The Force Is Airborne

Photo: Nat'l Archives and Records Admin

Photo: Nat’l Archives and Records Admin

Contains explicit language

When the force was airborne, we fled to our hideouts. My brother and I huddled under a neighbor’s porch. Our friends found similar strategic vantage points in trees, under cars, behind shrubs – points from which we could all see the freak show.

Frankie was a thin-framed man with an oversized head. Several years of excessive alcohol consumption squeezed the proteins from every fiber of his body, reducing him to a man too old to be twenty-nine.

On those nights when listening to one too many Johnny Cash songs, when consuming one too many Pabst Blue Ribbons, the flashbacks too would excrete themselves in sweat when Frankie stumbled into the middle of the street.

In such a state he was Frankenstein, the Boris Karloff type – a protruding eyebrow, blunt greasy bang stuck to his forehead, and his skin was a peculiar, alcohol-induced green hue under the streetlight.

Stuck in 1969, he uttered to a lieutenant 8639.5 miles away: Yes sir!

No sir!

Shoot the fuckers, yes sir!

I heard the other boys laugh. They darted in the shadows, deepening Frankie’s paranoia. Fire in the hole! He tossed a grenade in their direction with his free hand while he gripped his beer bottle with the other watching the memory explode against the inside of his skull.

One of the boys threw rocks back. Another yelled Baby killer. Frankie was too wasted to react.

I was too scared to run but my brother wasn’t. He left me alone under the porch. Frankie fixed his eyes on the spot where I was. It was dark but I knew he could see me. He staggered closer. I was scared.

He dropped his empty beer bottle in the grass and pointed his machine gun toward me. I saw the fear in his eyes. Tatta tatta tatta tatta tatta! He shouted, spraying syllabic bullets all around me.

Perhaps I reminded him of the children in Vietnam.

His fear changed to satisfaction.

An empty beer can hit him in the shin. He heard the boys laughing. His eyes went vacant.

1975 – regret.

He turned away crouching on the grass. He crawled to the curb where he sat, curled up. I saw his shoulders shaking slightly as he tore at his hair and face.

As he mumbled, I saw his profile against the light – the cowlick on the crown of his head never tamed by service, the way his upper lip curled like a two-year old’s, his long eyelashes like brushes painting a different reality in front of his eyes, his involuntarily clenched fists.

He beat his fists into the grass in an attempt to shape a grave of sorrow like the inside of his skull.

I found the right time to run from underneath the porch. I didn’t look back. I was heading home. Alive. From behind me I could hear Frankie yell, The force is airborne!

As I reached my backyard, I caught my breath. The dog down the street was barking.

It was 1975. I couldn’t understand his pain. How bad could the war have been on the guys in my neighborhood? The bad stuff only happened on tv shows like MASH.

Again, I heard him. He was yelling at the sky, The force is airborne!

The phrase echoed in my mind until my middle-aged neighbor with the sideburns yelled at Frankie Hey, shut the hell up!

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