The mess men were usually fed first before the chow line opened. Our latest group was eating breakfast and getting to know each other. The young-looking Marine was nicknamed “Bambino” by his platoon Sergeant because he was an Italian kid from New Jersey.
He had everyone’s attention, giving a description of demonstrations by Vietnam War protesters. The local Recruiting Center was inundated with these long-haired dissidents, holding placards scrawled with “Baby Killers,” “End the War” and “Drop Acid not Bombs.” When he finished his story I asked, “Why did you join?”
Bambino’s family had a long tradition of military service. His father had served in Korea but drowned in a boating accident while on a family vacation. It was an obligation to honor his father’s service by joining the Corps. His mother signed a release after high school graduation, allowing him to join at the age of 17 (he turned 18 in October).
That night I lay in bed thinking . . . BABY KILLERS? Where was that coming from? I thought it must be the result of distorted news reports. Why would we kill babies? From our perspective, it was the opposite… we were protecting innocent civilians. It was the VC doing the killing, not us; something wasn’t right.