It's quiet around here today. We went shopping early, 9:00 AM, and it was apparent that those who were going to celebrate the day were still sound asleep. That's a bad choice of words isn't it? "Celebrate the day". But, that is what will happen today. The fairgrounds are ready for a crowd on this last day of the fair. With all of this sunshine there will be plenty of barbecues going this afternoon.
Some people that will not be 'celebrating' can be found at the downtown Plaza. Laying on the grass with a bedroll for a pillow. Some will have a dog with them. I know of another that has a cat that stays on his shoulder when traveling. Some will be drunk. Most all will be hungry - and sick. I know some of the veterans that are living rough, here, on the Plaza that has a large memorial to honor veterans at one end. Clyde is one of those veterans; Marine Corps in Vietnam. He has a dog and a guitar and a cup for donations. He also has a wheelchair. He had back surgery at a VA hospital in Sacramento not too long ago. He was discharged back onto the streets. He made it back to Chico and reclaimed his dog from friends. Now he sits and plays and talks. The police will come by every few hours and roust every one of them and the Plaza will be empty. It will fill back up again. Then the police will come. It's like a dance...
Back in the day; I was in the Navy for no good reason other than the fact that I was bored. Three of us joined together so that we could endure boot camp with a friend alongside. Two of us went to Hospital Corps School and our friend went to Electronics School. After graduation and now a Hospitalman, I was sent to Camp Lejeune, NC. North Carolina was not a good place to be in the late 50's and early 60's. And Camp Lejeune, home of the Second Marine Division, was not exactly a welcoming home for a sailor.
Once on base and working at the Naval Hospital, I learned some basic safety rules; never wear your uniform off base and never go to J-ville (Jacksonville) alone. Navy or Marine; we weren't welcome. And if you were a Black sailor or Marine, you might as well stay on base.
During my time there, there were at least four 'World Crisis' alerts that closed the base to all traffic and had the 6th Marine Regiment, our neighbors, out onto the beach and ready to board Navy troop transport ships. Twice, they actually boarded and set sail, only to return a few days later. Everyone was becoming interested in world affairs as it was obvious that 'peace time' was coming to a close.
Near the end of my tour of duty, the officer in charge of re-enlistment summoned me to his office. I wasn't surprised and I had already made some inquiries into various schools that were available for someone that re-enlisted. We met and he told me about the STAR program, Selective Training And Re-enlistment. The Navy would pay me some great amount of money and send me to any school I wanted as long as I signed up for another six years. I wanted to do it and I had already decided on the Aviation Medicine School at Pensacola. Then I asked if I would be assured that I wouldn't have to stay at Lejeune, normally a four year duty station. I had only served two years there and wanted out! He reluctantly told me that he couldn't guarantee that but I shouldn't worry about it. Well, I was worried, as I wanted out. And I knew that if I stayed I would be put into the FMF which is where you get to learn battlefield medicine and other fun things. You even get a new seabag, filled with Marine Corps uniforms, just for you. The enlistment officer and I had several more meetings with the same results. So I left the active duty Navy and become Reserve; at home. It was October of 1961.
Unknown to most of America, the war in Vietnam was just starting to heat up. It was known at Camp Lejeune. And in 1965, when I was given my final discharge papers, that war had indeed become very warm. I had made the right choice when I gave up the school and re-enlistment bonus money. Blessed is a good word for that.