Collateral Damage


After completing my service in Vietnam, where I was an advisor to a Montagnard company north of Kontum, and later an ARVN battalion in Trung Lap, at the edge of the "Iron Triangle", I was unable to join the Army Reserve or the National Guard, which were filled by those who were apparently eager to avoid combat. Some of these gentlemen now occupy important government positions and are outspoken pro-war advocates.

In order to protect our troops, we may find it impossible to avoid "collateral damage", such as that which I caused in Trung Lap, by pressuring the Vietnamese commander of that base to return enemy mortar fire. There was no doubt of the accuracy of our fire, since a counter-mortar radar unit had provided me with the precise coordinates of our target. Next morning, an old man, perhaps 75 or so, and an almost equally old woman, perhaps 70, struggled to carry a three year old boy through our gate. Limping slowly toward me, he was supporting his right leg with a makeshift crutch. She periodically supported the boy's full weight whenever the man began to falter, barely saving the boy from falling on one occasion. Since I was absorbed in the process of coordinating fire support for our imminent patrol through the fringes of the "Iron Triangle" on our team radio, one of my team members ran toward this pathetic trio and offered to carry the boy, but they refused to release the boy to him.

The two gently placed the child at my feet and stepped backwards, avoiding my eyes. Their wrinkled faces displayed no hatred, not even anger, but only resignation and apathy, as those who are still suffering from an intense and incomprehensible shock. The boy's expression was equally lifeless, as he attempted to mask the pain of a severe abdominal wound. His grandparents, if that is what they were, had tied a dinner plate with packaging twine across the boy's abdomen in order to keep his intestines within his body. Although I called for medical evacuation immediately, I could see no hope for that child. About him clung that sickly sweet odor, which I had smelled so often around our fallen foe, in the aftermath of our battles.

Collateral damage has a face, and it is that of a dying three year old boy, and his frail and desperate grandparents, struggling with their pain to grant him a slim chance for life.

As I watch our airstrikes falling on the city of Baghdad, I fear for the safety of our troops, should they be lured into house to house fighting in city of five million people. I think of that little boy in a far away country, projecting his sad face through the decades which now separate us, and I fear for all of the children who will perish in that war. In his memory and in their name I have posted the following words on a few peace-related web sites:

The War Around Us

About war much has been written,more must yet be said by those who saw them die, so that the dead may rest, and sight be gained to see war for what it was and is: War is not fighting, though fighting's what we see, nor is it death, for death is but it's end. It is the rancor of disunited hearts, the death of love,

the end of hope.

The war around us echoes in our hearts and grants it life. Once, mortals dared to tame this ancient beast, and yet it thrives. Each age must fight this force again, or pay its price.

Your rating: None
Wolfgang P. May's picture
Columns on STR: 1