It was the summer of 1971 in Michigan. I was 13 1/2, and between my 8th and 9th grade school years. I had been given a job in the machine shop where my father was the supervisor. A co-worker ran over my foot by mistake with a fork lift and broke a bone in my foot (still hurts occasionally). My grandparents took me up north to stay with them at their cabin to recuperate.
The son of the guy across the street showed up, also in a cast. “Michael” is all I remember as his name. A white guy with dark hair and a ‘stash. He had safely done a tour of duty in ‘Nam, but once home, had been intentionally sideswiped while on his motorcycle by a black dude in broad daylight. (Racial tensions in and around Detroit were high back then, just a few years after the ’67 Detroit and MLK Jr’s assassination.) So he went to his father’s cabin to recuperate, too.
We spent our days fishing “out at the point.” Grandpa’s cabin was on Crooked Lake, Michael’s was across the street. We both hobbled down with our crutches, fishing tackle, and Michael’s pot. We got high, high, high. (Michael wasn’t an evil influence–he found out I already got high before letting on that he smoked, too.)
We had a great two weeks pal-ing around. I’m sure I wasn’t his ideal companion, but I was the only companion around. He didn’t tell me much about his tour, but he did make it sound as though most of the troops were stoned a lot. My grandparents trusted him because he was a vet. I don’t think they ever caught on that I was a pothead back then (I quit my senior year and haven’t smoked since).
We caught a lot of fish, worked on our tans, and stayed high all day long. I remember feeling angst that my budding football career was over. I was quite a sensational half back in 8th grade football, and had been hoping to become a star on the junior varsity the following fall, before I broke my foot. The pot and Michael’s companionship eased the physical pain and kept my mind from wondering if my football days were over.
At the end of the two weeks, I went home, tore my walking cast off prematurely (it kept getting wet and I got tired of having it replaced). I made the varsity that fall, and ended up as the only freshman starter (linebacker, not at halfback) due to injuries to upperclassman. We won our division title and missed going undefeated by one overtime touchdown.
I never saw Michael again, and long ago lost track of what happened to him. He was a great guy, seemingly unscathed by his experience in Viet Nam. He seemed matter of fact about it, not ashamed and not particularly proud, either. Back then, I naively thought that of course we would win the war. We were America–nobody could beat us.
I did not know the significance of it when it happened, but that fall, on our bus trips back to the locker after all our football games, the upper classmen, who were subject to possible draft in less than a year or two, would lead the entire team in singing (I know, how corny). One that sticks out was more important to them than to me: …”and it’s one, two, three what are we fighting for, don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, I don’t care about Vietnam…” (Country Joe and the Fish).
To paraphrase LBJ, if you’ve lost the high schoolers, you’ve lost middle America.
I never gave up on the war, and I was pissed when we betrayed Vietnam. But easy for me to say, it was over before I was old enough to have to worry about it, and then the draft was abolished. I saw first hand how the liberal peaceniks operated, and learned quickly how they operate. They tried the same old stunts during Iraq. If GWB had listened to those old ex-hippies now in control of the Democratic party, we would have pulled out before the surge and lost there, too. One of the many reasons why I hate hippie peaceniks.