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Angry Black Grunt

I can see him as clearly as if it were yesterday.  He sat alone at a table in the small 
drab rec room.  He was black - under 20 years of age - not a large man - but every 
inch of his frame was solid muscle.  He sat staring down at his clinched fists on the 
table top and did not look up even when the screen door slammed shut behind me.
I walked over and stood smiling next to him.  Still he did not acknowledge my 
"Hi, there,"  I said with my cheeriest voice.  "We've come to visit your company 
but I'm told they are out on patrol, so I guess you have me all to yourself today."
He looked slowly up toward my face.  The glare in his eyes told me he was in no 
mood for witticism.
"Mind if I sit down?"
"Do whatever you want."
"So, how did you manage to get a day off?"
He looked back down at his clenched fists.
"I don't mean to bother you.  Are you sick?"
His eyes were filled with rage when he looked up at me.  "Yea, I'm sick - sick to 
death of this whole fuckin' place - I'm sick of Nam - sick of the Army - and I ain't 
never goin' back out in the field - I don't give a damn what the Hell they do to 
me - so go peddle your damn donuts somewhere else  lady!"
I knew that he wanted his last word to be "bitch," but the fact that it wasn't gave 
me enough courage to try and reach through his anger.
"I don't have any donuts.  I mean, they call us Donut Dollies - but the truth is that 
I haven't seen a single donut since I landed in Saigon."
I didn't get a smile, but I did notice his facial muscles relax for an instant before 
he looked back down at his clinched fists.
"Look, this company was our last stop for the day.  Our chopper won't be here for 
awhile and I'm a great listener."
"I don't need no pep talk from some lady who don't know jack shit about what the 
hell it's like out there in the boonies.  I ain't goin' and that's it!"
"I don't want you to go.  I wish nobody had to be out there killing and dying.  I'd 
just like to listen if you want to talk.  You seem like you could use a friend right 
"OK! You wanna hear it? I came in country 11 months ago with a platoon of 
men - mostly black men.  Eleven fuckin' months I been humpin' them goddamn 
paddies - watchin' my buddies get wasted.  A whole goddamn platoon of men and 
I'm the only one left.  The only fuckin' one left.  Do you know what it's like to watch 
your friends blown away one by one - and wonderin' all the time when it'll be your 
turn?  You got any idea what that's like?  Hell no ya' don't!  Yesterday we were 
out on patrol - me and Collins - we stuck pretty close together.  Sometimes we'd 
joke about which one of us would be the last one here.  Some goddamn joke!  I 
was trying to light a cigarette - the column was stopped for some stupid ass 
reason - and I was sweatin' so fuckin' bad it dripped on the match and put it out.  
Pissed the shit out of me.  So I lit the whole goddamn pack of matches to light one 
fuckin' cigarette and you know what that stupid mother fucker did? - kept right on 
walking and laughin' - probably goin' to take a piss - and stepped right on a fuckin' 
booby trap - blew both his goddamn legs off."  
He sat silent for a moment staring at his clenched fists.  " You know what that 
stupid bastard said to me while we were waiting for the dustoff?  He looked up at 
me and laughed - can you beat that? - he laughed and said, 'Too bad for you, Jonesie, 
I get to go home and you have to stay here.'  And then he said, 'good luck.'  Good luck, 
Hell.  I don't need no luck 'cause I ain't goin' out there again.  They said if I don't 
they gonna' give me a Dishonorable Discharge.  So give me the damn thing - I don't 
give a shit.  I'm goin' home alive - with 2 arms and 2 legs and I don't give a flyin' 
fuck what that piece of paper says!"
The screen door squeaked and a voice said, "Your chopper's here."
I cupped my hands around his still clinched fists, looked deeply into his thousand 
yard stare and said, "I care about you.  You deserve to be taken out of the field 
after 11 months of Hell.  My name is Emily.  Our hooch is in Dong Tam.  
Get in touch with me if they give you any more shit."
I never heard from him.
I continue to wonder, Where has he been?  Where is he now? Did he make it home 
or did they send him back out to die?  Was he one of the delayed casualties - a suicide 
victim?  Was he one of those "Crazy Vietnam Vets" who killed several people and 
held off a squad of police until a SWAT team killed him?  
I still care about him.

emily strange


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