I started the weekend watching a movie called “The Siege of Jadotville”. Its a good movie, based on a true story and the only Irish lads in battle movie I have ever watched.
It kicked off a whole weekend of war documentaries and movies (as an aside, when did the History Channel stop showing any stuff about history?). The weekend ended last night with that classic “Full Metal Jacket”.
The whole thing got me thinking, if I had stayed in my country of birth I would have had the possibility to be involved in the Falklands, Iraq, Afghanistan and probably a few things I have missed (the “troubles” etc.). But I lived in Ireland when I was ‘military age’ and there was simply never the prospect of ever fighting in a war, ever. I mean the cops don’t even carry guns in this country, we are not going to start a war. In many ways this does make growing up here rather unique. I have been in a few war zones, but always with a ticket out.
In all my travels I have met a few people who did fight in wars, but there was really only one guy who I knew really well who fought in a war. For the sake of this blog, I am simply going to call him JB.
I knew JB during my time in Texas, and JB was a good old boy. I got to know JB because he was a sales guy in a division of the company that I worked in that relied on the sales that I generated (kinda like an internal subcontractor). Now JB was a good guy, but he was fucked up, I mean proper fucked up, he was straight from the script of Glengarry Glen Ross. I loved the man, and we spent a lot of times like in a bad movie driving around, making a pitch and heading to a dive bar for the night. JB’s favorite place was called the Southeast Asian Oil Club, the name might imply a certain class, it had none, it was a real dive, and we both loved it.
Anyway after the first month or so of this carry on, JB was dropping me home at around 2 in the morning and we pulled into some place where you could buy beer. JB drank and drove, that’s just the way it was, he was never going to change. He grabs a couple of six packs (Bud, what else) and we crack one open each, me sitting in the passenger seat. No brown bags, no pretense, just cruising down Westheimer, yapping and drinking beer. Stopped at a set of lights and a cop car buzzes us, JB raises his beer bottle to them and drives off. No chase, nothing, just polite nods all around.
Here is the thing, as it turned out JB had fought in Vietnam, had seen a lot of action and got sent home on a stretcher. He won a Purple Heart for this, and in Texas (and I am sure other states), that gives you the right to a special ‘Purple Heart’ license plate. Everyone knows you are some form of hero, and the cops would just not bother him.
Over the years I knew JB, we never talked about his time in Vietnam, a large curious part of me wanted all the gory details, but he did not say, and I did not push. But he did talk about his time after coming home, after rehab. He started to run drugs out of Mexico (no one was stopping a guy with a Purple Heart), he became an alcoholic, his life was a total mess. I cant say that he every really got it all back together, but large parts of his life became more normal (I mean selling safety systems has to be a lot better than running drugs).
For all the bad parts in JB’s life, the drink, the driving, the drug abuse, the drug running and so on, he was one great guy. I like to think that the bad things he did, where driven by the awful, unmentionable things that went on in Vietnam, something that I will never experience.
The post? I googled JB this AM after my weekend of watching war from the safety of my couch, he died a few years back. I will raise a cold one to him, but it will be in a seat in a bar, not a car.