We were told that we’d be meeting up with the oldest and the most experienced team of the company to back them up in an attempt to take down a rather large heroine production operation out in the high lands, near the border.

We, I was, more curious about meeting up with these guys more so than being anxious about the job we were given. As I understood it, some of these operators were doing this since the mid 70’s, right about the time America left Vietnam. In essence, these guys were in the business long before the company went into business over there.

Weather beaten would be a decent phrase to describe their appearance. Or, just beaten. Their skin looked just like leather. Tough and tanned and wrinkled.

To be completely honest, it was the look in their eyes that scared me. It wasn’t that they’d kill me and eat me for a snack kind of scared, but it was something in their eyes that I found familiar that scared me.

We all heard stories about how once a soldier accepts his fate, as in “he’s dead already” fate, the soldier becomes a far more fierce and effective fighting force. There is a look about these fighters, fighters who’ve already considered themselves dead. But that wasn’t all they had.  There was something else there too. It took me a while to figure that out.

It took us a few days to prep for the job. We all had to know what we were doing, and what the other guys were doing, too. During the down time, we’d all get together and eat, or light up a cigarette or just relax. And we’d be cordial and strike up a conversation with these old timers, out of respect.

Our reception was, however, tepid at best.

They weren’t unfriendly, nor were they friendly. It seemed as if they wanted us to not approach them, to not befriend them.

Then it hit me. That look that I wasn’t sure of, but was somewhat familiar with. It was sadness. It’s hard even for me to decipher how one person can have the look of a killer, a witness of unimaginable atrocities, a survivor of decades of combat and maintain the pride of an honest man, but to be in a group of men who all had that same look in their eyes.

I’ve seen things one shouldn’t see. I can’t imagine the things these men have seen, and the number of times they’ve seen those things. They all carried the burden of someone who had been to hell and decided to stay and fight there instead of bringing the fight to where all the innocent live. It was as if they didn’t want to bring the war home with them.  But they knew it was too late. Anyone could see that. They became the war; and it had consumed them a long time ago.

The Look of Experience, the Look of Burden