Country music to me is simply stories that are set to music. A great example is "A Girl in the Night" by Ray Price:
"She lives her life in honkytonks and the crowded back street bar.
A world of make-believe that knows no sun, no moon or star.
Where the music's loud, she's in the crowd, a lonely girl in the night."
The main character in this story was a paratrooper in the 173rd Airborne in Viet Nam. The Airborne Hymn, "Blood on the Risers" is well known to all paratroopers, and dates from the Second World War:
Blood on the Risers
(Author unknown. To the tune of Glory, Glory, Hallelujah.)
"He was just a rookie trooper and he surely shook with fright.
He checked off his equipment and made sure his pack was tight.
He had to sit and listen to those awful engines roar.
You ain't gonna jump no more.
Gory, gory, what a hell of way to die.
Gory, gory, what a hell of way to die.
Gory, gory, what a hell of way to die.
He ain't gonna jump no more."
This story reprises some of the characters and the locale from my earlier story, The Other Woman. Read that story first for background.
PROLOGUE—BIG BEND, TEXAS
We, my buddy Bobby Morse and a couple of our friends, had been riding our horses on the Blue Creek Trail in Big Bend National Park, dropping down to see the remains of the Homer Wilson Ranch. It was a rugged, dry country and I was glad to get off the damn horse for a while. My leg had tightened up, as I knew it would—it always did when I rode for more than a half hour—and I ruefully rubbed the ragged scar through my jeans with the heel of my hand.
I sank down in the dust and leaned against a convenient rock. I knocked the dottle out of my pipe and absently packed it as I looked up at the rocky mesa behind the remains of the ranch house. Massaging my leg I remembered that midnight made bright with flashing mortar rounds exploding all too frequently nearby when I got my personal memento of that crazy Asian war in the Pacific.
Operation Junction City was an eighty-two day military operation conducted by U.S. and Republic of Vietnam (RVN or South Vietnam) forces begun on February 22, 1967 during the Vietnam Conflict. It was the largest U.S. airborne operation since Operation Market Garden during the Second World War, the only major airborne operation in the Vietnam War, and was one of the largest U.S. operations of the Southeast Asian conflict.
The operation was launched with four US divisions, and was essentially a massive search-and-destroy mission along the Cambodian Border, looking for the Viet Cong headquarters in South Viet Nam. American troops over-ran much of the area before encountering significant resistance.
There were three major battles, each initiated by the Viet Cong: the first, at Ap Bau Bang; the second, at Fire Support Base Gold and the third at Ap Gu. In each battle, the Vietcong attacked US forces and were repulsed, suffering very heavy losses.
In all, the Viet Cong lost almost three thousand troops in the battles, while the US lost less than three hundred. Nevertheless, the Viet Cong headquarters, the main target of the operation, was not captured and, once the US troops withdrew, the Communists reoccupied the area.
The 173rd Airborne Brigade had come over to Nam from Okinawa—I was with Headquarters Company of the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Infantry. My job was to operate the radio for the battalion commander. It was a heavy PRC10 and I had to jump with an extra battery. I was okay until the second battle of Ap Bau Bang. I was standing next to the colonel and found myself lying on the ground in shock with the ugly sound of the AK47 bullet ricocheting off a nearby M-113 resounding in my ear. The deformed slug tore a chunk out of my thigh and gave me a ticket home.
Funny, though, I never dreamed of getting wounded. The nightmare that still woke me up with some regularity was to streamer in from a low level drop. The drop zone had been a large, dry rice paddy near the Cambodian border. As I left the C-130 I could see the DZ was already behind us. We'd jumped at 750 feet and right after my chute popped open with a jerk I saw a flash of white screaming past me. I'd seen a streamer once before on an equipment drop of some howitzers but I knew there was a living, screaming body at the end of this one ... for a few more seconds, anyway.
I'll never forget the scream that quickly reduced in volume with the Doppler effect. Sometimes as I lay awake in the stillness of the night I try to remember if that was Corporal Jennings—a kid I went to jump school with at Benning—screaming, or if it were my scream ... or both. Whichever, I lived that jump over and over except it was always my chute that failed. The dreams were always violent but mercifully short. I would see the jungle canopy flashing at me with breathtaking speed ... but I never hit the ground.
Every time after the dream the last stanza of the Airborne Hymn would run through my mind,
"There was blood upon the risers, there were brains upon the 'chute.
Intestines were a-dangling from his paratrooper suit.
He was a mess, they picked him up and poured him from his boots.
And he ain't gonna jump no more."
Heavy stuff at three in the morning.
A frown came over my face as an unwanted memory came to me as I heaved myself up to get back on my horse. As a strange epilog to my war experience I was at Stapleton Airport in Denver on my way home—in uniform with my purple heart prominent among my medals and still using a cane—and leaning against a post waiting for my connection to San Antonio to start boarding.
I was half asleep when this really cute girl walked up. She must have been about sixteen or so and I smiled as she approached me. I had my left leg bent to take the weight off it. She pointed at the bent leg and asked, "Did you get that in Viet Nam?"
I smiled at her and said, "Yes, I was..."
She interrupted me and said, "Good! I wish your whole fuckin' leg had been blown off." She spit in my face, turned, and ran into the Ladies restroom. I should have known from the "peace" symbol hanging around her neck that peace was the last thing she was thinking about.
The gate attendant handed me some tissues and murmured, "I'm sorry. That stuff happens all too often.
My folks were just happy to see their son, Spec 4 Thomas Patrick Ryan, home safe from the war.
I think the reason people like bars is that it gives them a chance to suspend reality, that is, to kind of put their life on hold for a couple of hours while they enjoy a beer, listen to the music, maybe dance a little ... and hide their loneliness. I mean, how can you be lonely when the place is crowded? That's really the key 'cause it isn't that you aren't lonely; it just gives you a few minutes to pretend you have a normal life and a love to share. Yeah, a love to share. What a joke!
I particularly liked Willy's Tavern because the bartenders were friendly—they took the time to learn your name—and if you were a little short they would run a tab for you. And speaking of which...
Jeanie was behind the bar tonight and she walked over with the little notebook she used to keep track of who owed what, "Hey, Tom, another?"
"Sure, Jeanie, then I gotta run." I didn't really but it made me sound like I had a life. "Hey, who's that dolly over there that's been putting all the quarters in the jukebox and wearing that tight dress so well?"
"That's Kathy Morgan ... well, really Kathy Jenner. She took her maiden name back when she dumped that asshole husband of hers. He owns that restaurant, Moxie's, over to Sabinal. He was supposed to be doing inventory one night when she stopped by and caught him with one of the waitresses. She's been pretty much broken up about it."
She bought me the beer and I signed my name, Tom Ryan, in her notebook. I looked over at Kathy—I'd seen her in a few times the last month of so. She was really nice looking. I couldn't imagine a man having a wife like that and messing around on her. She was maybe medium height with a small waist that made her bust and hips look bigger than they really were.
In a way it was sad to see such a nice looking woman wasting her life in bars and crowded honkytonks. She should have a real life ... like me. Sure.
I'd noticed that she never danced more than once with the same guy and never let anyone sit at her table. I'd see guys go up and try to sweet talk her but she would just sit there and shake her head. If the bar was crowded, like on a Friday or Saturday night, it would happen a lot and then she'd eventually get pissed off and get up and leave. I never saw her go out to some cowboy's truck and come back all mussed up a few minutes later like a lot of the other girls that came to places like this ... many of them married.
Somehow I had become fascinated watching her and wondering who she was, what had happened to her. She looked so lonely sitting there. Her hooded eyes seemed to show such regret. She sipped a glass of wine to pass the evening away ... just a girl alone, in the night.
Was she thinking of dreams that didn't last? Was she haunted by past heartaches? Was there a story of a love that wasn't right? Now the shadows hid her empty pride ... the loneliest girl I'd ever seem—hiding in the crowd.
.... There is more of this story ...