After thirty-some years, I finally found a photo of Ken Doss, my high school drinking buddy, on a Marine website. Skinny, six-foot-two, chain-smoker; that was Ken, all right. The last I saw of him was in a lawyer's office in 1975 for (mind blowing as it seemed for the friend I knew) stabbing a cop, and stealing his car, and I always wondered where the heck ole Doss was. Probably six feet under, is my hunch.
The caption reads: The NVA Aiming Point for Khe Sanh 1968. Here he is Ken Doss with that Confederate Flag that he would not take down from the 1/13 area. This flag was the aiming point for a lot of NVA rounds. We Marines are a Brave? (stubborn) lot.
If there was a rating system for post-traumatic stress, I suppose Ken would stand out. Although in those days, he was probably considered just another shrapnel-skewered, shell-shocked Vietnam Veteran, who hopefully could convert his killing skills to productive use, upon return to civilian life. The repercussions of the Indochina conflict, with its tweaked-out crack whore personality, probably wreaked a more exotic havoc, upon our brave boys, than the present, more austere, if not Byzantine, Afghan-Iraq-Pak, desert campaign, but the results are the same—cries of death, madness, torture, and slaughter, with echoes of insanity, that cannot be exterminated, no matter how deep the needle sinks into the frontal lobes.
First, let me say that although Ken's Confederate flag flies in the face of today's Marine Colors, I never heard him issue a racial epithet. We were neighborhood buddies in Virginia Beach, twenty miles from Norfolk, Virginia, just south of the Mason Dixon line, a four-hour scoot from Washington, D.C., on the eastern seaboard. He knew a store where the owner would sell us beer, so weekends we would pile into a 54 Chevy, load up on Pabst Blue Ribbon, and head to the Dome, a dance hall, twenty miles down Beach Boulevard, where kids from various high schools congregated for Saturday night dances. By the time we got there, we were pretty blitzed. Same for some surfing trips; I remember Ken in a goofy-smile stupor, chasing a buddy with a long knife; he had a thing about knives; but we knew he was kidding.
Confederate flag?—I never had one—although Richmond was two hours away, and Appomattox, a hundred more miles west. Being Navy brats, my family moved too much to master any particular regional bias. Degrees of racism in the Old Dominion, however, although you could find exceptions everywhere, were institutionalized in the collective psyche. Schools and colleges were pretty much segregated. Country clubs, including the Beach's palatial Princess Anne Country Club, which later included such members as Evangelist Pat Robertson and wife, were off limits to blacks. From the white sands of Virginia Beach, the only glimpse one could catch of a black might be a hotel maid.
Ken was definitely Marine material—a Recon marine with two tours of Nam. Early on, from our forays in our suburb neighborhood, he established he would cover your back. Not that there was too much threatening about our neighborhood. Nice lawns, fairly nice houses, Carolanne Farms was a middle class/upper middle class community where men worked, women raised kids, and on Sundays, families went to church. After school, we played with whoever lived next door or down the street. Lots of kids.
There were premonitions that all was not perfect. I remember a speaker at our Episcopal church, an Air Force Pilot, who our pastor decided, for some reason, was going to talk about Vietnam at the weekly after-service social gathering, where punch and pastries were served. I remember his military uniform, haircut, and lean shoulders, and his explanation why he was dropping bombs, from miles up, on the Vietnamese, because...as he said with palpable outrage...the Viet Cong were cutting hands off of innocent villagers. Pretty intense stuff. Afterward, we nibbled on cookies, impatient to get home, get out of the suits, and watch Sunday cartoons, maybe catch a turtle in the lake.