16 December 1965, My Night in Hell
by Lenora Good
The night of 16 December 1965 was like any other December night at Ft. McClellan Alabama, except this night the WAC Army Band would perform a Christmas medley, and I attended. That night changed my life forever, so allow me to give you a bit of backstory.
I enlisted in the Women's Army Corps in September of that year and suffered through Basic Training. Lt. Graham (I wish I knew her first name, all we knew as her rank) gave us a few moments of normalcy when she taught us Military Customs and Courtesies. She started every class by reading us the Snoopy comics we had missed since her last class (we were not allowed newspapers) and if her affianced, a Captain in Vietnam, had written anything of possible interest to us, she read us selected portions of his letters. Lt. Graham had a great sense of humor and compassion.
On the night of 16 December, I was out of Basic, but still in Advanced Individual Training. Several of us decided to go to the performance. Being a military band, on a military base, the first number was a rousing rendition of The Star Spangled Banner. We all stood at attention and became quiet as the band played. I remember the band getting to "...and the rocket's red glare..." and I no longer heard the band.
I stood, and watched a scene of unspeakable horror. I no longer saw the band on the stage. I no longer saw the stage. I watched a group of US Army soldiers on a mountain top in Vietnam. They were illuminated by flares and overrun by a much larger group of Viet Cong, and were all the Americans were killed. One, a Captain, I somehow knew was Lt. Graham's captain. I could smell the jungle and the blood, I could taste the dirt and the country, I was there.
The Star Spangled Banner finished, and as suddenly as I had been transported to Vietnam, I was returned to the auditorium. I have no idea what else they played, but when the music finished, and we were leaving, I saw Lt. Graham in the lobby. I went to speak to her, and from the look on her face I knew she had seen it, too. I hesitated, after all, lowly enlisted were not supposed to speak to Commissioned Officers. I don't know what I would have said, but before I could say anything, another Lieutenant came over all bubbly and enthusiastic about the program, grabbed Lt. Graham by the arm and said, "Let's go to the club and have a drink!"
I don't know if Lt. Graham went, or had that drink, or several drinks. But the next morning, they found her, outside her quarters, with her Army issued .45 next to her. She had committed suicide. If she left a note, I never knew.
It took years for me to be able to listen to the Star Spangled Banner and not shake; it took years before I could read Snoopy and not cry. I told this story to a group of Vets and one said that I was not the only one to have had this experience that night, that there were at least four others in the auditorium who were also transported there, but they didn't know why, and didn't put the suicide they heard about together with their mini trip to Vietnam.
I spent a few minutes in Hell. I spent a few minutes tasting, smelling, seeing, hearing, the carnage of war. It affected me deeply. I don't know how my brothers and sisters can spend months and even years going through it. Those of you who have been there or are there now, you have my most profound Thanks and my deepest understanding.
Write Now - Because it's Later Than you Think.