Maruice Costello

I remember my first day in country with my company. We had hardly put away our gear and settled in when an alert was sounded that we were to grab our weapons and board the trucks outside. The word was that one of our small convoys had been ambushed a short distance away. When we arrived, our first sergeant informed us that we were looking for several Viet Cong ambushers and that one was believed to be wounded. We spread out and entered the jungle. Not twenty some feet in I saw him, lying wounded on his back. He had a blind stare and was breathing slow and shallow. Our eyes met.  I was breathing heavy and my heart was pounding. I called for the first sergeant. He told me to shoot "if he moved a muscle!" I was scared. Scared of him and scared for me. I can remember praying that I hoped he wouldn't move. He didn't. His eyes closed and his breathing stopped. 

I remember one morning the captain of the ARVNs asked me to accompany them on their daily patrol. He led us to the sight of my fire mission the night before. What I saw and experienced that morning became the defining moment of my war experience and my life. The young Vietcong's' body was scattered for yards. The sight of what I had done sickened me. If the mere sight of it wasn't enough, they had found a letter from his girlfriend among the remains. He was or had been human, a human life. At that moment the realization hit me that he and I were not that different, except that day I was the lucky one.

I remember landing at the airport in Indianapolis, Indiana. I had contacted my girlfriend ahead of time to bring my civilian clothes to the terminal. There were protesters in large numbers, she handed me my clothes and before I could fully celebrate with her the way I would have liked, I hurried to the restroom and changed. I remember I was no longer recognizable as a soldier and at that moment I realized how important that feeling was to me.

As a civilian, Maurice has pursued art. This image comes from Maurice's piece "Autobiography," on display at the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago and online here. 

As a civilian, Maurice has pursued art. This image comes from Maurice's piece "Autobiography," on display at the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago and online here


NAME: Maurice Costello
WAR: Vietnam
BRANCH: U.S. Army
RANK: E-4
PLATOON/BATTALION: 3/21 of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade
AGE AT ENLISTMENT: Drafted at age 20
SERVICE LENGTH: 2 years
ROLE: Gunner, 81mm Mortar