Thurman P. Woodfork

GUILT

SAINT CRISPIAN’S DAY SPEECH
from Henry V by William Shakespeare

This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhood cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
Carrying some degree of guilt seems to be almost universal among Vietnam vets; it was there even in country. I felt it every time a Special Forces patrol left camp while I remained behind in relative safety. I think the Special Forces people themselves felt it in some measure when they sat and listened to the radio as another camp in danger of being overrun fought for its life. What could they do? They wept, they raged in helpless anger as they listened while their friends were wounded or killed. They knew it was not their fault, yet still they felt the pain. They all knew somebody in those camps. I’m afraid that there isn’t any answer; if there is one, I’d sure like to find it.

One Green Beret went out on a patrol when he wasn’t scheduled to go. He said that he wasn’t being paid to sit around camp playing Liar’s Dice with us Zoomies. He said it jokingly, but deep inside, he believed it because it was his job to go out. He was that sort of man; they all were.

He got separated from the others during a firefight, and when they found his mutilated body a day or so later, he could only be identified by some personal items that he carried. Everybody felt guilty, from the guy who let him go on patrol down to the people who wished they’d tried harder to convince him to hang around for one more day of Liar’s Dice. But really, it was nobody’s fault.

I never told my friend Larry how much I cared for him because I felt that if I did, something bad would somehow happen to him. As if my thoughts or feelings could in some way control his fate. It was irrational and illogical, but that was what I felt and that was what I acted on. He had already been wounded twice before I met him. Lord knows I didn’t want to be the cause of any more bad luck for him. It made perfect sense to me at the time.

How do you explain the survivor’s guilt suffered by men who saw constant combat and even sustained wounds of their own? Still, they feel guilty because they survived when so many of their friends and acquaintances didn’t make it back home. They may have lived simply because of a caprice of fate: A mortar round came part way through the roof right above Valerie Robert, who was asleep in his bunk on Trang-Sup at the time. It didn’t go off. Fate smiled on him that night. I wonder if Val suffers from survivor’s guilt today because of his good fortune then.