Two anti-war students move to Oceanside California during the Vietnam War to help organize anti-war Marines but their experiences with the soldiers change them more.
Jumpin’ Jack looked back over his shoulder one final time, just before he pulled himself up into the chopper. He tried to remember how it felt when he jumped down onto this ground on that first occasion. How the place looked to him then. And he found himself wiping back a tear when he recalled his naive enthusiasm for the mission. He squinted as he looked up into the steep, lush hills. Hills with cover that, like the VC, refused to die back despite the pounding. The napalm. The Willie Peter.
He shuddered to think how much he had changed. But the senselessness of it all could not escape him. His tour was ending right where his conversion had begun. An LZ a couple clicks south of A Luoi along a thin ribbon of dust that the maps describe as Route 548. Smack dab in the heart of the A Shau Valley.
That he was there, like thousands before him, beginning in 1966, was testament that nothing had been accomplished. Unless, you figured that a batch of KIAs and a mountain of mangled, amputated limbs were an accomplishment. Despite the effort, the bravery, the sacrifice and heroism that could not be denied and should not be forgotten, the NVA were still infiltrated in those steep hills. Returning after every operation, like water does in the hold of a leaky ship, no matter how often you man the bilge pumps.
He had been brought up for just one more in a long series of those bilge-pumping operations. Something called Dewey Canyon. Now he was back to the same spot, ready to rotate out. And although the landscape looked like it did the year, the decade, the millennia before, now it was adorned with ghosts. Neither best efforts nor atrocities, nor the millions of dollars that Uncle Sam poured in had made a difference. But he had changed. It was just a guilt-ridden shell of his former self the Marines would be returning. He was hoisting an emotional time bomb into the chopper that would fly him to Quang Tri on the first leg of a journey through Da Nang and finally back to Pendleton. Back to his very own personal and permanent fire-fight.
The Black corporal, Donnie Woods, had beaten Jack home by a couple of months. Thanks to NVA sappers who hit under the cover of darkness, as was their habit. As wounds go, it wasn’t much to complain about. No bragging rights. Only a shard of shrapnel that peeled back the top of his right index finger from the nail to the second knuckle, like a banana. But it hurt like hell. Nothing has more nerve endings than the tip of a finger and it was his trigger finger to boot. A corpsman dressed the wound and the field hospital stitched most of the peel back where it belonged. Probably because he was policing the garbage at his field kitchen when he was hit, the bacteria ran rampant and the thing got hellishly infected. He couldn’t cook and he couldn’t shoot so they sent him to the rear. For a while it looked like he might lose the digit altogether. By the time they had the infection under control, Woods was too short to reassign. So they sent him back to Pendleton.
It was December 4, 1969. Donnie Woods, young, Black and proud, touched down stateside with a purple-heart and an attitude. He had earned respect. He landed just as the Chicago police were pumping a Black Panther leader named Fred Hampton full of lead while he lay asleep in his bed.
They came back to a country far different from the one they left. When they had embarked, all we were saying was “Give peace a chance.” and “Bring the Boys Home!” But during their year overseasthe mood of the student protesters chanting on the stateside streetshad become angry. The new slogan had become “Bring the War Home!” There was a different quality now. A heightening sense of anger and betrayal on one side, resentment and accusations of treason on the other. Words were becoming heated. As usual, that leads to violence.
Well, these GIs were bringing the War home. But not exactly in the romantic way we imagined. That’s the way wishes seem to work, especially when it comes to wars and we students were about to get our wish.