Some people did not recognize me at first when I came back from Vietnam. (I turned 19 a week before my unit was sent to retake Hue during Tet 1968). When the fighting was over, all of us were old. Hundreds of years old, it seemed. My unit took 50% casualties. Our youth had been ripped from us. We were all photo number two. Friends from high school did not recognize me at first. Some thought I was my father (he survived his patrol being air dropped onto a Chinese infantry unit, one of only three men who survived the four day running fight) at first. I looked at pictures of my father before and after Korea, and of my uncle who liberated Buchenwald in WWII before and after the war. They were both like the photos above. Before and after.
War changes you, war ages you. It steals away something which makes you human. It hollows you out. Small wonder so many veterans commit suicide. It is not all John Wayne on “Sands of Iwo Jima”. War is dirty, loud, smelly and extremely frightening. You do things and see things you never saw in a movie, no matter how supposedly realistic it is. I never imagined having to beat another human’s head to past with a rock. The sight, the smell, the rage I felt.
The flower power hippies were right about one thing. War is not good for children or flowers. But blood does, literally, make the grass grow.