I arrived in-country South Vietnam just in time for the 1968 Tet Offensive. Ho Chi really knew how to throw one outlandish New Year’s bash that February. Kind of an “edge of your seat” sort of affair.
As a 19-year-old kid born and raised in the corner of nowhere USA, I was humbled my first few weeks in combat. Attached to a 155 mm howitzer artillery battery with the First Cav, I experienced things no young boy from Southside Bellingham would ever expect to endure. Convinced that my 14-month tour of duty was simply a Lennon and McCartney “Magical Mystery Tour” with an apocalyptic ending, I searched for anything that might enhance my mind’s outlook for cruising Bunk’s again in my ’57 Chevy, girlfriend in tow.
I had been made aware of a program sanctioned on a state-to-state basis that allowed Vietnam soldiers to write their respective state capitals and request their state flag be sent where it could be personally delivered. At first I thought this correspondence was nothing more than a placation for morale-boosting and the timing element would turn out to be a possible parting gift several months later. But then came the boys from Texas with flags three times what should be standard, so for me, it was game-on.
When old George arrived in all his green splendor, I was euphoric. Within minutes of ripping open that state-sealed manila envelope, the stake was driven, the flag was wired-on and the pride of being from the great state of Washington was never so vivid. Although most of my comrades in arms knew little of Washington, or even where it was located, there was no doubt that George Washington, flapping briskly in the South Vietnamese breeze, had laid claim to my home-state pride.
I still have old green, folded neatly in my footlocker. He comes out twice a year, once for Veterans Day and once on the Fourth of July. Yes, his edges are frayed from the harsh winds. He has some shrapnel and bullet holes that have stories unspoken. Yet he still reminds me of what might have been, and the unreserved fact that he brought me home to a fulfilled life as a husband, father, grandfather and a continued human existence.