Posts Tagged ‘1970’

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

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The Calling of Anarchy

January 5, 2016

The calling of anarchy says:

Tear down, tear down the Old way, for when it is destroyed, the New way will be brought in, and when the New way is set in place. . . when the New Order is instituted, then all things will be made right and wise people such as yourself will be in charge of things, and your troubles will be over.

But that surely is gobblydeegoop. I mean, isn’t it?

I myself have, in my life, encountered the power of this deception. I have heard that Siren call of anarchy. It is a cry familiar to me. It arises not so much in me as in the world out there somewhere, with some instigator’s persistent call to rage, rage against the machine. Somewhere in between my ears, it beats a drum of discontent that would compel me, if I were to follow that terrible summons, to do terrible, destructive things.

Although I have never succumbed to it, I know its voice. It is the insidious voice of rebellion that would compel men into the abyss of anarchy, and women into the chasms of despair.

Harken not to it, my brother. Heed it not, my soul. For it leadeth not where thou wouldst want to go.

I’m not making this up; this is a very real thing in the world today. But it is nothing new.

In the final chapter of his 1971 journalistic book, Kent State, James A Michener describes the strange experience of a troubled young woman. She’s a runaway teenager; she had forsaken the comfort of middle-class life to wander the streets and cities of America in search of something, possibly a magical place called “California.” But during her journey to the elusive place, the girl found herself one brisk Friday night in Ohio, kicking around in Kent, looking for some excitement, or some meaning in life, or just something to do, when, about midnight, she came across some “trouble on the street.” As Michener describes the scene in which rioters were protesting Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia:

” ‘Cambodia,’ she says, ‘Cambodia did it. They built a fire out there (on a downtown street, ed.) and were circling around, chanting’. . . (She) joined them, dancing about the trash fire in the street. It was what was happening and she wanted in.”

And so the young women was caught up in that moment, and caught up in the excitement and the gravitas of the protest, having answered the call to meaningful action, which can, in the heat of human manipulations, sometimes slide into the calling of anarchy, and so one thing did lead to another and then a couple of days later, the young woman found herself suddenly fallen upon a parking lot, with shots ringing in the air around her and when she looked up there was a young man lying next to here with his head down but blood flowing out of it because of the fatal gunshot. But then  she dragged herself up. In the misery and tragedy of that moment, she cried out. . .

Also in that moment, the photographer who happened to be nearby quickly snapped a picture. A little while later, through a series of electronic wonders beginning with the photographer’s pic as published in his paper’s next issue, the mournful, confused face of the wandering teenaged girl was flashed around the world for all the world to see.

The look on the young woman’s face documents the utter dismay of a generation, my generation. Millions of people around the world have seen, and wondered about, that picture. James Michener calls her the woman with the “Delacroix face.”

Her face does resemble the face of Lady Liberty, as rendered in “Liberty leading the People,” a famous painting by Eugene Delacroix that depicts an idealized image of the French Revolution.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eug%C3%A8ne_Delacroix

I guess there is a fine line somewhere between Liberty and anarchy. Only those who have suffered in the fog of war or in the great Struggle for justice can know the difference.

The poet W.B. Yeats mentions this dangerous tendency of our world in his poem, The Second Coming:

“Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned”

The “ceremony of innocence,” is, in our present American culture and this historic time, the ritual of going to college or university. In our case study above, Kent State, the “ceremony” was not drowned, but rather, mortally wounded. This happened when duty-bound Guardsmen, who were generally the same young age as the students, were pressured, in the midst of frantic, anarchic circumstances to fire into a wildly unpredictable, rock-hurling crowd. Historic research reveals that “somebody” had fired a first shot, the fatal result of which that anarchy was suddenly catapulted  into tragedy.

Tragedy. Life is tragic. This is one outcome of anarchy.

It makes me wonder, and I find myself thinking of that old Moody Blues tune, Melancholy Man. . .

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uO3IG-oRpis

In our present day and time, anarchy could–and already has–generated tragedy. . .in Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston, Paris, San Bernadino, Riyadh and its aftermath, and in many other places. I am reminded of the prophet whose words still ring true after after twenty centuries:

“Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”

His words were spoken about a religious building, but it seems that the anarchic spirit of our age is bent on terrorizing and destroying  many diverse persons, many places near and far, and a multitude of buildings and things.

It’s the calling of anarchy. Don’t get sucked in.

Here’s a better response: Do what is right, and pray.

Glass half-Full