Author: Wayne Scheer
Location: Atlanta, GA
After teaching writing and literature in college for twenty-five years, Wayne Scheer retired to follow his own advice and write. He's been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and his stories have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, The Pedestal, The Better Drink, Eclectica, Southwestern Michigan Review
and Flash Me Magazine
. Wayne lives in Atlanta with his wife. He can be contacted at wvscheer
My War Story
A man who thinks of himself as a writer should have at least one good war story in his collection. It should be filled with heroes, action and, above all, a moral lesson. At the heart of a good war story is moral conflict; the deciding factors that make the hero heroic should involve personal valor.
But I grew up in the sixties, and my war was a "conflict" in Vietnam.
I guess I could make up a heroic coming of age story about a young man who discovers a hero within. The war may cost him a limb, but he's left to live his life knowing that he acted honorably. This story might take place during the Tet Offensive. The hero, a young man looking for adventure, joins the Army and is sent to Vietnam where he is shot in the leg during battle. Scared and confused, his limb throbbing with pain, he hides in a bunker watching his buddies die.
Finally, tears streaming from his eyes and blood dripping from his leg, he can stand the pain no longer and launches a single-handed attack on the enemy position. He manages to save the rest of his platoon from certain death. In the end, he loses his leg, but gains the respect of his buddies and a medal for bravery. He learns the only difference between the hero and the coward is the hero is too scared to think.
Or I could try a tender love story between a tough American soldier and an innocent Vietnamese teenage girl whose family was killed by American troops when they mistook the family for Viet Cong. Maybe a story about an angry black man who, in the midst of battle, learns to trust his white buddies and love his country. How about a woman's story about a nurse, not allowed in combat, who grabs a gun and protects her patients from a North Vietnamese attack?
No. Vietnam doesn't lend itself to glory and inspiration.
Maybe I could tell a story from my own war experience. After all, mine is a coming of age story, filled with moral conflict and lessons learned. However, it's decidedly short on personal valor. But perhaps that fits the time and the war.
I'll call the main character Wayne Scheer. Twenty-two and recently married, he moves away from home for the first time in his life. He's trying to learn how to live with a woman, prepare for a teaching career, and become a good man. As a student, he identifies with the antiwar movement, but is too concerned with the pressures of a new marriage and graduate school to be involved. The story might interject contemporary quotations. "I won't be the first American president to lose a war," "There's light at the end of the tunnel," "We absolutely have no troops in Cambodia, Laos, or Thailand," "I have a secret plan to end the war," with Wayne's attempts to find truth and meaning in his own life.
The story begins with President Johnson denying student deferments. Over half a million troops are in Vietnam and the government needs more warm bodies fast. While working on his master's degree in American studies, Wayne receives his draft notice. He tries a variety of delaying tactics, including applying as a conscientious objector. He asks for alternative service in the Peace Corps, but is denied because Selective Service has priority. Wayne is allowed to complete the academic year but must report for Basic Training on August 20, 1969, ironically the two-year anniversary of his marriage.
"What do we do now?" his wife asks.
"I don't know."
His father, a World War II veteran, sees Wayne's situation clearly. "Your country needs you. A man meets his obligations."
But Wayne doesn't believe his country or the American way of life is endangered by North Vietnam. In fact, he sees the United States as embarrassing itself and betraying its values in an undeclared war based on lies.
Is Wayne obligated to follow orders blindly, or should he defy them out of a love for the ideals of the nation?
Or is Wayne just a spoiled kid afraid to die?
He ponders his choices. "We could go to Canada," his wife suggests. But Wayne knows how close she is to her family and how close he is to his. He doesn't believe their marriage or family bonds could stand the strain.
He could refuse the draft and go to jail. Wayne sees this as a noble gesture, but realizes he doesn't have the courage of his convictions. Quite simply, he's afraid. Instead, he chooses the easiest and, in his mind, the most cowardly alternative.
He accepts the draft.
His friends throw him and his wife a small anniversary party. Afterwards, he rides a bus to Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas.
Wayne struggles through Basic Training, trying desperately to retain his identity and not become a soldier. After basic, he, like almost all the trainees, is sent to prepare for infantry training. Wayne finds himself in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, home of the Green Berets. There, he demonstrates a talent that likely saves his life: Wayne can type. He spends the war stateside as a company clerk.
The story jumps forward to Memorial Day 2006. Wayne Scheer, sixty years old and only a little less conflicted than he was at twenty-two, refuses to acknowledge that he was a veteran during a ceremony at his country club.
His wife understands.
A previous version of My War Story was published in Flashquake, Spring 2003.