Forever to be 20 years old

Published 6:47 pm Wednesday, May 17, 2023

By Harold Brummett

Gary Chris is a friend of Andy Pruitt. They were both short, about the same height, except Gary was broad – not fat, mind you, just a muscled big man.

Gary was a machine gunner. He carried the heavy M-60 machine gun that fired the 7.62 round and he and the assistant machine gunner had bandoliers of ammo strapped across their bodies to feed the
machine. They went by the old adage you cannot have too much fun, too much money or too much ammo.

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Andy and Gary fought their war in the Quang Tri province of Vietnam in 1970-71. Gary always smiled and a pleasant demeanor. Andy recalled that Gary got up every morning and put a dip of snuff in his mouth and an unlit cigar that he chewed on the entire day.

Baptized in firefights and blood makes brothers out of strangers as they ventured from firebase to patrol and back again. Mainly poor, southern and the politically unconnected fight these wars for the mainly
wealthy, northern and politically well connected.

Gary was from Oklahoma, a draftee with middle class roots and no one of any importance to get him out of the war.

Andy was a squad leader and sometimes platoon leader when the need arose. Andy and Gary became close as you do in situations like theirs.

Eventually after an eternity in the green jungle hell, it was Andy’s
time to go home. No one except close family welcomed him. Others in his circle of friends never even wondered why they had not seen him in awhile or where he had been.

Andy started to let his hair grow out and never shaved. It took Andy 10 years to admit he was ever in the Army, much less Vietnam. Soldiers as they returned home took the blame for a war started by Kennedy and expanded by Johnson. Returning soldiers suffered name calling and criticized for a war they did not start.

A couple of months after coming home Andy put together a care package for his friend who still had a bit of time left in Vietnam. The package contained canned fruit, soap, toilet paper, tobacco and both
necessities and comfort items soldiers in the field would appreciate.

Not included were cookies and edibles that could not make the two-week journey intact to a man on a firebase or on patrol. Andy explained that cookies sent by well-meaning moms, wives and girlfriends turned into dust in the rough and tumble journey.

The package was returned unopened. Andy knew what that meant and wrote a letter to someone else in the squad. Each mailing was weeks in the sending and receiving.

Finally, Andy received word that Gary Chris hit a booby trap while on patrol and was killed.

Gary Chris will forever be 20 years old.

Memorial Day is for you Gary, and the unfulfilled promise you had.

Write to Harold Brummett at