Please imagine, your brother, sister, son, or daughter just returned from an injury free expedition to the summit of Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. It’s likely, in advance of the expedition, many trepidations were expressed by loved ones and friends citing their perception of the risks and dangers that surely lie ahead, at least through their understandably thin veneer of those impending realities.
Upon the mountaineers’ safe and scheduled return home 4 – 5 weeks later, each was greeted with positive emotion from those who opted, for whatever reason, not to participate in the expedition. Each posed questions on a range of minutia, e.g., the mountaineer’s physical – mental preparation, the climb itself, the weather, their Sherpa guides, and their thoughts upon reaching the summit, etc.. For the most part, the mountaineers responses to the questions amounted to elaborations of their on-going social media interaction and special website posts to ‘friends’ broadcast for the duration of each phase of the expedition preparation and execution process.
While the barrage of questions were conveyed with eagerness and perhaps some level of envy, the responses were replete with descriptive narratives which most (questioners) had little, if any, personal familiarity, aside from media reporting. It didn’t take long for each mountaineer to recognize a commonality as to how their detailed responses were being received – interpreted, i.e., each questioner trying to relate it to a (personal) life experience, if possible.
For many Vietnam War combat soldiers returning home to physical safety…perhaps understandably, held expectations there would be comparable displays of interest, or more correctly stated, what one perceived our fathers experienced returning home from WWII. I have learned, not surprisingly, some returning (Vietnam War) combat veterans held expectations their homecoming may include a celebratory tone embedded with a genuinely conveyed interest in what they had experienced, endured, and ultimately survived to talk about following a 52-week deployment with a personal departure date replete with ifs, ands, and buts.
If-when genuine inquiries did manifest for returning Vietnam War combat soldiers…the dialogue-narrative would likely be cautious initially interspersed with varying levels of soberness, solemnness, and unease. Just as frequently though, inquires could assume a presumptive tone, after all, the Vietnam War is frequently characterized as the U.S.’s first ‘televised war’, so many individuals elected to engage conversations with perspectives already formed – framed from 90 second snippets on evening news broadcasts, which at the time, there cable 24/7 news options.
A combat veteran’s response to any inquiry would likely be peppered with the distinctive vernacular of the Vietnam War and combat, i.e., descriptive words and language which at first blush may appear to be crude, callous, and perhaps insensitive to the circumstances they recently left, aside from the camaraderie within their unit. For a questioner – listener such descriptive language may be met with little commonality of interpretation or understanding wherein they would sense sufficient comfort to engage in follow-up questions or conversation to seek understanding and clarification.
Comparing the mountaineer to the Vietnam combat veteran is analogous…for the former, it would have been highly imprudent to put themselves and others at potentially grave risk to commence such an expedition absent substantial physical conditioning and mountaineering experience relevant to climbing the world’s highest mountain. Whereas, for the latter, the U.S. military presumed its infantry – combat arms trainees would learn quickly upon arrival in Vietnam, irrespective of having no direct combat experience. So, in a relatively brief period of time, 16 weeks, infantry trainees were presumed to acquire an ability to physically and emotionally transition (i.e., adjust, assimilate, etc.) to the inhospitable environs of war and combat in Vietnam.
Adding to some soldiers’ anxiety and wonderment about entering a theater of war, something which was rather routinely witnessed was that for a not insignificant percentage of replacements, the shuttle service from the U.S. to Vietnam was their first ever ‘plane ride’.
Admittedly, Vietnam War combat soldiers did not have the benefit or curse of real time, at will social media and photographic communication in which recipients could interpret as they wished, be it revisionistic to that seen on conventional broadcast news.
Michael D. Moberly April 8, 2016 St. Louis [email protected] ‘A blog where attention span really matters’!