Return To Heartbreak RidgeReturn To Heartbreak Ridge is the story of a sons' search for his fathers' past, and a series of letters received from Korean War Veteran SFC Seymour "Hoppy" Harris, a gunner with Company H, 23d Infantry Regiment, 1951. It is a complex story.
Warning: Strong language, pejorative terms, and honesty.
Christ, what a winter! It was minus 5 this morning and no relief in sight. But then when we look west, we don't feel so bad. Minus 25? You kidding me?
And we saw the shape your wild life is in out there around Boulder. Terrible thing. I love animals and hate to see them hurting or anyone being mean to them.
Looking over your letters I've kept, I see I have been in touch with you since December 5, 1982. God, seems longer than that. Seems I've been writing to you forever. Huh, time goes either too fast or too slow.
I'll tell you a little about life, or whatever they call it, after Korea.
I had an awful time adjusting to garrison duty and being given a hard time by officers who had never seen combat. It seemed that civilians thought if you were in Korea you were just automatically crazier than a bedbug. That you had some sort of weird disease.
All this crap you had to take because you were in uniform. Didn't do any good to put on civilian rags. Fort Riley, Kansas, had been there so long they could tell a soldier as far away as they could see him.
My first wife worked as a telephone operator with a civilian who was about the only civilian who was half decent. But she had a teenage son who told his mother I made him nervous. That my eyes looked like I was dead.
Well Christ, what the hell did the little punk think? I'd just come out of Korea and still had the thousand yard stare. My face was inclined to flinch like Humphrey Bogart, and I was still acting like I was walking in my sleep. I was still nervous as a whore in church between trying to cut the mustard in garrison and trying to get Korea out of my system.
When we first got married we were in a grocery store in Junction City and I asked a punk stocking shelves what aisle something was in, and he just hunched his shoulders and mumbled, "I wouldn't know."
I walked up to him, looked at him, and said with a whisper, "Listen, pissabed, I just asked you a question and I want an answer."
Damn kid acted like he was about to vomit on the floor. He said, "Yes! Sir! I'll show you where it is."
Later the wife was acting strangely and I asked her what was the matter. She walked up into my arms and said, "My God, honey, don't ever act that way again, the way you talked to that kid, the way you acted made my blood run cold!"
I told her then and there that I would need all the help she could give me to help me adjust.
Sometimes I recall laying face up on the bed feeling low, something bugging me, and I'd start to cry. She would try to comfort me and I'd ask her just to lie beside me so I could feel her presence. Know I had someone in my arms who cared. Someone who tried to understand what I was going through.
Fact of the matter I was going through something worse than anything I'd seen in Korea, and for awhile it seemed like I was fighting a loosing battle. But between the wife helping me sort things out, giving me the love and affection I craved, and a sergeant first class named Thomas, I don't think I would have made it.
Sergeant Thomas had swapped lead in the Pacific and got shot to hell in the early days of Korea at Taejon. Had 20 some odd years in service, was married with a couple of kids.
Hal, that little guy was like a rock. He talked to me like a father and I'd listen to him. He had a way of putting things and a way of looking at you that made you feel you were in the presence of someone very special. He lived there on the post and we got to know his wife and kids well.
She was a lot like him, an old army wife who seemed to have a knack for spotting and talking to someone who had a problem. She told the wife that she was going to have to be real patient with me, try to keep my thoughts of pleasant things, praise me when praise was due, and little by little convince me that I wasn't the only one to come home and find things not to his liking.
Well, over the years I guess I've learned to cope, but I believe there will always be that little knot of hate within me. Some days I go down in the valley. I am just screaming for someone to take me by the hand and pull me back up. It seems as if I am trying to climb a hill and keep slipping and falling back. I want to cry out for somebody to help me by my pride won't let me. I have to fight this battle alone, I always have and always will. And the day they lower me into the grave, I will still be fighting in Korea.
I have thought many times maybe it would have been better if I'd been killed over there, and then I would never have had to live this lonely and godforsaken life I live now with nothing but memories. Memories of things I did and shouldn't have.
Yes, Hal, I live in the past because there is no future. It's like looking down a dark tunnel with no light at the end. And it's cold and it's dark and it reminds me of death and I am afraid, afraid of the unknown.
Hell, I could handle combat because I was up against flesh and blood. But I cannot fight the unknown. Something I can't see. I can only feel. I can feel it whatever it is but I cannot fight it, I don't know how. You can't fight something if you don't under-stand what you're fighting.
One thing I know would help is if I could get in the woods ninety-eleven miles from nowhere, away from everything and everybody, and just be myself for awhile. Just find a spot and sit and listen to the birds, the breeze whispering through the leaves, and maybe the sound of a running stream. Hear and listen and hink and sort things out. It may sound corny, but in the past when I have done this I have felt like I was in harmony with nature. I was one with nature and I hated to go back to the rat race. The hustle and bustle of civilization with all its pushing and shoving and rushing about like a colony of termites.
When you are alone like that Hal, you are the real you. But you can stay in solitude just so long and then the solitude starts to close in on you and you put on your mask and once again the curtain comes down and once again you put on your little act. You become what others want you to be. You say yes when you mean no, and no when you mean yes. The wall goes up between you and your fellow man. And you start being somebody you don't want to be. You start being miserable again. And at least for me, I am a walking dead man.
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