THE PROMISE • by JR Hume

I never wanted to visit the Wall. For years Vietnam veterans had only each other; as a memorial the Wall seemed too little, too late. Besides, there were so many names — so many memories. I often dream of one night in August, 1968.

***

All was black. I rubbed sweat from my eyes. Under the wavering light of a parachute flare squat bunkers and tangles of concertina wire emerged. I smelled blood, hot weapons, burned powder. My back was against a sandbag wall. Someone hunkered down beside me.

“Hey, Teach, I hear the bastards got a piece of you.” It was Doc Wills, platoon medic. He drew a knife and slit my trouser leg. “Hold still.”

“I ain’t goin’ nowhere. Hurts like all hell when I move.”

“Don’t move then. Damn, Teach. I gotta get a tourniquet on this.”

My head ached. Gingerly I checked it out. Warm blood coated my fingers. “What about my head, Doc?”

He glanced up. “Later. That one ain’t gonna kill you.”

A dull roar filled my head. I drifted into a black tunnel. Sharp pain drew me back.

Wills let go of my shirt. “Don’t drop out on me, man!”

I tried to concentrate. “How bad — we get hit?”

“Danforth took a direct hit from an RPG. Lieutenant Burns got killed. Riley. Miller.”

“Miller? Jesus, he was about to go home.”

“Yeah. Ain’t that the shits?”

Riley was in my platoon. Doc moved my leg. I jerked. “Jesus Christ! That hurts!”

He grinned. “You got one fucked up leg. Surgeons will fix you right up.” He started rigging a blood bag. “I’ll give you some morphine when I get this going.”

I gripped his arm. “I don’t wanna die, Doc.”

“You ain’t gonna die.” He shoved me back against the sandbags. “Get that through your thick head. I ain’t gonna let you die.”

He wiped blood off my face and scalp. “Just a nick, Teach.” Deft fingers secured a bandage. “Relax. Evac choppers are inbound.”

The pain seemed less. He must have injected morphine when I wasn’t looking. “I ain’t gonna die?”

“You ain’t gonna die. Okay? Concentrate on one fucking thing: Doc Wills says I ain’t gonna die.”

***

Next thing I remember was looking up at the interior of a Huey. A door gunner knelt over me. He held a bag of blood.

“Doc Wills says I ain’t gonna die.”

“Sounds like a good fucking deal.” Dark splotches stained the gunner’s flight suit. He handed the blood bag to a wounded man sitting on a web seat. “Don’t fucking drop it.”

The guy clutched the bag to his chest. “I got it, Teach.” I didn’t recognize him. A field dressing covered half his face.

Engines screamed. Door gunners raked the slope as we took off. Rotor blades pounded a frantic beat. I faded into the dark and awoke to find a man who looked as if he hadn’t slept in a month standing over me.

“Doc Wills promised I wouldn’t die.”

He glanced at me then went back to reading a tag tied to my shirt. “Hold on to that thought.”

They saved my leg, but the muscle damage was permanent. I didn’t see Doc again.

***

In 2008 my wife persuaded me to attend a unit reunion. In the process of swapping lies, I met the guy who held my blood bag. Hansen was his name. He was a rifleman in third platoon. He told me about Doc Wills.

“I was back with the company about a month after you were hit,” he said. “They gave me a squad.” He paused to sip his beer. “A few weeks later we got into it with an NVA regiment. On the second day we were in a treeline exchanging fire with some bad guys in an abandoned village. You know how it was.”

I did know.

“We started taking mortar fire. One of the new guys got hit. Doc headed down that way. Four or five more rounds came in.” Hansen paused and stared down at the bar. He rubbed the palms of his hands on his jeans. “Doc was kneeling beside the wounded guy. A round hit a couple feet away. He was killed instantly.”

“Damn.” For a long moment we sat in silence.

Hansen coughed. “The reunion committee worked up a list of unit KIA.” He handed me two printed pages. The list had Wall panel numbers beside each name.

***

A few months later my wife and I went to Washington for a week and toured the usual sites for five days. The morning of the sixth day she handed me the creased casualty list. “We leave tomorrow. If you want to visit the Wall…”

It was time to confront those tall black panels — and all those names. Doc Wills. Riley. I owed them that much. “Yeah. I been thinking about it.” I opened my suitcase. “Couple things I got to take.”

***

Half a dozen gray-haired men moved along the path below me. Two wore faded boonie hats. One had on an equally worn field jacket. The others wore black Vietnam Veteran caps. For the first time in over forty years I felt out of uniform.

My wife joined two women standing near some statues. Black granite drew me down into the shadows of my past. Panel height increased as I descended the path. A dark weight lodged in my chest.

The panel I sought was near the lowest part of the Wall. High up on the slab I found Burns, Danforth, Miller, and Riley. Doc’s name occupied part of a line halfway down. I touched it, reliving our last conversation.

***

People leave things at the Wall. Flowers, letters, medals, guilt. I placed a unit patch and one of my dog tags at the base of the slab. “Thanks, Doc.”

Stepping back, I saluted smartly. My old drill sergeant would have been proud.

Then my wife came down and held me while I cried.


JR Hume is an old Montana farm boy who writes science fiction, a little fantasy, some weird detective tales, an occasional poem, and oddball stories of no particular genre.


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 average 4 stars • 5 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Beautiful… perfect… doesn’t feel like fiction.

  • Beautiful… perfect… doesn’t feel like fiction.

  • I’m not so sure this is fiction. Many vets avoid the wall for several personal reasons, but I have found, in my own research, those reasons only fester and grow rot as the years go by. Nam was a disastrous bloody mess but still a war our boys gave their service to. The wall is a literal reflection of that. The full range of the American Viet Nam soldier is there behind the names, immortal. Thanks for the story, Hume, and thanks for your service. If I’m wrong you can let me know.

  • I’m not so sure this is fiction. Many vets avoid the wall for several personal reasons, but I have found, in my own research, those reasons only fester and grow rot as the years go by. Nam was a disastrous bloody mess but still a war our boys gave their service to. The wall is a literal reflection of that. The full range of the American Viet Nam soldier is there behind the names, immortal. Thanks for the story, Hume, and thanks for your service. If I’m wrong you can let me know.

  • Well told story JR. Covers a lot of ground with little wasted words. I particularly liked leaving the “guilt” at the wall. Very profound. Nice job.

  • Well told story JR. Covers a lot of ground with little wasted words. I particularly liked leaving the “guilt” at the wall. Very profound. Nice job.

  • I like the way this is written. It’s a pity in a way that the politicians who start wars don’t have to go off and fight in them – then they probably wouldn’t do it.

  • I like the way this is written. It’s a pity in a way that the politicians who start wars don’t have to go off and fight in them – then they probably wouldn’t do it.

  • Scott Harker

    Very well-written and natural. As others have said, it didn’t even feel like a story. I felt like I was watching a snippet of a movie. And the story moved me. As the son of a Viet Nam vet, I can understand all of the mixed emotions that visiting the Wall has for those vets who go. You captured all of this beautifully.

    I’ve never been to the wall, but this story has got me thinking about paying my own respects to our fallen heroes.

    Keep up the great writing! And thank you for your service (I’m assuming it was autobiographical, but I may be wrong),

  • Scott Harker

    Very well-written and natural. As others have said, it didn’t even feel like a story. I felt like I was watching a snippet of a movie. And the story moved me. As the son of a Viet Nam vet, I can understand all of the mixed emotions that visiting the Wall has for those vets who go. You captured all of this beautifully.

    I’ve never been to the wall, but this story has got me thinking about paying my own respects to our fallen heroes.

    Keep up the great writing! And thank you for your service (I’m assuming it was autobiographical, but I may be wrong),

  • S Conroy

    Moving and very good writing.

  • S Conroy

    Moving and very good writing.

  • JR Hume

    It is fiction. Though I spent a year in Vietnam, I was not a combat soldier, so none of this is directly autobiographical. Still, at the small bases like I was on we were familiar with sandbag bunkers, concertina wire, and the ever present mud and dust. And helicopters. I tell people, if you can’t hear rotor blades in the background, it ain’t Vietnam.

    After surviving dozens of mortar attacks and seeing too many body bags begin that long journey home, I left the war behind, only to be met at Travis AFB by jeering protesters and a country that somehow decided the average GI was responsible for the war.

    But, yeah, this is fiction.

    Thanks very much for the comments.

    Jim

    • MPmcgurty
      Thanks for your service, JR. I had family at Travis AFB and visited them often in the 60s and early 70s. I sadly witnessed some of that, and was very glad that my older brother did not have to experience it when he arrived home.
  • JR Hume

    It is fiction. Though I spent a year in Vietnam, I was not a combat soldier, so none of this is directly autobiographical. Still, at the small bases like I was on we were familiar with sandbag bunkers, concertina wire, and the ever present mud and dust. And helicopters. I tell people, if you can’t hear rotor blades in the background, it ain’t Vietnam.

    After surviving dozens of mortar attacks and seeing too many body bags begin that long journey home, I left the war behind, only to be met at Travis AFB by jeering protesters and a country that somehow decided the average GI was responsible for the war.

    But, yeah, this is fiction.

    Thanks very much for the comments.

    Jim

    • MPmcgurty
      Thanks for your service, JR. I had family at Travis AFB and visited them often in the 60s and early 70s. I sadly witnessed some of that, and was very glad that my older brother did not have to experience it when he arrived home.
  • Paul A. Freeman

    A moving piece.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    A moving piece.

  • Ife Olujuyigbe

    Good job. Moving.

  • Ife Olujuyigbe

    Good job. Moving.

  • Melissa Reynolds

    You brought me to tears. Very well done.

  • Melissa Reynolds

    You brought me to tears. Very well done.

  • Sarah Russell

    So, so well done. Thank you.

  • Sarah Russell

    So, so well done. Thank you.

  • Gustavo Bondoni

    NIce one, JR. Hard to believe you got all that into 1000 words. Excellent job!

  • Gustavo Bondoni

    NIce one, JR. Hard to believe you got all that into 1000 words. Excellent job!

  • Pat Marinelli

    I’ve been to the Wall and your description of going down that walk is spot on. Amazing story, well written with lots of feeling and emotion. Thank you.

  • Pat Marinelli

    I’ve been to the Wall and your description of going down that walk is spot on. Amazing story, well written with lots of feeling and emotion. Thank you.

  • MPmcgurty

    I’ve read all of JR’s stories in the archives and, while he’s always shown talent, I’ve also noted growth. One thing I really appreciate about JR’s writing is that it is very natural, both in prose and dialogue. It is written in an “everyman” manner. Although I know now this particular story is not biographical, it still rings very true. My veteran brother always said he didn’t want to visit the wall, but I almost had him convinced to go with me when he passed. I have visited the Wall on numerous occasions and JR’s simply told story brought many images into my mind.

    Btw, if any here have not read Speed Demon and Clockwork Dancer on EDF by this author, I suggest doing so.

    Keep writing, JR.

  • MPmcgurty

    I’ve read all of JR’s stories in the archives and, while he’s always shown talent, I’ve also noted growth. One thing I really appreciate about JR’s writing is that it is very natural, both in prose and dialogue. It is written in an “everyman” manner. Although I know now this particular story is not biographical, it still rings very true. My veteran brother always said he didn’t want to visit the wall, but I almost had him convinced to go with me when he passed. I have visited the Wall on numerous occasions and JR’s simply told story brought many images into my mind.

    Btw, if any here have not read Speed Demon and Clockwork Dancer on EDF by this author, I suggest doing so.

    Keep writing, JR.

  • JD Evans

    I have difficulty with fiction that comes across autobiographical. I find when that happens, as a reader I get caught up less in the craft of fiction writing and more feeling sympathy for the writer.

  • JD Evans

    I have difficulty with fiction that comes across autobiographical. I find when that happens, as a reader I get caught up less in the craft of fiction writing and more feeling sympathy for the writer.

  • Nancy Smith

    Well done. The wall captured me each time I visited.

  • Nancy Smith

    Well done. The wall captured me each time I visited.