Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Love, grief, war, love

Barbara sent me a letter that began, "You will make it." I printed a copy to carry in my billfold.
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David Kemp and Charles Binkley, married, September 2015

I see couples together, a man and woman, a man and a man, a woman and a woman, sometimes with a child, sometimes just a parent and child, and like a prayer, I think something like, “Cherish what you have, love her (or him) with all your heart, give it all you have.” This happens almost every day.
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I went today to the first meeting of a grief recovery group. The walking wounded. One man will mark one year tomorrow. “Clara,” he spoke her name softly. Another man just passed two months and I thought, “How can he do it?” Everyone else in the group has been in it longer, so I guess that’s how he’ll do it. It’s so hard. Until this, Vietnam was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. This is much harder.
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These things are written over time, so when I say something about “the past few days” I may be writing about days a week or two ago.
Hard times much of the past few days. The thing of writing down three good things each day fell by the wayside as I’ve cycled downward.
Phorn, David, CK. At Grace Cathedral,
David and Charles' wedding
Sometimes patients would tell me their chief complaint was “desperation.” I didn’t really understand that, except that it seemed to occur in the context of depression and I always took it as a serious CC. Now I get it. Desperation. What to do? Where to turn?
Monday I went to the grief center at Wilshire Baptist Church. Had a draining 1.5 hour conversation with Laurie, the director. The next day I talked with Lillie, the woman who facilitates the group I will start in next Tuesday.
(Encourage, it’s a word I want to keep in mind.)
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While we were in San Francisco the last time, Jeff talked some about Vietnam. I started thinking about how much combat I was in. Really a lot. Definitions:
Battle = a sustained fight with a lot of people involved, lasting anywhere from hours to days.
Firefight or gunfight = a brief fight involving a few people, that may last a few minutes up to an hour.
1/26 = 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment; likewise 1/9 is 1st Bn, 9th Marine Reg. and so on. A letter in front of these, e.g., C/1/26, designates C Company, 1st Bn...
With Elisabeth and Jim, on the trail, NM
Except for Marine nomenclature, these are my definitions (battle vs. firefight). In each of the following battles and gunfights I was actively shooting and being shot at.
Battles
Deckhouse/Prairie, a big one near the DMZ – battalions of NVA regulars, trenches, mortars, rockets, many firefights. On the last day I saw a tanker get his head blown off. He was wearing a commo helmet, and it was like seeing a radio explode. When the fighting was over, I got his .45. I remember when we got back to a firebase the tanks laagered up and we (the infantry) all just kind of fell down asleep in the center of the circle. In the morning I saw the entire 1st weapons squad asleep together – three men, spooned together under a poncho – a week before there had been 12-14 men in 1st squad. For the operation, 36 Marines were killed and 167 wounded (from several units). Deckhouse/Prairie lasted a week or two for my unit, C/1/26.
Sea and sky and land
Dodge City near Hill 55 when that corporal had his ass blown off – he sat up and looked down at what was left of his legs, groaned and died. Battle lasted about an hour.
Dodge City a few months later – 16 KIA, several helicopters shot down, bad action, Zamora killed. His friend went crazy, started screaming, and charged the enemy trench line, so everybody else did too. Lasted about a day.
The Hill Fights/the “First Battle of Khe Sanh” – this was the worst. At the DMZ. I was mostly with 1/9, “The Walking Dead” and also some with 3/3 or 2/3. 168 men killed over about a month. I was in this one at several different points, with some rest time back at the rear near Dong Ha, where the only problem was rockets. I think I can rightfully say this was at least two battles for me. Intense. Lasted weeks.
Firefights/gunfights
John and CK, in the Castro
My best guess is at least one every 4-5 days for about seven months and then in the last six months, maybe one or even less/week. But the Hill Fights were in the last months, so I don’t know how to count in those times. All told, I was in at least 50 firefights.
Sniper fire/mines
When we were near Dodge City (Thuy Bo) every bleeding day at least one person was hit by sniper fire or blown away by a bouncing betty or other mine. Every fucking day.

I've been shot at with hand-held automatic weapons, crew-served automatic weapons, mortars, RPGs, big rockets, artillery, and I don't know what else. I've even been strafed by a gunship.
THAT’S A LOT OF ACTION! I don’t seem to be haunted by it, though. It comes up now and then, but not so bad. I don’t remember my dreams. Things might be different if I did. Haha, Jeff’s dreams are enough for me.
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Phana and Jeff - we all love a pretty girl, don't we.
Look at how he's looking at her - just as if he was
looking at David.
I’ve been somewhat slouchish for a long time. Toward the last of the time when Leslie was sick, I realized I was becoming actually bent over. I worked to stand up straighter. At some point a few weeks ago I thought to myself, fuck it, bent over is what I am and I quit trying to stand straight. Now I’m working on straighter again.
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David and Charles got married a few weeks ago. It was a huge celebration. I realized a few days before the ceremony that it was a transition for me, too – and not the easiest one of my life. Of course, these are days upon days of transitions for me… More on this later. Will post video when it comes out.
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A woman was telling me how Leslie helped her years ago and how thankful she was for it. Somewhere in the conversation, I said, “Yes, she helped hundreds of people. The woman said, “No. Thousands.”

3 comments:

gift culture said...

I know that we haven't really met deeply in person, we've just seen each other from across the way really, but I would really like to give you a big hug next time I see you.

My heart goes out to you, Charles, and I hope that you find peace and comfort..

Alison Starr said...

I clicked reply and now I'm not sure what to say. On the one hand there are a lot of words I could put on this rectangle Blogger has us reply in and on the other hand all of them seem like letters out of order just typed here in this specific spot. So, Charles, I think of you often and don't call, text, write or anything. Then you share with us and it encourages me to respond. I write to remind you that it makes sense that this is hard. I write to say I grieve with you and can't imagine what you are experiencing. And so now for the main reason I respond: to remind you that I love you, we love you, you are loved.

Karen Mabry said...

Charles. Who every said time heals all wasn't human. It is so hard when the love of your life is gone. Having mine still with me makes me appreciate him more every day when I re-read your blog. I have lost both parents, both inlaw parents but I can't even begin to feel what you are feeling. I pray to whatever higher being we have that your pain will go away, no not go away but lessen as the days go by. You and Leslie had such a great togetherness that it can't be forgotten or misplaced. She is and will always be that deep love in your heart. David and now Dr. Charles can help with the void, your friends will help but your continual love of Leslie in thought words and your actions will help sustain you until you can be back in her arms again. That is my prayers for you. Sustainable peace of heart. Karen