The Girl From Yesterday
There was no work in our small community so I enlisted in the Army. It would be a month before I would be heading to basic training at Fort Polk, near Leesville, Louisiana. My friend Mel—short for Melanie—was mad at me for enlisting. We were good friends but were never really committed to each other. We dated some in high school and even had sex a couple of times.
She was the neighbor girl that I had known for years. We were more like best buds than lovers. The sex just happened when we were alone at the end of the school year. It was the first time for both of us I think. It was awkward talking to each other after the first time. We finally realized it was all just part of growing up.
The month passed by quickly, and suddenly I was in Columbus for in-processing into the Army, and was surprised that there wasn't a lot of harassment, you know the kind where the Sergeants scream and yell at you.
All the paperwork, testing, physicals and such took about three days, and then we were shipped immediately to Fort Polk on a chartered bus. Then the harassment started. I can only say it was chicken-shit, but later, after I returned alive from Nam I appreciated every pushup I'd had to do. The training I received there and later at Fort Benning helped keep me from not returning at all.
I did all the processing that had to take place at the Army Reception Center. The physical exam was a pain in the ass. Lines of men in skivvies walking here and there to be pushed poked and prodded. And that's not mentioning the damn needles. I swear that the Army has an injection for every letter of the alphabet.
While I was in line, one of the guys told me a story that he swore was true, but I didn't really believe him. It seemed that this guy had been drafted, but really did not want to serve Uncle Sam. So he pretended to not be able to successfully read the eye chart. The doctor, of course, had done thousands of these physicals, and knew every trick. So he had a nude nurse walk across the hallway at the other end of the building. The draftee had the expected reaction.
The doctor asked the young man, "Son, did you see anything down the hall?"
"No, Sir, I didn't."
"Well, soldier, your indicator says you are lying. Welcome to the Army—you have just passed the physical."
I did better than I expected on at the Armed Forces Qualification Test. It was somewhat like the National Merit Scholarship test I'd taken in high school. Anyway, I got a high enough score that they told me I could take about any advanced training course I wanted. I had a chat with one of the sergeants during a break, and he told me it got colder than hell at Fort Polk. The days were usually nice, but in mid-winter it could get down to the mid-twenties. This was around the first of November, so I'd finish basic sometime in late January.
We chatted for a while, and I decided to go to radio school for my advanced training. This was in Augusta, Georgia, so I thought, "Well, how cold can it be in Georgia. So I signed the papers for that—it would be right at the start of spring.
When I finished my in-processing, the bunch of us went to Fort Polk by bus. We were assigned to an administrative company for equipment issue and to wait for the next basic training cycle to start. They were assigning everyone to Kitchen Police like mad—and I wanted no part of KP. I asked around and as a result, volunteered to keep the coal fired furnaces running at night. So I did this every third night. I mean, how bad could it be to sit in a warm room and shovel in coal as needed?
We finally got assigned to a training company, and it immediately became not very much fun. The first night around three in the morning, they started banging on the metal triangles for a fire alarm. I was upstairs, and when I stepped out in the hallway, I saw smoke pouring up the stairwells. I dashed down the hall, wearing nothing but my boxer shorts. The recruits were panicking, including me, as we ran out into a heavy, cold rain, looking for the fire.
Well, what they had done was put a smoke grenade in an empty barrel at each end of the first floor of the barracks. After about ten minutes, the sergeant told us to go back to bed. The next morning, with no warning, we had an inspection. We knew nothing about what to expect, and certainly were not prepared since we had got to the company just before dinner the previous evening.
We were amazingly in two person rooms, but somehow I wound up in a room of my own. When the training platoon and sergeant leaders came into the room, I could see the first lieutenant was bored. Later I found out he had just re-enlisted and was waiting to go to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey for Advanced Signal training. They parked him here to keep him busy. The sergeant looked at me and asked, in a nasty voice, "Soldier, do you button your shirt from the top down or bottom up?"
I froze for a second—I really couldn't remember which way I did it. I blurted out, "Uh, from the bottom up Sir."
God dammit soldier, this gentleman next to me is an officer; you salute him and call him sir. You do not salute me; you do not call me sir. You may call me sergeant or Sergeant Miller. Now give me twenty pushups for not knowing how to button your shirt."
I heard them the next room over, and it was the same—except the private there said the opposite of what I did and still had to do the punishment. I immediately had an epiphany that served me well for the rest of the time I was in the Army. It did not make any difference what you did, how you did it, or even what you knew. If you were wrong about something you caught shit for it. If you were right—well you were wrong and still caught hell for it. I would always remember that when I saw a sergeant in a movie.
The training was a combination of chicken-shit, that is trying to tear us down and rebuild us into a soldier; and a practical course of training that actually did make a lot of sense if we were going to run around killing people and trying to avoid the same fate. Or as General Patton put it so succinctly, "No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country."
I surprisingly turned out to be quite good with a rifle. I scored expert using a M1 on the known distance range. It was something that I was really good at since I've hunted ever since I was a kid. I scored the highest on the shooting range. My CO called me a natural. It was my dad's influence that made me such a good shot. He owned and operated a small sports shop in our town. There wasn't much I didn't know about hunting and guns.
I especially enjoyed myself on the pop-up target course. We would walk down a path and when a silhouette of an enemy soldier jumped up we had three seconds to hit it before it went down. To make it more challenging, some of the targets were of non-combatants, maybe children. You kill a kid and you scored zero for the course.
Riding home on the bus I was pleased at how I looked. I knew how to wear the uniform and being in the best shape I'd ever been in made me look sharp. I was so happy to come home after basic training. As soon as I arrived, I headed over to see Mel. Our families knew each other so well that we just walked into each other's house and thought nothing of it. That was the friendly kind of community we lived in.
I walked into Mel's house, and said, "Anybody home?" I looked up and there was Mel kissing Brad; a guy that she once told me she liked.
"Mike, I wasn't expecting you home until tomorrow." I knew we all felt out of place, but this was sure a surprise for me. It had been a couple of months since I saw her, but still!
I talked to them a few minutes and headed home. Seeing her with Brad made me realize I really cared for her. I guess it was best to find out she didn't feel the same now before I went overseas.
I did my best to avoid her for the two weeks I was home. I didn't want to be alone with her; I knew it would hurt too much. The day I was leaving she came over to our house to say goodbye to me. She even gave me a kiss in front of my parents. I did my best not to show much emotion even though my insides were aching.
"It wasn't really sad the way they said good-bye
Or maybe it just hurt so bad she couldn't cry
He packed his things, walked out the door and drove away
And she became the girl from yesterday."
I knew that I would be gone for at least a year or more. I couldn't help but think that it would have been nice to have a girl back home thinking about me. Even though I would be with a band of brothers, I knew there would be a place in my heart filled with loneliness.
The day before I was supposed to leave I got a phone call giving me verbal orders cancelling my planned training at Fort Gordon. I was to go to Fort Benning in Georgia for Advanced Infantry Training. They told me to tell anyone who asked for my orders that I was traveling under verbal orders of the Commanding Officer Fort Benning. New orders would be awaiting me when I checked in.
I was pissed at this, but I already knew enough about the Army to just accept it. I later learned that they desperately needed grunts to man the foxholes in Viet Nam. When I checked in the Officer of the Day was sympathetic and told he was putting a note in my file to get me to Radio School later if I still wanted to.
They treated us with a lot more respect in AIT, as men and as soldiers. It was intensive training on tactics and weapons. I fired for score with both the M1 and M14. I fired high expert on the M14 which was just being introduced. The range officer talked to me about sniper school. But events kept me from going to sniper school.
There were tons of rumors going around, but very few facts. The truth turned out to be that the 5th Calvary Regiment was being reformed at Fort Benning in preparation for being sent to Viet Nam. Our entire training class—with only a couple of exceptions—was transferred. The 5th was to be an Air Cavalry Regiment with some armored attachments. We were suddenly being giving intense training using helicopters as a means of insertion and extraction in combat situations.
There was a strong sense of mission and urgency. It became clear as we trained over that summer of '65, that we were headed to war as soon as the training finished. I was in the 2nd battalion, and we trained along with the 12th.
Before we had much of a chance to think about it we were in Viet Nam in the Ia Drang Valley. Later it would be hard for "cherries" or new recruits when they arrived in a combat area. No one wanted to be with them because too many of them were killed in the first few weeks. But at this time we were all "cherries" and died all too rapidly.
I wasn't able to receive mail for over a month. I was surprised to find a half dozen letters waiting for me when I received my first mail call. I received two letters from mom and four letters from Mel.
Now she tells me how much she cares for me and how she will miss me. I didn't know if she was just being nice or if she really meant it. She had written me a letter at least every other week. When I received the next letter she told me she was going to college and take up nursing.
I do have to admit it felt good getting letters from Mel. I often thought back and wondered how life could have been different if we would have just talked to each other and said how we felt. I guess it's true when they say, "You don't know what you have, until you have lost it." That's how I felt about Mel.
Being overseas and fighting a war was hell. I knew why we were there every time I helped another Vietnamese family find a safer place to live. I had my parents send me boxes of candy that I could package up and give to the kids. It was just like you see on TV, the smiling kids every time you gave them a box of candy or a hug. They just wanted to feel safe and my being there helped.
I was also growing up fast ... seeing the tragedies of war, my fellow soldiers being shot and some even killed ... the nightmares that you can't get out of your head. I had witnessed more death in the first month in Viet Nam than most people back home see in a lifetime. It was the letters and gifts from home along with the letters from Mel that helped me keep going.
On one of our first missions we had to go recover remains of our soldiers who had been captured by the enemy. The NVA troops slaughtered our wounded men. Most bodies we recovered were shot in the head or back. At other locations, we heard wounded American soldiers were tied to trees, tortured, and then murdered.
We were thrilled with General Westmoreland's new strategy of 'search and destroy'. The objective was to find and then kill members of the Viet Cong. We found this difficult. Our problem was that we never knew who the enemy was and who our friends were. They all looked alike. They all dressed alike. We killed many innocent civilians by mistake. Out Platoon Leader, a sharp First Lieutenant, admitted the friendlies "were usually counted as enemy dead, under the unwritten rule 'If he's dead and Vietnamese, he's VC'."
In the villages they controlled, the VC often built underground tunnels. These tunnels led out of the villages into the jungle. They also contained caverns where they stored their printing presses, surgical instruments and the equipment for making booby traps and land mines. If US patrols arrived in the village unexpectedly, the Viet Cong would hide in these underground caverns. Even if the troops found the entrance to the tunnels, they could not go into the tunnels as they were often too small for our generally larger bodies.
I was asked to volunteer to be a tunnel rat, but I was quick to make them aware of my claustrophobia. Later when I saw Mel, she asked, "But you love to explore caves. Remember that time..." I didn't even try to explain.
One of the hardest things for morale was the booby traps. The worst was the Panji traps. They would take spikes of bamboo or steel rods and coat them with human feces. They had various ways of triggering them, and the results were always nasty. I hated the grenade traps. Triggered by a low strung string, they were terribly lethal. They were often set low hoping to maim as much as to kill. The VC were pretty smart and knew that a wounded soldier sent home in a wheel chair was better propaganda than the casualty statistics.
One thing I was asked to volunteer for that I did agree to, was to spend a day with a sniper instructor. I was the de facto sniper for our company, since I was the most consistently accurate shooter. The platoon sergeants would come looking for me when they got pinned down by an enemy sniper, or needed a machine gun taken out. I wasn't sure about how I felt about killing as a sniper, but I finally justified it as just a different way to kill. Sniping wouldn't kill a man any deader than a claymore or hand grenade or calling in a napalm run; dead is dead. Not to mention that each VC I shot was one more that wouldn't be shooting at me!
The Battalion Sergeant Major had worked out with a Marine friend of his for me to spend a day with a sniper instructor at the Happy Valley sniper training facility in a Seabee rock quarry on the edge of Da Nang. I wasn't going to get any of the stuff about concealment, stealthy movement, Ghillie suits—just an intense day on improving my mechanics. We worked on breathing, trigger pull, target identification ... and shooting until my shoulder was killing me. I was amazed at the improvement in the accuracy and range of my shooting.
The Gunnery Sergeant doing the training emphasized, "The actual shooting is only twenty per cent of a snipers job. You're not learning the other eighty per cent, so keep that in mind. He did give me a new, match grade M1-D rifle. It was a truism that a better tool provides better results. Over the next six months before I ended my first tour, I figured I killed more of the enemy with one ammo belt than my platoon did with thousands of rounds. I told my platoon sergeant that he should get me a bonus for all the money I was saving the Army. He laughed, bought me a beer, and said, "Be happy!"
One situation stuck in my mind. A spotter had an ID on a senior VC commander, but he was over eight hundred yards away. I huddled there with the Company Commander, and evaluated the situation. The spotter pointed out the target and looking through my scope I could see him standing next to a tree. He was hidden from the waist down.
I knew I could hit a target to within one minute of a degree of arc. From a practical standpoint that meant I could hit a one inch circle at a hundred yards, two inches at two hundred and on out to a ten inch target at a thousand yards. I wasn't going to try anything fancy, certainly not a head shot. I was going for center of mass, his sternum in the middle of a two foot by two foot rectangle. I knew from experience I had about a ninety per cent chance of chance of hitting within six inches of his sternum. It wasn't until I felt the recoil that I even knew that I had fired—no flinching here!
It was a clean kill and earned me a couple of bottles of Jack Daniels from the CO. Of course, I shared them with my squad, the platoon sergeant and the platoon leader. The Lieutenant was a good guy and thought nothing of hobnobbing with the troops.
I thought I would be returning home after my thirteen month tour, but it didn't happen that way. I got a couple of weeks off to go to the Philippines, away from the war and all the bullshit. The only problem is that I was alone. I don't know if my mail didn't get forwarded or if Mel stopped writing me. I guessed I would just have to wait and see.
I found companionship with the local bar girls. It seemed odd that the sex was so open in other countries. These women just wanted a good time with the servicemen. We wined and dined them and got all the sex a man could handle. I made sure I was well supplied with condoms. I thought about Mel and felt as though I was cheating on her. I knew we spoke of our feeling for each other but we still didn't really commit to each other. At least that was what I led myself to believe.
The time off went by very quickly, and I was getting ready to return to the war zone. A couple of the girls and I had a final party with all the sex we could handle. The one thing I noticed is that it was just sex. I guess the way they got so excited whenever I gave them a little present ... or money, kinda took the romance out of it—but it sure did make them more enthusiastic. I didn't feel love but again, I wasn't sure what love was. But the sex was great—first class!
When I got back to our base camp I was called into Battalion HQ. The Executive Officer told me, "The Colonel needs a new radio operator. The current one will be transferring stateside, and he has heard good things about you from your company commander. If you want we will immediately send you to Fort Gordon and then back here. You won't be able to take leave while you are stateside. But what we will do if you want is at the end of your next tour we will send you to advanced signal school in New Jersey and give you a good choice of future assignment. I'd recommend Germany."
I just wanted to get out what I was doing so I said, "Yes, Sir!" It wasn't until later I found out I had to extend my three year enlistment for six months, but what the hell!
When I got to Fort Gordon, in Augusta, Georgia, I received a few forwarded letters. Mel told me she was busy studying at college and was doing quite well. She mentioned that she had hoped I would have come home but my parents had told her it would be another year. She told me she was saddened that she would not be seeing me.
School was good. I was promoted to corporal before I left 'Nam, so I didn't catch a lot of shit. The other students were about my age, but I felt so damn much more mature. I had to march the other guys around all the time since I was the highest rank in the class. We learned about the AN/GRC PRC10 – better known as the prick ten. I knew a lot about it since that's what we had been using. We learned Morse Code, which I had learned with my Scout Troop, and how to type on a teletype machine. It was weird since it was only three rows of keys and numbers and punctuation had to be shifted. Still, I learned to type and in later years it turned out to be a godsend when personal computers came out.
The main radio we studied was a radio-teletype system called an AN/GRC-19. It was a transmitter, receiver, radio teletypewriter, all combined into a system. It was designed to be used in a hut on the back of a ¾ ton truck. There was a larger radio we studied that was mounted on the back of deuce-and-a-half. Towards the end of the class we also learned to use crypto equipment and all of us had to be checked for top-secret crypto security clearance.
Before I knew it I was back in 'Nam and checking in with the Officer of the Day for the Battalion. He sat me down with the outgoing radio operator and told me to shadow him for the three weeks he had left. The Colonel had me in for dinner—it wasn't C Rations, but it also wasn't much better. Still, I appreciated the gesture.
From talking with the radio operator, there really wasn't much to do unless they were deployed to the field. Then it was almost like being a staff assistant. He had to even carry extra toilet paper in case his boss ran out.
A couple months later we did go out on a major operation. They, to me somewhat whimsically, called it a search & destroy. We were looking to take a battalion into maybe a couple of companies of Viet Cong. What we found was a VC battalion, plus an enhanced regiment of NVA, the regular North Vietnamese Army. It was a typical Army clusterfuck. Our goal was to punish the enemy severely. We were expecting a ten to one casualty ratio—that's ten enemies killed or wounded for each one of ours. It turned out to be about two to one. The Colonel was wounded in a mortar attack and I shit my pants.
We were pulled back to recuperate and lick our wounds. I talked to my buddies who all said they had girls back home. I guess we were all in the same boat. You had to wonder if your girl was really waiting for you.
The time passed quickly and I was becoming very cynical. The whole war was bullshit because it was being run by politicians back home, and not by commanders in the field that knew what needed to be done. It was like me being a sniper with a BB gun, one hand tied behind my back, and a blindfold on. All the brass seemed to care about was body counts. Well hell, the count I was taking was my buddies that were all too regularly being packed into body bags, and sent home for all too often ignominious burials. Not that the soldiers were ignominious, but the way they were treated was. No respect, no appreciation for trying to do well, an impossible job. I didn't wonder at my cynicism.
I'd been away for over two years now. I had a year-and-a-half left to serve. My CO said I would be getting a month off before returning to my unit. They did give me kind of a choice of where I would want to spend the rest of my tour of duty. There were a few places in the states and a couple of countries overseas. None were near my home town.
My commanding officer said he had to know as soon as I returned so the plans could be made. The nearest base that needed soldiers with my specialty in the states would be about three hundred miles away from my home, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The post was located just across the state line from Clarksville, Tennessee. At least I could go home and see my parents periodically. I needed to talk it over with them when I got home. On the other hand if I returned to 'Nam, there was a lot of bonus money I could receive. It could help pay for some schooling.
Then there was Mel; what would she want from me—just friendship or something more? If she didn't really feel about me the way I felt about her would I be better off to be overseas so I didn't see her when I would visit with my parents. Time would surely tell. If I didn't have her to come home and visit every couple of months, I might as well finish my service overseas. At least I got laid whenever I wanted even though it wasn't love.
I was getting anxious. In a month I would be going home. In my next letter, I wrote to Mel and let her know it would be great to see her again. It made me nervous wondering if she felt the way she wrote in her earlier letters. They seemed more loving and caring. I had to wonder if she did it to cheer up an old friend or was she for some reason waiting for me.
Mel had written me that she now had her own apartment near the hospital. She mentioned visiting her parents most every day. I guess according to her letters that she wasn't the best cook and tried to make it to her parent's house for dinner.
One thing that did bother me was that she hadn't written me as often as she used to. I was lucky to get a letter once a month. Most of it was about things going on in the community; nothing really personal anymore. She did still sign them 'Love Mel'. I also remember that she said she met some nice friends at the hospital and did go out with them.
I never asked her if they were men or women. I guess I really didn't want to know.
I've been through hell and back for two years now. I'd grown into a different person realizing that my life could end in any given minute. The thing I wanted most in life was a true love—someone to share my thoughts and my life with. I wanted to have kids of my own to nurture and raise.
War sure changes you—sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. For me it meant the closeness of family and friends, and helping those unable to help themselves.
On my way home I made it a point to stop off at my Aunt's house in Nevada, and at another relative's house in Texas. I saw my cousins that I haven't seen for quite some time. They all lived near one of the bases I could choose to go to. It wouldn't be that far from seeing some family for the next two years.
I arrived home and was greeted by my parents and sister. Boy, it was so good to see them. They threw me a little get together with some of the relatives and neighbors. I asked them about Mel and they told me they didn't see her very often.
I do have to admit it bothered me some. For some reason I thought they might be in closer contact. It was great seeing everyone. Of course they wanted to know what I was going to do next and I explained it was still up in the air. I could hardly tell anyone it depended on how Mel felt about me.
I had two weeks left to make my decision. I got hold of Mel and she invited me over. I told her I would pick her up at the hospital but she said she would prefer to meet me at her apartment.
I was sitting on her doorstep when she arrived home. I could see tears in her eyes when she saw me. I knew I had tears in mine. I grabbed her and kissed her. I couldn't help but tell her I loved her.
We went inside and I told her I wanted to take her out to dinner. She said she needed to shower first. I waited and watched the TV while she went to shower. I couldn't help myself. I stripped off my clothes and opened the bathroom door and got in the shower with her.
"Mike, what are you doing in..." She didn't get a chance to finish as I kissed her.
I soaped her up and rubbed her whole body. "I'm not hungry now. All I want is to make love to you".
She seemed nervous; maybe I was going too fast. She leaned over and kissed me. It was a very passionate kiss. I half dried her off and carried her to her bed and made love to her. It wasn't just sex, it was love. I could feel it in every part of my being.
We must have done it three times that night. The last was as good as the first. We ended up ordering a pizza. We did get hungry after all.
In the days that followed I saw her as often as I could. Each day we ended up making love. I knew I had kissed every inch of her body and loved it as much as she did receiving it.
She asked me what my plans were and I told her it depended on her. I explained my options to her. The closest I could be stationed was three hundred miles away but I would be able to see her a few times a year. The big money choice was to go back to Nam and finish my term. I could be back in a year, two at the most.
I asked her about her job at the hospital. She told me it was going well and she really enjoyed it. I could feel she was holding something back but I didn't want to push the issue.
We really didn't tell anyone how we felt about each other. I figured we would tell them when Mel was ready. I did go see her parents and Mel did act a bit more distant from me while I was there. I had always liked her parents and they liked me. After all I half grew up in their house and they treated me almost like a son.
Her mom did say Mel had an opportunity to transfer to a much larger hospital. It would take her further away from home and they wouldn't be able to see her as often. I figured that was one of the things that Mel wasn't telling me.
She had to work every day, so I didn't get to see her all that much. As of right now I was considering going to the closest base to home. At least I could see Mel. The problem is she would have to wait for me. I mean just seeing her a couple of times a year ... would it be enough?
On the Thursday before I was due to leave—which would be Monday—I spent the night with Mel. I took her out for dinner and made love to her the entire night. I licked, kissed and made love to every inch of her body. It was the last time I would be able to make love to her till I returned.
I told her I would be able to stop by on Sunday to say goodbye, but she said she would be working. I wanted to take her out Friday and Saturday but she told me she was involved in a wedding. A friend of hers at the hospital was getting married and she was one of the bridesmaids. The wedding had been planned for nearly a year.
"Mike, I have to go to work now but I have to talk to you before you leave." She looked at me very serious.
"What is it? Tell me now," I suggested.
"No, I need time to explain a lot of things to you that I have put off telling you. Please come here Sunday night so I can explain everything."
The last thing I told her before she left her house on Friday morning was that I loved her and couldn't wait for our wedding day. I then kissed her and she left.
She did tell me that I could take a shower and be sure to lock up her place before she left.
I jumped into the shower a very happy man. As I was drying off I heard her phone ring. Since it was her house I figured I'd let the answering machine get it. I did listen just in case it was Mel calling me in which I would pick up the phone.
Here was the message:
"Mel, this is Dan, I'm still out of town but I will be back Saturday for the wedding. I sure do miss you. Don't forget you promised to give me an answer at the wedding. I sure do hope it is yes. Well, have to go now. See you Saturday. Love ya."
Who the hell was Dan and what was he talking about wanting an answer from Mel? Is this what she wanted to talk to me about? Now I wasn't so happy. I needed to know about this Dan fellow, and what was it between him and Mel.
I had to spend the rest of my Friday going around and saying goodbye to my relatives and friends. Jim and Bob a couple of old friends of mine asked me if they could treat me to a few beers on Saturday. I told them that would be fine. I knew they would want to stay out the whole night so I told them I would meet them.
Seven o'clock at the Ramada Inn, I was told. They usually had a band on the weekend and quite a few females. I laughed and told them I would be there for the beers. I know I shouldn't have, but I stopped by the hospital to see Mel. I was told she had left early due to one of the nurses getting married. I figured I would just have to wait till Sunday and see what she wanted to tell me. I had a few questions of my own now.
I showed up at the Ramada Inn and Jim and Bob met me in the lounge. "I thought you guys said they had a band on Saturdays?"
"They usually do," said Bob, "but they reserved the party room for a wedding. We'll just have to settle for a little juke box music."
"Fine with me," I said as I plucked in a few quarters in the juke box.
I picked out an old song by the Eagles 'The Girl from Yesterday'. It made me think of Mel and me.
He took a plane across the sea
To some foreign land
She stayed at home and tried so hard to understand
How someone who had been so close could be so far away
And she became the girl from yesterday
After a few beers I had to use the restroom. As I was washing my hands, in walked Mr. Henderson, Mel's dad.
"Mike, what are you doing here?" he asked.
"A couple of old friends wanted to take me out for a few beers. They wanted to come here for the band but there's a wedding going on."
"I know. It's one of Mel's friends; in fact Mel's in the wedding party. You want to step in and say hi?"
We walked out into the hallway. He opened the door to the large room and I could see Mel dancing close with a good looking guy. She seemed to be having fun.
"No, I don't think so but can you tell me who Mel's dancing with?" I tried to say it in a nice way.
"Oh, that's Dan, Mel's boyfriend. I'm surprised she hasn't told you about him. He's a doctor and is moving to Indiana. He asked Mel to go with him. He's supposed to start his residency there."
"So, is she going?" I asked. I didn't know what else to say.
"She's supposed to tell him tonight. I know she cares for him but I honestly don't know if she loves him. We just want whatever our little girl wants. Well, I'd better get back in there before they think I went home. It was good to see you again Mike. I wish you the best." He smiled and walked into the room.
I was still holding the door open and watching Mel. Dan leaned forward and kissed her on the lips. My heart sunk into my stomach. I guess he got the answer he wanted. I had to leave. I stopped by the table and told Jim and Bob that I wasn't feeling good and had to leave. I was telling them the truth.
When I got home my dad knew something was wrong. I asked him if he would take me to the airport first thing in the morning. I had to leave.
"Mike, what is it? You can tell me."
"Dad, I have been in love with Mel for a long time. I found out tonight that she is marrying a doctor and moving to Indiana. I just need to get out of here. Will you take me to the airport first thing in the morning?"
"Of course I will but does this mean you'll be going back overseas?"
"I think so Dad. The money is good and it will give me a chance to get away. I really need that now."
I said goodbye to my mom and told her that I would send her my new address when I finally get settled down. As of right now I had no idea where it would be.
Dad and I left for the airport. I was flying on standby, but was able to catch a plane quickly. I said goodbye to my dad and he told me to be careful. When I arrived back at our base after a god-awful long flight, I quickly worked out a plan with the battalion clerks.
I would stay for the final few months of my tour in Viet 'Nam—but not as the Battalion CO Radio Operator. The New Commander bought in his own guy and I was to be sent down to Happy Valley for the full sniper course. It was really a marine facility, but I guess they liked the work that I had done and they took me in. Hell, they had just trained a group of Korean Special Forces, why couldn't they train an Army puke?
After I finished that I would go to the Advanced Signal Training at Fort Monmouth, then on to Fort Campbell. I would also have to go through Airborne training to fit in with the 101st Airborne.