“After a fire fight, we went out into the killing fields to count bodies. I’ll bet you think we counted bodies, don’t you?”

This comment is by ogwriter on the Call for Submissions for War Stories 

TRIGGER WARNING: Graphic war story

I was lucky and so was my brother Andre’. We sat and watched our fates being decided by a new draft lottery system that enabled us to escape the horrors of Vietnam. Our oldest brother, Don-Alvin, wasn’t as fortunate. He did two “tours” of duty in VN and came home with lots of stories to tell. I will share one with you if I may.

One day we were just hanging out together and Don-Alvin asked us if we wanted to hear a story about the war. He hadn’t been home long and from time to time he would get a feeling and huddle us together for our talks. Later, I would come to understand that what he was doing was venting and that this was critical to his psychological recovery. In us — me and Andre’ — he had two people who wouldn’t judge him and that loved him unconditionally. I liked to think it helped him.

He asked us, “What do you think doing a body count must have been like for me?” Saying nothing, we shrugged our slim shoulders our in unison and Don-Alvin added, “Since you asked, I’ll tell you. After a fire fight, we went out into the killing fields, often in the jungle or a clearing in the jungle. From there the count would begin.” He then turned to us and asked, “I’ll bet you think we counted bodies, don’t you?” Andre’ and I looked at each other quizzically and said almost in unison, “Yeah, you probably just counted who was dead and added it all up, right?” He laughed, but it wasn’t his usual laugh, which typically rose up from the bottom of his belly filling him and whatever room he might be in. His eyes narrowed, his brow furrowed and his laugh was a sardonic humming,and was inaccessible to us.

In that moment, he was back there, in the war. He leaned towards us, lowering his voice as if he didn’t want anyone else to hear and said,”It didn’t go quite like that. When you got to the killing fields you looked around and began to gather up body parts. A arm was there, maybe a leg was over there, and a torso might be somewhere else. You gotta understand that the weapons we used destroyed bodies, mangled them sometimes beyond all recognition.” Hearing this, we wanted to cry, me and Andre’, but didn’t. To this day, I’m not sure why we didn’t. My brother continued,”Once you gathered up all of the body parts, then and only then, would the count really begin.” After hearing this and other stories of real war from Don-Alvin, Andre’ and I would stop watching the sanitized, propagandized, army films and cowboy movies we had grown up watching.

Photo: Gruenemann / Flickr

About the Editors

We're all in this together.


  1. Dan Flowers says:

    Can we say censorship?

  2. Dan Flowers says:

    Posted 3 times.

  3. wellokthen…I am sure my brother because of the nature of that war, where military protocol was not always or necessarily enforced all the time, was in a fluid situation. He wanted to his younger brothers to know how crazy the expectations were and that we should grow up knowing the real cost of war.

  4. wellokaythen says:

    The man in this story was a very conscientious body-counter. Some of the stories I’ve heard about body counts were quite different.

    There were units who didn’t even bother to make an honest count but preferred to inflate the numbers, because sometimes the units with the highest enemy body counts got rewarded with extra leave. Now I’m thinking that these inflated numbers may not have been just self-serving, but maybe the goriness of the detail contributed to these inflated numbers, because they didn’t want to look too closely. Or, they counted each body part as a single person.

    As if the war wasn’t bad enough, men like your brother were also encouraged to treat every dead body as the body of an enemy. Over time the body counts distinguished less and less between combatants and bystanders.

  5. That was a great post! A good friend of mine was in ‘Nam’ in ‘Graves Registration’. That’s where your job is to create a complete body to send home. He told me it was mostly impossibe to accuratly match up body parts so they didn’t even try. Any combo of a head , torso, 2 arms and legs were put in 1 bodybag and shipped home as the remains. This young guy went there a typically happy teenager and came home something completely differentl! He didn’t have the good fortune your brother had of having family to vent to. What gets me is that the so called ‘Mental Health’ experts’ at the time blamed most of these PSTD on drug use. That wasn’t the cause, that was a way of dealing with it! Oh yeah, being ‘shit on’ by polite soceity upon your return didn’t help much either, no matter how many ‘Monuments’ they build 40 years after the fact!

  6. Dave…It was a long,but interesting ride.Being able to come home to an intact family to decompress,I think,was vital to his recovery.

  7. Dan…I’d be a liar if I said that I didn’t lighten my load a bit in telling that story.However,it was impromtu,as evidenced by the crudeness of the arrangement.VN vets like my brother were perhaps the most hated of all veterans.My brother said,as soldiers do,he didn’t care that he wasn’t appreciated,I think he lied.Why else would he subsequently burn his uniforms and medals? I was a kid, 13 or 14 when I heard this story,I guess I needed to get it out.

  8. Hope your bro’s recovered as much as can be expected, man. And Dan? Keep your effing stick on the effing ice.

  9. Dan Flowers says:

    I’m not sure what the point of this is… Are people supposed to write in as some type of catharsis? Just curious, what the positive is supposed to be here or if it is just some sort of liberal voyeuristic attempt to collect stories that illustrate the horrors of war?

    • America is the most powerful and warlike nation that has ever existed.

      America is also a democracy. If america’s leaders want to wage war then they need the consent of the population. This means that you have a duty to know what your soldiers are actually doing. So that you can decide weather the war is worth it.

      • Most warlike it is certainly not. The Mongols? Roman Empire? Or just about every country that was in a position to win a war say from 120 years ago and backwards throughout history.

Speak Your Mind