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THE VETERAN

Page 18
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<< 17. Sgt. Johnston 52 Years Later19. Years of a Life: Lessons Learned and Unlearned >>

Maggot Days:Here Comes the Sun

By Gerald R. Gioglio

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"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." —Desmond Tutu

Somehow, a handful of us secured passes for the same weekend. So, one early spring day in 1969 four of us jumped into my car and headed toward the Pacific Ocean. Trust me when I say this group of in-service Conscientious Objectors was more than willing to violate travel limits to get to a beach.

In the eyes of the Army—well, some officers at least—we were considered a motley bunch. Still "maggots," all casually non-strac with numerous Article 15s to prove it, and worse, for refusing to participate in the madness that was the war in Southeast Asia.

All of us were quietly anxious over how our claims for discharge as Conscientious Objectors would be adjudicated. Any of us might be given an honorable discharge, renewed orders to Vietnam, or prison for refusing to ship. Some of us were also stressed by the pressure of low-level undercover resistance. Publicly or privately, we all spoke with or counseled other disillusioned GIs; we all attended the local GI Coffeehouse which was under surveillance. One of us recently refused weapons training; two of us accepted an order to guard a hospitalized prisoner but refused to carry weapons during the assignment. Along with the ten or so other Conscientious Objectors left behind at our Garrison Company, we all attended periodic peace rallies in Seattle. So, the four of us were glad to get away from it all, abandoning Fort Lewis, Washington for the promise of sandy beaches in Seaside, Oregon.

The white and yellow lines stretched on across Washington as the AM radio blasted familiar psychedelic grooves and rock and roll—Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane screamed "Feed your head!" Buffalo Springfield warned, "Everybody look what's going down." The Cream sang of feelin' free and bein' so glad; all intermixed with a generous serving of The Rolling Stones and wildly popular Beatles songs.

Traveling through a mountainous area was something novel for me, a kid from the urban parts of the New York Metropolitan area. Infantry-trained to be hyper-alert, my eyes darted front and back, left and right and I scanned it all, even if I did not realize what I was doing. Somehow, however, I entered into the minute and allowed myself to focus as the brilliant morning sun painted the mountains' spectacular hues of coffee, cinnamon, and tan. My spirits were also lifted by the jovial chatter of my companions. Then, magically it seemed, it happened. The DJ spun "Here Comes the Sun" by the Beatles. Just another rock song, right? Not this time. It was just what I—we— needed to hear, really hear.

"Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter…
Little darling, the smile's returning to the faces…
… it seems like years since it's been here."

Looking across at my wife at the time and into the rearview mirror I could see it was true. Relief. Smiles. Laughter, simple human joy. Oh yes, there was important personal and communal resistance and activism to be done—and soon enough—prison time for a couple of us; but today, this day, we were free.

Soon enough, we drove through seemingly endless Oregon State Forests—cruising through oceans of pine trees in every direction. Eventually, we arrived in Seaside and by happenstance ended up driving on a street called "The Loop." The locals claimed this was the end of the Western trail traveled by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805. Driving through, we passed quaint mom and pop shops, all with storefronts on the ground level and apartments above. We soon reached a turnaround taking us back through town. At one point we parked to scope the area and get supplies to cook on the beach.

One of the shops had a sign hanging on the front door, "No shirt, No shoes, No hippies!" We looked at each other and laughed hysterically. Here we were, children of the counterculture each with some level of involvement, all now with short hair and by default incognito. We decided this was the place to shop, figuring if we could stop laughing and behave, we could pass. Somehow, showing great restraint, we did.

Fully supplied—perhaps oversupplied with six-packs of Washington State's Rainier beer—we planned to stay for a day and a half with a friend of one of our crew. Even though we were outside the travel zone, we knew as long as we stayed out of trouble and got back to the base on time, we would be okay. So, we dropped off some supplies at the beach house and headed toward the ocean, six-packs of beer and transistor radio in tow.

I found this picture of the crew some 40-odd years later. It was cool and breezy on the beach so we built a lean-to with a shelter half and driftwood. Trying to keep warm, all of us were stylin' our scuffed, black boots topped by an eclectic mix of civilian and olive drab duds. Hell man, it was all we had.

Eventually, we gathered around a campfire fueled by kindling and driftwood. We drank beers and cooked husked corn and chicken, just enjoying the cool, salty beach air and the intermittent sunshine. We sat and laughed in communion; all of us on borrowed time. All in solidarity, having left our worries behind. Just spending time being the 19 & 20-year-old kids that we were. It was glorious.

We didn't know what was in store for us. After all, we were up against the full force and power of the US military. But for today, this weekend, we were on R n' R, baby. And every time the sun broke through the clouds that Beatles song bounced around in my brain:

"Here comes the sun…
Here comes the sun, and I speak…
It's all right."

Somehow, those words made me feel no matter what happened to us—discharge, courts-martial, or prison—there was work to be done, and yeah, it would be okay.


Gerald Gioglio is a VVAW member, Secular Franciscan, and author of Marching to a Silent Tune: A Journey from We Shall! to Hell No!" published July 2022 by ACTA Publications.


Jeff, Alan, and Jerry in March 1969.

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