It’s interesting and pivotal, at this very specific time in my life and in history, for PBS to air the Ken Burns 10-part series on Vietnam.
Donna Woodward Friend SrPic 1965

“Before” – Senior Picture, 1965

Why was watching this series pivotal for me? Well, in 1965, when many of my school chums were being shipped off to fight an unwanted battle on Asian soil, I was fighting my own “Vietnam” battle of being a pregnant 17 year old on the streets to fend for myself  with the love of my life MIA in Vietnam the whole year of my pregnancy and birth of my son, Carl. The other layer of the story was my father was so insanely angry at me for getting pregnant he came looking for me with a gun to kill me. Yes. Kill me…and my baby.
Early that 1965 magical insane summer, my fiancé, Ray, joined the Army. That bitter sweet last night with him before he left for Bootcamp, held all the images of a tearful teen 1965 movie…pain, love, hurt, joy and mixed messages of a future with a scrambled past. We talked about what would happen if I became pregnant but neither of us truly believing it could/would happen. We, obviously, were delusional.
It was during the month after Ray left, that I started questioning my choice of a future and  husband. My oldest brother co-signed on the loan for me to buy my first car, “George.” It was a black 1960 Karman Ghia convertible. It had no heat if you weren’t moving forward but I sure loved dropping that convertible top on those waning summer days! That’s when I realized I just wanted to be engaged and not married. After all, I was in college,  working and feeling alive.
It was one of those wonderful summer nights when I was driving “George” around with the top down with a friend that I met Dave. Dave was a 6′ 2″ drink of well water (God’s water as we called it) who had a loving spirit, was well educated and in the Army. He was the catalyst for my break up with Ray. My time with Dave helped me further realize how I was cutting myself short in a more mature way…like a real future with a career and Dave.
And, although both Dave and Ray were in the Army, only one went to Vietnam.
And, again, I lived yet another, more painful last night with Dave. He filled my heart with a future and a terrible sadness of loss multiplied by my unknown pregnancy. It was a few months later that an older friend told me I might be pregnant and I should get checked out. It was such a shock to think I might be! That’s weird, I know, especially knowing was was raised on a small farm but I never truly connected the dots because I lived in a teen haze of invincibility.
My letters to Dave (which numbered many) went unanswered. I was glued to the news to see what was happening 10,000 miles from home.
In the meantime, my first gynecological visit was to find out I was seventeen and pregnant. My life started falling apart at the seams at that moment (and hasn’t stopped in the 50 plus years since).
As soon as I got home, I called Ray at the Base and told him of our dilemma, as it was unequivocally his child I was carrying. We secretly plotted an elopement. He was stationed in Augusta, South Carolina where you only had to be eighteen to marry without  parental consent. So, armed with a “doctored” birth certificate showing I was eighteen, I drove “George” to pick up Ray at the Base to get married. My fraudulent birth certificate  didn’t pass the muster of the Judge’s secretary. I came home pregnant, sick and worried out of my mind as to what was going to happen next. Ray went back to Ranger training camp.
It was that next weekend when my “Vietnam” started. I’d had morning sickness only one time. Dad guessed I was pregnant and was in a rage. I was going into town to see Ray, who was on leave, so we could plot our next elopement. Mom came into my room (the same day I’d had my one and only bout with morning sickness) and told me Dad thought I was pregnant and asked if it was true. I broke down. We cried and hugged. She asked if I wanted to get an abortion and admitted to me that she’d had several over the years because she kept getting pregnant and there was no other way to deal with the issue in those days. I told Mom from some outside source, in an out-of-body way, “This child is meant to be born.”
Mom told me to pack some things and to not come back until she told me it was okay. She told me to call her later. If Dad answered the phone…hang up. She knew Dad and his temper and that he was going to blow a gasket. What she didn’t know was that Dad blew up much like Vesuvius. When I called and she answered, she told me what had happened. Dad had  gone to his arsenal, gotten a gun or guns, and went on the hunt for me and Ray. He was going to kill us both. Well, all three of us.
We hid all night in “George” in a parking lot behind some buildings on Fourteenth Street. I’ll never forget how scared and cold we were.
It was Ray’s nineteenth birthday, October 13, 1965.
In all fairness to my siblings, they were living their own stories and were caught up in their own lives and futures. Mom fought hard to keep Dad from killing me. She told him he’d better leave town until he calmed down enough to be a father and grandfather. He headed West and stayed there until right before my son, Carl, was born.
How did I survive the first of My “Vietnam” years? I truly don’t know because my part time job working for two lawyers as a legal secretary (yes, at 17 & pregnant) typing petitions and handling a two man law office paid me an astonishing rate of $.75/hour. It took every penny to pay the $36.63 car payment and $65.00 rent in my Hippi-ville apartment overlooking Tenth Street near Piedmont Park where I walked my leashed rabbit down to the park after work. The looks I got…pregnant walking a rabbit?