People often ask how Lancer, Inc. came about. I think it’s time to answer that question.
Once in a while a feeling will engulf you. It will crawl up your spine like a thousand spiders, raising gooseflesh in it’s wake. It doesn’t happen often but when it does…it leaves quite an impression.
Let me start from the beginning and tell you about that day. It was a good day. Vengeance was being released and I needed to go to Staples for supplies to make postcards to advertise book signings and a book release party that was in the works. That done, we stopped at PETCO to pick up a few things for our cats.
It was getting toward dinnertime and Mike suggested we stop at Pizza Hut. I’m always ready for a good pizza so I quickly agreed. We went inside, ordered drinks and the new Bacon/Cheese stuffed crust pizza. We talked about ordinary things while we waited. There was no drama, no angst…just conversation…much of it centering around Vengeance.
On the way out the door I glanced up at a small wooden rack that hung on the wall to my right. On it was a tiny hooded sweatshirt that would fit a baby. I don’t even recall the color. What I do recall is a sadness that crept over me. I didn’t ‘think’ about our daughter at that moment…I actually felt her. Tears streamed down my face as I turned away from that tiny hooded sweatshirt. Mike knew something was up and just put his arm around my shoulder. I looked at him and said: “It isn’t fair. We would have been the best parents in the world. It shouldn’t have been like it was.”
I didn’t ask and he didn’t tell me if he even knew what I was talking about. He just comforted me. That little article of clothing reminded me of a plane ride in a little Piper Cub that took Michelle and I down to Fort Dix, to the hospital to see Mike when he arrived back in the states…Missi was three months old. I was nervous and anxious all at the same time because I had reservations about Mike’s well being.
I felt his personality change over the two months prior to him being injured in a fire fight and sent home from Vietnam. His letters were filled with pain and anger…and something else…hatred and loss. I made that trip to help me make the most important decision of my life…would I stay or would I go? I admit that I was a little bit scared of the person Mike had become…but I couldn’t turn my back on him. The only comparison, between the man who went to Vietnam and the one who returned, that you might relate to, is drug or alcohol abuse and how it can change a person.
If that had been the case, it would have been easier to deal with. PTSD is a destructive monster, hiding in plain sight. It steals happiness and replaces it with suspicion and anger. It turns hope into hopelessness. It alters perception. It destroys lives when left untreated. It is created by death, destruction and mind altering situations that happen over and over and over.
A nineteen year old, newly married, soon to be father with a quick wit, easy laugh and zest for life-went to Vietnam. A kind and loving young man with plans for the future. He was looking forward to the birth of his first child and to enjoying life to the fullest. He had a good attitude. He just wanted to help win the Vietnam war and come home.
In the space of six months he was propelled headlong into a tree by a grenade, while on patrol as a LRRP scout. He was knocked out and when he came to he couldn’t see. He couldn’t feel his leg or find it with his hands. At that moment he wanted to die rather than come home blind and crippled. The medic found him, washed blood from a head wound out of his eyes and straightened out the leg that was pinned beneath his body. Men beside him, in front of him and behind him died in battle while he survived. Over the months he made friends and watched many of them die, yet he lived.
He wrote me a letter after every mission. Letters filled with plans for our future and plans for us to meet in Hawaii when he got two weeks leave mid way through his tour of duty. He was excited about the plans he and Chief made to become private investigators when their time in Nam was over. Chief was the scout team leader. He and Mike had become best friends in a short period of time.
In May, Michelle was born and his letters were all about his little family and how much he missed us and how he couldn’t wait to get home to start our lives together. He told me that Chief had just returned from R&R in Hawaii where he married his high school sweetheart. He was on top of the world and Mike was right up there with him. Their friendship made a bad situation tolerable, they were like brothers-what one felt-the other felt. One month later, in June of 1969, his letters changed.
Chiefs first mission out after his return was routine at first. The team wanted to scout a few villages to see what was going on then return to base. Sometimes after R&R the soldiers head isn’t in the game, the team was in protection mode, they wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible. As it turned out the mission took on a life of its own when Viet Cong were spotted. Chief and the medic headed down the mountain to cut off the VC’s retreat. Mike radioed the Four Deuce Hill for cover fire, to move the VC in the right direction. When the big guns fired the team knew something was wrong, it was too close. Chief died when a short round-from friendly fire-put a hole, the size of a man’s fist, in his chest.
Mike called in an evac helicopter then ran down the hill to see if his brothers were okay. When he found Chief, something inside of him changed forever. His letters reflected the change. His excitement turned to despondence. Revenge became his only solace. Two months later he was wounded for the second time and his tour in Vietnam was over. Within days he was back in the states where he was met with scorn and ignorance-spit on and called names. There were no ticker tape parades to welcome him, and thousands of others, home. Weeks later he was discharged from the hospital and put back on the streets of a country that treated him like a leper for answering the call of duty. (To be continued)