‘Ashes are Ashes,’ a Play by Mike Thompson

Ashes are Ashes is a short, one-act play dealing with loss, remembrance, and brotherhood written by Mike Thompson, who served as a medic in the Vietnam War in 1966-67. Thompson worked with the 20th Preventive Medicine Unit in Saigon, as well as in small villages and Special Forces camps.

The play tells the story of three buddies who served together in Vietnam. It appears to be about forty years after the war and the men have gathered on the occasion of the death of a fourth member of their group who had been a very successful writer before succumbing to cancer.

The men are sitting around eating pizza, drinking beer, and reminiscing about experiences they shared back in the war. They’re telling war stories, and as many veterans do when they get together, these guys already know most of each other’s stories. The four had made a pledge that when one died the others would gather together, reminisce, and do whatever they could to take care of his last wishes.

Their buddy’s ashes are in an urn beside them while they talk about going from days when they were “so young and full of piss and vinegar” to the present in which they have become “three complacent old farts.” They talk about modern U.S. wars, describing them as conflicts “waged by the politicians,” then raise their beers in a toast “to war, an old man’s game played by kids.”

The play’s tension comes from the fact that their buddy wanted some of his ashes scattered at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. But his sister controls the ashes, having loaned the sealed urn to the men for a few hours, and she is dead set against any of his them being placed near The Wall. But for the survivors, a pledge made in Vietnam outweighs everything else.

In a short book Thompson includes the play and several pages of endorsements, and then ingeniously tells the exact same tale as a twelve-page short story. It’s a nice addition to a play about brotherhood and the post-war gatherings of Vietnam vets, which are going to become fewer and fewer in the not-too-distant future.

Thompson’s blog is mikethompsonblog.com/writing

–Bill McCloud

September 8, 2021

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