A lot of history had gone down between my enlisting in the Navy Air Reserve in March of 1968 and arriving in San Diego in September of 1969 to find out where on Earth I would be stationed. Personally, a year of college. Globally, all over America and the world, an urgent need to resist arose among the young. In the Navy and Marines, that collective urge coalesced under the name G.I.’s Against Fascism. This movement came to my attention when I found a copy of their underground newsletter, Duck Power, in the transit barracks. Its logo was a cartoon of Donald Duck raising a clenched fist.
I liked that. Of an artistic bent, I sketched a larger version of it and taped it to my locker. Others saw it, and a bunch of fellow pseudo-rebels wanted it for themselves. I reproduced the illustration on paper, t-shirts, hats, notebook covers, luggage, and a guitar case. Using white laundry marker, I drew it on my black leather gear bag.
Not a week later, the inevitable memo came down from on high outlawing the group, their newsletter, and the duck power image. The symbol’s brief time in the sun was over. I could no longer carry the gear bag and had to get another. Obediently, I removed the drawing from my locker. Promptly, and not so obedient, I drew Duck Power Donald on its inside back wall with an indelible marker.
A few months later, after being force-fed all aspects of aviation maintenance administration in Japan, I flew to my squadron’s detachment at Da Nang Airbase to put that knowledge to use.
The ambitious plans of all sides in Southeast Asia were already FUBAR. North Vietnamese soldiers and civilians, and South Vietnamese guerrillas were suffering ghastly losses. America was officially pulling out, and “Vietnamization” was in full swing. We didn’t know America would still be there for five more years, but the course was clear. Nobody wanted to be last to die for a lost cause. Too bad for the millions of abused South Vietnamese who didn’t want the Communists in charge any more than they wished to have their obviously corrupt regime or the Americans run the country.
Damn it. I signed up believing the current role of American fighting forces was equivalent to our fascist-fighting fathers in World War II.
Nevertheless, in addition to doing my part to make a squadron function, I assumed the volunteer role of a departing airman. Every payday, I sought donations from members of VRC-50 (my squadron) and VQ-1 (that shared the same cantonment). A guy from that unit and I then bought soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, wash rags, towels, detergent, first aid supplies, and so forth, and delivered them to an orphanage south of Da Nang. Also every payday I bummed the squadron pickup for the delivery. Along with the keys, my Chief would hand me a .38 pistol and a box of bullets saying only: “Don’t get killed.”
Three Catholic nuns, Swiss, French and English, ran the place. They were compassionate, dedicated and brave; the priests who worked the local circuit of churches and this facility were beheaded the year before.
Because my partner and I were never armed with anything more than a dinky pistol when going outside the wire, we would pick up hitchhiking Marine infantrymen who were theoretically returning from sweeps through the countryside. A myth, we found out. The jarheads would get out of sight of their commanders, smoke grass, get hungry, and start slogging back to base. Nevertheless, they were heavily armed and knew a heck of a lot more about what to do in a firefight than we did. They were also much more attuned to potential trouble.
We gave them a ride in return for protection. When requested, we would go by the PX near Freedom Hill and purchase hard liquor for them that they were forbidden to buy. That order came down after an intramural firefight due to racial friction. Automatic weapons, grenades, alcohol, loudmouth rednecks and black G.I.’s who had just had enough: there’s a combustible combination for you. Still, if they had to fight and die for their country, we thought they should be able to have a little Jack Daniel’s if that was what they wanted.
By this time, the attitude among almost everybody was: “What are they going to do, send me to Vietnam?” Marijuana was cheap and plentiful. I smoked openly.
My associate in the orphanage endeavor was a Californian whose name started with a “P.” Phillips, maybe? There are holes in my memory. See the previous paragraph. He had the idea that we should get some guys together and write every member of Congress. A Vietnam postmark should mean something, he said. It didn’t. We got a total of one reply: Senator J. William Fulbright. So much for our blow against the insanity of this pointless war.
On my 20th birthday, I flew out of Da Nang en route to Japan. Once there, I moved into an apartment in the Sagami-Otsuka neighborhood of Yamato with a friend. On my return, I brought up reviving Duck Power in the Far East. My friend and two other of our buddies were way ahead of me. They had a line on the mimeograph machine used by some Air Force personnel at nearby Yokota Air Base for an underground paper. The airmen were busted and suffered courts-martial, yet merely got reassigned to distant duty stations for their “seditious” behavior. Even though we never actually put our hands on the machine, within two months we, too, were mysteriously reassigned.
I spent the next year aboard a specially-equipped aircraft carrier chasing Russian submarines. Twelve on, twelve off, seven days a week. Duck Power went pfft.
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