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It was in the canteen car of the late-night service that the Vietnam veteran finally told me his story. Either way, the vet decided it was time I learned a thing or two. What surprised me was how unsurprised I was by it all. Whatever his friends would go on to do in the war, the powers that were had something different in store for him. I excused myself to a foul-smelling toilet cubicle to get some of this down on a scrap of serviette, the pen skipping across the flimsy paper, occasionally piercing it as the train threatened to come off the rails at speed.
I returned without mentioning what I had been doing to be told the terrible story of the mercenaries. When they returned, the problem had been — how to put it? What does one do with a piece of information like this? They had no regard for the Geneva Conventions. An expendable, non-partisan force, owing allegiance only to its paymaster.
Does one sit on the information? Filter it into a fictionalised account with poetic license on hand as a ready defence against military denial or worse? Or does one offer it up, as I have tried to do here, as little more or less than what one was told, hearsay to fall or stand on its merits in the marketplace of ideas?
This is what I was told. Let others have at it. It was not until he left the country that the vet began to wonder about what he had been involved in here. He might never have questioned it, assuming that everyone in-country had worked in similarly dark shadows, had it not been for the unsettling nature of his debrief. This throws up other complications for someone like me. Have I identified my vet too much? Actually, now that I think about it. Do they care anymore about what the vet saw and did here?
He knew what I was doing. He rolled his eyes and ordered another beer. Hope you got down what you needed, son. Closing the vault now. One-time offer. See you back in the world. Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.