July 4 2007

To all our friends
Bob came to work in the same insurance office where I worked. He had
been working for TWA as a co-pilot and had been laid off because of the
recession. Prior to that short stint with TWA, Bob was a helicopter
pilot in Viet Nam. He served over 2000 hours in flight combat. A fact I
learned about much later in our friendship. He was a positive influence
in the office, always demonstrating an attitude of self confidence and
good nature. After hours we would occasionally play racquet ball, and he
was a fierce competitor. I was not  as good an athlete as Bob, but he
brought out the best in me, and I became a better racquetball player
than I could have imagined. When we partnered and played against other
teams, mostly other marine officers at Mitchell Field,  we did quite
well.
 
This Marine officer, pilot, successful insurance salesman, friend, and
good father constituted a friend that I was proud to have. As in all
good friendships, we learned a lot from each other. I didn’t know it at
the time, but there was something missing. For all his toughness,
competence and decency he carried a secret that haunted him.
 
About two years after meeting Bob and three years since leaving Viet
Nam, Bob and I were having lunch. He began talking about Viet Nam. He
had never talked about that before. His job was to swoop into a fire
zone and evacuate dead and wounded soldiers. It was a very dangerous job
with unrelenting pressure. In the course of his tour of duty he was shot
down and rescued twice . Toward the end of his tour he came under enemy
fire, the cockpit of the aircraft was riddled with bullets. His
co-pilot, who had been his best friend, was been laced up the middle
with machine gun fire and was dead by the time he landed the helicopter.
Bob walked away from the aircraft and said to the ground crew that was
waiting for him, "get that shit out of my cockpit. As I walked further
away from the plane the greatest feeling of guilt, shame, and depression
gripped me. I knew at that moment I had lost my humanity."
 
Looking at his face I could feel the depth of his misgivings. He told me
he had never discussed this before. That may have been a turning point
for him. The good news is that he recovered from that trauma and went on
to lead a successful life.
 
What troubles me is that not every soldier that we put in harms way is
as well equipped as this admirable, tough, well trained Marine to deal
with the stresses of war. The legion of tragic human  figures that
roamed our streets after Viet Nam, and every war are the untallied cost
of conflict. Perhaps we should be more thoughtful before we commit this
great nation’s people to war.
 
As we enjoy the celebration of America’s birthday, let’s think about who
and what we are, and be thankful. This is a great holiday, but it is a
sober one too. Enjoy!
Ernie Fazio

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