Audiology, by Andrew Mayer.
A little while back we were sent some writing by one of our members to share with everyone. We were waiting to have this new website up in order to share it and give it the space that it deserved.
Unfortunately, the member didn't live to see it get published as he succumbed to his own inner turmoil. From time to time we hear about one of our members going too soon and wish that we could have done just one more thing, could have seen it coming and reached out sooner, or could have stopped it from happening. And in our line of work--it's just too common that we miss one.
Every time we hear of this happening, we make a promise to ourselves and each other to be better, work harder, and make a bigger difference. Until we reach every veteran out there, until we provide a network of help for every person suffering inside, and until we can be there for everyone--we will keep going. That is our promise to you.
Below is the story, unedited in it's original form as intended. Please reach out to those you care about, your brothers and sisters past and present, and those you haven't talked to in a while. We will do the same.
Audiology, by Andrew Mayer.
July 5, 2016.
I was in the audiology waiting room at the Palo Alto VA Hospital. An old man walked in. He reminded me of my grandfather fifteen years ago. He was dignified, runny and saggy, but regal. He spoke commandingly to the receptionist, was clearly hard of hearing. He carried a plastic travel thermos of coffee with the air of a crusty recluse.
I sensed his discomfort, rigid posture, bristling energy and goodness. I wanted to connect. "I should have brought coffee from home," loudly, clearly like I would speak to my deaf Marine grandfather toward the end.
He smiled, "Oh, yes." Searching for something to say, "The Benghazi report just came out." He stared at me meaningfully.
"Yeah," I said, "I was at the embassy in Yemen right after Benghazi. We talked about it a lot."
"They didn't have anyone there to protect them. They were all alone there."
I wanted to share. "They wanted a real Marine Infantry company at the embassy in Yemen after Benghazi, but we were two platoons. We didn't have enough support. We knew it. We were there to make sure they didn't have an easy target. We would have killed a lot of them. We wanted to, but we didn't have enough support to win."
A tottering elderly volunteer brought us newspapers and she smiled at me. I turned to read an article about the public outrage evoked by a recent Red Cross illustration of an African silhouette pushing a vaguely Asian silhouette into a pool. Racism! News.
He was looking at something, "I see you might have spent some time in 'Nam." He really was getting old — now he was pointing to some tattooed clouds and TBF Torpedo bombers peeking from under my sleeve, a tribute to my grandfather.
I pulled up the sleeve of my t-shirt. "These are 'TBF's, World War Two, for my grandfather. This is his squadron insignia, with Bugs Bunny."
“I thought they were Skyraiders. We used those a lot over Vietnam.”
“Maybe my tattoo artist just isn’t as good as I thought.” We laughed.
The newspaper article explained that the public feels very strongly that if a child is to be illustrated pushing another child into a pool to promote pool safety, the child who is pushing must not be shaded brown. News.
"You're a little too young for Vietnam I guess."
"Yeah, That was my father's generation."
"Tell me about it. I'm old."
I wanted to connect. "There are a lot of Vietnam vets in my anger class. They came back and they didn't have any support." I was trying to let him know that I appreciated having resources at home, for the transition, things that hadn’t awaited him when he came home.
He looked at me oddly, almost guiltily. "They had support. We were there. I flew one mission," he paused and blinked, "I, the guy... we gave them smoke grenades, you know, to mark their positions so we'd know where they were. Well, this guy, he called in immediate support right on this treeline near his position and we hit it, but then he wanted more, right away, right on his position. And I asked if he was sure and he basically said yeah, either they're going to get us or you are; it doesn't matter." He blinked rapidly and his eyes were getting shiny.
I was stunned. "You flew Close Air Support!" He nodded.
I needed more. “They authorized danger close CAS, fire on our own positions?” The implications of such Rules of Engagement, Standard Operating Procedures were mindblowing.
“Oh, yeah.” The pilot paused and looked in my eyes, “You did what you needed to do.”
"I was talking about veteran support when you got home," my brain scrambled for something, "You guys are awesome! My seniors... Close Air Support is the shit. We love you guys! Did you have rockets and cannons?"
"We had everything. Rockets, those thirty mike mike, different ones, um...and napalm..."
"So you got loaded up for each mission? You had to know all the weapon systems and characteristics and capabilities!"
"Yeah, well," he smiled at my appreciation, "that was the easy part."
"I got to shoot a rocket a few times and that felt pretty... powerful. But you had a fucking warplane loaded out! Well, I guess I should know. You think shooting machine guns and driving humvees is going to be awesome until you're shooting them or driving them and they're just a tool."
"Yeah," he was searching for words, "you're just a little tiny piece of something really big."
“How, uh, low did you guys fly?”
Grinning, then deadpan, “As fucking low as you can get.”
The most often told story about my grandfather’s missions in the Pacific concludes with him returning to the airstrip in his torpedo bomber with fresh palm fronds wedged in his bomb bay doors. As fucking low as you can get.
I paused, "Can I just," I extended a steady fist to him. He looked at it, smiled and pounded it. This old guy.
"I thought you were going to flip me the bird. You know, you guys think we're never there." He was talking about some Vietnam era rivalry between infantry and air I had no knowledge of.
"No! We talk about CAS like it's the baddest shit on the battlefield. Mortars are cool and everything, but CAS... and the Army CASEVACS that will land on a hostile LZ and treat you on the bird, I hear about them a lot. Those are badass dudes... men and women."
"Yeah." He's blinking back tears now. But he doesn't care. "You know, I forget sometimes. I forget how important it is to reach out and talk."
Another patient sat down from his crutches and pulled out his phone. We returned to the News--as if it mattered.
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