Will There Be A Tomorrow
The longest war in American history. Of that I'm sure.
Whenever that crosses my mind-and it does more often than I care to remember-my next thought is of the guys who spent their miserable days and countless nights in Hanoi's prisons.
Not only are fighter pilots the machoest of the macho, they are the world's premier cocksmen. Imagine going eight years without getting laid, eight years without the touch of a woman.
The macho bit is a very carefully cultivated and practiced act. The world's softest heart, on the other hand, is not; it's the real thing. Imagine all those years without the sound of a five-year old voice saying, "I love you, Daddy."
The reason for such sad deprivation was not the commission of some vile crime. It was the consequence of professional dedication, devotion to the highest ideal in all of human experience: "All men are created equal. . . endowed by their Creator with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. . ."
These men were in jail for believing in that. They were tortured continuously until time and dignity had no meaning at all because they had the balls to stake life and freedom in the fight to make human decency a living reality for people even whose names they did not know.
The mass gaggles began at two o'clock in the morning with the houseboy pounding on the door. The stars of the morning Alpha Strike cycled through the shower, the shifter, and the breakfast table at the o'club, then down to TOC (Tactical Operations Center) for the beginning of another taste of rude reality.
When I was yet a fledgling aviator at Moody Air Swamp in deep south Georgia I wrote my father one day and told him, "Dad, flying is a lot like farming. You have to get up before daylight, and if it rains, it ruins your whole day."
I guess it might have been in Thailand during the mid-sixties where the idea originated that air combat consisted of hours and hours of boredom punctuated by a few intense moments of stark terror.
I think this song was about the dozenth or so I wrote in my nine-month, 125-mission tour. In typical egotistical fighter pilot magnanimity, I thought it appropriate to pen a musical tribute to our brethren in jungle fatigues who spent their war slogging through the Vietnamese paddies with fear's cold sweat plowing icy furrows down their backbones.
After the third time through it I laid the paper down on my bunk and took a long look at the words.
". . . From the sea comes the sun. . ."
From high over the DMZ (Demilitarized-what a joke-Zone, the bullshit boundary between the two Vietnams) I had, time and again, watched the morning happen far out in the Gulf of Tonkin. I picked out the forms of the air refueling tankers silhouetted against the gray dawn as they waited patiently in Orange Anchor with their transfusions of JP-4 (jet fuel) for the bomb-laden fighters.
Totally glorious, seemingly oblivious to the misery beneath the jungle canopy, the morning sun fired the soul of every cockpit poet.
". . . Will the dawn still arrive, will I still be alive. . ."
I don't think people sleep very well in a booby-trapped jungle. Sometimes a poet carries an M- 16 in the crook of his arm.
". . . Or will I sleep alone here forever. . ."
Yes. Some still do: St Pierre. . . Crews. . . Helwig. . . Stan. . .
. . . And 58,000 more. . .