I wasn’t going back to Bristol Issue, the paper mill. The bosses didn’t get it. I’d just gotten out of the Air force (where it was it was determined I was college material). The bosses had caught me napping on the job more than once. What did they expect? It was graveyard shift, a dead end, period.

I began attending Indian University, a forty minute cornfield drive from Bristol Issue. I stayed in the vets dorm. (No, there wasn’t a vets water fountain, or a Vets Only bathroom.) I took up accounting but didn’t stick w/ it. I took the test. (The test results: I should become an osteopath, or go into the ministry.)

I got my degree in industrial engineering, retiring at the age of 59.5. The higher ups considered me a stubborn old mule by then. There were plenty of kids just out of college who could take my place, who’d be willing to work harder for less pay. With sound pension I said goodbye.

I kept in touch with some of my fellow vets (animal doctors!). The Internet helped, when it came into being. Serving during the Korean conflict, none of us had suffered anything worse than homesickness. We’d marched and stood guard in the middle of the night (like working at Bristol Issue). We’d been reprimanded, which meant we’d cleaned toilets and done plenty of pushups. We’d played ping pong (or pip pip Cheerio table tennis, originating in England, not the Orient). Radios and radar. We’d played touch football games.

I’ve always been a patriot. My cousin Sal’s husband Ted was shot down in Vietnam; there were witnesses. Ted’s considered MIA for some reason. He died nobly, I’d say. He didn’t flee to dope smoking Canada.

I saw the for veteran’s only trip to Washington DC advertised last year. But all of the buses had been filled. I tried again this year before the buses got filled.

I’d been to all of the monuments before, the meditative, rhythmic tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Changing of the Guard, however, was different from what I remembered, w/ the barking, tuff as nails female officer (some unfortunate’s wife!).

Can’t forget the police escort to and from Washington, the helicopter flying low over us, the firemen and civilians saluting us from overpasses, atop ladders. It was like we were young, returning from one of the World Wars. We were not met w/ a welcome like this sixty years ago. Some of us in picturesque wheelchairs, fortunate victims of old age (compared to soldiers tragically maimed in, or before, their prime). We didn’t argue w/ any of the nonsense, the hoopla.

There was a supper at the casino, where we loaded the buses that morning. Gushing and noise at the entryway. School marching bands. Conservative local politicians and clergy. I ate supper w/ two sweet shrunken old vets and their motherly caretaker, a forty something basketball player-sized blond. She wasn’t the only taller than tall woman in the place. It made me think of the old sci-fi flick, Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman. Twenty something girls on the stage, performing/singing like the Andrews Sisters. The old boys soon filed out of the casino, after dessert, influencing/shortening the Andrew Sisters set; what were they going to do w/ a few young girls? I was the last vet to leave.

 

David Tickel is a poetry and short story writer from Morrisville, PA. He is frequent contributor to Trajectory.