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..."
(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.