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King of the Fleas: Rosco Martin
Iíll miss the dogs on M street. When Iíd play my tunes, they never barked. Some would come up to nuzzle me, some would jump up and wanted to be petted or kissed or fed. Dogs have no sense of who they are, whom they belong to. You treat them right, feed them, pet them take care of them, theyíll be your best friend. You treat them badly, theyíll still serve you for the few scraps of kindness you might have in your heart.
Men are the same way. We prisoners of war, we were just like dogs to the North Vietnamese. You know, they eat dogs; rats, too. There were days I would have sold my soul for a nice, fat, juicy rat.
You are what you eat, they say. Hell, no wonder Iím a mess, eating the scraps of whatever they fed us, when they fed us. Feeding on those scraps and the little bits of pride they gave me. Yeah, King of the Fleas. I sold my soul, Mr. Lieutenant Commander Harmon Rabb, Jr.
I sold my soul for a few scraps of humanity, just to make myself feel a little bit better about myself. When youíre living in Hell, youíll damn yourself even more just to delude yourself into thinking youíre not worse than all the others around you.
Thatís what they fed me, just the scraps I needed to make me believe they were dealing straight with me. Respect, yeah. They respected me, a deserter, a liar, a thief. I knew what I was and they fed me what I needed to live, to believe that I had fooled them all.
I fed you what you needed, too, Rabb, or what you thought you wanted. And you ate it right up. I waited thirty years to tell my story, thirty years of living a lie, and paying for it. But you wanted it to be all about you, you and your father.
So I pushed you, but no harder than you pushed me. You didnít want to be bothered by this dog so you pushed me off on Lieutenant Roberts. Then you pushed me away again just to find out about your father.
The story was real easy to make up. After all, hero though he was, or is to you, I know what those camps did. I lived them. Heck, getting sliced in the leg and using a fishing hook to sew himself up and telling shaggy dog stories. Thatís endurance? Try living with that hook, or then it would have been a bullet or a commando knife, twisting in your gut, maggots eating at the festering wound for hours, days, even weeks if you were strong.
Strength was not something to be desired when you wanted nothing more than for the pain to stop, when you knew youíd never see your family again, when your future was an unmarked three-foot deep grave in a swamp. Then strength was the enemy, as your life, your dreams, your character, your soul all bled out of you and youíd do anything, anything for the scraps, anything to believe that you were somehow better than you were.
But Iím not bitter, Lieutenant Commander, not about your self-righteous, single-minded pursuit of your father, or your treatment of me. Hell, I got over being bitter about things Ďlong around the time I saw them kill every one, every one of those men. But they wouldnít kill me.
Yes, those prisoners werenít dogs, they were men and I was supposed to take care of them, help them. Me, a liar, thief, a deserter, I was the one who was to make sure we all got out alive.
Lee Trang fed me what I needed, trained me to be his dog without me even knowing it, trained to believe them when they fed me lies, to betray everyone who trusted me.
I thought theyíd let us live. Oh G-d, I thought heíd let us stay alive and get home. They fed me that, made me believe them by making believe they believed in me, a yellow bellied coward who ran.
Is that the story you want to hear, Lieutenant Spit and Polish? You want to hear what could have happened to your father, what pain and suffering, starvation and thirst, torture and beatings can do to a man, any man?
No, Lieutenant Commander Harmon Rabb, Jr., I never met your father. If he was anything like what you think, well, Iím glad I didnít know him in Dang Ha. If he was anything like you, he would not have survived long enough to be sent to Russia. He was too strong to live.
Tough -- he was tough and had fortitude and stayed his course? Donít you get it, Lieutenant Commander Navy, thatís exactly what would have gotten him killed. Thatís exactly why he would have begged us to kill him, or begged them to, or tried to escape, for the freedom of death.
It took a dog to survive. Well, not even a dog -- a flea, something that lives off of others. Something that lives off the lives of others; that feeds off the blood of dogs. It takes a flea, and I was the king of the fleas
G-d, Iíll miss the dogs on M Street.
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