Monday, August 22, 2005

The Summer of 72 - America

Here is a short story from "Junction: County Road 197 (mild adventure for the armchair ruralist). The book is available to read online at from a link at Chumuckla.Net Here is a little of how it felt to come back to the ship after a brief shore leave:

Soldiers and sailors throughout the land struggled to reach their units.

Crowds pressed them and jostled them in large cities and small towns. Sometimes people spit on them. Sometimes people threw rocks. It was common to receive an unkind, vulgar gesture from the natives. In some areas, they were simply shunned. People pretended they did not exist.

The uniforms were a dead giveaway. These soldiers were tools of U.S. military imperialism. They were not welcome. The times were troublesome. It was a dangerous country for American servicemen.

In peril, the young soldiers and sailors pressed on to join up with their comrades.

Some anticipated the hostilities. They camouflaged their appearance with civilian attire. They hoped to blend in with the nation's populace. Often as not, civilian clothes were merely a temporary ruse; the short hair, the innocent youth, and the green sea-bags were telltale identification. They were marked military targets.

Small battles took place. One-on-one encounters between an intellectual pacifist and the kid in uniform. The intellectual, who was probably a student of defunct world cultures returning to school after a weekend of revelry, sincerely tried to spark the ideal of pacifism in the young gladiator's heart.

Self-anointed moralists chastised the evil sailor, who was armed only with a comb, a cigarette lighter, dog tags, and his heavy (very heavy) sea-bag. " Warmonger!"

In crowded transportation terminals, the boy soldier was accosted by young religious devotees clothed in saffron robes. The youthful saffron inductees lectured the innocent military inductee about the evils of war. They asked for a donation to help the cause of peace. The soldier donated a dime. Later, another tribe espoused world peace. He donated a nickel. By the third time the poor soldier was asked for a donation to promote universal peace, his vote came down decidedly in favor of war.
Were it not for a generally silent but sympathetic underground network of people who cared, many American soldiers and sailors might have been lost before they could rejoin their units.

This was America in 1972.

I recall the summer of 1972. The USS O'Callahan crew returned to their ship. Sailors rebounded from their final shore leave. One pink seaman apprentice, with a smattering of adolescent whiskers standing defiantly at attention between the mountainous pimples on his cheeks, marched aboard with a Bible under his arm. It was newly purchased from a street vendor hawking the imitation leather-bound Book. The sailor had paid an extra twenty dollars to have his mother's name embossed on the cover in imitation gold. Others struggled aboard with the odor of a distillery clinging to the air about them.

The captain ordered the bow line cast off. He ordered the engine back one third. The ship's horn sounded one long blast, followed by three short blasts. We backed into the San Diego Harbor.

The O'Callahan steamed past Point Loma and made for open sea. Most were apprehensive, but the apprehension was tempered with a sense of adventure. We steamed west to join the 7th Fleet and do battle with an enemy. It felt good to be among our own kind, having passed through a nation of hostile strangers.

It was an odd time to be in uniform.

Years have healed the animosity among fellow Americans in those times. Today, there is a healthy respect for people in uniform.
That is as it should be.
(From Vic Campbell - at the time, a very green ensign and far from the familiar herds of cattle and crops of soybeans and peanuts in the Florida Panhandle).

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