Beachcombing

By: 
Jay Beeler

Memorial Day has special meaning for many of us who served during the Vietnam War, which saw 58,220 American casualties between Nov. 1, 1955 and April 30, 1975.

Upon graduation from Waynesboro Area High School in 1962 several members of our 183 graduating seniors enlisted in various branches of the military, but very few actually served in the Southeast Asia war zone.

Classmate Larry Hess signed up for the U.S. Navy and served on the USS Scorpion, a Skipjack-class nuclear submarine. Larry was among the entire 99-person crew that died when their submarine went missing on May 22, 1968, about 400 miles southwest of the Azore Islands in the Atlantic.

It was one of the four mysterious submarine disappearances in 1968, the others being the Israeli submarine INS Dakar, the French submarine Minerve and the Soviet submarine K-129.

I like to joke about fighting in the “Battle of Minot,” one of five Minuteman Intercontinental Nuclear Missile sites in North Dakota, Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming and Missouri. My six-member team’s job was to place the missile in its silo, attached the nuclear warhead and generally target it “To Russia With Love,” borrowing from a 1963 James Bond movie of a similar name.

The worst part of that battleground was very cold winters reaching 40 degrees below zero and hot summers that brought out large swarms of bugs, which pelted auto windshields. That answered the often-heard local’s quiz “Why not, Minot?”

In reality, most of my buddies who died during the war were victims of local traffic accidents as well as one drowning. Alcohol and failure to use those new-fangled seat belts were a leading cause of death.

Following discharge from the U.S. Air Force in 1965 I headed for Southern California to attend college on the G.I. Bill.

As mentioned previously in this column, I kept my mouth shut about serving in the military while attending LBCC and CSULB. The words”thank you for your service” were seldom heard by most military members returning from the Vietnam War.

As a Radio/TV/Film student with a journalism minor, I used my film-making skills to record large throngs of students marching to protest the war at Long Beach State. On one occasion my brother and I drove to the Century Plaza Hotel to witness a demonstration targeting President Richard Nixon. Fortunately we avoided the head-bashings and arrests that typically resulted from those protests.

 “Make love, not war” became the anti-war slogan that evolved in the 1960s, primarily used by those who opposed the Vietnam War. It has been used in other wars that followed and inspired the practice of free love that evolved from that time period. That was a concept that I embraced with vigor while avoiding the hippie label.

One Marine Corps captain – who served two tours of duty in Vietnam – died earlier this year after an 18-month battle with pulmonary fibrosis. Doctors attributed Steve Kuykendall’s condition to Agent Orange, which proved deadly for many Vietnam warriors.

Steve went on to serve his country as a California State Assemblymember and member of the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2014 he co-founded Fisher House of Southern California, which provides housing for family members of vets who are hospitalized at the VA Medical Center in Long Beach as well as Navy Hospitals in Camp Pendleton and San Diego.

He was also a member of the Rotary Club of Long Beach, where we would frequently break bread together each Wednesday noon. This was one veteran who commanded my wholehearted respect.

In his memory you may want to make a donation to the new “The Steve Kuykendall Memorial Fund for Children,” which provides for the needs of children and grandchildren staying at the local Fisher Houses while a veteran family member is hospitalized.

For additional details, visit www.fisherhousesocal.org. To make a donation, send your check to Fisher House Southern California, P.O. Box 110, Long Beach, CA 90801.

publisher@beachcomber.news

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