from Jodey Bateman's novel:
IN A CURIOUS WAY
ABOUT ME, DALE
It was June 22, 1967. I was the Regional Traveler for the Student Freedom
we just called it the Organization, mostly. I was paid $10 a week from
the National Office,
sometimes $20, a lot of weeks nothing, when the National Office couldn’t
pay it’s bills.
I hitched back a thousand miles from our national convention. I didn’t
even hitch with a sleeping
bag in those days. All I had was an extra shirt tied around my waist by
the sleeves and an armload
of newspapers I had picked up at the convention, plus my trusty notebooks
which included my
diary and whatever information I thought was important to jot down for
the Organization – though
there are some things I couldn’t forget if I wanted to.
I had to walk back into town about three miles from the interstate to get
to Clu Proctor’s
house. She was the head of the Independent Committee to End the War. I
stayed in a room on her
second floor. The Committee meeting was supposed to be at six that evening,
but as I stumbled off
the road into Clu’s living room at four thirty in the afternoon, some people
were already there.
Clue had just come in from the kitchen. She had light brown hair that flowed
down her back
and she was wearing the embroidered crimson peasant skirt she had
bought in Romania. She was
carrying a bowl of strawberry ice cream and she bent over a girl named
Hope Vann, wearing jeans
and a boy’s shirt, who was sitting on the floor, and put a big spoonful
of ice cream into Hope’s
When Clu heard the screen door slam behind me, she turned around and cried
Moy mannsbild! My hunk of man!"...in the mixture of Russian and German
she sometimes used
with me. She came charging towards me with her arms outstretched, holding
spoonful of ice cream, headed for my mouth.
"Clu, I don’t like strawberry ice cream!" I protested.
"Dale, comes the revolution, everybody will have strawberry ice cream!"
Clu said – the old
left-wing joke. "And you will like it!"
I opened my mouth and ate a small bite of the big spoonful as she smiled.
Clu was a member of the Vanguard, which was one of several Vanguards hoping
to lead us
at that time. Her Vanguard and its rivals thought that groups like the
organized enough – too undisciplined, too uncertain of what we really believed.
And they were
going to provide us with efficiency and a clear set of principles which
we lacked. Unfortunately
there were several Vanguards and they fought each other for the right to
lead us. Meanwhile most
of us in the Organization and the larger movement it was a part of, went
our own way.
After I gulped down the ice cream, I sat down on the floor next to Hope.
She was the
youngest person in the room – she would be eighteen in a couple more months.
twenty-three, much too old for her. I was also still shy – scared to death
of romance. But we were
good friends and liked to talk things over with each other. She had what
our friend Evie called
April-colored hair – long and golden orange. She had large pale-blue eyes,
but she had once cut
her upper lip when she fell onto gravel and it healed back with one half
bigger and wider than the
other. I thought her face made her look like she had something wise and
deep to say. She was
short, skinny, and pale except for her pink cheeks. I was tall and skinny
in worn-out jeans and old
In a second we were holding hands and grinning at each other. "Hey Hope,"
I said, "when
the meeting’s over I’ll tell you something this guy at the convention told
me about Leon Trotsky."
I was talking under my breath because Clu was already trying to start a
so many people had showed up before the Committee to End the War meeting.
somebody knocked on the screen door.
I looked up and saw three young men on the porch. Clu went to let them
in with a majestic
sweep of her peasant skirt. As the men entered the door the first thing
I noticed was how short
their hair was. I don’t have mine down my back, or even as long as the
Beatles—neither did most
guys active in the Organization, but it was growing higher and thicker
off the back of my neck, and
the hair on the sides was creeping over the tops of my ears, and my forelock
kept falling into my
eyes. These guys—their forelocks were no longer than the width of three
fingers, and the sides and
backs of their heads were sheared almost down to the scalp.
They were all three in cheap polished cotton slacks – chinos is the word
for them now, I think.
Two of them had on madras shirts, but the one in the middle had a tent-like
old greenish T-shirt,
stretched way out of shape. His skin was burnt dark red-brown and the forelock
of his hair was
faded nearly white by the sun. I had been tanned with sun-faded hair
the same way when I first
came back from working in the civil rights movement in the Deep South.
He had an angry
puckered-up pink scar that twisted from right below his neck across his
collar bone and down into
the shadows of his T-shirt. On his T-shirt, stenciled in red letters was:
G’O DEN MUON NAM!
He was the first one to speak.
"My name is Will Orry," he said, "and this is Pete Yoder". He pointed to
the short man on
his left. A man with a face that looked childlike except for the crooked
teeth that showed when he
smiled, shyly, looking at Clu with wide blue eyes. She was as tall as he
"I’m Stan Bennet," the man on Will’s right said. He had red hair and was
taller than Will. He
had a carefully clipped mustache and wide heavy shoulders.
"We’re from Fort Clay - G.I.’s," Will went on. "Next week I’m going to
be court martialed
for giving out anti-war literature."
I looked up quickly. A month before, I had read a letter from Will to the
editor in the
GUARDIAN, the newspaper of the whole left-wing family. I had been planning
to hitch the 70
miles to Pronghorn, the big town outside Fort Clay, to see if any of my
friends there could put me
in touch with the anti-war G.I.’s. Wow! they were dropped right on me,
I went across the living room in three or four steps and I was standing
by Clu as she was
shaking hands with the soldiers. When I shook hands with Will, I noticed
the sharp contrast
between his sun-darkened face and the intense green eyes with yellow flecks.
His eyes looked like
they had stared a long time at something unbearable and learned to bear
"Move back, Dale. Give them some space to sit down," Clu said, pushing
my shoulder with
They sat on the floor facing Hope. I was standing with the last few stragglers
meeting when Clu said, "Will, get up and tell your story now."
Will stood up and pointed to the words on the front of his T-shirt. "Those
BLACK HILL FOREVER!" he said. That’s where I was in Nam with my blood brothers.
went over I didn’t have any reason not to believe what the TV and newspapers
said about the
war. But by the time I had been there seven months, me and my buddies,
we saw through the lie.
All that was going on was people on both sides being destroyed while we
paid the Michelin Tire
Company more money for damaging one of their rubber trees than we did to
a family that had a
mother or child killed. Once I went to Saigon on leave and saw the Bank
of America was putting
up a new office building and I realized in some way that’s what the war
is about - making those
people rich. So our little bunch at Black Hill - we tried to stop the war."
Hope looked up with surprise and curiosity, "How could you all stop the
war?" she asked.
"We just wanted to stop it at least where we were," Will answered. "I may
tell another time
just what we did. But we couldn’t even make peace there. Before we were
all split up - we had a
big birthday party for one of the brothers and we said if we got back to
the real world, we were
gonna tell the story of what’s happening there. That’s what everyone around
us - Vietnamese
people, American people, said to do- tell the story. Then I got wounded
and shipped to Fort Clay
and met up with these guys. They’ve never been to Nam.
"So we wrote a letter to the GUARDIAN asking for people to send us anti-war
leaflets, newspapers, posters, whatever...."
I interrupted..."I read the letter! I wanted to go to Pronghorn and bring
you all literature but I never
got around to it." The words rushed out of my mouth.
Will held his hand up like, "Stop. Never mind", and continued. "People
did send us stuff.
We put up the posters on our barracks walls. The MP’s tore them down, but
we kept putting
more back. Finally I got called in by Colonel White, the battalion commander.
He asked me who
was putting up the posters. I wouldn’t answer. Next day Sergeant Caldwell
got ahold of me and
told me the colonel wanted the literature I had in my footlocker.
"Hell, Sergeant Caldwell already had a key to my locker! He had already
moved my locker
into the orderly room! I told him I wanted time to think about it, and
I went to a friend of mine and
he gave me the lock from his locker. Late at night I went in the orderly
room and put the new lock
on, like sneaky."
There was some laughter in the room.
"So any way," Will went on, "next day I was ordered to appear in
front of Lieutenant Henry
Hogue. Big Dude! We called him the Hog. The Hog ordered me to open my locker.
I said that
under Army Regulations 389-135 I had the right to keep any literature I
wanted, so his order was
illegal. Then the Hog pointed to the lieutenant bar on his shoulder and
said, "That makes it legal!"
"I said something like, ‘Fuck if it does!’ Beg your pardon," Will added
around the room, but people were laughing. "Then he told me if I refused
again, I’d be court
martialed. I refused. The Hog called in Sergeant Caldwell and we went to
the orderly room.
Caldwell had an axe. He ordered Stan to stand guard at the door."
The big G.I. next to Will spoke up, "Caldwell must not have been told that
I was in on the
literature. I winked at Will, and stood around outside the orderly room."
"Then the Hog ordered Sergeant Caldwell to break into my locker. Caldwell
axe down on top of the locker - it’s wood. There was a loud crash. The
Hog took the literature
and went through it for two hours. He took it all away. Shit, he even took
my high school
newspaper! All that was left was letters from my family. The Hog took them
and threw them on the
floor and ordered me to pick them up.
"So that’s why I’m here. I called the GUARDIAN and asked for them to help
me find a
civilian lawyer, anti-war. They found one and I want you people here to
come to the court martial
to show the G.I.’s there that we’ve got support on the outside."
"I can do more than that," Clu said. "I can get some very active anti-war
people to come
down from New York. Just give me a date."
All of us in the room were looking wide eyed at Will and his two friends
and we all wanted to
come through for them.
"Five days from now," Will said, "nine a.m. next Thursday."
A few people clapped when Clu said she was bringing in help from New York.
I didn’t. I knew
she meant she was bringing in people from her Vanguard and I was a little
worried about what the
soldiers would think of them. Still, I knew the Vanguard had hard working
people and the cause
was so important, I felt sure I could overlook my differences with them.
So we all left the meeting and walked a couple of blocks to the Corner
Grill, right across from the
State University campus. We usually adjourned every Committee meeting to
the Corner Grill. We
called it the ‘Victory Party’. This time with the three anti-war G.I.’s
it really did seem like a victory
party. It was one of those perfect evenings that occurred often in the
summer of ’67 - dark blue
sky with pale pink light still in the west, a gentle breeze rustling the
thick green foliage of the elm
and cottonwood trees in front of the old rooming houses, the heat of the
day giving way to a
nighttime that would still be comfortable in shirt sleeves. You could hear
the mockingbirds loud and
clear from blocks away making their last call before the day was over.
Hope and I had twined our
fingers together and we were walking along with our joined hands swinging
We put together some tables and one of the guys ordered two pitchers of
beer. A tall
heavy-set middle-aged waitress came with the pitchers and said to Hope,
"Honey, Vern got after
us last week about you." Vern was the owner of the Corner Grill. "Vern
says you’re underage and
you can’t sit at a table where everyone’s drinking beer."
Hope and I moved into a booth. "It’s my mother," Hope said. "She probably
Vern. She doesn’t like me being around the committee." I was pretty sure
Hope was right.
Teenagers drinking beer were not unusual sights at the Corner Grill.
"OK, sure," I said. "Anyway I was going to tell you what this guy at the
convention told me
– how when Trotsley was living in New York, he..."
"Look, Dale, I think I ought to go," Hope said. "It’s getting late and
"What about the court martial?" I asked.
"I’ll get around to Clu’s Thursday morning. Even if I don’t go I’ll be
there to see you off.
You just be sure and go for me." She got out of the booth and smiled and
blew me a kiss across
the palm of her hand and hurried on out of the Corner Grill.