I drank a lot after returning from Vietnam. One night during the thirty-day leave home, before reporting to my next duty station at Camp Pendleton north of San Diego, I stopped to buy a fifth of cheap vodka at a local drug store. I drank that vodka straight from the bottle at a friend’s apartment waiting for him to get off work at two a.m. He was a cook at a twenty-four hour coffee shop in West Covina.
Around two, Doug called and said his car wouldn’t start. He asked if I would pick him up. By that time, I’d finished two thirds of the vodka and was feeling no pain. I hadn’t had anything to eat for hours, and I’d already made two trips to the bathroom to dry heave before drinking more vodka.
Doug lived with his six-month pregnant girlfriend. Luckily, she went with me.
At two-thirty in the morning, I was driving on the San Bernardino Freeway through West Covina having trouble staying in one lane. Speed wasn’t a good idea, so I kept the car between twenty-five and thirty while weaving back and forth across three lanes. No one was passing me.
Then the flashing red lights came on behind me, and a West Covina police cruiser pulled me over. When the officer told me to step out of the car, I admitted I was drunk and said I would have trouble standing.
However, the officers wouldn’t let me stay in the car. Once outside, I pulled my wallet out of my back pocket. My military papers were there too and they fell to the ground. I didn’t know I’d dropped them, but the second officer saw the papers and picked them up. While I was leaning on the hood trying to steady the dizzy world around me so I wouldn’t fall over, the second officer was reading that I had just returned from Vietnam.
The officers talked while I leaned against the car to keep from falling over. They asked Doug’s girlfriend if she could drive, and she said yes. They didn’t ask to see a driver’s license. That was a good thing. She didn’t have one. With her driving, we got Doug and returned to his apartment where I crashed on the couch.
It was early January, 1967. No ticket was written. All these years later, I think those two West Covina Police Officers understood the kind of trauma war dishes out and must have felt that one drunk Marine just back from combat didn’t need to end up in jail on a drunk driving charge.
During all those years of protests against the Vietnam War, I would see this type of behavior from the police in other cities. I don’t believe many police sided with the war protesters. They understood what it was like to be under fire and how it messed with your mind.
Discover A Night at the “Well of Purity”
His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.
And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.
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