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I wasn’t the only one assigned to the personal letters, officially deemed “Condolence Notes, or “CNs”, to the next-of-kin for deceased soldiers. Three others– Homer, Jay, and Rocco– were similarly honored. We became fast friends, bonded by beer, black humor, and deep resentment of the U.S. Government. By this time (we’re talking 1969) you couldn’t find anyone on the ground who actually supported the U.S. war effort. We mostly did as we were told and tried to help each other to survive. Each day we’d get a list of names, addresses, and next of kin for the dearly departed. We’d divvy them up and write the letters during lulls in our regular jobs.
One night, totally wasted on pot and beer, we deemed ourselves “the Con Men.” We’d fall into hysterical laughter relating our literary fabrications of the day.
Greg: We heard less and less from Del, and when we did get a letter, it was bizarre and disjointed, flowery stuff about courage and duty and honor and profane pokes at Asshole-in-Chief William Westmoreland and Richard Fucking Nixon. It was hard to make sense of it.
Del: Believe it or not I was now in the final year of my service obligation. So were my fellow Con Men. Time flies when you’re having fun. Rocco was officially a short timer with only ninety days of active duty left. We spent all our spare time drinking, smoking dope, and commiserating with each other. I wasn’t sure, but I think Rocco was using cocaine and heroin, although he never talked about it.
Greg: Not a word about what he was doing over there, Not a word about his plans when he came back. An occasional comment, or a song fragment on a reel-to-reel tape. Once he did an entire version of The End by the Doors. He sounded very stoned.
Del: We talked mostly about how we could fuck things up for the Government. In our jobs at the office of the Quartermaster we had the power to create chaos with just a subtle manipulation on a procurement order. A slight slip of the pen could reroute a shipment of munitions bound for Da Nang to a Naval Base in the Philippines. We talked about subversion a lot, but we never acted, knowing that in the end the ones who would suffer would be the grunts in the field, not the assholes responsible for us being there.
Greg: Even though I was a Junior I had to think about taking the LSATs and where to apply for law school. I kinda wanted to be somewhere other than Providence, but my Dad lobbied for Brown, where he went, plus there was Cassandra to consider … what would be best for her?
Del: Then the bottom fell out of my life. I woke up to the sound of sobbing. It was Homer. “Hey, what’s up, man?”
“Rocco’s dead,” he said. “Fucking overdose. 82 fucking days to go, and he’s fucking dead, man.”
I had to write his Consolation Note. At least this one was truthful and sincere. Six weeks later I wrote another letter for one of my fellow Con Men. Jay blew his brains out with his service revolver. More guys than you knew were doing that. I was with him that evening. We were drinking and laughing. I wake up in the morning. He’s dead.
Homer seemed shaky but stable, but with the way he was drinking my guess was that there would be issues down the road. For practice I wrote my own condolence letter.
Greg: The last few letters from Del were rambling and incoherent, but made frequent reference to The Plan. We assumed that was Cassandra’s plan from The Last Weekend when we’d reunite after 3 years and reform Grendel. You know, I was ready for a little rock ‘n roll!
Del: I came up with a new plan. … one to help me survive.
End of Part 3
What is the New Plan?
Does Del make it safely out of Vietnam? Does he return to Providence to re-boot Grendel? Does Greg stray from the Proven Path to become a rock ‘n roller? Does he marry Cassandra? Or, does something entirely unexpected happen? Follow our plucky lads to the conclusion of Old Rockers: The Musical Journey of Grendel
While the Grendel series is about Rock N Roll, reading Del’s exploits in this episode brings to mind Catch 22, with Yossarian working letter censoring from sick bay. More please.
Catch 22 is one of the best books I’ve ever read, and I read it around this time. Definitely an influence.
Love the up-close encounter we have with the CON’s in this episode. Tragically sad. The alt/soundbed version of Edwin Starr’s, War, is effectively placed for enhanced experience.