Monday, July 8, 2024

The War That Brought Us To San Diego

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 8, 2024] ©2024

The recent protests around the country, and especially on college campuses, have been a déjà vu for me as a someone who went to college in the late 1960s when the hugely unpopular Vietnam war was raging.  The issues behind today’s protests are different, of course, but all these years later, the “Demonstrations and Arrest: Rights and Liabilities” guide from the ACLU that was widely distributed for student protestors is still in a file folder I’ve kept from that time.  The advice remains eerily the same.

On December 1, 1969, a lottery system was held by the Selective Service Commission to determine the order of call-ups by birthdays for induction into the armed services (and a pretty sure ticket to Vietnam) for all males ages 18-26.  The lottery was done on TV as a nation held its collective breath willing one’s own or one’s son’s birthday from being called.

 College students could generally get deferments which at least saved you until you were 22. Otherwise, your choices were going to jail as a conscientious objector, fleeing to Canada, or trying to get classified as 4F - unfit for military duty, generally based on a medical condition, real or fabricated. ("Heel spurs," anyone?)  

If I close my eyes, I can still hear the chants of "hell no, we won't go!" in my ears. 

My first husband graduated from medical school in 1969.  A mere month later, he received a letter informing him that he would be going to Vietnam next month as a general medical officer. Alternatively, he could sign up for what was known as the Berry Plan and defer his military service until he had finished his specialty training.

That was a decision that took not quite two nanoseconds.  It was our hope that the war would be over by that time.  And as it turned out, it (mostly) was.  But Berry Plan doctors were still obligated to serve two years in the military.  And that, folks, is how we ended up in San Diego.

 In the spring of 1973, we received a communication in a foreign language, later identified as "military speak," from an entity called BUPERS. Once translated into English, it ordered my husband to report to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego on July 1, 1973 for a two-year assignment. 

We had a reservation for our first night in San Diego at guest rooms at the Naval Air Station.  When we got there, we saw a sign announcing a strict policy against pets. We didn't sleep all night, not only because of the deafening noise of planes taking off and landing, but because we were afraid they'd find our cat and shoot it.

 This was medicine in a very different way than my husband had experienced.  His training had included treating gunshot wounds and knifings in the South Bronx but now dealt with a patient population who had to stand at attention while being treated and to speak in the third person.  ("The private, sir, has a broken leg, sir.") 

The assignment required staying at the MCRD clinic overnight every third night (even though it was closed) in the event of "national emergency."  While there was a perfectly nice officers club on base, my husband was only allowed to venture for meals as far as Leatherneck Lanes, the base bowling alley across the street, where I would join him for some of the worst food in the highest decibel environment I have ever experienced. I started bringing picnics, out of fear for our hearing. 

Even though my father and grandfather had served in the first and second world wars, I wasn't particularly familiar with military customs. So when I received an invitation to a luncheon from the Navy Officers' Wives Club, I thought I'd give it a try.  A very nice woman greeted me and said, "We sit according to the rank of our husbands."  She pointed to the far end of the table.  "You sit down there."  As a fourth-generation feminist, I could feel the previous three generations turning over in their graves (and my mother wasn't even dead yet).  "Thank you," I said, and left. 

OK, enough whining.  MCRD vs. a Vietnam field hospital?  Not exactly the medical experience my husband was hoping for after all those years of training.  But we instantly loved San Diego. 

And after six months, we were entitled to a VA loan to buy a home with 100% financing.  Already we'd homed into La Jolla as the place we wanted to live (I mean, duh) but quickly found that, in that era at least, no banks or realtors in La Jolla would work with VA loans. But fortunately, we found a total fixer/dump being sold by owner who wasn't aware of the VA's complicated rules.  So, with no realtor in sight, we signed a contract with the owners which they pretty much instantly regretted.  A lot of hassle later, we owned a home which we would never have been able to afford until years later otherwise.  So thank you, VA. 

 And thanks, BUPERS, whoever you are, for sending us to San Diego.  This has been the place place to live ever. 

At my 1970 college graduation, most of the students had peace signs glued to their caps. 


No comments:

Post a Comment