The Story of the Mug
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
The Story of the Mug
Gary Dean Wood
It was just before Veterans' Day, 2004, when I got a call from my mother. She had found some of my things that I had left at her house, and she asked me to come and get them. I had been a long-haul truck driver, and there was no telling what she had found since I had bought many things during those fifteen years. My driving ended when my back was about gone, and I was told I would be lucky if I were to walk in five years. So, I went back to school to become a counselor. I was facing a term paper in history on the Sixties, 1960s that is, and did not have a clue as to what I was going to write about. That is when "The Mug" reentered my life. As a truck driver, I had looked out for that something special that caught my eye, and I could not live without. I met the dealer who sold me the mug in Quartzsite, Arizona, for just five dollars. This is how I ended up with the mug and the story behind it.
The story of the mug starts in 1965; a young man had just gotten his draft notice in the mail. It was a low number, meaning that he would have to report for duty in the Army soon. The young man spoke to his father about his fears of going to Vietnam and dying there. His father told him about doing his duty for his country and for his family's honor. The son started having dreams of his death in Vietnam; his return in these dreams was in a coffin. His father listened to his son's concerns and his son's dreams of impending death. His father told him every soldier who went into combat had the same feelings and not to worry; it would be all right. "Just go out and do your duty and come home when you are through." The son got his notice in the mail to report for duty from the Army. After boot camp, the son got orders to go to Vietnam; just like in his dream, his fears had come true. The son came home from boot camp on leave. Again, he told his father that he was still having dreams of his impending death in Vietnam. His father again said not to worry, he would do fine.
As a jest, the father went to a store and bought two large beer mugs. These beer mugs are quite common. You can still buy them to this day. The father wanted the mugs to be special, so he had the words "Draft beer, not me" put on the two mugs. The father showed them to his son and told him upon his return that he and his father would have their drafts in their mugs. The son reported to Vietnam and performed well. He was promoted to squad leader. The son earned the Purple Heart. In doing so, though, the son had paid the highest price; the fears of his death had come true. He was killed in Vietnam, saving the lives of the members in his squad during an ambush.
The father got the news of his son's death and put the two mugs in a place of honor in his son's memory. The two mugs were never filled with the draft beer that the father had promised his son. The father could not do it since his son would not be with him to drink from the other mug. The mugs sat in the place of honor for over thirty years until the day that the father was moving one of them. He dropped it, and it shattered on the floor.
Earlier I mentioned that I bought the mug from a dealer, but what I did not say was that the father had just sold it to the dealer, and he was still there at the stand. That's how I came by the story behind the mug. As the father and I talked about his son, tears came to the father's eyes. I asked the father if I could do one thing: I had friends who went to Vietnam and I never heard from them again. I was too young to go by six months. My question to the father was could I have one draft beer in the mug, one beer to honor those who never came home, and those like his son who gave their all for our country. The father told me I could do whatever I wanted with the mug; it was mine now. I told him I couldn't do it without his consent. The man told me he would be proud if I would honor his son and the others who never came home. One strange thing I thought, though, at the time was that the man would not tell me his name. He asked that I make my toast to all of America's fallen soldiers in Vietnam.
I walked into the bar that I used to go to and had the bartender fill up the mug. I raised it into the air and said, "For you who gave it your all. Your honor and your lives are not forgotten." I drank the beer, had the mug washed, took it home, and found it a place of honor in my house.
I was in Quartzsite a week later, and I went looking for the father. I met his wife instead, told her who I was, and said I wanted to speak to her husband to let him know that I had paid my tribute to the fallen soldiers in Vietnam. The man's wife told me that her husband had told her about our meeting and our talk about their son and the mug. She said she had not seen him as happy as he was for a number of years since the death of their son. The night that I bought the mug, the father went to bed and never woke up; he passed away in his sleep. I like to think that the father and son are having that draft beer together some place.
I think that the father and his son would want people to know their story. The mug is in good shape for being forty years old, no cracks or chips in the glass, but the lettering has faded and shows some age. It now sits in my history professor's office, the office of Professor Joseph Bisson at San Joaquin Delta College. His office is on the fourth floor of Holt. If you go there, you can see the mug, waiting for the day someone asks about it so the Story of the Mug can be told again