The Goofy, Flower-Child in Green Fatigues
Bob Bayer's voice on
the telephone that night he called me at the newspaper was charged with
adrenaline. I knew it was bad news even before he said, "Gus died."
Gus. The guy whom I served with in Vietnam as a Marine combat correspondent. The goofy, flower-child in green fatigues. The guy who wrote a novel proclaimed by some as the finest work of fiction on the Vietnam War. The guy who always ordered a large milk and large Coke to go with his fast food. The guy who would get a $10,000 royalty check and a month later have to borrow money for a dinner.
As I struggled for words, Bob told me Gus was found dead in his hotel room on the island in Greece where he had moved some months ago. Somehow, I guess I shouldn't have been shocked. I had a haunting feeling when Gus left for Greece that we wouldn't see him again because he had no one to take care of him. Gus had always been a joint care project for some of us who served with him in Vietnam. Bayer housed and fed him off and on for years. When Gus moved to Tacoma to stay with his mother and brother, Steve Berntson trundled him to a VA hospital when Gus's diabetes, aggravated by a penchant for alcohol, had left him a muttering heap underneath a kitchen table. Gus could always use a ride someplace. And somebody to talk to.
He died alone, without the people who cared about him. I always contend his problems started when he was convicted of unlawfully possessing overdue library books in San Luis Obispo. The media had a feeding frenzy, reporting his lifetime book collection of 10,000 volumes where stolen when, in the final count, only some 300 books were in dispute. While rapists and crack dealers cut deals, the local prosecutor got Gus a jail sentence.
He was never the same after that. Sure, he wrote a detective novel that received good reviews. But he started drinking heavily and was obssessed by what had happened to him.
He moved to Greece hoping to rekindle his creative fires. Instead, he just drank more, didn't take his medication for the diabetes and died.
For a long time I was angry. I was angry at what the legal system had done to him. I was angry at some of the other former correspondents who wouldn't even take the time - as some of us did - to write to the presiding judge in an attempt to mitigate Gus's case. I was angry he didn't take care of himself. I was angry I would never again sit in a restaurant with Gus as he regaled us with tales of his battles with publishers and the ideas he had for future books.
Later, I realized it wasn't anger. I just miss my buddy.
written by Earl Gerheim
Considered the most highly educated mailman in Spokane, Washington, Earl Gerheim enjoyed a 23-year journalism career before finally making a major career change that sees him now fighting off angry dogs instead of angry coaches. He has worked for The Associated Press and three newspapers, covering everything from world title fights, the Rose Bowl, hockey playoffs, politics and travel. The high point, however, was his time as a Marine combat correspondent in Vietnam from 1967-68.
Earl Gerheim was one of the contributors
to the 1997 Gus Hasford Symposium
Photo of Gerheim in the Photo Album
Stories by Earl Gerheim at the Mike Company website
Earl Gerheim's Stories and News releases at the Kilo 3/5 website
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