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Page 53
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<< 52. Letter to Editor54. Boots on the Ground (cartoon) >>


By Dan New

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The sun blazed into my eyes as a column of soldiers approached. I looked into the face of each man as he passed. It was the dry season and the red clay dust covered our features, leaving only a vague outline of whom they might be. After one of them passed, he turned and called back to me, "Is that you, New?" As I turned to his voice, McQueen's smile revealed his identity. We moved towards an embrace. Our weapons and flak jackets made our attempt all the more awkward. "How the hell are you?" we both asked. We clasped our hands together and looked into each other's eyes. Our loyalty to the soldiers we were with soon pulled us apart. We were duty bound to move on and so we did. "Did'ja hear about Nutly?" He asked as he backpedaled away. Struck silent with the fear of knowing Danny's fate, I dared not reply for I knew the answer in my heart. McQueen and his unanswered question faded into the green terrain. Memories of Nutly invaded my mind as I continued on.

Each morning for eight weeks during basic training, Danny Nutly slung his feet over the edge of the upper bunk. My view was of his feet and legs to his upper calf where dark Irish hair in neat patches and patterns interrupted his powder white skin. After a great yawn, he vaulted down to the wooden polished floor of the barracks. The shift of his weight from the bed to the deck sent awakening energy down to me in the lower rack. Then his morning joke, "Why did the Army put the short guy in the top bunk?"

Together by chance, we became friends, bunkmates. Our lives had been thrown together by the escalating military draft. Now we slept, ate, and soldiered together. He was from upstate, shy with only a few words to offer. I bore the city guise, caustic and smart in the streets. Danny was vulnerable and open. He had a stocky build with a thick neck and sharp features. His eyebrows almost met just above his nose. I was a gangly wisenheimer with an answer for everything. He was short to my tall, squat to my length, round to my lean. We were nineteen.

The Army whipped us into shape to fight the war. We were not sure where or why it was, but it hung as an elusive threat far off in the future. Our chances of going there seemed faint. We shot expert on the firing range and maxed our physical training exams. We bonded as we grew into trained soldiers.

The Army let us go home for a week at Christmas. Danny and I rode from Fort Jackson, SC on a bus. It snowed all the way. It took 24 hours. Between catnaps, Danny and I talked. He asked, "Do you have a girlfriend?" "Yup" "What's she like?" "She's alright." "You gonna marry her?" "Maybe, someday." During the long trip, he dozed. His head struggled against surrender and came to rest on my shoulder. I squirmed at first. Then found comfort in his trust. When he awoke, I let him know that he had drooled. We parted at New York's Port Authority bus station on Christmas Eve and reunited five days later for the return trip. Our time together passed so quickly.

Basic ended in January. We received orders for advanced training. He went to Georgia. I went to Virginia. I imagined meeting him when it was all over. We arrived in Vietnam about the same time, the end of April. By the time I met McQueen, Danny had been interred back home and, on that day, I began burying his memory in the midst of the war.

Dan New is a Vietnam Veteran (1967-1968). He is an artist and writer living in upstate New York. He can be reached at Dnew1@nycap.rr.com. He is one of 2.6 million military veterans who served in Vietnam.

<< 52. Letter to Editor54. Boots on the Ground (cartoon) >>