“DONNIE, THIS ISN’T
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.
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.
and offered me a cigarette. He pulled one out, lit it and then said. “Where’s
the action in this town?” “Action?”
“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
“OK,” I answered. I was thinking no one I knew would ever
I went from a bloody protest that turned into a police riot, to a night on the
town with a Marine!
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
When we got there it was late and the kitchen was about to close, but our order
was taken. We sat and talked.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
what happens let me hear from you,” I said firmly.
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.
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.
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!”
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’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.
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
“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.”