Bill E. McDonald
INCOMING!!!!! It was the cry that would send a chill down my spine and cause me to dive onto my stomach, face down with my hands clasp behind my head with a wide-eyed expression on my face, as I lay totally motionless. (Kind of like a deer caught in the headlights.) It was an autonomic reflex brought about by months of witnessing the immediate aftermath, which usually followed that hastily given, panic riddled alert which announced that my world was about to explode in a fire splashing, concussion of debris, blood and sometimes assorted human body parts. The few seconds of time between the warning and the sound of the first 122mm rocket slamming into the ground would seem like an eternity before the (comforting???) sound of the explosion would re-assure me that I was indeed …still alive. Alive to relive that sickening scenario over and over a countless number of times that year in Vietnam in 1968 before I returned to the comfort and safety of the world, my home, the United States of America.
Over the last 33 years many people who have never been in a war zone have asked me what it was like to live for twelve months in a place where death could literally come falling out of the sky at any given moment and I knew that no matter how much I talked, or how many movie and TV comparisons I used that I thought they might be able to relate to, that they would never get it. They would never feel the raw, unadulterated horror of truly believing that you probably just won’t be here tomorrow. They would never understand what it was like to live in a world where Chicken Little was absolutely correct and that the sky actually was falling.
Unfortunately, I was wrong because on September 11th 2001, as I watched video footage of a commercial jet airliner make it’s “FINAL” approach into tower #2 of the world trade center, my mind could only scream one word as it twisted and turned, echoing it’s way back through the halls of time allowing me to hear it as clearly as I did on the night of January 31st, 1968 as I stood on guard duty at Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base, in Saigon Vietnam the night of the TET offensive. The ominous one word warning” INCOMING” exploded in my mind one second before the airliner exploded into the tower and even now at the time of this writing I honestly don’t know whether or not I just thought it, or screamed it aloud. However, I do know that in that instant when the plane exploded into the tower, even before the explosion had ceased, I felt a kinship for all Americans that I had previously reserved for my fellow Vietnam veterans because then I knew that all Americans finally got it. They finally understood what it was like to live with the continual thought that in the next instant they just might not be here.
When I returned from a year (not just one day) of living under similar conditions, my beloved country, that I had fought for and many of my comrades had died for, welcomed me home with jeers of “War Monger” and” Baby Killer”. However, now they seem to understand that a person or a nation must do whatever it takes to survive a situation that they were forced into and had absolutely no control over. Over the past 33 years since Vietnam I have watched helplessly as God, prayer and patriotism was systematically eliminated from our public schools. These were the basic elements that got me through the hardest days of my life and now it seemed as though our society had deemed it obsolete to instill these values into our children. I worried and wondered what will get them through if faced with similar circumstances? Then on September 11th, 2001,everyone was once again singing “God Bless America”. Well America, I regret that it took so many lives to open our eyes, but I’m thankful that we finally get it. The nation finally understands.
For years I have tried to explain some of the feelings and experiences I endured in Vietnam to Carolyn, my lovely wife of 21 years, but as previously mentioned, she never quite got it…Thank God! However on the night of September 11th, 2001 as a military helicopter flew uncomfortably loud, uncomfortably (close?) over our residence, I happened to look over at her. She had a wide-eyed expression on her face as she sat totally motionless. (Kind of like a deer caught in the headlights.) Although it was never spoken, the ominous one word warning entered my mind, but not as that hastily given, panic-riddled alert of 11,000 miles away and 33 years ago, but as the voice of an echo of a whispered scream that pierced my mind and soul like a frozen ice pick.” Oh Jesus, Incoming.”
Copyright Bill E. McDonald 2001, All Rights Reserved
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