By Matthew Michael
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the Kings horses and all the Kings men
Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.
It had taken him nearly fifty years to make the trip to Washington DC to stop and sit at the Wall that honored his fallen brothers and sisters. The heat of the August sun beat down on Henry “Humpty” Dumpty just like it had done in the Khe Sanh Valley of Central Vietnam back in 1968. Henry was born and raised in the flat fertile soil of Central Iowa where his hands were callused from years of hard labor in the field. It was those years of manual labor that had forged Henry into one of the strongest men drafted into his platoon. It had been his closest friend, Vernon, which had nicknamed him Humpty for Henry’s ability to “hump” a pack of ammo like a pack mule. Now Henry found himself standing next to the pale white engraved name of Pvt. Vernon S. Thompson.
This moment in time, at this wall, had turned into a time machine that was transporting Henry into a thousand memories that spanned over fifty years of experiences and emotions that included guilt, pain, anger and most recently, hope. As Henry stood there in a daze that nearly over powered him, he heard a voice behind him say, “I come here every year on this day – I feel like I have to.” As Henry snapped back to the present, he turned to find a frail, white haired man staring back at him. “My name is Eddy and I was in the US Army’s 1st Infantry.” As Eddy peered back at the wall he said, “I lost 41 of my brothers on this date back in 66. It was Operation Amarillo, seek and destroy they told us. I promised myself I would never forget what happened that day, so I come back here to keep that promise”.
Henry reached out his hand to Eddy and said, “My name is Henry and I fought with the Marines at Khe Sanh in 68. I’ve never been here before and thought it was time.” Eddy had a compassion in his eyes that was the product of seeing men just like Henry come to this place for the first time year after year. Eddy took out a small piece of paper, wrote on it and handed it to Henry. “Once you’ve spent the time you need here, give me a call and we can get together and have a drink before you head back to where ever you’re from.” Henry nodded in agreement without saying a word and Eddy disappeared as quietly as he had arrived.
That evening the two men met at a small tavern not far from the hotel that Henry was staying at. “What can I get for you?” Eddy asked Henry as the two sat at a small booth toward the back of the bar. “I’ll have a Pepsi” Henry responded – Eddy seemed surprised, but turned to get what Henry had requested. One of the demons that Henry had struggled with was alcohol, and it had been two years since Henry had his last drink.
The two men sat and talked at length about the things that they had been thru before, during, and after the war. Henry described what he called “his great fall”. When he returned home from the service he felt isolated by his small community. The neighbors and friends that he had been raised around seemed at odds with who they thought he had become. It felt as if all the public opinion that cried out against the Vietnam War was also crying out against those that were required to fight in it. His nights were full of images that he couldn’t turn off and a temper that he could no longer control. He found it hard to stay employed until he finally found sanctuary in the quiet solitude of the cab of a tractor trailer. He explained to Eddy that his one ray of light in an otherwise dark place was his wife, Alice. Alice had stuck with him while he was away on his tour of duty and then afterwards thru all his struggles. “She was an angel that put up with more than she should have had to. When she said in good times and in bad, she sure the hell meant it.” There was a long silence, then Henry continued. “Alice started having some pretty severe headaches and when they got bad enough we took her to the doctor to find out what was going on. After a bunch of tests and a bunch of waiting for results, we got a call. They told us she had a tumor and there wasn’t much they could do.”
Eddy spent the majority of the night listening to Henry and letting him say whatever he was comfortable saying. There was no judgment or advice, just an open ear from a guy that had been in shoes very similar to those that Henry had been in. Eddy could see the pain that Henry was going thru reliving Alice’s illness. Eddy looked up at Henry and simply said “I’m so sorry”. Henry went on to say that eleven months after the diagnosis, Alice passed away. Prior to her passing she had made Henry promise to her that he would go to the VA and get help for the issues that haunted him. She wanted him to have the ability to live out the rest of his days with peace and hope. He had always fought the need to ask anyone for help, but for Alice he would.
A few weeks after Alice’s services, Henry had made an appointment to see a doctor at the VA hospital in Iowa City. Dr. King and his staff were trained to help those that suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Henry “Humpty” Dumpty went into the sessions wondering if all Dr. King's men could ever put him back together again. Dr. King had spent over a year getting Henry to open up about the experiences that he had survived and the feelings that he had done his best to shove deep down inside himself. It had taken time and effort, but with Dr. King’s help the nightmares started to fade. Eddy didn’t recognize Dr. King’s name, but he knew of other physicians that helped men and women that suffered like Henry did. “Those folks don’t get paid nearly enough” Eddy had said. “I’ve seen those doctors help give people their lives back, and I’ve seen what happens to those that don’t get help. I’m glad you got help Henry and I’m glad we met today. If you ever need to talk I hope you’ll call.” The men exchanged phone numbers, addresses, and said their goodbyes.
On the flight back to Iowa, Henry had plenty of time to think. He was grateful for the time he had spent with the love of his life, Alice. He was proud of the men and women that he had served his country with, and he was thankful for the kindness that Dr. King and Eddy had shown him. Henry “Humpty” Dumpty could never be put back together completely, but what was left of him was full of hope and gratitude.