Ned Ricks

I REMEMBER loud engulfing noise: painful, inescapable noise. As a combat arms officer, noise was the job: the screech and wail of a tank’s metal parts grinding, and the piercing high-pitched sound of a helicopters’ turbines. All that was base-line noise. Combine that with the shattering, diaphragm thumping concussions of weapons and you have a recipe that deadens the ability to think. Repetitive concussions of heavy machine gun fire, sharp crackles of rifle fire, detonations of mortar rounds or mines exploding. Tank main gun cannons could beat the breath from your chest with their shockwaves.  But you must manage the violence around you, must think and communicate in the midst of it. The radio light comes on in your vehicle and you must connect: Is it the artillery adjusting your fire? The Air Force sending jets? One of your platoons in close contact with the enemy? The medivac helicopter needs a smoke grenade popped to find your LZ? The task is much like being inside a trash can full of fire crackers being rolled down the world’s longest staircase. But the radio call light still glows and you must try to answer.

I remember colors. The fresh green of newly issued jungle fatigues, so new they hadn’t been washed yet. Then seeing the faded green, almost light gray, of an officer’s uniform who is awaiting his flight back to the states. He shared the barracks, but not the same reality. He didn’t want to talk in case, somehow, that would delay his departure back to “the world.” The jungle could be many shades of green. Not like the old Tarzan movies, but a forest of varying hues. The soil could be fertile black in many low-country rice paddies. The ground elsewhere could be an umber or sienna rust, dust or mud, depending upon the season. Then there were the brown of areas sprayed with Agent Orange. And the black of the dead trees in the same regions poking skyward as if after a forest fire. Not burned, but killed all the same. And those of us who operated in the area carried that poison back with us in our body’s cells to kill us later. And the sky could be blue, supporting puffy clouds and providing backdrop for palm trees, looking like a poster for one of those 1930’s airline Clipper travel jaunts. Or it could be filled with dark, roiling gray storm clouds shedding their rain day in and day out for months. Clouds that blocked the sun.

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NAME: Ned "B" Ricks
WAR: Vietnam
RANK: At the time of Vietnam service, I was a captain; retired as a major.
PLATOON/BATTALION: In Vietnam, I served in the 1st (Air) Squadron, 9th Cavalry, 1st Calvary Division (Airmobile). I was also Commanding Officer of Troop C, 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry, First Field Forces Vietnam.
AGE AT ENLISTMENT: When I went to Vietnam in 1970, I was a young 23 years old. I returned home age 24 (going on 60).
SERVICE LENGTH: My tour of duty in Vietnam was from July 1970 to July 1971. I served in the Regular Army from 1968 to 1975 and the US Army Reserves until 1993, a total of 25 years commissioned service.
ROLE: Armored cavalry platoon leader; aide de camp to a general officer; squadron (same size as battalion) operations officer; squadron adjutant; armored cavalry troop commander (same size as a company); brigade adjutant; headquarters company commander; brigade operations officer; theater army level logistics headquarters commander; military intelligence detachment commander; theater army headquarters level assistant inspector general

Patrick Cochrun

I REMEMBER attending church with my family on Veteran's Day every year. I felt immense and gleaming pride when the congregation would applaud my father.

I remember September 11th. The entire build up to the war felt to me like a pissed off street brawler looking for someone to punch, no matter who it was. I remember as a Marine, we were trained "Not to ask why, but to do and die." Nevertheless, even my young 21-year-old mind smelled bullshit from the beginning.

I remember bringing shoes, candy and soccer balls to some local children.

I remember their huge smiles because now they had an actual ball to kick instead of an empty plastic water bottle.

I remember the lump in my throat when I confirmed grid coordinates for a fire mission to air assets knowing it would end some of the lives of those same children. 

I remember what I will never forget: the first time I heard a round hit someone. Not the report of the rifle, but the surprisingly loud snap of a bullet ripping through flesh and breaking bone.

I remember thinking just get through this patrol, this week, this month . . . just get home. Just get your men back to their families. 

I remember wondering how in the hell I would ever explain a day in Iraq to anyone. Any little sound at night sends chills up and down my spine. I haven't touched a firearm since leaving the service, yet I still instinctively grab for one at night when nightmares wake me. My family asks me to get therapy. But the guilt I feel for my fallen friends is the only part of them I have left. The guilt of returning home when my friends didn't is only made worse by attempting to rid myself of that same guilt. 

NAME: Patrick "Rock Star" Cochrun
WAR: Iraq 2003-2004
RANK: Seargant
PLATOON/BATTALION: 1st Marine Division
ROLE: Infantry