The Measure of our Youth

Debra Fran Baker

dfbaker@panix.com


"And the measure of our torment is the measure of our youth.
God help us, for we knew the worst too young!"

Gentlemen-rankers
Rudyard Kipling

Chapter One

June, 1969

"The strategies outlined by the Pentagon have been planned by our best and most experienced military minds. The problem lies not in conception but in execution."

The pompous ass in the well-tailored suit stood in front of the lecture hall with his overhead projector and his pointer, pretending to know why the US was doing so badly in Vietnam. Blair Sandburg, from his privileged position in the front row, could tell from one look in James Ellison's clear blue eyes exactly how much experience he had.

"What the hell do you know about it, man?"

Ellison blinked at the interruption. "I beg your pardon...sir?"

Blair grimaced. Sir. Right. He knew what he looked like. He hadn't cut his hair since he'd been released from the hospital, so it curled to his shoulders, held back by a blue bandanna. His jeans had been old when he bought them and he hadn't bothered to tuck the right leg under his stump. His wheelchair was battered and covered with stickers, and his t-shirt proclaimed his allegiance to nothing at all. "I said, what the hell do you know about it? You were never there."

"I have studied this thoroughly. I have a PhD in military history. One does not need to be at the front to..."

"Like hell. You can toss all your pretty theories around, *professor*, but you are not going to stand there and tell me it was *my* fault we're losing this pissant war." Blair snarled to hide the pain - once upon a time, he was going to be a professor himself, until fate, the draft board and his own stupid conscience intervened.

Blair was dimly aware that the rest of the audience was protesting the interruption - the ones in fringe and jeans at Ellison, the ones in suits and ties at him, but he only heard one man.

"Of course not. I lay the blame for this 'pissant war' at the middle levels of the military, not at the enlisted. I would appreciate if you heard me out." Ellison smiled, and Blair was momentarily dazzled.
"I'm listening, professor, but I'm warning you right now...you better present your side well." He stared straight into his eyes to make his challenge clear. Ellison stared back at him, taking the challenge. He directed the lecture towards Blair and Blair alone, never looking at any other member of the audience. Even at the end, during the question and answer period, Ellison kept those eyes on him.

Blair stayed behind when the whole thing was over. After the last person filed out, Ellison climbed down from the stage. He took a folding chair from the back of the room and placed it in front of Blair. When he straddled it, tugging automatically at his sharply creased pants, they were eye level to each other. "Well?" There was that grin again.

Blair had to grin back, which destroyed the entire anger thing. "Not bad, doc. I like your thesis about midlevel officers doing the screwing up. You came up with some right-on examples, too. I was there for a couple of them."

"Yeah. So I wasn't so...out of touch as you thought."

"No way. It was a cool lecture - cooler than I thought someone as Establishment as you would produce." He waited to see the reaction.

Ellison shru