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

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Chapter 5—"There But For Fortune"

Dennis McKinney showed up at the anti-war table three weeks from the day he walked out of my orientation group. I didn’t think he’d been listening during orientation. Apparently he had because he said, “Becky, Kentucky, liked the name, Kennedy’s assassination.”

“Dennis McKinney. Vietnam Vet,” I said back to him. “I know nothing more because you walked away.”

“That would be me.” He put out his good hand. I shook it.

I never saw his face that first day. What a shame. It was the most perfect face I ever saw. Like a Greek statue I thought. I’d never been to Greece or seen a Greek statue but I assumed Dennis McKinney was close to looking like one. Perfectly formed nose and mouth. Eyes so dark they almost looked black. Honey blonde wavy hair held back by a red bandana.

What wasn’t perfect about his face was the look. A bit angry, a bit mocking, a bit ‘I don’t give a shit.’ I didn’t know how to react to that look.

“Surprised you remembered my name,” I said to him.

“To be honest, I had a little help. I saw you with Jeff Ledford the other day and asked about you. He lives in the room across the hall from me.” He said all that without letting go of my hand.

Dennis McKinney, a Greek God, asked about me. Jeff Ledford talked about me. Life was getting complicated. I wished someone had explained guys and dating to me. It felt good so far but I didn’t know what to do about these twitching feelings that centered below the belt.

“I just met Jeff. We had a couple of éclairs and some fries together. Nothing more.”

“He told me to keep my hands off you. I reminded him in my case it would be hand off.” He held up his hook and smiled.

Dennis sorted through the buttons and chose a small peace sign. He handed me a dime. I wondered how he could pin such a small button to his jacket with just one hand and a hook. I wondered how he lost his hand. I wondered what it was like to be in Vietnam. I wondered why Jeff told him to keep his hands off of me.

“Thanks,” Dennis said. Then he leaned in inches from my face, hook and hand on the table. “It’s a pleasure to meet you face to face.” He turned and walked away. He looked back and said, “It don’t mean nothin’ anyway.” When he got to the door he raised his hook and smiled.

U.S. Soldier Body Count: 16,853

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