He had never thought of himself as having been a good soldier. He drank too much and partied too hard. He sometimes took his work too lightly and his fights too seriously. But he was old enough to fight in Vietnam and had no reason to run from what he considered his duty, so he went... and he fought. When he went home, he realized he no longer fit in. Seeing so many people worry about their jobs, their money, their small annoyances when every day the men and women he had known were dying so that they could worry about those things annoyed him. More than that, it hurt him.
They hated him. They hated what they thought he stood for and what they thought he had done. The cries of "baby killer" and murderer" tore at his heart. To have people think that he and his buddies were killers, that they killed just for the sake of it made him wonder where the spirit of the country had gone. He knew that his fathers war had been different. WWII soldiers had come home to cheers and people who thanked him for saving mom, apple pie and The American Dream. He, on the other hand, had come home to sneers, hatred and signs saying he was no better than a modern day Hitler.
So he went back. He went back to the swamps, to the mud, to the sweltering heat and to the people he now considered his. He went back to the women who treated him like a god as well as the ones who had bombs strapped to their chests as they took their own lives just so that they could kill soldiers like him.
He did this for two tours of Nam. By then the war was ending and they sent him stateside. But he no longer felt like he was at home. So he drank more. He took various drugs to help him forget. He had made it through over two years of Nam without a scratch physically. But the scars on his heart and his mind were irreparable. He no longer knew how to survive without somebody shooting at him. He tried to get help but no one would listen. He was just one more wounded soldier without a scar.
One day, he decided he had had enough. So in a small hotel room in Indiana, he took a gun and he put a bullet through his brain. He left behind one son and a handful of friends. He also left behind a note saying he was sorry. He asked everyone to forgive him but said that he could no longer handle the pictures in his head and the way the world treated him and others who had fought in what so many considered a losing battle. he also said something I have never forgotten. He asked that if this ever happened again that we remember that the soldiers were just doing their job and not to hate them for it.
Sometimes now I wonder... have we listened to him? Or are we repeating the sins of the past and hating the men and women who serve our country during a war that most of us hate?
Twenty Four years ago tomorrow Jerry killed himself. What legacy did he leave behind? What legacy did all the soldiers like him, who suffered for us, leave behind? Do YOU remember them? I do... every March and every time I hear about one more soldier dying. So next time you want to rant and rave over the war, please... can you remember Jerry for me? He was only 33 when he died.