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.
Man From Nowhere
The weather has finally broken around here as I see it has out in your part of the country. As a matter of fact, you've had nice weather out there for a long time now. Man, you must be rolling in money.
Can you believe it? I got my pension increase on 7 October 1982, and already on the 30th of this month I have to report to Syracuse VAH for compensation examination. Christ, I no more than get the increase and they want to examine me again. Usually it comes about every ten years or so. Director at the VA Clinic in Rochester says it's soon to say the least. Jesus, if the cut that compensation I may as well take the bridge.
You know Hal, money never meant as much to me as it does to most. As long as I had a reasonable amount of money and was as happy at what I was doing, and in good health, I'd be happy. What's the sense of being filthy rich and unhappy?
Hell, I never had any money. I wouldn't know what to do with it if I did. Always be some bastard around trying to milk me for all they could get. I'd have to go into seclusion. Put a big giggy-finger on the front door. Hah!
Just before I came home a bunch of the boys in my company were standing in the noon chowline. Someone up in the mortar platoon yelled, "Hey, look at the snake!"
Someone in the line yelled, "Hold it, I'll fuck it!"
Just about then the Protestant Chaplain popped around the corner of the mess tent. It was obvious he'd heard, for he stood there frowning and commenced to shake his head. "I don't know about you guys," he said. "Come Sunday you really should attend church services."
When he got into the mess tent and sat down at the officers' table, I caught his eye, smiled, and shook my head.
"What are you going to do, sir?" I asked. "Not much you can do. They're just kids and that's all they think about over here. Any place for that matter."
I didn't want to labor the point with him, but I've often wondered what the hell he thought any of us thought about. Booze and broads. It damn sure wasn't that we were making history. Or what a glorious thing we were doing for our country. At that time I didn't think there was anything worth a fat rats' ass but a womans' ass and a whisky glass. And you can bet your interest in hell 99% of the dogfaces over there lived for the day he could find a warm hole to go off in.
One day up on the Punchbowl we got the word from the CP to saddle up, we were going to run a patrol. Most of the guys are craped out and I went around waking them up. We were in among pine trees, and this one kid lay on his stomach on the soft pine needles dead to the world. I called him by his name, kicked his feet a time or two and told him to hit it, we were going on patrol in the "Bowl."
Well, Jesus, the kid jumped up in my face and started cussing me out so I thought he'd gone stark raving mad. I just stood there thunder struck until he finally ended up saying, "You bastard!" And snatching up his equipment, he stormed off.
I turn to Ogan and asked, "Now what the hell was that all
about?" says Phil looking puzzled.
The kid had always been a good joker not given to foul language or shooting off his mouth, but I intended to find out what was bugging him first chance I got.
Down in the Bowl we stopped while the lieutenant took a look with his glasses, and I figured this would be a good time to find out what the score was with the kid. We were sitting in a ditch with our backs to a bank, and when he saw me coming he looked rather sheepish. "Ah, I'm sorry Hoppy," he said.
"What the hell was that all about back there?" I asked.
He seemed rather embarrassed to tell me, especially with others within earshot, but he finally opened up. "Oh, there was a girl I was in school with, you know, she was really nice and I really had it in for her. You know, Hoppy? Well, I always wanted to get into her pants. And when you woke me up I was dreaming I was really plowing her. Oh God, it was so real I could actually smell the perfume she always wore. Hoppy, I'm sorry I cussed you out."
"Oh hell, that's alright. I don't blame you. If you had woke me up out of a dream like that I'd probably have creamed you," I said. "But look at it this way, I probably stopped you from having a wet dream."
"Oh dadgum," he said, "I wouldn't have minded that."
When I returned to where Ogan and I were sitting, I was shaking my head and smiling. When I told him what had happened, he rolled in the ditch.
"I always said I thought you were a no good SOB. Now I know it."
"Yeah, I know what you mean," I said. "I've heard of people who could fuck up a wet dream, never thought I'd be one myself."
The poor kid took a lot of ribbing for that dream. "Jesus, one guy said, "wish I'd have me on them dreams. But I might as well wish with one hand and shit in the other."
Here we are out in the middle of that death trap they called the Punchbowl squatting in a ditch giggling like a bunch of school girls.
It was good that things like this happened from time to time. It relieved the tensions. Got your mind off the hell you were in.
I remember the big kick we got out of seeing this Frenchman with his pet chipmunk. He carried it in his upper field jacket pocket. About the only time he got on the ground was to relieve himself, then back of the Frenchman's shoulder he'd go. Go from one shoulder to another. Whenever there was incoming mail or some sort of racket, down into the pocket he would go. When it was over he would pop his little head out to make sure everything was alright before climbing up on the shoulder again. This Frenchy fed him crackers and peanuts if he could get them. Advised us not to try to touch the little shit as he was strictly a one-man chipmunk.
Up on the Punchbowl we had a pet snake who used to hang out in one of our machine gun bunkers. He was harmless but I never liked the bastard, and if it had been up to me I'd have wasted him. I did my damndest to catch him out looking for a mouse. I'd have blew his ass away and make out it was an accident.He used to somehow or other get up in the back of the bunker where the roof logs met the ground. It was cool up there and he could watch the sound-powered telephone. Whenever it would ring that bastard tried to listen in on the conversation. Put his head down next to the ear piece. I always maintained the SOB was a spy, but no one would believe me.
Kim always said he would be No. 1 chop-chop. But then I saw Kim and the other Korean boy eye rats we caught in ammo box traps. I never saw him eat one. Think Kim knew I'd disown him if he ate one. And I would have, too.
I don't say much, Hal, about having children, my feelings I keep to myself. But if anyone with any brains could see me around children, especially babies, they'd never believe I didn't want any of my own. I love and get along with them beautifully. I'd love to have had children and it tears my guts out to have people accuse me of not liking or avoiding having children. It makes me feel that somehow I am different from other people. Like I'm a rock. A beast of some sort without human emotions or feelings.
I have over the years become calloused to violence. Why shouldn't I? I've seen enough of it. Not only in service but out. I've seen men get shot in the chops and spit teeth like popcorn. I've seen men beaten until you couldn't tell one part of the face from another. I traveled in the fast lane and frequented bars where men went at it tooth and nail, and nobody moved to stop them. Just leaned back against the bar and watched the fun. I have been beaten senseless and didn't think it was anything out of the ordinary. As the saying goes, "That's life."
When you have seen war, it robs you of something. You may not show it. Some do, some don't. If affects people in different ways. Some gained a respect for life, others a disrespect. It affected me in a way that I have more respect for animals than I do people.
There are days when I think live is worth living, and there are days when I believe that life is a lot of shit. I sometimes believe in an afterlife and sometimes I think it is all a lot of crap.
Hal, all the friends I have you could count on one hand and have fingers left over.
Just before my rotation date came up they were starting to form a Raider Platoon, and I had a chance to get in it. I'd probably done it if they'd have offered me the chance sooner. But by the time they offered me the chance, I'd had a belly full of swapping lead. They were picking only the best, and it made me feel nine feet tall that they thought I was that good. And it thrilled me to wonder what it would be like fighting alongside only the best in the battalion.
If I'd had my choice, Hal, I'd rather been a rifleman where I could get in eyeball to eyeball in a platoon like that.
If I had taken them up on the offer, I probably wouldn't be here today. So? Everybody dies. You know why I cry? The way my life has turned out, I'd been better off if I had gone west.
You know, Hall, time and again officers with whom I served said I was a damn good soldier. Soldiering to me was as natural as breathing is to most, but on the outside I was a miserable failure. Good NCO's rarely made it on the outside. It's true, you know it? I don't know why but it is. Most NCO's who were making a career of it came from broken homes, poor backgrounds. Hell, they found the only real home they ever had in a lot of cases. A lot grew up in foster homes and orphanages, and what not, and were used to rules and regulations. To be ordered around and treated like shit was nothing new to them. They'd always been treated like dirtballs, just like me.
The people who couldn't cut military rules and regulations were those who had been coddled. Mama's boys. Never had their ass whipped in their life. Mama and daddy always gave them to understand they were something special. They had a grandmother and grandfather who loved hem dearly. Piss, I don't know for sure if I even had any grandparents. A crow may have shit me flying for all I know. My father always kept his past secret like he'd rode with Jesse James and the Youngers or something. Christ, you couldn't ask him shit. Would you believe it? Not even my mother asked him of his past. She knew better. He'd get pissed if she did.
Mother was a lot like that. Her family past was her business and couldn't see why it should be of any interest to us kids.
Hell, everybody wants to know about where their grandparents came from, but for all I know about that you could write in one sentence. I may have come from Mars for all I know.
So you see I made a first class soldier. I was the man from nowhere. I had no past worth talking about and didn't know enough to pour piss out of a boot, and would fight a circular saw.
Well, Hal, keep you fingers crossed I luck out and they don't cut me at the hospital. I need all the help I can get. Say hello to Nancy and take care of yourself.
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