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Diane Bowles
Vietnam from My Side   


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 Hell.

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 except you.

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 never ending."

Ron Beckham, Pastor
Friday Study Ministries

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