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by Don Child
Editor's note: This story first appeared in the Noetic Café, and was subsequently printed in IONS Review #56.
Pardon me for a war story. I was a conscientious objector who had to serve as a medic in Vietnam. The fact that I would not carry any firearms did not stop the army from assigning me to an infantry unit. Our company was directed to intercept a retreating band of NVA soldiers along the Laotian border, based on an overheard radio message. The message turned out to be planted, and an ambush awaited the first eight people who disembarked from helicopters. One of the eight was wounded. As the company medic, I was told to go in, patch up the wounded, then evacuate the hilltop so the jets could take over. It sounded to me like a suicide mission.
I boarded a helicopter carrying nothing but an aid bag. The radio man offered me his M-16, but I turned him down. I’d come this far, I would rather be killed than risk the chance of killing someone else. I started praying as soon as the helicopter lifted off the ground. Before we had gone 200 meters, the company commander called the helicopter back and decided he would send the entire company in. He joined me on that first chopper.
The prayer that I recited was a one-line Baha’i prayer in Persian. It had been given to me by a friend, who told me to say the prayer in times of extreme distress. It went something like “Ya Allah’al Mustagath.” I repeated this over and over during the five-minute ride to the ridgetop. As we neared the embattled landing zone, I could smell attar of roses, and I was soon in the midst of a full-blown mystical experience. In the midst of gunfire, I was in Paradise!
I had to jump from the chopper when it was still ten feet off the ground because we came under fire from an NVA machine-gun emplacement. Still, the smell of a rose garden hung in the air. For two hours, I was moving around the hilltop taking care of wounded. I felt totally invulnerable, and in fact had a grenade slap me in the back of the leg without injuring me.
At the end of the day, we had sixteen wounded. One person died—the radio man who had offered me his M-16. I have since decided it must have been God’s mercy to take him away from suffering for his willingness to sacrifice his safety for mine.
The attar of roses remains as a reminder of the closeness of the mystical world. Part a veil at any moment of your life and there is absolute unity. There is Paradise.
I’ve often thought, perhaps somewhat whimsically, that I actually died up there on Hill 1169, and have since lived on another plane, in the rose garden. At any rate, since that transforming moment I have found it much easier to walk a spiritual path, and have even learned not to resent the two years of involuntary servitude known as the military draft. And for myself, I found the answer to that question asked of all conscientious objectors: “If you had a chance to pick up a gun to save your own life, would you pick it up?” The answer is no. I would rather wage peace.
Don Child is a Honolulu-based technical writer, poet, and IONS member. He is currently writing is dissertation for a PhD in Natural Health from Clayton College.
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