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3rd division, 3rd battalion, 3rd platoon trini
My name is Richard Arrindell and I am a Vietnam veteran. I was a US Marine in Da Nang. I would say I’m from either Forest Reserve or San Fernando. But I’m definitely a South boy.
I went to St Peter’s, Forres Reserve and Pointe-a-Pierre, Mt St Benedict, RC Boys’ Catholic and St Benedict’s College, La Romaine. None of which I learned a bloody thing at! I listen to pretty much any type of music except Trinidadian music. I think music lost its way after calypso. But that could just be my age.
After my GCEs, my mother sent me to Los Angeles, where her brother lived. I said, “I gotta do something!” And that something was to join the Marine Corps. I was a kid and had swallowed whole all the John Wayne propaganda out of Hollywood but going through boot camp made me aware of the other side of being a soldier.
I read a lot online, but mostly short essays, not a book or anything. Either my attention span is shrinking or…actually, it has to be that.
In the seventh week of boot camp, I got an infected blister and spent two weeks in hospital, where I found out what trainees had to do, say, 1,000 pushups a day, 1,000 squat jumps, run three miles, whatever. They had been telling us, “Everybody do 100 pushups as punishment for Arrindell f***ing up!” It wasn’t punishment.
We were supposed to do it anyway, but they made it punishment, to break our spirit. To drive us into being soldiers. At graduation, my drill instructor said, “Arrindell, you are the most disrespectful human being I’ve ever had to deal with!” And I said to myself, “Thank God: I survived!”
I tried to avoid watching them but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen most of the Vietnam movies. I couldn’t imagine them depicting it right.
I was in Vietnam for a year, the normal rotation, in Da Nang with the Third Marine Division, Third Battalion, Third Platoon. I wasn’t given the option of being an infantryman or a mechanic and there was no choice there. Hey! I want to live! I became a mechanic.
My total experience of combat occurred when our engineering company took a lot of scrap lumber out to the village. Everybody rushed the truck and a female with a baby in her arms got pushed aside. Screaming, she grabbed her breast and squeezed this thick arc of milk 30 feet in the air. She sprayed an arc 50 feet wide. Like all traumatic occasions, this one seemed to take place in slow motion. Eyes popped open, mouths dropped, everybody stood still. And she calmly walked up, chose what lumber she wanted, and left. She did put her breast back, though.
I never met another Trinidadian in Vietnam. There were quite a few in LA but I had decided to immerse myself in the American culture. When I left Trinidad, if you wanted sex, you would have to be married. In LA, it was the beginning of the Sexual Revolution. One of the major attractions of America for me was that I was going to get laid.
I worked as a photographer in LA. The GI Bill took care of my living expenses and a Californian veteran scholarship my tuition for three years at Art Centre College of Design. After graduation all of my peers were in positions to give me work. So, for the next 15 years, I did very well. When my connections started moving on, I decided not to beat my head against it, but to go sailing. The idea was to get to Trinidad for Carnival.
The Rodney King episode made me want to get back to the freedom I remembered in Trinidad. Whether it’s lawless freedom or not, it’s still freedom! America may be the home of the brave but it ain’t the land of the free! I was burglarised in LA and, because I had some parking tickets, when the police came to my house, they arrested me! Instead of taking the information on the burglary, they took me to jail!
I was missing the green of Trinidad. Everything was so brown and dry in LA! Towards the end of my time there, I was thinking, “You know, I might stay, if it would only rain!” A Trini is a person with a circle of friends of a hundred people. In LA, you know three or four people.
To me, Trinidad and Tobago means a lot of mountains and trees around me. And freedom from a police state.
• Read a longer version of this feature at www.BCRaw.com
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