Even though there are constant reminders every day of the horror and crimes going on in Iraq, the blood I am talking about flows in every war and will leave a lasting stain on the mind of every Soldier or Marine who fights in one.
It was the fall of 1968 and I was hitchhiking by helicopter from Dung Ha to Da Nang. I got a ride in a little Bell observation chopper and we had to set down at an Army base about half way to Hue. I was let off there because they wanted to get a wounded officer off as fast as they could and this was the closest bird in the air around them.
All I can remember about the place is that everybody had a red diamond on his shoulder and the LZ was filled with wounded. Right away I was in there helping where ever I could and was asked to hold a compress bandage on a guy’s leg, or what was left of it He was bleeding from so many places, but the leg wound was the worst. To this day I don’t know if there was fighting going on there or if these guys were flown in to the LZ to be taken by someone else.
I knew no one and the guy I was helping was screaming, as were many others. When I finally got out of there, I had a lot of that guy’s blood all over me and there was no place to wash up. I remember washing my hands with canteen water and then rubbing them in the dirt, but I couldn’t get all the blood off.
By the time I got to Da Nang all the blood had dried hours before and my hands itched. I finally got to take a shower and washed and washed. Back then there wasn’t today’s fear of blood as there was no such thing as HIV, but someone else’s blood still felt weird. Somehow that guy’s blood has stayed with me all of these years.
Sometimes, I find myself scratching at my hands and I am almost afraid to look at them as I can still feel that warm blood as it seeped through the compress I was holding. If you want to stop the bleeding, you need to put some real pressure on a wound, and if you let up for even a second, that blood starts flowing again and it leaves a lasting impression on your mind.
So the other day I was thinking about that blood again and then I thought about how many Americans in Iraq will be stuck with that blood that you can’t wash away.
I think we have had almost 800 Americans killed and about 10,000 wounded. So, if let’s say three guys have some part in helping a wounded guy, or one that later dies, and others have to stand there guarding as they take lots of looks at the blood, we could be talking about 30—50,000 Americans who will be thinking about those who were killed or were wounded, and all that blood, for the rest of their lives.
All of the politicians and talk radio hosts that keep saying we are winning have no idea of what really happens in a war, or what happens to the troops after the war is over. These guys think that the troops can come home and change their uniform for civilian clothes and everything is just fine, but it doesn’t work that way.
If you ever get the chance to have a real conversation with a World War II or Korean combat veteran about his war, you will see that as they get going, they start to talk like that 18-year-old kid who was attacking that island or maybe a German hedgerow. Some Korean vets can even start to shiver. This happens because that war experience is sitting right there at the front of their mind. That memory has been recalled so many times that the mind has it, and everything else about their time in combat, upfront and ready to recall again.
Politicians and those who never went to war can blow the battles off and declare victory. Veterans can’t do that. Soldiers and Marines from every war have a piece of that war stuck in their heads for the rest of their lives. Many of them have blood that never washes off.
Sure, one nation can declare victory over another, but really, both sides lose. I don’t agree with all of their politics, but combat veteran Senators John McCain, John Kerry, and Chuck Hagel all know that the cost of war is so high that we must spend it sparingly, while politicians who have never heard their country’s call to arms, will start a war at the drop of a hat and think that a low number of deaths is the only number written down on the score card.