When I was a kid, my father loved the movie Song of the South
. Actually, I don't remember ever seeing it with him, but he used to sing the 'Zip-a-dee-do-da" song and in moments of challenge he loved to mimic Brer Rabbit and in a deep southern accent squeal "Please
don't throw me in the Briar patch!" Or the punchline that came once Brer Fox thought he had inflicted the ultimate punishment on the smartass rabbit: "I was born and bred in a briar patch!"
I just thought it was one of those things that tickled him, but today I know my father is Brer Rabbit. He has always dared the worst, and nothing pleases him more than to really piss someone off, especially anyone he considers an asshole.
After six months in Colorado Springs of typing orders and being demoted and promoted again, my father finally beat time and grade - he was promoted to an E3.
On a free weekend my father took off one deep evening riding motorcycles with his buddies. That day he'd spent swimming in the river, probably drinking too. He tells me now he sped through the dark barefoot and in only a swimsuit. Reckless and young, he can't tell me now what he was thinking. "Just living like the young do," he says. No driver's license or ID, well past the speed limit the police pulled him over and took him in. After being identified he tells me the military police picked him up and escorted him back to base cold and cocky to boot. He smirks when he tells me this story. He leans back in his office chair and the snow falls heavy outside the window behind him.
Demoted back to E1, the charges were thrown out of military court. With less than a month away from Vietnam my father was released on his final three weeks leave. Back in Berkeley, he strode the streets, hung with friends, drank deep into the night for three, four, five weeks. Nothing to lose is what I read. When he arrived back in Colorado, he was demoted back to E1 for being AWOL but his superiors tell him his judge and jury await him overseas, that is his only punishment. Four days later he takes his first step in Vietnam and is immediately promoted.
“You can’t be an E1 they said, that’s a training classification, so they put me to E2 again.”
Given a job at Army headquarters, four days in a general asks why he is still an E2 and promoted him on the spot to E3. My father tells me that it was not the culture shock that assaulted his system initially, but the time change. Because army headquarters staff had to communicate with US troops, they worked through the night. He indicates the late hours and lack of sleep put people on edge, fucked with your mind. Late one night in those first weeks he pushed paper, my father was reprimanded by a superior, a lieutenant, I think he said.
My father ignored the guy who he tells me yelled at him after 3 am one night in the office. He finally got frustrated and pushed my father. The lieutenant was punched squarely in the face and quickly demanded a court-marshall. The general who was in charge of both took pity and privately told my father while he couldn’t erase the indiscretion, “You did punch an officer”, he could minimize the consequences.
“There was always this threat they would use," my dad tells me now, sober and unfazed. "We’re going to send you to the 108th, the 108th.” He repeats the number, I don't think he knows he does, it's like a skip. The 108th was the furthest north in Vietnam you could get. It was one of those things, 'don’t throw me in the briar patch,
'" He smiles at me now. I can hear him squealing those lines and making me giggle as a kid. "Cause that’s where my cousin Bob was," he finishes.
Bob was a couple of years older than my dad, his father's brother's eldest son, and happened to be stationed in the 108th. My father says the lieutenant wanted blood.
"So they told him they would just send me to the 108th and he said 'fine, good'. When I ask him if the lieutenant thought he was going to die, he answers, “Yeah, he knew I was going to this place that everyone was afraid of. He thought I was going to hell.”