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Ron's barber shop is the local de-facto veteran's center. Nothing official here; it's just a good place to meet your mates and relive the bad old days. If the VFW magazines on the coffee table don't give the place away, the wall surely does. There's a POW flag hanging there, and an upside-down US flag, some campaign ribbons, and tacked up above the mirror, an old American Legion license plate that says "Back Our Boys In Vietnam."
Ron's been to hell and back, and says he's not fit for anything but barbering. He's wrong, of course; he's a good listener. Barbers have to be. So do the guys who run the veteran's centers. Whenever you visit Ron's shop, you'll run into guys wanting to tell you tales about their close shaves.
Isn't it amazing the myths we help to perpetuate? Like the one about Cambodia. I mean, President Johnson told the American people that there were no American ground troops in Cambodia, and we all believed him. Presidents don't lie, after all. Besides, Johnson was technically correct. Everybody I knew there was Air Force.
Last week, in Ron's barber shop, the Cambodia myth was starting to unravel.
Four of us showed up in the shop last Wednesday: Ron, me, and a couple of other vets. I had never met those two before, but we could be brothers. While I was in the chair having my whiskers trimmed, they came in, sat down, lit up, and engaged each other in the game all veterans play when we're in a safe haven like Ron's place: "When were you in?" "Where were you stationed?" "What did you do?" "Who do you know?"
I couldn't resist eavesdropping. For their part, the two sized me up, gave me passing marks, and instead of resorting to conspiratorial whispers, raised their voices to include me in their circle of denial.
"So where were you stationed?"And so the conversation went, until I was as well shorn as I am worn.
"Tell you one thing -- I sure as hell wasn't in Cambodia."
"That's funny, neither was I. When weren't you there?"
"November '67 to October '68. You?"
"Oh, I wasn't there from just after Tet to February '69."
"That wasn't bad timing. What kind of planes didn't your squadron fly?"
"We didn't have any C-130's."
"That's funny, neither did we! What kind of radio gear didn't you use?"
"We had no KWM-2's. But then, most of my squadron wasn't radio hams."
"Mine neither. I'll bet we didn't know some of the same people!"
"Perhaps. What wasn't your call?"
I embraced Ron before I left, and gave the others a knowing smile. After all, I had never met those two before.
How could I have? There were no American ground troops in Cambodia.
Copyright © H. Paul Shuch, Ph.D.; Maintained by Microcomm
this page last updated 14 June 2007