The Gulf and The Cove

by Rick Beck

Chapter 14

Peace Movement

"Each town on the road has its own personality. No matter how big or small, there is a character all its own. In the mid west the most visible culture is the youth culture. It's marked by their cars, their clothes, and how often they cruise past the center of town in an evening. The ones who circled the town most often were the coolest cats of all," Ivan said.

"The U. is a block off of Washington University in Seattle. It runs for four or five blocks. There are shops and restaurants, places you can get ice cream, coffee or tea, and some places where you buy food, there are singers, guitar players, poets, and the most incredible tastes and smells. One placed served only soup, salads, tea and coffee with English muffins, crumpets, and the most incredible jams and jellies to put on them. You could never get a seat in that place. You stood at the door until someone left. There were no Dairy Queen restaurants. There was an IHOP."

"I hop where?"

"A pancake house. You can get different kinds of food but they're known as a pancake house," Ivan said.

"I like pancakes at Mama's house," Dylan said.

"You can't beat Mama's pancakes," I said. "But if you are in Seattle, you aren't going to get to Mama's house by breakfast and some IHOPs are open twenty-four hours a day."

"This was where my education into the anti war movement was fed almost everywhere I went. Anywhere you found young people there was talk of the war, talk of the dying being done. I've got to admit, my opinion of that war, never very high, became totally negative once I walked in the shoes of those our government intended to feed their war machine with. Everyone was happy. We were all part of the same thing. People shared what they had. When I fell in with hippies, it was amazing to see them put together their nickels, dimes, and quarters, and somehow everyone got something to eat. If one person got a ride we all got a ride. If one of us couldn't fit into a vehicle, once we started piling in, everyone got out and they said, thanks but no thanks. We all went or no one went. I've never been around four or five people hitching together. You'd never get a ride, except they did. It was that kind of thing that had me falling in with the hippies," Ivan said.

"D'Artanian and the Three Musketeers. One for all and all for one," Dylan said.

"Exactly, only this was more like the five or six musketeers. Everyone knew there was a limit to the size of the vehicles and five was about as many as you wanted to hitch with, but I saw bigger groups out there. A pickup would always stop and you could stack ten people in the back of a pickup truck. There was always someone who stopped before too long. I was blown away by it. Sometimes we'd get out of a vehicle and they'd give the last person out a five or ten dollar bill and wish us luck. We were someone's kids and few parents wanted to leave us on the side of the road. It was a different world out there. It had nothing to do with hating and killing. It had to do with people sharing and caring about each other," Ivan said.

"I'm surprised you came home," I said. "It sounds ideal."

"It was until the government figured out how to stop it," Ivan said.

"How'd they do that?" Dylan asked.

"There wasn't enough war in Vietnam, Nixon declared war on drugs. It was aimed directly at the war protesters and they had every tool they needed in those four words, The War on Drugs. The hippies experimented with drugs. Almost everyone smoked weed. They dropped acid, took different kind of hallucinogens. Timothy Leary advertised, 'tune-in, turn on, drop out.' It's how he promoted acid. He claimed it expanded the mind if you had a sharp enough brain. He also said, 'You don't put high test fuel in a Volkswagen brain.'"

Dylan laughed.

"Did you do drugs, Daddy-O?"

"I can not tell a lie, junior. No. I'm not suited to mind altering substances. It would be very easy for me to become addicted and you need to be aware of that. Using mind altering substances can take over your life and I promised your daddy I'd stop drinking. To me the promise was, I wouldn't take things to alter who I am. It's dangerous if you aren't able to stop."

"Yes you did and I'm glad you kept your word to me," I said.

and In some houses and smaller coffee houses, you could get enough smoke by breathing to get a contact high from other people smoking."

Dylan laughed.

"When we got into that van, we were headed to California. So was the van. We ended up in Haight-Ashbury."

"Where's that?" Dylan asked.

"San Francisco next to Golden Gate Park and Golden Gate Park was filled with hippies. There were the most amazing colors. I think everyone was stoned most of the time. Drugs flowed like water and everyone took a drink. There was no trouble, no disagreeable people, simply a lot of love floating on the air. Half those people had been at Woodstock and now they were back in friendly territory where everyone smiled and the peace sign was used often."

"Hippies wore the loudest colors possible and anything was possible if you went to a head shop and picked out something bright that you liked. Paisley was popular. Bright primary colors were the order of the day. You couldn't fall asleep around hippies," Ivan said.

"Why's that?" Dylan asked.

"The colors were too loud," Ivan said with a smile.

Dylan laughed.

"They sound cool," Dylan said.

"They were totally cool and it scared the hell out of the government. They gave a war and a generation of kids they needed to fight it dropped out. They were chanting, "Hell no, we won't go."

"Cool," Dylan said. "If they want a war they should be the ones to fight the war."

"Sounds like we're raising a counterculture kid," I said.

"I got a dirty, smelly, lazy hippie lesson in school. Disrespectful unpatriotic kids. It made no sense. I figured something was being left out. We're surrounded by flags, pledges, oaths and rules. Suddenly, close to graduating, a bunch of kids drop out?" Dylan said.

"They are disrespectful of politicians waving flags and promoting war as a fine career choice. Being patriotic is about loving your country. It has nothing to do with self promoting politicians," I said.

"Where'd the hippies go?" Dylan asked. "They sure didn't move to Florida."

"Probably not," Ivan said. "The South, and Florida is south, organize against peculiarity they themselves don't subscribe to."

"If you ask me, that's pretty peculiar," Dylan said.

"Where do you go when you stop being a hippie?" I asked.

"The war on drugs startled the movement. How could the government put a relatively mild weed on a level with heroin? The answer being, when Nixon is president and the president has an enemies list and an ax to grind." Ivan said.

"It ushered in dark days for the anti war movement. It's getting a bit ahead of the story. It is important to know how the government eliminated the hippies as an anti war force. Nixon wanted to hurt them as much as possible. Being unscrupulous, making them criminals by changing drug laws, people opposing him began looking over their shoulders for the cops," Ivan said.

"To start at the beginning, he was elected with a secret plan to end the war. Besides carpet bombing North Vietnam, the war in the south went on. The anti war movement made it clear, more people were dying in Nixon's war if you counted North Vietnamese dead."

"Nixon, being a vindictive soul, sought to make the anti war movement pay for interfering with his war. He created his war on drugs. He made marijuana a schedule one drug, same as heroin. Possessing got you long prison sentences. It was the perfect weapon to use against the hippies. Their drug of choice being grass," Ivan said. "While Nixon drank his booze in the White House, the hippies were lighting up. Booze was their parents' drug of choice. Marijuana was the kids' drug of choice."

"The effects of grass are mild in comparison to booze. Marijuana makes you hungry and sleepy and amorous if the company you keep is right. I saw no one get violent smoking grass, unless you count a fight over the last Twinkie or potato chip," Ivan said.

"I didn't see anyone get sick while smoking grass. A hangover? I can't say for sure. I was getting my grass secondhand in the smoke. I got a little high but I was never stoned. No one mentioned feeling bad or hungover the following day," Ivan said. "I do know from experience, people who drink are frequently hungover after a night of drinking. I'm able to testify to that. It made me wonder why I drank."

"Hippies escaped the war on drugs by going into rural Oregon, Big Sur in California, and other lightly populated regions. True hippies believing in nonviolence. They wanted to escape a judgmental and increasingly violent society. They rejected war and the people who would allow it to destroy their children."

"During the first years of the war on drugs, I was on the West Coast where the biggest concentrations of hippies were. With the war ending and the anti war forces dwindling, there was talk of where to go to find a safe haven. Slowly the hippies left big cities and towns where the war on drugs had begun to roll over anyone in its path."

"Where'd they get their grass in rural areas?" Dylan asked.

"They grew it. It's a weed. It grows almost anywhere with minimal care," Ivan said. "Making it a schedule one drug was crazy. How do you control a weed that anyone can grow if he gets seeds? You can grow it in the backyard if you don't have nosy neighbors who know what pot looks like."

"Not in our backyard you can't," I said.

"No, I didn't mean we could grow it," Ivan said.

"Everyone in the world can grow it in their back yard except us?" Dylan asked for a clarification.

"You got that right, kiddo. We live in a clean healthy peaceful place and we want to keep it that way," I said. "We aren't breaking any laws, even if the law makes no sense."

"Do you know what the Volstead Act was, junior?" Ivan asked.

"Prohibition back in the olden days, according to my civics class. Something to do with alcohol, isn't it?" Dylan said.

"A lot to do with alcohol," Ivan said. "It made the possession of alcohol illegal. Old times were less than fifty years ago when FDR repealed the Volstead Act. You can make alcohol out of a million different fruits and such. People could make booze in their bathtub. Grass grows anywhere you plant it. If you plant it inside your house, have good seeds, grow lights, water it faithfully, you'll get a very nice yield. The hippies could grow all the grass they wanted in rural America. It was one of the easier things they did without having access to running water or electricity. The point of making marijuana a schedule one drug was to be able to arrest as many war protesters as possible. It's difficult to march while you're in jail," Ivan said.

"Dyed in the wool hippies were maybe ten percent of the movement. Everyone else was resisting the draft. The trick here was in the sentencing when one of them was caught with drugs. The judge gave them a choice, years in prison or join the army. I don't know if anyone took prison over the army. This pleased Nixon no end."

"The Masters of War said, 'The hippies had nothing to do with ending that war. The war was ended by powerful politicians who decided it was time to bring the boys home,'" Ivan said. "There was an anti war song that said, 'Old enough to die but not for voting,' and a law was passed allowing an eighteen year old to vote pretty quick."

"How old did you need to be to vote?" Dylan asked.

"Twenty-one," I said.

"Seems like you know more about how government works while you're still in school than most people ever know," Dylan said.

"As quick as the war was over, they went about ending the draft. If it wasn't draft resistors who brought an end to the war, why not keep the draft in place? They'd be smarter the next time they took the country to war. An all volunteer army would do the trick."

"The war on drugs took an entirely different turn once the war on Vietnam was ending. The guys who had been resisting the draft went home, put on a shirt with a button down collar, shined their penny loafers, and went back to school or got a job at the DQ. That was an easy transition to make if you wanted to rejoin the establishment. Most anti war protesters went home, avoided the war on drugs. With troops coming home to be discharged, the risk of being drafted went down. The war was over for Americans," Ivan said.

"Once police began closing safe houses, hippies were on their own. Instead of a loving and caring atmosphere in bigger cities, no one knew who to trust. Undercover cops infiltrating the movement, setting up drug raids, they closed safe houses," Ivan said. "The owners of the safe houses that weren't raided, didn't know when it would be their turn. They took down the welcome sign and locked their doors for the first time. Nixon had won."

"Safe houses were at the center of the war protest movement. The provided shelter and food. Hippies knew each town had places that made it easier for them to keep moving. At one house where I stayed a guy called Snake showed up. Lord knows the name should have offered a hint. It was while i was still in Seattle, maybe in '72. Right away Snake got in the middle of everything. He wanted to blow things up, kill pigs, and bring down the government. Snake was a real stampeder," Ivan said.

"After I left Seattle, I got word that the house was busted on a drug raid. Snake was a narc and he wasn't the only snakes out there and the safe houses were gone in a year."

"What's a narc?" Dylan asked.

"In this case a cop," Ivan said. "On a local level they used cops or snitches like Snake. The Drug Enforcement Agency were the feds. They funded and instructed local police how to bust safe houses."

"Why arrest kids who don't want to kill or die?" Dylan asked.

"They were after the owner of the safe house. The people in the house were a bonus for the police. You get a narc inside the house and he signals when he sees who has the drugs. The house is raided," Ivan said.

"Why mess with people who aren't hurting anyone?" Dylan asked.

"They hurt Nixon's feelings. He gave a war and they took a pass," Ivan said. "It's the system. It's the American way. They can't arrest you for being a nonviolent anti war protester, but they sure as hell can arrest you for possession of an illegal substance. They went through the trouble of making it illegal, may as well arrest people," Ivan said.

"What started as a pain in the ass for local law enforcement, suddenly started yielding up big bucks from the raids. Not only did the owner go to jail, he lost his house. Drugs became big business and the police were playing hardball."

"They can take someone's house?" Dylan asked.

"Yes, they can," I said. "I've heard of them seizing cars when they stop them on the highway and conduct a search because the driver looks suspicious. Finding drugs, they arrest the man and seize the car as part of a criminal activity."

"That's bogus. Can the government do anything they want?"

"They think so but the people aren't so sure," I said.

"People are the government," Dylan said. "Aren't we?"

"They are according to the Constitution. At the moment the politicians are about themselves and not so much about the people. They sit on a pile of money. Getting some of it and making sure their buddies get a cut is part of their politics."

"And they make laws that allow police to arrest people and take their property?" Dylan asked.

"Perks that come with being lawmakers," I said. "Those birds feather their nest every chance they get. Nothing like a good war to make everyone rich. They wave their flags, chant their slogans, and fill their pockets as the war rages on. War is a racket."

"At first they boarded houses up. Put crime scene tape on the doors so the owners couldn't go inside. Most of the safe houses were owned by professions sympathetic to the the anti war movement. They didn't want kids going hungry or sleep out in the elements at night," Ivan said. "The government wanted to make it as hard on war protesters as they could, even after they knew the war was coming to an end. War protesters were still the enemy."

"These were doctors, lawyers, and upstanding pillars of the community. They fought the seizure of their property. If you created enough work for the cities where the drug laws were strictly enforced, once you ran up the bill, the city backed down. As time went on and police departments were partially funded on seizures of property during drug busts, judges said anything seized during the investigation of the crime belonged to the police. Lots of money in them there drugs. It was an excellent motivation to come down harder on drug users."

"It succeeded beyond Nixon's wildest dreams," Ivan said. "The downside was the prison population doubled overnight. Building prisons went hand in hand with the war on drugs. The taxpayer took it in the shorts. After the prisons were built, it cost more to keep a man in prison than to send him to college," Ivan said.

"Nixon didn't care how much it cost taxpayers. He'd won, even though the Vietnam war ended. The war on drugs had just begun. His delight over what he'd done was short lived. His presidency ran into trouble in 1973. Nixon was a superb politician and a brilliant man, but like so many politicians, he had no ethics. He believed he could do anything. He couldn't. Facing impeachment, he resigned in disgrace in 1974. The damage he'd done increases each year because the war on drugs means big bucks for law enforcement. No one doesn't like big bucks and money makes the world go 'round."

"They lock you up for getting high?" Dylan asked.

"If you get high in a way politicians don't like," Ivan said.

"Sounds like a waste of money and manpower," Dylan said. "Why lock up people who could be working and supporting their families?"

"Because they can," I said. "You'll never make it as a politician. Wasting the people's money is part of the job description. Not only are they paying a king's ransom keeping nonviolent people in prison, the taxpayers get to support his family while he does his time."

"It's stupid," Dylan said.

"And on that note my knowledge on, where did all the hippies go comes to a close," Ivan said. "The guys Nixon really wanted, the leaders of the peace movement, they were too smart for him. They weren't going to fall for someone suddenly showing up with a big interest in what they were doing. It smelled too much like entrapment."

"So Nixon didn't get the people he was after?" I asked.

"He got the foot soldiers. He never laid a glove on leadership," Ivan said. "I'll have more to say on that subject later in the story. I'm now going back to tell it chronologically. So forget everything I just told you about the hippies. You'll only be confused if you don't."

"As I became more organized in my travels, hippies were more apparent than ever by the middle of 1969. My search for information went on," Ivan said.

"Initial reactions to me were similar. Most of Boris' buddies were friendly and we got along fine. A couple invited me to stay at their homes. It was usually their parents' house. If the vibes were good, I accepted what was the hospitality of the soldier's parents. Refusing such an offer would look like bad manners on my part. Being in the house with the man I was talking to moved things to a conclusion rapidly. I'd excuse myself as quick as I could and I was off to meet the next man on a growing list of names and addresses."

"A soldier would give me addresses of his friends in their unit. His contacts gave me their contacts. Some had valuable details that added to what I knew. It was these pieces of information that kept me going on my worse days. I didn't know when someone would offer me a piece I was missing," Ivan said. "It kept me on the road."

"There were some soldiers who wouldn't talk about it. They'd said, 'I'm home. I survived Vietnam and that's that,'" Ivan said firmly.

"I met two really helpful guys in a row. One was in Nebraska and the other in Chicago. I got a tip about their sergeant who lived in Maryland. He had just been discharged."

"The guy was the sergeant for Boris' platoon. He would know things regular soldiers wouldn't know. He knew things the lieutenant didn't even know. He'd been a lifer. Retired after serving thirty-two years. I felt the sergeant knew things no one else did. I was right."

"Sgt. Mezler wanted to go get a beer. I could sense this guy was no ordinary soldier. He spoke in generalities that told a bigger story. He knew how far to go and he stopped to avoid trouble," Ivan said.

"I said, 'Guys I've talked to, Boris' friends, had questions about where they were when the battle started. Cambodia came up a lot,' I said. "I don't want you to give me any military secrets or say anything that might get you into trouble, but if I'm going over there to get my brother, I should know what country to look in," I said.'"

"I had his attention. He was sizing me up. Was I blowing smoke or was I crazy enough to go to get my brother?"

"The sergeant took a long pull on his beer. He looked around like he was making sure no one was close enough to hear what he was going to say. He moved closer to the table, leaning toward me. This was when some of the mystery would be solved," he said.

"He obviously knew something he wanted me to know. He was taking his time deciding how far he wanted to go. When he spoke, he spoke softly, 'We crossed in and out of Cambodia all that day. We were searching for guerillas units coming off the Ho Chi Minh Trial. That was our mission. I was there when the lieutenant took a map reading. He asked me if we were on the border. He wasn't sure. My instructions were to get as close to the Trail as we could. I told the lieutenant we were just inside Vietnam and where men coming down the Trail would cross into Vietnam. You've got to understand. This was the sergeants' war. We had green lieutenants who didn't know how to read a map correctly. We, sergeants did what we were ordered to do. It might or might not be what the lieutenant understood his orders to be. This was all done face to face or over the radio. Once we did what we were ordered to do, any spin the officers wanted to put on it wasn't going to be challenged.' He polished off his beer and didn't order another one," Ivan said.

"Officially we were on the border. I can't tell you if we were inside of Cambodia or not when the battle started. We'd walked directly into a battalion of North Vietnamese regulars. They were all around us. They were as shocked as we were. There were just too many of them for us to go head to head with. To save even part of our force required a withdrawal and then a pause while we called it in. When we called it in, we were told to go back and fight. We'd lost twenty or thirty men and flew out a dozen or more as chaos kept us off the line. I wasn't taking my boys back into a meat grinder, so we regroup, counted, recounted, had some rations, and waited until it was almost dark. I sent scouts to find Charlie and get a report. We hadn't touched him. We might have hit a few of them out of luck, but we were falling back so fast I doubt we did any damage. The scouts came back. 'They're gone.' What do you mean, gone?' 'As in not there, sergeant,' he said," Ivan said.

"'I didn't know about Boris until I met with the lieutenant and told him we were ordered to regroup an hour before sunset. Regrouping all those squads would take an hour to form up and come up with the plan. The scouts came back. I told the lieutenant, they're gone. 'What do you mean, gone?' As in not there, gone, sir. He was as relieved as I was. We'd lost some good kids. About Boris, no one could give me anything definite on his condition. I sent men back to look but it was getting dark by then and you don't put troops out in Charlie's bush in the dark. Boris' buddies wanted to go with or without permission. The lieutenant said, 'We'll let you go back in at first light. You'll be able to see what you're doing, and just maybe you can make sense of what you see.' Damn if I didn't agree with him on that one. Next morning I was shown a spot where Boris fell after being hit. It was obvious something smashed the grass down moving southeast and away from the battlefield for a few dozen yards. In the bush a few yards away we found a path you couldn't see from the battlefield. There were no signs of whoever or whatever crawled to that trail. If it was Boris, and I have no way of knowing it was, he stood up, and if he was smart, and your brother was smart, he went west. Any Vietnamese coming down the Trail would go east. Once he crossed the Trail, he would be out of immediate danger. What kind of shape he was in, how far he got in the shape he was in, I can't tell you. He's MIA. That hasn't changed. It's anyone's guess how far he got or where he got to. I've told you everything I know.'"

"He stood up and shoved his hand at me. We shook. He wished me luck and he walked away," Ivan said.

"Wow!" Dylan said. "Your brother must be one cool customer."

"He wasn't going to hang around to see what being a prisoner of war was like. He didn't know where he was going but he knew which way to go to escape immediate danger. What the sergeant didn't say but he implied, Boris might have died on that path a mile, five miles, or ten miles down that path if he didn't get some help."

"But he wasn't dead and you knew he was still alive," Dylan said.

"He was still alive and getting stronger," Ivan said.

The silence took over. Frogs, crickets, and night creatures called out in the dark. The sky was so big it encompassed everything.

"That was good information?" Dylan asked.

"It was. I wouldn't have thought of Cambodia. It was mentioned a lot. I knew Nixon caught hell over bombing Cambodia the following year. Few people knew our troops were there. The soldiers weren't sure but that moved my search farther west in Vietnam.

"Things were changing on the road. After May 1970, no one gave us the finger any more. The love it or leave it folks became more and more quiet. The hippies became more determined," Ivan said.

"What happened?" Dylan asked.

"People, the American people, were tired of the dying," Ivan said.

"And the killing," I said.

I didn't mention Kent State but I remembered the impact it had on college students.

"Vietnam was engaged in a great civil war. It had nothing to do with us," Ivan said. "I'm condensing the story by leaving out the repetition in the soldier's stories. The first two to three years were mundane with a few exceptions I am including. It was a few days on the road and a week or ten days in one town and a week or ten days in the next town. Some stays were longer and some were shorter."

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