Snap

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

Anyone
who has lived in snow country, or is familiar with winter snowstorms
will understand the following analogy. After large snowfalls I would
try to make money as a teen by plowing out the neighbors' driveways
with my dad's Ford tractor. It was a cold job and the timing of
snowstorms never coincided with important events like eating, sleeping,
girl-chasing, and other teen activities. Many mornings my mother
would wake me up early to inform me of the previous night's snowfall
and advise me to get dressed and start plowing driveways. How the
hell she ever knew that at 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning there was
snow to plow was beyond me but I would soon be leaving the warm
comfort of my bed to get on that open-air tractor in sub-freezing
weather to push snow into great piles. Years later, as a young adult
trying to make a living in construction I found myself occasionally
plowing snow in Oswego, NY. This is real snow country to those not
in the know. I recall a sixty-inch snowfall in one afternoon. My
snowplowing experiences in Oswego were much more comfortable than
as a teen because I now used a truck to plow. Now I was able to
ride in comfort, listen to the radio, drink coffee, and stay warm
while capitalizing on living in an icebox. At any rate, I consider
myself an accomplished plower of snow.

No
matter how powerful the equipment, there will be a point where you
can no longer push a pile of snow. You lose traction or the machine
loses the power battle with the snow pile, or something breaks.
Sometimes it is all three. As a plow gets buried in the snow it
is pushing, the pressure of the resistant snow eventually exceeds
the force that the truck or tractor or the equipment can put on
the obstacle. When that happens, you have to back up, get some momentum
going for you and ram into the resistant snow pile. If you aren't
trying to push it too far, or the snow is not too deep, or if you
are able to overcome the dead weight with inertia, the plow usually
wins. Sometimes the snow pile wins and you have to just leave the
pile and hope for warm weather so it will melt before the next snowstorm.
Sometimes the testosterone we live with tells our brain to just
hit the pile harder and harder with more determination until the
roar of the engine gives way to the sound of metal breaking. A four-letter
word says it all: snap! Snap is a wonderful little onomatopoeia.
It is efficiently short, easy to recognize, and accurately describes
the action. When you hear snap, you know you will soon be spending
time and money rectifying the situation.

This
morning, while eating my high-fiber, healthy breakfast I attempted
to read the newspaper, as is my usual modus operandi. It is the
first part of my steps to a successful day's routine before driving
to the high school where I teach. I usually catch the front page,
maybe finish one complete article, turn to the local section to
catch what might interest me, and then turn to the obits to ensure
I'm not listed there yet. But today was different. I started with
the main story, the one about the wedding party in Iraq our warplanes
shot to pieces killing about forty civilians including women and
children. It is an undeniable story because they had photos of the
dead bodies scattered about. The official response was we shot up
a safe house used by insurgents who were attempting to upset the
peace, love, and democracy process America is trying to impose on
Iraq.

I
would be more conclusive and specific on the story but like my experiences
with plowing snow, I got stuck about half way through the article.
Just like the snow putting pressure on the plow, the words in this
article were putting pressure on my head preventing me from finishing
it. Imagine that; I cannot even plow through a snowstorm in Miami!
I shoved the paper to the side a bit and concentrated on my cereal.
When my eyes caught the paper sitting so close, I gave it a couple
of shoves as if I could shove the reality of this horror away from
me. But it did not go away. And I know that the paper will be there
this afternoon. And I know that it is in every paper in every city
and on every breakfast table or recliner in America. And I know
that this horrible thing happened. And I know what it feels like
to witness this sort of event in person. And I guess I know I will
be reliving that page of my history for the rest of my life.

Briefly,
in the Spring of 1969 while on a mission in Vietnam, my five-man
team of LRRPs, or Rangers (same thing), observed bad guys going
into a group of hootches throughout the night. We had night vision
scopes and were able to watch them in the dark. We devised a plan
to call in artillery strikes in the morning at first light and try
to take detainees if possible. It was not an unusual procedure for
us. We often ruined the bad guys' day by attacking at that magical
moment of first light. We called for helicopter support and once
we knew it was en route we called for artillery. As soon as the
first marker round burst we called for H.E., or high explosive on
the ground. After we got one on the ground we adjusted fire and
called "fire for effect," which means bring it on. Three
rounds came in and we adjusted a bit more. The next rounds hit the
buildings blowing them to hell. We were excited by the activity
and were cheering as we called for a "repeat fire mission."
That meant make no adjustments and keep firing. The artillery explosions
are an awesome sight. It is rather freaky because once you call
it in; you know it will be on its way and hitting soon. You wonder
where the shell is until it safely hits your target. To the guys
on the receiving end, there is no warning. One second it is quiet,
the next moment your world is gone. The impact of the explosions
almost knocks the wind out of you from 500 meters away.

The
fire mission was gauged a huge success. We blew away some bad guys
that day. Once the shelling stopped, we assaulted what was left
of the hootches. On our way to the hootches we received automatic
weapons fire from somewhere within the remains of the buildings.
The whole team of five guys opened fire and we each pumped about
five twenty-round clips of ammo into what was left of the enemy's
residence. We then started our search for anything of interest,
meaning weapons, explosives, papers, and survivors. All we found
were dead bad guys, a few dead women, a dead old man, and one dead
baby. The baby had been killed by one of our bullets. In the heat
of the moment, our adrenaline was flowing so fast and furious we
could feel nothing but elation at taking out some of the enemy.
It did not seem to bother us that we each had a twenty per cent
chance of being the one who had killed the baby. At the time, I
had a baby boy at home who I had not even seen yet. My son was born
about one week after I arrived in Vietnam. Getting myself out alive
so I could see him was high on my list of priorities. My son was
about the same age as the dead baby.

The
feeling or thought that I recall striking me most was that possibly
killing a baby did not bother me and I could not understand why
it didn't. Killing adult enemy personnel was one thing, but killing
a baby was not something we were prepared for. By an unspoken agreement
the team never talked about the baby. I rationalized that either
my training was so good that my soldiering was more important than
caring, or I had changed into a non-caring monster. I rejected the
latter at the time.

It
was on my drive into work this morning that the snow pile of the
news article won the battle with the plow. I felt the snap of the
weight of this war. I have been following this war very closely
and I thought that I was in control of my emotions. I nearly lost
it thinking of what the photos had shown. The problem with being
a combat veteran is you are condemned to relive every war your country
gets into for the rest of your life. The average citizen reads an
article describing a wedding being shot to hell by Americans and
he or she gets sick, puts the paper down, or sighs. Maybe some simply
ignore it for their own well-being but that is not an option for
the war veteran. We get sucked into the experience so completely
we can't tear ourselves away from it. Every war is our war because
the continuation of wars confirms that ours was a useless waste.
Had we really been successful, there would be no more wars. We don't
just see photos; we smell (or re-smell) the burning flesh and hair
and brain tissue. We feel the weight of human blood on our boots
and we know we will never be clean again. Worse, we know that new
generations of veterans will one day take our places at the breakfast
table and they too will have to relive their experiences day and
night. We know that their snap awaits them. There seems to be no
end to this cycle of horror.

As
I read of the tactics America is using in Iraq, I find that we now
use something called depleted uranium in our cannon fire that the
airplanes spew onto their targets. Very briefly, this type of shell
provides two benefits to us. First, it is a material that is very
heavy and effectively goes through metal and concrete, and then
explodes and turns to dust. Second, since it is made from radioactive
waste, it serves as a dumping ground for our nation's growing radioactive
waste pile. You see, we are able to take our radioactive garbage
and use it to blow up our enemies, getting rid of the garbage and
the enemy in one fell swoop. There is a tiny side effect of being
exposed to the dust from the shells. It is slightly radioactive.
Not enough to set off a Geiger counter but enough to cause long-term
illnesses including cancer to the unlucky folks who get the stuff
on their skin or in their lungs. So combine the knowledge of depleted
uranium with the sensory experience of killing innocents and I,
along with thousands of other veterans have a fairly accurate conception
of the wedding party we turned into ground zero.

Meanwhile,
it keeps snowing and we keep plowing. And snap? Well, for the combat
vets who have had these experiences, snap is just going to have
to happen here and there, now and then.

May
24, 2004

Miles
Woolley [send him mail]
is a disabled Vietnam veteran living in Miami, Florida. He served
with the 9th Infantry Division in The Mekong Delta in
a Ranger unit doing reconnaissance 1968–69 where he received
a gunshot wound to the head leaving one side severely paralyzed.
He is a father of four grown children and grandfather of seven,
including a set of triplets.

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare