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By Chuck Thompson
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Chuck Thompson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Coffee Cup
Mike McCurry arrived at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey in the summer of 1966, following basic training and a thirty-day leave. Using the travel allowance he had received from the Army, he flew into San Francisco. It was a hot, muggy August afternoon, which was unusual for the City by the Bay. Dressed in his Class A uniform and lugging a duffel bag with all his clothing, McCurry was soaked in sweat as he walked out of the airport building to find a cab. Somewhat fatigued from his cross-country trip, he was buoyed by his excitement over entering a new phase in his life's journey. Most of all, he looked forward to the language training he would receive at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey.
McCurry spent his teen years in a white, middle-class neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia. He was identified as a gifted student in high school and admitted to the advanced curriculum, which he often still felt was less than challenging. Bored and more enthused with the new discoveries he was making in his sexual education, he skated through high school with a low B average.
After a couple years in college, McCurry found himself fascinated with, but not yet understanding, the hippie counter-culture and sexual revolution just beginning to take root in the U.S. While he got caught up in the protests over Vietnam, his understanding of the lifestyle of a typical so-called hippie was difficult to accept since it was anathema to the values he was taught all his life: respect your elders, work hard and you will get ahead, and abide by the law. His interest in the culture, however, led him to the decision that he needed to learn more about life, so he dropped out of school.
This made him a prime target of the draft and its need for more bodies to ship off to Vietnam. McCurry believed that learning more about life was one thing; dying in a war he had already decided was wrong was quite another. Those values of his youth precluded a flight to Canada, as a few acquaintances had done, so he joined the Army. It was the beginning of McCurry's real education.
Test results he took before actually enlisting qualified him for the elite Army Security Agency and indicated an aptitude for languages. Although he had to sign up for four years, he was told the first year and a half would be spent in schools.
He would have to qualify for top-secret clearance. This entailed an in-depth investigation by the FBI that could take six months or more to complete. Since McCurry had led a relatively uneventful life to date, he couldn't think of any activity that would prevent him from getting the clearance. So, he signed on the dotted line and became the property of the U.S. Army.
The recruiter told McCurry that once he had completed basic training he would move on to what the recruiter envisions as an enchanted existence in the Army Security Agency. Members of the ASA were under the jurisdiction of the National Security Agency rather than the Pentagon. Because of this, ASA personnel were selected to monitor the progress of new recruits during basic training. A few weeks into basic, McCurry and a few other ASA trainees were shepherded into a meeting with an agent overseeing their progress. The agent asked if there were any problems he could help with. When no one spoke up, the agent gave a short pep talk and said to "hang in there." Only a little more than a month remained before they would be finished with basic.
Now in San Francisco, McCurry took a cab to a rooming house where he was able to shower and change out of his sweaty clothes. He decided he would do a little exploring in San Francisco. He'd catch a bus to Monterey in the morning.
He spent a few hours checking out the Haight-Ashbury district. He had read a news account about it recently that described the influx of so-called hippies to the district. According to the article, more than 15,000 members of this counter-cultural movement now called this area home.
The article didn't prepare McCurry for the environment he found himself in when he arrived on the corner of Haight and Ashbury streets. Although somewhat reminiscent of the twenty-four-hour party scenes at university frat houses since nearly everyone was college-aged and younger, here many were handing out flowers to passersby. Scantily clad girls were in abundance, too, free from any college-imposed behavior restrictions. He felt as if he had entered a new universe. As he casually strolled down the crowded streets, music became a common background regardless where he turned. The new psychedelic sounds of Iron Butterfly, the Byrds, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Jefferson Airplane blared from speakers set up in the windows of apartment buildings. Small groups of musicians gathered throughout the area and were surrounded by people obviously high on marijuana or LSD. More than once McCurry was invited to share a toke but declined. He couldn't jeopardize his security clearance while still under investigation.
Dwellings in the area seemed to be overflowing with people in all sorts of clothing, much of it alien to McCurry. Women in everything from granny dresses to halter tops, hip-hugger and bell bottom jeans, micro skirts, Pocahontas headbands, beaded necklaces and flowers in their hair. Men wore fringed vests, tie-dyed t-shirts, combat jackets and fatigues and sported all manner of beards and mustaches. The peace symbol was in evidence throughout, either sewn onto clothing or worn on chains around the neck.
During his brief outing, McCurry met and spoke with people who were clearly dedicated pacifists with strong arguments about how war was an unnecessary means of settling differences between countries. He realized that there were also a significant number who were there simply to take advantage of the free sex and proliferation of mind-altering drugs. But, there was a small percentage of obviously violent people who equated their hatred of the war in Vietnam with the soldiers who fought and died in it. McCurry was vehemently against the war and would have filed as a conscientious objector had he needed to. Yet he couldn't understand denigrating the courageous men who were actually fighting the battles there.
In the morning, McCurry boarded a bus for Monterey. As he approached the Peninsula, he was captivated by the rocky shoreline and deep blue waters glimpsed from the bus. He was growing excited about the opportunity to learn German and then put it to use overseas. And most of all, he felt as if he were turning a page and opening a new chapter in his life story.
* * *
After several weeks of daily six-hour sessions in the classroom, McCurry was amazed at how quickly he was learning German. That all those who taught at the language institute were required to be native speakers of their respective language hastened his acquisition, as did a requirement he speak only German while in the classroom; he also was encouraged to speak German while in the barracks, which in fact were more like dorms than typical Army dwellings.
Once they became relatively fluent in the language, McCurry and his classmates were told they would move on to learn all the major dialects while always adding more words to their German vocabulary. They similarly would have to learn colloquialisms and usages peculiar to specific cultures.
Trainees were segregated by the languages they were learning – German, Russian, French and Vietnamese. There were two men to a room with a bed, dresser and desk for each. This was a luxury after basic training and helped create the laid-back atmosphere of a college dorm.
On many evenings, McCurry and his roommate, Hank Moreland, would haul beach chairs and beer they had smuggled into the barracks up to the roof to watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. The language institute was located in the Presidio of Monterey, high atop a hill overlooking Monterey Bay, Old Fisherman's Wharf and the ocean beyond. While the area was often cloaked in fog in the morning, in the evening the view was magnificent.
In time McCurry decided to do some exploring on land rather than from the rooftop.
Just before noon on a Saturday, McCurry, Hank Moreland and Rich Sezov, a Russian linguist, were at Old Fisherman's Wharf, seated in a restaurant's outdoor area enjoying coffee and pastries. The pier was already filling up with tourists. Farther down the wharf, a few fishing trawlers, back early with their day's catch, were unloading baskets of fish buried in shaved ice. The cries from hundreds of seagulls rose above the din of the crowd as the birds circled the boats, swooping down when they saw a chance to pluck an unguarded fish. Just off the pier, sea lions lounged near the shore and made swiftly through the shallows like underwater gulls in their own search for food. Their barks and roars were at times overwhelming.
Moreland said, "A friend of mine back in college would have thought this must be how the rich people live. Nothing to do but lounge around, drink a few beers and take in nature."
"Shit, yeah. And to think, we're getting paid to stay here along with free room and board," Sezov added.
"Yeah, if you can call a hundred bucks a month getting paid," McCurry said.
"C'mon Mike, you have to admit that living here is a luxury compared to basic training," Moreland countered.
"Maybe so, but another luxury I'd like to discover involves those California girls the Beach Boys sing about," McCurry said.
"Hey Mike, a friend of mine in the Russian group said the best way to find chicks is to stroll the grounds of Monterey Peninsula College," Sezov said. "Man, that's my idea of sightseeing."
"Yeah but we'll have to conquer that front on another day," McCurry said. "Today it's just around here. But who knows, maybe we'll meet some of those MPC co-eds anyway."
They didn't meet any women that day at Old Fisherman's Wharf, chatting only with some of the fishermen working their boats. Moreland and McCurry decided that on the next day, Sunday, they'd make that trip to Monterey Peninsula College.
* * *
"I think all we need to do is to head down Franklin to Pacific in downtown Monterey," McCurry said.
Moreland chuckled at that. "Yeah, downtown Monterey. D'ya think we'll recognize it? We might get lost, ya know."
"Shut up, wise ass. It's what you would call a quaint community and I kinda like it here."
"Is that really you, Mr. Philadelphia? Quaint? It might be nice for a visit, but you would go out of your mind if ya had to live here. I'll take the East Coast cities any day of the week."
"Well, this is where you are right now," McCurry said. "When we get to Pacific, we can ask directions to the college."
They arrived at the campus around noon. To McCurry, it looked like any other college campus, east or west coast. Kids were out on the lawns playing Frisbee. Couples were cuddled up on blankets under the trees. Here and there, groups of young men and women were sitting cross-legged in circles, oftentimes arguing over some concept they were studying, or trying to make sense of current events. Remembering his days in college, McCurry assumed that not a few of the conversations centered on the war in Vietnam.
"You don't think they're worried about where they will be heading after they graduate, do ya?" McCurry asked Moreland.
"What d'ya think? Unless, as the song goes, ' your daddy's rich and your mama's good looking,' it's probably all they fucking think about."
"No kidding, this war and draft shit really sucks. Must've been nice to be able to go to college with nothing to worry about but finding a job when ya graduated."
"All right, McCurry, time to find us a couple of girls who want the company of German-speaking spooks."
Eventually they found their way to the student activities center, a sort of cafeteria with a number of tables at one end and pool tables and pinball machines at the other.
"Look at that table over there," McCurry said, indicating a spot where two attractive young women were sipping Cokes and engrossed in an animated conversation. "Let's grab a couple of drinks and see if they'd like some company."
At the counter, McCurry ordered a Hires Root Beer and Moreland got a Coke. They made their way over to the table with the two women and, when the girls looked up, McCurry said, "Hey, would ya mind if we sat down here."
"Not at all," said the redhead. When McCurry and Moreland sat down, the redhead said her name was Trish Kelly. She was dressed in short shorts and a halter top, had flaming red hair, startling green eyes, a tiny nose and pert breasts that were clearly accentuated by the flimsy top.
Her friend introduced herself as Carmen Giordano. Somewhat taller than Trish, Carmen had jet black hair; an olive complexion with black eyes set in an angular face that, while not beautiful, was certainly seductive; and very long legs that were exquisitely set off by hot red shorts.
McCurry introduced himself and Moreland and took a seat next to Trish, leaving the chair next to Carmen open for Moreland. "So, where are you from?" McCurry asked as he pulled his chair up to the table.
Trish said she was from Bakersfield and Carmen lived in Santa Barbara.
"Are you guys in the Army?" Trish asked.
"Why, does it show?" Moreland remarked.
"The short haircuts kind of give you away," Trish said, smiling at McCurry in a way that made him feel she was interested and not put off by the Army connection.
"We're both in the German language program at the Defense Language Institute," McCurry said. "Becoming Army linguists seemed better than waiting to be drafted and sent to Vietnam. I'm told they don't have much of a need for German linguists in ' Nam."
"I'm glad you won't have to go over there," Trish said. "America shouldn't be there to begin with. The boys I've known who've gone there aren't the same when they get back."
"I'm glad we don't have to go too," McCurry said. "It's gotta really suck to have people shooting at you and not understanding why. Other than the fact that you're in their country shooting at them, of course."
"Enough about us, what are you two studying?" Moreland asked.
"We're both in the nursing program," Carmen said. "My goal is to get a job in a city hospital and then party all the time."
"That's cool. How much longer d'ya have?" McCurry asked.
"Two more years to get our bachelor's degree. Trish is thinking she may go on to get her master's, but I'm just anxious to get through this program, get to work and start having fun."
"I think you'd have to be somewhat of an idealist ta go into nursing, right?" McCurry suggested.
Trish said idealism may have played a small role in her decision. What really sold her on the program, she said, was the significant role she felt nurses play helping people heal. "Since we provide patients with the care they need day in and day out, we really get to know and understand their needs."
"Hmm, Mike," said Moreland, "looks like you've got some competition the next time you step up on your soap box."
"I guess I do get carried away," Trish said, visibly blushing,
"Okay, okay, enough with the serious talk," said Moreland. "Any recommendations on what we should see while we're in your fair state? Outside of Monterey, which we have pretty well covered already."
"Do you know the 17-Mile Drive?" Trish asked. "Spectacular views of the ocean and nature, not to mention some pretty spectacular mansions."
"Unless we can get a bus there, I don't think we'll be making that trip," Moreland said.
Trish turned to McCurry. "We have a car. We could take you there. I'd love to see it again."
"Seriously? That is cool. How about next Saturday? Will that work?"
"Sounds like a date," Trish said. She opened her purse, pulled out a small pad and pen. She wrote her number, tore the sheet out and handed it to McCurry. "If you need to call, just tell whoever answers to come and get me."
"Great," said McCurry. "In the meantime, feel like showing me around the campus."
As McCurry started to get up, Trish looked over to Carmen and asked, "You don't mind if we go off, do ya Carmen?" "No, I'm fine," she said.
After a leisurely stroll through the campus in which Trish pointed out some of the significant structures, she explained to McCurry that she shared an apartment with Carmen and two other nursing students nearby off Fremont Street. "It's just a short walk if you want to see it," she said.
"Absolutely," he said, taking her hand as they turned to make their way off campus. After walking a couple of blocks, they came up to a non-descript two-story apartment building.
Excerpted from McCurry's War by Chuck Thompson Copyright © 2012 by Chuck Thompson. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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