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John Lindquist

by Jan Christensen / photo by Peter DiAntoni John Lindquist

John Lindquist had intended to join the Marine Corps right after he graduated from Washington High School in 1966. But he went to London to see the Rolling Stones first. Then, as so often happens, life got complicated. He fell in love with an American girl whose parents lived in Europe, “the thirty-third girl I asked to dance at Tilles Discotheque on Oxford Street.” No one would dance with him, “an American boy from Milwaukee with real short hair, dressed in brand new Carnaby Street ‘mod’ clothes.” But Lisa did. And when he got back to Milwaukee, he couldn’t stop thinking about her. So he postponed the Marines once again, and go to college. Then he decided to go back to London and go to night school. But that didn’t satisfy the conditions for a student deferment, and as the prospect of the draft loomed, John decided once again on the Marines. He and Lisa came back to Milwaukee and got married, and John enlisted. It was the end of the Summer of Love. John had long hair, wore an English morning coat and top hat. Lisa shimmered in a silver mini dress. They couldn’t get into a fancy French restaurant during their honeymoon, even though John was about to go serve his country in a foreign land. How would the hip image go down with the Marines? John wasn’t worried. “I grew up with “Better Dead Than Red” and “Kill A Commie For Mommie,” he explains. “I just also happened to listen to Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones.” The times they were a-changin’. John Lindquist joined the United States Marine Corps on October 23, 1967. He remembers exactly. He served in Vietnam from May, 1968, to May, 1969: “one year, twenty-five days, and 48 hours.” He remembers that exactly, too. He was discharged on October 8, 1969. He came home to a “Dear John” letter from his wife. A daughter, Jessica, had been born in London while he was in Vietnam. He wouldn’t see her until she was 21 years old. Then he joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He went to Washington in April of 1971, when the Vietnam vets occupied the Capital grounds and camped on the Mall. They threw their “souvenirs of war” over the fence erected around the White House–medals, discharge papers, prosthetic limbs. He met Ann Bailey in 1970, when they both worked for VVAW. They were married in 1976. They bought their house in the 3300 block of Fratney in 1979 with money from the GI Bill. He worked with vets who had been exposed to Agent Orange. He helped get Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (then called Post Vietnam Syndrome) recognized by the medical establishment. He served as a Regional Coordinator, then in the National Office of VVAW until the mid ’90s. John had tried to go back to college, but like many young men of his time, found it irrelevant to sit and listen to people who hadn’t seen half the things he had seen, or to memorize facts out of a book. In 1974, he took a job with the city. He’s been there ever since. Worked his way up from “ditch digger” to operating engineer. Today he operates 24 different machines. Milwaukee and its health as a community became very important to John. When he came back from Vietnam, he moved into the Riverwest neighborhood. He saw lots that needed to be done. He got involved with Block Clubs. He took on a one-man project to eliminate gang graffiti. This goal was neither easy nor safe. John tells stories of going out for walks with his dogs in the wee hours of the morning, dressed like a street person, walking through the alleys to collect aluminum cans. When he found graffiti, he’d bring out his paint and his brush, paint over the gang signs, then go back undercover. His “beat” was Capitol Drive to Center Street, First Street to the River. “There was no graffiti hotline at that time,” he explained. “Norquist got that idea from me.” John refers to himself as “John Lindquist No-Relation-To-Norquist,” and gets a laugh every time. He is an active member of the Local 139 Operating Engineers of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. He has worked hard to preserve basic city services, but feels that he’s had to fight Mayor Norquist every step of the way. “Our neighborhood has gotten better over the years,” he says, “but we’ve had to fight for it.” John continues to fight, and to work. “I learned a lot from the Marines,” he admits, “although it took a lot of years to appreciate it.” First of all, he says, he survived. And he’s got a “devil-dog stick-to-it attitude” that makes him realize that even if he loses sometimes, he wins often. Other benefits: “organization, determination, esprit de corps, and an appreciation of honor.” And the realization that one person can make a difference. And a true understanding that “women hold up half the sky.” And what will he do about the new war in the Gulf? “I’ll go to my job and continue to help people in my city. I’ll work with VVAW to support our troops with letters and care packages while they’re there, and get ready to fight for veterans’ services once they get out. We don’t know what they could be facing, and we need our government to recognize that soldiers are not ‘Dixie Cups’ who can be used once and thrown away.” If one person can make a difference, John Lindquist will do it. He does it every day. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 4 – April 2003
John Lindquist