The Gulf and The Cove

by Rick Beck

Chapter 13

Peace, Love, & Music

"Meeting the lieutenant and hearing his story was the foundation of what I did after that. I took his word as gospel. The man was in pain. He was overwrought by that battle and the loss of his men. When he told me the officers giving the orders were in some command post far from the battle, he wasn't happy about it. He'd have stayed and done the search if not for them. He had regrets," Ivan said.

"There were other men in worse shape than the lieutenant. He was the first one I helped to see beyond his pain to talk about it. Talking about it helped him. Some of the men in his company and at that battle weren't able to get beyond their time in Vietnam. When I ran into one of those, I walked away. Whatever knowledge they had was best left alone," Ivan said. "I learned a little about soldiers while I was out there that first year. It changed how I felt about that war."

"One soldier met me in a bar. 'Can't miss it. It's the only thing on the road you'll come in on in the way of civilization. Two minutes later, if you keep going, you'll be leaving the berg.'"

"He was a big guy. Manny I think his name was. I went into the bar at two in the afternoon. He said it didn't matter what time, he'd be there. I thought he either worked there or maybe he owned it. I was wrong on both counts. It's where he did his drinking because, 'My Mama won't let me drink in the house. There's an old wreck in the backyard where I drink if I don't want to hope someone carries me home once I'm plastered,' he said."

"I sat next to him on a bar stool drinking root beer. I sat there for a couple of hours. We started off OK. 'I remember that battle,' he said. 'I didn't know Boris well. I was in another squad. He was OK I guess. We walked into a shit storm that day. Up north somewhere in that shithole. There was nowhere to go. They were around us on three sides. You couldn't hear yourself think. A million AK-47s were going ratta tat tat. Cooley, my bud, took a hit in the middle of his chest....' The bartender walked to the end of the bar where we sat. 'Kenny, 4 Roses, bottle....' The bartender said, 'It's a little early for dinner, Axle.' He began to stand, and stand, and stand. He was maybe six seven. Kenny brought back the bottle and set it down," Ivan said. "You could see the bartender cared about the guy but he wouldn't fight him over his drinking. I pictured the two of them in school together a few years ago," Ivan said, sitting back and thinking soda.

"That was it. He took three shots in the next two minutes. He stared off at a place I couldn't see. Big men, small men, no man went to war and came back untouched. A couple of soldiers bragged about greasing fucking gooks. These guys would have loved killing no matter what they called the people at the other end of his gun. These guys weren't cool. They were stone cold killers. Life, someone else's life, means nothing to them. Casualties of war don't always fall on a battlefield. When you teach a sociopath to kill, and he finds out he likes it, it won't end well for the people he know," Ivan said. "Interviews with a psychopath were short affairs. I could feel contempt rolling off them. My mission was to bring my brother home. It was a mission they couldn't relate to. They weren't interested in salvation and it gave me chills. I beat a retreat when I felt the telltale blank stare and I could feel the cold as ice eyes on me," Ivan said. "I let my instincts be the guide in those situations. It's not hard to sense some guys might be dangerous."

"At times I heard the detachment in their voices over the phone. At first I liked walking up to a house and knocking on the soldier's door. It's harder to shut a door in someone's face than it is to hang up a phone. The way I looked made it hard for his buddies to close the door, but sometimes I called. Like when I lucked out with the lieutenant. I went into the phone booth to get out of the weather and I looked him up. Good move on my part," Ivan said. "I'd been told a lot of stories and the lieutenant was able to tie them together into one neat story."

"I had a map in my pocket by the time I went to Idaho. The lieutenant put it in the bag with the sweets. It was torn out of an atlas or off a map. It had that kind of bright color to it. At a spot in the northwest corner of Vietnam was a tiny x. It was on the border with Cambodia. Showing it to soldiers who would know what the x meant, might not be wise. I already knew what the x meant. Most soldiers would recognize it as a place over there they'd once been. To other soldiers it could be a spot they wanted to forget. A place where a lot of dying was done. Remembering Axle told me to tread lightly on that hallowed ground," Ivan said. "The lieutenant told me what I needed to know about that x.

"For the first time I had a spot to start my search, once I reached Vietnam. One day I'd be where that x was on the map. I had no idea how hard that would be or how long it would take."

I was drained and Ivan tossed in the towel on the first episode of a story that spanned ten years.

Ivan continued expanding the plans for the cove during the day and telling us his story after dinner. I tried to get a look at his plans when I took him lunch but he installed a heavy gauge piece of black paper over the plans.

I was sure that was intended to discourage prying eyes when he wasn't standing behind his desk. So much for keeping up with the changes and additions to the plans. I was getting a double dose of reality each evening as I learned where Ivan went and what he did and it was eye opening to say the least.

This was the easy part. He moved around the country and gathered information. He was safe doing that. If he got too homesick, all he needed to do was stick out his thumb. He was where coming home was still easy.

I settled into a productive conservancy routine. There was more time for diving. Randi was anxious to transcribe my notes into English. Then she went me one better, suggesting I dictate my notes to her after a dive.

'In this way I can put the proper emphasis where you want it,' she told me

I liked Randi. I'd never been told my handwriting sucked in a more gracious way. I'd suggest giving her a raise when Harry made it home again.

Being able to read my notes would please Harry, who once told me, 'Your notes are like hieroglyphics from my ancient history class.'

Randi was more than willing to go back over my notes for the last few years and do her best to transcribe them into English. When we were at the conservancy laboratory together, we were usually in my office attending to this monumental task.

There was another benefit that went beyond no one needing to decipher my scrawl. Randi better understood how to organize her notes by seeing how I organized my notes. She was a quick learner.

Jack was probably quite intelligent. He was quiet and didn't say much. It's how I would have been under such circumstances.

I was a guy and Randi was a girl, Jack could have been thinking the boy girl thing was going on. It was a line of thought I wanted to nip in the bud, once Jack became more quiet. Randi was a beautiful woman who solved an ongoing problem for his boss. It was getting a lot of attention right now. In the near future, Randi would be on her own. If she ran into something I needed to explain, I would.

Harry hired Jack and that meant Jack could do my job if I didn't return. I didn't want to lose him and I intended to make sure I didn't.

I would turn some of my responsibility at the conservancy over to Jack. In particular I needed him analyzing water samples and reading papers on the impact new chemicals had on the environment.

I'd let Jack find his niche at the laboratory. I'd find what he enjoyed doing and assign him work accordingly. He was looking forward to working with me when I met him and that suited me fine. I'd work with him every chance I got and make sure he had plenty to do when we weren't working together.

One afternoon a week we'd collaborate on our findings in the last week. By discussing what we were doing and we could double-check our findings before making them part of the official record.

This was key to getting the most out of the good minds Harry had provided me. I intended to use those minds to get the best results possible. Randi would sit in and have a say about what she was thinking. She'd learn by being part of the team and I'd encourage questions.

I wasn't creating work but working together, I'd let Jack apply himself to areas he liked. I'd been working alone for years and having help meant we could cover more ground faster and provide Harry with more ammunition for his fight in Washington.

I told Jack I ordered his SCUBA gear. It probably wasn't the best place to start in making Jack an integral part of the conservancy. I wanted the hard stuff put behind us.

Upon hearing my plan, Jack looked less than enthusiastic. He was as anxious to go diving as he might be to jump out of a perfectly good plane. No one working in my lab was going to be a landlubber.

If Jack ever needed to take over for me, he needed to be a diver. I intended to see that he became one. Harry would approve.

If I played my cards right, Jack would be begging to go diving after a visit to the underwater world. I didn't expect miracles but I'd been traveling on the Gulf in the Vilnius II for years before I went diving the first time. I had no idea of the beauty that was a few feet below my feet. I couldn't wait to go diving again and that's how diving became part of my career.

Imagine going SCUBA diving as part of your job.

I'd pay to go diving. I expected some version of my reaction to diving from Jack. He didn't need to love it. Not minding would do.

I didn't see how a marine biologist wouldn't be changed by it.

I checked my weight. I was five eleven and one hundred and sixty-five pounds. I couldn't pinch an inch of fat but in my mind I was constantly eating. I was also constantly in motion.

After sirloin steak and homemade fries, we headed for Ivan's deck to hear episode two of Ivan's travels. We'd taken off a night to play Goofy Golf and go for pizza.

Ivan was ready to go again after the night off.

"Each soldier's story was an experience in the study of human nature. After the lieutenant and Axle, I came to the conclusion that I had to walk away from the Axles sooner and use the lieutenant's story to tell me how much credence to give other stories I was told. The lieutenant was an officer. He was not emotionally attached to Boris, beyond Boris being one of his men who should have never been left behind. The battlefield was chaos and the lieutenant knew it was no one's fault," Ivan said. "The soldiers were there to watch each other's back. They were together every day and their lives depended on each other."

"The soldiers gave details of the battle an officer wouldn't have. At first the emotion was comforting. They cared about Boris. Someone like Big Boy may have cared too much to see things clearly. Having a more objective view of the action meant it would be easier to select new facts from the clouded memories emotion painted."

"There were guys who showed no outward sign of being in distress but both the lieutenant and Axle taught me something on that front. Too much emotion, too much grief over losing a friend could be hiding beneath the clouded world alcohol and other substances provide.

"Maybe something in a soldier's background could explain the disabling effect of Vietnam on him. Maybe it wasn't the war at all. Maybe having crappy childhoods explained their sad condition. The brutality of war had some men coming apart at the seams," Ivan said.

"I felt it was two sides of the same coin. The lieutenant couldn't do enough for me and he told me important facts only he knew. He began at the beginning and he told the story all the way to the end of what was known. This narrowed my focus," Ivan said.

"The soldiers stories' could be weighed against the story of the man in charge. This being fairly early into my search, I didn't understand what the anti war movement might have to do with my success. They were against the war. The idea was to keep as many young men as possible out of the war. How could they hold the key to getting me into Vietnam?" Ivan said. "It goes to the ignorance of youth. To be well organized and effective, the anti war leaders needed to have allies inside the machine, inside the army, and they did."

"The part of the anti war movement I got to see were the foot soldiers. They marched against the war and they waited to be told when and where the next march would be. They were the hippies, the draft resisters. I saw the hippies out there every time I hitched a ride. At first I hardly noticed them. As time went on there were more and more of them on the side of the same highways I was on. I was curious when I saw them."

"This was while I was getting farther west. Then I met the lieutenant and Axle after I moved as far west as I'd been. I had enough names that allowed me to go in a straight line for a while and then I'd start east, where most of the soldiers in Boris's unit lived. I got a sensation, once I turned back to the east, I'd find what I was looking for on the West Coast. Things people said. The fact everyone who came home from Vietnam returned through California before they were shipped home." Ivan said. "I'd been out there nearly a year and I was becoming more organized and asking better questions."

"After leaving Kansas and two soldiers later, I watched Axle shutting down in front of me without me knowing that's what he was doing until it was done. He disappeared inside himself or inside the bottle of 4 Roses on the bar where we talked. It didn't take a genius to know I had a role in what happened to the soldiers I talked to. I wasn't God and it wasn't my idea to meet anyone in a bar. I felt for Axle but there was nothing I could do to rescue his troubled soul. Someone else was responsible for that. I couldn't take responsibility for the guys I met. It was the most important thing I learned my first year out there."

Ivan sipped soda a while and he checked out the clouds as they rolled past.

"I was developing a plan by this time. In each town I would visit the local Dairy Queen first. Towns with more than 200 people have one. No one didn't like Dairy Queen and it would be my headquarters in a new place," Ivan said.

"Being nineteen and applying for a job qualified me for a management position at Dairy Queen. I was immediately put in charge of sixteen and seventeen year old employes," Ivan said.

"I would then establish a residence, usually a boarding house on or near Main Street run by a respectable widow. It would be recommended to me by the man giving me my interview at DQ. I'd take a room there and pay a week in advance. I didn't always stay a week at the DQ or the boarding house," Ivan said.

"Interviewing Vietnam vets was something I decided I should do on neutral turf. I never wanted to do another interview in a bar if it could be avoided. The DQ always had picnic tables. On the first meeting it was my working persona in my silly DQ hat and I wanted to chat. No one objected to meeting me at DQ and I did a quick assessment when I saw the former soldier walking up. I'd figure out where to start once we sat down at a picnic table," Ivan said.

"Because I was Boris' brother and because I looked like him, the reaction to me was peculiar. I told them they'd know me because of the silly hat and because I looked like Boris. In public their reaction was muted. No one wanted to look bad in public. After the first meeting, there might be more and I might move on the next day."

"'You want to go to Vietnam? Join the army. You'll get to Vietnam faster than you can say, 'Jack Robinson, I don't mind telling you,' a buddy of Boris' in Ohio told me. I said I had no beef with the Vietnamese. I was going to find Boris. This little tidbit got me some long stares. Being in that DQ hat meant I looked harmless. However, it didn't rule out the possibility of my being crazy. Once we got past the initial weirdness, they listened and answered what questions they could. Some were OK. Others remained distant, suspicious of me. My resemblance to Boris didn't hurt," Ivan said.

"To most of them the battle was fierce and deadly. They were marching along on a mission no one but the officers knew about. Charlie usually avoided a force of hundreds. One minute it was just marching and wondering where we were going this time. The next minute all hell broke loose. Most guys were glad they got home alive and they were sorry Boris wasn't so lucky," Ivan said.

"It was September and the nights were almost cool enough to get some sleep where I was. I'd just hitchhiked into northwestern Maryland from Sharon, Pennsylvania. I'd been up two days and before I went to sleep, I wanted to hear your voice. Not yours Dylan; you were two months old and auditioning for the Metropolitan Opera," Ivan said. "I wanted to get an address for a soldier in Atlanta or Mobile, and I'd go home once I got that close."

He looked as though he was seeing what he was about to tell us.

"I knew Lucy's voice when I heard it. She's always cheerful and I cheered up a bit, but there was something wrong, I'd never heard Lucy sound like that. She said, 'Sunshine died. Everyone is a little low right now. Call back later in the week.' She hung up."

Ivan drank soda. Dylan leaned forward to see his father's face. I swallowed hard and remember it well.

Ivan cleared his throat.

"I'd gotten a job at the local DQ. I'd taken a room at the only boarding house in that town. I called the soldier to ask him to meet me at the DQ," he said.

"I literally dropped everything. I don't think I hung up the phone. I went out to the Interstate. I don't remember giving it a second thought. I had to get to you, babe. I'd just stuck my thumb out. A trucker pulled over right away. Some days I could stand for hours and think I'd die there waiting for a ride. Some days, that day, I would have walked to get to you if I had to, but I didn't."

"'Where you heading?' the driver asked. 'Florida,' I said. 'I'm heading for Atlanta. You'll have no trouble getting to Florida from Atlanta.' he said."

Ivan sipped his soda and thought about the trip home. He hadn't shown a lot of emotion beyond a little humor over his early days on the road. This experienced had moved him.

"I don't think we said ten words to each other in ten hours. He could tell I had a desperate look to me. I didn't try to hide how anxious I was to get home. I felt terrible I wasn't there for you when... well... when Sunshine passed," Ivan said sadly.

"Water under the bridge," I said. "You came home to be with me. You stayed until I got my feet back under me. It was a big help. Those were hard days indeed."

"Yes they were," Ivan said.

Dylan remained quiet. He didn't remember his mother. There were pictures of her from a trip we made to Key West in an album in Dylan's nightstand. There was a big picture of Sunshine and me on the wall over his the head of his bed.

"I stayed quite a while. I needed to see you were back on your feet before I left. Then, you let me out one day on your way to school. You'd taken off from school the second semester the year before and I went with you to school when you started going again. One day I went back on the road and returned to Maryland," Ivan said.

"Seems like it was a lifetime ago," I said.

"It's exactly a lifetime for me," Dylan said.

"Before I came home to stay with you over those months, the hippies began to be on the highway in larger and larger numbers. I'd gotten over my reluctance to speak to them. I heard what every one heard, 'Dirty, smelly, good for nothing hippies.' What should a government say when the people they plan to send to war, don't go?"

"They said those things to discourage other kids from joining the anti war movement," I said.

"The Vietnamese are gooks," Ivan said. "Our government pushed that one too. Actually, the Vietnamese are a kind and gentle people. Hardly an image of people soldiers feel good about killing," Ivan said.

"I never smelled a hippie. On the other hand, some pickup trucks I got in smelled like they were washed in beer. They were just kids to me. Like I was in charge of at the DQ. Mostly they ate and laughed and had a good time at the DQ. The hippies came right out of the employes door of the Dairy Queens where I worked. It was mostly boys but there were girls. They were white and black and most shades in between, but mostly they were white. Some wore more stylish clothes than others, but on the road clothes wore out fast. Faded jeans and tee-shirts was the uniform of the day. Tee-shirts were where the color was. Bright primary colors, flowers, and loads of peace symbols. Worn out tennis shoes showed the toll the miles took on the devoted hippies. They lived on the highway between towns."

"Flower power," Dylan said.

"It was," Ivan said. "Some kids were from NYC and Boston and others were from Conway, Golden, and Elk City. No two of us were from the same place but we ended up on a freeway ramp together. I found it exhilarating. These were bright happy go lucky kids. We were all on the road because of Vietnam. The war moved us. The idea of killing and dying sickened us. It didn't matter what old men in Washington said. They had our permission to pick a fight with anyone they cared to and by all means take those who loved war with them. We didn't mind."

"Why don't the leaders go fight wars they start?" Dylan asked.

"They're politicians. They start fights. They don't fight them. They let the lucky kids have all the fun," Ivan said.

"They should organize the people who like war and they can be the army," I said.

"You're using logic. It makes too much sense. A politician would look for the catch and rule the idea out when they didn't find one," Ivan said.

"Everyone on the road knew someone who was killed or ruined over there. Guys on their block, in their class at school, a brother, a friend went over there and didn't come home. Over there became a cuss word for Vietnam. No one wanted to go over there."

"The hippies were against the government?" Dylan asked.

"They called it the counterculture," I said. "They were protesting our country going to someone else's country to kill the people living there. They were protesting a government that did things like that. They were protesting people who supported it. They promoted love and peace and nonviolence. They didn't want to go to Vietnam. They didn't want to die over there. The only way to avoid the draft was to be on the road when that letter came saying, 'Report for your physical. It's hard to do laundry and take showers when you need to keep moving to stay healthy. No one had it in mind to "Be the first one on your block to come home in a box.""

"You got that right," Ivan said.

"You hitched with them?" Dylan asked.

"Sure. It was the quickest way to get a ride. Even in love it or leave it country, people stopped because we were hippies. Not everyone is indoctrinated into the government line. Parents of kids in the military stopped. Pickup trucks and vans were most likely to stop. People who paid a very high price for war needed to stop for the hippies. People waved if they couldn't fit us in their vehicle. Everyone flipped the peace sign. It's like we were all part of a club."

"Peace sign?" Dylan asked.

Ivan flipped his first two fingers up in a V. Dylan did the same thing.

"Peace," Ivan said.

"Peace," Dylan said. "The antidote for war."

Clouds rolled into the night sky to hide its light. The Gulf was louder than usual. It was going to rain tomorrow and tonight was a prelude to the first rain since last month's storm.

"In August before I hitchhiked into Maryland and eventually home, I was moving east on I-80. I stopped in Nebraska, Illinois, and Ohio. The kids were moving east in large numbers," Ivan said.

"I'd been seeing their numbers increasing but this was a flood of hippie hitchhikers. When I was dropped off on a ramp with three of them already there, they came over to me when I didn't approach them. They were talking excitedly about their destination. They were going to upstate New York where there would be three days of peace, love, and music. All the greatest bands alive would be there. This would be the greatest concert ever. A million people would be there."

"Woodstock," I said.

"Woodstock," Ivan said. "'Three days of 'Peace, love, and music, and nothing but peace, love, and music,' according to Max Yasgur,"

"Who's that?" Dylan asked.

"He owned the farm where the concert took place."

"Cool," Dylan said.

"When I got back on the road in October, the hippies were heading west. They'd been to one anti war protest and there were more scheduled for Seattle, Sacramento, and L.A. It was the winter headquarters for the anti war protesters. I never figured that after a year, I'd end up in the middle of the anti war movement. It was impossible to avoid it. Whenever a few hundred thousand hippies moved somewhere, it was difficult not to move with them. That's how I ended up becoming an anti war protester."

"It was warmer in the west than in the east after October. There was no place like San Francisco or Los Angeles for the winter months. I'd saved the contacts I had on the West Coast with that in mind," Ivan said.

"I lived on this beach most of my life. Almost all my life when it comes to memories of things I did. Big cities are a trip," I said.

"Far out," Dylan said.

I laughed at my flower children.

"Here people are friendly because we all know each other. Out there people are friendly because it's easier and more fun that being a Grinch. I liked being out there. There were people who would feed you and houses where they let hippies stay so they weren't on the street late at night. Everyone pitched in and did something to help and for that you ate and you could crash in their house," Ivan said.

"Crash?" Dylan asked.

"Sleep. People smiled more out there. Maybe because they weren't freezing back east. The peace sign was the universal sign for peace and love. You couldn't walk down a block in the U District. without having the peace sign flipped your way a dozen times. There was no place like it in the universe, Seattle. I watched a hippie girl walk up one side of the street and she panhandled for change. She was young with long blond hair and a typical hippie chick. She'd collect three, four, maybe five dollars from the straights out for lunch."

"Straights?" Dylan asked.

"In this context a non-hippie type. She'd go to the other side of the street and whatever she collected, she handed out to the kids panhandling on that side of the street. It was like totally cool,' Ivan said.

"Far out," Dylan said.

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