Phu Cuong: Where I spent Christmas 1970 enjoying a Smithfield ham with my family that my Mother had sent me and the only place I was exposed to Agent Orange.
The other guys who came back to their Chicago neighborhood on leave couldn't wait to snatch off their uniforms and run the streets one last time before shipping out to Vietnam. Not Milton “Skipper” Olive. The kid was so proud he practically slept in his.
You'd get up for breakfast and there was Skipper in his uniform, buttering his toast. You'd say goodnight and there he was, nodding off on the sofa in his Army greens, the shadow of a smile marching across his face. Hut, two, three.
No doubt he would have worn his uniform out for a night on the town, but his father, Big Milton, kept him close to home. Milton was just 17.
Skipper, an only child, was “indulged,” to put it politely. He got new bicycles for his birthday and cameras for Christmas. At family gatherings, when his cousins were dressed in jeans and t-shirts, he was often decked out in a suit that matched his dad's.
So it surprised his cousins that he had enlisted and become, of all things, a paratrooper. My goodness. He wasn't 6 feet tall standing on a stepladder. His rifle and rucksack probably weighed as much as he did.
True, he had always been on the thin side. But he had also displayed, from his first breath, what folks called grit. His mother, Clara Lee, died four hours after delivering him. The doctors didn't think her fragile baby boy would live more than a day or two.
But he lived: 18 years, 11 months and 15 days.