This story is by Thomas Heaven and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
In the morning of March 9th, 1966, Sergeant First class Buddy Anderson was just finishing his breakfast when his communications outpost in Viet Nam came under attack by a large enemy force. He jumped up and ran through intense fire to man a mortar position within the camp. Although he was wounded by several direct hits on his position, he continued firing until he got word that there were several wounded soldiers in the center of the camp. He turned the mortar over to another soldier, ran through exploding shells and dragged his wounded comrades to safety. When ammunition ran low, Buddy left the shelter of the camp to retrieve additional supplies from an airdrop that landed outside the perimeter.
When came time to evacuate, Sergeant Anderson led a group of twelve soldiers that were unable to reach the evacuation plane on time, through the jungle for two days until they were rescued by another aircraft. Only after arriving at command ops was it realized that Buddy had sustained five wounds.
After retiring from the Army thirty-nine years ago, Buddy Anderson’s life had followed a downhill spiral. PTSD symptoms began shortly after leaving the service. It became difficult to hold a job or relationship while plagued by recurrent nightmares and daily flashbacks. His wife couldn’t stand watching him deteriorate from a robust, optimistic man into the despondent shell of his former self. She left him three years after his retirement.
Numerous visits to the VA did not help. Nor did the many social workers, psychologists or psychiatrists he saw.
Almost forty years of loss finally convinced him that his life no longer had any value other than his daily visits to the Tom Cat, his favorite watering hole. At least there he could have a few drinks and swap war stories with other vets who understood what he had been through. A couple of them could even share stories about their own PTSD flashbacks.
After contemplating his future over the past few months, he came to terms with the fact that he no longer had the courage to keep facing those horrible nightmares and flashbacks. He thought about various ways to end the suffering and decided that a gun would be quick and relatively painless
Buddy could feel the cold weight of the small Saturday Night Special resting against his thigh as he spent the day ruminating about his decision to end the pain. When he finally realized that there was no other option, he decided to make a final appearance at the Tom Cat to bid farewell to his friends.
His decision to end it all put him in an almost cheerful mood as he headed to the bar for a liquid lunch and his daily chat with his buddies. He planned to tell everyone that he was leaving town so he could say his goodbyes without anyone trying to dissuade him from his scheme. When it was time, he would go out the back door and “leave town” in the alley behind the bar.
When he entered the bar, he found that Marty, Alex, Phil, and Sonny were already there.
Buddy sidled up to the bar, sat down on the empty stool next to Phil, and said, “Afternoon all. How’s everyone doin’ today?”
Marty said, “Well aren’t you the cheery one? What happened did you hit the lottery?”
“No,” Buddy said. “I just heard from a gal I used to shack up with a few years back. She wants me to move to Albuquerque and live with her. She’s got plenty of dough and says neither of us will need to work. She kept me laughing the whole time we were together here, so I think I’m gonna’ take her up on her offer.”
“Oh, Jeez Buddy! You can’t leave us.” Phil said. “You are the best listener we have ever had. You let us ramble on about our woes and never interrupt. No one else does that.”
Marty chimed in, “Yeah, I always feel better after I’ve told you about how rough my Nam tours were. I never had a shrink who could do that. Come to think of it, you always let us spill our guts, but you never told us about your time there.
Just then, a voice came out of the darkness from a table behind the stools. A stranger stood up and walked over to the bar carrying a briefcase. “I believe I can tell you about Buddy’s tours in Vietnam as well as he can.”
Alex nudged Marty and waved his hand indicating that they should move over to allow the stranger to sit next to Buddy in the middle.
As he put his briefcase on the bar, the stranger said, “My name is Adrian Gonzalez. I am the son of one of the wounded soldiers Buddy rescued during a firefight in Vietnam in 1966.”
“Wow!” Alex said. “I never knew you were a goddamn hero, Buddy.”
Adrian proceeded to tell how Command Sergeant Major Anderson earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions during that period. “But more importantly, I have a photo album here with pictures of the offspring of all the men he saved by his heroic actions. Counting those wounded that he dragged off the battlefield, their children, their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren, eighty-four lives would not exist today if he hadn’t risked his own life back then.
By the way, Buddy the VA has just announced that they have found a promising new treatment for PTSD.”
While his amazed friends looked at the pictures from Adrian’s photo album, Buddy quietly slipped out the back door. He took the gun from his pocket, emptied it, and threw it in the dumpster.
It was time for him to retrieve the courage that helped him save his comrades all those years ago and use it to rescue himself so he could begin the long, painful journey back to happiness.