The Fall of 1969
Just as the past 14 months has had its fair share of notable events, so did the year 1969. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, the Stonewall Riots took place, and the Manson family committed a series of graphic murders. Despite all of that, the most topical event in the United States was the ongoing war in Vietnam which had just gone through some of the most bloody fighting yet at Hamburger Hill in May.
That year, a young man just upon completing his first semester in law school at Northwestern was drafted into the Army. This was just after the graduate school exemption was removed, but also prior to the implementation of the draft lottery. Given that he was a college graduate, he could have chosen to serve as an officer; however, that would require a four year commitment instead of a two year one. Given the growing unpopularity of the war and the increase in severity, he naturally took the two year option. After completing basic training and AIT, David Muschler was shipped off to central Vietnam as an infantryman in the legendary 101st Airborne Division.
Now Dave had one true love, and no it was not yet my mother, though I would suspect she might still come second to his love for the Chicago Cubs. Born in 1946, he had just missed the Cubs prior World Series appearance in 1945. In 1969, the Cubs had promise. With future Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, and Fergie Jenkins, coupled with Randy Hundley, Glen Beckert, and Don Kessinger, it was not unreasonable that the Cubs were projected to be great. Indeed they were great, but alas this is the franchise that would go on to be called the lovable losers.
Through the season, Dave would eagerly check the standings in the sports pages of the Chicago Tribune that he would get for free every three or four days while in the field from a resupply (what a perk…). This was the first year of divisional play and on August 14th, the Cubs were 10 games up on the New York Mets for the NL East crown. Then, as most Cubs stories go, things took a turn for the worse. Like clockwork, Dave would immediately check the sports page first when getting the paper, and like clockwork, the Cubs lead shrank. By season’s end, the Cubs had fallen to second place and missed the playoffs while the Miracle Mets led by Tom Seaver would go on to win the fall classic for the first time in their history in their 8th year of existence.
Dave would finish his year in Vietnam and then complete his second year of service stateside and finish his commitment to the United States. Upon return, he would complete his law school degree at Northwestern and begin practicing law while also meeting and marrying his future wife and having two children. All the while, he stayed committed to the Cubs and passed that love onto his wife and children. The suffering of being a Cubs fan continued… 1984, 1989, 2003, and 2008 to name the most notable failures. Outside of being a faithful Cubs fan, he read dozens, if not hundreds of books on Vietnam and the war. In 2011, he finally made his first trip back to Vietnam after 41 years. He fell in love with the country. The culture, the people, the scenery, the history, and the food.
I had always wanted to travel with my Dad to Vietnam and in 2016, I jumped at the opportunity. I let him plan the details and work with our friend and guide Khoa on an itinerary. We would fly to Vietnam on November 5th. At the same time, the Cubs were actually good again and showing promise. They had even defeated their arch-rivals in the 2015 NLDS before falling to those dang Mets again in the NLCS. In 2016, they led their division and all of baseball wire-to-wire. We had seen this story before in 2008 (they were embarrassingly swept in the first round of the playoffs), so I was cautious to not overhype it.
Come playoff time, they defeated the San Francisco Giants in the first round. I was then able to go to the first game of the NLCS series against the Los Angeles Dodgers with him. Now dubbed the Montero Game (at least by us), it is one of my fondest memories. The Cubs would go on to defeat the Dodgers in six games (on my Dad’s 70th birthday to boot) to secure their first trip to the fall classic since 1945. In the World Series, they faced another team with an epic postseason drought, the Cleveland Indians (soon to be renamed finally) who had not won since 1948 and had suffered an epic World Series loss in 1997.
They split the first two games in Cleveland which guaranteed that my dad would at least get to go to a World Series game as he had a ticket to Game 5. The Cubs lost games 3 and 4 and things were looking very very bleak. At least he would get to go to a game, but I didn’t want it to be him going to the game where Cleveland won it. Fortunately, the Cubs won it in a one run nail biter. Through a series of events that still seems like a dream, they won Games 6 and 7 and finally ended their years of futility and despair. Perhaps more importantly to me, they were able to do it in my Dad’s lifetime.
On the evening of the World Series parade, we headed to O’Hare airport to embark on a journey to Vietnam where I had the opportunity to visit the country that meant so much to my Dad. I had set the guidelines to my Dad as, if I could only visit Vietnam once in my life with him, what should we see. I’ll spare the entire trip itinerary, but we toured the whole country with our friend and guide Khoa starting from North Vietnam and going all the way to South Vietnam while spending the most time in Central Vietnam around Huế and Da Nang where he was primarily stationed. To date, it is the most impactful trip I have taken in my life and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. Happy Father’s Day Dad!