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The Other Casualty of War - Chapter One


 Paul Bylin

I had awakened into in a nightmare when I arrived in Vietnam. I was in a place where there was no respect, no decency, only chaos and confusion. This is not where I wanted to be and I don’t believe the South Vietnamese wanted us there either. It was a constant fear that overcame me.

Later, that fear turned to something else. I’m not sure what it was, maybe hatred, or maybe survival mode kicked in. No matter what it was, it was something that brought me from my boyish thoughts of girls and cars to a man, killing and surviving. This is not how I had pictured my life to be.

I was born in South Boston, Massachusetts, but grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood in Lynn, Massachusetts. I was raised and went to school in a multi cultural neighborhood, which consisted of mainly poor people. It was a good neighborhood because there was always something going on and most everyone was friendly to each other. The homes consisted of mainly run down three-deckers.

Every Sunday singing could be heard from a home that was used as a Southern Baptist Church. My stepfather used to call the parishioners from this church the “holy rollers.” I never knew my real father. The only thing I know about him is that he was an alcoholic who is said to have beat my mom and us kids. I never knew what he looked like, as I was too young when they divorced. While visiting my sister one day, she showed me a clipping from a local Boston newspaper; it was an obituary with my real father’s name on it.

I felt like I should visit his second wife to see if I could get a picture of him and possibly learn a little about him, but I never knew how to approach her. Do I knock on her door and say, “Hi Mom,” when she answers? So I just let it be. Although, I still wonder what he was like. I only heard what my mother told me about him. Not that I don’t believe my mother, but it is only one side of a story that I would like to know more about.

As far back as I can remember my stepfather raised me. He was a first generation Greek immigrant. At 220lbs, he was a kind person whose mere concern was to make money for his family. He had a strong love for cars and worked as a mechanic for a trucking company which was owned by his cousin. His parents were from the outskirts of Athens, Greece. I always called him dad, because he was a father figure to me. We would always celebrate two Easters, one of which is the Greek Easter. He was not very educated, but made up for it with his kindness and his hard work at a trucking company, which was owned by his cousin. I remember how he would go to the fruit and vegetable stands in the countryside. At that time, you could drive your car into the fields and pick your own corn. He would pick a bushel of corn and put it in the back seat. He would also pick another bushel of corn and hide it in the trunk. When we’d come home, he would pass out all the corn he had hidden in the trunk to the neighbors.

The Greek Easter was a monumental affair with my step dad’s family. His dad would roast a leg of lamb over an open pit, very slowly. Occasionally, he would sip a little seven star Metaxa while he was cooking in the cool outside air. Inside the house, rice pilaf, breads, Greek cookies and pastries would all be adding to the wonderful odors that have stayed etched in my mind for all these years. Even today, my wife and I continue to celebrate the Greek Easter, which has become a tradition in our family.

Chapter 2

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