Thirty-three years ago this very afternoon. It was mid-May in 1965. I hadn’t been in company but a few days, just having disembarked from the troop ship that took almost a month crossing the Pacific. I was trying to lay low, not be too noticeable. But I hadn’t lain low enough. A runner from company HQ caught me sitting on the edge of my bunk with a cool one firm in my grip. “Tubbs, you’ll be fourth on the recon patrol.” I was to get my gear together and report to some sergeant whose name escapes me now.
To be as honest as I can, I’m no longer certain why I joined the Army. Wanted to get out on my own. Sure as hell didn’t want to have any kind of life underway, just to have it hijacked by the draft board. And I wasn’t going to ask what my country could do for me, though claiming my motivations were 100% to see what I could do for my country was probably a stretch.
But there I was. Dumb, when all I wanted to do was to finish my beer and the cigarette I’d lit. Fourth wasn’t too bad a spot. Short-timer PFC Hendrix had point; the worst position of all. And Short-timer Hendrix was a walking, shaking bad luck charm. I can’t remember how much time he had left, though he was as certain as could be that if he went on just one more patrol he’d have no time at all left. It turned out that PFC Hendrix was right on all counts. He was blown up to gristly confetti. More of PFC Hendrix was left plastered on the nearby trees than would ever get sent home.
Over the past many decades I’ve thought about that a lot. I’ve also thought about all the folks who have made loud noises on behalf of saluting the flag, on behalf of standing at attention, hand over heart during the National Anthem, and on behalf of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
I don’t like such folks. I don’t like them at all. Their form of patriotism get other folks, folks like PFC Hendrix blown up.
In the early 80s, I owned E. Tubbs & Associates, a real estate appraisal company based in San Jose. To the pursuit of professionalism I sought and earned a professional designation through the American Society of Appraisers. And perhaps for a year or so, I attended their monthly meetings. Every meeting began with the Pledge of Allegiance. Of the 20 to 30 members who showed up each month, I was the only military veteran. Somehow, like our current vice-president, everyone besides me had “other priorities at the time.”
Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer. I informed the group that they could take their Pledge of Allegiance and the designation and shove both wherever their collective wisdom deemed most appropriate. (Having a fairly good take on the type of person I am, I doubt my speech was quite that polite.) Words are just so damned cheap. Words are just so damned easy.
And ever since then I’ve had this seething antipathy for everyone who puts so much stock in the appearance of patriotism, on parroted phrases, and on button-popping pride that has been secured by the blood of all the PFC Hendrixes who never made it back in one physical or mental piece, or not at all.
I love my country, every bit as much as anyone ever has. I just don’t need to prove it to anyone. Think I’ll pop a cool one, and raise a toast to PFC Hendrix, now that I think of it. Think I’ll pop a cool one, and flash the bird to all the unthinking, phony cowards who pop off how the Pledge of Allegiance or a lapel flag-pin mean a damned thing. Puttin’ lipstick on a pig don’t make it pretty.
Palm Springs, CA