This is Freddie O’Connor of Union Square, Somerville, Massachusetts. He slid in behind me on the bus leaving the Powder House Draft Board and heading to the Boston Navy Yard induction center. It was Friday, September 16, 1966. It was a beautiful fall morning.
A good day to prepare to surrender your life.
That night we would depart South Station in Pullman cars for the three day slough into Columbia, South Carolina. Fort Jackson. Hell with red clay.
Freddie was a goof, I thought. This fool had kids. What is he doing? As he sat behind me, screaming obscenities out the window and spraying my ears with remnants of last night’s Ripple, he reminded us all more than a hundred times that he was “at the gin mill all night.”
He was loving this shit.
Sunday night, when we arrived at the Fort Jackson depot, Freddie was already drinking Mennen’s after shave and quoting from the Jack Webb movie, “The D.I.”.
That’s when the riot gas went off, the clubs came out, and the decorum departed.
It was the largest draft of the Vietnam war. And Freddie was its most eager conscript. You could hear his froggy bellow up in Charlotte.
The ass end of this train hook up was still blocking crossings in Newark N.J.
Every car was taken out of service at least temporarily, following this unholy pilgrimage. Windows were smashed, seats were yanked out and railroad workers were opting for early retirement.
Freddie went straight to the infirmary.
With a smile on his face.
He fared no better in basic. He was constantly being pulled aside for special punishment.
He had no sock to put in it.
One Sunday afternoon, when we legally weren’t supposed be training, but training anyway, Freddie got this bright idea to go to the movies after chow, instead of back to formation. He told Murphy, Pancoast and me, that we were in our rights under the Geneva Convention.
What a crock.
But we believed him and went to see “Tobruk” at the post theater down the road. What we didn’t know, between the popcorn and the cokes, was that 200 of our “used to be” closest friends were being tortured in the hot South Carolina sun.
Because of us.
The blanket party was scheduled for later that night. We were told to make our amends with Jesus and not to scream. Or it will be worse. They decided later to let us slide. Except for Freddie. I didn’t recognize him the next day.
Poor Freddie and his mouth, it was always getting him into trouble. It wasn’t his mouth that killed him though. It was the Viet Cong. I hear he died a horrible death.
He thought going to war was cool. Kids or no. It’s what a man should be doing.
Miss ya pal, you sure made it interesting.