Victor with Julie at Pullman reading
Bridging the gap between composition explosives and literary composition, Victor Villanueva Jr. survived combat in Vietnam and went on to become a distinguished professor of English. Not bad for a high school dropout.
When one of his colleagues at Washington State University told me Victor served in the Army in Vietnam, I contacted him out of the blue and asked if he would be the guest reader at "Boocoo Dinky Dow" book event at the Neill Public Library in Pullman. I explained that I always invite a man, usually a veteran, to join me at readings to give voice to Grady, who died in 2011.
Victor graciously agreed. When he read Grady's memoir, he was astounded to realize he may actually have seen Grady in Vietnam. "I was in country August 1968 to September 1969. Grady and I were in the same place during much of the same time! This is eerie!"
Victor's 13 months in country -- six months as a grunt, the rest as a clerk -- overlapped with Grady's three months. He'd been to Fire Support Base 30, where Grady's squad leader gave him the nickname Hoss and made him an M-60 machine gunner.
He was also at Blackhawk, a camp where he heard the explosions that Grady describes in "Boocoo Dinky Dow," one of the many exploits that cemented Charlie Company’s reputation as Combustion Charlie. It was, officially, C Company, 1st of the 8th, 4th Infantry Division. Victor's best friend was its clerk.
"His name was Charles Shinedling, so we called him Shingaling like the song and the dance," said Victor, whose own buddies called him Vanilla Wafer, a riff on his Puerto Rican last name.
Victor was also a clerk in the first 1st of the 8th, working for Delta Company. Before that, in combat mode, he carried a radio with an antennae that extended above his head. It was heavy. Victor, who is not a big guy, laughed as he recalled falling backwards onto the ground every time he hopped off a helicopter.
Grady's story brought back intense memories for Victor. Such as seeing a buddy die, intestines spilled onto the ground. He described how his squad once fired madly at night-time movement in the jungle, discovering in daylight that they had decimated a record-sized Bengal tiger.
Victor's stories, along with his thoughts on the draft system and racism’s role in war, enriched the Pullman reading. At the upcoming "Boocoo Dinky Dow" event at the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago, the guest reader will be a veteran who was too changed by Vietnam to finish college and live out his dream of being a teacher. Now, he uses art to teach younger generations about the impact of war.
Grady in his beloved Willys Jeepster
"No one who knew him will forget the late Grady Myers," writes columnist Tim Woodward. "He was an imposing figure: 6-foot-4 with merry blue eyes, strawberry blond hair and a Yosemite Sam mustache. He was, among other things, a combat veteran, a gifted artist and a collector of preposterous vehicles, from British Morgans to an ancient, hulking Imperial."
I'm sure far more people knew about Grady's passion for cars than knew about his Purple Heart. As readers of "Boocoo Dinky Dow: My short, crazy Vietnam War" will recall, he bought a white 1955 Thunderbird while he was still recovering at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital. He called it "a respectable little sports car." His next car love affair was with a 1965 Morgan 4/4. His hobby went like this: He'd buy a vehicle in need of rehabilitation; expend countless garage hours, dollars and swear words restoring it; glow with pride and show it off at car shows; then sell it and buy something else.
Grady had a bumper sticker that said "All parts falling off this vehicle are genuine British made." But it wasn't the country of origin that lured him as much as the desire to drive something unusual and story-worthy. One of the most peculiar, fun and impractical was a three-wheeled Morgan. His final cars included a '63 Sunbeam Alpine, a Morris Minor from the '50s and a 1948 Plymouth business coupe. The big guy actually fit in those last two, as he fit in the bright yellow Jeepster he owned in the early '80s.
The wife and kids pose in Grady's Morgan three-wheeler. Julie, Megan and Jake in 1983.
Julie Titone is co-author of the Grady Myers memoir "Boocoo Dinky Dow: My short, crazy Vietnam War." Grady was an M-60 machine gunner in The U.S. Army's Company C’s 2nd Platoon, 1st Battalion, 8th Regiment, 4th Infantry Division in late 1968 and early 1969. His Charlie Company comrades knew him as Hoss. Thoughts, comments? Send Julie an email.