Chapter 21: A Star of Providence

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Chapter 21: A Star of Providence

I lost more than my heart in Hong Kong. Ruppert and Timbrink vanished as well. Two days after our departure, the local police arrested both in an opium den, and turned them over to the Military Police. I never saw either man again. Word is that they flew back, making it stateside even before our ship arrived. Both men would receive summary discharges, as did so many at that time.

We stopped over in Honolulu for less than two days, stood at attention and saluted the Arizona as we passed by the erected white monument marking the tomb of the vessel in Pearl Harbor. But for reasons never completely clear were forbidden shore leave. I did not particularly care. I had my fill of R & R.

It was strange to arrive finally in San Diego Harbor a week later. Strange because there was almost no one there to greet us, except for a very few local family members of some of the men, mostly Navy--strange because for us the war was over, but soon discovered we were not returning heroes of wars past.

A convoy waited to transport us to Camp Pendleton our new home. I piled into a Jeep with six other NCOs. On the way, we broke convoy and stopped at a western style pub that also served fast food. Seating ourselves at one of several tables, we asked the waitress—a not so pretty overweight blonde—for a pitcher of beer. She boldly replied, "We don't serve baby killers here!"

You can imagine our dismay. We may have been a lot of things—but not baby killers. One of the older Sergeants looked coldly at her, and said-- "A pitcher of beer!"

"You heard the lady," rumbled a voice from one of the back tables. There sat six cowboys made big by ranch eating and ranch living. "You boys best get out of here while the getting is good!"

We jumped up in unison, our chairs flying behind us. It would be a fight, but there was no doubt who would win. If necessary, we would kill them all. I suddenly felt like a wild animal unleashed. I already considered what I would do—all of it deadly. The cowboys were also on their feet, a showdown imminent.

After several tense moments, the Sergeant, who had ordered the beer, calmly said, "Okay men—let's get out of here."

After some protest, we left, backing out cautiously like itchy gunfighters. That was my first experience with the new prejudice that had infected America. It would not be my last. The flags no longer waved in our honor—no longer were we defenders against the specter of communism. Thanks to Calley at My Lai, the drug culture revelations of Timothy Leary, songs about tuning war into peace chanted by the rock star mania, and the changing will of political agendas, Viet Nam had become a dirty word in everyone's mouths. Were they right? Perhaps they were in the context of that season. Everyone was tired of hearing about funerals, tired of receiving their sons home maimed and mutilated by weapons of modern weaponry-- tired of the anger that lasted and lasted...and last still!    

Were they wrong to condemn us? Yes—they were wrong. We did not cause the Viet Nam conflict. Ours was not the brainwash policy of the nation instilled in us since we were children. War is always the will of doctrines and complex ideologies designed by powers of influence. The common man--as the soldier on the ground--is but a pawn in a strategy beyond simple comprehension in a game played by forces with greater design. We were not Nazis fulfilling the evil dictates of a genocidal policy. We were United States Marines, who, for the most part, conducted ourselves with honor as becoming to our nation. Nevertheless, there was a dark soul in Viet Nam, a soul that infected us all—but only a few became homicidal murders. We had left our native soil gallantly, only to return as sons of perdition. However, we, who survived, would not sweep easily under the carpet of shame.

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