Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
CLOSE ×

Search

Leaving AARP.org Website

You are now leaving AARP.org and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

When Flower Power Met Combat Steel ... and Fell in Love

Vietnam divided America, but this pair of opposites came together

spinner image a man and woman in a photo with a flag and flowers behind them
Illustration: Sean McCabe (Source: Courtesy: Emaus)

It was 1970.

I was a member of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), marching for peace and wielding a protest sign.

spinner image people hold up a welcome home sign as someone from the military stands before an american flag. the words aarp veteran report appear above the flag
Getty Images/AARP

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

My future husband supported Richard Nixon, was flying in a helicopter over rice paddies and clutched an M16.

That the likes of the two of us should meet and fall in love was nowhere in my consciousness. If a fortune-teller had shown me this future, I would have demanded a refund.

But there we were, several years later, at a party where neither of us belonged. The men, mostly airline pilots, were of no interest to me. Instead, my heart riveted to the tall, wiry guy with a sexy beard.

That tall, handsome man insists he had his eyes on a striking blonde until I intervened.

There was no denying what brought us together: that animal magnetism that makes two people unable to sleep, eat or think unless they are with each other.

Within weeks we were a couple. And we began to learn about each other’s lives.

He doled out his war experiences in snippets, tiny morsels he fed me whenever I persisted. But it wasn’t an easy topic for him to discuss.

spinner image Image Alt Attribute

AARP Membership

LIMITED TIME OFFER

Flash Sale! Join AARP today for $16 per year. Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.

Join Now

Upon coming home from Vietnam, he had walked off the plane and into the bathroom, where he took off his uniform and stuffed it into the trash. He walked out a civilian, pushing his war experiences to the far corners of his mind to gather cobwebs.

He is still a civilian, but the memories couldn’t stay buried forever. They came rushing forward after he was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor attributed to Agent Orange.

One day during his recuperation, he asked me if I wanted to go to the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) bar for a drink.  

That cramped, smoky room was not my idea of a good time.

But after years of subjecting him to poetry readings, vintage markets and incense to keep the spiritual balance in our home, I figured I owed him this much.

spinner image membership-card-w-shadow-192x134

Join AARP today for $16 per year. Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.

That night, I saw a new side of my husband. One that was there all along. An aspect beneath the surface that helped form all he is today.

As he talked to the man on the barstool beside him it became apparent that veterans didn’t have to fight in the same war or join the same branch of the military to feel camaraderie.

See more Health & Wellness offers >

I sipped my martini and listened. The bond he had with this complete stranger was stronger than the ones I had made with fellow protesters, whom I lost touch with decades ago.

Our lives were so different back in that era, we could have lived on adjoining planets.

While I was dabbling in illicit substances and swaying to psychedelic music with longhaired boys I thought were the finest my country could offer, my husband was sleeping rough in Southeast Asia among soldiers who truly were the best of America.

I was spending my weekends painting peace signs on love beads and partying. He was flying into Firebase T-Bone from Da Nang while stationed with XXIV Corps.

Riding in my car to the beach, I sang along with Creedence Clearwater Revival shouting, “I ain’t no senator’s son.” My husband later told me that he had sat on a sandbag letting “Brown Sugar” from the Rolling Stones carry him away to sweeter surroundings.

We did have something in common. I didn’t understand much about the war I was protesting and the men dying in it. He knew very little about the war he was fighting or those marching against it.

I wouldn’t change anything. We took different paths to our destination: each other.

I’m still a liberal. When I look in the mirror, that hippie chick, her curly hair now white, smiles back at me, surprised yet pleased with how our life has been.

My husband remains a proud conservative. Our votes cancel each other out. But after 43 years of marriage, nothing can cancel out our love.

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

Janie Emaus is the author of two books with a third to be published in early 2023. Her essays, stories and articles have been published in numerous magazines, anthologies and online publicatiuons. She lives in Southern California with her husband, a veteran of the Vietnam War. More about her work can be found at www.janieemaus.com.

Discover AARP Members Only Access

Join AARP to Continue

Already a Member?

spinner image membership-card-w-shadow-192x134

Join AARP today for $16 per year. Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.