The Blue Bomb and the Fire Bombs

The ’40 Ford convertible

Ron and Mr. Cool in the Blue Bomb

Was a bomb,“The BLUE bomb,”

We called it.

Meant for cruising

With the guys,

Ron at the helm,

Mr. Cool beside.

She purred like a kitten

Except when she’d

Claw and hiss with

Cranky old age.

“Get out and push!

She’ll start if we roll her

Down the hill

And pop the clutch!”

The Blue Bomb was

before the Fire Bombs

That would soon drop…

On Vietnam.

Ron and I were best friends from the time we played for the “Big A’s” in Little League. Ron was a pitcher; I was his catcher. In high school Ron dreamed of being an astronaut. As an Air Force pilot he flew 200 bombing missions over North Vietnam while Mr. Cool was in the streets back home protesting the napalm fire bombs killing peasants and destroying peasant villages in Vietnam.

Back in the States, returning Vietnam veterans began to enroll at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater where I served as a campus minister. At the anti-war rallies the veterans were seen as serial killers, the enemy. They were persona non grata, the new lepers, shunned and hated. “Leper, go home!”

The phone rang at 2:00 a.m. It was the bartender from the campus pub just up the street. “I have a guy here who’s hysterical. He can’t stop crying. He says he hasn’t slept in three weeks. I’m afraid he’s having a breakdown. I have to close the bar; I don’t know what to do. Can I bring him by the house?”

The inconsolable man at the bar was a Vietnam War veteran who’d been part of the My Lai Massacre. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was sitting in our living room. “No, it is impossible. It is impossible to convey the life-situation of any given epoch of one’s existence – that which makes its truth, its meaning – it’s subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream…alone….”  The sleepless vet was dreaming of what he had lived – alone and horrified – suffering flashbacks to the mother and the two children he had shot, lying in the trench. He cried. He talked. There was no meaning to it – no redemption, no going back, no undoing what he had done. No way back to clean hands. “Out, out, damn spot!”

One result of that night was an organizing effort of the anti-war campus ministers and the 300 vets of “The Vets House” (the campus leper colony). The vets went out to tell their varied stories to people in area churches, VARIED stories told by drafted veterans who were as conflicted among themselves about the war as the American public itself.

The vets taught me to remember something I’m embarrassed to say I had forgotten: that no one has clean hands, and that the job in life is not to have clean hands. It’s to get help with washing them, to seek forgiveness, when truth and meaning have been slaughtered. The great human gift – a divine gift – is not to be righteous; it’s to be loving.  I had confused the call of the gospel with being on the right side of almost everything.

Ron and Mr. Cool used to cruise the world in Ron’s “Blue Bomb” – the pitcher and the catcher who had each other’s backs through high school and college. It took years of awkward silence before our different understandings of love of country yielded to the old unbreakable bonds of friendship. The two kids in the Blue Bomb remind me of a deeper kinship that no hell – no heart of darkness – can break.