By mid-October 1968, I had arrived in Vietnam to begin my nearly 400-day odyssey. Basic training at Fort Dix, military police school in Georgia and then a brief two-week leave at home had filled the time since I was drafted in April.
I was stationed in Da Nang, located on the coast of the South China Sea. It was the second-largest city in the country and the surrounding area contained countless military units — Army, Marine, Navy and Air Force. Thousands of troops populated the entire area.
The compound in which I lived contained several thousand soldiers who lived and worked there. I was a sergeant in the "police department" that maintained law and order there. We were also in charge of the security of the compound perimeter. We were very busy; there were no "routine" days or nights.
Even now, over half a century later, a song, a smell or something else will cause the DVD player in my head to click on, and I again see and remember something from that time.
One of the most moving was the time I had to go to the Army mortuary, located near the huge Da Nang Air Force Base. It was one of the two U.S. military mortuaries in the country, the other down south near Saigon.
All U.S. casualties from the upper half of Vietnam were embalmed there and prepared for shipment home to Dover (Del.) Air Force Base, where they would be readied to be taken to their home for burial.
What I remember most about that day was walking out of the building and seeing the huge pile of empty drums, of which each had contained 30 or so gallons of embalming fluid.
As I stood there looking at the pile, I wondered what it represented in terms of lives lost. Hundreds and hundreds of empty drums — how many thousands of lives?
How many devastated moms and dads? How many broken-hearted wives, fatherless children, heartsick brothers and sisters.
For this veteran, the DVD player in my head often clicks on — but there is no pause button.
(Paul E. Bozard lives in Salamanca.)