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January 17, 1968 - During Desert Storm, I slaughtered thousands in the wide-open sandbox of Kuwait and Iraq. As...

January 17, 1968



I pitched a no-hitter last week at Da Nang Air Base. I’m never going to take this hat off. Every time I touched the brim, I threw a strike. My shoulder hurt like hell after the game. X-rays didn’t show any fractures, so Captain White thought I was dogging it. The pain got so I couldn’t raise my right arm above my head. I told White I couldn’t go the next game. He told me to pitch or pack up. Now I’m headed to 3rd Brigade and a big fight near Hue City.

January 28, 1968



We lost so many men in Hue and Phu Bai that I became fire team leader and then squad leader in three weeks. Buildings were booby trapped, and I had to throw away one uniform because a guy hit a mine and his body burst over me like a water balloon. Sgt. Stuart is our platoon sergeant, and he’s the reason we’re alive. In one firefight, he was the only one calm enough to call artillery. I don’t know how he did it with all the dust and screaming and bullets, but he called arty right on target. If he’d been off by fifty meters, those shells would have landed on us.

February 24, 1968



We were patrolling rice paddies in the Mekong a few weeks ago when Sgt. Stuart gave us a break in a palm grove. Cpl. Pinter handed me a postcard his sister had sent him. I read about hippies protesting the war on her campus, but it was the picture on the front that got me. The caption on the back said “Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright.” It took my breath away. I asked my folks to send along anything they could find on Wright. Three books came, and I carry them everywhere. The extra weight is worth the burden because they calm me down after patrols. I dream about one of his sketches, a mile-high tower called The Illinois. I see myself at the top, staring out a window at a sky so blue it burns my eyes. I wonder about what kind of house Wright would build in the jungle. Maybe a glass structure incorporating bamboo in a textured weave throughout. Water would flow around the perimeter and along the entryway before dropping off into a waterfall. I’m going to build that place some day.

Dr. Simon finished reading and opened a bottle of water, taking a long drink. Because I was still restrained, she poured some into a cup and held it to my lips.

After I swallowed, she said, “Architecture gave him something to live for.”

“He hung pictures of Wright’s buildings all over the walls of his study. Many times I caught him in there, sitting at his drafting board, staring at the Guggenheim and Fallingwater, but The Illinois was the one he obsessed over. He told me it wasn’t built because God didn’t want humans that close to heaven.”

She laughed, then asked, “Maybe that was the tower he was talking about when he died?”

“We never…jeez…seems obvious now that you say it.”

Simon wrote something in her pad. “Your dad said the tower ‘wasn’t built because God didn’t want humans that close to heaven.’ Did he often talk about God?”

I laughed. “Dad thought religion was a scam. He couldn’t get over the fact that one group could be arrogant enough to think they alone had it right.”

Simon nodded. “But did he talk about having faith?”

“Dad believed in things he could bite or that could bite him.”

She laughed. “What do you think about his diary so far?’

“He sounded tired. Like anyone who’s been shot at.”

“Did you feel that way in Iraq?” she asked.

“Yeah, but at least Dad had leadership he trusted in Sergeant Stuart. My commander was a psycho, for Christ’s sake.”

“Can you talk about that experience?”

“No, I’ve said too much.”

“You’ve said almost nothing, Arthur.”

“Since I’m already in such great legal shape, I think I’ll pass.”

“Arthur, I don’t need many details, but your troubles with this commander need discussion. At some point, we have to address the trauma he created.”

I sighed but said nothing.

“Until we unravel all the conflict that caused you harm, you’ll never heal. Do you understand?”

I turned my head away from her, and she left after a few minutes’ cajoling.

When I turned back, Aswas was sitting at the foot of my bed. He looked disappointed, as much as he could in that state of decay.

“What? Now you’re pissed at me too?” I said.

He shrugged.

“Fuck off. And take your goddamn stink with you.” He faded but left some biting flies inside the curtain to torment me the rest of the night.

Chapter 13



After breakfast, Simon sat down and opened a binder. “Arthur, I’ve done some digging. Eric Larson was your last commander. Killed in Iraq. Correct?”

“Yes.”

“How did he die?” she asked.

“Friendly fire.”

“Such a shame.”

“If you say so.”

“Arthur, I know you were at odds but—”

“He tried to kill me.”

She looked at the file, searching for details not included. “What happened?”

“He was out of control. I called an air strike…he was killed.”

“And you weren’t held accountable?”

“Catching Saddam was at stake. Larson almost fucked it up. I stopped him, and that was my get-out-of-jail-free card.”

“Good lord. You were in the middle of all that?”

“Just leave it.”I asked for more water, and she held the cup for me.

“Thank you for being candid,” she said.

“Let’s move on,” I said quietly. “Any topic other than that bastard.”

She reached for my father’s journal. “Shall I read?”

“My reward for barking on command.”

Simon smirked. “Is that a no?”

“Okay, okay…thank you.” The journal skipped large chunks of time as Dad became more disenchanted with combat. The diary closed with two entries from his time in the Iron Triangle.

May 5, 1968



Captain handed us another tunnel-clearing mission, just two days after we cleared a bunker complex in a different sector. We lost six men in that clusterfuck. So last night we humped our ass off so to arrive before dawn. Then we sat and listened. By sunrise we knew which tunnels the VC were actually using and which were probably booby-trapped. Sgt. Stuart picked me as one of three “rabbits” before we assaulted the tunnels. We attacked with the sun at our back so it shined in Charlie’s eyes. We killed eight eating their rice topside. The other gooks scrambled underground, and the rabbits went after them. I crawled with my .45 and flashlight. The hole was for gooks so I barely fit. I squirmed along headfirst on all fours in the mud. I heard a click. I’d hit a tripwire and the artillery shell poked out of the wall near my left eye, but it was a fucking dud. The tunnel was humid and reeked of shit and sweat stung my eyes. I came to an intersection. I heard movement to the left and chased it, but my shoulders got pinned in a narrow section. My wriggling loosened the bulb in my flashlight and everything went dark. Charlie whispered, “Toi caca dau, Toi caca dau… I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you.” I heard him slide the safety off his weapon, and a flash lit up the tunnel. It was from my .45. I fired again and blew off the top of his head. I tightened the loose bulb and saw the gook’s face. His mouth was open like he wanted to scream.

June 21, 1968



My squad patrolled near the riverbank, and I was ten feet behind point. The river was full of rain, and the rushing water concealed an ambush. Our point man, Martinez, took a round in the helmet as we tumbled over a fallen tree. Martinez grabbed me, but he was dead before we hit the ground. VC bullets blasted the rotten tree I was hiding behind. I called for my men but none answered. The dinks charged but I was already rolling into the river and diving under to avoid their gunfire. I surfaced and grabbed a floating tree limb, but they didn’t come after me. I choked on whitewater and hugged the log as the river swept me away. I used my legs to steer and tried getting ashore but the rapids kept dragging me out. I thought of the letters I’d write to the dead soldiers’ families. I used a formula to help me get through it. One paragraph of sympathy. One paragraph with a good story about the guy’s bravery or sense of humor. The last paragraph was hardest. I’d apologize for breaking my promise to keep their loved one alive. When it finally got shallow I swam to shore. My rifle was gone but I had a knife. I avoided a gook patrol, probably the one that wiped out my squad. I watched them search for a place to cross the river. They carried a few M-16s and U.S. helmets as trophies. I hid until they crossed then moved through the jungle until I saw the orange glow of a cigarette. It was a cherry on guard duty, and he almost shot me when I whispered the password “Hail Mary.”

Simon sat quietly while I processed Dad’s final entry. I don’t know how long she waited, because I went far away. I thought Dad’s true calling was being a soldier. Just a kid’s goofy theory, but it became my religion. To me, Dad wasn’t a frustrated architect, but the God of War. My God of War. And as his son, I wanted to carry his colors into battle.

I cried for a several minutes before realizing that Simon was standing over me with her hand on my shoulder. “The diary is a lot to process. Let it sink in. Don’t press. Breathe easy…good,” she said. She had the orderlies release my hands so I could eat. She sat with me while I ate tomato soup, chicken salad, and chocolate pudding, and when I finished she said, “I think you’ll process this better in your own space, so I’m sending you back to your room. Try to rest. We’ll continue tomorrow afternoon.”

Back in my room, I slept well, waking only once when I thought I heard Dad whisper, “Help is coming.”

I felt weary and sore the next day but wandered out to the rec room during my allotted “social” time. Major Mike and Ranger Alex let me play winner at ping-pong. Mike loved rumors and could bullshit with the best of them. At game point, he tried to distract me with the tale of a nurse coming into this room with a riding crop, asking to be spanked. I served the ball into the net. I asked for a rematch, but an orderly came to take me to therapy. Mike said, “Bet Simon has a riding crop.” I could still hear them laughing as Simon’s door closed behind me.

It was the usual setup with Simon behind her desk and me on the other side. Except now there was only one guard behind me. “Quite an emotional day yesterday. How are you holding up?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Still trying to make sense of it.”

“Tell me what you’re thinking.”

I talked through most of the diary again, using Simon to check my recollections against reality. I said, “I turned those few pages I’d read as a kid into a father who didn’t exist.”

“Who do you think he really was?” Simon asked.

“I thought he was a god. But he was…just like me.”

Simon poured herself some coffee and handed me a cup of water. She pointed out the green sticker on my framed photo.

“Okay, I’ll bite, what’s it mean?” I said.

“You’re healing. By understanding you father, you’ve found yourself.”

“Took long enough.”

“Patience and persistence. Don’t roll your eyes. Those are vital aspects of therapy.”

“Still want to tell my story to the world?”

“Very much so. Are you willing?”

“What the hell, Doc. I’ll even sign copies to boost sales.”

She laughed and took some time to explain how my case would be a major focus in her book about treatment at PTC. “Now that you’ve walked with your father in Vietnam, do you think we can talk about your war?”

“I’ll try. Hard to explain…feels like I’ve found a map after being lost for a long time.”

A week later, after six months in the hospital, I “celebrated” my thirty-seventh birthday with fellow patients. We ate dry chocolate cake without frosting because it tweaks our blood sugar. We chased the cake with watered-down lemonade. Back in my room, I looked for Abe in the ceiling or the bushy bouquet, but I saw only rows. Rows of seats and then bodies and faces sitting in each row. Belts buckled. Families preparing to land in Phoenix. Surprised by the bumpy monsoon. Trying to be brave, but terrified as they dipped in the wind until the wheels screeched, touching tarmac. Safe with smiles on their faces, until another plane cut through the roof, and fire filled the cabin.

I watched them burn, and the room vibrated around me. I was awake. I realized the whump-whumps were rotor blades shaking the building. My escape-proof window was too high for me to see anything except sunset colors. It sounded like it had landed on the roof, and my room hummed to the bass line of chopper blades. I banged on my door.

The safety window opened. “What do you need?” the guard asked.

“What the hell landed on the roof?”

He raised his eyebrows and produced a small smile. “Landed?”

“Are you seriously telling me you can’t hear that?” I yelled over the rattling vibration.

“Settle down and stop shouting or we’ll have to bind and medicate. Do you understand?”

I nodded, and he closed the window with the same small smile on his face. I stood in the middle of the room and stared up at the sound. Movement came from above as something solid collided against the ceiling tiles. A tile pulled away over my head, and I backed away from a ladder sliding down. A tall man in a green jump suit descended the ladder, but his head was that of a dragonfly. I followed my instincts and crawled under the bunk.

From under the mattress, I watched the polished black boots step off the ladder and point in my direction. I closed my eyes and pinched my thigh to fight the hallucination.

The man’s voice was high-pitched, but it deepened as he controlled it. “Well, well, glad you’re still alive. Listen, mole man, I’m too old to drag you out from under there.”

I stayed under the bed and heard a loud sigh. He paced the small room before leaning on the wall, inching down until he sat with his legs stretched out toward me. His dragonfly head rested on the floor next to him, and I recognized it as a flight helmet. He drummed his fingers on the top of it and looked under the bed at me. A few white hairs remained on his pink scalp, and he rubbed his chin while offering me a grin. “I won’t hurt you, but I need you to come out.”

I stopped pinching the skin on my leg and eased out of the fetal position. I crawled out to the wall opposite him and sat on the floor looking at him.

“That’s better.” He smiled from his seat on the white linoleum.

I recognized his face. “You saved me when I…I…hung myself.” I remembered who he claimed to be. “General Patton?”

“Please call me George, or Georgie, if you like. I’ve come to help if I can.”

I looked up at the ceiling tile and tried to put together what the hell was going on. The chopper I heard must’ve been an air ambulance, and this old dude had to be an inmate who snuck into the ductwork. “How exactly are you gonna help?” I asked.

He interlocked his fingers in his lap. “You mentioned Satan last time. He wants your soul, but I can help you get it back before he finds it.”

Definitely an inmate, I figured. “My soul’s doing fine.” I patted my chest and stood up. “General, have they tried the shock treatments with you yet?”

“Save the sarcasm for the headshrinkers, son. The most important thing you own is scattered in pieces, and if you expect my help finding it, you’d better lose the attitude.”

“Got it. Let me just get the guard to help you back to your room, General,” I said.

As I got closer to the door, he raised his voice “Arthur Logan. Son of Nick and Becky.”

I stopped.

He said, “Brother of John, father of Hank, and husband to Katie.”

“How did—”

Now he stood up. “When you crashed those planes together your soul scattered all over the place.” He watched me for a beat, then said, “I need you to sit down and listen.”

My ears started ringing, and I tasted copper. I lay back on the bed and closed my eyes. Almost over now, just give it time. My heart slowed, and the ringing faded.

“Sergeant, you about done with the goddamn cat nap?” he asked.

I snapped up in bed, saw the old man still standing over me, and started yelling for help. He rolled his eyes, picked up his helmet and climbed back through the ceiling, pulling the ladder behind him.

Four orderlies rushed in with a straitjacket and syringe. I was grateful when the needle slipped under my skin. Some hours later, light tapping on my cheek brought me around.

“Feel any better?” George said. He had his hand over my mouth. “I’ll take my hand away, if you stay quiet.”

I surrendered with a nod. George took his hand off my mouth and unbuckled my straitjacket. He said, “Sorry I frightened you. Hospitals seem to bring out the worst in me. I’m here because your father asked me to keep an eye on you.”

“My dad is dead.”

“Sergeant, I need you to keep up. I’m dead too.” George sat on my bed. “I met your dad when I transported folks to the place your dad and Wright built.”

“Frank Lloyd Wright?” I asked.

“One and only.”

“What did they build?”

“Huge tower. Built it for victims of genocide, war…it’s complicated, but this tower points lost souls in the right direction. I can’t tell you how it works, but it does.”

“Can you take me there?” I asked.

“Maybe. I’ve only assisted the dead. I don’t know where you can and can’t go until we get to The Scale.”

“Scale?”

“Next stop after death. Makes you find balance. I know that doesn’t make much sense, but it’s where the pieces of your soul disbursed,” he said.

“How many pieces?”

“I don’t know. My concern is that some might be inaccessible because you’re still alive.”

I wanted to shout for the guards again, but they’d just stuff me back in the jacket. “How am I alive without a soul?”

“Won’t be for long if we don’t get it back.”

Still laying on the bed, I shook my head slowly.

Patton pulled a paper from his chest pocket. He handed me an old postcard, from a girl I didn’t know, about Vietnam protests on her campus. I flipped it over to a faded image of Fallingwater. As I held it, I knew it was the postcard that inspired my dad in Vietnam. “He sent this?”

“Thought you wouldn’t believe me,” George said.

“Why didn’t he come?”

“Like most in The Scale, he can’t cross over.”

While I examined the card, George said, “The tower rescues wayward souls who used to be easy pickings for Satan. Your dad thinks Satan wants your soul as revenge.”

“Does he have some of it already?”

“No. Because you’re still alive, it’s invisible to Satan. Good thing I was nearby when you tried to kill yourself.”

“If I’d died…”

“He would’ve rounded up your soul in a snap.”

I whispered, “I thought suicides went to hell anyway.”

George shook his head. “God doesn’t punish people who take their lives. They need him more than anyone else.”

I wrestled with all of it, but mostly with the reality that I was either experiencing the ultimate meltdown or…what? A miracle?

George said, “Satan will wait until you find a part of yourself and then try to take it.”

“And you don’t know how many pieces or where they are?” I asked.

“I just know where the first part is, but I’m more concerned with you getting trapped or injured. I just don’t know how The Scale will tolerate you.”

I looked at the postcard, rubbing the image with my thumbs. “Does my dad think I can do it?”

“Yes, as long as you’re with me we have a chance.”

“I’ve never believed in God or heaven or any of it,” I said.

He nodded and took a minute before answering, “You just need faith in yourself.”

It probably seemed like seconds to George, but it felt like hours getting to my lips, “When do we go?”

“Now.” George laughed. He opened a rucksack by the ladder and handed me a flight suit and boots that matched his. “Put this gear on. Your hospital scrubs won’t cut it.”

He talked while I dressed. “This is a search-and-rescue operation, and I can get you in the vicinity, but you have to find the missing piece on your own.”

“What’s a soul look like? Am I tracking ghosts or what?”

George laughed. “Usually they look like body fragments.”

“Are they gory like with bomb victims?”

“Easy, Arthur. Shattered souls are rare, but I’ve tracked quite a few. I don’t know what you’ll find, but when I tracked mine down, I found arms, legs…they’ll call to you.”

“Why did yours break?” I asked.

George ignored me and said, “I’ve seen a few exceptions. One soldier had to chase down music. Once he heard the whole tune, that section of his spirit was recovered.”

“You only help soldiers?”

“Usually.”

“Did he find all the songs?” I asked.

“Enough to move on.”

“To heaven?”

George gave a small grin. “Don’t know. I haven’t moved on yet.”

I shook my head and finished tying my boots. George said, “I know you have a million questions, but let’s get going.”

My brain bounced in time as we climbed through the ceiling to a moonlit rooftop and a Pave Hawk helicopter. The chopper’s long refueling stem extended from the nose like a knight’s lance. The rotors fired, and the sound of spinning blades caused me to tuck and run as I’d been trained. My mind slid sideways, but my feet kept moving into the black metal bird. By the time my focus returned, jumping out was no longer an option. We were a hundred feet up and flying east toward a quarter moon.

George gave me a flight helmet so we could talk in the rotor wash. He said, “Thought you’d be comfortable in a Pave Hawk, considering how much time you spent in ‘em. We’re gonna hit 190 knots, so buckle up.”

While we banked through a series of turns, I was pinned in my seat, looking out the open door at streaking starlight. I was disoriented and could barely see George seated opposite me in the cargo area. I fixated on the green lights of the cockpit’s instrument panel. I freaked when I noticed there wasn’t a pilot. “Who the fuck is flying?”

“I am,” George said. “With my mind. Relax. I’m good at it.”

This helicopter ride was iron evidence of my insanity. I talked to avoid dwelling on the idea. “Is The Scale like limbo?”

“Some call it that. But like I said, it makes you find balance, so I call it The Scale.”

I felt sick.

George asked, “So you were in the air force?”

“Yeah, combat air controller.”

“What rank?”

“Master Sergeant,” I said.

“Some of the best men I ever commanded were NCOs,” said George. “They feared failure less than officers.” He was obviously uncomfortable and tipped his chin down while looking away.

“Why are you allowed to cross over but my dad isn’t?”

“Don’t know for certain, but the work I do is unique. Regrettably, I’m the resident expert on locating broken souls.”

“Can we go to the tower?”

He said, “I can only take you near your lost parts, and I don’t have the whole map—just one location at a time. If I try to steer the chopper toward the tower or somewhere else, the bird ignores my command.”

“How’d you learn all the ground rules?”

“Trial and error, but don’t feel bad; I’m still learning them after sixty years. We’re getting close to the landing zone. I need to prep you.”

As we descended into a heavily wooded area, George pointed to something in the back of the chopper. Dawn revealed a black box lashed to the bulkhead. It looked like a coffin.

He handed me a compass. “When you rescue a portion of yourself and put it in that box, you’ll feel much better.”

The coppery sensation filled my mouth again, but George steadied me. “Your objective is on a compass heading of twenty-nine degrees,” he said while checking a map as we landed in a clearing.

“What’s my objective?”

“Again, I don’t know exactly, but you will know when you see it. Sorry I can’t go with you, but rules are rules, I’m afraid,” he said.

“How will you find me?”

“When you have what you’re looking for, I’ll get a kind of signal, like a bee buzzing in my ear, and I’ll come running. Now go. Time can be funny here, so let’s not waste any.”

After staring at him for a second, I stepped out of the chopper. He handed me a waterpack and flashlight along with the compass. He gave a thumbs-up, and I almost flipped him off, but gave a half-hearted wave instead.

“What the fuck?” I said softly while watching him fly away. I closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose, opened my eyes, sighed, scanned the tree line, and repeated what George had said. “Gotta find all your pieces.”

Fear choked the laugh I tried to force out. What about Satan? I had no weapons. I checked my compass with a shaking hand. I remembered Dad had sent George to help, and that eased my stress. I let the compass spin and found twenty-nine degrees. My heart was a marching cadence, and I kept time with the rapid beat as I set off through the pines.

2014-07-19 18:44
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