NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.
In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.
Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.
by Larry Brody
My friend Buck the Ex-Navy Seal is the best neighbor anyone could have, a long haul truck driver who’s good with his hands and doesn’t think I’m an imbecile because I don’t know a monkey wrench from a baboon. Name any mechanical breakdown and Buck can repair it for you. Name any home improvement project and Buck can do it for you. And will, because as far as he’s concerned that’s what neighbors are for.
Last week was Buck’s birthday, and Buck’s wife, Delly, invited Gwen and me over to their place for dinner. We wanted to bring him a gift, but what do you give 65 year old Ex-Navy Seal who can make just about anything he wants or needs with his own two hands? We couldn’t come up with a thing until, while looking for an envelope, I opened a cabinet and saw a folded piece of yellow fabric on our office supply shelf.
It didn’t look familiar so I unfolded the fabric and discovered I was holding an eight foot long flag of Vietnam. At the top were the words, “Vietnam Veteran.” Along the bottom were the names and insignia of the U.S. military units that had served in the war. Buck hadn’t talked much about ‘Nam other than to say he was there, which made him like most Vietnam vets I know, but this seemed like the perfect gift.
That evening, Gwen, Delly, and I watched as Buck opened the box I’d stuffed the flag into and unfolded it. He looked at it closely. Kept looking.
“Buck?” Delly said. “Buck, you all right?”
Buck put the flag down on the floor so everyone in the room could see it. Tears welled in his eyes. “I’m not a Vietnam Veteran,” he said.
“Sure you are, honey,” Delly said. “You were there—“
“Yeah, I was. But not officially. Our unit’s not on this list. It’ll never be on any list.” Buck got down on his knees at the map. His finger traced various routes around and into the northern part of Vietnam. “We were Top Secret. Our job was to rescue American troops. Downed pilots, mostly. Guys who’d been bombing North Vietnam.”
He looked past us, at something far away. “You know, sometimes you can’t help it. You get into situations. You do terrible things. You kill people. Real people. Maybe good people. You kill them because you’ve got to. Because they’re trying to kill you. And sometimes you don’t kill ‘em. You hurt ‘em. You hurt ‘em so much they wish they were dead…”
“Buck…you never told me any of this…” Delly’s voice was a whisper.
“It’s not exactly a man’s finest hour, Delly!” Buck yelled without looking up. “Not something you want to talk about. Or remember.”
The tears were pouring down now. Delly tried to wipe Buck’s face with a napkin. He pulled away. “They tried to kill me,” he said. “They were trying to save themselves while I tried to save our guys. We did so many terrible things.”
I sat down beside him. “Buck, I’m sorry,” I said. “This present is a mistake. It’s not for you…”
Buck took a deep breath. Made the tears stop. Picked up the flag and folded it expertly. Held it while his other arm went around Delly, holding her close.
“Yes it is,” he told us. “This is a birthday gift from great friends. I’ll never be able to thank you enough.” He hugged Gwen and then me. I can still feel that hug, even though I can’t remember what time we went home.
As I write this, Buck and Delly are on the road. Before they left I lent him my twenty foot ladder so he could start framing the barn he’s building. When he returned it he stayed to fix the starter on my lawn tractor. As I watched him, he laughed. “You must’ve been an officer,” he said. It’s the closest either of us came to referring to that night.
Buck the Ex-Navy Seal has no war stories. It’s been thirty years, and only now are his wounds starting to heal. How can all of us understand and come to terms with the horrors for which there are no words?
I have another question too. About that Vietnam Veterans flag. Where did it come from? Who do Buck – and I – have to thank?