Thurman P. Woodfork

VINCULUM – BONDING

We could discuss this for days. Vinculum – what an interesting word. Does a mother feel a stronger bond to the child she knows she will eventually send off to pursue his or her own individual existence or to the husband with whom she intends to share the rest of her life? To me, the answer would be that it varies depending on which she perceives as needing her the most at any given time.

There are bonds of the heart between a man and a woman, bonds of brotherhood between friends, bonds of familial love, and bonds of commonality between members of a group who may not even know one another all that well, if at all. Some are bound to one another by similar strong, emotional experiences, as Henry V had with his ‘Band of Brothers’.

America’s Viet Nam veterans share a bond with America’s veterans of World War II, the Korean, and the Iraq Wars, for instance. However, it’s not the same bond that we share with those who know what ‘Dinky Dow’ (*Dien Cai Dau – Vietnamese for ‘crazy’) means. The horrors of war were and are the same, death as capricious and as imminent. Blood flows and enemies are killed at any hour of the day in all wars. Friends die, are wounded, or survive the war physically unscathed, but they still bear the invisible wounds of war within. There are bonds within bonds.

We, as war veterans, all share the common bond of having participated in one of the most visceral and permanently affecting human experiences of all. But we also share the closer bond with our peers of having participated in our own individual wars. I can watch a Korean War documentary, or watch our troops battling down a street in Iraq on TV, and empathize with the participants. There are jungles in Somalia, as there are in Viet Nam. However, I lived Viet Nam; I can still smell it. My bond to Viet Nam veterans is different.

And of course, the connection is not all-inclusive and unquestioning – its strength varies among members of groups or service branches. The grunts are closer to other grunts than they are to so-called ‘REMFs’ or to pilots, for instance. There are grunts who are ‘legs’ and grunts who wear parachute wings. I believe there was only one organized mass parachute jump during the Vietnam War. Still, the distinction between those who wore the parachutists’ wings and the ‘legs’ who didn’t persisted.

The shared experiences within the larger experience of the war itself are different, so the bonds are different between the groups. It goes all the way down to individuals; we all have friends in common, but there is one friend towards whom we all gravitate. Our relationship to him is strongest of all those in the group.

I spent a year on an Army Special Forces camp. There was a strong sense of unity among the Americans in the camp, but there were understandably different ties between the Air Force radar technicians and the Army Green Berets. We were in the same camp engaged in fighting the same enemy, but we had markedly different jobs and responsibilities. Naturally, our common tie was to defend the camp during enemy attacks, stay alive, and help each other do the same.

Namvets do not blindly accept all other Namvets as unquestioningly as one is led to believe or as unequivocally as did those warriors who celebrated on Saint Crispin’s Day. I will simply mention, by way of example and without elaboration, the conflict between Democrat Senator John Kerry and the Republican ‘Swift Boat Veterans for Peace’ who bitterly opposed his bid for the Presidency of the United States.

There are bonds that are as enduring as the universe, and bonds as tenuous and ephemeral as smoke on the wind. There are those with whom I have been united all my life, and those with whom I bonded as a matter of convenience or temporary pleasure. There are those with whom I found myself instantly and permanently connected upon our first meeting, and will never forsake, and there are those who were all but forgotten as soon as we parted.

But then, I am only human… and, until now, I had never heard the word ‘vinculum’ used in the sense of ‘that which unites or binds’.

Submitted for the November 2004 IWVPA Club Theme Project, “Vinculum