Nearing the end of three years on the Vernon County, I burned out. I went about my duties zombie-like, as though under anesthesia. When at sea headed back for the river, I spent nights sitting on the guardrail
staring for hours at the phosphorescent glow in the boat’s wake. I
went there to be alone and not think – make my mind a complete blank,
let my eyes glaze over and block out the world. I had long since stopped
communicating with most of my shipmates and hadn’t written a letter in
over a year. Even now, I hardly remember any details of those weeks and
months. A witness to life but no longer a participant, I stuffed my emotions
so far down inside me, I became a hollow shell, and things like good and bad,
hot and cold and light and dark no longer had any meaning for me.
- For much of the remainder of his life, Dave would find no joy or satisfaction
in anything, his only emotions fear and rage.
Three and a half years after I first stepped aboard the LST Vernon County,
we steamed into Yokosuka, and she was mothballed. I had good times and
bad on board, and I sometimes thought about the thousands of men who served
on her between WWII and Vietnam. The bad times I experienced had nothing
to do with the boat – it was the mission.
During the time the Vernon
County sailed the waters of Vietnam,
she was awarded a Combat Action Ribbon, a Presidential
Unit Citation, four Navy Unit Commendations, five Meritorious Unit Commendations,
the RVN Gallantry Cross with Palm, the RVN Civil Action Medal First Class with
Palm, the RVN Campaign Medal with 60's device and the Vietnam Service Medal
- Dave’s pride in the boat’s service record despite the
many onerous missions carried out on her decks is perhaps a subconscious
attempt on his part to reconcile what he witnessed and participated in with
his cognitive schema of absolute right and wrong.