Wednesday, July 31, 2019

'60s Flashbacks

Older Brother (the crazy one of the family; no, really) knew from way out that he was not college material, long before the twilight of his senior year of high school, which I'm sure surprised mom and dad not a whit either.

So, long about January of his senior year, he and his Best Buddy got the bright idea that the thing to do was to both sign up for the Marine Corps (see kids, it's in the DNA) on the Buddy Program, an actual program they had in which they would put you and your friend together, guaranteed, in Boot Camp, and try to station you near each other afterwards.

For unskilled white kids in the late Happy Days/American Grafitti era, it was a brilliant idea: get a skill, see the world, get out of the house and away from your old man, blah blah blah.

Unless, as in this case, when you're in the Class of '65. That's 1965.

Then, it becomes pure genius.
Right about the time, long about March, after the contracts are signed, that the president announces "Ah am sending the Marines tuh Da Nang..."

Never in history have so many suffered for the delusions of one thorough-going fool.

(I mentioned the pair weren't college material, didn't I?)
"Where in the hell is Da Nang???"
"Don't worry kid, you'll find out soon enough."

But it worked out, mostly. Older Brother and his Buddy graduated MCRD in the same platoon, summer of '65. Buddy went to UH-1 Maintenance School, Older Brother sent to Generator Repairman School.

Followed by orders to Da Nang, RVN.

What's to worry? In the rear with the gear, fixing generators? Sweeeeet!

Except in Vietnam, the only place for generators was out faaaaaar in the boonies, where there wasn't any other power.
And the primary reason generators stopped working was because Charlie had shelled the sh*t out of them the night before.
Every. Single. Time.

So, for 13 months, Older Brother would get up, get assigned to fix broken equipment at places like Con Thien, Khe Sanh, Camp Carroll, the Rockpile, and 40 other little slices of hell in I Corps, up by the DMZ, and he'd hitch a ride thence with his buddy, crew chief on a UH-1 flying in support of said forward-deployed hellhole. (For grins and giggles, they'd kick the occasional sandbag out the side door en route and watch the people in the paddies all run off in all directions, thinking it was a bomb when it splashed into the rice paddy. 18 years old, 8000 miles from home, with minimal adult supervision, and getting shelled and shot at daily, y'know? "What were they gonna do to us? Shave our heads and ship us to 'Nam?")

So out they'd fly, Buddy's helo would drop Older Brother off in Fire Base Craptastic, and he'd go fix the broken gear all day in tropical sun, getting a great farmer's tan, and dodging snipers. Then, because he was a certified REMF, the folks at said base would happily assign him guard duty all night, so one of the grunts could rest, which meant him getting no sleep, while being shelled, or watching for "gooks in the wire", which happened on more than a few occasions.

Then go back to Da Nang the next day, for the same shelling and guard duty in the "rear".
Then back out the next day in the field to do it all over again.
While I and Baby Brother watched our parents get older and greyer watching the nightly news for 13 months at the dinner table, from '66-'67.

But he and his Buddy, thank a merciful deity, made it out of their tours in 'Nam alive, and mostly intact. He got out of the Marines in '69, so early that same summer, freshly back in the world, he decided it was time for myself and Baby Brother to go out shooting.

Early one morning, we proceeded out to the desert wastelands he was familiar with around Twentynine Palms, and when jackrabbits proved scarce there, and he got his van stuck in the sand, we returned closer to the pavement.

He got the great idea to go shooting much nearer home, up in the empty hills around the San Fernando Valley where we lived. In this case, up in the Santa Susanna Pass, between the SFV and Simi Valley, during our summer vacation from school.

You've seen the territory in the backgrounds of any number of westerns from the movies beginning in the 1930s to TV shows in the 1970s.

But we were there in mid-summer of 1969. June, or maybe even July.

We, pardon the phrase, "sure as shooting" were in unincorporated LA County, and not actually breaking any laws AFAIK, but even though it was unincorporated, and thus outside of city limits and LAPD territory, it wasn't that far from L.A. city limits, and civilization, so in short order, doubtless one or more of the nearby residents must have dutifully reported someone shooting some guns off up in the canyon.

We saw the LA Sheriff's car arrive on the road up above where we were beating the brush for jackrabbits, lizards, and such, and before he saw us. So we cheesed it, taking temporary refuge in some nearby rocky caves, because Older Brother had an inkling that no deputy was going to get his street shoes dirty chasing through the cactus and underbrush for kids shooting .22s off in the scrub and rocks thereabouts.

And while we were waiting and biding our time under cover, we were joined by some local hippie chicks who wandered by, asking what we were up to and such. They were friendly, and shared our momentary disdain of "The Man", and it wasn't very long in the summer sun before the local Barney Fife headed off to pursue more important wrongdoers, while we, particularly Older Brother, decided maybe it was time to call it a day as far as shooting, and head on home.

Which we did, without further incident.

So just a nothing story, until this year, while wormholing through the internet, when I came across this photo, eerily familiar, of some of the rocks we were sheltering under.

Let me help you out a little, with a period picture from LIFE magazine from '69, including some of the hippie chicks we hung out with briefly one afternoon right around the time period this pic was taken:

And here's where they all lived, just yards down the road from where we were shooting:

You know that shivering feeling, sometimes described as feeling someone walking over your grave?
Yeah, that, times ten, when the penny dropped for me.

For the really slow, allow me to bring it all the way home for you.

Can you feel me now?

Hand to God on this one.

Not all of my childhood memories are fond any more, after putting that memory together with the historical realities. The summer of '69 wasn't all moon landings.

But now, 50 years later, the later warning of "Don't tell Mom where we went shooting that day." makes a lot more sense.

Suffice it to say that seeing Quentin Tarantino's 9th film isn't high on my list of things to do this month. And no points for guessing what movie trailers started bringing this all back home to me this year.


Beans said...

Sweet suffering jehebus, man. You just stepped on a landmine, heard the plunger click, and yet walked away.

That's gotta be one of those things that haunt you.

And people want to give (and have given) these freaks clemency.

Only one word describes the abject stupidity of such an idea. California.

Glad you survived. Probably not nearly as you, but glad you survived.

Irish said...

Talk about a chance meeting with evil. The story makes your blood run cold thinking about it.

MMinLamesa said...

Trippy story. Guess the phrase, dodged a bullet, would fit fairly well here.

QT's newest actually is high on my list, looking forward to it.

exlib said...

Things were as crazy then as they are now, but in a completely different way. Whoever set up the firebases then controls social media now.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the fact that you were armed during your encounter helped with your survival?

Glad to hear your brother and his friend made it through the Vietnam experience.
How different would everyone's lives had been if Nixon had a few thousand more votes in Downstate Illinois and in Texas November 1960?


Anonymous said...

Daaaammnnn, that is a spooky ass coincidence man. I'd be a little weirded out too.

Bear Claw Chris Lapp said...

Strange times and occurrences. Glad you survived and had a brother that would take you shooting. In other news OT headlines today out of Goma

T-Rav said...

Anonymous @2:28:

Maybe a better way of putting that is, how different would everyone's lives have been if LBJ and the Daleys hadn't been so successful at rigging the vote in Texas and Illinois November 1960?

Anyway, yikes. That is a heck of a story. I was reading down, wondering "Where's he going with thi....oh.....ohhhhh."

Badger said...

Lord almighty did we run some of the same dirt. I used to love racing my Datsun 2000 roadster over the pass to visit favorite Uncle/Aunt/Cousins in Santa Su' after first enlistment was up (own money, long before "re-up bonuses"). But as HS brigands we also used to ply those hills at Hopetown, the old Corriganville Movie Ranch. And ran into the same bunch of "hippies" that caused the retrospective "holy sh...!!!" Innocent enough, I mean M80's and BB guns were "sorta like" today's airsoft right? But that group was skanky lookin'.

For footloose kids at that time though it was literally Cooper's "it was a different country then."

June J said...


RHT447 said...

For those who don't know the story of LBJ's Silver Star from WWII--

Scroll down to post #20. There is a paste-in of an article from U.S. Naval Institute.

Borepatch said...

Kind of weird that Da Nang was safer than LA.

Anonymous said...

Excellent story, and well told.

But it is money shot. The Manson Girls were notorious for being...of relatively loose morals. Did you and your brother get "lucky"?
Inquiring minds NEED to know....


The BBC is reporting that there is a second confirmed death from Ebola in the City of Goma...two million population...16 other cases are reported, and the case-event has doubled in size in the last 71 days from 1000 cases to over 2000.

WTF? Why did no one warn us of this?

tweell said...

We lived in Simi Valley at that time (I was a kid). Dad and friends had a run-in with Charles Manson while rockhounding. Dad went off alone and was accosted by Charlie, who was carrying a .22 rifle. Luckily, his buddy saw what was going on, retrieved his .38 revolver and made it a standoff. Manson retreated after warning them that it was HIS land, dad and friend dodged behind rocks after Manson got out of pistol range.

Dad told me not to say anything to Mom about it, but that pretty much stopped the rockhounding trips. We left for Arizona after the Sylmar earthquake, but that was just the last straw.

Anonymous said...

Ho Lee Fook.

Aesop said...

@Anonymous 10:09
Baby Brother and I were in single digits in the years column. The only thing we were old enough to shoot was firearms.

You're kidding about the Ebola warnings, right?
And 71 days is a slow-mo cake walk.
Actually, it took 77 days, from roughly 2/20 - 5/8/19 to double from 1000 to 2000.
And in the last 84 days since hitting 2000, it's only increasing half that fast, from 2000 to a shade past 3000, now.
So it's actually slowing down, not speeding up.
(The usual caveats about African math and accounting apply, as always.)

In 2014, cases were doubling much faster, until it got to about every 30 days, IIRC.
From mid-July to end of November 2014, it went from 1000 cases to 17,000 cases.
And that's "official" numbers. The reality was 3x worse, like 3K to 50K.

That's the difference between no vaccine, and a working vaccine.
We'll be covering this tomorrow.

SiGraybeard said...

Excellent story and story-telling to match. At one point, I thought "where's he going with this?" and the answer from Animal House popped into my head, "Forget about it. He's on a roll." Just enjoy the story.

Yes, I did catch on before the newspaper.

Anonymous said...

Was somewhere to the east of you in the San Gabriel valley, just into double digits in age. I was just telling my wife how much the 60's - as people "know" them - SUCKED. Bombs going off, riots, older brothers going off to Nam (and coming home, thank God). It was in high school when my teachers really started lying to me and I was dumb enough to believe a lot of it. Took longer than it should have to recover from that.
The space program, amazing cars and some good music; otherwise awful - and it looks like we're going back there in many respects; without the space program, cars and music.
Boat Guy

Old NFO said...

That stood the hairs on the back of my neck straight up...

Jim Scrummy said...

That's crazeeeee... Well at least you were armed. Steve McQueen was freaked out too, as to what happened, since he had been visiting the house prior to the event.

Eskyman said...

Woah, what a chilling tale! Glad you lived to tell it!

When you were under the rocks with the hippie chicks from Hell, I was in Germany in the USAF; in '71 I got discharged & came home- to Woodland Hills, in that same SF Valley.

Just after I got an apartment in North Hollywood, I met some skeevy types thru one of the guys in the apt. building, who wanted to sell me something (they wanted to buy some dope, so were selling stuff.) What did they offer?

A beat-up guitar, with some psycheldelic paint on it & the initials "CM" scratched into the wood. They *said* it was Manson's guitar, and they only wanted $100 for it!

I didn't buy it, but I've often wondered- was it really his? How many "Manson guitars" were there? How many suckers bought a phony one?

But- now I regret not buying it, just for the story value!

Paul said...

WOw. I did go see the movie and you should as the manson's get what they deserve.

They were some seriously whacked out people.

Anonymous said...

Boat guy I agree with you on everything but the cars. I’ve been on the hot rod power tour in a vintage muscle car and in a modern muscle car. By all standards of measurement the modern muscle cars are better. I was a diehard believer in the old muscle cars until I did the whole tour in a new muscle car. Thirty to fifty years from now some young people are going to be paying big money for the cars that are being made now. That is if...

Spin said...

Was 10 that summer, spent most of it at the AMVETS Post on the East River in the Bronx (think A Bronx Tale). Every few weeks all the parents (WWII vets) would get real quiet and take food to a members home and the parents would go to a funeral. Glad your brother came home and had the opportunity to spend time with you. I think it would have sucked for you to all of a sudden become the oldest brother.


FredLewers said...

Put that in the 'God's got a plan for me' column.

Anonymous said...

I want to share a tiny part from Michael Walsh’s book “Seal!” during an operation in the Mekong delta. As his squad was moving through some dense jungle, Mike stepped on a “bouncing Betty” that popped up but didn’t explode. I guess mostly by instinct, Mike ends up catching it in his hands.

Mike looks around and sees his teammates at first staring in disbelief, and then slowly & carefully moving away to a safe distance. After a few minutes, Mike tosses the dud off of the trail into the jungle.

I’ve heard that ordinance has a dud rate of about 10%. So perhaps it was just random luck that the “bouncing Betty” did not detonate as designed?

I’m with Fred...i believe God’s plans are alive & well, whether you believe it or not!


The Freeholder said...

Dude, that's a hell of a story. Glad you and your brother made it through that encounter alive. I think that everyone has similar things happen to them, but only a few realize it. These things are why I'm armed, every day.

Pity there isn't a more innocent time we could long to go back to.

John Wilder said...

This is a great story - reminds me of when my brother, John Wilder, was working at a gas station and met Bob Denver of Gilligan fame. My brother said he was super nice.

Oh, wait, this isn't like that story at all.

Unless Bob Denver was a secret serial killer - I mean, who would have thought that Bob Denver would be a serial killer? Besides the Professor, I mean.

(Seriously though, very well told.)

Mr.MantraMan said...

Was that the Golden Crown road just east of 29 Palms? In 82 or 83 I joined some civvie friends out there and stayed over an extra night and they made sure I had a pistol with me because they said the Manson cult chickies still ran around that area . I thought it bullshit but later that day a pickup cruised past my site and made a point of stopping and they were total shit bird looking Mansonites if I really had an idea what a Manson cultist would look like

Aesop said...

No, in the desert we were so far out there was nothing, and the roads didn't have names.
The Manson chicks were in the SFV, just a few miles from home.

RJM said...

Well that brought out many memories. The 1st memory was my buddy and I signed up in the USN, in Jan '61, under the 'Buddy' plan. I developed pneumonia in boot camp (January at Great Lakes NTC). Had to to release my friend from the plan. We never reconnected except when leave times coincided, which was OK, Tommy was a kiddie cruiser so he was out of active duty on his 21st birthday while I had to finish my 4 years active followed by the 2 yrs reserve duty. At 20 months on my Tincan we were offered an "opportunity" to re-up (in '63?) for an around-the-world cruise with a temp. (!stay in VN.)
Ya sure, ah, no thanks. Got out in '64, finished reserves. These were the years where the USA was ruined and Manson's group were a sounding gong of future troubles.

LargeMarge said...

During 1972-74, I worked as a contractor out of Balboa, near San Diego California.

We were acquainted with a genteel informal group of motorcyclists, and invested our off-days touring the incredible new == and empty == eight-lane freeways east of town.

Like something from Twilight Zone televisionprogramming, there were zero houses or businesses on those rolling foothills serviced by the absolutely silent highways.

To a person, everybody carried Colt AR-15s since they broke-down into compact parts bungee-corded to handle-bars or sissy-bars. We usually made group-purchases from a hardware store; scribble something on the federal yellow-sheet, pay the us$86 (later us$112), and go shooting.

Oddly, all the times we == twenty minimum, sixty or a hundred on weekends == were plinking in the desert, we never saw any 'mojidos'. Was it something we said?