The War Dance

by Richard Dieterle

After the general training the Cav gave to integrate us into the Division, those who were to be members of A co. reported to their area at Anh Khe. Night was now upon us. We were in one of those large canvass tents that they constructed in the rear. This one actually had cots complete with misquito nets, and a string of construction-style lights hanging down from the long apex of the tent. There were a couple of people there who were rotating out. We considered them to be "old timers." One could even remember participating in the documentary film "I am a Soldier." In the dark we could hear the pounding of a drum, then the gradual raising of voices. It soon grew loud and fierce, with the drum picking up a beat of urgency as the wild howls added their percussive counterpoint to its booming voice. It was a war dance. The Cav which had so seriously prosecuted war against the Indians had now taken them within. This was a rite of warriors, and the old timers had pursued other Indian rites: not trained in the difficult art of scalping, they had made it their practice to take ears instead. And now they had a war dance for themselves as a kind of trophy. "No cherries allowed," I was told.

With the howls and the heart beat of the drum pulsing in the background, one man who had now finished his tour began, after having had a few too many beers, to reflect upon what had happened to him during the course of his war. His thoughts drifted as the sirens of the fire water beckoned them; but he did not touch upon some personal suffering he had endured, but rather something worse still. "Our platoon once had a guy who didn't want his mother to worry. He was all she had in the world. So he told her that he was in Germany, and not to worry about him as nothing could happen to him. She thought he was safe in Germany! My God, when she found out he was killed ... God damn it!" and he threw his half can of beer the length of the tent, grazing a hanging light so that it swayed back and forth. We were in stunned silence.

Some took with them the thought, "Never say 'It can't happen to me';" but the real moral of this tale was that all the terror and agony could not measure against the tragedy of a heart crushed. The most profound casualties of war were found elsewhere than here amidst the sound and fury of the war dance.