Archive for the ‘military service’ 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

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  

What about that old battlefield?

May 28, 2018

In chapter 27 of my 2014 novel, Smoke, we find a young American, Philip, and an old Frenchman, Mel, conversing as they approach a battlefield in Belgium, a place called Flanders Field. The year is 1937;  in the last week of World War I, Philip’s father had died on that battlefield in 1918. Here’s the scene:

Something about the spring air, the mists at the edges of the fields, the lush, lowland foliage, the shadowy light, lijdt het licht het donk’re licht, something was moving deeply inside of him. “Mel?”

“Yes?”

“How could this place have been a battlefield for a world war?”

The old Frenchman cast his eyes on the passing landscape, and seemed to join Philip in this musing. He answered slowly, “War is a terrible thing, an ugly thing. I did not fight in the war; I had already served my military duty, long before the Archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo and the whole damn world flew apart, like shrapnel. But I had many friends who fought here, and back there, where we just came from in my France, back there at the Somme, the Marne, Amiens. Our soldiers drove the Germans back across their fortified lines, the Hindenberg line they called it. By summer of 1918 the Germans were in full retreat, although it took them a hell of a long time, and rivers of spilt blood, to admit it. And so it all ended here. Those trenches, over there in France, that had been held and occupied for two hellish years by both armies, those muddy hellholes were finally left behind, vacated, and afterward . . . filled up again with the soil of France and Flanders and Belgium, and green grass was planted where warfare had formerly blasted its way out of the dark human soul and the dark humus of lowland dirt and now we see that grass, trimmed, manicured and growing so tidily around those rows of white crosses out there, most of them with some soldier’s name carved on them, many just unknown, anonymous, and how could this have happened? You might as well ask how could. . . a grain of sand get stuck in an oyster? And how could that oyster, in retaliation against that rough, alien irritant, then generate a pearl—such a beautiful thing, lustrous and white—coming forth in response to a small, alien presence that had taken up unwelcomed residence inside the creature’s own domain? The answer, my friend, is floating in the sea, blowing in the wind, growing green and strong from soil that once ran red with men’s blood.”

But today, this Memorial Day, 2018, we honor not only the war dead of that First “Great War” of the 20th century. We honor all those who have given their “last full measure of devotion” to a nation that has always stood, and hopefully always will stand, for freedom and justice.

Here’s another phase of our 242-year national history with brave souls to ponder, Vietnam:

VNMem

King of Soul

To Our Veterans, Thank You

November 10, 2017

On this Veterans’ Day 2017, 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.

Since you have served us, at risk of life and limb, and then lived to tell about it, please know that we are glad you made it through your dutiful missions, still alive and kicking.

We consider it a good thing that your name is not carved into this wall.

VietMem2

But we also consider it good that your service is recorded in the annals of our history. You were  recruited to defend  our freedoms. You answered the summons that many of us resisted. You did your duty. In so doing, you defended also the freedom of many people throughout our troubled world. Thanks for your courage in doing that.

Sometimes we prevailed in our immediate mission; sometimes we did not. Nevertheless, our collective mission as defenders and exemplaries of liberty remains intact because of what you have done.

And are still doing.

Especially all you Vietnam Veterans. You chose, or were compelled to, defend us and our way of life while so many of us  were lollygagging around  in the blood-bought liberty that you have assured us.

Especially to all you Vietnam Veterans, I offer to you the greeting that my friend, Jim Shoemake, himself a Vietnam Vet, tells me is the most precious message of all:

Welcome home!

Keep up the good work.

 

 

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