It was so long ago,
Back when I was young and green
That I met those crazy guys
In that out of this world scene.
I had just got off that transport in 'Nam,
Thinking I was so strong and brave.
I still believed all that crap
About the country I came to save.
In a matter of days I was out there
In a place all green except the sky
Meeting these strangers about my age
With a far away distant look in their eyes.
It took me some time to learn the score
And some luck to just stay alive
And as the days went on
I watched them and learned to survive.
At the end of that mission
Most of us came back to Saigon,
Found ourselves some trashy women
And really tied one on.
There was a group of us
That became more like brothers than friends
And we grew close in the jungles
And shuddered as we talked about our ends.
There was Danny and Billy,
Left-handed Larry and Johnny the Mac,
There was Carl and Terry,
And of course, there was the Magic Rat.
Now I hadn't thought about them in years
Until I saw that military funeral on TV,
Until I saw that folded flag passed to the widow,
And that lost look in her eyes for all to see.
The rifles shattered the silence
And Taps quivered over the land
As the coffin stood dark and naked
And that blue starred triangle trembled in her hand.
It took me back to that afternoon,
That awful day so long ago
When I stood and watched my friend's widow
Go through the very same show.
It was so long ago that it slipped behind
All of the cares of the day to day
Until it hardly ever slipped out
Of the place where I had hidden it away.
I got a call from her that Friday.
Her voice was shaking with loss and grief.
She said an army car was in her driveway
As I listened in stunned disbelief.
He had been the surest of us
And the luckiest by far.
He had seemed untouchable
But that officer was getting out of that army car.
Four days later we were in Westwood,
Just blocks from movies bright,
Standing among the countless tombstones
White islands in a sea of green grass light.
And I can still see him standing with that smile,
Laughing about a close call,
Knowing that another foot farther
And there would have been nothing left of him at all.
The flag was stretched above the coffin,
Folded and placed in her shaking hands,
With the comment "From a grateful nation"
Hanging forlornly above the land.
And I sat there thirty years later
Replaying that scene in my head,
That moment when it really hit me.
The Magic Rat was dead.
He got that handle as a kid
From the three initials in his name
And we added the Magic to it
Because he always disappeared when hard work came.
I had gone back to college,
Had kids and a wife,
Buried away those jungle nightmares,
Made something of my life.
And I thought about him
And about the waste and loss,
About all the times we could have shared
About that war's long lingering cost.
He never had a chance
To see his folks grow old,
Never held his son in arms,
Never had his life unfold.
At the time I wasn't sure
What it was really all for
But now I know no matter what,
It cost us so much more.
All those cut off lives
And all those mangled limbs,
All those empty souls left dead inside
All those men living with those sins.
And after all this time
You'd think we'd have paid enough
But the interest on that debt still accrues
And you know it was far too much.
And I can still hear him laughing in the night
Bragging about some conquest sweet,
Smoking that big round joint
As the rain poured down in sheets.
I remember the day Larry bought it.
A mine blast blew him into the air
And pieces of him fell all around
And I whispered a silent desperate prayer.
The Rat and I were best buddies
And some nights we shivered with fear
And the mortars dropped around us
And the shrapnel cut so near.
It was so dark at night
You couldn't see a thing.
All you heard was the jungle movements
And then suddenly the mortars would sing.
Just a blue starred triangle
Passed across the TV screen
Thirty years after all the horror
And I was back into those nightmare dreams.
I was back in that firefight,
That day when I was so short,
And the Magic Rat said, "Don't you worry.
You'll be on that transport."
He had another four months to go,
That day that I went back to the world,
And he flashed that smile as I rode away
And said "Be sure and call my girl."
Although I didn't know it at the time
Those were the last words he would say to me.
I called her when I landed and we became friends
And counted the days until he was free.
He was down to eleven days a wakeup
On the day I got her call.
He had said eleven was his lucky number.
Guess it wasn't so lucky after all.
I don't think the thanks of a grateful nation
Would have meant that much to him.
He had no idea why we were fighting.
All he wanted was to get off that limb.
Taps echoed across the emptiness
As I watched that widow clasp that flag,
And I remembered Sherry crying softly,
Remember watching her whole body sag.
Then she reached down to her left
And lifted her baby boy so small
As the tears fell from her eyes
And the rifles cracked their call.
He's a truck driver today
With a wife and kids of his own
But he's another casualty,
A fatherless victim of the seeds we've sown.
Sherry remarried years ago
Although the Magic Rat's still in her heart
We talk on the phone once in awhile
But it still tears her apart.
I thought that the past was buried deeper.
I thought that time had worn it down
But hearing Taps and cracking rifles
Has brought it back around.
That lonely bugle tune
Lingers in my mind
Quivering as it floats through the air
Taking me back to that long ago time.