I'm still skirting around this old army shit. Started a book - Borderline Insanity - written by a guy that was in my same Infantry Camp - 1SAI (aka 1 Canon Fodder Battalion). He got there a year after me but went through all the same shit. Even had the same Regimental Sergeant Major as me.
There've been a whole slew of "bush war memoirs" in the past year in SA. But its probably only us dudes that were that are reading them :(
Anyway, I also did a lot of digging around on the web and have managed to put some of the jigsaw puzzle together regarding my war experience. At the time I had zero rank - I was a "Rifleman" which is about as low as you can go, so we weren't privy to what was actually going on at higher levels.
I have subsequently found out that the intake I went in on was always destined for one of the biggest operations in the War. Well, when I say biggest, not in numbers, or in successes but in number of South African soldiers killed. I volunteered to go up about 4 months prior to that with a few mates (just to get the fck out of that prison ground) and our little excursion, in retrospect, was really a preparatory operation. We were in small groups, driving combat vets from 6.1 Mech. There were also some recces & 3.2 Battalion.
When we arrived at our base in Angola - Xangongo - we (the small engineering corps that came with) were tasked with repairing the bridge there that crossed the Cunene River, one of the few crossing points between the SWA border and the Angolan hinterland. About 3 years earlier, on SA's first major assualt into Angola we had crossed the Cunene, wreaked havoc and then withdrew back to Xangongo. The Recces then blew up the bridge at Xangango, so that no enemy mechanised divisions could come our side. The river became the new border.
So our little expedition was to go patch up that bridge, and yes, cross it in armoured vehicles in little groups and go do some snooping around on the other side. All of this, because the Big Brass were planning the big crossing of Operation Askari in a few months time. Not that we knew anything back then - as I've said I've pieced it together after lots of research.
Heres the bridge at Xangongo:
Lots of memories for me. One wonders whether to go back and dig them up, or just carry on marching forwards. A good friend of mine said he opened up his box of army memories recently and then decided it was a bad idea and just shut them back up in the box. Me, I'm not sure... Looking back at those days I often wish I was that young, borderline insanity dude again. We were clueless as to the greater political picture but we were super-fit. We were fearless, not in a courageous type of way, but in a totally reckless - couldnt give a fck- kind of way. Had we been thrown into the middle of a conventional battle I've got no clue what would have happened. Maybe I would have shat myself and climbed in a hole. Maybe I would have gone on some Amok type mission. One never really knows these things.When we got home we partied like nobody else could party. BiPolar Disorder wasn't even a term back then I don't think. "Manic Depression" maybe. Or the Afrikaans - "Bos- Bevoked" - basically "Fucked up from the Bush"
But my romantic wanderings down memory lane were soon bought to a big Halt, when I went looking for more pictures of Xangongo Bridge. You see my whole internal narrative revolved around that bridge. It was my persoanl Bridge over Troubled Water and at night I used to listen to "Burning Bridges" by Naked Eyes. Yes, the same Naked Eyes that sang "Voices in my Head, my Head..." (which accompanied me to Aubrey Levine's Ward 24)
All of it smashed and thrown up on the forgotten shores of history.
Maybe I must build a new bridge too. I mean fuck the old one. Who needs it? The Cubans don't. The Russians don't. UNITA doesn't. SWAPO doesn't. The Buffalo Soldiers don't. The Apartheid Regime doesn't. And the peace-loving local dudes that live today on the banks, and in the old bombed out buildings of Xangongo certainly don't. So why the fuck do I need to cling onto it???