The Vietnam Veteran’s station wagon has a storage rack strapped to the top. The woman in the passenger seat stares stone-faced ahead. They travel west on Interstate 10, crossing the largest swamp in the United States in late July heat.
I am surprised to see the second Vietnam Vet bumper sticker of the day. I do some quick math. So he must be in his 60s, then? My dad’s age. But my dad was in the National Guard. The only stories he tells from that era are of cleaning guns on the weekends an hour’s drive from his house.
I imagine this gentleman vacationing in the Subaru as a foot soldier in the jungles of South East Asia. A boy plucked from his prime to fight battles people talk about less and less. Wiping the sweat from his eyes as he trudges through marsh and long grass, heat like today, stifling humidity. I imagine him flinging a machine gun over his shoulder, standing knee deep in mud helplessly watching his friends die, like Forrest Gump, and being saved from that same fate by an enormous, loud, low-flying helicopter.
Does he think about that time in his life? As he drives down this smooth highway in the land of the free does he think, “This is what we fought for?”
He put the sticker on his car, so he has not forgotten. And he would prefer that we not forget either.
I feel old as the station wagon pulls in front of an eighteen wheeler and out of sight. References to this man’s war grow fewer and fewer every year. Soon there will be no one left who remembers. But there are new wars to remember now–Afghanistan and Iraq. New bumper stickers to print up. New stories to tell. New cultural references to burn in the brains of young children, staying up late at slumber parties to watch war movies on Showtime their parents would never let them see.