Les Could Have Been More

From “World Without Love ~ A Collection of Short Stories that Together Tell a Story” (page 75):


Les Could Have Been More

(1967, 1968)


I guess I never really knew Les Godfree.  There was a gulf between us.  (He was a few years older than I was; when you’re young, that makes a difference.)  But I liked Les and looked up to him. 

One day, my dad warned me that Les was “… troubled.”  So I sort-of-understood maybe why I felt such a connection with him.  But I wasn’t the reason Les felt connected with our family; that was because of my father. 

Like my father, Les was a gifted natural athlete.  Like my father, Les played football, basketball, and baseball and was always on the winning team.  Les was famous in our town.  The same way my dad had been famous in his.

It wasn’t unusual for the athletes my dad coached to hang around our house after school and on the weekends; it happened all the time.  But Les was special.  He hung around far more than any of the others.  So much so, in fact, that we got used to Les being at the dinner table. 

I always liked it when he stayed. 

But the first time Les came back from Vietnam, he was different. 

And it wasn’t just his haircut.  There wasn’t as much life behind his eyes as there’d been before.  He was patient with me – kind even – and he listened to the stories I couldn’t wait to tell him.  But there was more distance between us than before.  I could fell it.  It was unmistakable.

I asked him if he’d killed anybody over there.

“Just Charlie,” Les shook his head.

I asked what it was like to kill someone.

Les told me his job in Vietnam was to ride on the landing skids of helicopters and protect the craft and crew from enemy fire.  Les told me he was good at his job.

The second time Les came back from Vietnam, I could tell he only came by our house out of a sense of obligation, and little else.  He wore his uniform and remained rigid the entire duration of his short visit.  He seemed to want to speak only to my father, and even then, only in short, blunt sentences.  

I tried to ask him questions about Vietnam, but he didn’t hear me.  He didn’t stay long.

I followed him to the door.  I asked him if he was going to play football at the University of Oregon when he got out of the Army.

He told me he’d volunteered for “… another tour of ’Nam.”

Just before he got away, I followed him out to the driveway and managed to ask if he was still riding on the runner-parts of the helicopters and shooting at Charlie.

“Yeah, it’s what I do.  I’m good at it.” 

He turned and walked down the driveway and none of us ever saw him again.



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4 Replies to “Les Could Have Been More”

  1. Even though the story was short it hit home. My brother Jack was in Nam and his entire platoon was attacked by the Vietnam Cong many were killed. The remaining four had to play dead for a day in order to survive.

    I totally understand why Les barely spoke when he returned from Vietnam. The experience of killing Charlie and being constantly targeted to die at any moment changes who you are as a person.

    My brother rarely speaks about that experience but it has affected his entire life. He has always been very quiet and in spite of his memories has been extremely successful in life. I wish happiness and peace of mind to all our men that served in Vietnam.

    1. My heart goes out to your brother. What a tragic story. I am happy to hear that your brother not only survived, but went to become successful. I am not happy that he had that experience or that he’s had to carry it around his whole life. None of us can ever know what that’s like. We can only know that it must be difficult in ways most of us, thankfully, never will know.

      Like you Renee, I wish Happiness and peace of mind to all… ❤️

  2. Yes Doc, my first meeting with the man who was to become my husband was a night I won’t easily forget. Although he laughed that night, there was a sadness in his eyes. He was in the 101st Airborne in 68 and 69, during the Tet offensive, one of the worst times in Nam. I found a single playing card with the 101st insignia on one side and a 7 of hearts on the other. I asked him what the 7 of hearts meant. He said it was the number of men he killed in hand to hand combat.

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