James T. was holding the other officer up against the wall and threatening to drastically change his appearance. But another officer arrived and calmed him down. Seconds later he was conversing with everyone as if nothing had happened. And nothing did happen to cause his violent behavior. James had issues from years back when he was raising hell in Vietnam as a member of SOG, (Studies and Observation Group). The reality, though, was something from within his own mind.
James was a contract officer for a military installation that launches rockets into space with payloads for the military and civilian community. This was in the late 80s and into the next century. The missile range stretches for miles. It’s comprised of mostly alligator infested swampland, waterways and, on the eastern side, the Atlantic Ocean. We had a force of up to 500 with another two dozen Air Force security officers working part time. That joint combat force lasted a few years before the general in charge put an end to the arrangement. Maybe it was because in this situation if an attack occurred, civilian security force contract workers would be giving orders to the military. The commander would be a civilian supervisor for a private company.
The force was fully armed for combat. We had patrol boats with M-60 machine guns. Officers carried 9 mm semiautomatic pistols with two 15-round magazines and M-16s with two 30-round magazines. Some force members were also qualified to carry grenade launchers.
But while working on a contract, James maintained an intense glare that never left his face. No one challenged him. He never crossed me, though, and I never crossed him.
One day I heard that he was hospitalized. I talked to his friend Terry, who made regular visits to see him. Terry said that James had lung cancer and his time was running out quickly. He said that James’ mood had turned to sorrow and fear as his final day on earth neared.
Terry said that he had killed many people in the Nam and they deserved it. But one day some of his buddies were out on a mission and the word was that South Vietnamese villagers had killed them in an ambush. James went out and found the two guilty parties, then took them away from populated areas where he tied them up, tortured them, skinned them and then killed them. He had his revenge.
Shortly after the incident, the real attackers were identified and captured. James snapped and was never the same. He continued his missions but the guilt was tearing him up. Perhaps staying busy killing and carrying out his missions was the only way he could exist. But the last few years couldn’t provide him with enough legal action and extreme violence to keep him from going insane.
And now, in his mind, he knew he was about to meet his maker. On his last visit. Terry tried to comfort him but James was in fear. He began crying, “Am I going to hell?”
Terry tried to comfort him and told him about forgiveness. Terry said that if you confess your sins, God will forgive you and he will receive you into heaven.
James did so and that seemed to comfort him somewhat. That was the last time Terry saw him alive. After his funeral with full military honors, Terry told me that very high-ranking generals and civilians attended his farewell. He said that James T.’s reputation as a top warrior was well-known throughout the military community.
There are others, like James, who spent hard time there. I’ve met them and worked with them. For some of them, part of that world remains, gnawing at their minds until they die.
The names in this story were changed.
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