I don’t think I’ve ever really talked about this to anyone even though just about everybody would agree today that Vietnam, in hindsight, was the first in a series of fucked-up, nowhere wars we would find ourselves engaged in. But I feel ashamed, yes, ashamed, that I dodged the draft and didn’t end up there like my brother-in-law who, straight out of high school, volunteered for the Navy, came back in one piece and went on to marry my sister. Together they had three stable, responsible kids, one of whom followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Navy for a stint where he learned the trade of power plant engineer that has served him well in civilian life.
Today, Dennis and Gina are grand-parents to three boys and a little girl who has all the narcissistic ego of her uncle. Meanwhile I have George, my 76 year old “boy,” and our four dogs.
Hey, different strokes for different folks.
In 1969, I had gone off to LA to complete my master’s degree at the University of Southern California (a) to get away from my overbearing parents in Jersey; (b) play in the Hollywood gay scene (West Hollywood was still in the future tense); and (c) hopefully dodge the draft. The urban legend was if you were pursuing an advanced degree they wouldn’t bother you.
That’s why they’re called legends, not fact, ‘cause just two months into that first semester, I got that ominous envelope marked, “Official Government Business – Selective Service” in the mail. Fortunately I knew a chick at school who recommended I see Dr. Harvey Weinstein, a Timothy Leary look-a-like and as Left wing as you could get, who did his magic and morphed my chronic stomach aches into a duodenal ulcer that got me a 4-F exemption. It was the best eight hundred bucks I ever spent in my life, and better than running away to Canada like my gay heart throb from my undergraduate days had done. Nor did I just wanna admit I was a fag and use that as my out – rightly or wrongly, I didn’t know if that would kick me in the ass years later in my professional career. I know, I know, today if Obama said he was bi, it would be a yawn, but, remember, my heyday was the tail end of the Dark Ages, and Gay Liberation was still in diapers.
A few years later working back in New York, I met and fell in love with a dark and handsome black Irish Vietnam vet, just two years older than me, who lost both his legs from above the knee when the Viet Cong bombed the hospital he was in under observation for malaria. But “Jack” wanted to play the butch (those terms we use today, the gender neutral “top” and “bottom,” didn’t come into vogue til much later), and my cute but tight hairy butt hole just couldn’t get used to that nine inch dong of his. Jack died a few years after we broke up of uremic poisoning, the result of perpetually infected stumps. You see, unwilling to succumb to a life in a wheelchair, Jack was determined to walk with artificial legs and crutches, even if it killed him. In the end, it did.
Besides my brother-in-law and nephew, my father and two uncles served in World War II, a third, Charlie, my mother’s older brother, went down in the same ship as the Sullivan brothers, and a fourth uncle served in the forgotten Korean “Conflict.” Uncle John, always the one for the quick rich schemes, went on to lead a loser life, and the last I heard he was in some homeless shelter in Newark, New Jersey, abandoned by his ex-wife, now dead, and his two grown daughters.
But the person I was most proud of was my father, not just because he was Dad but because he was a quiet, unassuming war hero who parachuted with his crew over Germany behind enemy lines when their B-17 bomber was shot down. I wish I had been more curious when he was still alive to pull out of him what had happened. Was he captured? Did he somehow escape? Unlike some “How I won the War” braggarts, my father very rarely brought it up.
About the only clue I have is a handkerchief from Dad’s war years which my mother gave me with little commentary after his death. After lying hidden away in a drawer for decades, I finally framed and hung it on a wall of honor in my dining room, next to all his medals. So, you ask, what was so unique about a handkerchief? Imprinted on it in multi-colors was a map of France on one side, and selected local regions on the other, with roads and highways all clearly marked. I imagine this was his and his men’s magic carpet out of enemy territory, something they could easily carry concealed in their pockets.
And we, members of the GPS generation, think we’re so smart?