Greater Philadelphia Wordshop Studio banner

War, by Deborah Derrickson Kossmann (Delaware County/Main Line Workshop)

I've been remembering about Vietnam on the eve of this war that I don't support. I am eight and the TV is on at night after dinner with the map next to the newscaster's head. Pictures of places with foreign names like Hanoi are marked with dots or stars. A dotted line runs through the map. Then there are images of explosions and tanks rumbling past. I didn't know what it all meant, but I remember asking my mother about the numbers. Her answer was that more soldiers had died.

We drive to my grandparents' house in Gloversville, NY. We take the NJ Turnpike and stop at the Joyce Kilmer rest area to go to the bathroom and to eat Hostess Snowballs--the pink cupcakes with coconut, chocolate cake, and whipped cream inside. My younger sister and I have amused ourselves all the way up the highway by waving at the convoys of Army vehicles filled with young men from Fort Dix. We smile and make peace signs by holding up our two fingers. They do the same sometimes, even beeping the horns on their jeeps. My mother looks sad when I ask her if they are going to the war.

Age twelve: the seventh graders have an assembly at school. Women are selling MIA bracelets, the metal ones, that have the missing soldier’s name and number. Everybody is wearing the silver cuffs and I want one too, but don't have the money for it.

There are the stories of that war that are not my own, but were told to me. I was just graduated from college and was partying at a bar one night with friends when a slightly older man began talking to me. He was very drunk. He started talking about dead friends, about not knowing if it was safe at all to see women there in Vietnam. He talked about how some of the hookers kept razors. The red light of the bar glowed across his face and I went and hid in the bathroom until he left.

One of my adolescent clients had a father who woke up screaming every night through all the nights of her childhood. Alcohol didn't help him keep the images away, night after night as he struck out, yelled at her mother and her. He sobbed afterwards.

There was the man whose job it was to notify the families as the black bags came off the plane at the AFB. The screams and silence he witnessed as he approached the front doors of those houses accompanied by the minister or another soldier to give the news. The dark dreams of boxes and more boxes that surface now before this new war starts.

Then there is the woman who answered the door when she was little and watched the military men walk away afterwards down the bricked front path as her mother sat unmoving in the kitchen chair. The brother who once molested the woman was dead. This and his penknife, a radio he'd once given her, and a letter she'd sent him months earlier that was returned unopened are what she had left of him.

I remember that map on TV--green in a sea of blue--and I think it has the shape of a rugged and broken heart, filled with loss. I saw a movie once about the aftermath in Cambodia where a man walked across a field of skulls and bones, half-buried and becoming part of the earth. All the bones were alike whether they were friend or foe. Everything human had flowed into that soil. There was nothing left to fertilize the ground but the slow wearing away of those bones.

As a species we have learned nothing about what is truly important--nothing about the true meaning in that famous photograph of the little dark haired girl, naked and running away from her own burning body.