“South Carolina is hot, too,” Wendy says, swatting away a fly hovering over the apple pie. “You get used to it.”
The women sit at the picnic tables talking and watching over the desserts. In a few minutes Sharon will call the men back to the tables.
They have already cooked and eaten their hotdogs. Then the men separated, moving off towards a still-hot barbecue grill. During dinner, food talk was the focus. Now the men will discuss more serious things: their AOB class, their army commitment, maybe even Vietnam.
Sharon wonders why the women aren’t discussing their husbands’ time in the army, their fears of a Vietnam tour. Is something not real if you don’t talk about it? Or is it because it is only their husbands’ decision – they have been brought up to support such choices regardless of their own feelings?
In a letter last week to her mother she wrote: “In many respects one could think we were on a huge college campus, but the war hangs over everything. The career men’s wives don’t seem as worried about it as the wives of other second lieutenants who want to serve their time and get out. Of course, the career women could be putting on a front because they have to.”
Sharon watches Wendy, Kim, Donna and the others chatting about the food in the commissary and the bargains at the PX. How many of these women believe the war in Vietnam is right? How many feel it is the duty of their husbands to fight?
The truth is, she is relieved the women don’t talk about their feelings because undoubtedly they would expect her to reciprocate. She doesn’t want to share with these other women her opinions and fears. Ever since … ever since sixth grade she has chosen not to reveal her innermost thoughts. There are things even Robert does not know.
She blinks away the moisture in her eyes and walks towards the men to see if they’re ready for dessert.
As she approaches she hears Jim talking, gesturing with his hands. “The South has a long history of military tradition,” he says. “At my college graduation the Confederate flag was bigger than the American flag.”
Sharon’s breath catches. How can this be? Then she remembers Anne’s words when they visited Elizabeth – “These Southerners are in love with the ‘noble duty’ of the army.” And in psychological terms, doesn’t it seem reasonable that the descendants of the losers would continually strive to prove that Confederacy soldiers are as good as the Union ones?
Sharon reaches a spot behind Robert just as a man with a shaved head laughs. He’s in cutoff jeans and an olive green sweatshirt cut out at the armholes.
“You guys don’t know shit about what you’re talking about.” He grins and looks at the other men. “Now you should see the dinks fight. That’s something to see.”
Sharon leans close to Robert to whisper in his ear. “What does he mean by dinks?” Robert turns his head to look at her, then places a hand on her arm and leads her away from the group.
“Don’t listen to that guy. He and his warrant officer pals are the helicopter pilots in our class I told you about. They’re a little rough.”
Sharon glances back at the man. “I still want to know what he meant by dinks.”
Robert hesitates. “It’s a derogatory term for the Vietnamese.” He pats her arm and returns to the men.