VIETNAM JESUS


The old man turns in his bed. He has just fallen asleep. He settles down but his breathing is heavy. His eyes start to twitch back and forth. The old man goes to the place he hates to be. His own dark dreams. The jungle is pitch black, but he can hear and smell them coming. He's on his belly hiding in the jungle leaves. There are three of them and they make a triangle shape and slowly close in. The Vietnamese know where he is at and he knows they're coming. He waits until the last second then springs up from the ground. He pulls the trigger on his rifle and there is silence.
The only thing he has for survival fails him. His rifle is jammed. The four just stand there and look into the whites of each other's eyes. The Vietnamese have bayonets
on the end of their rifles. They plunge at him; one stabs him in his arm and he drops his rifle. Another one stabs him in the leg and he falls to his knees. He moans in agony. The last one shoves the bayonet through his back and into his heart.
The last word he whispers through his lips is "Jesus". He falls forward and right before his face slams to the ground he awakens from his nightmare.
Vietnam veteran Joel Simpson pulls himself to a sitting position in bed. His wife reaches over and caresses his arm for comfort. There's no need for words to be spoken. They have been through this before.

That morning Joel looks out the sunroom window with a cup of coffee in hand. The Kentucky fields are beautiful in the mornings. Today his Grandson Chad is coming over to visit and talk. Chad's a senior in high school and he's doing a book report on the Vietnam War. Joel has never talked about the war he was in with his family. But something stirred in Joel's heart the other day when Chad called and asked if he would talk to him about the war. Sometimes people just need to be asked. Joel agrees to the talk. Maybe after all these years he needs to go back into his memories and tell his account of the war. Joel's own war story.

Chad walks into the room and embraces his grandfather. There is a genuine love between the two of them. At first they talk about school and Chad's girlfriend.
Then Joel smiles at his Grandson and tells him to get his paper and pen out. Then the old man lets the walls down in his mind. He lets all the memories come back that have been haunting him for years. He is ready to face them again after all this time.
Joel starts his story and goes all the way back to his high school days. In school he was nicknamed "wheels". Joel was a runner; he did not run like the wind he ran with the wind. All the colleges were after him. A talent like this is very rare. There's excitement in Joel's voice as he talks and adventures in his eyes as he goes back in the past.
It was the summer of '66 and I was three months out of high school.
Joel Simpson fly's through the front door and yells for his mother. "What's for supper mom?" She calls for Joel to come in to the kitchen. Her and Joel's father
have been waiting for him to get home. Joel walks into the kitchen and his dad's holding a letter.
"A letter came in the mail today son and it's for you."
"A letter from a college?" Joel asks.
The man sitting in the kitchen chair has aged drastically after reading the letter two hours ago. He looks at his son and then looks at his wife. He looks back at his son and wishes he could take this responsibility for his son. But he knows wishing is a waste of time. "Son it's a letter from the United States Government. You have been drafted into the Vietnam War." The father hands the letter to his only son.
The news is a blow to Joel and he needs time to think. He knew this day might happen when he enlisted a couple of months ago. "I'll be up in my room mom and
dad." Joel slowly walks to the stairs looking down at the letter. Ben and Julie Simpson walk up to each other and wrap their arms around one another and weep for their only son. Their only prayer is that he comes back alive.

Joel lies on the bed and reads the letter over and over. His heart is pounding out of his chest. Fear of the unknown is upon him. He feels like he is going to throw up. He breathes in and out slowly and asks God to give him some kind of comfort.
Joel reaches for the Bible on his nightstand and looks at the black cover. He grew up in church and believes in God and his son Jesus. But now he feels alone and afraid. But lying here Joel promises God he will take his Bible with him for strength and guidance. Joel rolls out of bed and puts on his running shoes. He hits the sidewalk and runs himself to exhaustion.

The bus rolls to a stop in front of the big Iron Gate. The sign reads Fort Bliss. The gate opens and the bus drives into the main compound. The bus stops and all the new recruits get out and make a single file line. Joel Simpson is last to get off and get in line. They all came from different Texas towns with their own ethnic backgrounds. In a short time they will be torn down and built back up to be Army
Soldiers. Some will cry together, some will pray together, some will die together. But all will be one unit fighting for one another and their Country.
We all settled in and got our shots and our army haircut. Next our green fatigues and then shown to our bunks. Big Jim Ellis bunked to the right of me. And Ed Morales was to the left. Jim was the biggest guy I had ever met. A very quiet guy, always kept to himself. The days of hard running and physical discipline were upon us. But I loved the running and they started calling me "speed". I finally told them they call me "wheels". So Wheels was my nickname in Nam.
At night when we had a little time to ourselves I would read God's word. After a couple of weeks of everyone getting to know each other some guys came over and we started having study at night. Big Jim and Ed never joined in but I know they were listening. One night Mike Barnett and a few of the other guys came over to the study for a visit. Barnett did all the talking.
"You Jesus freaks make me sick to my stomach!"
The statement threw me back. I was not here to fight with Barnett and his buddies. I said what came to my heart and not my mind. I said it with a smile.
"You're always welcome to join us Mike."
Big Jim Ellis lays down the Louis L'Amour western he's read for the sixth time. Stands up and walks over to Barnett and looks down at him. With a monotone but very stern voice Jim speaks. Now he's inches from Barnett's face.
"They have the choice to read God's word. You have the choice not to. There is nothing else to say about this."
Barnett looks into the eyes of Big Jim for a couple of seconds and then turns and walks away. Ed Morales doesn't even look up from the magazine he's reading when he talks. "We are going to need God on our side where we are going."

Three months later and our training is done. I received four days furlo and went home and spent them with my parents. Coming back for camp was the hardest. My mother weeps and the tears run down my face. My father shakes my hand and gives me a hug. He tells me to trust in God. My father had no tears this day. But I found out later in a letter from my mother that he went upstairs in their bedroom and fell apart when I left. Now I realized he was standing tall for me. Tomorrow we fly out to Vietnam. The barracks have a weird silence and a thick tension in the air. Most are writing their loved ones or their friends. I just left from being with my parents, but I write and tell them I love them and I will see them soon. But my words are shallow and doubt and fear has consumed my being. I prayed constantly for strength and courage from Jesus. But at times I feel alone and scared. But I know he's with me always. I have to hold on to that and never let it go.

The pilot dips the nose of the plane down. We are getting ready to land in Vietnam. You feel the heat change as we get closer to land. The doors are opened and we step out and get in line. It is dead of summer here and the heat is unbearable
at first. The heat hits you like a sledgehammer to the stomach. It tries to suck the air from your lungs. The Texas heat was calm to this. Plus this place had its own smell.
My mind told me it was the smell of death. But I would find out soon enough what that was like. The base camp is stationed in a wide-open field. You can see the jungle in the distance. The camp is chaos. Men are running in every direction and choppers are flying in and landing with the wounded and the dead. Then it finally really hits home that I am in war. My knees turned weak and the fear made my muscles tense and brought on the shakes. I needed to move I needed to run. Just standing here was driving me nuts inside. But we all stayed at attention waiting on Sergeant Dunn. We are the 125th Infantry Division. Sergeant Dunn returns with our orders. In two days we will take a helicopter out and be dropped in the Central Highlands. Our mission is to head north after we land. Our job is to seek and destroy.

There's not much talking as we fly over the jungle heading to our destination. The sounds of the helicopter blades put you almost in a trance. You fight against the fear inside you because death may be waiting for you. I bow my head and pray for protection and guidance. And for all the other men that are around me. Sergeant Dunn breaks the silence.
"Don't be fooled by the beauty of this place. There is no beauty in war."
"Trust no one, not even woman or child. Only trust your own. We fight as a unit and we watch each other's back at all time. And no one is left behind."
We descend down into the jungle and land. The side doors are flung open.
"Move it! Move it! Let's go move it!
The helicopter is still about eight feet above the ground. After the jump you spread out in the tall grass. With all the heavy gear you hope you don't land on something. As fast as you are out the metal bird is gone. The nineteen of us all make the jump and group together. It's getting dark and we need to get away from this spot. We start making our way through the jungle. Every nerve and every sense you have is used to the max. You try to adjust to your new surroundings. The jungle is all around you top, bottom, and sides. The sounds here make your skin crawl. You try to keep your eyes on everything and everyone at once. But it turns into a useless attempt. You have to look for booby traps and land mines. You know they're here just like the enemy is here waiting for you. We make camp that night and nothing happens. I thank the Lord in my prayers and ask for peace. My insides are a wreck I am so afraid. I even fight the enemy called "fear". The days go by and you see no one. But you know war will come out of no where and be thrown in your face. But for now the jungle is our enemy. The heat and the mosquito's are just the beginning of the hell over here. You are always wet from the rice paddies and the small creeks and rivers. You worry about foot rot, and are always burning the leeches off your body.

For five days we have fought against the jungle and fatigue is setting in. We hear the sounds of shooting in the distance. You try to keep your mind focused but it slips to better times in your life. Then when you least expect it they attack. You hear the sound crack; crack, crack and you dive to the ground. I look around and all I hear is a humming noise in my head. I'm in total shock. Big Jim Ellis is about six feet to the right shooting straight ahead. I turn and get up on one knee and just start unloading my gun into the jungle. The firefight goes on for five to six minute's top.
Then there is only silence. But the sound of war still echo's in my ears. We stay down for the longest time waiting for another attack. We unload again but there is no backfire. We slowly work our way to their position. No bodies are anywhere. Just body parts and blood are all over the place. How many did we kill? Did I kill any? God help me. Two are wounded and four are dead from our group. I look upon the dead and pray for their families. Then everything in me comes up and I spit it out to the jungle.

Dear Mom and Dad,
Six months I have been over here now. But it feels like I have been here forever.
I am sorry the letters are getting farther and farther apart. We are moving deeper
and deeper into the war zones. I have killed many of the enemy now. I am sorry I
wrote that, but I have to tell someone. I cannot keep it inside. I am not proud that
I am killing. But I fight for my Country. And that at times is not enough to keep
me going. I must rely on God and his Son Jesus. But does God still love me when
I am killing? Or does He turn his back on me? Pray for me, your son, that my faith stays strong in God and his ways. But there is a light of hope over here. Some men have asked to hear God's word when we have time to sit or take breaks at night. It helps me to keep my mind on Jesus. I miss your cooking Mom, and I miss reading God's word with you Dad. And pray for the family of Big Jim Ellis. Two days ago he was killed in cross fire. The bullet went through the side of his head. He died instantly.
We were fighting side by side. He was my friend. Death is all around me, but I will
not accept it. I cannot let death callous my heart and keep me from God. I know
God is for me and not against me. But sometimes I question if He is even here. At
times it feels like death is the only one here.
I am sorry the letter sounds so down. But I am doing the best I can. I am just trying
to find my way. I love and miss you both.
Your son, Joel.

It feels like the gunfire will never stop. We have been buried down for three hours fighting the Vietcong. Then the silence comes again. You can hear the wounded and the dying calling out for help. Some of the dying ask God to help them. Some curse God and some cry out to their loved ones. But some just weep.
You lay there on the jungle ground wondering when your turn will come. Will you be half-blown away fighting to stay alive till your last breath? Or will you die like
Big, Jim Ellis? The silence is broken when Sergeant Dunn yells my name.
"Wheels, there's a man down on the left flank about thirty yards deep. Get him back here now!"
One of my duties for the 125th Infantry Division is to get the wounded or dead back to our position. My adrenaline flows as I run and dodge through the jungle. Halfway there I slow down and creep my way to the fallen man. I crawl farther to the right and slowly come up on the side. I can hear a Vietcong talking and a man breathing heavily. I work my way closer and pull the vegetation away and see a Vietcong soldier. He has a pistol pushed against the forehead of Ed Morales. Ed has been shot in the chest and there's blood everywhere. I look around and I can see no one else. I rise slowly from the bush and my gun is set on the Vietcong. He looks over and sees me and we look at each other for what seems like eternity. The sweat runs down his face and I can see the hatred in his black eyes. He jerks the pistol from Ed and swings it toward me. I shot him and he tumbles to the jungle floor. Have mercy on me God.
I pick up Ed and carry him in my arms in front of me. He was too wounded to throw up on my shoulder. But he was still alive. I track back the way I came, and as fast as I can I make my way back. I must have just missed the land mine on the way over to get Ed. But this time my luck ran out. I stepped right on top of it. I remember hearing the explosion and flying through the air in extreme pain. Then I passed out into the blackness. In the blackness I scream.u

Nurse Betty Gilmore looks down at soldier Joel Simpson. She has seen hundreds of wounded soldiers' come through the VAC Hospital. No young man has ever made her heart jump like he does. She reaches down and wipes the sweat off his forehead. Betty has been to his bedside as much as she possibly can. Joel's life is on the line from all the blood loss. For days he has been coming in and out of consciousness. Betty turns to get a dry towel and he grabs her arm. It startles her but she does not push away. They look at each other and Joel speaks to her.
"Are you an Angel?"
Right after Joel asks the question his grip goes weak and his eyes slowly close. After six days Joel opens his eyes and this time they stay open. Betty is at his side.

Joel Simpson pulls a Kleenex from his pocket and wipes the tears from his eyes. Then he looks at his Grandson Chad.
"And your Grandmother has been with me ever since. She is my best friend." Betty walks over and kisses the old man on the check. Then Joel tells Chad
there's one more thing he wants to tell him then the story is over. "They told me in the hospital that Ed Morales died instantly from the explosion. His body absorbed a lot of the blast and that's why I'm alive today. We fought together and he was my friend." The old man looks out the window.
Chad looks at the wheel chair and looks at the spot where there should be legs. But there are no legs. "Grandpa, was you mad at God when you lost your legs and could not run anymore?" Joel thinks for a couple of seconds. "At first I was mad at God. But now I know in my heart I will run in the fields of Heaven with his Son Jesus." A smile shines on the face of the old man now. Chad walks over and hugs his grandfather and tells him how much he loves him. He looks down and sees the sticker on his grandpa's wheel chair. He has seen it before but now he understands. It reads wheels.

That night Joel and Betty go to bed. There will be no fighting the enemy tonight. The old man falls asleep. He sleeps in peace.


VIETNAM SOLDIER: They fought in a war and a place they did not understand. But they fought for the Country and the people they believed in. They fought with pride and they fought with fear. Many died and many were wounded. Some are still fighting the war.


Wayne Roe
1-5-08

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