I remember you from the war, Ted Lavender. The way you relied on tranquilizers to get through, sometimes getting so high you barely knew you were even at war. “How’s the war?”, we’d say, and you’d simply reply with “Mellow. It’s a mellow war today.” I remember the way you hit the ground hard, all your extra ammunition weighing you down. I understand why you carried extras, you can never be too careful, I suppose. I just wonder how you moved with all the extra weight. I don’t mean just the ammunition, I mean the fear as well. How’d you move with the fear of the war hanging onto you?
You were such a scared soldier, young too. Most stories we hear about the war include brave men, fighting for their country. I don’t mean to say that you weren’t brave, but you were brave in a very different way, so different it’s almost the same braveness the soldiers in the stories have. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for you, waking up everyday terrified, not knowing what lies ahead. But I know what it’s like to feel the need to rely on a substance to get through the day. Sometimes it can be calming, knowing you have something to help and watch out for you, but it can also make you feel pretty pathetic.
You were a very curious case, Ted Lavender, because one thing you weren’t afraid of was showing your fear. I find it quite inspiring. I remember watching you walk away, not knowing it would be the last time anyone saw you walk. I remember seeing you turn in our direction to walk back, never making it there. You were shot it the head. You fell like a rock. The life was knocked out of you instantly, which, I can only imagine, made dying much easier. Many people felt the guilt of what happened to you that day. I did, the lieutenant definitely did, he wasn’t the same after you were gone. As soon as you hit the ground, he was a changed man. It was preventable.
Again, I would like to talk about being brave, how you and others managed to stay brave. All the soldiers that went to war, they were brave. The cooks, the doctors, they were brave. And you were a brave man, Ted. You could’ve left, you could’ve run away. You could have left the universe behind if you so desired. But you stayed, you went to war. Going to war might’ve been your worst fear, but you certainly faced that fear, and that takes great strength. Not many people can honestly say they’ve done that. I want you to know that you were not alone at war. Every single soldier was scared, whether it was deep down inside them or right at the surface. You were just brave enough to show it. I just want you to realize how truly brave you were in Vietnam. I’m not sure if you were expecting to come back home. You were probably hoping deep down you would make it back to see your family. Could you see it in the back of your mind? Returning home, a hero. Greeting your family, a hero. But to me, you were a hero. You are a hero. Maybe you woke up that day knowing it would be the last time, your last day here on earth. Maybe you walked away from the group on purpose because you knew what was coming, you just knew. I just want to ask you one more question to end my letter;
What does it feel like to die?
Forever your friend.