War Stories

John Shaw

It was Carrie at the door and she had with her a man I was sure I was not going to like. "Tod wants to ask you something," she said. The man reached his hand for mine, we shook, and the three of us drifted into the living room.

Tod stopped by my display case. In it are two US Navy Plaques, a USO map of Saigon, a Vietnamese Shipyard Plan of the Day dated 18 May 1971 — saying nothing special — several photos of old shipmates and VN ladies, some VC paper currency, and two medals.


"You were Navy," Tod said.

"Tody was in Vietnam, too," Carrie said.

"Ia Drang Valley," he said. "1965…I was nineteen."

Carrie sat without my asking her to. Tody waited until I pointed to a chair. "We’re gonna have lots to talk about," he told me.

I asked if I could get beer, and got it when they both nodded.

"Ask him, Tod, "Carrie said.

"Sir," he said. "May I have your permission to marry your daughter?"

"Tod is from Iowa," Carrie said. "This is how they do it in Iowa."

"I love your little girl," he said. "I am financially sound and will be good to her."

He reached for her and she took his hand and held it. "I am divorced and have custody of my daughter who is eleven."

I said, "I see…" twice.

"I am not sure what happened to my first marriage. Joy just upped one night and told me she’d fallen in love with someone else."

"She has remarried," Carrie told me.

"These things happen," Tod said.

"I told Tod about Jimmy," Carrie said.

"That was a sad period for your little girl," Tod said. "With her husbands’ death and everything."

"I told Tod how Jimmy got drunk that night and ran the car into the lake in New Hampshire…and drowned."

I left to pour myself a scotch. Jimmy had never left the old neighborhood. I saw him often on trips back.

"Drinking and driving is bad news," Tod said.

"I told Tod all about Jimmy," Carrie said, her eyes tight on mine. "How we eloped…"

That was certainly true. I recalled coming home from the base and finding her room stripped bare. I told Claudia, "Hell, she’s your kid. You worry about her…" and I beat it out of the house.

"Carrie has told me all about your dear wife," Tod said. "I wish I could have known her."

"Mommy was a love," Carrie said.

"How long were you married?" Tod asked.

I remembered. "Twenty-two years."

"Wonderful," Tod said.

That could be said…everything considered. I poured myself another drink and plopped new cans of beer in front of Carrie and Tod.

It had certainly turned out better than I expected that day in the late fifties when I’d just discovered that while I was out on sea duty my bride and Chief Hulbert were motel hopping around Norfolk, and she’d become pregnant.

I saw the old Chief across from me now, his stiff smile warning me not to talk too much. Hulbert had certainly carried the weight in that head-on . Carrie was a spitting image.

After some initial ranting and raving from me things fell into place. We stayed together, and separated. Both.

We went our own ways. When she died I missed her. It took almost two weeks to line up a medium competent housekeeper.

"How does one manage a happy marriage for that length of time?" Tod asked.

Distance was the key element. I guess all I did was grin at him.

"Have you advice for us?" he asked.

I had been to Iowa and not everyone there was like Tod. "Be kind to each other," I said.

"Thank you, Sir," he said.

Carrie relaxed.

"I’ll be taking your little girl a distance from you," he said.

"We’ll live in Washington State," Carrie said. "Tody has his electrical business there."

"Twelve employees," Tod said.

He touched my knee. "Its only a six hour air jump away. Your little girl will be as close to you as ever."

"Talk about Vietnam," Carrie said.

He told me he’d been with the 7th Cav. "We were the first Americans to run into North Vietnamese regulars and they hurt us bad. There was nothing but dirt and noise and blood for almost a year, and Christ, I was frightened."

He seemed to run out of voice.

"Show him your foot," Carrie said.

He showed it to me. It was artificial.

"A booby trap," he said. "I woke up with nothin on the end of my leg."

I stared at the foot.

"The Docs did a good job," he said. "Everybody did well by me I can’t kick."

He laughed. An old joke.

My turn…..I’d been a lot beyond nineteen. My job was advisor to the ordnance shop of the Saigon shipyard. We were working to get he old French facility shaped up so damaged Vietnamese battlecraft could be repaired there.

We were sending them to Guam and the Philippines and that was slow and expensive.." I told Tod.

He said "Wow."

I didn’t mention time spent swimming and playing tennis at the Cercle Sportif, or walks along Tu Do street with those delectable half-French females, or parties at Maxims and the Caravelle Hotel and the American Embassy. I did not tell him I worked an eight hour day at the shipyard or that, during the whole time I was there — October 70 to March 72 — only one round of incoming hit the city. I did not brief him on La Cigale, home of the world’s coolest dry martini and hangout for the best looking women on the planet.

I told him that the ordnance shop had 29,000 square feet divided into three bays, each serviced by over-head cranes.. that it had the capability of maintaining 5"/38 guns and associated fire control systems … that I was responsibly for advising in the repair of gun sights, sextants, binoculars, alidades and typewriters.

Tod said "Wow" several times while I talked.

"This is so damned interesting," he told Carrie when I finished. "I don’t get many chances to talk to guys who were over there with me."

Carrie stood and nudged Tod. "We’ve got to go," she said.

"May I use the toilet?" he asked.

I looked for a limp. Slight. When he closed the door Carrie said, "It’s lucky you are in the phone book. I’d never have found you."

"You look well," I said.

"You’re a lot older," she told me.

She studied the display case. "Tod actually thinks you and he were in the same war."

I had my eye on the toilet door. "I see your first husband often. He keeps asking why you walked out on him."

"The drowning story is a better one," she said.

"Tod doesn’t seem you type."

"He’s not my type. He’s a dull man who smells roses everywhere."

I took a chance. "Have you told him about any of the other guys?"

"He gets as much history as I want him to get."

She sat. "Tod has a buck. He’s my last shot."

"Have you met his daughter?"


"You’ll be wife and mother."

"Tod keeps reminding me."

"He could use a break," I said. She turned toward me, looking very angry, just as the toilet door opened.

Tod put his arm around Carrie’s waist. "We’ll get hitched in my home church," he said. "When we get it all organized we’ll send for you." He punched me. "and you better be there."

At the door he shook my hand and waited a little distance away while Carrie kissed me.

"Give him a break," I whispered. She told me, as softly, to "Cut the Crap," turned and walked to him. He held her close and stationary for an instant then pulled her off into the darkness in the direction of … I guess … Iowa.

On the uneven cement Tod’s limp was apparent. Before they disappeared he stumbled badly once and Carrie wrapped herself around him and tugged him erect.