Thurman P. Woodfork


Trang Sup: Photo ©Copyright 2001 by Thurman P. Woodfork
Trang Sup: Photo ©Copyright 2001 by Thurman P. Woodfork
Been coming home for a long while, now. Started out way back in 1967 when I got aboard that old ‘Freedom Bird.’ A few days before that, I’d packed my gear and took a last long look around what I’d been calling home for a year. Then I climbed aboard the Six-By headed for Tay Ninh and a flight to Saigon. The memory’s kinda blurred now, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t look back as the compound that was Trai Trang-Sup disappeared behind the trees.

If I had glanced back, it damned sure wouldn’t have been with anything approaching regret. Goodbye, Vietnam; ain’t been nice knowin’ ya.

Even then I didn’t go straight home. The civilian one where I grew up, I mean. Instead, I went directly to my next permanent duty station – 5th Tac on Clark AFB in the Philippine Islands – without taking a leave. Why the PI? Earlon Jones, AKA ‘Fat Daddies’, had regaled me with stories of his tour in the PI when I was in Montana. It sounded like as good a place as any to land after Vietnam. ‘Daddies’ was an old buddy from Cut Bank Air Force Station back in ‘The Big Sky Country’.

No sense in rushing back to the old world of friends I’d gradually grown away from during my years in the Air Force. The assistant scoutmaster I’d once been was pretty much washed away by wine, San Miguel beer, and some truly imaginative libations like the Pani Special – which could stop a charging moose dead in its tracks – and an innocent looking but lethal concoction known as a Pink Mother-f****r. Smooth, sweet, and deadly, it looked a lot like pink lemonade. Hah! A lot of scotch and bourbon had been added to that other stuff over the years, as well.

And to think, I didn’t drink, smoke, curse, or fornicate when I joined up with Uncle Sam. I had entered the Air Force a dewy-eyed virgin. But that didn’t last long, though I probably hung on longer than most, considering where I came from. The nature of the beast I’d cast my future with proved irresistible, and I soon succumbed. I retired from the Air Force a foul-mouthed, dirty old man, in mind if not in body.

That trusting, naïve, church-going kid gradually turned into the gently cynical, increasingly disillusioned character I became after a little more than a decade perambulating about the world in the service of God and Country. I learned early on, with some surprise and disappointment, that I may have possessed more native intelligence than most of the people I dealt with on a day-to-day basis, but it didn’t matter. On average, they were far more cunning than I could ever be. Besides, there were a lot more of them, and I still had years to go before retirement.

Somewhere, way down deep inside, though it was beginning to gasp just a tad for survival, I still carried the stubborn belief that every man possessed some commendable qualities worth redeeming. Vietnam didn’t do much to keep that attitude alive, though. About the only things I still retained from the old Scoutmaster days were an ingrained obligation to give proper value for a day’s pay, and a pretty good chunk of honesty and empathy.

But truly, after Vietnam, I just didn’t care as much, and it was beginning to show. Though not yet fully ready to accept that I had found the enemy, I was starting to suspect he just might be me with my sometimes-unrealistic visions of the way things should be. And the enemy was also growing thirsty. Adapt or die.

I still looked and acted pretty much the same, but I’d travelled a long way from home over the years, spiritually as well as physically, and I wasn’t trying all that hard to get back. Down where the real me lived, a light that had burned pretty brightly for years began to dim, all but unnoticed. I wasn’t paying attention to refueling it, or I just didn’t care anymore.

The old Give-a-Shit factor was gearing down, but it wasn’t readily apparent. Guys I didn’t know still stopped me on the street to ask if they could go with me on the next ‘package’ I took out. I’d lived the industrious good guy role for so long I still went through the motions without much effort through pure reflex. Nobody noticed my heart wasn’t fully there anymore. Invisible goblins lurked around the corner, biding their time.

Did Vietnam do all that to me? I didn’t think about it at all while I was in Southeast Asia, or for many years after I returned to the States. As a matter of fact, I don’t know to this day how much or in exactly what ways my sojourn in Vietnam changed me. I always knew I could influence those around me if I played the personality game. I simply was not interested in trying. TTFN – maybe more later.