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‘Walking Slack’
Vietnam Veteran: John Hugh O'Connor [Part 1]


What jumps out at the casual listener in O’Connor’s account was that the U.S. Army had no organic unit structure on the human level in Vietnam, that men were sent in piecemeal to serve with strangers who did not care about them. It is no wonder that PTSD became so pronounced after this war, with the way the men were shuffled in and out of combat, counter to the age old practice in armies for men to be trained, deployed and sent into battle as a coherent body. I recall talking to the men, such as Adam, Joe, Banno, Milo, Steve and Sam, not one of these men ever spoke of themselves as anything other than an individual adrift in combat. These were all army men, 3 in the 101st air mobile. Dave, however, [a soda vender] was a Special Forces man, who spoke of himself as that, not as Dave alone with his weapon counting down the time left I his Tour. It is as easy to see in this interview the lack of Collective Spirit in the line unit as the need for the U.S. Army to find a way of cultivating that in the post Vietnam War period.

John’s account of the single man running up the hill with a unit of Americans firing at him and that it brought him and others in the unit into sympathy with that individual enemy is something that men in many armies have spoken of. But in the context he experienced it, being a nameless body attached to an uncaring unit, brings his feeling of detachment from his assigned unit [at this time a “line company” into stark contrast.

Soon after his discussion of atomized life in a line unit he begins to describe the development of unit solidarity in the Long Range Recon Patrols he later served in, an experience he eagerly clutched for in that haphazard army so that he could have some sense of belonging and potency. He does not come off as romantic—seeking “sport” but had a natural inclination to seek belonging on a more human scale, causing him to gravitate towards the smaller scale experience of special operations.

At 48 minutes into the second video John speaks about the alienation of processing to and from Vietnam. The telling part was the way GIs were flown over on standby, treated as second class citizens and fed leftovers.

Recommended reading: Six Silent Men

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdUpzpIjJLg

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q88wSZAWtgE

The Pale Usher

Impressions of Moby Dick: Herman Melville and Modern Man?s Transcendental Journey

https://www.amazon.com/Pale-Usher-Impressions-Melville-Transcendental/dp/1975891090/ref=sr_1_1/144-1723628-0585162?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1504268535&sr=1-1

Kindle Edition:

https://www.amazon.com/Pale-Usher-Impressions-Melville-Transcendental-ebook/dp/B075H1CC4Y/ref=sr_1_1_twi_kin_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1505042520&sr=1-1&keywords=james+lafond+pale+usher

Add Comment
JJ PrzybylskiFebruary 16, 2018 12:23 PM UTC

This old cracker has breeding. Not piano-lessons and French-lessons breeding. Rather American-Frontier breeding. I smiled when I heard that he was from the plains of North Dakota, be-cause I'd already noticed the lean-hard look of an old horse-soldier.

I also noticed his personal need, based upon personal character, to get away from dumbfuck-machismo of the regular army unit and join a small elite force. Where there was room for un-orthodox tactics. Like with the hillbilly who patrolled barefoot, to better sense buried "triggers".

I worked construction in Florida, around 1980, with a guy who had to be an ex-Lurp. He was in his own crazy world. "We had small teams and an agreement," he said, "that if you were wounded you were left behind in a fast retreat. That was it. We agreed to sacrifice one for the survival of the team. No matter how close you were to your fellow soldiers, you were left behind if wounded. It coulda been me. I was all-in."

Like I said, he was in his own crazy world. It wasn't like he was talking to me. It was like he was talking out-loud to himself, justifying a wounded comrade who'd been left behind in the jungle. Big. Black-haired. Handsome and dangerous with some kind of highly skilled trade. I only spoke with him once, and he was one of those highly-verbal and engaging guys who didn't want any friends. Even as a kid, I got it.
Sam J.February 16, 2018 8:22 AM UTC

That was a good interview with the Vet. I got lucky. I wasn't old enough for Vietnam and was in the service when it was mostly big cold war stuff. I have no doubt if I'd been a little earlier I'd have probably ended up in Vietnam. I remember when I was a kid the young boys in the neighborhood were going to Nam and my cousin went. Drafted into the Marine corp. He drove a truck and came out ok. He said that he drove as fast as he could everywhere he went and only got shot at few times but was going so fast he got out it.

I had a great uncle that I think was some kind spook(military spook?????) of some sort. He was over there a while and had a Vietnamese wife. He met up with my cousin there. He had a heart attack where I was based many years later. I got a call from my Mom to go help him out how ever I could. So got up with him and got him out to hospital and the military got a whole hospital aircraft to pick him up there and fly him to a Naval base with good care. I don't know who he knew or who knew him but he had some pull to do that. He was there with some special forces guy. Guy was older but still looked...dangerous somehow.