“Dress warm,” Drezella advised. “Queens Naval Hospital isn’t near Long Island Sound but it’s supposed to get down to the mid-thirties or below during the day.” Drezella Fusten was the New York regional president of the Iona Dell Fan Club. The academy award-nominated actress, Iona Dell, had made three visits to North Vietnam to validate her claim that not all Americans were in favor of United States involvement in the Vietnam War. Dell used her fan clubs as branch offices for her political activism. Hanoi contacted her on the 20th immediately after Nixon’s speech. On Christmas Day, all of the Dell Fan Club offices were tasked with the mission to demonstrate anti-war sentiment and advocate total withdrawal from military action by U.S. Forces. Every military hospital in the United States was to be targeted by a Dell Fan Club President into forming and rallying a group of protesters. President Ho Chi Minh had also requested Iona Dell’s presence in Hanoi for the Christmas Holiday.
“What about food?” Nick Pustacio was thinking ahead. At least half of the Dell Fan Club consisted of men of all ages. They were members not out of admiration for Dell’s acting talents but for her stand on the Vietnam War. If the war were to end today, they would all resign allegiance to the femme fatale.
“There will be plenty of vendors outside the gates of every military hospital and definitely at Queens Naval.” Fusten was wearing heavy tan wool slacks, fur-lined snow boots, a red-and-black checkered sweater and a Navy wool watch cap. She had an old, gray tattered sweater, thermal long underwear and ski socks backing everything else up. Fusten had a cute face and dark black straight hair that reached her shoulders. She wore no make-up in honor of Iona Dell who also never wore any outside of the movie sets.
“How the hell do you know that?” Another male voice barked concern for his stomach.
“Because we already arranged it with the TV and Radio people. That’s why.” Fusten was assertive but not obnoxious. Her voice was not admonishing. It was a sweet voice but it could get loud, angry and abrasive–just like Iona Dell’s. Fusten had a small up-turned nose with a red rounded tip. Her smile produced tiny, circular dimples in her cheeks. Drezella Fusten was a music major at the New York City Conservatory. She did not have a boyfriend. The last male relationship could be traced back to her high school senior year. She pursued causes, not male chromosomes. That was the kind of thought she always voiced when challenged on this issue. She didn’t think she was a lesbian but identified with her role model, Iona Dell who definitely was not.
“When do we assemble and when do we leave for Long Island?” Mary Arens, a college Assistant Professor of Entomology seemed impatient. “It’s almost six o’clock and the daylight’s coming up.”
“The first bus for us will come in 15-minutes and then a bus will be in continuous service between here and Queens Naval. We’ll have two buses until noon–one coming and one going. We keep up the vigil until seven o’clock tomorrow morning. That’s when we quit.” Fusten checked her zippers and buttons.
“Are we going to try to get into the hospital?” It was another female voice belonging to someone in Fusten’s 20-something-year-old college student section.
“No, and we’re not to use any force to do so.” She produced an audible breath to complete her thought. “We’re protesting against force and hostility and therefore we will not use force and hostility of any kind. We are to discourage any such attempts at storming the main gate. I expect some rabble-rousers will be attracted to our demonstration but do not encourage them. We must serve as examples of Americans desiring peace. No violence is permitted.”
A large yellow traditional school bus pulled up in front of the activist storefront on East 119th street. The store was used for political campaigns, charity groups and, for the last month, for the “Peace Now with Iona Dell” faction.
“The bus has a bathroom, but use the facility here before you get on.” Fusten yelled through cupped gloved hands for amplification. “The bus toilet will be available to us at the hospital gate but no one is to use the bus as a lounge. We need to make a sizable physical presence. The media is on our side and will be doing frequent interviews. Remember to direct your anger toward Washington. Support Iona Della and Nixon–in that order.”
A loud cheer rose from the throng of people as they lined up to board the bus.
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