Every year at this time when I think about the Vietnam Veterans I get very embarrassed. I did something inappropriate and a Veteran called me out on it. And I thank him for it.
I was in high school and my friend and I watched the film “Hamburger Hill”. There was a phrase in that movie, that as young kids, we were struck by. It was the phrase “laying down a piss fire on the enemy.” My friend and I started using that phrase in a joking way. We weren’t making fun of those that served but I had bought into the pop culture notion that all those that came back from Vietnam were ruined.
Now I know that’s not true.
Soon after seeing that film, my friend and I were at a Godfather’s Pizza. While we were eating, we used the phrase “piss fire.” Near us was a guy having dinner with his little girl. The man had on a green army coat. Several times while we were eating, that man would turn around and look at me.
On my way out, the man stood up and I got a really bad feeling.
He said, “I heard you talking about “piss fires.”
I said, “yes”.
“Oh, did you serve”
“No, no sir”
“Oh, because I thought maybe you were a brother and I was going to welcome you home”
I told him that “no, I didn’t serve. But I thank you for your service.”
Now, that man would have been completely justified for taking me outside and yelling at me. But what he did was so much more potent. Without actually saying it, he made me ask myself “who are you to even consider using a phrase like that?”
For the men who fought wars on my behalf in Vietnam, welcome home. Thank you for what you did. If it continues to pain you, I pray for you. I pray for your comfort. I think about you often. And I thank you. And so does your country.