I fail at keeping a chronological order of things. I will do my best to lay things out as I remember them but not exactly in the time frame of happening.
We are in the boonies and I’m about 6 weeks in country. More missions than time in country. It’s like 123F and I am almost dry. A guy comes over to me and says, ya got leeches on your neck. Let me check your body. So we took my top off and sure enough, 7 more leaches. I didn’t feel them and never knew they were on me. Spud took a knife that was like a katana and started getting the critters off me. I asked Spud if I would be ok. He said, Jingles, unfortunately, you will live. Then we smoked a joint and drank some Bourbon. This is in the middle of the shit and he was like, we are at a beach. I asked him how long he was in country and he said, over 5 years. WHY THE FUCK are you here for 5 years.
Spud told me he was here a year and got a Star a few Purple Hearts and other Medals and recognitions. When the tour was up he was anxious to go home to Idaho. When he got home, his family seemed distant. He talked with his mom and she was not comfortable with him anymore. Apparently, they were very Christian and couldn’t accept his service. He signed up for another tour and went home to Nam. He told me, he never saw his mom or family again. Spud was on his 5th tour and told me he was never leaving because he was now home.
He grabbed my arm hard and shook me… “don’t you ever accept a medal for this shit. Don’t you ever let your family know what you did or witnessed here, you promise me, you shithead?” I do, I promise. When my tour was up and I went home, it was as if Spud programmed my life.. I got home for Christmas 1970. I was in the kitchen with Mom and we talked a little. Then she turned to me with a look I never saw before. She said to me, “You are not my son. I don’t recognize you. Who are you”?
We were in Chu Lai Village on security observation duty. Gravy for us,. People all around, pretty young girls, were ok. We are sitting around in a semi-circle and talking about how life will be when this is done. Willie is saying he was gonna start a Black Congregation of Baptist. Wow, I thought that was about the most important thing I ever heard in my life. Then Steve says, I am an atheist and don’t believe in GOD. It’s all an illusion and I am not into it. Just at that moment, I pulled my 45ACP and fired a shot right past his head. He yells Oh my GOD, are you crazy, You could have hit me. I’m not crazy but you are a hypocrite and if you ever degrade GOD again, I won’t miss.
Willie was a cool dude. He liked me because he said I was color-blind. To this day I never see race at all, just the heart and blood. Red Blood, we all have that in common. If anyone ever tells you differently, it’s a lie. A little while after we had this talk, Willie got his leg blown off and bled to death right in front of us. I like to believe that Willie went to the congregation of THE LORD and had peace at last.
Herman Kosmin gave me the M-4 and 35mm Cron as I was leaving to go to Nam. I told him, I can’t afford this Herman. He put his hand on my shoulder and said. “Listen, if you don’t make it back, our debt is over. If you do and I want you to, then you can pay me for the Leica and lens then. Ok, do we have a deal?
Yes, I was like really touched. He then said, You are in the book of Jove. I shot a lot of film with that camera. Many shots are in the Library of Congress, safely stored. When I got home, I took the camera and the lens to Kosmin’s Camera Exchange to give Herman the camera back. He was excited to see me and I was like really happy. Herman was one of my photography mentors and fathers. He took the camera and immediately I felt my insides just ache and get lonely. “Don, this is your camera. It always was and better always be.” Maybe now I can get a good night’s sleep and not worry about you.
I wanted to be a real photographer when I got home. So, I signed in to Antonelli School of Photography. I was accepted because i had the GI Bill and they were paying for it. After a week in school, I was totally bored. It seemed to me that it was a professional wedding school. I was right. Then, some students came to me and asked me questions. I knew the answers to all questions naturally. IO even helped some get the cameras working. We used 4×5 Graphics, 4×5 Graphic View Cameras, and some Mamiya 21/4. I never used a view camera before but when I got one on a tripod, I understood immediately how light worked in the camera. One day about 6 months in, a teacher called me into his office. We sat and he told me how much everyone respected me and how I helped many. Then, he said…”Don, the students are coming to you with questions and not coming to the teacher”. You are giving the right answers but you are taking the students from us. So, Unfortunately, your time here is terminated. I will contact the VA and let them know that you reached a time to move on. Once again, I failed myself.