Archive for the ‘memories of Vietnam’ Category

The Ambassador

December 14, 2018

I was of that generation who wanted to save the world for democracy.

When I was born, my country was fighting a war in a faraway land, trying to run the communists out of Korea. It was a valiant effort we made over there, but only—from a military and/or political standpoint—about half successful. By 1953, we had managed to help get that little Asian peninsula about half-saved for democracy.

Just like most everything in this life, we manage to get things right about half the time.

That expedition did apparently turn out better than our other Asian deliverance mission—the one that ended, or so it seemed, in 1975 with our boys having to select which war refugees could be loaded onto an American helicopter and whisked away before the Viet Minh took Saigon and then later named it Ho Chi Minh City.

Like I said before, in this life we manage to get things about half right about half the time.

Which ain’t too bad really, when you consider what we’re up against.

I mean, life ain’t no bowl of cherries; it’s not a walk in the park. Sometimes it’s hard.

But you know, looking back on it all, there were the good times and there were the bad times. . .

When I was in high school, we thought it was cool to stay up late and watch the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Johnny didn’t even show up on the airwaves until 10:30, CST, after the news, and so if you could stay up that late to catch his monologue etc, you were pretty cool. At school we’d try to make jokes as funny as Johnny could. Everybody loved Johnny—he was like the Jimmy Fallon of his day. He had really cool people on his show like Marilyn Monroe or Joe DiMaggio.

Famous people would always show up to talk to Johnny; he’d ask them questions about their careers in show business and Broadway and movies and whatnot and they’d talk about themselves, and Johnny always managed to crack a few jokes about whatever they’d be yapping about. Carson was so cool and we wanted to be like him.

Every now and then he’d have some serious person on too. But they’d still manage to have a good time.

BillynJohnny

Growing up in the ’50’s and ’60’s was pretty cool. We were the first generation to have TV, and that really changed everything, although nobody really knew what the outcome of all that boob tube influence would be. Public personalities became quite adept at blowing their own horns and making big scenes. Ultimately the guy with the loudest voice managed to bluster his way into the White House. And I guess it really should be no surprise to anybody the way things have turned out.

Who could have anticipated that there would come a day when the big 3 networks would slip into the background and the universe of media would be taken over by the likes of faceboook and twitter?

But of course there are always the folks in the background who quietly get through to people with an important message while so many others are busy running their mouths about all the great things they’re doing.

BillyinBerkeley

One thing I’ve learned about life during my 67 years: you gotta take the bad with the good. Shit happens, and you gotta deal with it, gotta get up the next morning and keep on truckin’. Ain’t nobody gonna feel sorry for ya. Well, maybe if you have a life mate to help you cope and get along, move on the next thing and all that, life can be a little easier to deal with. At least that has been my experience.

The good book says we oughta mourn with those who mourn and laugh with those who laugh. Who would’ve ever dreamed that, in our lifetime, two such different persons as these two would be laughing together?:

BillynBoris

Life is good; sometimes we win and other times we lose. When Boris Yeltsin managed to take hold of the old Soviet Union! it was amazing. Who’d have ever dreamed of such a thing? Berlin Wall came down without a shot after Reagan suggested to Gorbachev to tear down that wall.  Amazing stuff in my lifetime. JFK, had he lived to see it, would have been proud.

I mean this life is very good in some ways. In other ways it’s not so favorable. You gotta take the good with the bad, and you gotta help people. We all need a little help. It’s good to help people along the way. Occasionally, every one of us need some really big help. I mean, while there are some victories, there are of course some terrible setbacks and tragedies.

So while the good book says we should laugh with those who laugh, it also says to mourn with those who mourn.

BillynCoretta

We gotta help each other from time to time. Everybody need a little help from time to time. In my lifetime, we tried to go over there and help the people of Vietnam to muster up some democracy, and maybe it didn’t work out so well, and maybe in some ways we even made a mess of it but hey, when my daughter visited there a few years ago, and she rode a scooter through Ho Chi Minh City (used to be called Saigon) she said the people over there love Americans, and they have a tender place in their hearts for us. Go figure!

Going back even further than that, and thinking once again about what all was going on when I was born into this world. . . we were trying to make Korea safe for democracy, we find that some really good things  somehow managed to came out of it.

BillyinSeoul

I think it can be concluded that good things can indeed happen when every now and then someone comes along who is willing to—instead of tooting his own horn— work quietly and diligently as an Ambassador for the Prince of Peace.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

I can think of one person, at least, who has managed to live in the manner described above by our brother Paul.

BillynKimIlSung

King of Soul

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From Valley Forge to Vietnam and Very Near

November 11, 2018

In 1969, I graduated from high school and went to University. In college, there was no threat to life and limb for me. It was a safe place to be.

Many of my high school buddies didn’t take that route; they joined, or were drafted into, the US Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard to defend our nation. At that time, defense of our nation—defense of our security and our ideals—was considered by most of our leaders to be directly related to the defeat of the Viet Minh and Viet Cong in  Vietnam.

While I went to college, many men and some women of my same age shipped out to the other side of the world to run the Viet Minh insurgents back into North Vietnam, and to the shut the Viet Cong  down.

The difficult mission that our national leaders had laid upon our soldiers over there was no easy task: dangerous, deadly and damn near impossible. About 54, 000 of our guys and gals who served and fought in Vietnam never came back, or they if they did return it was in a casket.

My college experience here, Stateside, was a walk in the park compared to what our armed forces were called to do in Vietnam and other theaters of war. What they did, however, was nothing new. Although in Vietnam we were strapped with a whole new set of warfare rules that few understood, and that was a major part of our problem.

But I am here today to say that: Our soldiers have been defending the USA—our freedoms and values—for over two centuries.

IwoJima

From Valley Forge to Vietnam and Very Near, millions of our men and women have lived and died to defend us. We owe them—whether they served willingly, or were drafted—we owe them respect and gratitude for their willingness to be threatened and humiliated by the pains and dangers of war and the perilous requirements of maintaining government of the people, by the people and for the people.

From Valley Forge to  Vietnam to now. . . their brave service continues to this day: defending our shores, our borders, and helping other liberty-holding nations to maintain freedom from oppression.

While thousands of guys and gals of my generation were on duty in Vietnam, many of us back here at home were protesting and working to bring our people home, because . . . the longer that war dragged on, the more and more controversial it became. Finally, by 1975, we had shut the whole project down.

So our Vietnam veterans came home and got back into the routine of living in the good ole USA. For many, many of them, this was no walk in the park, no easy transition. PTSD was, and still is, rampant among them. And while we who did not go will never understand what they endured, we can still show our appreciation.

A few years ago, I reached a time of life in which I felt a need to somehow reconcile the controversy of Vietnam that our generation had endured. My literary working-out of this angst took the form of a novel, King of Soul, which I published in 2017.

On this Veterans’ Day, I share a brief excerpt that describes one little experience in the Vietnam War. I post it here today, so that those who were there and endured such tribulation—they will know that their bravery and sacrifice does not go unnoticed by us who did not serve.

For the sharpening of our collective memory of what the hell happened over there, I post the excerpt, which begins with a quote from a popular song that many of us singing here at home. from Chapter 19 of King of Soul:

. . .where have all the young men gone, gone to flowers everyone, when will they ever learn when will they ever learn? But on the other side of the world something very different was going down . . .

~~~

. . . the gunner for their platoon, and that day he was packing an M-60 machine gun. And now there was no doubt about the threat of those nearby

NVA. Sure as hell, there was no doubt any more about anything except: they were in a firefight. Time to fight, or die. Rob got the order to haul that M-60 down the hill to a certain position and open up on ‘em. He said all he could remember about that was that he put one foot in front of the other while scuffling down that hill dragging all that weight with him, and the infernal noise that was blasting out all around him. The adrenaline was pumping and he was stumbling through it, trying to keep himself and the gun upright until he could get to where he was going, or where he was supposed to be going, which he wasn’t yet sure of. It wasn’t just the machine gun he was packing, but also three ammo belts. I mean, it was a good damn thing that he had ‘em, because he was gonna need every last one of them rounds before it was all over with. Finally he got to where he was s’posed to be, rid himself of the ammo belts and heated up the M-60, aiming up at the ridge where the AK-47 flashes were poppin’ like deadly firecrackers, but a helluva lot louder. He said he felt like he was going crazy, but somehow the craziness itself was what drove him on to do what he needed to do. I mean, what else could a man do? He was just shootin’ the hell out of them NVA, or at least he hoped he was, because it was gonna be either us or them if he had anything to say about it.

For you guys who went over there and endured such as this, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea, Iwo Jima, Normandy, Ypres, San Juan Hill, Gettysburg, Valley Forge, or  wherever you performed your duty for us . . .

Although we’ll never understand what the hell you did over there, still . . .Thank you.

King of Soul

Vietnam, at ground level 1970

July 10, 2018

Herein I recommend a novelized real story from that infamous “War in Vietnam.”

  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/13437

John Podlaski’s novel about a brand-new American soldier in Vietnam strikes at the heart of the matter— just what the hell were our soldiers over there supposed to be doing?

Them brave boys were  putting their asses on the line, stalking communist enemies in strange jungles on the other side of the world, when all the while their survival instinct was demanding them to just hunker down, lay low, and get through their year-long sentence of jungle warfare in one living, still-breathing piece.

And All for what?

Because we sent them to do a job—kill communists, and run the ones we couldn’t kill back to the North.

Now we all know it didn’t work out that way, but we learned some lessons—and the world did too—in the process.

The problem our guys had over there was: how could we know, in a SE Asian village scenario, which villagers were helping the NVA, and which ones were on our side? As if these rice-cultivating peasants knew the difference between Karl Marx and George Washington!

After reading this book, Cherries, it seems to me that, in the midst of the terrible gun battles, every soldier’s internal war must have been a constant conflict between these two missions: to kill enemies and thus keep the brass-mandated “body count” on an upward curve, or to stay alive!

Which would you choose?!

In most cases, it seems it came down to protecting yourself and your squad buddies, while treading fearfully through the booby-trapped minefield of two opposing international ideologies whose political strategies had turned absolutely, militarily lethal.

That project required real men—brave soldiers who could bite the bullet— who could launch out and give it a shot while death and danger stalked them at every turn along the path.

This was a terrible, terrible ordeal that our nation put these guys through! We need to talk about it.We need to acknowledge their incredible bravery.  We need to ask: Just what the hell happened back then and there in Vietnam?—in that war that so many of us managed to evade.  Whether you were for the war of against it— reading John Podlaski’s “Cherries” is a provocative way to begin the assessment— an evaluation that needs to take place, for the sake of our nation’s future security.

Read the book, because this quasi-autobiographical story gives a close-up, day-to-day, boots-on-the-ground account of what our guys were doing over there in Vietnam, while we were trying to figure it all out here, stateside— here, safe in the home of the free, while the brave were answering the terrible call that our government had imposed on them.  They endured that jungular hell-pit so that we, as a nation, could, in spite of defeat,  pass successfully through the 20th-century burden of Cold War paranoia.

John’s fictionalized personal story fleshes out the constant conflict between two soldierly inclinations: fulfilling military responsibility by driving up enemy “body counts,” vs. following  the human instinct to just stay alive, and somehow make it through your one-year tour of duty without getting your ass killed.

Our American purpose there was unclear. No definite battlefield could be found;  the war was waged wherever our boys happened to run into the Viet Cong or the North Vietnam Army, in a perpetual theater-game of deadly hide-and-seek. Our teens and twenties recruits and draftees were dropped into unfamiliar Asian jungles, then immersed immediately in extreme fear—fear like you would feel seeing two of your platoon-mates’ heads staked on bamboo poles.

Not in Kansas any more, Toto!

Khe Sahn. A Shau, Ah shit! What have we gotten ourselves into?!

Read John’s book to find out what perils our boys  were trudging through while we stateside were trying to figure out the whys and the wherefores.

BTW, by the 1990’s it was plain to see that  the free world, led by the USA, had prevailed in our struggle against both fascism and communism. In the big picture, our effort in Vietnam played an instructive role in that victory. The governance of nations has more to do with learning from your mistakes than fighting a lost cause to some idealized bitter end.

VNGame

Thanks to you all you guys—Cherries, LongTimers and Lifers—who answered the call to service at that time. Oh yeah, and here’s another belated message: Welcome Home!

King of Soul  

Thanks to our Veterans

November 11, 2016

On this Veterans’ Day 2016, I say to all men and women who have served our United States as soldiers and workers in our armed forces, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard. . .

Thank You.

VietMem2

All you men and women who are serving, or have served, in our armed forces, and then lived to tell about it, please know that we are glad you made it through your dutiful missions, still alive and kicking.

As a remembrance of those who did not make it back alive, we reflect upon the cause–our freedom as a nation of free men and women–for which they fought, bled, and died. Toward that end, we recall the words of President Abraham Lincoln, which he spoke at Gettysburg battlefield in November, 1863.

“. . . from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Glass half-Full 

Tan Son Nhut 1970

October 9, 2016

VNamMus70

When Johnny came marching home again it was in 1971, although really, there was no parade.

He wasn’t actually marching, anyway, but rather flying commercial out of Vietnam on a PanAm from Cam Ranh Bay. The jet featured American stewardesses, and this was a very favorable detail that our exiting guys did not fail to notice as they soared off to Pacific destinations and ultimately all the way back  over here to the good ole USA. It was a long flight from the war, and a long time to have to watch stewardesses traipsing up and down the carpeted aisles, serving food and drink; but our guys managed to get through it.

My old friend Johnny’s departing flight from Vietnam was a reversal of his arrival there, a year earlier, on a commercial US aircraft.

But here’s a curious fact that he confided to me. The “scaredest” he ever got while in Vietnam was on that first day, during the jet’s approach into Cam Ranh, because the descending plane was drawing enemy fire!

Welcome to Vietnam! Haha!

Last week, during the first days of October 2016, my old neighborhood friend Johnny told me about his one year tour in Vietnam. He lives in Louisiana, where we both started life; now I live in North Carolina. We brought our wives and had a Florida panhandle reunion at the beach.

We were chums in high school, but after our graduation in 1969 he went his way and I went mine. I went to college; he went to Vietnam.

I was protesting the war; he was over there in the middle of it.

Before last week, I had not seen Johnny since about 1975.

Now I’m writing a novel about that period of time, and about some of the differences–and reconciliation– between those two diverging groups–“them that went” and “them that didn’t.”

As it turned out, Johnny’s year of duty at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, just north of Saigon, was, he admits, easier than the brutal combat some of our guys had to endure out in the jungles while they were on patrol  being relentlessly pursued by the silently stalking Viet Cong.

During our time of defending the former Republic of Vietnam, tons and tons of weaponry, machinery, and supplies had to be delivered into the country to supply our people there. Tan Son Nhut was a busy location for transport and communications, and we needed a lot of guys on the ground to keep systems oiled, protected and combat-ready. My friend Johnny was one of those men.

During high school, Johnny had acquired some work experience in appliances and refrigeration. After our high school graduation he was not inclined, as I was, toward college. He worked for a while. Then he saw, you might say, “the handwriting on the wall” about how career choices were shaping up in 1969-70. So he volunteered for the Army. After boot camp at Fort Polk (Louisiana) and some duty-specific training at Fort Belvoir (Virginia), he shipped out, which is to say, he was put on a flight path that landed him at the Cam Ranh Air Base where they almost got shot down before setting foot in the infamous theater of Vietnam.

StratCom

When my friend arrived at his post on the perimeter of Tan Son Nhut Air Base, he spent a year on guard duty, keeping watch over the rice paddies and distant jungles beyond the fence, and reporting whenever mortar fire or any other unfriendly thing was approaching the air base.

Inside the base, there were moments when our guys could take a little time off. Here’s a pic that Johnny snapped; it depicts a recreational session of high-stakes card-sharking, with maybe a little bluffing and probably some bravado bullcrap thrown in to keep the game interesting.

VNGame

Here’s a pic of Johnny, taken when he had only been in Vietnam a few days.

JLViet70

Last week, after Johnny showed me a few hundred photos that had been stored away at his home, I thanked him for taking the time to meet me in Florida so we could talk about Vietnam.

Because I can’t write a book about what was happ’nin’ in the USA in 1969 without talking about Vietnam. I also thanked my friend for his service to our nation.

And I thanked God that he survived it. There were 58,000 of “them that went” who did not.

If you were a college kid like me in the 1960’s-’70’s, you will find it well worth your time to visit a few of the men and women who did not do college at that time, but who served–by choice or by draft–in the military. Right or wrong, won or lost, however you call it, they did what our country called them to do.

We may need many more like them before it’s all over with.

King of Soul