Hùng Vu, they called me, it means brave and heroic, but they didn’t realize how wrong of a name that was for me, but they will, eventually.
I woke up to the warm buttery smell of sticky rice, and the sounds of our small village in North Vietnam, I felt the sun drenching me from head to toe; today is my 22nd birthday. A big day because I have finally proven to my father that I can take over the fishing business. Slowly and groggily I swing my legs out from the soft, bumpy bed longing for more sleep. I heard my wife Chi humming as she cooked, her dark brown bangs covering her eyes. She looked up from the pot and saw me and smiled although it was strained. “Morning, I knew you were up last night helping your dad, so I thought you needed something extra for today because you’re usually grumpy without a good breakfast.” Laughing, I take the steaming bowl from her hand, yellows, reds, and whites cover the delicate, blue clay bowl. Dipping my chopsticks into the rice, I take a bite, and I’m instantly warm, “I heard, that they are now sending a draft for the war,” she said. Now I know why her smile was strained, all the warmth leeches out of me. “M-m-maybe we can try saying that you have a health condition?” she said trying to find a way out, but it most likely won’t work. I heard a soft, high-pitched voice, “Mom?” Hoa, who was now getting better and better at talking looked wide-eyed at her mom. For a second, I could swear that on her tiny flushed face there was recognition and terror, but she can’t understand what’s happening right now at this young of an age. She waddled eagerly towards Chi, almost tripping in the process. When she reached her, she instantly clung to her leg. Chi bent down and took Hao into her arms, “Do you want some mango sweetie?” Hao enthusiastically nodded. While she fed Hao some of the sweet fruit, I told her that we could talk about what we could do with the draft later and that I had to get to work. I came back from work, dripping in sweat, and I found my wife staring at a piece of paper, her face lost all its blood. She looked up, and her face crumbled, her mouth contorted to an anguished look. Silently I walk up to her, “What is that?” Gradually she handed me the crisp, white piece of paper. In the letter there was a bunch of nonsense I didn’t have the time to go over, I skimmed over the message, and I saw the words that knocked all air out of my chest. I was selected for the war. I am not prepared for this; I thought as I said my final goodbyes to the last of my friends, as they leave our house. I look up to find Chi staring at me, her eyes wet. I see Hoa beside her, hands stretched out, staring at me. I pick her up, and pretended to take her nose, “I got your nose!” I said, and she squealed with a mixture of delight and horror. I look to Chi, “I will come back” I say, she gave me a curt nod and glances at my things. I gave Hoa her nose back and hugged Chi. I pause at the doorway of the house that I have made many memories, Hoa’s first birthday, celebrations, the house that has given me not only shelter but a place to create new memories. I glance back one more time, and then I’m on my way to a war caused by disputes between North and South Vietnam for control. A fight, I could not agree with.
A few months later…
A few months later…
When we arrived at our base in the jungle, I was dripping with sweat. The air was damp and hot against my skin, and it smelled putrid, and salty like nobody’s bathed in a long time. We scrambled out of the vehicle. I am wearing all black, pants, shirt, everything. We don’t have much money for this war, and you can see from our guns, they’re cheap things, some are even from America, and others, we scrounged up from the WWI. I hold mine firmly, looking around me, the thing is, the Americans think we have an advantage. They think because we live near the jungle we aren’t afraid and know every part. It isn’t true, but, this could help us gain the upper hand in this war. Everyone around me is exploring our ‘home-made’ camp. They look more relaxed than I ever could be; they all think this war is for good. All I want is independence, and to be free from all of this, and to have a safe place to grow my family. They called our group later than the others. I still haven’t had the time to send a letter to my family, and I can imagine how worried they would be. I know because I had the experience too, my grandfather, joined the war. He was the father figure in my life since my dad wasn’t there, my mother never told me what happened; I didn’t want to push. I remember waiting every day for my grandpa to return, clinging to the tree outside our house. One day, when the war ended, I remember my mom getting a letter. I looked outside, everywhere for my grandfather, but he wasn’t there. I thought he left me, but as I grew older, I knew he died. I have to get back, and I will, but I was never prepared for this, it was my brother, always my brother who was better prepared for the war, even my grandpa said so. Although I know I am not as tough as my brother; I do know that I am reasonably smart. I hope that’s enough to get me through this war. The new friend I made, Bao, comes up to me as we order ourselves into line to listen to what our group leader has to say, “I wonder if we are going to go underground? I hope not; this hair can’t take any more damage”, he says, trying to lighten the dreadful mood of the camp. I give him a strained smile; I know that he also wasn’t made for the war, although, I guess nobody is. “Yeah, and imagine the stink then” I reply. I didn’t want to imagine the stink; it was bad enough right now. “For all of you wondering, no, we are not going underground, for now, we will stay up here,” our group leader says, “It’s too crowded down there” he adds to himself, and a few people that heard, chuckled. I was heading to our shared tent when I heard a rustle in the woods. I don’t know much about the forest, despite what most think, but I do know that the tigers and predators here, are not like the ones in the cartoons who help or sing along with you. I strained to listen for the rustling again, but all I could hear was the cacophony of birds and the patter of light rain against the lush green leaves of our surroundings. I enter our tent and change into something more comfortable for sleep. I hit the rough, pokey cot with a thud, and within a few minutes, sleep overcame me.
As I saunter along the path, gun lowered, I calm my breaths and go over our conversation. I realized that he hadn’t been judgemental of my opinions as I had his, and I instantly regret yelling at the only person who was kind enough to come up to me, even when I wasn’t looking for a friend in the war. In front of me, I saw deer, so graceful, and calm, in contrast to the war. I realized that this gentle creature would most likely die because of this war, that it had nothing to do with. A branch snapped underneath my boots, and the deer quickly turned it’s head to me, and when our eyes locked, my breath sputtered, its whole face was covered in blood, although, from what I could see it was not injured. Before I could step towards it, the deer gracefully fled. As I followed its path, I saw something else that locked my interest. It was a man, but not just a man, it was an American soldier. He was wearing a uniform of greens, and brown, and a cloth tied around the top of his head to collect the sweat dripping down to his eyes, although, it wasn’t beneficial. I knew I should run or at the very least, be afraid, but unlike any other soldier I’ve seen, he didn’t look like he wanted to be in the war either. At that moment, I saw movement, something heading right for me, but I was too captured with the shared moment with an enemy who seemed to feel like I did. As I look down, my heart stops.The loud songs of the birds and animals woke me up, and I realized, that I was in a pool of rainwater, in fact, I was soaked, as the tent wasn’t very good. Shivering, I change into my uniform of black, the other clothes clinging to me with the water. I turn to see Bao behind me, already dressed and ready to go, but from the look on his face, I could see he wasn’t as lucky as me to have a good rest. Sleeping in the jungle is hard, mainly because of the heat, but also because of the sounds, and our fear of the predators. Even though he is tired, he smiles at me. I file out of the tent with him and line up for the announcement. As our commandant gives us directions, I ask him what I have been wondering for days, “Do you believe this war is good?” I hope his answer is like mine. Eyes lighting up, which I now knew was a sign it was going to be a very passionate argument. He says, “Yes I think it is, because when we are all united, everyone will be equal, and the conflict between people will be over in our nation, while others are still divided.” “Oh,” was all I could say, “Do you think that all these lives we are spending are worth that?” I ask again. He looks at me quizzically, as if I have said something entirely foreign to him, “Well, I’ve never thought of that before…,” I wonder how he hasn’t. Before I could comment on that, he speaks, “Actually, I think it is because we all have to make sacrifices, to give a better future for others”. I lose it there, “Are you serious?! Children are dying because of this war, I mean, your family might even be dying, and you still think this is for good?!” I blast out, his eyes harden, and instantly I am afraid, he was never angry or lost his cool before. However, for some reason I feel like I don’t want to know him when he is angry, “I think you should go take a walk to cool off,” he says in a cold voice, I nod reluctantly and turn towards the path beside me.
He threw a grenade; I think as I stare at the mud-green object, only a few feet away from me. As I see this, I suddenly remember the promise I made to my family, that I would come home. With this thought in mind, I start to run, but it only takes me a few steps to realize that it’s too late, I am too close. I pause staring at the grenade, as time seems to slow down, and I remember the feel of my mother’s arm against mine and the laughter of my only child. I try frantically to cover my head, but it’s too late. The blast that comes rips my hearing away, I am thrown back, and darkness overcomes me. Maybe now, I will find peace in a world that offered none I think, and I realize that I am no longer afraid.