By Julie Titone
When Grady Myers began telling me his Vietnam War stories back in the late 1970s, the dark humor fascinated me. So did the world of the U.S. Army in a combat zone, and all of the people who populated it. As Grady described the men with whom he served, it struck me that they were not just people he never would have met, but kinds of people he never would have met, if he hadn't marched down to the Boise draft board in 1968 to report that he had dropped out of college.
In the shared misery of training at Fort Lewis, the shared terror and boredom of war, the shared long months of recuperation from his wounds, Grady had interesting compatriots. In Boocoo Dinky Dow, he introduces folks from Charlie Company like these:
"There was the squad’s only black, Laney. He was a former parole officer from Southern California who sported a slight beard and had an affection for marijuana. There was Longest, another California doper who had a goatee and a thin moustache that tapered into a rattail on either side. He wore love beads.
"There was Fisher, an old man of 26 or 27 from the hills of Tennessee ... There was Martinez, the schoolteacher from the Southwest who would share the hot salsa and chilies that came in his care packages from home. Hano, the Hawaiian surfer, would pass around canned dried squid for everyone to chew on."
The diversity of those who serve in the military was the subject of a fine essay I read this week by author/veteran David Abrams, Soldiers are More Than Just Symbols. And diversity is captured beautifully in the photography of veteran combat photographer Stacey Pearsall, as reported by PBS in the feature Portraits of veterans show us what service looks like.
In a way, it was diversity that united the men who served with Grady on a godforsaken hill in Vietnam. They were different in all but their zeal for staying alive, the way they watched each others' backs, and their hope that what they were doing made some kind of sense.
Below: Grady Myers, center rear, brought red-headed diversity to this crew in Vietnam. His easily burned skin was a curse under the tropical sun.
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.