If you have seen some previous Facebook posts, you’ve noticed that I’ve been reacquainting myself with this series by Jack Cavanaugh. The series follows a family from 1620 to present day. Wars. Intrigue. Family highs and lows. I have been thoroughly engrossed in the stories and educated at the same time.
Until this one.
I don’t mean to say it isn’t well written. It is. The difference is the timeframe. You see, all the previous novels have harkened back to an era in which I had no personal experience. You know … I didn’t live through it.
This story covers the Vietnam era. I DID live through this one. So it is hitting me in a different part of my gut. It is uncomfortable. Both the story and the feelings it dredges up as I think back over those tumultuous years … for me and for this country.
A scant year after the assassination of John F Kennedy, my father determined he would take a last ditch opportunity to enter the Air Force as a chaplain. 35 years of age was the cutoff. He was 34.
Unlike most military families, where the inductee enters service right after high school or college, this was an anomaly. I was 10.
At the end of 1964 (hello, Beatles!), we left the pastor’s parsonage in Conrad, Montana, and made the trek to Duluth, Minnesota. Get the picture? Bleak midwinter. Northern states. And tears for leaving the known for the unknown.
Fast forward to 1967 and my father’s new assignment. Yokota Air Force Base, Japan.
What’s going on in the South Pacific? You got it … Vietnam.
My father left for overseas, but there wasn’t enough housing available, so the rest of us moved in with my maternal grandparents in Bellingham, Washington. I started 8th grade, not knowing when my roots would be pulled up yet again.
Three months into the school year (end of October, 1967) we got the call that Dad had purchased a “paddy house” off base for a grand sum of $5000 US. Time to pack our bags and head to Travis AFB, between Sacramento and San Francisco.
One of my uncles (Ed Sawyer) was getting his doctorate at Berkeley at the time, so he and his family said they’d show us around until we had to board the plane. And yes, THAT Berkeley. Pretty much the headwaters of brainwashing at the time.
I remember the drive through Haight-Ashbury (you might want to look that one up, too). I can’t say I’d had a sheltered life, but that was an eye-opener. I had picked up a Haight-Ashbury “news”paper and was thumbing through it. The columns and the artwork would have appealed to their hippy, drug-stupored readership. Psychedelic nudity ruled the day.
For the years of 1967-1970, we lived in the relative safety of the Air Force base and its environs. There were some times when Japanese dissenters would threaten the base and throw Molotov cocktails over the fences. We always got advance warning and, as a teen, we’d joke, “See you at 5 for Molotov cocktails!”
Unrest doesn’t even begin to describe what was going on Stateside during those years. It didn’t take me long to be grateful that we were not anywhere near it.
My father ministered to airmen and soldiers who had been injured in Vietnam and were on their way back to the States via Yokota. Our youth group went to the hospital to sing to them at Christmas time. It was the first time I saw a person’s midsection held together with giant staples.
Our family always knew that we (the US) were involved in Vietnam to hopefully keep it from succumbing to communism. We all knew that threat was very real. No deserters or card burners where I lived.
It was also the advent of the “Black Power” movement. Since the Air Force was an integrated service as far as I could tell, it seemed like a moot point to me. However, the black power fist was frequently used in greeting.
Yes, that was a tumultuous time. The sixties were a cultural revolution from which we have never recovered. And reading about it in a novel pulls up all that sludge. I’m only 150 pages in, and already I’m steeling myself for the challenges that lie ahead.
If this were a book report, I’d tell you to start in 1620 and follow the thread
Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it (or something to that effect).