Those Bastards © Solomon 2006
It’s Veteran’s Day. On this day, for many years, I always made a point of visiting my beautiful friend, George.
George never really came home from ‘Nam. I mean, he did come home in the most basic sense, but until the day he died in his comrade’s arms, he still had those night terrors and visions of running through the jungle and finding his foot in a snake pit as mortar rounds thumped and burned all around him.
He enlisted in the late-sixites to prove something to his dad. By the time he returned to upstate New York in the seventies, both his dad and mom were dead. So, he went way up to the real north country to run with a bunch of vets, all crazies on Harleys. They called themselves The River Rats. It took about a year for my friend to realize that he was not yet ready for any sort of society, even that among those criminals. He built himself a shack up on the mountain that looked down on Bell Hill, and became the Hermit of Ellenburg. The place was so cold that he burned through a dozen tin stoves in one winter. He’d burn one out and chuck it out back by the creek and go down to the general store for a replacement. He did quit his drinking and drugging, but he was alone aside from his mutts.
Well, after a spell, he came down from the mountain and that’s when we met. We became fast friends, and remained so for more than a decade. He seldom spoke of his experiences in the war or of the first couple of years thereafter. He did sometimes mutter about those dreams, but he clearly had no wish to delve into a past that he’d just as soon did not exist. He tried to move forward, and he did pretty well, once he got his balance back. He married, got a couple of good and longtime jobs. He put everything together with no help from the government.
No help from the government, indeed. At the age of fifty-two, he was driving home from work and started to feel a pain in his chest. He was having a hard time breathing. George figured that he was having a heart attack or something. He was having a heart attack. Fortunately, or so he thought, he was just a few hundred yards from the local VA hospital. He tossed his unfiltered Camel out the window, and rode up the hill in time to get to the front desk before he collapsed.
When he got to that desk, just before he did collapse, he was told that this institution was not an acute care facility. I was not there at the time, but I have done business at this site. I’m quite sure that at least one MD and several other health care professionals saw what was going on. Anyhow, after he hit the floor, the helpful front desk attendant called an ambulance, and George was taken on the ten minute ride to the nearest hospital that actually took care of people having heart attacks and such. There he stayed for a few days, until the VA decided that he was all okey-dokey, and should go home and stop costing them money.
Two days later, visiting his Army friend Bill, then suffering from terminal cancer perhaps related to Agent Orange (or it might have been the smokes, booze, heroin, or all of the above and much more), George started to gulp for air and seized his chest. He died in Bill’s arms within a few moments. In a sad sort of way, this was fitting. Neither Bill nor George liked to talk about their experiences in Viet Nam. They didn’t hang out with the sad sacks that would go on and on about the raw deal they got. In silence and with tears withheld, they just knew each other’s stories, and in silence and tears finally shed, George’s story ended in the embrace of one of the few folks he knew that really understood.
So, it’s Veteran’s Day, and I’m thinking of my beautiful friend. I miss him. I shall never know another of his like. I’m also very angry. There are generations upon generations of cold-gutted bastards that so have ill-used children in their wars, tossed human flesh with their careless hands upon the flames of their failures. The callous ministries and accountants that administer these abominations and their aftermath are as ancient as civilization. They will likely continue to thrive. Yet, today we must understand that George is gone, and cannot be replaced.
Hic Finis Est