Two Vietnam combat vets joined me on "The Regina Brett Show" tonight. It was hard not to cry as they spoke.
Tom Saal was a Marine lieutenant in Vietnam. He lasted four whole months before stepping on a land mine. Those four months have haunted him for 40 years. He went to Vietnam at age 21; he returned to visit this month at 65.
Joe Caley was an Army scout who worked with a dog sniffing out booby traps and possible ambushes. He was 21 and spent 365 days there until his chopper was shot out of the sky. He's 63 now and still gets jittery when he talks about that year in hell.
Tom read a poem on the show about his buddy Jack Ruggles who took his last step on Feb. 28, 1968.
"We had known each other for over a year.
Gone through OCS together, trained together,
Slept in the mud together, witnessed our first death together.
Talking on a trail together for five minutes.
"Well, we had best get back to our platoons before they wander off."
"I'll see you when I see you. Be safe. Be careful. Watch where you step."
More laughter, Lieutenants laugher.
That was it. No more. His last words to me.
Minutes later...Land mine...Explosion.
His last words: "Be careful. Watch where you step."
It's ironic that war has no feelings, takes no sides, doesn't care who dies.
My good friend, Jack Ruggles.
Gone in an instant."
In another poem called, "If I began" Tom wrote:
"If I began to hear, to taste, to smell, to feel
the death of the too, too young Marine lieutenant,
the tears would flow from me like the torrents
of the Spokane River which I sit watching with my daughter, Anna.
She, naively and unknowingly sitting by my side,
and telling me how happy and fulfilled she is
nursing cancer patients at a small community hospital
as an introduction to her new-found life.
And me, determined and refusing to share these intrusive thoughts
which leap in and out of my brain
as does lightning shatter the darkness of a summer storm."