War

 

Chapter 3 of Love and War includes: Homeward Bound II, Feet Don't Fail Me Now, This Ain't No Disco, We Gotta Get Outta This Place, Paperback Writer, and Vietnam.

Homeward Bound II

Formosa Straits

July 10, 1966

 

Dear Mom and Dad,

 

We’re now on Taiwan Patrol. Seventy-six more days til home. Seventy-six days...

Feet Don't Fail Me Now

When I was in Navy boot camp, we spent most of our time marching. Marching to chow, marching to the rifle range, marching out to the big concrete grinder to continue marching as we practiced for our graduation parade. One of the recruits in our company, a kid from LA named Johnny Baiseri, was chosen to march us when the drill instructor wasn’t around. Johnny was half Mexican, half Arab, and he taught us how to march to commands given in Spanish and Arabic. We got really good at it and we loved to do it when we’d pass by some high-ranking brass. We were doing what we were told yet we felt totally defiant. The brass could sense it but what could they say?

 

We also had a couple of guys in the company who had been on competitive drill teams in high school. They taught us to think of marching as a dance. Make your foot hit the ground with a bounce. Put joy in your step. Move that rifle from side to side like a woman on the dance floor...

This Ain't No Disco

The first destroyer sent to fight in Vietnam, the John W. Thomason, was filled with music fans. Supply Division was dominated by soul music fanatics; hard core rockers were concentrated among the helmsmen and lookouts; psychedelic heads came from the ship’s office. Country & western was strongest among the radiomen and jazz with the stewards who waited on the officers, while the guys slaving away in the engine room were mostly into Top 40.

 

Wherever we worked, we all had a big problem: How were we going to listen to our music? It’s easy to forget, in this era of Walkmans and wristwatch TVs, that our only means of entertainment back then were huge “portable” record players. We had to find ways to hide them because top brass had outlawed record players, supposedly because they were “electrically unsafe.” Few were willing to go to the trouble and risk of keeping a suitcase-sized stereo away from prying eyes...

We Gotta Get Outta This Place

Nostalgia clouds our memory of the Vietnam War era. Peace. Love. Music. Rock & roll, dope, and fucking in the streets. Wasn’t it a mighty time? Sometimes, yes. More fundamentally, the Vietnam War era meant three million Indochinese killed, along with the callous ruin of hundreds of thousands of American lives, including fifty thousand killed outright. Black and white citizens of the United States were routinely jailed and sometimes murdered for insisting that our country’s constitution applies to everyone. The assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Medgar Evers took place during what is sometimes referred to as the Flower Power Era.

 

The Vietnam War era is not over. It’s not over for me, a Vietnam veteran who still suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and has yet to receive promised benefits from the Veterans Administration. And it’s not over for millions more like me, whether or not they were soldiers. From Houston to Hanoi. From Detroit to Da Nang...

Paperback Writer

Fifteen years ago tonight, I sat in the number two gun mount of the USS John W. Thomason off the coast of Vietnam with a half dozen other guys, waiting for a fire support mission and reading Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. I hoped that in the next liberty port I could find someone with a small red and gray thermos containing Ice-Nine… not to help the Marines ashore get out of the mud but to freeze the Pacific so we could walk back to California where we belonged.

 

Louis L’Amour and Kurt Vonnegut were the two most popular authors on my ship. Ten thousand miles from home, it was a tremendous source of inspiration to feel that people like Kurt Vonnegut and Muhammad Ali were in our corner. The questions many of us had begun to ask about our role in the war were due in part to our guest of honor this evening...

Vietnam

Twenty years ago when I moved to California

I went to Wells Fargo to open a bank account

The teller was young, beautiful... Vietnamese

 

My first thought was

"You know, I might have fucked your mama"

 

My second thought was

"You know, I might have killed your mama"

 

I took my receipt

Went outside

And threw up on the sidewalk...