To Desert After Thanksgiving Dessert

I grew up back in the Vietnam War days, and I remember seeing the anti-war protests on TV, with hairy-headed hippies and other young folks shouting slogans against the war. The most popular slogan was, “Hell no, we won’t go!” But there were others just as good, such as:

A Vietnam War protestor offering a flower to military police.

“Dow shall not kill!”

“Stop the war, feed the poor!”

“Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, the Viet Cong are gonna win!”

“Hey, hey, LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?!”

“Girls say yes to men who say no!”

And the ever compelling, “One, two, three, four, we don’t want your fucking war!”

My siblings and I were all against the Vietnam War, but my mother was for it. She didn’t like commies, and she’s always been rather conservative.

Besides, her brother had been a Green Beret. He was among the original 400 Green Berets sent to Vietnam by President Kennedy in May, 1961, supposedly as “military advisors.” There he was wounded and awarded a purple heart, along with several other medals. One of his few comments on his experience was that we did things there that nobody would ever believe.

We lived in Oceanside, California in 1969, which is a town right next to the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base. This was where many new conscripts were haplessly shipped off to Southeast Asia, to face the terror that was taking the lives of hundreds of fine, young American men per week.

My mother wanted to support our troops in the war effort. She was also 35, single, and looking for a man. So she signed up for a program to host two Marines from Camp Pendleton, for Thanksgiving dinner.

But the men in uniform who showed up were barely 20. Too young for my mom, but not too young for my two teenage sisters. They were enamored with these government issue specimens fresh out of boot camp.

And I, at the innocent age of ten, was also very impressed with them. They got my attention when they told us they were soon going to be shipped off to that war I’d been hearing about in the news. Wow!

My uncle had been a Green Beret, and this was the same war that I’d seen John Wayne fight in as Colonel Mike Kirby, in the movie, The Green Berets. In that flick was a horrifying scene where a soldier steps in a mantrap. His feet are caught in a snare that slings him through the air and impales him on a rack of spikes. It also impaled his bloody, punctured body onto my memory, and left me feeling shaken and anxious. I vowed that if I was ever in a war, I’d watch my step for sure.

A horrifying scene.

So this shit was exciting, to me. As we sat at the Thanksgiving table, gnawing on drumsticks and slurping down cranberry sauce, I wanted to talk about things like war, and killing people, and being shot at and pursued by the enemy, and of course, mantraps, with these frightened young men. But they kind of squirmed in their seats, and tried to change the subject. My sisters shushed me, and warned me I was being rude.

After dessert, my sisters managed to sneak these handsome young warriors up to the loft in our garage for the purpose of candid conversation. Or maybe they had some other purpose on their horny young minds. And that’s when something unexpected happened. The one named George broke some unsettling news. “We don’t want to go to Vietnam,” he announced.

“Yeah, we don’t like war. We think it’s immoral. We want peace,” his friend, Dave, added.

Both sisters felt sorry for them, but most especially my younger sister, Blue Wilder Gnu. Blue had run away from home over the summer, at age 14. She had hitchhiked across Canada, staying in communes, and cavorting like a flower child with draft-dodging refugees. She had returned home in September, after being hospitalized for an ectopic pregnancy. And now, at age 15, she was passionately sympathetic to the anti-Vietnam War cause.

“You don’t have to go to Vietnam,” Blue insisted. “You can stay in our loft. We won’t tell our mother. We’ll bring you food, and you can hide out here for as long as you want.”

It was just the break they’d been hoping for. They accepted the invitation. The two girls and two Marines then brought my brother and me into this conspiracy. I was sworn into secrecy by Dave. I liked Dave. He was a kind young man, and had a fun personality. But I wasn’t so sure about George. He was sharp-edged and impatient with kids like me. But because Dave had sworn me into secrecy, I kept my vow of silence like a secret agent with a cyanide capsule.

One day I was standing near the washing machine in the garage, shooting the bull with Dave, who was sitting at the edge of the loft with his legs dangling over. My mother suddenly walked in through the side door, carrying a basket of dirty clothes. We both fell into instant silence. My mother walked directly beneath Dave’s dangling legs and loaded the washing machine. “Whatcha doin’, son?” she inquired.

“Oh, just hanging out. Nuthin’,” I stared at the floor while my heart pounded like a kettledrum inside my ribcage.

“Well go out and play. It’s not good for you to stand around alone in a dark garage.” She then headed out the door, passing beneath Dave’s legs again. I followed after her. It was a close call.

The food and hospitality we supplied Dave and George was not enough. They were desperate to leave Oceanside and get as far away from the U.S. Marine Corps as they could. One evening they broke into a store and stole some goods for the purpose of pawning, so they could raise enough cash to travel. But stealing wasn’t enough for George. In his anger and pain, he also vandalized the store. Dave and George had a falling out after this.

A few days later, George was picked up by the police after breaking into a car and stealing an 8-track stereo system. That same day, Dave disappeared. He apparently had not been arrested. He just disappeared. To this day, we don’t know what happened to Dave.

I like to imagine that he made his way to Canada and found refuge in that nation that had wisely chosen to stay out of Vietnam. And hopefully he found some way to take advantage of President Ford’s or President Carter’s amnesty programs, so that he could eventually return home.

Or maybe he established Canadian citizenship and still lives in this great nation to our north. Whatever happened, I hope Dave found the peace he had longed for on that Thanksgiving Day in 1969.

When after dessert, he decided to desert.

Categories: History

45 replies »

  1. Tough times, for sure. I was a bit older during that year, and the complexities were more evident to me. I somehow got the idea if we were able to vote at 18, it would make a difference. I’m not sorry we got the vote for that age, but I am less naïve about the impact of the youthful vote.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those were tough times, especially for young men who were drafted right out of high school, then a few months later, found themselves being shot at in the jungles of Vietnam.

      It isn’t often the youth vote makes a difference. I think it had a lot to do with Biden’s win this year, though, for what that’s worth.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I am surprised that your Mom didn’t hear your heart pounding while she was in the garage! I am sure Dave’s was pounding as well. Very nice of you and your sisters to do what you could to help George and Dave out. I hope too that Dave was able to get to a safe place and live in peace! So sad about the many who died in that war. I never saw The Green Berets and probably could not stomach it, but I remember Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That was a close-call, for sure. My mother didn’t find out until about 20 years later, when it was safe for us to ‘fess up. You should have seen the look on her surprised face. 😄

      The Robin Williams movie came out around the same time I was in the Air Force, working as a military broadcaster. So, it was kind of a unique experience to be able to watch a movie like that, and see how Hollywood depicted my job.

      Liked by 1 person

      • LOL at your Mom! I can just imagine her face! I am sure you got a good laugh out of i

        So how good of job did Hollywood do at depicting your job? I am sure you brought humor to the job.like Robin Williams did. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • The movie was something like my experience, but in many ways it was way off. For one thing, I never had a hardass, total asshole commanding officer, such as the one depicted. My CO’s were quirky, and not very helpful, but at least they weren’t complete buttholes.

          Also, neither I, nor anyone else, could get away with some of the stuff Adrian Cronauer was depicted to have gotten away with. You were allowed to crack jokes, and I did. Mostly lame jokes. But you couldn’t be dirty or offensive.

          For his part, Cronauer has said that little of the film accurately reflects his experiences. And after Cronauer got out of the military, he became a classical music deejay. That’s hardly what you would expect from the Robin Williams depicted character.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. “Green Berets” was a little before my time. I think the first war film I ever really watched was “Heaven and Earth”. Le Li Hayslip had spoken at the university I was attending (just up the coast from Oceanside), and my Vietnamese housemate was interested in hearing her (but refused to see the film). I have a signed copy of her book. I guess it’s difficult to say where each generation’s war-film narratives diverge from entertainment and become propaganda.

    “Dead people receive more flowers than the living ones because regret is stronger than gratitude.”
    ― Anne Frank

    Liked by 2 people

      • Yes, and no… in a sense my brother and sisters (from the other mother) didn’t like my sister or I much and treated us with distain. Well – I think it hurt my part of reconnecting with him. My sister had a much better relationship than I.
        It did improve a bit the last couple of years before his death, but still paled in comparison to my sisters relationship with him.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. That is a great story. It sounds like the George guy had issues way beyond being drafted.

    I’m in awe of you sister, taking off at 14 and hitchhiking. Ken has talked about hitchhiking in the 60s in his cracker jack. I would never be so brave.

    I’ve “seen that scene” with Jim Hutton’s character getting impaled…once. I liked Jim Hutton and seeing that was enough. The movie came out when I was two but, I saw it when I was around 10 or 11…after having seen Hutton on One Day at a Time. I was horrified.

    Fast forward to 1986 and I’m going to the movies with my boyfriend, Steve (later, hubby #1). He wanted to see Platoon. I had to leave. I wanted to throw up and I was crying. I don’t want to see that movie ever again, either. He had been an accident to two older parents. His older brother and sister were my parents’ age and, his brother Butch had enlisted in the Marines for fear of being drafted into the Army. My ex never really completely understood why his brother did that or, what he went thru being over there. Butch was married and had a kid coming. He shipped out the day his first daughter was born…which I thought was a non-drafting category. By the time I met him, it was 1985 and he was a heavy drinker & smoker with a bit of a stutter. You never saw him without a glass of booze or a cigarette in his hand and he never had “war stories.” Ken is very much the same, sans stutter (though he didn’t see that much combat as a Seabee and his dumb ass actively wanted to go).

    In my family, my dad’s younger brother (by eight years) took college deferment. Of my mom’s four brothers, her older brother was too old, her first younger brother had a heart murmur from Rheumatic Fever, her second younger brother didn’t reach 18 until 1970 but had messed up his knees & back playing football and the baby was born in 1956.

    Interesting about Cronauer…

    Liked by 1 person

    • My sister ended up with a tubal pregnancy, though, and that ended her ability to have children. One of the great disappointments of her life.

      I’ve always found it unusual how some men are eager to join the service and go off to war. That’s not the sort of action I’ve ever craved. But to each their own. It’s also noteworthy that the ones who actually saw action usually never talk about it much. There must be something about it that leaves them speechless.

      I was too young to be in that war, and just slightly young enough to never have to register for the draft. I consider myself lucky, that way. When I finally joined the service, Reagan was our Commander-in-Chief. Nobody messed with that crazy son-of-a-bitch, so I enjoyed peaceful times in the military.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I understand them. I’ll be squirming in my seat to if I have to watch a film you just describe. This story is both fun to read but sad, my only relation to Vietnam war are in films and documentary, and hopefully the day will come when the mystery about your friends clear up. For Dave to just disappear is strange.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I read mostly nonfiction works. This story, like several others you have posted, was one that I almost could not believe had actually happened. I guess I should have known better because I have found that my reaction to the best true stories is often “This has to be real Nobody could make this stuff up.” I hope, then, that you’ll consider my reaction to be a compliment.

    Ah, the Duke. How many of his Western and war movies do you think were anywhere close to the way things actually were in those settings? Given your very vivid description of that horrible scene in Green Berets, true or not, I guess today’s real warfare is probably more like watching or being in a movie, in some respects, anyway, given that drones are often employed. On the other hand, we know from seeing maimed vets returning from Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.. that a grunt is still a grunt and for them, even if they come back in one piece physically, war was, is and probably always will be hell.

    PS Did you see the CNN special on rock music and Jimmy Carter? I almost fell off the couch when the Duke walked on stage to kick off the inauguration gala for the peanut farmer who may just be the last living pacifist in this country!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the compliment, and yes this actually happened.

      I’ve never been in combat, but I doubt war movies can ever come close to capturing the mix of horror and excitement that must come with the experience.

      No, I didn’t see that CNN Special. Or if I did, it happened so long ago that I don’t remember. But the Duke and Carter do seem like an unlikely pairing.


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