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INTRODUCTION & DISCLAIMER – When Donny Jenkins’ birthdate comes up in the Vietnam War draft, Donny accepts his conscription without complaint despite not personally agreeing with the war. When he returns from his tour of duty in early 1969, young Donny struggles mentally and physically, plagued by nightmares, insomnia and health problems, things made even worse by the poor treatment of returning Vietnam servicemen.

Even when things are at their bleakest, Donny draws inspiration from thinking about the lifelong bravery of his best friend’s sickly younger sister Karen, a nice-natured and beautiful girl who even at the age of 18 is living on borrowed time as she struggles with the medical condition cystic fibrosis.

Donny and Karen have been friends most of their lives and closer since Donny’s return, but on the morning of one of the world’s most famous days – the moon landing – will Donny and Karen become more than friends?

All characters and events in the story are fictional, and any similarity to real person’s living or dead coincidental and unintentional. Only characters aged 18 and over are in any sexual situations. Please enjoy ‘Donny and Karen’s Giant Leap’ and rate and comment.

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PHILADEPLPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA, 1969

Growing up in a suburb of Philadelphia during the 1950s and 1960s, I developed a somewhat amusing reputation as having bad luck. At any game of chance, I was absolutely hopeless. I would play card games with my older sister Marcie, our cousins and friends and when we played Old Maid without fail I would be the one left holding the Queen of Hearts with no Queen of Diamonds to match with it. When we played Canasta, everyone would be eagerly laying out their Red Three bonus cards while my hand would be full of Black Three penalty cards.

Board games were no different, I would always be languishing well behind the other kids usually landing on ‘return to start’ squares with amazing regularity. Monopoly was always the worst, I was always the first player to go bankrupt. I never once won at bingo nights held by our church, and as for raffles forget it, I couldn’t even win a frozen chicken.

With a height of six feet two, I was relatively accomplished at basketball and played for my high school in my junior and senior years. We weren’t a good team, in fact we won one game in each year and obviously ran last. I played in every game bar these two victories, missing one with a bad cold and the other with an injury. On one occasion when we were kids my sister did an experiment with me, Marcie tossing a coin and getting me to call heads or tails. It took 24 times before I got the call right. Marcie commented to me after this, “Donny, if you were a cat you would land on your back.”

However, one day soon after I finished high school at age 18 my number did come up. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in a game of bingo or to win a prize in a raffle or some other competition. It was my date of birth for the Vietnam War draft. I didn’t want to go to the war, I didn’t agree with the war, but unlike the draft-dodgers, communists and hippies that I would come to despise I accepted my fate, entered the US Army and was off on a tour of duty to far away Vietnam.

Going to war seemed to be a family tradition. Both my paternal and maternal grandfathers along with their brothers served in the First World War, my father, his two brothers and Mom’s brothers were veterans of the Second World War and a cousin much older than me was in Korea in the early 1950s.

Apart from meeting some good men from all over the USA, Australia and New Zealand my tour of duty was a pure hell lasting a year, an impossible nightmare from which I could not awaken. Living in a tropical mosquito filled jungle with the most basic provisions and coming under heavy and unpredictable gunfire and bombing from the Viet Cong was bad enough, but add the Agent Orange defoliant into the mix and things went from bad to worse very quickly.

I was glad I was not shot, although I did suffer some cuts a number of which became infected and at one stage injured my back. I could only thank God that I was not captured and placed in a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp like other soldiers were. And when my tour ended and I returned to Philadelphia in spring 1969, I was thankful I returned in one piece. Many men, some from my platoon, came home missing limbs or in wheelchairs. Some never came home at all.

Out of the army, renting a room from Marcie and her husband and with a new job working as a teller in a bank, I tried to adjust to my life back in Philadelphia and be Mr. Donny Jenkins the civilian who wore a shirt, tie and trousers to work and served customers by stamping their passbooks and cashing their checks rather than GI Donny Jenkins serving in a jungle combat zone. Unfortunately, this was easier said than done.

I had good days, I had bad days, I had good weeks and I had bad weeks. On some days things would be going just fine at work, then a sudden movement just out of my line of vision, a car exhaust üsküdar escort backfiring outside, or the sounds of a helicopter flying by would fill me with terror. Some nights I would sleep like a baby and awaken feeling refreshed, happy and looking forward to a beautiful day. Other nights I would lie awake for hours in the middle of the night in a state of terror, or my sleep would be plagued with terrible nightmares and cause me to wake up in a cold sweat, feeling I was right back in the jungles of Vietnam getting sprayed by enemy gunfire, bombs and Agent Orange. Then there were headaches, intense migraines that came on without warning. I had never had migraines before going to Vietnam.

I knew that older men from previous wars had struggled with their memories of war so knew I was going through the same, but it was the reaction upon returning to America that upset me the most. While the Second and obviously the First World War ended before I was born, the returning servicemen were afforded welcome home celebrations and treated as heroes, and rightly so. I personally didn’t want that, all I wanted to do was return home and live a peaceful life in suburbia as a civilian.

Despite knowing how unpopular the war was back home, what I did not expect and nor did many of my fellow soldiers when we reached California was to be harassed and spat upon by anti-war protesters, pelted with fruit and vegetables and called baby killers and child murderers. It was worse on the West Coast where the hippie movement was stronger, but on the East Coast and back home in Philadelphia things weren’t perfect either.

I met some guys and girls from my class at high school and said hello, but they didn’t want to know me. Even older people who had lived through the First and Second World Wars were stand-offish around me and other men returning from Vietnam, it was like they couldn’t get away from us fast enough.

Others experiences were far worse. Meeting up for coffee with two friends from my platoon, young Italian guys visiting from New Jersey, we were officiously ordered out of the café we had chosen by the woman who ran it when she overheard us talking about our tour and told that Vietnam Veterans were not welcome in her establishment, some left wing students cheering her actions. At the bank one day, a black woman refused to be served by me, becoming hysterical and making a huge scene in the front of a long queue, yelling at me that the reason I had survived Vietnam was because I was white and her son had been sacrificed because he was black, and stating that she wished I was dead too. I felt bad that her son had died in Vietnam, but even if I had lost my own life in the conflict it wouldn’t have brought her son back.

I was glad I had the support of my family, close friends and my boss, the bank manager himself a Second World War veteran who had served in the Pacific, as it did help when times were bad. However, when I was really down and things seemed too much I always thought about one of my closest friends, a young woman who had to face enormous challenges almost every day of her difficult life. Her bravery always inspired me and made me feel better about my own difficulties.

*

So who was this brave young woman who inspired me so much? Growing up, our next door neighbors and close friends were the Chapman family, consisting of the father Tom and mother Martha, and their two daughters and son. Their son Scott, a tall, handsome, strapping blonde guy and I were born just a week apart in 1949, and we were best friends through childhood and our teenage years. We played in our high school team’s most unsuccessful basketball team, although Scott had managed to play in the two winning teams unlike me. Like me, Scott had donned a uniform after leaving school but not a military uniform, he had joined the police force, fulfilling his childhood ambition.

The elder of the Chapman sisters was Liz, she was three years older than Scott and now married with a baby, a second one on the way. The younger of the sisters was Karen, two years younger than Scott, and it was Karen and the way she dealt with her endless challenges that inspired me so much in life.

One glance at Karen, who had turned 18 in April and graduated from high school in June by a casual observer who did not know the girl wouldn’t think she had too many problems in life. In fact, when looks were handed out to women born in 1951, young Karen would have been first in line.

Standing about five feet five in height, Karen possessed flawless fair skin, long flowing blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes the color of sapphires. Her perfect, pretty face with a cute little nose could not have been more beautiful than if conceived by a toy maker who had been commissioned to create the doll of a perfect young woman, and when she laughed or smiled, something that happened often, she was even prettier. Karen’s slim figure was perfect from her head down to her dainty feet, her B-cup breasts the perfect fit for her wonderful figure. göztepe escort

Intelligent, popular at school and with a personality as nice as she looked, Karen came from a nice home with good, highly supportive parents and a brother and sister who adored her, it would seem that Karen had been dealt a perfect hand in life and how could she have to face problems that inspired a struggling Vietnam Veteran to get on with his life and not feel so bad about things? It was hard to believe that Karen was anything but perfect, but the sad reality that I would have done anything to change was that she had major problems. And while over time — at least I hoped — the after effects of war would fade for me, for Karen there was no escape from her problems.

My sister Marcie and I had never heard of cystic fibrosis until the Chapman family moved next door to us in 1955. Upon their first meeting with our family, Mrs. Chapman had to go and assist her four-year-old daughter Karen, who was wheezy and having trouble breathing. Marcie and I assumed the little girl had asthma or a dose of croup, but then Karen’s father explained to our parents that their youngest daughter had a rare medical condition called cystic fibrosis.

At first, Marcie and I were quite dismayed and fearful, worrying that cystic fibrosis might be some contagious disease like polio or TB. However, Mr. and Mrs. Chapman assured us that it was not contagious, it was a genetic condition that Karen had been born with and would have to live with throughout her life. They stressed that Karen was for the most part a normal kid who lived a normal life, but was prone to becoming ill with respiratory problems.

The Chapman kids soon became friends with my sister and I, and when Karen was well it was hard to believe anything was wrong with her. She would go days, weeks and months with no visible health problems save for having some breathing issues at times, but no worse than what she would if she had asthma. Karen would do all the things that regular kids did — going to school, running around having fun, riding her bike, playing with her friends, siblings and cousins and helping her family with chores around the house.

Each occasion Karen was well for an extended period of time, we would dare to dream that she would stay well forever. But we knew deep down that this was a wish that would never come true. Karen would inevitably get sick, often very quickly, and be in the children’s hospital or confined to bed rest at home with debilitating respiratory issues, sweaty, pale and listless, so exhausted that sometimes she was only able to get around when pushed in a wheelchair.

If Karen ever felt sorry for herself, she never said so and was so good at hiding it that she could have become a professional actress. She always maintained her sunny disposition and sense of humor no matter how sick she was, and was more concerned about the effect her poor health had upon others than for herself. I only remembered her crying when she was upset about her mother’s distress over her condition, out of unnecessary guilt when her family had to cut short their Jersey Shore summer vacation because Karen fell ill with a lung infection and when a young boy with cystic fibrosis she had become friendly with died, Karen close to inconsolable.

Most of Karen’s problems were with her respiratory system as this was the most obvious. Karen once showed me all the medication she had to take on a daily basis, joking that she and her family might as well live in a pharmacy, and also showed me the respirator she had in her bedroom. I knew she also had to go for regular physiotherapy sessions to clear fluid from her lungs, a procedure which Karen described as ‘unpleasant’ but I think she was under-stating this.

However, one time I overheard Mom and Mrs. Chapman talking and found out that Karen’s cystic fibrosis also affected her digestive system, causing Karen many problems when she went to the toilet. I of course never mentioned this, it was personal and private and no doubt extremely embarrassing to Karen but I felt so bad for her. Given all the problems with her lungs the last thing she needed was digestive issues too. I hated this vile invisible condition that blighted the life of one of my closest friends and in turn her family and wished there was a magic spell that could make Karen well, but this of course was just fantasy.

The kids and teachers at school were great with Karen, never any problems with teasing or bullying, and she was a good student who got good grades despite frequent and lengthy absences through illness. Scott absolutely adored his kid sister, and was always so supportive and protective of her.

In our teens, I developed something of a crush on Karen, but never did anything about it and never told anyone, least of all Scott. She was Scott’s younger sister, and too close a friend to consider asking out. Anyway, at that stage I don’t think Karen would have been reciprocal; she firmly saw me as a friend and when she istanbul pendik escort was 16 she started going out with a boy in her year at school named Ryan, and they were dating for a couple of years. I felt a little jealous but reminded myself that I should be supportive of and happy for Karen as a friend even though I never liked nor trusted Ryan, sentiments definitely shared by Scott, who kept a close watch on his sickly younger sister’s boyfriend.

Karen seemed happy enough with her boyfriend, so when I got back from the war I was surprised to learn they had broken up, Karen apparently ending the relationship after Ryan became a bit controlling of her and said some not so nice things about soldiers returning from Vietnam and also about the police, which of course included her brother Scott.

Thinking about Karen and how her bravery in the face of at times life threatening health challenges inspired and helped me in the darkest and most terrifying times in Vietnam, and back in Philadelphia thinking about Karen helped me cope in an America I no longer knew, a world where I and my fellow servicemen were hated for being in a war that we had no choice about and many of us disagreed with.

I had been seeing a lot of the now single Karen recently, with Karen getting a job at the library after graduating high school, and the library being across the street from the bank. It was a natural fit for Karen, being so sick over the years she was an avid reader often spending her time when confined to bed or hospital reading. Karen’s job at the library was not a part time job or a summer job before college, it was a full time, permanent job as she would not be going to college. Karen described college as being breeding grounds for communists and anti-war activists with very little academia hence her reason for not going, and while this probably had some truth I could not bear to think of the main, unspoken and dark reason why she would not be investing time and money in a university education, despite the grades to do so.

I had noticed that since Karen had been working at the library that many boys than usual were going there. Were they inspired to go there by the slim and attractive blonde girl who frequently wore mini-skirts and short dresses found behind the desk? Or maybe these boys were just more studious than my year group and Karen’s arrival at the library had nothing to do with it? Who knew?

Karen working so close was good for me as we often had lunch together. It was just as friends of course, but spending time with Karen and talking with her made me feel good, even on days when I was exhausted from insomnia or had struggled to get out of bed in the morning. Sometimes we would talk about my experiences in Vietnam, but I gave her strictly edited versions of what really went on out there. I didn’t want my permanent supply of nightmares to become Karen’s nightmares too, she had enough to deal with.

Despite Karen’s young age, she was a good listener and wise well beyond her 18 years. She could always find the right thing to say to me without being condescending or judgmental, but talking about things with her really helped. Perhaps Karen’s ongoing difficulties with her health and the fact that she often worried about her brother being safe in his job as a police officer were factors in this? I just hoped I made Karen feel good when we talked about issues in her life.

Of course, Karen and I did not spend all the time talking about her battles with cystic fibrosis and my experiences of Vietnam, we spent far more time talking about pleasurable things that we liked and made us happy. We both shared a liking of the bubblegum pop music that had become popular in the last few years, Karen saying that the catchy tunes and happy lyrics never failed to bring a smile to her face, even on the worst days. I agreed, these simple and happy songs always made me feel good, and an escape from the dark shadows that loomed over me.

I felt the same feelings I had long felt for Karen, my crush lingering, but again I did not act upon it. Karen was such a good friend and I hated to think of making things weird between us by making a misguided attempt at asking her out. I doubted Karen felt the same way about me as I did about her, and in any case I was probably not in the right shape, physically or mentally, to be dating.

However, this past week had been one of my better ones since returning. I had been sleeping far better than normal, no bad dreams or waking for long hours at night, tossing and turning and trying in vain to sleep. And Karen’s health was pretty good, apart from having to go home sick one Monday morning two weeks ago when she had respiratory problems which she soon recovered from and was back at work by the next day, so this was another good thing.

Another thing making me feel so good as I walked the short distance to my parents’ house this fine and sunny Sunday morning was that today I and millions of others would see one of the most iconic events in our lifetime. For the first time, man would land on and walk upon the moon and we would be watching it on television. I remembered how excited about how I was when John Glenn orbited the Earth back in 1962, but nothing compared to my excitement about the impending moon landing. Who couldn’t feel excited and happy on this day?

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