By Jesse O’Shea
You really got the balls to ask me why I drink so much? What the hell do you know about my life? Have you even heard of my friend Jiggs? Hell no. You don’t know jack-shit about me or my life.
Jiggs and me were best friends from Boot Camp on. Went to infantry training together. Then got assigned to the same battalion. Got our orders to go to Nam on the same damn day. Didn’t even give us enough time off to go home and see the family. Three days. That’s it. So we went to town and got drunk. Stayed drunk for 72 hours straight. Then reported back, got on a transport to Nam, and passed out for most of the flight.
Don’t need all those details? Then we’ll skip the chase, or whatever they say. So we’re in country for five months. That’s how we said it there. In country. God awful place. We get into what they call the Tet Offensive. Gook New Year. So our squad is out in some slimy monsoon jungle. Rained like hell every night. Jiggs and me are guarding the perimeter of this little hill where we got our base camp. Feet rottin’ in our boots. Mortar attacks 24/7. So we’re out in this slimy shit listening for Charlie to come sneaking up to attack base. Been out there for twelve, sixteen hours. Tired. Hungry. Soaked to the spleen. Just sitting out there listening. Under these piece-of-shit ponchos. Like they’re gonna keep the monsoons off. So anyway, I break out a bunch of o-jays I got stashed in my helmet. Only place you got a chance to keep’em dry.
Best joints I ever had. Start with this cheap Vietnamese pot. It was some potent shit, let me tell ya. Then they’d lace it with opium. Whoa! Give some of that shit to Hendrix, he would’ve ate his guitar ‘stead of just lightin’ it on fire. So Jiggs and me smoke up a couple o-jays. Then he says, “Shit man, let’s just smoke it all, like there ain’t no tomorrow. Cause there probably ain’t no tomorrow.” I didn’t argue with the man. We just smoked everything I had. We’re stoned outta our frickin’ skulls, sitting in the middle of a monsoon, in the middle of the god forsaken jungle, singing, What ya gonna do when ol’ Charlie comes? Gonna shoot him in the ass and watch him run. Singing our asses off when we’re supposed to be listening for Mr. Charlie. But we figure ol’ Charlie’s too smart to drag his sorry ass out on a night like that.
So here we are totally fried. I flopped down on the ground and laid my weapon across my chest to keep it out of the mud. Just lounged there in the muck, singing, What we gonna do with Mr. Ho Chi Minh? Gonna beat out his brains with a bowlin’ pin. Then Jiggs says he’s got to piss or something and he’s gonna go into the jungle. I don’t know why. We’re sitting in a goddamn cesspool as it was. But, anyway, Jiggs wanders off to piss, and I’m totally floating. Kaleidoscope twirling like a flying saucer in my brain. Just totally wasted.
I don’t know how long Jiggs was gone. I probably passed out. Then I heard a noise in the jungle. Coming toward me. And I forgot all about Jiggs going to piss. I mean I was so wasted. And when the sounds got closer, I guess my instincts took over, and I sit up and aim my weapon into the jungle.
‘Course, it wasn’t Charlie waltzing through the muck. It’s Jiggs. And then outta nowhere my weapon leaps in my hands, and I see Jiggs fly backward, blood spewing everywhere through a hole big as a football in his chest. He never knew what hit him. Best buddy I ever had, and I see him laying there with a hole in him big enough to stick your head through. I let loose a volley of shots into the jungle, emptied my weapon. Just lettin’ out my anger is all. Jiggs, of course, was dead as shit. So I just hoisted him up over my shoulder and carried him back to camp. Corporal didn’t even ask what happened. Hell, he was no more’n nineteen himself. Just wrote in his report that Jiggs was killed by a Cong sniper. Wrote down that I acted with valor. Shit, I was so stoned I drilled my best buddy. Biggest job you got in combat is to cover your fellow soldier. What a joke!
You know, after I came back home, I went to Alabama to see Jiggs’ family. Parents and a younger brother and sister. They treated me like some big-ass hero, telling them their boy died bravely. Shot by snipers while we were standing guard. I really planned to tell ’em the truth. Tell ‘em how I was passed out in the mud and just jumped up put two rounds into Jiggs. Planned how I’d say it during my whole ride down on the Greyhound bus. But how? How do I tell them? And what good would it do?
So I told them what they wanted to hear. Said Jiggs died a hero, protecting the men at our base. They patted me on the back and thanked me for coming. Told me they were glad Jiggs had such a good friend with him when he died. I nodded and accepted their praise, saying I just did what any soldier would’ve done. But let me tell you, I felt like one big worthless pile of shit standing there on their porch lying my ass off while his family told me what a great guy I was.
That bus ride back to Wisconsin was the worst ten hours I ever endured. I hated myself for not explaining what really happened. I been drunk pretty much ever since. So now you want to ask me again why I drink? Don’t even talk to me, man.
Jesse O’Shea writes poetry and fiction in a house in a small woods in Wisconsin.