Kenneth, born and raised in the South, resides in Hamilton, Alabama. He enjoys sharing his unique perspectives on life through his writing.
This narrative has been long and sad in coming to fruition. Not every slice of my personal life is of a comical fabric. Oh, how I wish that I had been born (a) Red Skelton, Milton Berle or Charlie Chaplin—and I know that even these Masters of Comedy shed their fair amount of secret tears, but on the outside, oh, how they made the masses laugh and forget their life’s miseries. And taught people (like me) how to laugh. Thanks. (Kenneth).
About the time of 1970, I was 16, not that much in or out of love and yes, I had become frozen with the fear of having to go to war in Vietnam which was a common fear shared by every teen male in my area and state. Funny thing about fear—it has no bigotry, racism, or heart. If you think I am joking, go ask the late James Earl Ray. That should sober you out of your sudden laugh.
Again, about the time of 1970, and during my fear of fighting in Vietnam, another change in our country was creeping about on Little Greed’s Feet. One of the nation’s most-stable of industries, the textiles, were being sold from underneath their foundation and sold, mind you, for a cheap price, for foreign countries to make money from the textile workers and starve the unions. This is no exaggeration. Do you remember NAFTA? This was the so-called “North American fair trade agreement” championed by then-President William Jefferson Clinton and then Sen. Bob Dole among others. This “agreement” stated that America’s textile workers and regular citizens would profit from the overseas textile work in wages and new jobs. And still in 2017, you and I are still waiting for these things to happen.
My mom, God bless her soul with rest, worked with another down-trodden soul, Mae Collier, from Beaverton, Ala. Mae had one son, Joe, and during one night in 1970, I recall it being on a Thursday, I had the eye-opening pleasure of meeting and listening to Joe sit in his car and tell me what Vietnam was really like since he was now a veteran of one tour of duty in that God-forsaken land as I saw it back then. Don’t misinterpret. Joe, in my first impression which I have to say, was lasting, was super-intelligent—for I found out that any man, woman, or beast who can talk over 70 WPM (words per minute) is either on speed or very intelligent. Joe never confessed of taking speed.
It wasn’t as much as what Joe was talking about as it pertained to each of his topics that he somehow was just aching to share with me, it was in the style and tone of his talking that kept me hypnotized. I tell you the truth. Joe, I began to think in myself, if he had lived in the 1800s, would have been a multi-millionaire for being a snake oil huckster who preaches The Gospel while his supply of snake oil is being replenished. Joe was a natural at selling, but he was not really selling me on how life was in Vietnam, he was just filling in the gaps that I had about going to and fighting with the Army against the Viet Cong.
Before I get ahead of myself, Joe and a few of his Beaverton bud’s, (“redneck bullies,” Joe referred to them) knew that their Draft number was coming up, so they did the smart thing in enlisting not in the U.S. Army, but The U.S. Marine Corps. Yeah. Really smart, Joe.
Joe, with that certain twinkle in his eye, said that he and his buddies rode into Parris Island, S.C., (here’s proof for all non-Marine supporters:283 Blvd De France, Parris Island, S.C. 29905) in a Marine-owned and operated bus much like a school bus and the worst thing, Joe said, was it was at dark when we arrived.
“From the time, we got off the bus, a Marine D.I. (drill instructor/Sergeant cursed us like we were dogs,” Joe explained. “We ran everywhere. And when we were at attention, the D.I. would curse us worse while calling us some of the most-vulgar names ever known to modern man—and even hit us in the “privates,” to see who was the weakest of our platoon,” Joe added very seriously.
He went on to elaborate about the six-weeks Boot Camp in Parris Island. Joe said that his D.I. told him and his platoon on the very first day of Marine service, “see that water over there? I will make you a deal. You can run right now and jump into the water and if you should make it to shore, we will not go after you. There are alligators in that stream and not one person has ever tried to make it to freedom,” Joe said. And there were those times in the “Six weeks of Hell,” Joe said, when he cried like a whipped pup for wanting to be free and go home.” This almost made me cry.
But as Joe went on to say, “The Marines are only trying to break down an enlistee or draftee to make them into a fearless fighting machine,” he said with a chuckle.
“Were you?” I asked quickly.
“Nahhh, man. It was all a man could do to keep up with our D.I. and if we stumbled either in our answers or actions, we were cursed hard and loud,” Joe stated.
When Joe finished his Boot Camp time, he told me that he did not fear anyone, not even God, and according to this “boot,” he looked the part—his six foot, two inch frame with long, blond hair and shoulders that reached to Kansas. No wonder that he wanted to join the Corps.
According to Joe, and since he had been to ‘Nam, he said, “man, I loved those ‘Fire Watches.’ The term, Fire Watch, was when a squad of guys go near the front of danger when gunfire can erupt anywhere, and take charge of their designated area.
Another thing that Joe loved about his Fire Watches was the pure freedom of picking and smoking “weed,” that grows wild in Vietnam (Saigon) the landscape. Joe said that he and his friends would stay high as possible to relax from the pressure of living from one breath to the other. Somehow I understood his fear, but not like the fear that I had in just being drafted.
Joe lit up a Marlboro and let out a draw and said, “when my friends and me left ‘Nam, most of us came back to Beaverton to find work or just raise some cain to let out the pent-up anger that the Marines had instilled in us,” he said. “we would go to those “dangerous” clubs down in Columbus, Miss., and start fights to drain out the energy that we all had when we came home.”
By now, I was almost ready to find a much-more flexible way to get past Vietnam than to join the Army or Marines for sure. You see. I am not a fighter by birth. Oh, if I were pushed into a corner and some aggressor meant to take my life or theirs, I would fight if I had to. But in Joe’s case . . .he wanted to.
When Joe’s mom was through visiting with my mom, he and his mom drove away and I never did see Joe again. I wondered for months where he would end up and always hope when the evening news came on or the newspaper came into the mail that Joe did not go to prison.
No news is good news. And today, Dec. 6, 2017, it still is.
© 2017 Kenneth Avery