Touchy Subject

Standard

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

too.)

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,

supervision.

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

dinner.

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

around.’

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

news daily.

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

Pasternak.

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

August, 1965:

“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

any easier.”

(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?

Advertisements

About reocochran

I am experiencing crazy and hapless adventures in dating that may interest people over fifty. I am now approaching 62 later this year and enjoy taking photographs, incorporating stories or poetry on my blog. I have many old posts which are informative and written like essays. I have several love stories collected from family and friends. Even strangers spill their stories, since I am a grown version of the girl next door. I have been trying to live a healthy lifestyle with better food selections and active hiking and walking. I have written four children's books and illustrated them. They are not published but a battered women's shelter used one about neglect and abuse for their children's program and a 4H group used my "Kissing a Bunny is like saying a Prayer" as a coloring book. Please comment or respond so I may get a chance to know you. Sincerely, Robin

33 responses »

    • I have not been to see the “Wall” since it has been many years since I have headed into Washington D.C. I feel the photos and the video I have seen of this is very moving. I cried at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, so would weep at the Vietnam Vet Memorial, too. Thanks for this comment!

  1. I visited that Wall too. Very sad. That whole episode made me hate wars for any reason. An end to wars would be a blessing. Very interesting post, Robin. You always make me think and reflect on important issues.

    • I had seen the “AARP” anniversary article of the Vietnam war, read all of it and went online which there is so much more than I could possibly read or express about this subject, Beth. I did my best and am glad you took a moment to pause and reflect.
      I was hoping someone who knew someone who served or someone who did go there, would also see this and comment. Thank you, Beth.

  2. Thank you for this thoughtful commentary on a time that was painful to so many personally as well as nationally. You describe both well, particularly in relating Johnny’s story.

    • This was a tough subject, which as a writer who is still constantly learning how to ‘hone my craft’ I felt this was a rough draft, but wanted to post it anyway.
      I am touched at what you mentioned and thankful you found my second Cousin Johnny’s story meaningful to this post. As a teenager, this period had so much impact on my life. Hard to really express it. Thank you.

  3. i remember the war going on when i was young, though didn’t know anyone who went to nam. it makes me so sad to read things like this about the vets and the terrible effect that the war and fighting had on them.

  4. Robin we have just had our National Day of Remembrance [Anzac Day] which commemorates WWI specifically and every other one since. There have been many posts about this event but yours has to be the one that makes the most sense to me. I deplore this going off to kill people ‘to preserve our freedom.’ This phrase rolls from so many tongues so glibly and with so little understanding of the reality. I do not like that soldiering is now called ‘peace keeping’ these euphemisms are used to sedate the masses so that the war machine can keep rolling. It is a business that needs young lives to power it.

    I believe that if we gave the ego driven, world dominating leaders and politicians guns and added in the manufacturers and traders of weapons and stood them in a field to see who wins we would all be better off. Last man standing gets to rule the world … I wonder how many would be willing to attend this event.

    When the reality stands in front of you as it did with your cousin, we all have to ask why this life, these lives, are ruined for political and commercial reasons. What would happen if the common people just said ‘No!’?

    Thank you for sharing your cousins story, there are so many damaged like him coming home even now.

    • Pauline, thank you for your honesty on this topic. I appreciate how you mention so many of the understated thoughts I have and was not completely able to put into words. I sometimes wonder if everyone would just look at the soldiers’ pictures of what they looked like as toddlers or little children, would they wish to see those children grow up and go to war?
      I feel it is important to honor, respect and remember those who have served. They may feel they needed to do their service, but I wish we never had to fight another war.
      I like the idea of standing world leaders and politicians in a field where no one, no civilian would be hurt, just they fighting it out, or hopefully instead, choosing not to fight. Hugs, Robin

  5. I don’t remember the war from my childhood, only from reading about it. And now talking to veterans. Of all the veterans I’ve talked to, Vietnam is the least discussed with me. I’m sorry your cousin suffered so terribly, as did his family.

    • Thank you, Colleen, for your caring about my second cousin, who I do feel close to still. Both Johnny and Eddie are twelve years older than I.
      I have friends who were my age and didn’t really know much about Vietnam. I am older than you, plus my parents were the kind that marched for civil rights and talked about the Vietnam war. They would have moved with my brothers, had they needed to. I could not believe that there were hundreds of thousands of people who went to other countries or refused to fight in this war.

      This is still a big topic which I only touched the ‘tip of the iceberg’ here. I don’t fully understand all of it, honestly, either.

      • I don’t remember my parents discussing this in front of us. I don’t remember hearing about it much at all until somewhere in high school. When I started to hear of a high school classmate’s brother who had served. But even then….I didn’t know much. Sadly it took a long time to learn. And now….I wish there wasn’t so much to learn. 😦

      • I admire parents who protect their children from world events which could give them nightmares or worry them. This may have been best, Colleen. Preserving innocence is so hard to do these days, your parents made a wise choice. No regrets, remember?! Smiles.

  6. Despite disastrous consequences of wars, which history has recorded, people have not learnt any lessons to end hostility…that is the worst dilemma of human minds. The so called leaders can’t think beyond their own ulterior motives! Sometimes I think…do they have a living, breathing heart?

    • Balroop, so thankful for your thoughts on this subject. It is a sad one, which I only know a small part about war. I witnessed firsthand a dear relative, Cousin Johnny, who I am still closer to, than his brother, Eddie.
      I like this thought and good question, Balroop: “Do they have a living, breathing heart?”

  7. I remember all too well the events leading up to Viet Nam. I also remember having to register for the draft in ’68. And I remember the war protests on the U of W campus. I remember when my lottery number came up high in the draft lottery for 1970 (for those born in 1950, like me). It was a year later I dropped out of Air Force ROTC when I realized they didn’t really need me.

    I remember some of my friends from high school who either enlisted or got drafted. Most came back alive. Some were disabled physically — others mentally. Every one I spoke to refused to talk about their experiences in much detail. What I did learn was enough to make me grateful for my lottery result. My life would not have been the same otherwise.

    Thank you for your touching and beautifully written tribute story. – Mike

    • Mike, I seriously was worried, since I am more emotional than ‘brainy’ so I was afraid this would come out confusing. I feel honestly, not totally able to write about this subject even after reading about it, in the articles online and in books, too.
      It is one which I am definitely showing my subjective side on this. Thank you for thinking it was both touching and beautifully written. This means a lot. I am also very glad you did not have to serve or be drafted, Mike. I am sure you would be a different man, maybe better in some ways but somehow I feel it would have changed you. I have found few people who will open up and talk about wars. I mainly met WWII Vets when I worked in the nursing home for 4 years. I did make sure we had services and the High School Color Guard, along with the local VFW men come to help make a great tribute to those who served. We had their names read at least four times a year! Guaranteed respect! Smiles, Robin

      • You don’t need to be brainy, as you put it, whereas, I am all left-brained as a writer. You are wise in the ways that matter. You write from the heart, Robin, which is what drew me to your blog and has retained me as a regular. After all our exchanges (how long has it been?), I guess you could say we have become ‘blog buddies.’ 🙂 – Mike

      • This was so sweet and reassuring of you, Mike. I like being a ‘blog buddy’ with you. Let me know if you ever write a post, since I don’t check up on your blog much. . .

  8. Must be a painful experience. Wars disturb the harmony and peace of the citizens and they have to live with haunting memories forever. The guys dancing in fire screaming shook me.

    • I am sorry for sharing some of the disturbing parts but left off many. I am sending you warm hugs and smiles for your patience and reading this. I hope you will have a blessed day and your sons will never have to go to war. My son is definitely not the type to send to war. Take care and thank you for reading this and commenting, too.

  9. Robin…I read the book “Unbroken” a while back. Although I joined the military in 1976 to escape my dysfunctional family and have my college paid for through the GI Bill, I remember not being worried about having to go into any type of war situation, especially since I was female. We can imagine what it must have been like for those who witnessed and had to engage in such violence, but can’t truly know what it was like. It’s a shame most of the war veterans don’t want to talk about their experiences, because I believe it can be therapeutic. Writing is also therapeutic. I recently wrote 5 pages about a traumatic time in my life and read it to close friends and a few others, who usually cry and share a similar experience. Have you heard of “cell memory”…how even the cells in our body hold onto past negative experiences and there are ways of releasing them. I have to say you’re a true storyteller. I don’t always leave a comment, but try to read most of your posts. So sorry about Johnny!

    • Thanks, Sherry for such a complete comment. I admire your sharing your fear of facing combat, glad you did not get ‘altered’ or injured in your military service.
      When I worked at The Lighthouse battered women’s shelter in Lancaster, Ohio as a child advocate. I had the children play act out scenes from what I asked them to represent a family dinner or a family outing. The older ones would sometimes cry and the younger ones, we used a dollhouse with family ‘dolls’ and we learned so much about the different personal problems, I had to ask a Children’s Services worker to witness two children’s individual sessions, since they were horrific. They took over their welfare…
      I had not heard of ‘cell memory’ but really appreciate your sharing this and how it benefits the ones who share and those who listen, too. Being open is a wonderful way of letting the pain ‘lose its power,’ Sherry.
      I agree, the servicemen would benefit from joining therapy groups, writing their experiences out and maybe having those who also served share their post-traumatic stress with a ‘safe’ group. Privacy would be necessary, as you mentioned you shared with close friends. A great idea to include here to help others. I appreciate your concern for my cousin, Johnny. I did get to see him when I was in my forties, which we talked so much about how things had changed in both our lives. Eddie took my ex-husband and I out to see the sights, while we did not share the personal conversations. Funny, Johnny knew we were close in our hearts, but he did get divorced and estranged from Nathaniel.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s