Sunday, April 1, 2012

89. Mandates

There are times when C.W. can break your heart. I know, he broke mine this week when he appeared in his saddest form yet.

It was late when I answered a knock on my door. There stood an American soldier in the kind of Class A uniform they made military personnel wear in public back in the day.

I say American soldier. Truth be told, he looked more like a kid dressed up like a soldier. He said later he was 18 but could have easily passed for 16.

He was white, thin, and his skin seemed to glow with paleness from deep in his soul. His uniform, though impeccably arranged, hung from his frame like a sheet on a clothesline.

“What the h…,” I began.

“May I come in?” he said.


As he walked into the room in a slow, funereal gate, I observed him closely. His uniform sported a single PFC stripe and a black nametag that simply said “Armstrong.” The highly esteemed Combat Infantry Badge was pinned above a field of ribbons that seemed to weight him down. They included the two Vietnam service awards and a Purple Heart. Another badge identified him as a “Marksman.”

He stood until I offered him a seat whereupon he sat stiffly and stared at me.

“Your species behaves more strangely at some times than others,” he said, after straightening his trousers and checking his highly polished shoes. Then he stared softly into space.

“Let me guess,” I said. “Vietnam Veteran.”

”Vietnam casualty,” he said. “The last day of January, 1968.”

“The Tet Offensive.”

“I had been ‘in-country’ for two months,” he said. He picked a thread from the sleeve of his blouse. “And there were a great many places where I would have rather been.”


He nodded. “Twenty-five percent of us were.” He looked at me and cocked his head. “We accounted for 30.4 percent of the combat deaths.”

I said nothing.

“But that’s not why I am here,” he said.

“Why then?”

“Questions,” he said. “I see where the Supreme Court of your country is considering passing a law that the government can’t mandate that someone do something they don’t want to do.”

“Well, they don’t call it passing a law,” I said. “They call it …”

“I know,” said. “You love to play with words. As your famous writer William F. Buckley Jr. once observed, we could call the act of sodomy ‘following too closely’ but it wouldn’t change much.”

I looked at him closely for a glimpse of a smile but saw nothing but more sadness.

“So what is your question?” I asked.

“Why didn’t they come up with this before 1968?”

“I don’t know,” I said. I was beginning to feel uncomfortable. Seeking to change the subject, I nodded at his nametag.


“Of the Charleston, West Virginia Armstrongs,” he said. “Did you know our state had the highest percentage of combat deaths in Vietnam?”

Can't your species find something better
to rail against than health care? - C.W.
“No,” I said.

“It’s true,” he said. Then stared away again. “They say that when Momma heard the news about me, she shouted and prayed all night long and, as long as she lived, she would tell anyone who would listen that they didn’t know what real sorrow was.”

As I say, he can break your heart.

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