In the Fall of 1968, I was a young soldier in my fourth month of convalescence at “Letterman General Hospital” near the south side of the Golden Gate Bridge. I was ambulatory at that point and had struck up friendships with a number of other recuperating vets who had been wounded in Vietnam.
One of my new friends was a guy named, Norton. He had been grievously injured during a "search & destroy" sweep of a Viet Cong Village. After tossing in a grenade to clear a large bamboo hootch he stepped inside to check it out. He didn't know at that moment that there was a seriously ticked off water buffalo inside who took offense at being peppered with shrapnel. When Norton stepped into the hootch he sensed an evil presence in the darkness. It was the enraged buffalo who snorted then charged Norton who had turned to flee. The 2,500 lb. buffalo gored him from behind and drove one of his horn’s through Norton’s rear-end and out his stomach impaling him. It took a whole magazine of M-16 rounds to put the buffalo down. Norton had undergone several operations over the previous year and was convalescing with his new colostomy bag.
One day as we were walking along the shore at the foot of Letterman General, we came upon one of those two pontoon paddleboats someone had beached. Norton looked at me and pointed across the bay. “Hey, do you want to go to ‘Tides’ bookstore in Sausalito?” A number of us were really into Herman Hesse and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the poet laureate of the Bay area beatniks, so the Hippie loving bookstore would be a perfect place to purchase copies. Without another thought we pushed off, climbed aboard the flimsy two-seater, and started bicycling with our feet.
What we didn’t realize was that the tide was just beginning to turn. About three hundred yards from shore, we could tell that despite all of our efforts we were losing ground and being steadily sucked out to sea on the outgoing tide. We had gone to the mid-point of the bridge when one of the “Red & White” tourist boats from Fisherman’s Warf sailed past with dozens of tourists waving at the two crazy paddlers in hospital pajamas paddling hopelessly out to sea.
We finally gave up, kicked back and enjoyed the ride as we passed under mid-span of the Golden Gate above us. We were heading out to the Pacific about a half a mile from the bridge when we heard the demanding voice of a bullhorn sounding, ”Heave to. This is the United Sates Coast Guard coming along side!" The cutter idled about twenty feet away with all of the sailors laughing their heads off while the irate junior officer glared at us. They threw us a line and began to slowly tow us back to Letterman. When we had reached the beach, the officer shouted at us, “If I see you again, I’ll report you to your commanding officer!” To that, Norton yelled back, “And what is he going to do - send us to Vietnam?”
We’d already been to hell and back and had developed a deeply entrenched attitude of caring less about much of anything. The bestial insanity of ’Nam had given birth to such dismissive refrains as, “It Don’t mean nothin' ’” and “No Sweat-Tee-Da.” We had already learned a lifetime of bitter lessons so we were pretty cynical at that point. It wasn’t so much that we were fearless as we just didn’t care anymore. Our whole attitude could be summed up with those words, “What are you going to do – send us to Vietnam?” We’d already been there and done that and had the Zippo lighter to prove it. We just didn’t give a flip. We just didn’t care. We’d seen the elephant and that was that!
So too, ever since I gave my life to Christ and joined His army, I could care less what the world thinks about me, "For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain!" What are they going to do to me? - Send me to Vietnam? – “Been there, done that.” Call me names? LOL. Persecute me? – “No sweat-tee-da.” Kill me? - “It Don’t mean nothin'.” And all of this and more because, “I know who have believed in and I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – (Romans 8:38 & 39)