“Till Then”- Part 2

The guy sleeping next to him woke up and found Dinger’s throat had been cut during the night by North Korean infiltrators as he slept in his sleeping bag. Dad told me the North Koreans were masters at sneaking past guards at night. Like shadows they’d slip around in the camp killing like—every third guy then sneaking out—leaving the dead guys to be discovered in the morning. The idea was to demoralize and terrorize American troops.

Dinger was from the Mohawk Valley region, Herkimer—not that far away from where dad grew up in Syracuse. Dad wasn’t all that crazy about Dinger—he was always bad-mouthing somebody, not that dependable and one of these guys that was always looking for an angle. But I guess dad saw him as a “comrade-in-arms” and felt it could just as easily have been him so he decided he would go.

A few weeks after +dad got back to the states he hitch-hiked down the Thru-way to see Dinger’s family. Dad was probably 22 or 23 at the time.

Arthur Vann—which was Dinger’s real name—was not married and had parents who owned a furniture store in Herkimer. Dinger/Arthur—also had two sisters and a girl friend. Back in Korea dad had noticed Dinger had no photos of her with him like most guys had of their wives, girlfriends, kids. Dinger used to laugh about his girl—Sally—saying she was “stupid but a good lay” and he was just stringing her along til he could find something better after he got back He had no intention of marrying her though he had told her he would.

Dad called the Vanns, explained who he was and set up a visit with the family. He wore his uniform so it was pretty easy to catch rides but even so, traffic was light and it took most of the day to get from Syracuse to Herkimer. He arrived in late afternoon and after inquiring at a gas station, found the house—a big impressive home in a very nice neighborhood—without too much trouble.

Waiting for him in the living room were Dinger’s parents and all three girls. As he entered the room it felt like more like an impending interrogation than a friendly visit. Despite being well-lit and tastefully appointed, the atmosphere was still and slightly claustrophobic. Dinger’s dad sat in a big recliner positioned centrally at the back of the room so it looked a bit like a throne, his wife—looking worn and apprehensive—stood next to him like a secretary or servant. The two sisters sat silently composed, together on the couch. The girlfriend sat bathed in light in a wicker chair by the big front window.

The visit didn’t go at all like he thought it would.

Before dad could even start sharing the little stories and memories he’d put together on the flight back from Korea, Dinger’s father demanded an explanation for how infiltrators could have been allowed to get past the guards and what kind of idiots were they? Something like that would never have happened when he was fighting in Italy during World War Two. Ten minutes after dad walked through the Vann’s big front door, Dinger’s father was screaming at him—calling him a “stupid, cowardly sonofabitch” and throwing him out of the house.

Dad walked from the Vann house across town back to the Thru-way to hitch-hike home. He’s standing there with his thumb out—cars whizzing by—when Sally—the girlfriend—pulls up in her car and motions for him to get in.

They drive back into the Herkimer business district and go to a diner Sally knew. It was one of those chrome and Formica art-deco dining car type diners—and they have supper. Dad orders burgers and fries and as they’re waiting for the food he drops a quarter in the little juke box extension with the flip pages on the table. Perry Como begins singing, “Wanted.”

Sally apologizes for Mr. Vann’s behavior. She explains Dinger/Arthur was his only son and he had all kinds of plans for him to take over the family business and have a bunch of grandchildren to carry on the Vann name. Now there’s no one to carry on the name and the girls have no interest in business. He had to have somebody to blame—a whipping boy or scapegoat.

As Sally talks Dad is thinking Dinger never did seem to have a lot of sense—and was one of those guys that seemed OK at first but as you got to know him better you realized he couldn’t be trusted. Looking at this intelligent, strikingly pretty girl sitting across from him that Dinger so often trashed in their conversations, he decided Dinger was even dumber than he had thought.

“So—what were you going to say to the Vanns?” Sally asked cautiously as she poked French fries into a pool of Catsup on her plate.

End part two

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