fought; Viet vets
von Clausewitz famously said, is politics in another form.
also say, and just as rightly, that war is physics, in its purest form: the
setting of mass in motion to overcome the inertia of flesh.
calculus has always prevailed on the battlefield, made very much grimmer by the
randomness with which it dumbly apportions life and death. Yet armaments have
grown so destructive as to make anyone's survival in a modern firefight seem
Sub-caliber ammunition--only fractionally larger than the
rounds favored by squirrel hunters--caroms and ricochets inside bodies like
pachinko balls. Anti-personnel devices--landmines, mortars, grenades--produce
lethal geometries of flying scything steel. High explosives, when they don't
distill soldiers into mists of red, concuss and compress internal organs and
turn chest cavities into jello molds. Anti-tank rounds flush the interior of
armored vehicles with spumes of molten metal. Napalm sticks viscously to the
skin like some honeyed hellfire.
Those of us who have learned of war
from CNN--for whom the sine qua non of war is the smart bomb dropped
cleanly and safely from 10,000 feet--may wonder, should wonder: what
induces the soldier, frequently only a boy, to stand his ground and fight?
his useful book The Face of Battle, John Keegan attempts to answer that
question. Bravery, training, leadership, honor: each he considers in turn. But
Keegan never did serve himself, he is just a military historian, and the miracle
of the motivated soldier finally eludes him.
Dr. Andrew Lovy it does
Lovy, formerly Capt. Lovy, served in
Vietnam as a battalion surgeon in the 101st Airborne Division. A psychiatrist
based in Detroit, Lovy has come to Northwest Indiana to visit some friends from
his old unit, among them Sgt. Mike Krawczyk of the Porter County Sheriff's
Police. They'll make a pilgrimage Saturday to the Vietnam War Memorial in
I had the privilege last week to spend a few minutes with
Lovy and Krawczyk as they ate breakfast at Leonard's.
The basic mission
of the 101st has remained unchanged since its formation during World War II:
every dirty job. The Screaming Eagles made their bones in Normandy. They made
their name at Bastogne. In 1969--less than a year after Lovy was medivaced--the
Eagles outlasted an NVA contingent in the most famous battle of the war: the
brutal slog for Dong Ap Bia in the A Shau Valley, known today as Hamburger
But the public has almost certainly never heard of Lovy and
Krawczyk's unit, the 3rd Battalion of the 506th Airborne Infantry Regiment.
Composed entirely of volunteers handpicked in 1967, the 3/506 was assigned to
pacification, a fine word for a foul mission, the suppression of insurgents.
Unlike most surgeons, Lovy didn't wait in the rear for the medics to bring
back the wounded. He accompanied the men on their missions and could, by
beginning to work in the helicopter on the ride in, gain valuable time.
"That extra five minutes frequently saved lives and limbs," he
"I wasn't an officer," Lovy added. "I was the
Krawczyk recollects one time when Lovy was forced to use a
dirty bootlace to tie off a bleeder. "'I can cure an infection,"' he
remembered the surgeon saying. "'I can't cure death.'"
efforts Lovy took a bullet in the hip in 1968 when his chopper landed in a hot
LZ during a night mission.
For Lovy and Krawczyk--older
now, grayer, fatter, balder--the jungles of Southeast Asia are only a shimmering
memory away. The whop-whop-whop of a helicopter still appalls Lovy, and should
he happen to awaken in the early morning sleep will never return to him:
"That's when the casualties came in."
Yet for all of the
terror and crushing sorrow, Lovy and Krawczyk would not have foregone their
hitch in the 3/506 for any cushy deferment. "We would do it again,"
Lovy said. "Hopefully we would never have to. But we would do it
Not because they're warriors by nature. Indeed, Lovy said,
"no war is worth fighting." Nor because they're patriots, although
they clearly love their country dearly. Not for honor. Not for duty. Not for Mom
or apple pie. Rather, I think, they would do it again because in the mists of
time their friends are still there. Still fighting. Still bleeding. Still
"It was an incredible bonding experience," Lovy said.
He hesitated for a moment, then added, "What they had to endure in order to
do the mission was incredible. I don't think anyone would understand except the
guys who were there."
Krawczyk tried to explain. "The
soldier's fighting for the guy on his left, the guy on his right, his buddies. A
guy doesn't jump on a grenade for America. He jumps on a grenade for his
In a nation growing ever more self-indulgent and
narcissistic, I doubt whether many people today would jump on a grenade for
anybody. And perhaps it is precisely that instinct for self-preservation at any
cost which lies behind the hate and spite which greeted Vietnam veterans when,
broken and bitter, they came home. For merely by doing his duty the vet was an
affront to those who did not, a provocation not to be tolerated.
too young to have manned the barricades, Lovy said, "the ones who know
nothing about Vietnam, are more receptive as time goes by." But his
generation, the Boomers, "have blocked it out" altogether.
the veterans remember because no one else will. Krawczyk in particular is
involved in finding, wherever they live now, the members of the 3/506. And in
finding their survivors. "Some of these people to this day," he said,
"all they know about is the telegram."
And Krawczyk told the
story of the mother of one KIA in the 3/506 who for 30 years believed her son to
have died in vain, killed by friendly fire. He didn't, Krawczyk was able to
He was killed while carrying wounded to the rear.