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"I was young, Gay, and very active in the Anti-War Civil Rights 
Movement in the '60s." 
-Don Noyes-More

 

“DONNIE, THIS ISNT FOREVER

By 1967, there were large protests against the war in Vietnam. Everyone was talking about the war, and we could see the battle right on our TV’s. Night after night on the TV screen they would post the daily body counts – American dead, enemy dead. The body counts became a rather ho-hum sight after watching it endlessly. The pictures of the war flooded our daily lives. All this seemed so like the reports of the progress of Oceania’s war on the Eurasian Front as told in Orwell’s 1984. I felt a captive of the TV and it’s horror. At the same time I couldn’t let the night pass without watching the latest news. It was vivid, gory and raw. It seemed more truthful than our lives here in America.

I was very young but active in the Anti-War movement. I would attend the demonstrations and protests. I believed like so many others that we could not only stop the war in Vietnam but war altogether. It was a moral and political conviction.

The Century City Hotel had been built as a monument to a new urban environment in Los Angeles. The whole area around it was to be a well planned high rise community, open marketplace mall, and trendy cafes. The national Governor’s convention was taking place at the hotel and there was a planned mass demonstration for one of the last nights of the convention. Thousands marched into the street before the hotel – young, old, mothers with children, political activists. There were lines of police before us. We started to sing the Star Spangled Banner. All of a sudden the unthinkable happened – the police started to swing their clubs and beat people. The police blocked the line of retreat for people on the main street. All that was left was a large expanse of dirt and grass which ran down to Olympic Blvd. Panic ensued and people were running everywhere. I ran across an open field. I ran past a young woman with a young boy being beat by an LA cop. There were others being dragged about, hit, and kicked by police. It was brutal. I got through because there were just too many people for the police to block and hit. I ran down the hill, frightened half to death, running to Olympic Blvd. My friends were gone. The police were now the enemy of the people, not the protectors. I was dazed and confused.

I ran down Olympic Blvd. It was dark and I could still hear the screams of protesters in the air. I was lucky to have gotten away. I wasn’t sure what to do next. I walked. A half mile or so down Olympic Blvd. a white Chevy slowly pulled up to me. Inside was a young dark-haired man waving for me to get in. Thinking to myself, I was being rescued by a protester who got to his car, I jumped in. When I closed the door and turned to look at the person in the car, I could see he wasn’t a protester at all. He had very short hair, almost shaven. “A lot of shit going on tonight,” he said gruffly. “Yeah,” I said, not sure if I was safe in that car or not. “Where you going?” He turned and asked me, this time smiling. “Just down the road,” I responded.
“My name’s Danny, and yours?” He held his hand out to shake. “Donny.” I said.
“Where you from?” I asked. He didn’t look like he was from L.A. at all.
“Columbus, Ohio. I’m in the Marines. I just finished boot camp at San Diego.”
With that statement I was sure I was about to be beat up or worse. “Oh great,” I thought to myself, Just my luck to be picked up by a hostile Marine.

He smiled and offered me a cigarette. He pulled one out, lit it and then said. “Where’s the action in this town?” “Action?” I said.
 “Yeah, clubs and places to go?” 
“Mostly up on the Strip, Pandora’s Box is cool and...”
He interrupted me. “Where do you go?”
 “I meet with friends at the Fifth Estate Coffee House. I’m too young for clubs,” I said. I was wondering why the question.
“How about us hanging out tonight and you show me the town, OK? I’ll pay if you do,” he said quickly.
“OK,” I answered. I was thinking no one I knew would ever believe that I went from a bloody protest that turned into a police riot, to a night on the town with a Marine!

“You hungry?” Danny asked.
“Sure,” I said.
“Well then where to? Don’t worry about money, I’ve got plenty.” “Turn around. We’ll go to the Broken Drum on Santa Monica Blvd.” When we got there it was late and the kitchen was about to close, but our order was taken. We sat and talked.

“From all your buttons I guess you’re against the war, huh?” I told him where I was when he picked me up and what happened. “Terrible,” is all he said while lighting a cigarette. “Yeah I think the war is illegal, too many people dying.” He just sat there looking at me in a very odd way. His eyes stared into mine. He was probing me. “I’m against the war too,” he said.

I must have looked shocked when he said that. In a somewhat harsh tone I asked. “Then why did you become a Marine?”

“I had to get away from Columbus, I wasn’t too good at school so I just joined up. Stupid of me, I know. I’m going to get shipped to Nam. I don’t want to go. I’m thinking of not returning and going to Canada or underground or something like that.” We continued talking through dinner. We left the Broken Drum and decided to walk and talk on the Santa Monica Pier.

“They will put you in jail if you run away. If you leave America you’ll never be able to return,” I said.

“I know.” He said softly. “I’m scared, I don’t want to die or nothin’.” I nodded my head. “I just don’t know what to do,” he said as he lit another cigarette. We walked to the beach below. There was a long line of swing rings on the beach next to the pier. I challenged him to see how many times we each could go across and back on them. We were laughing so hard we only each managed to navigate the rings once. We both dropped into the sand laughing. We took our shoes off and walked to the waters edge. We were walking south towards Venice Beach.

“Wish this was a crappy dream I was in,” Danny shouted, raising his hands in the air with clenched fists. “Maybe I’ll run to Mexico tonight,” he said.

“Better think about it first Danny.” I was beginning to get the idea he would do anything but return to the Marines. We walked for miles that night talking and laughing. He told me about his family and the house he grew up in. He loved baseball and was a good player in high school. And there were sexual stories about his girl friends. Yet his manner and long looks at me seemed to say something different. This whole odd meeting and closeness seemed as something very different. But as usual I took things just as they were presented. Rarely did I prejudge a situation.

At Venice Beach we climbed up on a lifeguard station. We sat looking at the water. He tuned to me and put his arm on my shoulders. His hand turned my face towards his. He pulled me close. He placed his cheek next to mine. Then he kissed me softly on the lips. “I’ve always wanted to do that, Donnie.” Our arms wrapped around each other.

It was early in the morning when Danny and I finally got in the car. He was taking me home. We sat outside my house on the lawn. I invited him in for breakfast but he said, “No, I’ve got to move along here. Let me have your address and phone number.” He handed me a piece of paper and pencil.

“No matter what happens let me hear from you,” I said firmly.

“OK,” he said. He took his finger and touched my lips. “I’ll be seeing you guy,” he said softly. He got in the car and waved as he turned in front of the house to head out into the gray, misty Los Angeles dawn.

I didn’t hear anything from Danny for a while. Then one day a letter came with an APO return address on it. “Shit, I thought to myself. He went back to the Marines.” I opened the letter and learned that Danny was in Vietnam. He hated it. They were in the field often. Every day he thought he was going to get killed. Two of his friends had already died. I wrote him back long letters and just chatted about everything I could think of. He wrote as often as he could.

Danny’s letters became depressed and brooding. Sometimes I would throw his letters away without reading them and sit down and write him again as though everything was going to be fine. He was looking to come home in four months. That’s when his tour of duty was up. “Donnie, I’m counting off the days,” he wrote me. “When I see you I have a few things for you I’ve bought here. If I have time maybe I’ll just send them. I can’t wait to come back to California to visit you. ‘Cheek to cheek’, Danny,” the letter finished.

I sent off letters regularly. His letters suddenly dropped off. Then awhile later in late September I got a post card. On it Danny wrote, “Not long now and I’ll be out of here. Thank God! See you real soon!”

December was oddly cold for Los Angeles. It was around 10 PM that I heard a knocking at the door. I opened the door and standing there was a young Latin man. “Are you Donnie?” he said. “Yes,” I answered.
“I’m a friend of Danny’s.”
 “Yeah?” I said questioningly. I opened the door and told him to come in.
 He was carrying a large green military coat with him. We sat down. 
“Donnie, I have something bad to tell you.”
“OK,” I said slowly.
“Danny was shot over a month ago. I’m sorry, he’s......, he’s......., dead.”
 I froze. There were no words from me. He pulled at Danny’s overcoat. “In the hospital he asked me to make sure you got this, there’s also a picture in the top pocket.” I pulled the picture out. It was Danny in combat fatigues. On the back it said, “Donnie, this isn’t forever!” I got up without a word and went into the other room and cried. When I returned the young Latin man was gone, the front door left open. Danny’s jacket lay on the couch. I was to fight and resist the war machine with renewed intensity.

Dirge Without Music

“I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind;
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.”

Edna St Vincent Millay