I have a vivid memory of sitting in my Argentine Navy whites ( I was a conscript) sometime in 1964 by the tiger cage of the Buenos Aires Zoo. It seems that both Jorge Luís Borges and I shared an attraction for the animal.
I have a vivid memory of sitting in a nearby bench and reading my copy of Time Magazine. Except when the government of the time would make some issue of the weekly unavailable I read it with without fail. I was not yet aware of the dictum, “Life Magazine for people who cannot read, Time Magazine for those who cannot think.”
I read all about the Vietnam war. Most of it was about airplanes shot down and the weekly body count of the Viet Cong (high) and of US Servicemen (low). Vietnam was a distant war in a place where real soldiers fought and died. I was a toy soldier in a toy navy of an inconsequential country with no bearing to world affairs.
The war, the Vietnam war was never more than that for me. At shooting practice with a turn of the 20th century Mauser, a US Issue burp gun and an Argentine version of the Colt .45 did I suddenly became aware of the noise, the force and the power of deadly arms? No film, even contemporary ones can replicate that noise and that power. But war was still far away. I did not need to worry.
The Vietnam war became a palpable reality for me in the mid 80s when I went to a small St. Edward’s High School (Austin,Texas) class reunion in Houston, Texas.
A former classmate and roommate, John Arnold, wearing a crisp short sleeved button down shirt and looking lots like President Ford was there. Some of my other classmates spoke in whispers that he had fought in Vietanam and then had been a spy and had also worked for the US Securities & Exchange Commission. This was my first contact, a living contact, not one from some movie who had been in Vietnam.
It was only more recently in a trip I made with Arnold to visit another classmate, Michael East in south Texas, that I found out what Arnold (a normally taciturn gentleman) had done as a leatherneck in Vietnam. It seems that this strong and burly man had been lowered in a rope from a helicopter to retrieve wounded US Marine Corps fliers who had been shot down.
In these last weeks I have had a sudden and more direct encounter with Vietnam.
While at St. Ed’s there was an odd pair of lower classmen (one below me). They were the Averitt brothers, James and William. They did not look like each other so they were not twins. The older one James died not too long ago. I met up with Billy in 2011 at a class reunion I Austin. He seemed to be a happy man.
I received an email on March 3. Here it is:
Time has a way of just passing us by. I have attempted to find the note that you wrote about my ability to rope and ride horses, but have been unable to find it. If you could point me in the right direction I would certainly appreciate it. [Here it is ]
I might be in the Seattle area and if I am I will try to make it up to Vancouver.
My daughter was diagnosed with stage 3 grade 3 breast cancer in August. She has finished her chemo treatment and is scheduled for surgery on the 11th of March.
I will be going to California on about the 26th of March to care for her. I just had a cancerous growth cut from my face and am waiting for the results of a biopsy from another growth. Also I was diagnosed with leukemia in 2014 due to Agent Orange and am battling the infamous veterans administration because of the leukemia. Viet Nam is still alive and well with a lot of veterans.
Send me a phone number that I can get a hold of you in case I am in your area as I have a lot of friends in Seattle that I would like to see.
Hope everything is going good for you and your family.
Those sentences about agent orange and Averitt’s problems with the now notorious US Department of Veteran Affairs suddenly made all those Rachel Maddow programs real.
Averitt called me yesterday to say he would be in town today by noon. At 9:30 he called me to say he had been denied entry into Canada because of his medicines. He had not brought with him the doctor’s prescriptions.
I choked. As Averitt wrote:
Viet Nam is still alive and well with a lot of veterans.
Fernando García (Class of 61) & William Averitt (Class of 62)
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.