I want you to know what I remember every night as I lay in my bed for many long hours before I finally drift off to sleep.
It is about 10:00 p.m. I've just finished eating my ration of cold rice along with the raw meat of a small bush mouse that I found as I worked in the woods around my camp. I had to crush the mouse with my foot to kill it. Then I had to use my teeth, or at least what's left of my teeth, to tear the flesh from it's body ... fur and all. Meats of any sort are extremely hard to find in this part of the world, so I was pretty lucky, I guess? I'll have to bury the remains of the mouse inside my hut. If the V.C. find out that I had any kind of extra food, I will be beaten for hours.
It is very hot and humid in my hut. I sleep with four other POW's, and all of us smell like death. I am one of two Americans ... the others are one Aussie and one Canadian. The Canuck is in really bad shape. One of our Gook guards took a dislike to him and had him beaten for several hours last night. His jaw is broken, he lost a few teeth, and we think he has at least two broken ribs. Don't think he will make it to the end of the week. We sit here staring at him, tears in our eyes and a sickness in our hearts, because we can't lift a finger to help him.
Once a night, every night, someone in one of the huts is taken out to receive a beating. Not because they've done anything wrong, it's just the way of the V.C. They tie one of us up to the flag pole and we become their "Party Toy." They sit around and get drunk and when one of them feels like it, they come over to us and kick, punch, slap, whip or hit us with a piece of rubber or wood. The rest of us lay in our huts and we can hear every punch and kick as they are given. We hear the screams or the grunts coming from our Brother as he takes the beating. We feel his every pain just as if we ourselves had been hit. For we all know, only too well, just how it feels. Somewhere in the night, all goes silent. We never know until the end of the next day if our brother survived or if he has died. Sadly, we hoped he had died. He would have then finally escaped from this "Hole in Hell."
Morning arrives with intense heat and pain. The pain comes from the boot or the gun butt of one of the guards. It also comes from the feeling of hunger and the pains of wounds which have not yet healed. The guards drag us from our huts by our chains, some by our feet, some by our hair, and some by our genitals. They laugh as we are dragged into the center of the camp.
We stand there under the very hot sun. Many of us have soiled ourselves during the night. Some out of fear, and some because they have lost control of their body organs. Many of us have various types of bugs crawling over our bodies and flies buzzing around the stench of our bodies. Most of us that still have hair, are fully infected with lice and other skin disorders. Roll call is taken and we must answer in their language. Any other language other than Vietnamese, including French, is forbidden. I have learned their tongue very well ... as have all of us. We are then marched off.
Every day and every night, it is always the same. We have been here a very long time now. Many of us are too weak to work, but we try ... we have to. My brothers are dying at the rate of one a month. Each one of us waits for his day or night to come.
Some nights as I fall asleep in my hut, I remember. It is no good to remember. The pain is sometimes too strong to bare and it will certainly drive you crazy, if nothing else does. But, I do remember.
I remember nights out on patrol, on assignments that were highly classified. My orders, ... to seek out and destroy designated targets. I remember and I enjoy the memory of killing these bastards that, now are killing me bit by bit. I remember other things too. My wife and the baby boy she held in her arms as she said goodbye to me "stateside," as I left for Nam!
My boy would be of age now to serve and as I lay here, I hope that he never joins up. I hope that his mother, my wife, has forgotten about me and found herself another man and another life. I would not want my son or my wife or my family and friends, to see me as I am now. At times like this, I cry and in my mind I scream until I finally fall asleep.
I am in another part of the world now, one of those few fortunate POWs that found a way out of Nam and back to the real world, but I never truly left Nam. It is with me every minute of the day and all through the long hours of the night.
My body has been ruined by the many beatings that I survived. My mind has been all but destroyed by the many memories that haunt me, and I can not shake the guilt I feel for having survived.
I will not return home to the U.S. I cannot! I know that if I did, you Mr. President, would label me as a "traitor." I will not allow that to happen. I cannot go back to my family and friends. It is far better that they believe that I am DEAD.
I no longer survive ... I only exist. I speak of Nam to no one! I lie to get work and I never stay in one place for too long. I have changed my name and I never make any friends. As in Nam, I wait for my turn to DIE!
But, I wanted you to know that I am still ALIVE! A Vietnam Veteran that you abandoned so many years ago. I will write you again as the years pass. I would not want you to forget about all my brothers that died as POW's. I would not want you to forget about the "few" that SURVIVED!
I will hope that the day will come for you, when you must lay in bed as I do, remembering as I do, and sleeping only when you can't stay awake any longer. I do this for myself, but mostly for my brothers that cannot. I made this promise to myself and my brothers as we lay "dying" in a hut in the jungles of Vietnam. They will never be FORGOTTEN, and you will never be FORGIVEN!