By Julie Titone
"I’d been on the hill for a day when the cook decked out the food hut with Yuletide bunting. Choppers flew in with bins of hot holiday meals. Along with the food and mail came tasseled, tissue-lined, gold-lettered menus. Each one was stamped with a red and green shield of the United States Army in Vietnam and an address indicating the forthcoming turkey a la king had made its way to the front lines compliments of Gen. Creighton Abrams, commander of all U.S. forces in South Vietnam. " -- Grady Myers recounting Christmas 1968 in "Boocoo Dinky Dow: My short, crazy Vietnam War."
As Grady goes on to explain in his memoir, the fancy dinner amid the squalor of Fire Support Base 30 came with a nasty little surprise from the enemy.
Here's the U.S. Army menu from that day and the message that Abrams sent the troops. It begins: "Christmas has a special meaning for the soldiers who serve in Vietnam. Amid the tragedy and ugliness of war, the Holy Season reminds us of the joy and beauty of peace."
Peace in Vietnam was a long time coming -- seven more years, in fact. But on Christmas Eve 1968, high above the madness of war, Apollo 8 astronauts were sending stunning photos from lunar orbit and their season's greetings "to all of you on good Earth."
Grady Myers lay wounded in the heat of an ambush. If he called out for help, he knew he'd be shot again. If he didn't, his platoon mates would think he was dead, and he would end up in enemy hands.
I thought of that battlefield scene when I saw this message: "They can't rescue you if you don't know you need it." Of course, it's meant to encourage military folks to get help dealing with mental trauma. Which also makes me think of Grady.
You have to read between the lines of his vivid, sometimes funny memoir "Boocoo Dinky Dow: My short, crazy Vietnam War" to know that Grady went to war suffering from depression. And -- though he lived a rich life as an artist, friend and family guy -- the problem didn't go away. It's hard to say how much his war experience affected his state of mind. The lingering pain from physical wounds certainly took a mental toll. For sure, Grady didn't like the stereotype of the "crazy veteran," which would have made him reluctant to seek help for depression. For doubly sure, the illness contributed to the health problems that led to his death at age 61, long before the master storyteller had run out of tales to tell.
Thankfully, the stigma of mental health problems is fading. Nowadays, if someone he knew hesitated to seek counseling, Grady would tell them to "Knock it off!" He'd urge them to speak up. Like he did in Vietnam.
Julie Titone is co-author of the Grady Myers memoir "Boocoo Dinky Dow: My short, crazy Vietnam War." Grady was an M-60 machine gunner in The U.S. Army's Company C’s 2nd Platoon, 1st Battalion, 8th Regiment, 4th Infantry Division in late 1968 and early 1969. His Charlie Company comrades knew him as Hoss. Thoughts, comments? Send Julie an email.