When my Mom was 16 years old, she went to live for the summer at her Aunt
Dot’s and Uncle George’s apartment above their pharmacy in Rockport, MA.
She was happy to sometimes work downstairs at the soda fountain, but liked
even better working at the candy counter. My Uncle George’s first cousin,
Roger Tuck, was the candy maker. (I have met people who stopped in to buy
boxes of Tuck’s Candy, along with having some shipped across the country
My Mom also didn’t mind watching the rambunctious identical twins, Eddie and
Johnny. My Aunt Dot and Uncle George had three children, the twins were the
last boys. They were what their elders called, ‘full of piss and vinegar.’ Mom felt
they were adorable four year old’s. My Mom, you see, was 12 years older so
she played with the twins, helping provide companionship and occasionally,
My Aunt Dot was a teacher, so during the summer was free to keep track of
the little ‘hoodlums.’ They look really cute in black and white photographs.
When my Mom’s cousins reached their twenties, they were both in college but
chose to go serve during the Vietnam era ‘skirmishes.’
My Cousin Eddie was a medic, who went on to become the pharmacist who ran
“Tuck’s Pharmacy” on Bear Skin Neck. He took over after Uncle George retired.
My Cousin Johnny emerged a completely different person. He had been studying
liberal arts degree in California where he got married while in school. He was a
‘sensitive soul,’ who never quite got ‘back on track.’ He decided to join the local
artists who lingered on the wharves and piers, setting up their easels. Johnny got
a studio apartment and created paintings which resembled anguish and terror.
in broad impressionistic, impassioned strokes.
How two identical twins could have such different experiences is due to their
unique temperaments and also, to where they ended up in the service. Being
a medic meant Cousin Eddie did not often have to shoot or kill people. His life
was in danger, he was trained to kill but he did not experience what Johnny
went through. Ed waded in the swamps from place to place, got bit like Johnny
by mosquitoes and other living experiences were similar. But Johnny had to
fear enemies who were hiding in the jungle, he had to kill ones who came at him,
springing out of places, scaring him and forever altering his life.
Cousin Johnny came back to California to school and wife. He displayed severe
psychological changes in erratic behaviors, making it nearly impossible for his
wife to stay with him.
It was during my 16th summer, when I was 15 years old that I came to live in the
apartments above the pharmacy. The soda fountain had been discontinued but
I mainly had the fun opportunity to work the candy counter. I also helped stock
shelves, sold cigarettes and magazines. I did not handle the prescriptions, my
Cousin Ed insisted only he or Uncle George did this.
When I was helping set the table for my first meal with Aunt Dot and Uncle
George, my dear Aunt Marie came in pouring sweat. She worked in the next
town, Gloucester, at Gorton’s fishery.
There was no air conditioning, just fans at her factor. Which I do contemplate
while I am working in the summer at the auto parts warehouse. I think of her
being able to do this, helps motivate me some days. (Aunt Marie worked for
20 years there, after Uncle Pete died, until she reached 65.) She went off
into her apartment, humming as she passed us, to wash up and change for
The phone rang and shortly after that, Cousin Johnny arrived. He wanted to
see his Cousin Rosalie’s daughter, Robin. We had met while I was young and
I had felt his emptiness and sorrow. He just was one of those, had he been able
to carry a tune, he would have ‘sung the blues.’ He wanted to take me for a
walk after dinner, to show me the different things and places within walking
distance. He was 12 years older than I, so had been home for about 4 years
from what they simply called, ‘the war.’
Johnny asked me at the end of the walk, what I thought about certain songs,
certain art periods. I told him I appreciated his taking the time to ‘show me
We decided to get a pop out of the cooler in the shop and go out to the edge
of the wharf. We hung our feet over the water and he told me a little bit of the
terrible things he had visioned and experienced while in Vietnam.
Cousin Johnny asked me if I were ‘grown up’ enough to hear about death?
I told him that I had been reading “Red Badge of Courage,” “Moby Dick,” “The
Scarlet Letter” and I had finished “Dr. Zhivago.” All had adult themes and there
were episodes of pain and anguish in each. These stories included heartbreak.
I told him I could handle adult subject matter.
He told me about his coming back and he said, “I f – – – ed up, Robin.” I waited
for him to give me details, but he only elaborated by saying a word I later came
to understand, “alienated.” He had alienated his wife, had alienated the other
soldiers in his combat missions and had been dishonorably discharged due to
his psychological disconnect from what he was assigned to do.
I gave him a hand to hold, felt very responsible and adult, while I told him, “My
parents don’t believe in Vietnam.” He nodded and said, “They are right, it
is the wrong place to get involved in and we won’t solve their problems.
What would they do if your brothers decided to not listen and follow orders,
if they were drafted?”
I reminded Johnny I was just going into my sophomore year, Randy would be
a freshman and Ricky was still in middle school. As a family, we had talked and
discussed Vietnam. We were like so many other families, watching it on the
My parents felt that my brothers should decide on their own, when the time
came, but would support their going to Canada, if this war kept on going. I told
him we hoped and prayed it would be over by the time the ‘boys’ each turned
18. Turned out, the draft ended before they reached that age.
Johnny started crying. It was such an unusual thing. I had seen my Dad cry a
few times, but he was the only male adult I had ever seen weep. This made
an indelible impression on me. I did not have a tissue or a purse, nothing but
an arm to throw around him.
My only words were, “Everything’s going to be okay, Johnny.”
I was relieved when we started walking home. We walked holding hands, he
swung mine and tried to make jokes. Telling me a few ghost stories and other
Rockport legends. I asked for his opinion on LIzzie Borden, since this was a
question I had written in my journal to find someone to talk about the Salem
witch trials and specifically Lizzie B.
I was happy when I was in my 20’s to know my parents were heading to go
to Rockport, to attend Johnny’s wedding. They took photographs and I liked
the flowers and casual dresses the bridesmaids and bride wore. He got married
to another hippie/artist and they later had a boy and named him Nathaniel.
I had to smile since we had discussed Nathaniel Hawthorne, along with Boris
Thank goodness, he did not name him “Boris,” I felt.
I hoped Johnny and his wife would be happy, since I could tell he was not
able to handle what he had seen. His coping skills were not solved through
counseling, smoking pot or time passing.
I was off at college when they married.
Things did get rocky, but I will not go into any more on that story.
“AARP” magazine was focused in their May edition on the 40th anniversary
since the Vietnam war ended, 50th anniversary since the first troops were
sent off. The title holds a phrase, “For those who were there, the memories
of those bitterly divisive years live on.”
(The truth about the dates is that we got involved in the 1950’s with
Indochina and Vietnamese conflicts.)
There are quotes from dedicated war heroes, ones who believed in what
they did to protect the people of Vietnam from Communism.
A U.S. Army Specialist, Fourth Class named W. Paul Coates was there from
1965 to 1967. He uses the movie, “Born on the Fourth of July” to illuminate
or explain how the ‘bad side’ was, but he felt at age 17 that he was “Doing what
John Wayne did. Only instead of fighting the Japanese, it was the Vietnamese
we were going after.” He also admits, “I didn’t fully understand it.”
There are many ‘sides’ and balanced parts of this article. An example of a
civil rights worker who was arrested while protesting in Washington D.C. in
“Let me tell you why we civil rights workers were so against the war. The
federal government was not providing any protection of democracy in
Mississippi, yet it told us we had to go 10,000 miles away to protect
democracy in Southeast Asia. We weren’t buying it.”
(Miriam Cohen Glickman.)
UPI Reporter, Joe Galloway tells a harrowing story about our own U.S. Air
Force dropping two cans of napalm on the troops due to poor visibility in
the jungle. He describes this:
“I felt the fire on my face immediately. I looked and there were two guys
dancing in the fire, screaming.
I don’t know what got into me, but I ran into the fire. I grabbed the feet of this
kid, and as I pulled him up his boots crumbled . . .”
(Graphic details omitted.)
“For years I was haunted. How can I explain it to somebody who hasn’t been
there? You live with it. You carry so many ghosts. I thought for a while they’d
drive me crazy.” (He witnessed the 4 day “Battle of la Drang in November, ’65.
Galloway was awarded a Bronze Star for valor as a civilian. He is also the
co-author of the book, “We Were Soldiers Once. . . and Young.”)
There are many different points of view shared, one which is particularly
poignant and meaningful is told by U.S. Navy Chaplain, Ray Stubbe.
He served at Khe Sanh during the 77 day siege of the base in 1968:
“I went out to Hill 881 South, near Khe Sanh, on a Sunday in 1967 and
held a little worship service. . . .”
(He talks about his sermon but what really had an impact on me is his
description of the state of the soldiers and how they would go out of their
way to help each other and pull each other out of harm’s way.)
“The Marines were all lined up, and they were really raggedy. Clothes were
rotting off. These were like 19 year old’s, 20 year old’s, and so different in
many ways. Yet they were all Marines, and they took care of each other.”
Chaplain Ray Stubbe continued in the interview:
“This became even more evident later on, in the battles- – how they would
dash out in the middle of incoming and drag a total stranger who had been
hit. It goes beyond camaraderie. It’s like they were a single organism.
Theologically, I can use the term ‘love’ . . . they really loved each other, by
how they lived and what they did.”
The article included more opinions and memories. This, interestingly enough,
is a quote from Colin Powell. He later served as our Secretary of State:
“While back at home, the country seethed with controversy over the war. I
do not recall a single discussion on its merits among my fellow officers all the
while I was in Vietnam. Questioning the war would not have made fighting it
(Colin Powell served as a U.S. Army major in Chu Lai in 1968.)
The years we were involved are written and sketched on many historic and
human ledgers, the end is considered to have been in April, 1975.
The beginning starts in the fifties, goes into more full swing in the sixties,
continues into the seventies.
I would never spit or defame someone who put their ‘life on the line’ for our
country and others, to preserve what we felt was necessary. I am one who
is respectful and believes my Cousin Eddie did just fine under the duress
of working in the medical units. I feel my Cousin Johnny never did get quite
adjusted to what he had seen, heard and experienced for the four years of
his military service. It is not my place to express too much, but to say that his
ending was not a very happy one. Let’s leave it at that.
Have you been aware of the anniversary dates coming up and passing from
the Vietnam War Era?