Sunday, February 2, 1969
Every Sunday after the Steak BBQ, Top Culverhouse would show up with his stash of taco shells from home. They were brittle and stale, but it was a family tradition in Texas to make tacos and beans on Sunday night. He received “Care Packages” of tortilla shells by mail, and we provided the cooked hamburger and accompaniments.
Usually we sat with him as he ate, and he would “shoot the shit” about life in Texas or the trials of fatherhood (he had two teen daughters). It was all interesting stuff to me. He planned to retire in two years. I asked Top, “What are you going to do when you get out of the Marines?” He answered with confidence, “I’ll probably fill out a resume and run someone’s company for them.” Leadership was his expertise, and he was brimming with Self Assurance about his abilities.
I challenged his authority on this, “But you have to know something about the business.” He laughed and said, “So you think I know about artillery?” It was a fair question . . . the answer was, “I manage people.” Culverhouse was an administrator, and getting people to do the job they were trained to do was his craft. He was so good at it that he sometimes had people doing his job for him. It was like Tom Sawyer tricking Huck Finn into whitewashing the fence.
Next Edition: Fernando’s Outlook
Saturday, February 1, 1969
The pay officer showed up early, and we received our monthly compensation in MPC. I signed for the money and recounted my wallet. I had $130 to spend in Okinawa on my way home.
Gunny Pavelcek was busy hustling people off to work parties, and I asked him if he wanted the French “Coup Coup” machete. He had borrowed it to use in Thuong Duc * back in August. He assumed I was trying to sell it and said, “No, I’m saving money for R&R.” He was planning to go to Hong Kong.
When I told him it wasn’t for sale, he stopped and listened. I explained it was given to me as a gift after Papa-San was killed and that I couldn’t take it home. It was a useful tool and needed someone to care for it.
He started to consider this offer so I embellished the story regarding Papa-San’s hand being cut off. I explained, “This is the same machete the Viet-Minh used to cut off his hand. During the night the villagers killed the rebel leader and took his machete. They presented it to Papa-San out of respect for his loyalty to the community.”
Pavelcek accepted the machete and gave me $10. I thanked him and said, “I will use the money to purchase bar supplies for the club.” His eyes lit up and he said, “We’ll put the machete on display behind the bar.” Now I was obligated to follow through with this agreement.
The Gunny had no plans for his future. He lived one day at a time and was happy with his life. His only commitment was to the Corps.
* See previous blog, “Payday” August 1, 1968
Next Edition: Top’s Resume
January 1969 was our last month of separation before Steve finally returned home in early February. It was a month of studying for finals in order to finish college at the conclusion of the fall semester.
Unfortunately, I got very sick and our friends (Mickey and Larry) drove me to their home in Porterville so I wouldn’t be alone while I was recuperating from the Hong Kong flu. I spent many hours sleeping on their couch. In fact, I missed most of Super Bowl III on January 12; however, I had already seen lots of the hype leading up to the game. Quarterback Joe Namath of the New York Jets had previously “guaranteed” that his underdog team would beat the Baltimore Colts, and surprisingly he was right! Then we also watched President Johnson give his last “State of the Union Address” on January 14.
After recovering, I returned to Fresno later that week. I appreciated having such good friends who took care of me during this illness as well as at other times. Late one night in 1968 they had also taken me to the Emergency Room at the local hospital for a tetanus shot. This was as a result of the rusty curb feeler on our VW getting stuck in my ankle when I walked past it in their very narrow garage.
At the end of the month I completed final exams in all my upper division classes, and I had earned a BA degree in Social Science. The timing was perfect, and I was pleased that our original plan had worked out so well.
Then I moved temporarily to my family’s house in Laguna Beach to wait for Steve to come home. As he was scheduled to land at nearby MCAS El Toro, we would finally be together again soon.
Looking back on the previous 13 months apart, I marvel at how we both managed to get through it all. And even though we corresponded almost daily, we still needed to get to know each other once again. Now it really was like starting over.
Next Edition: The Machete
Thursday, January 30, 1969
It was dark in our hooch, and we were writing letters by candlelight when Fernando commented, “It’s 6:00 am in El Paso (14 hours behind our time).” He had a circular dial time conversion table.
Sumo had memorized the plus 2-hour time difference in Japan (now 10:00 pm). His wife had probably just gone to bed.
I played with the dial, and it was 5:00 am on the West Coast . . . Jenny was still asleep in Laguna Beach. The differences in time zones were easy to calculate, but the dates were confusing.
Sydney was 4 hours ahead of Vietnam, and it was just past midnight on January 31st there. Reb had often said, “Margaret is always 4 hours ahead of me.”
The time zones, International Date Line and 10-day turnaround in mail communication was disorienting. I tried not to think about it. The most important thing to me was my short-timer status. I am now in single digits, waiting for the freedom bird to take me home.
Next Edition: Jenny’s Final Update