Today is Vietnam Veterans Day — March 29, as such I thought about how I would have spent this day during the war.
Most days in combat began early.
There was what we called an “0 Dark Thirty” wake up.
Then it was breakfast. For me it was always Steak and Eggs, perhaps a ritual, but certainly one of assurance about the day to come.
Then an intel briefing where the targets of the day would be covered, followed by a crew brief, then to the crew bus –out to the revetments to preflight the bird.
At this point nearly 3 hours would have passed since that early morning call to get up.
It was on the crew bus that often folks turned introspective, but if they were thinking about what was to come they never discussed it. Still on many mornings, in those long ago days, I could not help but think about how many men had boarded the crew bus never to return that night. It was a thought not entertained for long.
Still it was an inward acknowledgement of the brotherhood in which I found myself now which would shape me and my life for the years to come.
Years later I raised this with another fighter jock and he said he thought about this as he began a mission but then “It was pretty quiet on the crew vans. I think most of us were engrossed in tactics, freqs, call signs, headings, settings, etc until the last moment or so at the van approached the jets. Had moment again on the taxiways and arming area after all the checks were done. Then after that the mission was the only thought.”
For men in combat there is only the moment of the mission ahead.
The British poet Sigfried Sassoon, a WWI officer, put it this way:
“Soldiers are citizens of Deaths’ Grey Land,
Drawing no dividends from Times Tomorrows”
They are trapped in the moment of their existence. There is and can be no other place to be. It is really an existential moment. Yet, if I ever thought I might die that day, I never voiced it to anyone. That was OK. All, who ever went into combat no matter when or where, has thought that. It crossed the mind and then was gone.