The War in New York

Medic is included in noted photographer Jeff Wolin’s 2007 book Inconvenient Stories: Vietnam Veterans. The book is composed of 50 interviews and corresponding photo portraits of Vietnam vets.

In the spring of 2006 Jeff photographed me at Washington Square Park in New York City. Afterwards, the NYU historian Marilyn Young gave us an office on W 4th Street, where Jeff interviewed me on tape. At the time, for PTSD, I took a benzodiazepen, and it shows.

After the interview, I may have visited my late friend, the actor, poet, writer, and editor George Dickerson, who lived a few blocks away, with his wife and daughter, and their three legged dog, Lucky, in a 5 story walk up on Bleecker Street. Here, seated at the kitchen table, a monument to necessary debris, while he smoked, sipped coffee, and channel surfed between the news and sports, George and I discussed friends, politics, and writing.

“Have you seen any of my movies?” he once asked.

I hadn’t. He recommended Blue Velvet, and to watch for Detective Williams.

Not far from her office, I may have joined Marilyn Young at her favorite coffee shop. We first met in 1997, after I had returned from travels in Southeast Asia. She invited me to speak in her class on Vietnam. At the time, I knew that she cared for vets, but I did not know of her stature. She was kind and strong, clear thinking and fiercely independent in her thinking and writing about Vietnam. And she loved Italy, which she visited each year.

To see old friends, I may have walked to the Cornelia Street Cafe, and read at the fabled Pink Pony open mic, where I once read war poems.

I may have entered the sweltering West 4th Street subway station, and caught the Number 2 train to Prospect Heights. In the crime ridden 1980s , years before the area became trendy and rents skyrocketed, I lived at 55 Eastern Parkway.  My large one bedroom apartment cost $250 a month. Every so often, I was mistaken for the actor F. Murray Abrams, who lived down the block.

I may have done all or none of these things. What I do know is this: despite the calming anti-anxiety drug, over the course of seventy-eight minutes, looking into the eye of the camera, I became more animated, as if resurrecting Vietnam brought me back to life. It does that, you know. Sometimes, with equal and opposite clarity.

Case in point: in 1994, under a pummelling sun, I beheld the remains of Quan Loi, though not as I hoped, not as I dreamed: ringed by guard towers and green line bunkers; dotted with heavily fortified aid stations, sand-bagged company headquarters, Quonset huts, barracks, criss-crossed with tarred roads; the immense runway, lined with choppers that flew us into Cambodia.

I was stunned by the near emptiness of what I saw: an endless broad, flat, overgrown field as far as the eye could see. Here and there, bits of runway tarmac. A few rusted metal scraps, overlooked by frantic  scavengers, who long ago picked the base clean. I mingled with hungry peasants farming small plots; the green stalks rising steadily upward. Everywhere I looked, the harried land had returned to nature, as if the proud American’s had never set foot on the rich red earth, the cursed and fertile soil, of Vietnam.


George Dickerson

Detective Williams

Marilyn Young/Wikipedia

Marilyn Young/Bill Moyer’s interview