Archive for the ‘veterans’ Category

Death by War

May 26, 2019

I wrote a story about an American traveling through Europe in the spring/summer of 1937. In the novel, Smoke, which I published in 2015, young businessman Philip Morrow accepts an unusual errand, which takes him through London, halfway around the far side of France, then to Paris, and ultimately to arrive at a place called Flanders Field in Belgium.

At his specific Memorial battleground destination, Philip sees for the first time the final resting place of his father, a soldier of the American Expeditionary Force, who had died there in 1918 during the last week of World War I.  Philip had been eight years old in 1917 when he hugged his pa for the last time, then  beheld  his mother while she tearfully embraced her  husband, a mountaineer marksman named Clint.

In chapter 27 of Smoke, Philip arrives at the Memorial cemetery accompanied by a newfound friend, Mel, an old Frenchman who expresses his appreciation for Clint’s courageous sacrifice–given in his last full measure of devotion– for freedom, to defeat tyranny.

Clint’s total offering in 1918 was not the first, nor the last, to be put forth by millions of other soldiers since that time. In Washington DC, I snapped this photo of a newer Memorial–that one constructed for us to remember the dead of Vietnam.

VNMem (1)

We Americans do appreciate the families left behind.  Their sorrow and sacrifice is painfully precious; it  runs deep–deep as the blood that pumped through soldiering bodies alive with determination–blood that still streams through the beating hearts and minds of  us Americans and Allies.

Here’s my offering, from chapter 27 of Smoke:

       “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.” ‘

“Now they were arriving at the battlefield. Jacques parked the car, leaned against the front fender, lit a cigarette. Mel and Philip walked through a stone arch, along a narrow, paved road lined with flowering linden trees, spring green with their large spadish leaves, sprinkled with small white blossoms. The sun was getting low behind them. Shadows of these trees had overtaken the narrow lane, turning it cooler than the surrounding fields, acres and acres neatly arranged with white crosses and gravestones, and continuous green, perfect grass between all. Having reached the end of the linden lane, the stepped slowly, reverently, along straight pathways, passing hundreds of silent graves on either side. The setting sun was still warm here, after their cool approach from beneath the trees.

“At length, they came to the row that Philip had been looking for, the one he had read about in the army guidebook, where his father’s grave was nested precisely and perpetually in its own place in eternity “. . .

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  

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

Their Last Full Measure of Devotion

May 28, 2017

In the novel King of Soul, which I have recently published, college students Donnie and Kevin take an impulsive road trip to Kevin’s home in Ohio. This happens in early May of 1970. While  on the road in Tennessee, they pick up Ed, a hitchhiker. Ed has been honorably discharged from military service in Vietnam only three weeks ago.  In chapter 23, we find  Donnie and Kevin accompanying Ed to a bar in Nashville:

       At the China Beach bar and grill in downtown Nashville, Donnie and Kevin tagged along while Ed linked up with a buddy of his from the war.

       Sled was a sort of hillbilly with a twist. His West Virginia upbringing had been traumatized in a snow-sledding accident that happened when he was ten years old. In a head-on collision with a pine tree, a low branch had penetrated his left cheek. A scar that resulted from the surgery gave the appearance of a question mark on the left side of his face. From his teen years onward, all John’s people called him “Sled” because of what had happened to him in a sledding accident when he was a kid.

       Ed and Sled had become friends at Fort Hood, Texas, before they both went to Vietnam. They were assigned to the same Company, but different platoons. On this particular evening , Sled and Ed were having beer and burgers as they celebrated the fact that they both had survived Vietnam. This was the first time they had seen each other since both were honorably discharged. Donnie and Kevin listened intently as Sled reported to Ed the account of how their CO, Lt. Gary, had fallen in battle only 11 months ago.

       Sled explained that, in a strategy to avoid group casualties, Lt. Gary had his men spread out as they were advancing down a jungle hillside.  Three dozen soldiers had distanced themselves from each  other, and each man was walking alone.  The radio man reported that an NVA encampment was below them, but the exact location had not yet been determined.

       Delta company was thus strung out for a mile or more. When their point guys reached the bottom, they caught sight of evidence of the enemy bunkers above them, up on the north side. Sergeant Charles halted his men at a covered spot.  He knew they were near the enemy because, he said, he could smell their rice cooking; but as he took a few steps to obtain a better view of the area in question,  suddenly he was struck with a bullet. It hit him in the abdomen;. Within seconds, an assault by automatic weapons erupted  somewhere northward and above them, with what sounded like AK-47 fire.

Sgt. Charles did not make it home alive from Vietnam.

On this Memorial Day, 2017, we remember Charles and the other 54,000 American soldiers who never got back here to taste the good life of the dear ole US of A. We appreciate that these men and women sacrificed their last full measure of devotion so that we we can live free.

VietMem2

King of Soul

A Woman from the War

January 13, 2017

I think it was several thousand years ago that we heard about a war between the Greeks and the Trojans. And this collective memory in our mankind memory bank is evidence that this war thing that we hear about– and sometimes catch a glimpse of while others of us jump bravely into the fray–this war thing has been with us for a long time.

Now it is not very often you meet a woman who has spent 28 years in the US Army, but this is what happened to me yesterday.

I walked into a room where some folks in my hometown were gathered for a certain purpose, and at the end of the meeting I met Lieutenant Colonel Lory Whitehead. What she had to say seemed important to me, so I gave her some money and she handed me a book of poems she had written. This is what happens in America. She had something to sell, and I bought it. And when I read the little book of poems it knocked my sox off. May we always be so free to exchange information without censorship and without meddling from whomever is surveilling at any particular place and time.

I’ve never been in the military, but I know people who have served us in that way. I have no understanding of what these brave souls go through; but because I read Lory’s collection of letters, memoirs and poems that she collected over almost fifty years, I at least have some feeling about what these people go through to defend our freedom.

I was born in 1951. But about ten years before I came into this world, there was one hell of a big war that happened on this planet. While growing up, I learned about it in school, and every now and then I’d meet someone who fought in it, but it wasn’t until much later in life–like about a year ago when I began seriously researching a different war, the war that dominated the politics of my youth. (You know the one I’m talking about.)

Twenty years before we got into Vietnam, when the Big War was going on– the one where we drove the Nazis back into their holes– most of us Americans who were alive at that time, early 1940’s, banded together for the purpose of winning the damned thing.

At that time, women played a large part in our collective effort to defeat the Axis powers (Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Emperor-worshipping Japan), but what the women were doing then was not much connected to combat. You’ve probably heard that old song from the period about Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B. That song, always sung by a female vocal group, is closely associated with the role of our women during World War II–to mostly act in supportive roles, Stateside.

All that changed (like everything else) in the 1960’s when women became more and more directly involved in our military endeavors. By the time of Desert Storm, women were taking some combat roles.

Lt. Col. Lory Whitehead’s poems include profound reflections of her experience in war, most notably in Kosovo.

What I would like to bring to your attention today is a poem that whe wrote and published in her 2014 book, reluctant warriors. The poem I have selected is: mama’s two hands. I never in my life thought I would read anything like this, but as it turns out, I have read it, and perhaps you should too. Read ’em and weep.

mama was a soldier, her right hand

knew how to hold a salute

and had learned to fire

handguns and automatic weapons,

even grenade launchers

that strong hand waved men

forward as she led them

into harm’s way.

and covered her eyes in pain

at memorial services

for fallen comrades.

mama was mama, her left hand

held a nursing baby to her breast

and was always available

to erase the tears of toddlers

frightened by loud noises.

that was the gentle hand, it pulled

errant children out of danger

and toasted the living

at weddings and christenings.

poor mama, it was often difficult

to keep each separate hand

in its proper place

and always the right hand

would be envying what

the left hand was doing.

RelWarrior
(Copyright © 2014 by Lory Whitehead)

Reading a poem like this made me realize just how much the world has changed, even in the time-range of my lifetime. And this world is still changing, probably getting faster and faster. Because: while humans have always been changing, modern technology has enabled us to step up the pace of change, exponentially. I’m just hoping it does not spins out of control beyond repair.

Nevertheless, if our world does ever spin out of control, my ultimate hope is in Christ, which is to say, God. Not any man, nor woman.

Smoke

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