This is a re posting my first story written approximately four years ago. Originally it was 32 chapters and some of them were short, I have had it re edited by the able RadioLes, he has done a workman like job of cleaning up my scribblings. Even so I have gone back and tweaked some more, so an error two may have crept in. This version is ten chapters, each is a compilation of 3-5 of the original.
Some of this story is true, some is pure fantasy, the identities of the guilty and the innocent have been changed to protect them and in some cases my memories have become clouded by time.
I write to try and tell an interesting story, I hope you agree.
I appreciate constructive criticism and suggestions, please let me know your thoughts and critiques.
Da Nang, Vietnam 1969
On Feb 16, 1969, Tet* was just getting started and we were scheduled to leave. At 07:00 we were wheels up on one of those lovely Continental birds with the Golden Tail. As soon as those wheels came up and we heard them lock into place, we let out a yell like you have never heard before...
We were going home finally after 13 months of living in one of the most God awful places on the face of the earth.
Just getting out of Vietnam was a chore. My buddy Jimmy and I left our base at Phu Bai on an ugly old C-123 that happened to be going our way, south to Da Nang.
We had both had a case of the clap and we thought we were good to go, but because it was fairly recent and on record, we had to submit to a urine sample to be checked before we could leave. I was afraid that I might not pass, so I looked up an old friend from the 3rd MAW and got him to pee in the bottle for me. Well as luck would have it, I was clean, and he was not. So all of a sudden there we are running around Da Nang like a couple of chickens with our heads chopped off, trying to get retested so we could make our plane in time the next day.
When we left Phu Bai, we had checked in our weapons and were in Da Nang with nothing but our clothes and not many of them either.
Finally, everything was done, and we went to chow at the mess hall. Sitting around the table with a bunch of guys swapping lies and tall tales about what we were going to do once we got home.
We left the mess hall, went over to the NCO club, and proceeded to get a little drunk, not that you would notice. We staggered back to the transient barracks, to try to get some sleep before we had to fall out at 0500 to get into formation to load up into the cattle cars and get to those freedom birds.
I never thought I would go to sleep, I was so wired.
INCOMING!!!! About 04:00 the sirens went off and the rockets and mortars were coming in. Here we were in a transient barracks, with no flack jackets, no helmet, nothing to protect our soft pink bodies from the shrapnel, we jumped up and ran for the bunker, down a flight of stairs, and across a short open space to the bunker, now you have to have built one of these things to appreciate them. They were 55 gallon drums full of sand side by side and huge timbers on top spanning over the top and then the top covered with several layers of sand bags. There was a wall in front of the opening made the same way and you had to dodge around the end of the wall and get inside to be protected from flying metal.
I was in the lead and Jimmy was hot on my heels, I dove in and turned around, Jimmy didn't come in. I screamed his name, I heard a moan, I stuck my head out and there he was on his back flat on the ground moaning. His feet were closest to me, I grabbed them and pulled him in. Once inside, it was dark, we had no light, and neither of us smoked so we didn't have the ever present Zippo lighter that almost everyone carried.
Jimmy, where are you hit, man?
"I'm not hit," he replied.
"I hit my right shoulder on the timber on the top of the barrels. It almost knocked me out for a second," he said.
I felt for his shoulder and sure enough, his arm was laying at an odd angle. He had dislocated his shoulder.
"Do something" He yelled.
What could I do? All I had for first aid training was in the Boy Scouts and most of that was just tying bandages on each other.
I helped him sit up and his arm looked horrible.
We had both been afraid of having to stay in country with the VD treatment, if it wasn't gone. Now Jimmy was afraid of the same thing,
"Don't let them keep me here! Get me on that plane."
"What are we going to do?" I asked.
He said, "Just jerk it hard."
"Man, are you sure?" I replied
Just do it, I can't stay here. Get me on the plane, and when we get Okinawa, they can treat me there."
"Okay, are you ready, man?"
"Just do it," he said.
I put the my boot as close to his arm pit as I could get with out hurting him any more than necessary, I gently picked up his right arm from his side, and before either of us could chicken out I gave it a very hard yank.
Well, thank the good Lord for small miracles. It seemed to pop back into place. Jimmy was passed out from the pain.
While I was waiting for him to come around, the shelling stopped, and all clear was sounded. As attacks go, this one had been fairly light.
Through out all this, there had been an almost steady cacophony of sound, explosions near and far, rifle fire, automatic weapons fire, aircraft noise, helo's flying around.
When I stuck my head out, there were fuel storage tanks burning. Some small fires were burning on the ground and there were some structures burning too.
I crawled back in and Jimmy was coming around. We sat there for awhile. It was time to figure out what to do...
I got Jimmy up, He held his injured right arm tight to his body with his other arm and I helped him crawl out of the bunker.
The whole attack had been very short in length of time. The sun was just starting to come up out of the South China Sea to the east. It was going to be a beautiful day.
We were going home this morning and we were alive.
We made our way as fast as possible to our Corpsman friend who had helped us out of the medical situation we had encountered the day before.
Jack was a Navy Corpsman we had known since a Caribbean cruise we went on together the year before our tour in Vietnam. He was one hell of a Corpsman, He lived for his Marines, His mission was to keep his Marines alive and get them home. He was not a miracle worker, but he sure seemed like it to all of us. He had been rotated back to Da Nang for some training, and was due to head back to Phu Bai in a couple of days.
We found Jack working on a kid who been in a jeep accident during the attack. He had run his jeep into a ditch trying to avoid running Marines on the road in the dark.
"Hey, Guys what's up?" Jack said, when he saw us come in the clinic.
"Hey, Doc?" "We need some help." I called out to him. (All Corpsman are called Doc)
"Jimmy hit a chunk of wood running to get in a bunker and his shoulder was dislocated." I told him.
"We need to figure out how to get him on the plane this morning, he wants out of here and I'll get him to the Doc in Okinawa.".
The injured Marine wasn't hurt bad, so he told Jack to take care of us, when he found out we had a plane to catch first thing that morning.
We slipped Jimmy's shirt off as gently as we could and Jack taped the arm to Jimmy's side, we tucked the sleeve of the shirt back inside the shirt and put it back on him, it looked like he didn't have an arm, but you had to look close to see anything was out of the ordinary.
Jimmy was in severe pain by now, Jack gave me about 20 really big Darvon tablets. Gave one to Jimmy, we drank some coffee and waited for the Darvon to take effect. One Darvon was just enough to take the edge off the pain. Jimmy was starting to look a little better. Jack quickly fixed up the other injured Marine, and we all decided to head for the chow hall and get something to eat before we had to head over to the cattle cars to ride around the base to get to the civilian air terminal.
Jimmy started to get sleepy in the chow hall as we sat there eating and drinking coffee. He was doing neither, he just sat there leaning against my side so he wouldn't fall out of his chair. To outward appearances, he just looked like he was shaking off a hang over.
After we finished eating, the other Marine left for his duty station, and Jack and I helped Jimmy get to the transient barracks to catch the cattle cars for our last ride in Vietnam.
When we got to the transient barracks, we stood milling around like a bunch of cattle waiting for the cattle cars to show up for us. Jimmy and I tried to tell Jack how grateful we were for all he had done for us, he just waved us off. We all cried a little as we hugged each other one last time as we boarded the cattle cars...
We never saw Jack alive again. He was killed 6 weeks later in a rocket attack at Phu Bai on the Hue/Phu Bai air field as he was running to help a wounded Marine.
By the time we got off the cattle cars at the air terminal, Jimmy was out on his feet. I helped him down to the ground and we sat with our backs against a wall and waited for our unit to be called to board our Freedom Bird with the big Golden Tail.
Finally the call came, Jimmy was completely asleep and there was no waking him. I picked him up slipped him over my shoulder in a fireman's carry and walked to the plane with him.
Some of the other Marines asked me what was wrong with him, I just told them he was passed out drunk from too much partying the night before. I carried him up the gangway and slid him into his seat with the help of another Marine buddy of ours.
We would soon be on our way home to the land of my obsession.
Tall skinny round eyed Redheads...
After the flight leveled out and we were on our way to Okinawa things settled down and most of us visited or sat dreaming about the days and weeks to come.
Jimmy started to wake about mid way to Okinawa, in pain, I gave him some more Darvon, 2 or 3 this time and he was out like a light in just a few minutes.
When we landed some 8-9 hours later, I picked him up and carried him off the plane. I took him to the nearest medical facility and turned him over to the Corpsman and nurses there.
They told me that they would take care of him. I went to get some chow and find a place to sleep in the transient barracks, I wasn't scheduled to fly out until 2 days later.
The next morning, I went to find Jimmy, he was sitting up with his shoulder and arm in a cast, and he told me they were shipping him out that morning on a medical transport.
He was going to get home before me. Sometimes you just fall in it and come out smelling like a Rose.
I wished him well, told him I would come see him in Texas after I got home and settled into life as a free man. I shook his left hand gave him one last hug, we both had tears in our eyes.
I choked back a sob and told him I would see him soon...
I was never to see Jimmy alive again.
My First Redhead...
I went back to the infirmary to see Jimmy off. After he left, I was at odds as to what to do with myself for the next two days. Jimmy and I had our stay in Okinawa all planned out. Sleeping during the day around our duty schedule, which consisted mostly of keep you busy stuff, running all over base standing in line, waiting for some one to tell you to go somewhere else to stand in another line.
We had our evenings activities all planned. We were going to get off base. We were at Camp Butler, and go across the street to the village and partake of some of life's baser pleasures. I thought back to a time when I use to listen to Winston and Oscar, the pea pickers and their song. "I won't go huntin' with you Jake"
"I won't go huntin' with you Jake, but I'll go chasin' women
Go put your hounds back in the pen and quit that silly grinnin'
The moon is right, and I'm half tight; my life is just beginnin'
I won't go huntin' with you, Jake, but I'll go chasin' women"
Well, that had been our plan, but for some reason, I didn't feel like going into the village alone.
So, I decided to stay on base and just chill out, besides wearing a double layered vulcanized condom, to protect one's most prized possession didn't seem like it was worth the effort. Besides, the barracks were going to be empty and I probably could find time to take things in hand and delay the need for another couple of days.
After evening chow, I went back to the barracks and found a book out in the day room, went back to the rack and decided to read until taps. I didn't get very far into the book before I started daydreaming about my "Obsession", what I was going to do once I found one...
I thought back to a time of relative innocence, I was a 8th grader in a Catholic school, and I wanted to get a Vespa motor scooter in the worst way. I had found one used for only $200 it was a GS I think. Now I knew where one could be had, I only needed one other thing. Money.
My parents told me if I wanted it, I would have to earn the money myself. My Mom helped get me my first job, it was cleaning an office for a Lawyer once a day right after school, mostly just sweeping, taking out the trash and some light dusting of the legal books etc. For this labor, I received the princely sum of $50 a month. You have to remember that this was when the minimum wage was $1.25 per hour, so it was good pay for a minimum amount of time.
I found the other job myself, I went to the local Safeway Grocery Store and approached the manager and asked if he had any openings for a stock boy or grocery sacker/carry out boy. He promptly hired me on the spot and told me to show up on Thursday night, right after school, to work my first shift. 4:30-10:00PM.
I showed up that first Thursday afternoon, went into the break room and stopped dead in my tracks. There were three or four of the lady cashiers there getting ready for their evening shift, and one of them literally almost knocked me off my feet. It wasn't that she was so extremely beautiful, she wasn't, but she was very striking.
I am 6'5" and at that time around 170 lbs I was also a little bit behind in my school, I had missed a grade, so I was bigger than all the other kids. This lady was all of 6' tall, very very slender, her breasts were almost non existent, just two little bumps, and legs that started just below her chin and seemed to go down forever. She didn't have a lot of curves, but what she had were distributed well, her most striking feature was her milky white skin and her flaming red hair. It surround her head in a halo of fire. She looked up at me and smiled and nodded, I introduced my self to everyone, and found out that her name was Grace.
She was very well named, as she was the personification of all things graceful, she seemed so calm and self assured, she moved though the work day like a queen and we were all her loyal subjects.
At least that is the way I felt, the reality as it is, most of the time, was very different. But I wouldn't find out about that until a short while later.
I was 14 and I was in LOVE! All I could do in school each day was sit there and think about Grace. I was sure that she didn't even know I was alive.
Since I now had two jobs, my Mom relented and advanced me the money to buy my scooter. Now I was a man with a plan, I could come and go as I wanted, and I had the means to do so.
In reality, I didn't do too much planning or too much running around. I had spent to many years in the Boy Scouts, and I was working on my Eagle. I wanted that rank badly. I was not very prone to doing anything that would screw that up. So I guess you could say I was a pretty responsible young man. At least that is the way I saw myself.
As time went by, I couldn't wait to go to work. I would do my work and by some means or another, I would always be sacking groceries behind Grace in her check out lane. She would talk to me like I was an adult, ask me questions about school, or the Scouts.
Of course she knew that I was a good Catholic boy, as the Mother Superior and two or three of the Nuns from the School convent would come in on Friday evenings and do their weekly grocery shopping, and I always seemed to be the one that helped them. Mother Superior was a great person, and she loved to tease me and she was very good at it. She had six older brothers and she had learned how to control men early in life.
Grace, would sometimes gently tease me too, but it was Okay, it was all in fun, and I enjoyed the attention from her.
One night a couple of months after I started, I wheeled into the lot at the store, I was coming from Baseball practice which we had in the last period of the day, I hadn't been able to go home and change, so I was in my gym clothes and had my bat and glove with me.
I saw a car pull up behind where I had parked and saw Grace get out, she was weeping and the man in the car was screaming at her. I stood there kind of dumb founded. I didn't know what to do, even if there was anything I could do. I knew that something bad, had happened, for Grace to come to work in tears. After the car left, I walked up to her and asked if there was anything that I could do to help.
"No Honey, there's not much anything anyone can do to help." Grace replied.
I didn't know what she meant, we started to walk toward the store, when she started to sag toward the ground, I caught her up and put an arm around her waist and helped support her so she could walk and we went into the store to the break room. Once in there I could see she had a bruise on her cheek that had been on the side away from me, so I hadn't seen it right away, her eye was starting to swell up too.
I looked at her more carefully, and saw evidence of many blows to her arms and legs, she looked like she had been used for a punching bag. I was totally stunned, I had never seen such violence done to another person in my life, I immediately became angry beyond all reason.
"Grace, tell me what happened?" I asked her.
"No, Honey, it's better that you stay out of it. I'll be Okay, please help me to the rest room, so I can fix my face and cover up some of these bruises with make-up." she said.
I helped her to her feet, and half carried her into the women's bathroom and left her there. I went back to the break room to wait for her. I didn't know what to do, but I knew something had to be done to put a stop to who ever was hurting her.
When she came out she looked normal, no sign of any bruising at all. She smiled at me and the room lit up. Every time she did that I was just struck dumb, and almost speechless. Just thinking about it today almost fifty years later, she still leaves me completely in awe of her.
We went out on to the floor to work our shift.
The store closed at 10:00 PM, so as our shift drew to a close, I asked Grace what she was going to do.
"Honey, don't worry about it. I'll be all right," she said to me.
"Do you want me to wait with you after the store closes. While you wait for him to come for you?" I asked.
"No," she said, "it will be okay. You just go on home and I'll see you tomorrow."
Since this was Friday night, we both had to work all day tomorrow. We went into the break room and clocked out, I grabbed my stuff, and headed outside. I knew that I had to do something, but what?
I didn't have a clue. So I jumped on my scooter and shot out of the parking lot and went down the street on the side of the store. I went down into the middle of the next block. It was dark, and there cars parked. I backed in between two parked cars, let my rear wheel rest against the curb, and shut down the engine. It was a dark cool spring night. The spot I had chosen had overhanging tree branches that almost hung down to the roofs of the cars. The leaves were not fully developed, so even though my head was up in the low hanging branches, I could see down the block to the store.
In just a couple of minutes Grace came out of the store and moved around the side of the store where I had parked and her ride would pick her up. She just stood on the fringe of the pool of light given off by the front lights of the store. Most of her was in shadows, but every once in awhile I would get a glimpse of the wonderful mane of fiery red hair as she paced back and forth beside the store.
We waited together, she by the store, and me in my hidden observation post. Everyone else had left. Grace was by herself standing there in the gloom of the store's night light.
After about 15 minutes I heard the squeal of tires as a car careened around the corner heading down the block and into the parking lot of the store. I recognized the car that had brought Grace to work that afternoon. The driver slammed on his brakes and came to a screeching stop. He got out and almost fell down he was so drunk.
"Get in the car, Bitch," I could hear him yell at her. As she started to go around the back of the car to get in, he ran at her and swung his right arm at her and I could hear the blow connect from almost a block away. He had knocked her down to the ground and started to beat on her with both fists.
I couldn't take it any more. I started my scooter and screamed down the street. I slid to a stop a few feet away. He was so engrossed in what he was doing, I came up behind him and hit him with my bat in the back of his right leg. He went down.
Grace saw what had happened. She ran to me and told me to go, to get out of here as he had not seen me and was passed out from the alcohol on the ground.
"Grace, are you sure?" I asked,
"Yes." she said. "Just go. I'll see you tomorrow."
He was starting to come around. She looked at me and waved for me to go. I started up and drove slowly away, all the while watching what was going on over my shoulder. She helped him get up, put him in the back seat, got in the drivers seat, started the car, and drove out of the parking lot.
I waited awhile and started to follow. I knew I shouldn't, but I just had to know that she would be all right. I followed about a block behind with my light off.
I followed her through the dark city streets for almost 15 minutes, until we got to a poorer section of town. I was about two blocks behind her when she pulled over to the side of the street and parked in front of an old apartment house.
I moved closer so I could see and watched as she got him out of the car. She helped him up the stairs and into one of the downstairs apartments on the left front side of the entry door. I saw the light come on, and then I saw the TV come on.
I had moved up closer after they went inside. I was just across the street watching through the thin gauze-like curtains. I couldn't see him, but she was up and walking around. She turned off the TV and looked like she was getting ready for bed. She moved around the house turning off the lights and soon it was dark. I continued to watch, but it looked like all the action was over for tonight.
Just as I was about to leave, a small table light came on in the living room. I saw him sit up from where he must have been laying on the couch. He stood up and went into what I guessed must be the bathroom, a light went on and then the door closed and the light blinked out. I started my scooter and was just pulling away, when I heard a front door slam and then all of a sudden there he was coming down the front steps. I thought he had seen me across the street but, no, he was heading for the car. He got in and started it and drove down the street.
I started up and slowly followed down the street a couple of blocks behind. He finally slowed to stop in front of what turned out to be a package liquor store. There was no place for him to park, so he went on past and turned right. I thought he was going to go on home, but he was just circling the block so he could come up on the side of the store to park.
I watched all this from a little ways away. He parked, got out and headed for the front door of the store. As soon as he was inside, I turned down the street he was parked in and turned left into the alley behind the store he was in.
There I sat in the alley behind the store in the dark, trying to figure out what to do, when all of a sudden I made up my mind. I was going to make him pay for all the pain he had given the woman that I was in love with. I got off the scooter, and started rummaging around in the garbage behind the store until I found a piece of 2X4 about three foot long. I didn't want to use my bat. I wanted this to hurt.
I moved out and up behind his car and crouched down so he wouldn't see me. I waited there in the dark the only light coming off the front of the store.
Soon he came out and stumbled his way to the car carrying a couple of cases of beer and a bottle or two. Just as he got the driver's side rear door open, I came up behind him.
I said in a low whisper. "Hey, mister..."
As he turned to look at me, I brought the 2X4 down like a pool cue hitting a cue ball, right between his eyes. He went down like a pole axed steer in a slaughter house. He was out like a light. I was shocked that he had went down so easily, I stood over him looking down. What I saw was a pathetically weak middle aged man. I was appalled that he would terrorize a woman as nice and beautiful as Grace was.
I had always been afraid of hitting anyone. My mom and dad had always cautioned me to be very careful and not get into fights. I only had a few with a bully in the fifth grade. I was always so much bigger than everyone else, my size kind of frightened me. I was very strong; I had been lifting weights since I was eight and pulling a 40 pound bow a 100 times a day in junior archery competition.
I had tried not to hit him too hard, I didn't want to kill him, just make him hurt, the way he had made Grace hurt so many times.
He dropped the booze. It hit the ground with a crash just like he did. I was ready to run, but no one seemed to have heard. I stood over him and looked down a man about 5'6" 140 lbs. I asked myself how this man could be terrorizing the woman that I idolized.
I decided to make sure that if he ever decided to hurt someone again, he would remember this night for the rest of his life. I started to methodically hit him with the 2X4 where I knew it would not do permanent damage, but would hurt for a long time.
I brought the 2X4 straight down on the fingers of both hands, I did the same to both feet. I broke both forearms and both shin bones in his legs. By this time I was breathing hard and my vision was a red mist. I forced myself to stop and looked down at him, shocked at what I had done. I bent down and searched him for his wallet. When I found it, I took off for the alley and the scooter. I stripped the wallet and threw it in the garbage pile to make it look like he was robbed.
I pushed the scooter to the other end of the alley as far away as from the store as I could get, started it and rode away as quietly as possible. Once I got a couple of blocks away, I pulled into another alley and threw away all the money and identification from the wallet. I wanted nothing from this pitiful man. Before I threw away the driver's license, I looked at the name. I was surprised; his last name was different than Grace's last name. It did turn out later that he was not her husband, but a person she took into her house who needed help and for her help she got beaten over and over again.
I went home...
All of a sudden, I jerked awake to reveille, being played over the loud speakers in the transient barracks in Okinawa.
I had one more day and a wake up and I would finally be on my way back to the World. To put this statement in more understandable language: The World was anywhere else other than Viet Nam.
For most service men deep down it meant the good old UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!!!!
Our final day was filled with meaningless (to us) busy work. The final physical mostly consisted of drop your trousers, bend forward, grab your cheeks and spread them. UMpfff, as some one with a greased up finger stuck it up your butt, and felt your prostate. Another group of medical personnel were coming down the front of the column, telling you to turn your head to the side and cough as they stuck their fingers up into your nut sack. All done in complete view of several hundred other personnel, all going through the same thing. Really fun way to spend your last full day in the Marines.
The last exam that was performed was a Psychological Evaluation. The Corps had to make sure they weren't sending any newly minted killers back to the loving arms of their families without even having a clue as to our mental stability.
The exam went much like this.
We all stood in line outside the doctor's office. I believe they actually had a real psychologist for this one. Anyway, you heard the word "next" shouted through the closed door, you entered, presented yourself front and center in front of the doctor's desk and shouted the preapproved answer to the two questions you were given outside the door by the Corporal supervising your platoon's movements through out the day.
"How do you feel?"
Answer: "Good, Sir."
"Where are you going tomorrow?"
Psychologist looks up at you after stamping your paper work and shouts, "NEXT."
That was the entire psychological evaluation.
After that they took us in formation to noon chow, and we had the rest of the day to pack our shit and get ready to meet the plane the next morning.
Back to the world...
Once back in the barracks, most of our platoon got ready for off base liberty for the last night. Most got ready by preforming the three most rudimentary tasks of personal hygiene. The three SSS's were: Shit, Shower and Shave, and not necessarily in that order. However that was my preferred order of execution. Once those tasks were accomplished, we sat around and shot the shit for the rest of the afternoon, waiting for liberty call. Normally you could leave the base after the work day ended. I bid my fellow Marines goodnight as they left for the village, outside the gates for one last night of sin and debauchery. I had no desire to attend.
I wanted to just sleep and relax, so that when I hit El Toro, I would be gone like a big ass bird out the gate and on my way home to a new life. However life had one more evil little surprise up its sleeve. That trick it seemed was administrative incompetence. It seemed that all our paper work shipped along with us could not be located and would have to be redone. Okinawa had been up to staff to handle all of this; El Toro was not. They operated with a minimum of clerical staff, and it would be two more weeks of mind numbing boredom while we waited to have all our paper work redone, because they only had three clerk typists to redo all the discharge paperwork.
I was at the head of the line when this earth shattering bit of news was delivered to us. The collective groan could be heard, I am sure, all the way to Disneyland many miles to the south.
What to do? You know, overcome, adapt, make do. The Marine Corps mission statement. I had served four years in Aviation Administration that meant I was a very fast typist. I knew of at least seven other admin types in our group. I went to them. and said.
"Look, guys, if you will help me, we can have all of these guys and ourselves out of here in two days," I said" And that is just what we did.
We all went to the Sergeant Major and told him we were there to help. Frankly you could have knocked him over with a feather, because this just didn't happen. No one in the Corps volunteered for anything. Not strictly true, but at least not in front of several hundred of your fellow Marines,. They would think you had a screw loose. But I wanted out of there in the worst way and so did the others, so we figured we could put in two more days of hard work for the good of all.
The next two days was a blur of flying fingers, a billowing cloud of paperwork, endless cups of coffee. But finally it was done and we were free.
We hit the gate and the taxis that would take us to LAX and we would be on the way home. As we pulled away from El Toro, I settled in for the ride. Laid my head back on the seat, and thought of Grace...
... after I dumped the contents of the wallet in another garbage can several blocks away, I then started driving my scooter slowly homeward. What had I done? I was sick to my stomach. Tears started to roll down my cheeks, and it got so bad I couldn't see to drive. I stopped and all of a sudden my stomach erupted with the anguish and burning bile and vomit spewed out of me in a rush. I stood there puking on the side of the road, ashamed of what I had done. Once I got a hold of myself, I continued home. I started to think more clearly. I had to get rid of the 2X4 and my prized possession, my very thin leather Le Mans driving gloves that I had bought to use when driving my machine.
Once I got home, I put the scooter in the single stall garage on the back end of our lot. Dad used it for his work shed, and I got to store my scooter there as well. Once I got inside with the door closed and light on, I proceeded to clamp the 2X4 in the bench vise and I cut it up with a hand saw. It only took a couple of minutes to reduce it to kindling. I then took it and my gloves out to the burn pile and shoved them in under the pile and pulled unburnt paper over the top. I would burn the trash in the morning first thing.
The house was dark as I approached. I thought I had gotten away without being seen, but I should have known better. Mom was sitting in the living room in the dark waiting for me.
"Where have you been? You are two hours late. I was getting worried."
"I'm sorry, Mom. I went out with some of the other guys to McDonald's and I didn't watch the time."
"What's that smell?" She could smell the vomit on me.
"Something I ate didn't agree with me and I threw up on the way home," I said.
"Well, go take a shower and get to bed, it late and I don't want you getting in bed smelling like that," she said.
When I got to my room, my heart was pounding, I was so scared. I thought my goose was cooked.
In the morning, I was up bright and early, emptied all the trash cans out onto the burn pile, got some Boy Scout water, flipped a match at the pile, and it went up with a wooooossshhh. In just a few minutes the evidence was gone.
I jumped on my scooter and headed for work. It seemed like a year had come and gone in my life. I felt somehow like something had changed inside of me and I was no longer just a teenager. I had somehow magically skipped the rest of my childhood, and I was all of a sudden an adult in a teenager's skin.
I could hardly wait to see Grace. I got there and clocked in early with the other bag boys and we started restocking the check out stands with bags and other necessities for the day. When we were done, we all went to the back room to bundle the cardboard boxes that had been emptied by the night restocking crew. It took a couple of hours to cut the boxes up with our box cutters so they would lay flat and could be put into the pile to be tied into bundles. Around 9:30AM we were done, so I headed toward the front of the store to see Grace, but she wasn't there. I asked Millie where Grace was.
She said, "She called in sick."
The rest of the day seemed to just drag by. Finally it was 5:00 PM and I clocked out. I knew I couldn't go by Grace's place, because she didn't know that I knew where she lived. So I just went home.
The next week was much of the same. Finally I asked the manager how Grace was doing. He told me that she had come in on Wednesday and had quit her job. I couldn't believe it. When I clocked out later that evening at 10:00PM I flew out of the store, and raced over to Grace's apartment building. Her apartment was dark. I slipped up to it from the side hoping to see inside. When I could look in the corner of a window, I saw that the place was empty, nothing left. No curtains, no trash nothing. I finally saw a small sign in the lower right corner of the front window.
"APARTMENT FOR RENT"
She was gone.
The next day was Saturday. I didn't have to go in till noon. When I got there, Millie told me that Grace had stopped by to tell everyone goodbye.
"She wanted to talk to you. She gave me this, for you." Millie said, and handed me a sealed envelope, with my name written on the front.
We were very busy, so I didn't get a chance to read it at work. When I finally got home, I ran up stairs and locked myself in my room, took out the letter and carefully slit it open with my box cutter. It was only one page.
Thank you for what you did. Because of it, I have the courage to get away, and I am going to start living. I know you didn't know it, but he had been blackmailing me because of something I had done in the past that I was to ashamed of to go home.
I am going home.
I will always remember you. You saved me.
*Note: There was a 2nd Tet Offensive in Feb 1969. Please Google.