Barbwire, Brothels and Bombs in the Night: Surviving Vietnam
Authority Publishing, 2023
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Drafted into the army at the age of twenty, then sent to Vietnam, Connard Hogan finds himself immersed in toxic masculinity and the unpredictability of warfare. He endures the constant awareness that death lurks nearby as he witnesses the widespread daily infliction of trauma upon others. Connard seeks escape from fear, frustration, and restlessness through various diversions, though none of them provide him relief from the lasting effects of adrenaline-induced moments of personal threat. In the process, he questions his beliefs as he searches for his humanity, the true meaning of manhood and patriotism. Once returned to civilian life, Connard continues to be haunted by his army experiences. As suicidal thoughts mount, he seeks help through counseling. Eventually, he realizes it’s not about forgetting … it’s about remembering.
Connard Hogan, a child of the ‘50s and ‘60s, grew up with a father who suffered undiagnosed PTSD from WWII, self-medicated with alcohol, and abused his mother. Though Connard had a grand scheme to become an astronaut, he dropped out of engineering school in 1968. As a result, he was conscripted into the US Army and served a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam. Following an honorable military discharge, he received a BS in Sociology from Western Kentucky University, then an MA in Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling from the University of San Francisco. As a licensed therapist, Connard worked for twenty-five years in various settings treating addicts and alcoholics, and those suffering from major psychiatric disorders. As a writer, primarily of nonfiction, he has published two memoirs: Once Upon a Kentucky Farm: Hope and Healing from Family Abuse, Alcoholism and Family Dysfunction (published in March 2022); and Barbwire, Brothels and Bombs in the Night: Surviving Vietnam (published in June 2023).
(CHAPTER FOUR) WELCOME TO ‘NAM
“We’re beginning our descent into Tan Son Nhut,” the pilot announced.
Whooooosh! A rush of warm, humid air circulated through the cabin, carrying the smell of corrupted vegetation, a jungle of living and dying—thick, heavy, and hidden in darkness. I felt a sense of suffocation. Constrained by my circumstances, and forced to remain buckled to my seat while being propelled into my unknown future, my lungs threatened to seize. My throat threatened to slam shut. Every cell of my body wanted to deny reality.
Before the plane rolled to a stop, a sergeant started, “If we encounter incoming rounds, keep moving until you’re off the plane, and get to a bunker or hit the deck.” His instructions, straightforward, amounted to a no-bones-about-it slap in the face. As if those words weren’t enough, he delivered another swift kick in the ass. “The plane’s engines will continue running. Once we’re off and an outgoing group boards, this plane will leave.”
That comment extinguished the last possibility of my escaping ‘Nam. Reality had come home to roost. You ain’t in Kansas, anymore, Dorothy. However unrealistic my hopes had been, there was no way around the fact that I’d arrived in ‘Nam … and wasn’t leaving anytime soon. And it wasn’t like I thought I’d hide in the plane’s lavatory or cargo hold.
Dirt had been thrown into my gaping wound. Fear welled up. The same unspoken fear I’d faced as a kid when I played hide-and-seek. Hidden, I’d wondered: if the others gave up the game, would they tell me? I could be left waiting for who knew how long. And those times, when on the verge of bursting, I’d emerge and run for home.
Suck it up, soldier. I had no idea what that would mean, however.
Meager solace, I’d not be left alone in ‘Nam, though Nixon had started our “drawdown” from 543,000 men and women. And although individual members left daily and others arrived to replace them, that remained of little consequence to me. I was in ‘Nam to stay until the army said otherwise.
Nonetheless, I felt like a participant in an adult version of hide-and-seek in ‘Nam: me on the American-allied team, lined up against the VC and NVA. But there wouldn’t be the giggled relief when one team tagged the other and the game could start over, with everybody getting another chance and the worst consequence equating to a wedgie. No! ‘Nam was played for keeps, and at twenty, though my death would be a personal tragedy, dying a virgin struck me as a sacrilege.
Tensed, my muscles readied me to move … somewhere, anywhere. My gut knotted and a flush of perspiration covered my face. Stifling, jungle smells hung heavy in the airplane cabin and remained foreign and unsettling.
I surveyed the stewardesses’ faces, wondering what lay behind their smiles. I tried to imagine their flesh against mine. Inhaling deep, I grabbed for any feminine scent I could take with me before I turned my head toward ‘Nam, beyond the exit.
I expected a mortar attack any second.