Wednesday, February 5, 1969
Today was my last day on Hill 65. My green carry-on bag was packed, and the remaining possessions were divvied up between my hooch mates. The spotting scope became a fixture in the OP.
With the anxiety of leaving, I found it difficult to sleep and joined Reb in the bakery. He had “punched” the sweet dough and was rolling it out to cut doughnuts. The scraps were saved and placed into individual piles to rise again.
Reb was scheduled to rotate to CONUS in mid-April. I was curious about his relationship with Margaret in Australia so I asked if their art collaboration would continue after he went home.
He announced, “I’m not going home. I plan to extend my tour for six months and go to Sydney for the 30-day R&R.” In my mind this was craziness, and I tried to understand his thinking. Then came the curveball . . . Reb didn’t intend to come back to Vietnam; he was going to stay in Australia with Margaret. I said, “That would be desertion, and they will come after you.” Reb stopped rolling the dough and presented his whole scheme.
James, Margaret’s photography student, wanted to be a photo journalist (he had served in Vietnam with her twin brother in the Australian Army). He planned to return to Vietnam, posing as Reb. The new military photo ID * Reb had made was now in James’ possession with a switched photo. On arrival in Da Nang, James would have Reb’s orders endorsed and time stamped when he checked in. At this point all evidence concerning Reb would be destroyed, and James then became an independent photo journalist who already had his own credentials. He could travel freely and hoped to work his way to Saigon.
Reb continued with the plot, “Right now I am working as a ghost employee in Mark’s Cafe. ** I have a new identity in Sydney.” The photo, which I had taken of Reb with the Tri-X film, was used to create his new ID. As an Australian, he could start a new life with Margaret.
“Yes, it is desertion, and they will come looking for me . . . but not in Australia. They will look for me in Vietnam. There is nothing left for me at home in North Carolina; I’m never going back.”
This came as a total surprise, and I was completely dumbfounded! From their exchange of letters, I knew that Reb and Margaret were close, but the 12-year age difference threw me off. These two were madly in love and were willing to risk everything to be together.
We continued rolling dough, and Reb asked me to put some pieces of canned apple pie filling into the rising piles of dough scraps. The outcome was a misshapen apple fritter, topped with maple glaze. Reb laughed and said, “Margaret calls them froiters.” He was looking forward to changing his Southern accent to Aussie (with Margaret’s help).
This entire conversation made me uncomfortable, and I didn’t know whether to believe it or not. Rather than lecture Reb regarding this complicated idea, I decided to sleep on it. It was the last time I used my rice hull pillow. ***
* See previous blog, “Reb’s ID” January 7, 1969
** See previous blog, “Margaret’s Letter” October 15, 1968
*** See previous blog, “Rice Hull Pillow” February 14, 1968
Next Edition: Leaving Hill 65