Besieged on the 4th of July


July 4th, 2013 will be one to remember……or better to forget. After months of therapy, I can finally compose this story.

Just about all of the veterans that I know whether on the front line or not are bothered by the fireworks on the 4th. Most have avoided them or tried to avoid them…..the noise….the explosions…..the flashes….all bring back memories better left where they were made. I was in a field artillery unit so I did not see as much action as someone in infantry, but I saw enough and there are a couple of incidents that have haunted me since Vietnam. I believe everyone that served in a combat zone; whether on the frontlines or in a support role has something that comes back to haunt them from time to time.

Having recently married a wonderful woman from England, I have tried to show her the beautiful parts and traditions of our great nation. This is her first time in America and she is amazed on a daily basis at the wonders of our country in comparison to her homeland.

We had wonderful weather for the weekend of the fourth and enjoyed a day of riding my motorcycle. We had spent the previous day with my brothers and sisters of the motorcycle club I belong to, cooking out, swimming, and having a great time. When we arrived home, she wanted to see the fireworks. Bear in mind; I am a Vietnam Vet with PTSD and I love my wife, so I say to myself…..”I can do this for her” I am strong; we will have a good time.

We hop on the bike and head over to the park which is only about 2 miles from my house…..we could have seen the fireworks from my front porch. We get there rather early to find a good parking place and walk around enjoying the festivities going on leading up to the finale…..the fireworks. Thoughts are going through my mind about how I will react when the fireworks begin but her love is my strength, but will I be strong enough?

The fireworks start…..I am okay so far….a little jumpy but okay. A few more minutes into the fireworks I am more than a little jumpy, I am covering my ears and cowering. Some of the big booms sound like 175mm and 8 inch Howitzers going off and some of them sound like rockets and mortars coming in. I am doing my best to stay together as my wife is really enjoying herself. The more that go off the worse I get, I am on my knees by now and shaking so bad that I can’t drive the bike so we can get the hell out of there. At the end they always let off a volley of fire, this is the end for me……it sounds like artillery going out, rockets and mortars coming in and small arms fire, my wife turns to console me and I am gone.

When she finds me I am on the ground behind someone’s vehicle crying like a baby and a complete mental wreck and I don’t remember how long it took before I could drive, but in the short drive back home, the flashbacks were coming at an alarming rate.

When we got home we went on the back porch and I started drinking beer… the way; this is the worst thing to do when flashing back. One….two….three…four beers as fast as I can drink them……then it happens, I am back in the Nam on a guard tower. I see the zappers coming through the perimeter wire because one of them has hit a trip flare; I am yelling to get down and called for illumination. My wife grabs me by the hand and I reluctantly go with her into the perimeter (yard). Half in and half out of hallucinations; she is doing her best to convince me that there is nothing out there….they are here… now they are gone. This does not last long, here they come again, I call for illumination and as the sky lights up, the three of us on the tower…one up top and two below start firing and setting off the claymores….PFC. Cornelius calls in for support and the quad fifty rolls up. All hell breaks loose and when the smoke clears, there are bodies everywhere, we had eliminated the zappers and we were all still alive. The aftermath of the incident, the dead bodies, body parts scattered everywhere, the smell; is something that will stay in my mind forever. Traumatized by what has happened; I have a complete breakdown and my scared ass spends the next few days in the psych ward of the local Army hospital. I was not brave and probably felt that I had failed as a soldier, but I get over it at the time and I complete my tour in the Nam with no regrets. I slowly return to a foggy notion of reality, I tell my wife that they are gone, the perimeter is secure, and she is safe. We get into bed and I remember wrapping around her as to shield her from the danger and finally drift off into my drug-induced sleep.

Most non-veterans would think that this is the end of the story……I beg to differ and most of you know it is not the end. I have been seeing a psychiatrist for about three years and finally had my demons under some sibilance of control. I had stopped watching war movies, excessive drinking, anything that would trigger the demons. This and a suicide attempt in March has set me back several months….so; here we go again…..the demons have returned.

I begin treatment again and for next few months; I visit the psychiatrist once a week, then once every other week, then I feel that I have reached a point of control again and life will go on until the next time the demons decide to come.

Brothers and sisters, most of you know that the demons are real, we have all seen them. We have all tried to deal in our own ways; alcohol, drugs, isolation, or death by our own hands. Vietnam Veterans are dying at an alarming rate due to incidents like this or by the other invisible enemy….Agent Orange. We must continue to be there for one another and we must be there for the younger generation of warriors that are fighting terrorism.

We are losing many of them in much the same way, but as long as one of us has breath left, we will not forget one another and we will not desert the young warriors that fight in a war much like ours…ruled by mindless politicians.

In closing, I have no regrets about joining the Army or my time in Vietnam…..I did what I was trained to do. When I returned to “the world”, I still had a year to finish out, maybe I should have gone back, done things differently, I guess I will never know.


@Copyright 2018 by Phil “Country “Crowley