Why Danny quit the army:
'I got tired of killing farmers'
By Leslie Cunningham / The Rag Blog / April 15, 2010
I encountered Danny at the McDonald's in Austin's Oak Hill neighborhood. He was there with his daughter Abby, I with my granddaughter Mackenzie. The little girls hit it off and went climbing around the steps and tunnels of the outdoor play structure, while Danny and I lounged on separate benches. As is often the case in these situations, the grownups got to talking.
Danny slouched on the bench, handsome face brooding under his dark eyebrows. He told me that he was in Austin with his parents, visiting relatives. He and his 5-year-old daughter lived with his parents in a small town near Abilene. I asked if he was from there. Originally (he said), but he'd been away for a long time and recently moved back from Colorado.
With some trepidation, I asked about Abby's mother, "Hunh," he scowled. "She's in jail. Selling drugs, over and over." In Colorado? "Colorado Springs. Army bases are zoos. One big trailer park. Drugs, booze, domestic abuse. . . I had to get away from there. I want to be a good dad," he inclined his head toward Abby, "and being with her grandparents helps."
Now he and Abby were staying with his parents to save money while he went to college to become a physician's assistant. Good profession, I said, mentioning that my husband went to nursing school after he was discharged from Vietnam. "Yeah," he replied, "a lot better than what I was doing."
And what had he been doing? "I was in the Army for 15 years until I quit." With only five years left 'til retirement with all its benefits? "Yeah, I couldn't stand it any more." Because? He shrugged and slouched down on the bench. "I got tired of killing farmers." Now, he told me, he talks to young people who are thinking of joining the military. "I've talked hundreds into not going. I tell them it takes more guts to go to college and pay off student loans than to drive a tank through some farmer's house."
Did he know about Iraq Vets Against the War, I asked. He looked at me suspiciously; he'd never heard of it. "There really is such a thing?" Yes, I said, just google "Iraq Veterans Against the War." Please do, I wanted to say. I beg you, please do. But just then a round, sweet-looking young woman with two rambunctious kids came through the door from the restaurant, and my conversation with Danny ended. The two younger adults started talking.
The young woman was in the Reserves, she said. She was excited because her unit was about to be deployed to Afghanistan. "You're looking forward to it?" Danny asked. Oh yes, she said. She'd been waiting for a long time for this, and she wanted to support her buddies and contribute more to the mission.
"Be careful what you look forward to," said Danny. "It may not be what you think." His remark didn't seem to dent her enthusiasm. He seemed to tire of the conversation and turned away. His face and his voice softened for a moment as he called for Abby. She took his hand as they walked out of the restaurant, his shoulders sagging and weary.
With Abby gone, Mackenzie didn't care much about staying on the play structure. She put her shoes back on and we headed out. I thought I ought to say something meaningful to the young woman as we passed her, but I couldn't think of much. "Good luck," I said. "Hope you come back OK." And we were gone.
[Leslie Cunningham works with the Retiree Organizing Committee of the Texas State Employees Union. She has been an activist for 50 years and a socialist for 40.]
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