I graduated high school in 1967, and the Vietnam War was nearing its peak. Many of us guys, including one of my classmates, Bill, who graduated that year almost immediately found ourselves serving in the military. Bill had entered the Marine Corps, and became an icon to all of us who knew him by being the first to be killed in action.
Bill was a comical and likeable guy, and I considered him a friend, but not really a close friend, and by that I mean that we didn't live in the same neighborhood, we didn't run or hang together, or anything of that nature. We did, however, have a few classes together and would hang out at school. We knew little about each other's personal lives, and so I'm left to wonder why he, or perhaps I should say, my memories of him have haunted me throughout the years.
In 1969, two years after Bill and I had graduated high school, and while serving in the military myself, my late Mom notified me by letter that Bill had been killed in Vietnam. I heard later from other classmates that Bill was the "point" man on a routine patrol and was killed when he and the rest of his platoon were ambushed by the enemy.
I was saddened by the news of Bill's death, of course, thought of him often, and prayed that he was resting in peace. As time went on, I continued on with my life and Bill faded into a fond and sad memory that only came to light when someone or something reminded me of him.
Many years passed, then one night while I slept, I was suddenly jolted awake by a dream, or perhaps I should say a nightmare, of Bill. The really strange thing about the dream is that in it, I'm Bill. I'm seeing through his eyes. I'm walking point on a patrol. I'm scared, sweating from the heat, dirty, miserable, tired, thinking of home, and mentally praying that I would be lucky enough to survive the situation I was in and make it home in one piece. I'm an old man at the age of 19.
Although I was being as cautious as I had been trained to be, and with my weapon ready, I hunkered down as low as possible and slowly entered a bend in the trail through the jungle that I and the men behind me had taken. Without warning, and totally unexpected, a Viet Cong guerilla appeared out of nowhere with his weapon aimed at me. For a fleeting micro-second I had the urge, and this seems odd, to greet him with a wave and a smile, but before I could react at all, he fired his weapon. I heard the sound of the shots, and at the precise time the rounds slam into my chest, I wake from my sleep, terrified, confused, and wondering why that guy had shot me.
At first I considered the dream as weird, but still just a dream, but as time passed, I was awakened by the same dream a second time, then a third, then a fourth, up to, as best I recall, a total of 8 times. It's always the EXACT SAME DREAM, and even though I know what's going to happen, I'm always caught completely off guard. It's one of those dreams that is so realistic, my first conscious thought is "What the hell just happened?"
I began to wonder after the third dream. Is Bill trying to tell me something? Is he showing me exactly how he died? And why me, and not someone closer to him? Is there something he wants me to do? Is it my over-active imagination? Or is it just simply that I'm losing my mind?
Many years had passed, and I hadn't had what I refer to as "Bill's Dream" for quite a long time. I entered college, and through that school I landed a part-time job mowing grass around the grave markers and headstones at our local National Cemetery. I knew Bill had been buried at National, but I didn't know the exact location of his grave so I had mentally put finding his grave on my "to do" list.
One day I was mowing around the headstones on a hillside in the center of the cemetery where the flag flies at half-mast. To mentally entertain myself, I would read the stones and markers and occasionally ran across someone I knew or a relative. I was pulling my mower backward a few steps and wondering where Bill was buried, when I half-stumbled, half-tripped over the headstone that marked the grave behind me, and when I read THAT headstone, my heart skipped a beat from the shock. IT WAS BILL'S. Out of over 58, 000 gravestones and markers at National, I stumbled over Bill's at the precise moment I was thinking of him. I thought to myself, "What are the chances of that?" (Astronomical, I think, to this day.) I turned the mower off and took a short break to collect my thoughts and regain my composure. While standing there, I noticed the graves of a couple of other guys I knew from school and my old neighborhood.
Then, to put the icing on the cake, I had "Bill's Dream" that same night for the first time in ages.
Many years later, the wife and I went to Washington DC, and while there, we visited the Vietnam Memorial Wall. I took the crayon and paper provided as a courtesy, and got the names of all I knew, especially and including Bill's, from "The Wall". After we returned home, and even though I was unsure of any addresses, I mailed the names of those who were KIA to, I hope, their surviving family members.
It's been a long time since that last dream of Bill, and I'm unsure if there's any significance to these experiences, but I truly believe that Bill, in his own way and for unknown reasons, contacted me from the afterlife.
So to Bill I say, "Your life in this world was cut way too short, but during the brief time you were with us, you made our lives happier and more pleasant. Your name is now immortalized on a memorial in our nation's capital, and it is visited by thousands of people from around this world each year. You are still in the memories of those of us who knew you, and I'm sure I speak for us all when I say it was an honor to have known you. I hope to see you again, old friend, and until then, rest peacefully."