Second squad on LZ Ramada: Ken (KIA), Gamble, Bill, Hank, Buddha, Dorio. Phuc Vinh, Vietnam 1970


Jay R, 5th Special Forces Group‘67 says,“I was modified,” referring to a limp numerous surgeries have failed to correct.  He continues speaking as we walk down beige corridors, our VA records, tied shut with red string, held flat to our chests. Soon we are lost before JR spies ROOM 57 EKG.

Unlike the spartan furnishings on the PTSD wing, Room 57 has an assortment of potted plants, an elegant coffee table strew with brochures and magazines; sunlight  slants through wide clean windows.There are no smug clerks, no jangling phones. We sit on a large red leather couch. After a time a short young man wearing blue scrubs breaks the silence.         

“Who would like to go first?” he asks.

In his gravelly voice, Jay R says,“Whichever you like, son.”

“Follow me, sir,” the young man replies.

Jay R stands,throws me a salute.Then he is gone.

I’ve forgotten my reading glasses; no matter. I’m not interested in Your GI Housing Benefits, Servicemen’s Group Life Insurance, Get Tested for Hepatitis C.  As the warm sun kisses the back of my neck, I doze off.

A tall thin doctor completes his lecture on startle reflex, sudden anger, thoughts of killing people, thoughts of suicide, nightmares,flashbacks, drinking, depression,crying spells, feelings of loss, feelings of grief, feeling no feelings. “That’s PTSD,” he says. “Hey, why don’t you tell me something I don’t know,” I say. “And what’s that got to do with my heart?”

At the turn of a latch I startle awake.

“You been sleeping, buddy?” asks Jay R.

“Not a chance,” I say.” How’d it go?”

“No biggie. Over and done with ‘fore you know it.”

“Your turn, ”says Blue Scrubs. We exit the waiting room, walk to a door marked Sally Ingram,Tech III. “Have a seat,” he says. “She’ll be right with you.”

A sturdy exam table covered by a sheet of thin white paper sits in the center of the soft lit room. Next to it, resting on a stainless steel table, a white plastic box with black controls and colorful meters. Atop the EKG machine, a coiled pile of orange tentacles, each tipped by a black rubber disk. A woman deliberately couLowland women. Guatemala 1995ghs before entering.

“Good morning,” says Sally Ingram. Her voice is warm, pleasant.

“Good morning,” I say.

Middle-aged, of medium height and build, Ms. Ingram’s straight brown hair frames her pleasing face. Her red pant suit is topped by a blue cardigan sweater which accentuates her round bosom. She is comfortable, confident, at home in this room.

“Please take off your shirt, shoes, and socks and lie back,”she says, patting the table. A hint of perfume fills the air.

I begin to shake. After eight months backpacking Asia, Indonesia, Europe, after good times, sad times, lost times, flashbacks, nightmares, crying spells, thunderous rage, lighting rod sorrow, here, in a cozy room, alone with a lovely woman, I shake uncontrollably.

“Are you cold, sir?”

“Yes, a little.”

But it’s more than cold, more than desire.

“Oh, now don’t you worry. This won’t hurt and we’ll be done soon.” Her voice is soft and tender and reassuring. When Ms. Ingram reaches for the orange tentacles her blue sweater tightens around her ample curves.

There is a rhythm in the way she applies the clear sticky goo, presses the icy coins to my legs, my arms, my chest. The playful manner to her touch says, “Of course this is sensual, erotic. Oh dear, how could it not be?  But this is my job, I do it well, so please don’t misbehave. We’re adults, right? I’ll do my job. You’ll do yours? Of course you will.”

As she bobs and weaves, pressing here, pushing there, making soft circles with her finger tips to spread the gel, I don’t fight the fantasies. Yes, I want to undress you, Ms Sally Ingram, pull you close, inhale your women’s scent, feel the press and push of our moistening bodies. Yes, dear Sally, I want to shiver and cum one hundred times before entering you with the length of my dreams. It will be lovely, won’t it?  Not like the doctor said.

Afterward, I will mimic the wounded men’s lost or stoic or brightened eyes, their outstretched arms, their stuttering tongues. I will imitate hunting or being hunted by human beings. In my best medic voice I will sing Arc Light’s ruinous song. Without fear of shaking I will pantomime the trembling earth. Nimbly demonstrate smoke rising from thirty-yard craters. Kneeling, hands locked behind my neck, I will confess to pastures of blossoming wounds that populate ten-thousand fields of friendly fire ever wet and ever scarlet. I will speak these things with all my heart.

“Stay still, dear. That’s better.”

I’m laid out like a beached whale on a remote foreign shore; the flexible orange tubes stick to my skin like fat leeches engorged with blood. Encased by them, I’m trapped, a willing prisoner of memory and medicine.

Ms. Ingram presses a black button on the white machine. A chorus of mechanical clicks and chugging fills the air. Moments later a wide paper ribbon spools itself into her loving hands. She folds the robot calligraphy into a dozen pleats, tucks the long page into the VA envelope, reseals it.

“All done. You can get dressed now. Nice meeting you,” says Ms. Ingram.

“Nice meeting you, too.”

On the way back to the ward Jay R unwinds the red string, carefully unfolds the graph paper. Across the page a thin black line traces a landscape of gentle hills and modest valleys.

“Still warm. Still ticking,” he says. “What you got, son? What you got?”

I undo the twine, fan out the paper.

“Well look at that!” says Jay R.

A troupe of spiky peaks and troughs skitter past.

A sly grin creases Jay R’s face. “She was good looking,” he says. “Oh, yes she was.”


top photo: On LZ Ramada, five Delta 1/7 Cav grunts sit on a stack of perforated steel plating. Right to left: Ken (KIA Cambodia), Alphonzo Gamble, Bill, Hank, Bob “Buddha” Tyler, Joe Dorio.  In late July 1970, after nearly seven weeks in Cambodia, on the final day of the invasion Delta company marched several clicks back to Vietnam and to LZ Ramada. A muddy pig stye that was never completely built, we were more than glad to leave it.