soldiers to be most likely to escape. That made no sense as all of us were most likely to escape, but many things made no sense. Like, when one of the guards decided we were good prisoners and gave us a cigarette to share. It was a nasty hand rolled cigarette and we all only got a drag or two before two as gone. It was a good day that day.
Most days were not. Most days we sat on the dirt floor of our cage in the heat and the stench of dysentery and sometimes gangrene. Watching each other dying. We were hungry. Our food was a ball of rice about the size of an orange served twice a day. Once a day we were marched to the Latrines, Two holes dug into the ground in the corner of the compound. The path there was lined with human filth and waste, left by those who could not wait due to the dysentery that ran rampant throughout the camp. To help the others (and myself) forget about our ills I told stories to my cage mates.
One day I looked over at a guy, we called surfer. He had come from California originally and talked a lot about his home, the beaches and the redwoods. That is, he used to talk a lot about his home. Lately he was too sick to talk at all. He was nothing but skin and bones, and he had no body function control, so he laid in his own filth. His eyes were crusted shut and his breathing was labored. It hurt me to look at him, to see him such, to smell death on him. I looked at my other cage mates. We had started with 10 in our cage and now had 12. I took an inventory. Surfer, Maine, Blondie and 4 others had the stench of death on them. The rest were close. Including myself.
I decided it was time for me to do something. Up until that day, I guess I expected to be rescued. I thought for sure the Marines would burst in saving us, that the thump thump thump of Hueys would be heard overheard. It never happened. I was fooling myself thinking the cavalry would burst in on us. That anyone even knew we were here. Yes, it was time to do something.
Up until that moment, I had not written anything down. I had learned that even when trying to help, the magic of words twisted things. And so I thought. It was important to write the correct sentence. That maybe if I was clever enough I could prevent bad things from happening to innocent people. And so I thought. Finally, I had it. I knew what to say.
I, of course, did not have pencil or paper, I did not have a stick, but I had my fingers. And so I scratched in the dirt “I wish that Charlie would find love in his heart and a fire in his belly to do the right thing. That he would find the fear of God and fall to his knees in awe.” I took my quite a bit of time to scratch al that out. Maybe an hour? Maybe Two? Time was different there. No clocks and no way of telling time. Even food came at different times. It just took a long time to write all that. My fingers were bloody, the skin being so thin it tore open. It didn’t matter. I sat back to wait, hoping that I wrote it right. That the words, that words, words had power they were magic. That is was still true even here among the dead the dying, the smells of suffering, the sound of a million insects in my ears, and the mind-numbing heat. I believed though, I still believed.
That belief, however, wavered when I came to the next morning. I never really slept, it was more like passing out, so each morning I did not wake up, I came to. This morning I came to Charlie running around and yelling. It was like a scene out of a keystone cops episode. They were running, and yelling and tripping all around the yard. Something was definitely up. I watched with interest as they opened each cage and using bamboo sticks poked, prodded, and hit the prisoners until each cage was emptied.
I was one of the few lucky ones who were able to stand; I was wobbly but still was able to move under my own power. Those of us who could help the others who were crawling. Charlie lined us up on the middle of the prison. As we stood there a little yellow man stood before us, He was obviously an officer and full of self-importance. He informed us that we would be moving to a newer better camp with water and food and medicines. That it would be better for us. I did not believe him. Charlie was not known for keeping promises. One of their favorite games was to taunt us, make promises to mess with our heads. It was better to not listen to them, to not be a cause for their amusement.
As we stood there, listening, Bossman’s little speech was punctuated by gunshots. They were shooting the prisoners who could not get up, who were too sick to move. Each shot felt like it was going through me.
I bowed my head. The heat, the incessant drone of Charlie taking like a particularly large annoying insect and the shots all conspired to defeat me, to finally make me feel hopeless. As I stood there, with my head bowed, I felt a vibration. It took a bit to understand what I was feeling. I t was a low vibration, in my chests and very faint hum. The hum grew into thumps and the vibrations grew deeper until over the treetops with a roar appeared three Hueys. Instantly all hell broke loose. I grabbed the guy standing next to me to the ground. I looked up just in time to see Officer Charlie’s get shot in the gut and as he dropped to his knees, his head burst into a flower of red. They were here. They had come. I kept low and dragged the other prisoner with me to the side of the clearing. I sat there and watched as one by one our guards were shot. Some ran into the surrounding forest but most were shot dead in the clearing. Eventually the few remaining laid down their weapons and soon our little camp was overrun with US Army. The USA. The US of A Army loaded us up and got us out of there.
I ended up in a hospital in Hawaii for several months as I was healed up. I had dysentery, malaria, was skinnier than all get out and a number of other ailments. During that time, we had a general walk in. He shook our hands, congratulated us on our service, our heroism and pinned a medal on us. Heroism? Ha! All I did was survive. A couple of times I as I got better and was able to move around a bit, I had to go see a head doctor. Seems I should’ve been shellshock and have guilt cause I survived or something like that. I told him I had no such thing. When he asked how did I think I survived, was it skill? Was it luck? I told him it was neither. I survived because of words. Words have power, they are magic.