Getting to the Bottom of the Bottle of Drambuie, Part II

     The young man was persistent, though, returning to Rod after turning 18 in Vietnam. “I had been doing it four, five, six months probably,” Rod said, shrugging his shoulders and pausing. “I guess the kid finally wore me down.” Rod’s whole body shifted in his seat as he sniffled to himself. “He had his 18th birthday two weeks before I took him out with me on that patrol,” he said, his tone shaky. “He died that night and I never got over it.” He paused before he spoke again. “They had to send the calve out,” Rod remembered, silently enduring the memory. “They had a reaction force that had to come out when you got in trouble—APCs that came out.” Armored calvary assault vehicles, also known as APCs or ACAVs, came to help Rod and his fellow ambush patrol men. “So, the ready reaction force came out,” he said, “and we got things finished and came back in. I think I was a mess after.”

     After returning to camp, Rod’s commanding officer told Rod that the commanding officer would go ahead to the morgue himself and confirm the fallen soldier’s ID. “I said no, he’s my guy,” Rod said. “Rodger Eckstein, 18 years old— two weeks. Then I went back to the company and the sergeants grabbed me and took me to a tent because they had been around the block a few times, I guess.” The tent revealed a bar cart. His sergeant poured him a drink: Drambuie.      

     Standing up from the interview, Rod walked over to his refrigerator. He retrieved a round, dark-colored glass bottle and set it down on his kitchen table.  “Every time I take a drink of Drambuie…,” he stated. “Whenever I’m out in the woods— I’m out in the woods a lot by myself nowadays—that stuff never goes away from you.” Looking at the bottle sitting before him, he said, “Not ever.”

     A Not So Happy Homecoming

Home on leave- Rod with his brother Craig and their father.

     Returning home, Rod faced caustic comments from many strangers. The Vietnam War was a heavily followed news story for many years and people formed their own opinions. He was not alone, though. Throughout the country, returning veterans were sometimes greeted with frigid welcomes. “Coming back to the United States,” he started. “Yeah, it was good to be back. But anyplace outside of a military base, it pretty much sucked. I didn’t want to come back to the United States. I put my papers in for another tour.” His battalion commander rejected his request and told him he needed to get out of the jungle for a bit. 

     Realizing his hope to remain overseas would not materialize, Rod looked for glimmers of hope. “The only bright spot was seeing my folks and seeing Theresa,” he said. “Anything else, I could care less about.” Rod and his late wife, Theresa, met when the two were teenagers in Maine. The two wrote letters while Rod was overseas. When home on leave, Rod made an effort to visit her. After returning home, the two were married. “I had a long period of adjustment you might say,” he said. “What was it like? Well, took Theresa for me to overcome a lot of stuff. Without her, I probably wouldn’t be here now.”

Rod and Theresa on their wedding day.

     Rod took a long moment to think and then finally leaned forward in his chair. With his elbows resting on the table and fingers interlaced, a very serious look came over him. “There’s nothing good about war in any shape or form,” Rod stated. “If you’re not prepared to see things through, you shouldn’t start one.” His beliefs are firm. “If you’re going to get involved in the war,” he said, “you go in there full bore. You go in there, you kick ass and take names. If you’re going to have a war, go to war. There is nothing nice about it.”