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
PLATOON/BATTALION: 3/21 of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade
AGE AT ENLISTMENT: Drafted at age 20
ROLE: Gunner, 81mm Mortar

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.

Ned Ricks 4.jpg

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