The Colonel in His Starched Fatigues

“A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it. For it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably.”  Ludwig Wittgenstein

Readers of this site know distinguished Grenadian and Charlie 1/5 Cav medic Roger Byer from his CounterPunch essay on the US invasion of Grenada, and will recall that we met in Quan Loi in 1969, then in Fort Devens in 1971. Forty-four years later, via the web, we met again.

Recently, Roger sent Medic the above remarkable image. He is among the seventeen exhausted men apparently just back from patrol. As he wrote in his email:

“Someone from my old unit Charlie 1/5 Cav sent me this photo, posting that he believes I’m the third guy standing on the right. I never saw or knew of this picture, and I don’t even remember being on LZ Granite. But this is for me, by far, the most mood revealing picture I have ever seen of combat soldiers in Vietnam.

Look at our faces. To a man we are miserable, tired, dirty, battle-worn and fed up with it all. Look at the holier than thou officer, a colonel, in his starched fatigues, well rested and amply fed no doubt…then look again at our collective expressions.

I still cannot get over the photo because of the pain it shows. The fact that I do not remember either the photo or being on LZ Granite tells you how real it was. A day in the life of a grunt sort of thing. The contrast between the neatly dressed officer and the grunts says it all. I have never before witnessed a photo that speaks so definitively to the viewer like this one. Many people have been affected by its power.”


CounterPunch essay by Roger Byer.
Tattooed Memories, his war memoir.