Here at BoomerCafé, we don’t think our generation will ever forget Vietnam. Or stories about it. Which is the subject of Carson City, Nevada, writer Paul Clayton’s novel, Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam. The background to the story is, Carl is drafted and sent to Vietnam. Naively over-optimistic, Carl believes that karma and good intentions will save him and his friends. Then fate intervenes to teach Carl something of the meaning of life … and death. Here is an excerpt of his trip to the war.
Aboard a jetliner approaching the coast of South Vietnam, September, 1968 …
I looked out my window. We were cruising above a plateau of shaving cream clouds. That bothered me; I didn’t like not being able to see the ground. A missile could be racing up at us right now. I looked over at my two friends. They were talking excitedly about something, and that made me feel better. Friends are the key, I think. If you have good friends, you can get through anything, even Vietnam.
Two seats over sat my Reb friend from Georgia, B-O-B. B-O-B had once told me the meaning of his name, Brook something-or-other, the third, or esquire. Like everyone else, I just called him Beobee which is how the letters B-O-B sounded when you said them quickly. Beobee was about five-foot-eight, one hundred and seventy pounds, with a receding hairline and a permanent, reddish flush to his cheeks. The guy sitting between us, my other friend, McLoughlin, got up to go to the bathroom.
“They don’t have any missiles down there, do they?” I asked Beobee.
Beobee’s ruddy face brightened. A bit of a windbag, he liked to be asked questions. “You mean the enemy?”
“Of course they do.”
I suddenly wished I hadn’t asked. I liked Beobee, but his monologues wore you out. I’d gotten to know him at Fort Lewis, Washington, where we had waited to ship out to Vietnam.
“They’re the ground-to-ground kind,” Beobee said, warming to the subject, “122’s mostly. They might have some ground-to-airs now, but I believe the Navy and Air Force keep the approaches to Cam Ranh pretty well patrolled.”
“Good,” I said, hoping he’d leave it at that.
“If they did have them though,” Beobee went on, “and they managed to launch one at us, I don’t rightly know if it could climb this high.”
“Oh.” I looked out the window. We were still well above the clouds. I felt a little safer.
“Of course we’ve been descending for the past ten minutes,” Beobee said, “that would make a difference …”
He went on and finally someone on the other side of the aisle asked him a question. Beobee had served a tour of duty in Vietnam as a machine gunner with the Air Cavalry and he fancied himself an expert on just about anything that had to do with modern warfare. Because of his age, he was about twenty-five, and his campaign ribbons, I knew that most of the stories he told were true; there were just too many of them, that’s all. I really did respect the guy.