Currently a Wauwatosa resident, Deborah C. grew up in Wisconsin, with a slight detour to Illinois during her high school years. Her memoir, Orange Picnic (www.orangepicnic.com), is a the story of love and loss in the shadow of the turbulent times of the Vietnam War.
After only scanning the plot description, a friend rented the 2008 film, Tropic Thunder, for us to watch one cold and rainy night. It’s about three Hollywood “stars” who travel to Vietnam to film a war movie. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone described the film as “A knockout of a comedy that keeps you laughing.” I told my friend that I didn’t think anything about the Vietnam War could be funny, and declined to watch it. She immediately understood why.
The writer pins a boutonniere on Michael.
My coming-of-age year was 1968-69. I was living in the quiet town of Homewood, Illinois, roughly 20 to 25 miles from both Chicago and Gary, Indiana. I passed my free time with my still-best-friend, Buffy: playing tennis, doing the jerk and hullabaloo at school dances, flirting with boys – typical high school activities. And then there were the atypical experiences: passing missile-loaded underground silos when I walked to school, and seeing sharp-shooters on the roof of our high school, there to protect us when Dr. Martin Luther King was killed.
Little did we know that we were living in what would become an historical era – full of youthful promise and political strife, the Vietnam War and a walk on the moon, peace rallies, assassinations and Woodstock. Buffy and I were mostly oblivious to our surroundings, instead focusing on the happy fact that we were finally deemed old enough to start dating that dreaded evil of parents and every teenage girl’s dream – guys driving cars.
Eventually, we started dating two who were also best friends. A few years older than we were, we were thrilled that a couple of cool guys were interested in us. We took up the first part of the catchphrase, “Make Love, Not War” a little too literally. But hey, we were young.
And then it came – that dreaded letter. My boyfriend, Michael, got his draft notice. Suddenly, life was not fun anymore as we waited for the fateful day that he would have to report for duty. I could not imagine him as a soldier; he was a young man who was soft at heart, kind, gentle, loving – a poet.
The morning before the day he was to leave, Michael and I went for coffee. We didn’t really talk about what the next day would bring, probably because we would have had to acknowledge the fact that we might never see each other again.
He drove me to school. We kissed good-by. Then I got out of the car and stood there to watch him drive out of sight – the only time I’d ever done that.
I did see him once more. It was at his funeral. While Michael didn’t die in the war, he died because of the war.
I was just 17 years old.
I found Love and lost it to War. I cherish the good and release the bad. I honor those who have the courage to embrace their convictions no matter the consequences. This is what it is to be a Baby Boomer – and I’m proud of us.