Monday, February 17, 2014

Courage and Tragedy Under Fire --- and what followed

There’s a code of silence at the PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) Clinic in East L.A. Whatever veterans say inside those walls stays there. But a fellow Vietnam veteran met me for lunch today on Whittier Blvd., and he felt like talking. I listened. When he finished telling me the story of that firefight back on February 8, 1967 — and how it would come back to haunt him decades later — I cautiously asked him if I could write about him — if I could share his story.

He agreed.

His name is Edward. I’d share his last name with you — he’s OK with that — but that code of silence I mentioned gnaws on me. He turned 69 last month. He works the graveyard shift as a security officer at a railroad yard. He feels safer in the dark — safer when he’s not around a lot of people. And it gives him more time to spend with his 14-year-old daughter during the day.

Bank in 1999, however, he was working the day shift as a quality control inspector in a factory. He had successfully buried the memories of that day in Vietnam — the day a medic named Keith Campbell saved his life. He had buried the memories of watching a bullet strike his rescuer in the neck. He had buried the memories of a burst of more AK-47 bullets that instantly killed Keith Campbell.

But in 1999, Edward was playing with his kids in a park when a woman he’d never known burst into his world. Medic Keith Campbell’s sister had finally fulfilled her dream of meeting the man whose life her brother had saved, moments before the medic, himself, fell to enemy bullets.

She wanted to look into the last pair of eyes her brother had seen.