“Do you know where she was going? Where was she headed? When did she leave?” I asked him, voice shaking.
He looked at me sort of strangely and said, “Calm down son…… she left around 5:00 this morning, right after I interviewed her. She said she would be in touch as soon as she was located somewhere far away from here. Can’t say I blame her after what happened. She said that she had insurance on the tavern and wanted to get that settled, and would be in touch. She then said something about going to India? Where’s that? Why are you so interested?”
“We were just good friends,” was all I said and felt my heart drop into an empty abyss.
He then asked me about my beating and if I knew who attacked me. I responded by saying that I did not see any faces, but I had a good idea. Billy said he thought he recognized Johnny Cray and saw two others who he figured were two of his cronies. It was dark and he couldn’t be sure.
“Did I want to press charges?” he asked.
“So what good would that do?”
“It might put Johnny behind bars for a while. If it came to trial, you would likely have to testify.”
“But, I couldn’t testify because I didn’t see who it was. You are the one who saw him, not me. So I can’t really testify about anything other than I got beat up.”
“Yeah, that’s true. But think about it and let me know. I would love to arrest that asshole. I can’t prove it, but I would bet a month’s pay that Cray set the fire at Marie’s, especially when I heard about what happened earlier last night and about his threats when he left Marie’s,” said Billy.
I wanted to tell him about Marie and myself but thought better of it. Figured he already knew anyway. I thanked him and said I would let him know about pressing charges and left.
I met my dad and my brother at the restaurant about an hour later. Dad went back home and Donnie (my brother) and I went down to the job site in my car and I found my boss and told him what happened and that the doctor said I was to take it easy on my ribs for at least two months…… absolutely no bouncing around on my scraper. So, I was done for the season as there were less than two months left of decent weather before fall rains and winter would set in. My boss told me that I would have a job for sure next spring and he would get my last check sent to my parent’s place. We exchanged so-longs, handshakes and such and Donnie and I headed home to the farm.
I spent the next few weeks moping around, wondering what happened with my life. I felt empty, sad, hurt……a much deeper hurt than my beating injuries. I didn’t care to eat or talk. I was barely functional. My parents were concerned about my behavior, but I put it all off onto my beating. They did not know about Marie and I left it that way.
I could not comprehend what had happened to that idyllic time last summer. Could my happiness with Marie be all over just like that? I had no idea where she was and my repeated calls to Billy Carpenter yielded nothing as he had not heard anything from her. He did say that the insurance company had contacted him, but would offer no information about her or her whereabouts.
I never pressed charges against Johnny Cray. I just wanted to forget.
Early that October, I heard that my cousin, Joe Strang, and a good friend Ronnie Baker got their draft notices. They were only three and five months older than me. I knew that my number was probably next up. Knowing that I did not in any way, shape, or form want to be a grunt in the Viet Nam rice paddies, I went in to see the Navy recruiter in Dubuque figuring that this war would be better served on a ship than the jungle. The recruiter asked what I liked to do….. and I said I ran heavy road equipment. He told me of program in the Naval Construction Battalions (aka, the Seabees) where I could enlist for four years and likely get an immediate petty officer rank of E4 or maybe E5, because of my heavy equipment experience. I signed up on the spot.
I wanted to get away as soon as I could thinking that might help me to forget Marie and last summer. I left for Great Lakes, Illinois for boot camp two weeks later. After my time there, I received orders to report to the Naval Construction Base in Gulfport, Mississippi for further training in naval construction methods.
Three months later I was assigned to a Seabee Battalion which was a complete construction company, carpenters, electricians, heavy equipment operators, steel workers, mechanics, engineers and all support. We left for Viet Nam two months later.
Viet Nam: hot, humid, crazy, dangerous.
I served two tours “In Country” in the next two and a half years. At the end of my second deployment, I had earned a promotion to Petty Officer 1st Class, received orders to be an instructor at Gulfport. That turned out to be pretty boring duty. I missed the adrenaline rush of the war. The war had become my normal life. After only six months of being an instructor, I requested reassignment for another tour in Nam, after which I would have my four-year enlistment done. So I was back at war six weeks later.
I hadn’t heard anything from Amisha (aka, Marie) in over three years and those memories of the summer of 1967 had eased and were fading, as was the pain. I still thought about her. I still missed her. But the war adventure took me far beyond Tristan and Johnny Cray.
Speaking of Johnny, a letter from my folks last year mentioned an article in the local newspaper that he was a gunner’s mate on a river patrol boat up on the Mekong River and apparently he and his crew were all killed in an attack. A fitting way for that mean sonofabitch to go, but I actually felt sorry for him and, especially, his family. No matter who or what he was, it was a crappy way to die.