Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published Feb 19, 2004

About a Corn Cob


I just read Newsweek’s evenhanded account of the war years of George Bush and John Kerry. (Feb 23, 2004) Although these gentlemen are five and seven years older than me, respectively, we were all caught up in Vietnam , our nation’s longest running war. In 1968, the year Bush graduated from college to the National Guard, John Kerry was patrolling the Mekong Delta. It was the year of the Tet Offensive, the Mai Lai massacre and the assassinations of anti-war candidate Robert Kennedy and anti-war critic Martin Luther King. It was also the year my crusty old American Lit teacher told our class that his comrades-in-arms had never cut the ring fingers off of the enemy’s dead for souvenirs. I was a high school junior.


I didn’t need Mr. Haugen’s persuasion to oppose the Vietnam War. For four years I had heard my own father, another WW II vet, cuss out Lyndon Johnson every time the President deployed more troops to Vietnam .


In my senior year I drew number 41 out of 365 in the draft lottery. Thanks to a student deferment the only thing standing between me and the military was four years of college. That gave me four years to protest the war and I would protest!


After my senior year I worked Minnesota ’s “corn pack.”  I was put on a line that sent pallets of sweet corn cobs to be flash frozen. There were fifteen or twenty of us from Mankato . We were picked up at daybreak and bussed 25 miles to Waseca’s Birds Eye plant. There we joined Waseca kids, farm wives and Mexican migrants on a ten hour day not counting the two-way bus ride. It wasn’t particularly hard work but it was a damn long day.


There was a whiff of resentment between the Waseca boys and the Mexicans who moved into their town every summer. Fortunately, the Waseca kids and the migrant kids minded their own business and socialized separately during breaks.


One of the Mankato kids was a tall beanpole of a kid a couple years older than me. I hadn’t known him because he had attended Mankato State ’s “laboratory” high school where ambitious parents sent their kids to give them a superior education. He wore army fatigues and sported a scraggly beard like Che Guevara's.


One day "Che" was bored and decided to liven things up. He whipped a loose corn cob at the back of one of the Waseca boys, an alpha male, nailing him on the head. Pleased with his marksmanship Che turned around and chuckled into his hand so the victim wouldn’t notice him. I’m sure that most of the Mexican kids on our line saw Che do the dirty deed. None of us was willing to break the pan-cultural taboo against ratting out a troublemaker, however, so we all continued working.


The Alpha male grabbed his head and glared at the Mexicans on our line. It only took him an instant to fix on the person he was sure had insulted him. He charged over to our line, followed by his friends, his gaze locked on one of the Mexican kids. As a circle of hostile Mexicans and Wasecans formed on the factory floor Che was doubled over in mirth. The warring parties were so intent on defending their honor that they were oblivious to the bemused Che.


Unlike the Vietnam War our Mexican standoff blew over quickly. Someone stepped in and put an end to it. It’s not surprising I’ve forgotten how the fight ended because an anticlimax is by self-definition unmemorable. No one ever fingered Che.


A few weeks later I began college. War protests, although in their infancy, were beginning to make the leap from the nation’s elite universities to state colleges. I would soon join a peace march that would block Mankato ’s main intersection and royally irritate drivers who could not understand how being forced to take detours would end the Vietnam War.


The first week of class I walked past a circle of curious onlookers surrounding a student who was burning his draft card. It was Che, the corn cob provocateur, dressed in his khaki finest. Within the year Che would break into a Draft Board office and burn selective service files. He would be convicted for his crime and thus become an anti-war martyr. He was sent to a mental hospital.


Over the last thirty years I have had many occasions to watch people like Che on both sides of the political spectrum. A lot of these folks are having a high old time now that we are in Iraq . Keep an eye out for flying corn cobs.


Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at:  www.snowbizz.com