The Player

by Mike Peters

The song, that was my indoctrination into the war, outsold Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots are Made for Walking."  Sold more copies than every song in 1966.  Barry Sadler's "Ballad of the Green Berets" was the perfect lead into the movie of the same name--Duke's movie.  John Wayne "humping the boonies," toting an M-16 was a patriotic morale booster.  We had Bob Hope and the Duke.  We couldn't lose!

John Wayne wore a POW bracelet in honor of Captain Stephen P. Hanson. Hanson never made it back. I wore my silver bracelet for Captain Larry Chesley, shot down "4-16-66."  Chesley came home and wrote a book about his time in captivity.  "Seven Years in Hanoi" tells us about Chesley's stay at the "Hanoi Hilton," talks of the brutality that Jane Fonda tried to pass off as hospitality.  The book can be bought on the secondary market for less than $10.

A couple of the older guys on the playground went to Nam.  They came back with a different language.  Talked about their time "in country," the beer they drank, the weed they smoked and the Vietnamese women. "13 and a wake up" meant two weeks.  A "klick" was a kilometer or 1000 meters.  They used the French word "beacoup," to indicate much or many.  We loved their slang.

I remember when "Chang" came back, Purple Heart pinned to his chest.  He took off his army jacket, laid it across the chain link fence and played "21" in his combat boots. Still had the shot that we envied.  He was an African American, whose real name was Robin. He had a silky touch and was so athletic that his game appeared to come about without any effort. Don't ask me how he got the nickname.  They called his older brother "Tojo."   Kind of like when you call a bald guy "Curly" or a fat guy "Skinny,"  I guess. Playground humor isn't always funny or logical. Sometimes it's downright hateful.  If you ignore it, it usually goes away.

"Chang" wasn't as proud of his service as I thought he'd be and his game wasn't as smooth as I'd remembered, the few times he did play a full-court game.  It was stale and lacking heart, a part of his anatomy that had been dissected somewhere in the jungles of S. E. Asia.  He didn't seem to care about the game anymore.  The contest just isn't as important, when you've been in the ultimate battle.

It was as if he was ignoring us, a few years later, when he brought his three-year-old child to the playground.  I looked down at the other end of the court to see the world he had fought for hanging on the rim . Dad held on tight to the moment and to the waist of his giggling son.  It was the best move he ever made on the blacktop and the last time I saw him.

But man could he play, before war and a near death experience changed his outlook and before he became a doting father.


Mike Peters

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