Where have all the war protesters gone?
Vietnam, my conflict-dodging granddads, and our legacy of the perpetual war machine
In the summer of 1966, my dad — Walter Steele Jr. — was involuntarily enlisted into the US Army at the age of 19, uprooted from his family’s five generational home in the Pacific Northwest, and shipped off to boot camp training at Fort Gordon, Georgia.
My dad was a troublemaker. And also fiercely independent. His grandmother Madell, who largely raised him, built two log homes in the rainforest of Snohomish with her husband Lou, who became a “Company Lineman” for the electric company after he retired from his service aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma before, during, and after WWI.
But before you go painting my family all red white and blue, you should know that Lou lied about his age on his Navy application, listing himself as 18 when he was actually 15, in order to run away from his Tennessee uncle who’d kidnapped him from his parents and held him as a slave since he was a toddler.
I swear to you. I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried. I’m a poet, not a fiction writer, after all.
So Lou wasn’t really patriotic, he was just a desperate runaway kid who figured that sailing around the world would be a pretty damned good gig in comparison to being chained out back with the hogs in his uncle’s holler. And it was. While the army was getting pounded during the kinds of horrifying scenes that are literally out of Lord of the Rings (for real tho — Tolkien’s work clearly included a form of self-therapy to work through PTSD from his experiences in the Battle of Somme, which are mirrored in scenes like the Dead Marshes, e.g.), my great-grandpap Lou Kinney was hanging out with locals and eating fish in the Southeast Pacific, sailing around the world bringing ammunition so that other people could do the shooting.