So ... I was in the DMV the other day, getting my driver's license renewed. It was packed, and incredibly inefficient. They only took money orders. No checks, no credit cards, no paypal, none of the trappings of the late 20th century had permeated the air of that place. I'd been there about an hour waiting for my number to show up on a screen when an old guy in a wheelchair came in, being pushed by his daughter. They sat next to me. He was wearing a USMC hat and had an eagle globe and anchor tattooed on his forearm and -- since I'm interested in military tattoos, I asked him about it and he started talking about his time in the military. He'd spent most of his time in Okinawa but spent six months in Vietnam towards the end of the 1960's. He was far from the front and felt relatively safe, if not bored. He pulled a lot of guard duty and spent a lot of time standing around. At some point things were getting stolen from the base at an alarming rate -- people were somehow climbing over or the fences and burglarizing storage facilities, taking food, car parts, blankets, anything. They put up signs that said something to the effect of "keep out trespassers will be shot" and eventually they put up guard towers and they put guards in the towers armed with shotguns and he was one of these guards. They told him "if you see anybody, tell them to identify themselves or you'll shoot and if they don't identify themselves, shoot." One night this gentleman was up in the guard tower and he saw a shadow moving between two quonset huts and he said "Identify yourself or I'll shoot" and the shadow didn't identify itself, but started running and he thought "they told me to shoot," so he fired his shotgun and heard a cry -- immediately he wondered if they meant shoot if someone was running away or only shoot if they didn't run away -- all of this while he quickly climbed down the tower and ran over -- there was blood on the ground but no body. Other Marines arrived quickly and searched the area but didn't find anything.
"There's never been a day since then," he said, "sometimes when I'm at home and there's a sudden lull in conversation or maybe I'll be about to get on a bus or I'll look down at the sidewalk ... but there's never a day when I don't think about that person I shot, who he was, and what happened to him."