Vietnam from My Side of the Bed
By Diane Bowles
"He will swallow up death forever and
the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces" (Isaiah 25:8)
In the night, I lay watching and listening as he falls into uneasy sleep: the
rapid eye movements tell me that he has gone back. The tortured moans and
flailing limbs make me wonder what horrors return to dominate his dreams. He
seldom shares his painful memories and keeps to himself his nightly return to
God! What carnage they saw, felt, lived. Friends dead and dying, sometimes
mutilated by the enemy’s homemade death. I wake him, but it takes time and in
that interval I see the fear and sickness in his eyes before he can hide it.
Time passes and the nightmares intensify. The illness that was first thought
to be asthma has evolved into something much more formidable. His lungs are
decaying, and the military doctors have determined that they can no longer help
him. Selfishly I wonder, "Where do I go from here?"
He now walks with the gait of an aged man, stooped and painful. Every
breath, even with the ever-present oxygen, a struggle. His hair, only a few
years ago a beautiful salt and pepper is totally white, the strands thin and dry
like his skin; his bones clearly visible in his emaciated body. What could have
happened to so transform this vital, intelligent and handsome man? We know:
Vietnam with its defoliated jungles and rain that really isn't really rain.
His tears have become part of the nightmares. He’s tired of fighting to live
and of doctors, hospitals and tubes. Tubes in his nose and mouth and through
his throat, tubes in his arms and every other orifice. He worries about the
kids and me and I try to assuage his fears. I’ve loved this man for so long, I
cannot give him up, even to God.
His fight is over, mine just begun. I try to remember everything he told me:
"Don’t sign anything for a year." "Let the Army bury me." "I’ve already paid
for anything they give you." My heart screams, I don’t want anything from them
It took years for me to begin to live again and throughout that mourning
period I relived many times my experiences from Vietnam, from my side of the
bed. I think about the talks we had in the night when I learned bits and pieces
about the war. Thoughts come to mind such as bouncing bettys, kids with bombs,
trips with nails that snap and partially destroy a man. What it feels like to
have a buddy’s life and blood all over you. Just fragments of a life lived
without me. I don’t want to forget any of this, but more important, I don’t
want our government to forget.
"He will swallow up death forever and the Lord God will
wipe away tears from all faces" (Isaiah 25:8)
"Casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you"
(1 Peter 5:7)
Diane Bowles is an Accounting Manager and a Director of the Agent Orange
Widows Awareness Coalition (AOWAC). She is writing a book "Vietnam from My Side
of the Bed" about the illness and subsequent death of her husband, who became
sick because of his exposure to the herbicide "Agent Orange" in the jungles of
Vietnam. This Especially For You article is an excerpt from that book, used
by permission. She writes, "these men experienced the actual Hell of Vietnam
and Agent Orange, but the price the wives and families pay is also high and
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