Bullwinkle–Third Encounter

For prior essays of the Bullwinkle series go to:  Bullwinkle-First Encounter.  And Bullwinkle-Second Encounter.

At the opposite end of the clearing from where the Jolly Swag nestled, the orange-domed tent was surrounded by dozens of plastic containers.  A white aging station wagon was parked close by.  The man who occupied the site seemed to spend most of his time in the driver’s seat of the car.  He moved the car frequently to stay under the umbrella of pine shadows.

The morning following my visit with Bullwinkle, I walked over to the station wagon, where a man was in the car absorbed in a book.  He did not notice me until I was but a few feet away.

“I’m going into town soon.  Can I bring back anything for you?”  I asked.

“Already been,” he said and looked back to his book.

I turned and walked back to the Jolly Swag.  I noted several piles of wild birdseed on sandy patches nearby.

I went into town and spent a few hours in the local library during the heat of the day and mainlined my Internet fix.  I returned, driving slowly on the six miles of paved road and throttled down to less than 15 mph on the last three miles on the white packed-sand washboard.

I spotted Bullwinkle sitting in a lawn chair by his motorhome.  I took a can of cold beer for him and a Coke for me from my fridge and walked over.  He put his book aside and we exchanged a few minutes’ of toss-away pleasantry before I slipped into quiz mode.

“What’s the whistle for?”  I asked.

“Bears.”  he said.

“How’s your health holding up after 15 years on the road?” I asked.

“I’m OK.  I get into the VA hospital in Tallahassee when I need something.”

“How long were you a POW?”

“Three years, two months, and seventeen days.”

“How did you get released?”

“I released myself,” he said.  “I escaped.  I got four other guys out with me.”

“How did you escape?”

“I befriended a guard.  Then I killed him. Strangled him.  Didn’t make any noise.”

“Are you in touch with any of the four you got out with?”

“They’re all gone.  Two were captured and probably killed.  The two that got out with me are dead.  They didn’t have much of a life after ‘Nam.  They may have taken their own lives.”  

“Do you know our neighbor over there in the tent?” 

“He is a nice enough guy, Bullwinkle said. “Keeps to himself.”

“You know his name?” 

“Bob, . . . I think.  He’s been there a couple of months.” 

“How many people are living in the forest like you and Bob?”

“Maybe ten.  It varies with the season.  Most of us leave during hunting season.”

“What do you do with your time, Bull?”

“I read a lot, sometimes until three in the morning.  Sometimes I carve.”

I felt that Bullwinkle’s sharing of his POW experience hinted at a growing comfort with my ever more intrusive questions.

“So what’s the story with you and your kids?”

“They blame me for their mother’s death.”  He stared into my face and closed his fist around his chin and a handful of beard and did a long slow stroke.  Then another, never taking his eyes off me, and at last he went on.

“And they’re not completely wrong.  We were driving in our car and were hit by a drunk driver.  She was killed and I was not.  I was drunk, too.  I don’t know if I could have avoided the crash if I was sober.  Anyway, the kids believed that alcohol killed their mother, and in their grief, they were not able to separate the drunkenness of the other driver from my own.

“At this point,” he said, “nobody wants to try to fix it.  Me included.”

He became still and yesterday’s thousand-yard stare came across his face.  I left the silence in place for several elastic minutes before breaking it.

“You going to live the rest of your life in the forest, Bull?”

“Yes, I am going to have the greenest death you can have.  I have a deal with Dave, a friend of mine who likes to stay in one of the other camps.  If either one of us finds the other dead, we’ll drag the body deep into the forest and let the animals and Nature take care of business. 

“If I get sick and the VA can’t fix me, I have two friends I plan to call on—Smith and Wesson.”

11 Responses to Bullwinkle–Third Encounter

  1. Bill & Rebecca says:

    A dozen questions and you have a great plot for a book or a movie! I am amazed at what you find.

    Looking forward to more, as ever.

  2. doug & vera says:

    All You recent blogs have been very good. Keep up the looking there are all kinds of stories out there,

  3. Dave Bauer says:

    Bullwinkle story is a poignant one that reflects experiences common to many men and women who served in Vietnam and whose lives were forever changed by that episode in their lives. Perhaps Bullwinkle would appreciate knowing that only now has the nation begun to express recognition of the sacrifices made by Vietnam Vets. This past Memorial Day President Obama called attention to the significance of the service of Vietnam Veterans at the Vietnam War Memorial. What follows is a portion of the text of that speech.

    Excerpted from: Remarks by the President at the Commemoration Ceremony of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War. Vietnam Veterans of America web site. http://www.vva.org/ June 11, 2012

    The Vietnam War Memorial
    National Mall
    Washington, D.C.

    Memorial Day 2012

    The President: And one of the most painful chapters in our history was Vietnam — most particularly, how we treated our troops who served there. You were often blamed for a war you didn’t start, when you should have been commended for serving your country with valor. You were sometimes blamed for misdeeds of a few, when the honorable service of the many should have been praised. You came home and sometimes were denigrated, when you should have been celebrated. It was a national shame, a disgrace that should have never happened. And that’s why here today we resolve that it will not happen again.

    And so a central part of this 50th anniversary will be to tell your story as it should have been told all along. It’s another chance to set the record straight. That’s one more way we keep perfecting our Union — setting the record straight. And it starts today. Because history will honor your service, and your names will join a story of service that stretches back two centuries.
    Let us tell the story of a generation of service members — every color, every creed, rich, poor, officer and enlisted — who served with just as much patriotism and honor as any before you. Let’s never forget that most of those who served in Vietnam did so by choice. So many of you volunteered. Your country was at war, and you said, “send me.” That includes our women in Vietnam — every one of you a volunteer. (Applause.) Those who were drafted, they, too, went and carried their burden — you served; you did your duty.

    You persevered though some of the most brutal conditions ever faced by Americans in war. The suffocating heat. The drenching monsoon rains. An enemy that could come out of nowhere and vanish just as quickly. Some of the most intense urban combat in history, and battles for a single hill that could rage for weeks. Let it be said — in those hellholes like Briarpatch, and the Zoo and the Hanoi Hilton — our Vietnam POWs didn’t simply endure; you wrote one of the most extraordinary stories of bravery and integrity in the annals of military history.

  4. michael says:

    Those vets that paid a supreme price are not all dead. By treating both his person and sense of space with respect, you are giving him a thanks for all of us.

  5. Karen Goucher says:

    For once I am speechless. Nothing to add that would be more honest,
    profound or relevant. This is a gift of sharing you have honoured us with.

  6. Colleen Rae says:

    Al, if you weren’t a sensitive and skilled writer you could have been a ‘shrink.’ You have a knack for pulling out stories and pathos from the people whose paths you have crossed. Quite a touch you have with human beings. Thanks, and keep on… I for one, love to hear your stories and tales.

  7. Pat Bean says:

    As always, I enjoy your writing. And as usual, I’m struck by the differences in our travels and how they make a whole by filling in the holes of the other’s traveling experiences. I’m too safety conscious as an old broad on the road alone to go as off the grid as you do — and I’ve come to like daily internet connection to the world, too. Thanks for sharing your experiences so I get to enjoy them, too. Keep writing Al. And tell Bullwrinkle, if you’re still around him, Pat and Pepper said hi.

  8. David L says:

    You are discovering a new world, for me at least. All these off-the-road niches you find, that are home to unusual characters. If I get nothing else from reading your blog, I get there is a place should things get bad – not heavily populated, not particularly stratified, and comfortable – carving and reading, a beer now and then brought in by a curious visitor. And who would of thought a cosmopolitan like yourself could be so broadly engaging.

  9. MaryAnne says:

    This reader has to agree with all of the above. Precious souls in sometimes strange looking physical appearances, who have given time and effort and sacrifice for our current freedom and safety are scattered all over this country. Thank you for reminding us of their presence via your sharing and for the care and respect you’ve shown him. As others have stated, please express my heartfelt THANX to this gentlemen known as Bullwinkle.

  10. Bob Morgan says:

    Living in the Southwest, where it is but a short way from ‘winter land’ to ‘summer land’ I have witnessed for many years the Bullwinkles, who each year I see doing what most of us never got to do in our younger days, i.e. spend the winters in the warmth of the desert, and the summers in the cool mountain air. Some walk, some ride, and some bicycle to their special seasonal digs. It never occurred to me how many wonderful stories they could tell. Now maybe I’ll give it a try.

  11. karen wittgraf says:

    I am in tears over the suffering these Americans have gone through- the lifelong terror of their lives. Thank you for being the kind and caring person you are- you humble all of us. Poor guys did not create this horrid war, they just took the brunt of it.

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