The Soldier to Another
(The summer of '61)
Hank, me and the Cayuga Street Gang
Then one day, Hank Gardiner, who really had very little to say before, a relative of one of the gang members (the Cayuga Street Gang, also called 'Donkeyland'), who lived near our neighborhood, knew most of the guys six years older than I said something in an almost whisper, after we had walked from the small neighborhood 'Pitman', a grocery store near Granite Street, heading down toward the church steps, off Jackson and Sycamore Streets. He had parked his 1956 green Oldsmobile across the street from the church steps, by my friend, Bill Kapaun's house.
He said, "I'll be going soon!"  "Going where?"
"To Vietnam, the war, I'll be a soldier, I volunteered."
"Oh," I said with a surprised tone to my voice, adding, "that war over, by China
"No, the recruiter said I would," replied Hank, "yup, tomorrow I go, can not wait around here, nothing goes on but drinking, fights, Chicks , nothing for a man in my age to drink but I can get some college in the Army too, I think I'll take advantage of it. Just think, before school starts, in September, I'll be fighting in Vietnam . "
" School, hick with school, I'd like to go with you now, tomorrow, I'm just as soon gone, then sit around here. "
Then I hesitated, looked at his face, he was there already, so it appeared, daydreaming of his Army career.
Me and Hank would go down to his green Oldsmobile, occasionally-before this day-and he'd turn on the radio, and we'd sit, usually with a few other guys, he was usually inclined to talk to them, except me, except for today (maybe because of my age, at fourteen), and we'd be listening to Elvis Presley songs, Rick Nelson, Johnny Cash, singers like that, tapping our feet on the asphalt street, leaning lightly against his car
Just before the dusk- just like today-we'd head down to those church stops, that faced Jackson Street, the church being of red brick, and its tall steeple on the other side of us, the steps actually led to an addition to the church, maybe the chapel, or hall of some kind, I never saw anyone go through those doors, they usually went to the back side of the building to get in it.  Anyhow, most of us guys in the neighborhood heard about the war in Vietnam, but until now, now one went, and the war was not called war, it was called a 'Conflict' maybe to lessen the stigma. In consequence, Hank would be the first to go, if he did.
And we sat there, listing to a small battery radio, on the steps this pre-evening – it was a warm late afternoon, the Oakland Cemetery across the street, they were locking the gates, and I could see Roger's girlfriend, Shelly, she was walking around the Caretaker's premises, she lived there with her mother and father, the old child to my understanding; She was the first girl I ever kissed, at age of thirteen years old, Roger made a bit with her to do so, and after she did, I wanted a second round, and she and the guys laughed. But I was serious.
Well, there we were, Hank and I on the church steps, and a man walks by, "You know where Cayuga Street is?" he asked, and I said, "Down three blacks," he was a stranger and we knew everyone on the block, everyone by Smiley's friends, a guy who moved in a year before, and Doug was going to get into a fight with him , but it never took place, maybe he was his friend, so I got thinking. Then down the block, I noticed several bodies coming, Jackie, the girl I was kind of dating was with them, she was Chippewa, dark hair, about five feet tall, cute, with dark eyes, she and her family lived up block, on Sycamore Street. I noticed Doug and Larry, and Karin, with John were among the group, and behind them, Big Ace, Jerry, was trying to catch up, he was all six feet five inches tall, two hundred and fifty-pounds, and a tinge slow, he was about ten-years older than I, and bought the booze for everyone, that is, he never had much money, and drank free off us, but we got the booze.
Jackie was the same I was born with my mother and grandpa, and my mother and grandpa lived up to what was called the turn-around, next to my grandfather's house. Next to that was a blank lot, and a hill called 'Indian's Hill,' Jackie and I would go up there and kiss, oh not much more, just necking. "Yes," I said, "tomorrow I guess you got to go then! "
He, Hank, heard me, he put his hand on my shoulder, and it was a different kind of stillness. he questioned "can not go in the army for another four years, if the war lasts that long, maybe I'll be a sergeant then, and we'll meet one another, it's not all that long."
"You 'll be killing all those …' I did not know what to call the enemy, so I left it at that …
He explained in depth to do something, anything, but get out of this neighborhood he implied, when I was able to do so, that there was only a dead end, a road that led to no other roads. It made me think, planted a seed to be harvested later on. Oh I did not quite understand all the rudimentary that went along with that statement, we rarely do when your so close to the forest, it is hard to see it is a forest, likewise, it was hard for me to see, the dead end (but one person did say it right, some twenty years after this day, when I was clean and sober, and becoming a counselor, he said at a meeting at the hospital to a group of recovering alcoholics while I was taking an Internship at Ramsey Hospital, "There are two corner bars in this neighborhood. I went to, and I discovered the folks who lived there, started drinking there since they were teenagers, and they are now older men, and still there, dying slowly of the alcohol … "he was talking about my neighborhood, and he did not know it, and I did not tell him about my knowledge, but I did mention it after the lecture I was aware of where, and whom he was talking about)
Nevertheless, Hank went on to say, the Army was offering him opportunities to go to college (some I was not sure if I was going to go to college, but I did not want to go to college, as Hank planted another muster seed in my subconscious, as it would grow, and someday I'd get my Ph.D. .
I was back then, too young for the Army, and Hank knew it, and as impressive as I was with Hank, and the adventures the Army were starting to offer-travel and education-I did not fully understand
"I'll write you," I said to Hank.
"No," he commented, "just finish school, I'll be back on leave to see you and the gang, now and then! "
Anyhow, he was listening to me attentively for the first time it appeared, until the gang got to the church steps
He punched me in my left arm, he was on that side of me, sitting on the stops, leaning back against the back of the upper step, my chin in my arms, my elbows on my knees, and I almost fell over, "Yup," he said, "You just got to stay here a while longer then join the Army and see the world."
"See what?" I asked, then I noticed my brother Mike coming down Jackson Street, he was two years older than I, with Gary, who was called Mouse, they were working on his go-cart.
It was now a matter of minutes Before the band members were climbing up the steps, "Shut up now," said Hank, "you're the only one who knows this … that I'm going tomorrow."
"All right," I answered back
He then put his hands behind his back, leaned back on the upper step,
"Well, Chick," said Jackie, with a smile, "anything goin 'on "
" Nope, "I said, and she sat down beside me.
(I did not want to get back, I did not hear Jackie, what she was saying, she was talking lightly, I it seemed to have been in a tooth, something like in a state of disassociation, in her world, but outside of it, like in a fish boil looking at everyone around you, she nudged me, slightly-the Vietnam war was running through my head – "Are you alright?" she asked, and she did not, and I moved my head right to the left, and she sat quietly, talking to Karin below her who was sitting with John, who would marry her in a number of years; after she and I would take off to Long Beach California, though that was years ahead, and when we'd come back she and she would marry.)
Jackie's sister came up, Jennie, her and Larry were going steady, and Larry was the hard guy of the neighborhood, whom I lived with a number of times, upon my return from several long trips. I lived for a summer in his attic, another summer in his garage, and had a party after party, booze and girls, and I lived in a duplex he rented the upper apartment.
Well, Larry and Jennie were there, and my Brother was dating Carol, and she showed up, and Ace was not dating anyone and dancing about as he often did.
"Jackie," I said. thinking. " she chuckled as if it was a delayed reaction, she had already forgotten she had asked how I was doing, and on other things with the gang, talking about getting some cases of beer and either going to 'Indian's Hill' to get drunk, or
I looked at Hank, maybe one of my last looks, and he said in a spirited voice, jumping up, pulling out the keys to his green 1956 Oldsmobile, in my ear, "Hush," and I did not disclose his secret.
He stood up talking to some of the guys, as then; Jackie asked if I would go for a walk with her, down to Indians Hill. I could hear Mike talking to Carol, and Larry and Doug talking, and then Rick came up and sat with the guys.
Jerry, otherwise known as Ace, was singing a song called 'Twenty-four Black Birds …' and everyone started laughing.
Ace looked at Doug, said, "Everyone pitches in two dollars, Ace is going to buy us two cases of beer, and a bottle of wine," said one of those guys. I did not say I was going to! "
Roger and Ronnie, his brother had shown up, said," Come on Ace get with it, you one of us or not! "
And so Ace, Doug , and Roger went to get the liquor up on Rice Street, on the other side of the Cemetery, "We'll meet you guys down on Indian's Hill," said Roger, and he drove Ace and Doug up to the store to pick it up up.
Hank was still standing, looked at me, "See …" he said to me, nothing more, he figured it was a neighborhood affair, he rarely drank with us anyway, and so he did not show up at Indian's Hill would not be any surprise.  I sat back down, watched Hank go to his Oldsmobile, not realizing this would be his last time I'd see him …
I saw Jackie pull out two dollars, gave it to me to give it to Roger, to give Ace to get the booze, and I did likewise, as everyone did, and they went to get as much booze as the money would buy, Ace did not have a dime, as often as he did but when he did,
"I forgot my false teeth," said Ace to Roger, and Roger replied, "you do not really need them, but we can stop by and pick them up," he lived on Sims, Street, his father at Captain of the Fire Department of St. Paul, Minnesota. In a year or so, I'd like to take a liking for her sister, she and I, like Jackie attended the same High School, Washington High on Rice Street, Kathy was her name, and she would show up in the neighborhood and we ' d hang out, we kissed only a few times, and it seemed kind of fizzled away, though we were friends for the next twenty years, until she got hit by a car.
And so Ace, Roger and Doug jumped into their cars, and Hank, into his, as Jackie and I headed with the rest of
Now Hank was gone, and the first thing I knew was Jackie and I was on Indians' Hill drinking with the gang, then it started to rain, and everyone ran for cover with a beer bottle in their hands, and four cases of beer on the hill, by a large thick tree, Jackie and I with a blanket over our heads, down by my Grandfather's garage-I'm not sure where we got the blanket my house, and we kissed a bit, not much, and we held each other, lightly, and we could see the guys walked to and fro crisscross across the empty lot, everyone getting drunk, and the police driving by, shinning lights up
I thought about writing Hank, but I never got his Military Address, and so I s He was one of the first to come to his house, his older brother came to the door, and I introduced himself to him, "Oh yes!" he said, "Hank had mentioned your name a few times …!"
"I'd like to write him," I said, it was about nine months since I had seen him, I was all fifteen -years old, plus a few months, date freely, no one in particular, although Jackie was still around, and Kathy, and I had met a girl called Sheila, I was in the second year of high school, she was one year below me , and we danced at a lot of the park and school dances, and she always wanted me to make love to her, but I would not and she told me so, that I was missing something, and I suppose I was, but I
Anyway, this visit was accrued during the time when I was seeing Sheila, and her brother took a second to say what he needed to do. say right, "He was killed in action in Vietnam, a few months ago."
You really do not know what to say at a time like that, you just stand still numb, absorbing the substance of those words, as if you would like him to reconfirm what he said, although you know what he said. I was not prepared for that, a tear came to my eyes, I had no control over it, an automatic tear. My inners became disrupted, and I had to catch my breath.
"Oh … ooo!" I said, looking down at my feet to find words and all I found was zigzagging emotions.
And so I left it at that, what more can a person say, the brother tried to put a smile on his face, but couldn 't. And I could not and I left as strangely as I had appeared.
I told myself, '… go get drunk,' maybe that's where I picked up some of my avoidance of stress: drink it away. I knew I was growing fast, and the world around me would change, and I'd soon be making choices, like Hank did.
((In 1969, on my way back from San Francisco, and after visiting Mexico for a day, I'd head up to Grand Forks, North Dakota, and thereafter, be joining the Army, more like drafted into it, and head over Augsburg, Germany, and then onto Vietnam. Then it would be a solider to a soldier as I had imagined it to be in the beginning, but it would have to be in a secret kind of world of our own, because of course he was gone, but not forgotten. Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for Basic Training, and then over to Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, for more training, and to Fort Lewis for Jungle Training. not get a chance to, but then I did it for him, as they said in the neighborhood when I'd return, and I did return several times, they lived through my adventures) (or by proxy.))
From Minneapolis to Chicago to …
"Where does one go to take his physical?" I told a military man, who was called 'Sergeant,' I had a paper I showed him, confirming I was the person who was to take it, along with my Minnesota Drivers License, confirming the paper, it had a picture on it (I had just come back from San Francisco, it was October, of 1969).
I was a bit afraid when we got to Chicago, from Minneapolis, that we could catch the wrong bus, in a town like Chicago , I figured it would be easy, for the Sergeant had left us once he dropped us off from the first bus – the one that drove us out of Minneapolis to Chicago, not sure where he went, maybe to go get drunk.
But we caught it all right-the first bus, I did not have to ask the bus driver if it was the right one, he knew who we were-because the sergeant was there, and in a way I was darn glad he did know, because here we all were, cars and buses rushing by us like birds in the air – Minneapolis was twice the size of St. Paul and Chicago was three times the size of Minneapolis, the movement was everywhere, and a few people shoving here and there to boot, and it was early afternoon, and by the time we would get to Chicago, it would be pre-dusk, and the spell of night would be falling over the city, me and my companions, were hoping another sergeant would be there to guide us onto the next bus, but this was just hopeful, not reality.
I thought about Hank, had he not been killed in Vietnam, he would have the most I was probably headed for, and given me so pointers, but those were just thoughts as I waited for the second bus.
My family, Aunt Ann, her husband George, and Betty, and Grandpa Anton, and her father, , Colleen and Sally, all relatives, along with my brother, and the rest of my relations had thrown a party for me before I went on this voyage, I was not convinced why they did, maybe for my mother's sake, maybe because I was the only one in the family drafted, but I had told myself, 'If I'm not drafted, I'd join, though I was 22 years old and most of the young-men with me, d meet in Boot Camp in a day or so, were between seventeen and twenty. I would be the second oldest in the platoon of some 44-men.
Standing there in the mist of twilight-in Chicago, I saw all the tall building surrounding me, it was like being in the Rocky Mountains, or the Andes
At the Gates of Fort Bragg, North Carolina
Then a bus stopped, near the corner, one I never saw before (hired just for this purpose to take us down to North Carolina, so I'd find out), a heap bigger than the one I was put on in Minneapolis, Minnesota, I thought, and me and several others would be soldiers thought I'm sure, we were standing together, looking at the Greyhound Bus already holding our tickets in our hands (the Sergeant on the previous bus had said this would take us to Fort Bragg, and we'd be met at the gates, and another bus would pick us up, bringing us to our Company area.) we, all thought, and saw the driver signal with his arm to move onto the bus, for us to get on the bus, i was wore out for sleep, but i could not risk getting on the wrong bus, so i stepped out and up onto the first of three steps-blocking the door entrance, ready to find a seat noticing the bus was half full of young fellows like me already, "Is this the …" I started to say, and the driver seemed like he knew me, and simply said, "Yes …! You're on the right bus, take a seat! "
And so I walked the island to find one.
I saw all the towns from Chicago to Fayetteville as more young soldiers come on the bus, at small stations, and brought tickets, like me with them, and then we were gone again.
I saw a number of trains go by along side of us, some more towns, and I just fell to sleep somewhere along the way.
I knew I was right to be on that bus, or so it seemed like to me, it went on forever that ride, but it would be a new beginning for me. in Omaha, Nebraska, Seattle, Washington, Long Beach California and San Francisco, "That's right!" I said to myself, "I've got to get out of this country to see the rest of the world now, today .. . "Then my drifting subconscious spoke back to me saying," Of course you must, you can find friends anywhere in the world, "and I told my subconscious," I guess I can, I guess I'm not missing one thing, I have not got but one life to live, I mean the person you meet might have lived anywhere in the world, people in the Army were folks scattered all over the place, and overnight you got to meet them, from California to Main, from Europe to China
"Yes," my subconscious confirmed to my conscious, on that bus ride, "That's what I've told you, you do not need a case history to see the world, this is a good start … and you're lucky at that. "
The bus driver said," You are going to meet another bus once we go to the Fort Bragg gates, I mean "
" I ask you, "said another man on the bus to the driver," Are we officially soldiers now? "
" Yup, "he said, "since you got on that bus back there in Minneapolis, so good luck to yaw-all."
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