From 1974-2005 I recorded my war nightmares. Here is a sampling.
7 Jan 80
I’m led to a prison. A black man ahead of me kisses the jailer’s hand. I walk past, then turn around and do the same. The gesture is followed by submissive talk in hopes he will be lenient. I escape.
7 July 80
In a large empty house my brother and I are dressed like soldiers. Hunting each other down I spot him first and shoot my M-16, walking the bullets up to his body. Instead of wounds they make only small BB patterns. There is little noise or impact. When he falls I rush to his aid. I feel sorry for him, and for what I have done.
Chanting sounds rise from a cave. The shadows of animals run past its walls. Next, I’m flying through rock, then lava like water, then clear water. I see a length of rope and grab it. My head clears the water and I emerge from a beautiful lake. Still clinging to the rope, I am one tenth my normal size. I’ve been hoisted up by a child, a girl perhaps seven years old, who wants to save me.
8 May 81
Richard and I lie prone in a shallow lake. He has an explosive charge but nothing to ignite the fuse. I say “Keep your voice down.” I say, “Find matches. Something’s not right. The water’s not deep enough. We are charged from our right flank. A dozen men with fixed bayonets move towards us; they appear Asian. At the last moment I see they are American.
I have been the object of a joke. Richard and I howl with laughter. We sing a popular song. Our harmony and rhythm are good.
13 September 81
I’m in a foxhole. VC sappers crawl past on my left. They have mortar tubes and begin shelling a friendly position in front of me. I will move slowly, spring up and kill them. I shoot one. The other manages to slip away. He speaks quickly into a small radio as if sensing he will die. We grapple; he stabs me several times, then I kill him. The entire countryside goes up in flames. I don’t know if what I’ve done is good or bad.
I’m near the ocean. To survive the fire I jump in the water. I swim, trying to beat the land which also races ahead. A demon chases me. Though submerged, it too is burning. From behind friendly forces shoot and kill the demon. Immediately all flames go out. I am welcomed back. I am greeted by friendly voices.
27 April 99
I’m in a snowy field. There’s chaos and confusion. Everything is blurred by thick, swirling snow. Refugees wear heavy clothing. I’m trying to find the Americans. I recognize a woman. She’s calm. I go to her. Panicked I say, “Where are the Americans?” She points and says, “By the woman and child.”
I run in the direction she’s pointed toward but there is no one. The same woman re-appears. She sits at a table. She gives me three letters addressed to me that contain official documents. The letters have been opened and searched. I go back to the snowy field. A man and a woman lumber toward me. The man comes close and points a stick-like object at me. He shoots. I fall and feel blood filling my chest. I am unafraid. I feel my life depart.
28 June 99
I’m with a group of people in danger. A light-skinned black woman repeats over and over, “If ever I go. If ever I go.” She is unaware that she is dying. I take her in my arms to divert her attention. I imagine a man from behind will execute her. At the last moment I will say, “Never mind. Shoot us both.”
19 January 2000
I’m at Pine Grove sleep away camp preparing for combat. Low flying jets fire rockets. We cheer as the missiles hit their mark, then we move out. We are juvenile soldiers all less than fifteen. In a large field several grunts explode a device which releases thick, toxic fog. At detonation I feel cardboard shrapnel penetrate my back, a minor injury.
We move to our starting point. I’m walking on a wide, uphill trail that leads from the lake to the bunk houses; I’m weary from the weight of my pack. I walk next to an out-of-shape youngster. He huffs and puffs. In one hand he carries a silver-plated toy luger.
24 December 2000
The terrain is rocky and arid. Mortar shells drop close by. A man near me resembles someone I know. A direct hit kills him. There is no blood or battle wound. His body turns rigid. A second man dies the same way. No one moves. I run for cover.
I’m a guest renting a room in a residential area filled with many large wood houses. I am skateboarding down a narrow sidewalk, propelling the board by clenching my toes and pushing down hard. The people are friendly. A block away a tree catches fire. A fierce wind blows the flames out of control. The sky turns white from heat. The house where I am staying may catch fire. No one panics. I rush inside to recover my pack but I’m lost and can’t tell which room is mine. I look about. My things are missing. I find them in a large room with no back wall. On the way out I watch an attractive woman undress. Outside everyone is calm. I meet a young veterinarian. His dog, burned on its back and aware of its wounds remains feisty. Humorously I say to the doctor, “So, you have casualties.” He is optimistic.
4 February 2001
I am with a large black woman who resembles the poet Melinda T. We’re sitting in the office of Dr Anders. She listens while I speak about war. Suddenly a low howl escapes me. The black woman says, “I know what that is.” I begin weeping.
17 Feb 2001
On a cancer ward all of the patients are men. One complains that his nose is too large. Another declares without his doctor he would have died but has lived an extra two years. The ward is home-like. The doctors are friendly. Each has his own cure; some succeed, others do not. My doctor is female. She is dedicated and loving.
A staff member and I reach a doctor’s office at the same time. I push the door open. It’s immediately slammed shut, catching my finger. The staff member knocks and is let in. I leave, aware that protocol must be obeyed.
I become frustrated and rebel. For punishment I’m sent to a large forest to gather pine needles in long neat rows. After several hours on my hands and knees, I try to escape. Using a dog, my doctor captures me. I quit the ward. In her presence I get dressed. My doctor tries to discourage me, but I’m angry and sad. On the wall hangs a photograph of a male doctor at war. His pants are torn and dirty. His knees are wounded, and he’s running for help. “What does he know?” I say. “I was the medic. They all came to me.” I begin weeping.
12 July 2001
I’m in a large room at ground level. Its green walls and floors are made of smoothed out earth. Large square windows without glass overlook a forbidding no-man’s-land. The NVA begin shooting. I return fire. They’re everywhere. Several reach in. I push them off and continue shooting. They are everywhere but I am not afraid. I keep fighting. There is no escape.
25 July 2001
I’m brought back to Vietnam; the platoon tells me I look good. I’m wearing my old jungle fatigues and steel helmet. I have no gear, no leech straps. I want to tell them ordinary people think I’m strange dressed like this, but I stay silent.
With Corson and Alex Johnson I walk to the water point. We pass through a small town, then into forest where I become lost. I walk to a highway then pass through a circle of college students. I anticipate unkind remarks, but the students are friendly.
At a busy traffic intersection a college professor smiles. “Where’s the water?” I ask. He tells me. I find a dark, turbulent river. This can’t be the water point, though I know it is. Frustrated I sleep under a moon lit canopy of thick brush.
I wake up under a large plastic tarp.Crawling forward I accidentally wake Steve M. I say, “It’s me, Doc.” He throws me a pair of bowling shoes that are too small. A man I’ve never seen glares at me with contempt. He throws me a pair that fit. Then everyone leaves. I look out from beneath the tarp. Someone inside a nearby house appears in silhouette, then vanishes. I anticipate an ambush. I imagine being shot in the head. I imagine how Steve M will comfort me. It’s raining. I have no water, ammo, no weapon.
14 September 2001
I’m with my old platoon in Cambodia on LZ Ranch. We’re pressed up against the berm. An attack is coming. My M-16 is broken. There’s no trigger or clip. A sergeant offers me his weapon, but I refuse, saying he’s the better solider.
I help to invent a catapult that hurls a half dozen grenades at a time. The device, however, is faulty. Ed uses it to initiate the attack.
The scene changes. We’re in a village. An old VC hides in a hut hoping to escape. I throw him down and sit on him. He’s taken prisoner but will not speak. I devise a way to torture him.We dig a hole, bury him up to his neck, then place a clear plastic cover over his head. We urinate on him, but the VC is stubborn and will not speak. He accepts that he will die.
There’s shooting and we rush for cover. I find a Viet Cong who resembles Richard B, my best friend. He tries to steal American weapons from a display but grabs an umbrella instead. I tell him to give up. When he refuses, we fight. Each time I stab his belly he says, “Kill me.” I feel terrible, as if I knew this man. When he weakens I take him in my arms and call for help. His stomach leaks on me. I’m crying. “Oh God….Oh God,” I say. American soldiers arrive. They look perplexed, awed. We march to the hospital.
1 July 2002
I’m in Europe with my old platoon: young, full haired, smiling. They welcome me, then complain. It’s a bad area. One out of six will die of prostate cancer. It’s in the water that spills over large brick buildings.
A young soldier shows me a gem bought from a villager. He regards its beauty and power; I can tell it’s fake. The villager, who is middle aged and wears a business suit, leaves his house. He walks toward me. I throw the gem in his face.
“What are you doing?” I say. “This is uranium.” Aloof and calm, he curls his hand around my neck then releases it. We return to his house. There is the long flight home. I begin planning my escape.
9 July 2002
I’m on a combat assault with my platoon. Only a few men ride in the chopper. Most stand on the slicks. We carry full combat gear: pack, weapon, helmet, ammo. We fly toward the Ivy Hill Apartments. From high up I see buildings which appear like photographs. We land on a roof top. I see my brother. Next, I see a terrible sight. I walk toward it. The intact body of an American soldier glows like fireplace embers. His internal organs have hardened to stone and are clearly visible. I shout to my brother, “How did this happen?” He says he doesn’t know. I’m standing over the corpse. I know my brother is lying.
My war nightmares have tapered off but this dream occurred in 2013.
I’m in the jungle, a prisoner of the NVA. I kill one by kicking him into a bunker then shooting him with his pistol. I trap another in a glass column full of water and watch him drown. I grab the pistol of the first NVA just as an officer comes by. He has the same gun. I check my ammo. I’m out. It’s in his eyes what’s next. I’m very aware there’s a way to escape. I run and survive without being shot.