Memoir of a War Resister—A Novel of the 1960s

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Chapter 29—"Bring 'Em Home"

Easter weekend, April 5th. Celebrating the resurrection of the movement, we gathered again in Chicago, almost a year to the day since King’s death to march in support of the GIs National Day of Action Against the War. King’s death wouldn’t silence our voices. Kennedy’s death wouldn’t silence our voices. Raw violence in the streets of Chicago wouldn’t silence our voices. Nixon’s election wouldn’t silence our voices. We weren’t going away.

Twenty thousand strong gathered in Chicago. More than a quarter million marched throughout the country. We chartered two buses from Lake Forest.

Led by a large sign that said GIs for Peace, we marched and chanted. I carried a sign that said, Bring the Troops Home Now. Underneath I wrote, “Dennis McKinney, here in spirit.” I tied the red bandana around my head.

Jake’s sign said, Fuck the draft. Underneath he wrote. “This one’s for you, Hook.”

Marty walked without a sign strategizing the whole time.

I looked at the signs in front of and behind me. Vietnam Veterans for Peace. Get the Hell Out of Vietnam. GIs Against the War in Vietnam. Stop the Bombing Now. BRING OUR GIs HOME NOW. Vets pushed their wheel-chaired buddies the whole parade length.

I walked by police officers lining the road. One of them hit me on the arm with his nightstick during the Democratic National Convention and bashed in the head of the guy standing next to me. I slowed down and approached the police line. I looked each one in the eye as I walked past chanting, “Nixon, Nixon hey, hey. How many kids did you kill today?” They were statues, well-trained, shoot-to-kill trained. Their eyes didn’t move. Their faces passive, stoic, stone. I stopped in front of one of them momentarily. Our eyes connected. “Was it you who hit me with your billy club last summer and bashed in the head of the guy next to me?” I asked, not expecting an answer. I leaned in close. He didn’t blink.

“They don’t have hearts,” I said. Ginger marched next to me carrying a sign that said End the War Now.

Ginger smiled. “They’re just doing their job.”

“Their job is to serve and protect.” I turned back to the police officer. “If you were doing your job, you’d march with us.”

Ginger hooked her arm through mine and we walked on chanting. “Bring them home. Bring them home.”

A quarter million didn’t do the trick. The war went on.

Contributor Column

By Becky Jamison

The anti-war movement is alive and well. All around the country students are demanding that their colleges and universities divest themselves of all financial and political involvement in the war. They are protesting ROTC programs and other policies tied to the military. Thousands are boycotting classes and taking over campus buildings.

At Lake Forest College, thanks to the tireless work of Professor Garson and his committee, President Cole has instituted reforms that put students at the center of the governing process. Any student who wishes to address the faculty at their meetings should contact President Cole’s secretary. The Board of Trustees has invited Student Government officers also to attend and speak at their meetings.

It felt good to be alive again. At the end of this semester Ginger would marry and move to Chicago with Jake. The person who understood me and accepted me no matter how ugly it got. The person who made great music with me and made me a better journalist every time she edited my articles. She would leave. Before she did, we were going to sing, plan a wedding, publish a newspaper and talk about politics.

One night the first part of May we sat on the couch studying. I turned to her. “I never told you how sorry I was about the way I behaved on election day.”

“That was a long time ago, Becky. A lot has happened since.” She closed her book and looked at me. “I understand.”

I swallowed hard trying to muster up the courage to say what I needed to say. “I am so sorry about what happened to your mom. After you told me, I never said anything. I am so sorry.”

“My mom was not a good person. My dad was even worse.”

“That can’t be entirely true. Look how you turned out.”

“I was fourteen when I got my first bad boyfriend. He was nineteen. My mom told me to stay away until 9:00 p.m. I was walking down the side of the road eating an ice cream cone and he picked me up on his motorcycle. What kind of mother does that to a fourteen-year old? I was just a kid.” She reached for a Kleenex. “After him it was one boyfriend after another. They only lasted long enough to get me in bed and maybe rough me up a bit.”

“Where did you live after your mother died?”

“I went to live with my mom’s sister. They hadn’t seen each other for ten years. That’s when I started writing in a journal. The more I wrote the more I realized I was just like my mom. I didn’t want to be like her. I hated her. I owe my life to Aunt Jane and Uncle Ed.”

“I am so sorry.” I reached over and took hold of her hand.

“It’s okay. Look where I ended up.”

“I can’t believe it’s going to be over in a few weeks. You’re going to marry and move in with Jake. God, what am I going to do without you?”

“Chicago is only thirty miles away.” She squeezed my hand.

Life leveled out. The pain of losing faded away. The laughter came back. In the next two years before I graduated new people would come into my life and others would drift away. And through it all I would get by. My friends would make sure of that. But Ginger? I would miss her when she left.

U.S. Soldier Body Count: 41,663

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