From Vietnam Veterans Against the War,

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Someone Else's Recollection

By Dave Curry

I've published recollections of my own in The Veteran. This time I'm sharing someone else's recollection.

The setting seems important to me. There's an old-fashioned barbershop near my home and my work. By old-fashioned, I mean a shop with a barber pole outside, where only males get their hair cut, with a small stack of magazines on a small table. Occasionally a mom brings her sons in or a wife helps an infirm husband in. There are four barber chairs but only one barber, the owner Don. According to him, he would have already retired except for the bite that the recession has taken out of his IRA. There's usually a line of four or five men waiting for Don's attention. Conversation is soft and scarce. Because of the shop's proximity to my home and work, my strategy is to drive by every few days until I see a shorter line through the storefront window. This day I had been by too many times when the lines were long, so I had brought a book and a determination to wait. But my luck was good. There was only one other customer - already getting his hair cut.

I happily slid into a seat to endure what would be a comparatively brief wait. Don and I exchanged a couple of how-you-doin's, and I opened my book. Between Don and the man in his chair, there was silence. Don's customer wore a sullen glare and an angry stare.

In a rare expression of curiosity, Don asked me what I was reading. I told him it was a Soviet soldier's account of his tour of duty in Afghanistan. I added that it was very interesting. The quiet resumed, and then was broken by the man in the barber chair. "I've been to Afghanistan," he said.

My reaction was an almost childlike "Really?" I honestly wanted to hear from someone who had been in Afghanistan.

He continued in an angry but calm voice. "I was there two times. Once in 1986 and again in '87. I was there to train Afghanis to kill Russian soldier boys."

"What was it like?" I asked. But he might have continued without my question. He still had that distant look but he was talking steadily and tightly now. "I was part of a team. We taught the Afghanis how to use state-of-the-art weapons. We were instructed to do our best to respect Afghani culture and behavior.

"We were expected to dress like them and to eat what they ate. That was the worst part for me: the food. Or maybe it was the smell. The first night we were there, we were served a soup with goat eyes in it. And it stank. The next time we got back to the ship we stowed away anything that was edible to take back with us."

For some reason, I interjected. "I've noticed that other countries have unique smells usually associated with different foods."

Don informed the angry man that "Dave served in Vietnam." I said Vietnam had smells that I'd never smelled anywhere else. He said, "I smelled Vietnam, too. And you know what Vietnam and Afghanistan smelled like. They smelled like shit."

I was ready to return to the silence, but in a few moments he spoke again. "The last time I was there we trained a new group for us . . . The Taliban." With that, I realized that the target for his anger and hate was himself and what he'd been asked to do for his country.

Another customer showed up, and then another. The angry man didn't speak again. His haircut was finished. He paid Ron and took his recollection with him to a truck parked outside. As I sat back in the barber chair, Don was saying, "He makes regular deliveries to the store next door. Never heard him talk so much. He's retired from some kind of naval service." The type of unit isn't a difficult guess.


Dave Curry is on VVAW's national staff, and is the contact for the St. Louis area.

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