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Author's Name:  Patricia Smith

Title: "Please, God, no taxis"

My memory selects taxicabs as a symbol of the Vietnam war. It's taxis that taught me just how bad this was going to be.   

Taxicabs became the most dreaded sight in the neighborhoods full of Army wives where I lived around Ft. Benning in Georgia during the mid-to-late 1960s. You see, in the early years of the war when deaths were rare,  the Army took a lot of considerate, careful effort to bring one of the Army wives a "killed in Vietnam" notice. A well-kept and shiny Army sedan would pull up, two uniformed and decorated officers would emerge along with an Army chaplain, and these men would knock on the door and pay a formal call to announce the death, explain arrangements, and offer condolence. It was terrible, but impressive and full of respect.  

That all changed as losses mounted. In fact, it got so bad at Ft. Benning, which was a huge post, that the Army dealt with numbers killed in Vietnam by simply delivering a plain telegram via the local taxicab company. We wives prayed daily, "Please, God, no taxis." The fear on our street at the sight of a cab was total and overwhelming. We'd all surge out to the porch or sidewalk to see where the cab would stop.  I remember that emotion to this day. The cabs never came for me, thank God, but they did for many.   

I have to honor those taxi drivers. They took up that duty of honor and respect without being asked. Most of them did very kind things; they would help the woman to a chair, go to neighbors to ask them to come over and give comfort, even cry and pray along with the bereaved. One of the drivers told me nothing in his life had prepared him for this task, and the pain it caused him was awful. "If that wouldn't break your heart," he said, slowly shaking his head, "you've got no heart to break."