What Life is All About

 After serving in Viet Nam for a year, Pete, Bob, and Ray returned back  home. About 10 years later, Pete sent Bob his Viet Nam photo album, but Bob couldn't return it for 26 more years as they lost contact with each other. Pete has found out what life is all about, and writes the following letter...


Dear Bob,

It was great to talk to you after so long, and it was nice to get back all the pictures you saved for me these 26 years and a few new ones as well. Thanks. I guess we lost touch after my life was dramatically changed way back when.

I thought I should write you the following because you were an important part of my life in Vietnam. I had told you more things about myself than anyone else, and probably over and over again. Your friendship was appreciated. I have always held you in high esteem, and for the last five years, since I got a computer, I have searched for you diligently many times. For some reason, I didn't remember that you were in the Nebraska Platoon, which would have made it easier. I guess your Tennessee drawl made a lasting impression on me. As I recall, in a Vietnamese school room one day, you helped the students pronounce the alphabet. What a combination accent they could have had - Vietnamese and Tenness-ese!

As you may remember from the album, the first picture I chose to display was one of you and me after Operation Eager Pursuit. A picture of Ray was next, and that ought to mean something to him as well. Anyway, I felt impressed to tell you about the most important thing in my life, and who changed me so dramatically some 24 years ago. For this reason, I am the most grateful that we could meet up with each other again. Here is some of my background that may be helpful:

I was raised in a middle class and moral family. My folks didn't smoke or drink or cuss, and we went to church once a week. My younger brother and I learned to shine our shoes, dress up and wear a clip on tie for church. And when I got older, my folks bought me a suit, and I learned to tie a tie. I guess Sunday school was ok, as it was probably fun, but I don't remember learning anything about God. In that church, there was no Sunday school after the sixth grade, so I went to the adult service with my parents. It was boring, and if it hadn't been for pew pencils to doodle with, and stained glass windows to look at, I would have gone buggy. I didn't care much for church as it was lifeless, and formal, and of no consequence to a teenager. Of course, I had to go because my parents said so, though I put up a fuss as I got older. At home, the only thing our family did that was religious was to say a prayer when we ate dinner together. Religion was just a weekly thing many people did back then who thought they were good citizens. Many still do today.

During my teenage years, especially in high school, I wondered what life was all about. Why was I here? What was I to do? Well, I had no idea at all. At school, we were given certain classes to take, but I never knew what good some of them were going to do me. In geometry, for example, why would one need to know why one triangle was congruent to another? I questioned school, I questioned life, and I didn't get any answers. I was even told that I thought too much. However, I got a D in geometry, and an F in English, so maybe I thought too little.

One thing I liked was camping and hiking in the Boy Scouts, but I was not motivated to earn merit badges or ranks. Back then I was not academically minded. Also, I wanted to get away from home and thought of joining the Marine Corps from the time I was 15. To be a part of something that was important, glorious, and worth living and dying for meant a lot to me. On television, in the 50's and early 60's, there were many documentaries on World War II and the Korean War that interested me. When the boys came back from those campaigns, there were ticker tape parades and thankful crowds welcoming the returning heroes - or so it used to be. For the next three years, I dreamed of joining the Marines and could hardly wait to enlist, and besides that, there was the war in Viet Nam to experience.

Something I did enjoy in high school was being a part of the Madrigal Singers and Concert Choir. We were in many performances, and I toured Mexico City and Hawaii in Madrigals. So, I went from Southern California to Viet Nam in six months: from wearing a black tuxedo and cologne, to a camouflage uniform and mosquito repellant.

This transformation began shortly after high school when I spent the night in LA before taking the bus to San Diego MCRD. I was alone from my family and friends for the first time in my life, in a seedy hotel room courtesy of Uncle Sam. That night I sensed that God was in the room with me, and I felt guilty for some things that I had done. I figured I must be a Christian because of this experience - but I wasn't. Then, after we got to boot camp, we were all given New Testaments, and I started to read mine when I could. I attended the church services on Sunday, and was so homesick, I had to repress the sobs that filled my chest. My first letter home said it all, “If you want to know what hell is like - join the Marines!” Anyway, I made it through boot camp at the same time that you did, but in a different platoon.

Sometime after that, I guess we met up with each other at ITR or BITS. They trained us as 0351's: 3.5 inch Rocket Launchers, 106mm Recoilless Rifles, and the M2A1 Portable Flame Throwers. Then, after Staging, we were scheduled to fly out on December 18, 1968, to South East Asia, but the plane was slightly delayed, and it was actually 12:30 am on the 19th. How sobering it was to see the lights of the world fade away as we all headed out into darkness over the Pacific Ocean. We stopped over in Okinawa for about a week before completing the last leg to Viet Nam.

Well, in the Nam, my most memorable times were in the month of March on Eager Pursuit while out with Hotel Company. On a sweep on the 19th, we were sitting down and resting while the CO was getting his bearings. It was hot and sunny, and our squad was in the open on the trail. About 50 feet away an explosion went off, and we could see gear flying up above the elephant grass and treetops. Someone had set off a mine. It was Aston, a guy in 60mm mortars, and his squad was ahead of us in a comfortable and shady clump of foliage. Aston absorbed the main force of the explosion, and two other guys were wounded. After what seemed like a very long 45 minutes, a medevac chopper came to take his body and the wounded away. We then moved out, and walked through the very place where he had died, and the odor of hot blood left a lasting impression on us. Later, his squad leader told how, the day before, the squad was having some sort of friction in it, and he used Aston in an illustration. To each squad member, he asked, “How would you feel if Aston got killed?” He was making a point about whatever personality problems they were having were very small compared to being in a combat situation.

I think he used Aston because, I found out many years later, he was a very reasonable and likable young man. Also, he was on the quiet side, but he could also be a rough-n-tumble dude if need be. In high school, he was a football player, well liked, and remembered by many. I have heard this so many years later from those that knew him. Mike Aston had a big funeral in Wichita Falls, Texas, where there was standing room only in the church, and many others respectfully stood outside. Afterward, the mile-long funeral procession drove the solemn forty miles to the family's burial plot in the tiny country town of Vashti.

Anyway, the next day, after the squad leader gave his talk, Aston was killed by a mine. Twenty-five days later he would have been 19 years old. Thirty-three years later I visited his grave, and it was an extremely moving experience. Also, about this time, I was able to contact other Marines that were there when he died. They, too, were greatly affected by his death. One guy said Aston's boot fell in front of him when the mine went off, and he promised God he would serve him the rest of his life if he ever got back alive. Well, he did return home, and nine years later he fulfilled the promise. I didn't know enough about God to even promise that. Another guy I talked to said that Aston's death was his reoccurring nightmare every night for over thirty years, though he wasn't injured. Maybe you would like to know about that sometime. I haven't found out about the two guys that were wounded yet.

When I rotated home, I wrote a song about Aston and his death. I cannot remember all the words to it now, but the last phrase said, in regards to the war, “...for which my brother died in vain.” How wrong that would turn out to be. In fact, his life and death affected many lives for the better. In 2001, I wrote an updated song about him, but from a different perspective, and the words to that song were displayed at his class' 35th reunion. Interestingly, his mother's name was the same as my mother's name, and his brother's name is the same as my brother's name. It could have been anyone of us who was sent back to the States, and our parents would have to identify the remains. Didn't God have other plans for us, and spared our families the trauma and great loss?

After this operation in the bush, I think we were at Dai Loc Pass for the first time. On the top of the ridge, I would look up at the stars at night, and have thoughts of being a “minister.” As I look back now, I am sure that the Lord was calling me into his service, but I didn't really know anything about it. The minister at my family's church didn't do much that I knew of except give a speech once a week, wear a black robe, greet the people after church, and lived in a very nice parsonage on Prince Albert Drive. He seemed to be a likable fellow, and I thought he might have an easy job. But after about six months in the Nam, I pretty much turned into an animal and forgot about that. Perhaps living like an animal was just a response to living under stress all the time, and others may have found different ways to deal with it. How about you? And now, I wonder, how did our loved ones deal with it at home?

After I had returned from Viet Nam, I would continue to shift my eyes on the pavement while I walked, habitually being alert for booby traps and mines. Of course, that passed away. But years later, while hiking in the mountains, I would sit on a granite boulder, while looking across a beautiful valley, and think of bunker-watch, wishing in a strange way to be back in Viet Nam again. It was a very picturesque country too, and life had been simpler there, though dangerous.

Well, as you remember, we all got pretty close to each other living this way for a year, and after we made our bird and took off for the world, we arrived at night at El Toro Marine Corps Base. As we stepped off the plane, we were greeted by a little band of applauding senior citizens offering cookies and punch. In the building we entered, there was one of two lines to get into. For those who were 03's, with less than a year of active service to do, they could get in one line and get out early. That is the line I headed for after 18 months of active service. Wow, a veteran at 19! The other line was for those who didn't want to get out early or couldn't. Of course, you had to head for that one, having enlisted for four years, and take that indelible bulldog on your arm with you. Anyway, we all separated.

You probably found out, too, when you got home, that the war was very unpopular. I still had a pretty good tan and short hair that winter from the Nam and one of my high school acquaintances saw me at the mall. He had long hair and mentioned the tan, and asked if I was in the service. I said I had just come back from Viet Nam, and he did an about-face and walked off.

No one wanted to hear about the war. However, most of my other friends, who were a part of the hippie lifestyle to one degree or another, still accepted me. There was a lot of partying going on, but even with all the supposed new morality, freedom and fun, some of us guys would sit around and seriously wonder what life was all about. We talked about searching for “The Thing of Life,” and figured there was a reason for us being here on earth. However, none of us had a clue. We even hoped that a supernatural message would magically appear and tell us the answer. Later, one of those guys would kill himself and his friend while driving drunk, and another committed suicide. Unfortunately, they were all in their twenties and probably hadn't discovered the thing of life yet.

After a couple of years, I found some sort of abilities in the restaurant business and learned to cook, manage, and to do banquets and caterings. It seemed like I was working all the time, and I got married, had a son and daughter, and found my solace in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Still, I knew there was something important missing from my life.

During the latter 70's, the younger guys that I worked with were interested in my Viet Nam experiences. It seemed that I could recount everything day by day in detail as it was still very vivid in my mind.

Remember the time the V.C. opened up on us while we were carrying flame tanks? You had a small rise or dirt mound you fell behind, and I was probably 10 feet behind you. When I hit the deck, my rifle was pinned under me with 72 lbs. of flamethrower on my back, three bandoleers of magazines, C-Rations, several canteens, and a pack, including a camera, a photo album, letter writing gear, and a dictionary of all things. I felt very vulnerable struggling to extract the rifle out from under me and pictured being overrun and shot by the enemy as I lay there defenseless. What a way to go! And in addition to that, the bleeder valves on the tanks were open, and the napalm mixture was trickling onto my neck and shoulders. So, as things began to simmer down, you managed to get a cigarette lit, and knowing my situation with the bleeder valves, extended your hand and offered me a puff as a joke. I think it is as funny now as it was then. Perhaps a bit of levity set off some safety circuit breakers from time to time. How could I ever forget you, Bob? You were the closest friend I had in the Marine Corps. And talking about circuit breakers... Remember at Dai Loc's compound when you connected an electric bulb to the hot wire without the advantage of a circuit breaker? I was impressed.

When I was around 28, and still looking for the thing of life, someone talked me into running for the city council. I got all sorts of inflated ideas about myself, and how this was to be my destiny - politics. Well, as strange as it may seem, there were two seats to be filled, and I won one of them. Boy, did I think I was something special! However, I soon found out that it was not for me, and I suffered severe stage fright every time we meet. They must have thought I was really smart for being so quiet most of the time, but that impression was obliterated whenever I opened my mouth. (I have become very well acquainted with the taste of shoe leather and crow over the years.) But in spite of hating this little political position, I didn't quit because of pride, I guess. I still continued to work hard and do foolish things.

When I contacted you the first time, around January 1980, it had been ten years since we had talked to each other. I had found your name in a phone book at a public library in a big city, and probably told you I was a city councilman. I wanted you to think I was a success of some sort, but I was still missing the thing of life, and I was getting more desperate to know what it was. So, I figured I was going to quit work, and find out if there was something more to this existence than eating, and drinking, and working. It was going to take me another couple of years to find the answer, though.

Finally, my wife at the time started to get anxious about things and was making future plans without me. She wanted a divorce, and I was devastated because divorce had never entered into my mind. She and the children were my family. Not my childhood family, you understand, but my family. How could one lose his family? The thought of it made me sick, and I became extremely depressed.

So at 31, I was without my family, without a home, without anything really - just a lot of insurmountable problems I couldn't deal with, and living with my folks. That year was the worst in my life. When it was morning, I wished it was night, so I could go to bed and try to sleep. And when it was night, I wished it was morning so I could get out of bed because I couldn't sleep. I wished I had never been born, and saw no real future: just a painful existence until, someday, I would die alone after my parents passed on.

Well, I attended church again with my folks because that is what I did when I was a kid. I couldn't doodle with the pew pencils because I was 32 at this time. Anyway, a friend of the family, Fred, would take me out every now and then for a bite to eat, or just coffee. He talked over my head about spiritual things, but more intensely than anyone I had known. Well, wait a minute. There was this girl I knew before Fred that got very excited, too. Maybe I should tell you about her first...

It was while I was still managing the restaurant, and this young woman came to apply for a job. I had seen her before working at the supermarket on occasion. She was pretty, with long natural blond hair, and a contrasting husky voice. Well, she didn't have that husky voice anymore, but she was pretty, so I hired her. Shortly, thereafter, I was talking with her at work, and she told me how Jesus Christ had changed her life around, and how she was a new person. Her eyes sparkled as she testified that she had lived a sordid life, and after some experience with Jesus, she had been changed all around for the better. (Her husky voice left her after she quit smoking dope and cigarettes, I think.) She was beaming while she spoke, and unashamedly told me what she was like before and after her transformation. She was the only person, up to that time, that ever told me about the “born again” experience. So, I was very impressed by her story, and she was like a little angel in my estimation. And even though I didn't believe in Jesus Christ, I found I respected her and what she had to say. She seemed to be for real. Anyway, back to Fred...

Fred took me out again for coffee one day. I had never smoked when I was with him before, but I didn't care if I smoked in his presence by this time. So, I puffed, puffed, puffed away while we drank coffee, and he didn't mind, because he was very excited about the Lord. Well, I hardly understood anything as usual - except for one thing. He told me that God loved me and to read my Bible. So, in desperation, I took his advice and started to read the New Testament over and over.

Previously I had been afraid to read the Bible because so many calamities had come into my life, and I was afraid of God. If there was a God, why did he let all these bad things happen to me? My wife divorced me, my son and daughter were adopted by some other man, and I had no future that I could see. (Of course, I was reaping what I had sown.) So, really, out of total desperation, I started to read the Bible, hoping that I could find what I had been searching for. Well, as I read, I started to wonder if the Jesus in the Bible was who the Bible says he is. It says he is the Son of God, and the Saviour of the world, the one who was crucified and died for our sins and that he arose from the grave after three days. I wondered if it was true. I wondered if he was really alive and sat upon the throne of God with his Father.

So, after a few weeks, I felt the need to make a decision to believe or not believe that Jesus is the Son of God. I thought about it a lot. If he was the Son of God, I figured I would follow him the rest of my life. Was he the thing of life I had been searching for since I was 15? How could I know for sure? This is how easy it was for me to find out:

I was sitting in the den of my folks' house - and not in a church building - just me and the word of God. I reasoned if it wasn't true about Jesus, then there was absolutely no hope for me. He had healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, opened the eyes of those who were blind, and raised the dead. Surely he could save me from this life, and all of its miseries, and uncertainties and pains. Surely he could turn my life around. After all, he did it for others in worse shape than me. So, I simply decided to believe that he was who the Bible said he was. And at that precise moment a weight was lifted off my shoulders, a weight I didn't know I had been toting around - the weight of sin. Also at that instant, in the spring of 1982, I knew beyond a doubt that Jesus is the Lord, Jesus is the Christ, and Jesus is the Son of God who sits upon the throne of the universe, where he rules and reigns in heaven and earth. My sins had been forgiven, and washed away by the shedding of his blood, and as far as the east is from the west, they had been separated from me. Also, they had been thrown into a sea of forgetfulness. Therefore, I was, and am still, very excited to know that truth after 24 years. I had been born again into God's family.

Needless to say, I kept intently reading the Bible. I didn't understand much at first, but every now and then I would find something that would grab my attention, and I'd gain some understanding. I can't say that all of my problems left me, but they became bearable, and I had counsel from God on how to handle life. I began talking to the Lord about everything, and asked him for his help and guidance, and I got it too. Shortly thereafter, I was lead to focus on the last chapter of Mark's Gospel where Jesus said:

“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils they shall speak with new tongues They shall take up serpents and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”

So, I wrote a note to the pastor of my folks' church and made arrangements to be baptized in water. But more importantly, I was baptized by Jesus Christ and his baptism with the Holy Ghost.

You know, Bob, I'd sit in that church after I was saved, and wonder why so many pew potatoes weren't excited about the Lord. To me, they didn't seem to have the real thing. Perhaps going to church, to many, was just something that good people did, or they wanted others to think they were good people. As a matter of fact, I had one high school friend tell me that my excitement about Christ would wear off in time, and I would be just like everyone else. How could that happen? Not only had he saved me and forgiven me of all of my sins, but he gave me peace in my heart that passes all understanding. Now I had a Father in heaven that would never leave me, or forsake me, or ever die. As a matter of fact, he lives right inside of me all the time, and he never sleeps, nor slumbers, but keeps a watchful eye over me. Also, he reveals what is the truth in this world, and what is to come. On the day that I was baptized, I told the Lord I was only going to work for him the rest of my life, though I didn't know what I was going to do.

What have I done since then? Well, I didn't do too much the first year, but I did read the Bible a lot. I also took some college courses to brush up on my education. Sometimes I would go downtown and hand out gospel tracks and tell people about the Lord, and I even preached in the park on occasion. I did lots of Bible studies, sang and held services in nursing homes, retirement communities, homes for the mentally and physically disabled, and made all sorts of friends. I wrote short and long messages and newsletters, distributed preaching tapes, and for a while, I had a radio program. In 1986, I walked from the beach, seven miles south of Camp Pendleton, to 70 miles southwest of Topeka, Kansas, passing out tracts and talking to people. You would have liked that, Bob. It was 1700 miles from January to June through every kind of climate, and terrain, and weather from areas below sea level, to over 11,000 ft. in the Rockies - walking the whole way. The pack wasn't as heavy as those flame tanks, and there weren't any booby traps or mines to watch out for, though my life was in jeopardy on occasion. These situations happened in severe weather conditions when two truckers tried to run me down, and by someone who pulled a knife on me. Well, if anyone had killed me, I would have just been medevaced to heaven. Sometimes I had to drink rainwater out of potholes in rock formations, and from cattle troughs that were filled by windmill pumps. However, it was better then drinking from rice paddies, even if we used purification tablets. Three times I was bitten by dogs, two of which were by Harry, the Australian shepherd, in Penrose, Colorado. (One time, shame on Harry. Two times, shame on me. Harry was a stealth biter.)

You might find it hard to picture this about me, but the most enjoyable thing I have done is to have home Bible studies. One group was for three years with mostly bright young guys, and we would meet three times a week sometimes. Interestingly, most of them were black or Mexican. Along with these things, I spent a total of seven years as a church janitor and was given opportunities to teach or preach the gospel in the church and on the outside. The last regular job I had was working in Hospice, helping to take care of people that were in their last days of life. It was very rewarding work, and some of my clients died, but the others simply made their bird and went home to heaven. All of what I have done in the Lord's work, I wouldn't trade for all the money in the world or anything else it has to offer. The Lord has been very good to me, and he provides the real riches that are more precious than the fleeting goods of this world.

As I told you, back when I got computer literate in 2001, I was trying to find a family member of the guy that got killed on Eager Pursuit. I only remembered his last name - Aston. Amazingly I found his mother in Wichita Falls, Texas. After that, I talked to his brother on the phone and eventually met up with his sister. Well, she and I liked each other because we had the Lord Jesus in common, and one thing led to another, and we got married. So, I have a bit of insight on being in a family that lost a son in Viet Nam, and you and Ray and I were there when it happened. I also mentioned that I had the privilege of helping to take care of Aston's mother in the last days of her life, in place of her oldest son that was killed.

There is not a day that I do not think of you and Ray for several years now. Both of you were always a part of fond memories, as well as Rubel, Val, Nick, Peter, Bucky, Billy, Al, Sarg, Noah, John, Chubby, and others. When I realized that I was going to get the pictures back, I was hoping, most of all, that there would be a picture of Aston there. He might be in one, but we can't be positive. But more than that, Bob, and more than getting the pictures, I wanted to have an opportunity to tell you the truth about the Lord Jesus Christ, if you hadn't really heard about him.

You see, Jesus didn't come to damn us because of our sins and send us to hell. As a matter of fact, he came to save us from,  and to forgive us of our sins. Sin is what separates us from God and his love toward us. All of us are sinners, and no one is worse than another, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. However, God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. He that has the Son has life: he that has not the Son of God has not life. Listen, Bob, God does not want you to be goddamned - but God does want you to be God blessed!

Jesus came to this earth to teach, and preach, and heal but even more importantly, he came to pay the price for my sin and yours. When they crucified him on the cross at Calvary, he, in his love for you, volunteered to pay the price for your sin, which is eternal death and separation from God. He wants you to be his son and enter into the plan he has for you in this life, also. (God's plan is always the best plan, you know.) He wants you to have the real hope of an eternity with him, along with all of his other sons and daughters. He wants you to know, beyond a doubt, that when you take your last breath on earth, that your next breath will be with him “and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” God has made arrangements already for you to be his - if you will believe.

I am very grateful that you, and Ray, and I did not die on March 19, 1969, like James Michael Aston did. It was God's plan for us to keep on living, and it was his plan that I should get saved from my sins. And now I know that it is by his design, that after all this time, I should share his plan for your life, and the others, too. Eternity is a long time, Bob, and you are an eternal soul that will continue to exist, even after your physical body ends its life in this temporal world. The Lord is now waiting for you to come to him and be his son. And what is more, he is waiting for you to lead your family to Christ as well. Bob, I believe that you love your wife and your family very much because I sensed that about your good character in Viet Nam.

I would like to leave you with a little more truth that I have learned from the Lord Jesus through his word. He is the only one that you can trust in this life or in the eternity to come. There are no big shots in the church today, because if there were, they would have their books in the Bible. You see, while the Lord was here on earth, he set up his church with special men called, “apostles.” There were only twelve of them, and only certain men were used to pen the inspired scripture. Today, there are many men and women out there in the world who think they are special messengers of God or the world thinks they are special messengers of God, but they are not. In the scripture, Jesus says about himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” In the true church, only Jesus Christ is preeminent: no one else is worthy to be praised. The Kingdom of heaven is at hand, and all you have to do is grab a hold of it. This is the good news called, “the gospel.”

So, Bob, that is what life is all about, and the only thing worth knowing - the only true God and his Son, Jesus Christ. The Bible is God's love letter to you. Read it.



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