As I continue to walk down life's road, I find myself thinking back. Not ahead. It's not digression. There's plenty to keep me in the present. I guess I just haven't had or taken the time up until now to sit still and think about something other than making my next deal. They say that once you've reached a certain age and are not consumed with work, you start thinking about things that you've stuffed away. That's me.
I spent four years in the Marine Corps and did my time in Vietnam. I, like many, maybe even most, of my fellow combat veterans, suffer from PTSD. I'm not nearly as bad off as a lot of them, but I have my moments. Before I left for Nam, anyone who knew me back then will tell you that I was the life of the party. When I came back from my overseas tour, I was a changed man. Things that used to matter didn't anymore and vice versa.
I've had problems sleeping for years. All through my 20s and 30s, as soon as I drifted off, I was back in the jungle. I took drugs and drank myself under the tables of some of the finest watering holes in Los Angeles. They tell me that I had a good time. Anything to take my mind off all the junk.
Even though my profession as a promoter pretty much dictated that I be the center of attention, I couldn't wait to get home and away from the crowds. Too much time in a crowded store or getting bumped walking down the sidewalk makes we want to break away. Five hours in an airplane is the most that I can go.
I hate hunting. Frankly, it feels more like ambushing to me. I've killed enough. As was told to me many years ago, once you've taken another man's life, you'll never be the same. It's true. It's one of those things you try not to think about. You file it somewhere and say a prayer before you go to bed that it won't come back to you in your dreams. It works, most of the time.
I tend to stay away from loud noises. And loud people, for that matter. Redneck mufflers, sirens, bangs and booms, loudness in general bugs me. When I first got back from overseas, to "the world," as we used to call it, there was more than one time I hit the ground as a result of an unexpected loud noise. Combat reflexes. It was embarrassing.
It took years of therapy for me to be able to have a disagreement with someone without smacking them. I'm really sorry about those times. I hurt some people. I could go from calm to a storm in a matter of seconds. It's taken me a long time to learn how to control my temper. I can't really blame it all on Vietnam. I've always had a temper. Booze never helped matters.
After you've survived life-or-death situations, almost everything else seems trivial. You get a big dose of reality and your priorities realign. Spending too much time on stuff that really doesn't matter that much is agonizing to me. I keep the dander down by doing my best to stay away from arguments and stupidity.
All this stated, as I've gotten older, I've become much more tolerant and compassionate. No more knee-jerk reactions. I have to give credit to my wife, Jana, for that. When you love someone with all your heart, they make you want to be a better person. It's hard to explain, but love, real love, is a first-class remedy for almost anything.
Way back years ago, my grandmother, Miz Lena, told me, "No matter what's goin' on, always remember to thank Jesus for every day of yore life. Never ask him for more than yuh need. Just simple pleasures. Always keep yore promises that yuh make to the Lord, and he'll keep lookin' out for yuh."
So for the better part of my life, I've done just that. I try not to ask God for much other than what I need. I must confess, I've made a few promises to the Almighty that I didn't keep. Many of them in an inebriated state of being. More than a few times, I've blurted out, "Please, God, if you'll just stop this room from spinning, I'll never drink again." Maybe a little late on my promises, but I finally stopped drinking 10 years ago.
I have to believe that the Lord is indeed forgiving because, for the most part, up through now, I've had a pretty good life.
I go out of my way to treat those less fortunate than I with respect, understanding, courtesy and empathy. That's just the way we "children of the South" were raised. Most always, if I see a veteran in a bad way, I'm happy to monetarily contribute to his need. So many of those brave men I fought alongside in the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam have not been able to rid their minds of the gore and devastation of that tragic time. They just can't shake it.
One thing's for certain. Every one of us got much closer to God. I've never done so much praying in my life. It was the same prayer over and over: "Please, God, don't let me die over here." We all said the same prayer continuously. Some of us made it. Many were called home to the Lord early. Their young departures from this world caused so many American families gut-wrenching anguish. They were to never be the same again.
The same families proudly flew our flag in their yards and rubbed decals onto their car bumpers and back windows stating that their son was in the Armed Forces. They launched prayers, asking the heavens to watch over their boy and safely deliver him back home to them. Parents and wives, dreading a knock on the front door in the middle of the night, would open it to two men in military uniforms with a piece of paper in their hands, locked jaws and a sad, grim look on their faces.
There were buckets of tears shed on those porches. Women sobbing, their heads buried into the valor-decorated chests of those men who came bearing the bad news. Before they left, they presented the family with a perfectly folded American flag and were told that their son or husband died as a grown-up man, defending our country's freedom and way of life. If nothing else, they could hold on to that, that he had been brave and died a great American.
It was a nasty, sweaty 120 degrees. I was lying in a rice paddy just beyond the village of Dai Do. I was hit. I lay on my back with my left knee ripped open from enemy shrapnel. I made a tourniquet out of a torn drab-green T-shirt and waited my turn to be choppered back to the rear.
All around me were dead and wounded Marines. Almost all of them were praying out loud. Screaming into the air, already full with the explosions of war, begging to God. It's hard to describe the desperate, gurgling pleas of dying men calling out for their mothers. It's even harder to drown those sounds from my head.
I prayed, too. I was pretty sure that I wasn't going to die from my wound. Still, I prayed. It was hot as hell. Death smells. Once you've smelled it, you never forget it. It stays with you for life. It can make you sick to your stomach.
Crazy thoughts run through your head when you're challenging death and defying the odds. Of all things, surrounded by death and chaos, I started thinking about what Grand Mom told me about thanking God for every day of my life. To ask for simple pleasures.
So right then and there, I thanked Jesus for that day of my life and asked for a simple pleasure. Cold water. You never get cold water out in the "bush." I promised the Almighty that if he answered my prayer, that I would never again take cold water for granted.
I lost some blood. I'd pass out, then come back to, then, pass out again. I woke up in a makeshift hospital in Quang Tri. My knee had been stitched up and wrapped. I looked up and saw a nurse standing over me and smiling down at me. I was woozy from morphine. At first, I thought she was an angel. She said, "Hello, Sweetie. You're alive, and your knee will be just fine." Then she asked, "Would you like a glass of cold water?"
Miz Lena also used to tell me, "The Lord works in mysterious ways." Beyond a shadow of doubt, that was the best-tasting cold water I've ever had. To this day, every time I have a drink of cold water, I say out loud or think, "Thank you, Jesus, for cold water."
Today's a special one for countless American families. A day of reflection. The one day of the year that commemorates and celebrates our country's heroes and warriors of foreign wars. A bunch of young men, from all walks of life, who gave it their all and survived or went down swinging.
I can only speak for myself. But I know there are a lot of good men out there who made it back, but not without scars. Physical and mental scars. For some, the war's not over. It's still in their heads. I believe God has a special place in his heart for these veterans. I hope so.
So send a little prayer up to heaven and thank the Almighty that you're an American and give thanks for those boys who made sacrifices for their homeland. For their beloved America.
While you're at it, ask God to watch over our brave servicemen and women, who are out there somewhere, protecting our freedom and are continuously praying the same prayer to God as did we.
Happy Veterans Day.
Bill Stamps spent four decades in the entertainment business before moving from Los Angeles to Cleveland, Tennessee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Facebook.