Posts Tagged ‘King of Soul’

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

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Never Again

October 28, 2018

From chapter 8 of Glass half-Full, we find Hilda, a restaurant-owner, telling some friends about an experience she had in Germany.

“Hitler and his thugs tried to take advantage of the situation; they launched a coup d’etat, called a putsch in German. But it failed, and they ended up getting arrested. The event has been named the beer hall putsch of 1923. Well, I was reading about these police officers who were killed by the Nazis that night. And I was reading in my guide book some information about the incident. I kept hearing this beautiful music, really spirited music. We walked in the direction of the music. We turned a corner…and there they were, five musicians playing five instruments: clarinet, violin, accordion, cello, a drummer. I could tell they were Jewish right away. I considered their courage: to stand there at the Odeonsplatz where the Nazis had made their first move to try and take over the world, and declare, with their music, that Jewish people, along with their music, were alive and well in the 21st century. They inspired me. We must have listened to them for an hour…the Bridge Ensemble.”

This excerpt from my 2007 novel describes an event in the life of a fictional character named Hilda. While writing the book, I chose the occurrence to make a point about what happens in the history of our human race when hate-based groups take up arms against other people.

However, the event described here, although presented as a fictional event in a story, is in reality something that actually happened.

It happened to me. I was “Hilda.” My son and I were in Munich in 2002 when the music reached my ears while I was reading a plaque about the four German policemen who had been killed during the first Nazi uprising in 1923.

It was a meaningful event in my life, so I made the experience part of a long story story that I later published in 2007. Glass half-Full is a novel about some characters in the Washington DC area; they’re pretty good people, but some bad things happen to them.

Bad things happen.

When bad things happen on a large scale, nations go to war against each other and all hell breaks loose for a while. When all hell breaks loose on a major scale–a continental level of magnitude and intensity–that is called “World War.”

We of mankind have had two of them. We hope that we never have another. Don’t we?

In both world wars, our nation, the United States of America, intervened on behalf of our Allies. In both wars, our presence and strength in the fray made a big difference, and we were victorious in both holocausts.

Holocausts is a word I use in the context of that last sentence, meaning  life sacrifices, by fire: lives being snuffed out by fire, or by other destructive means. In our post-World War II experience, the Holocaust generally refers to the mass-murder of six million Jewish Europeans under the murderous regime of the Nazis, led by the demonic Nazi dictator, Adolf Hitler.

Never again should there be a holocaust of such immensity. Our nation and our armed forces were a large part of extinguishing the fire of persecution that snuffed out the lives of millions of defenseless, innocent persons before and during the Second World War.

AmIsFlags

Now, when people refer to the proposition of making America “great again,” this is–or should be–the meaning of the phrase, Make America Great Again.

That we have been, in times past, the defender of innocent people who are being slaughtered on a massive scale by hate-filled groups, –this is what made America great during World War II. And this is what, generally, does make America great in any present or future time.

Great, yes, because we have–on a massive scale– the resources and the collective will to serve as defenders of defenseless or innocent people anywhere in the world.

Not because we appoint ourselves aggressors to impose our so-called American way of life on any other nation or people-group in this world. This is where we crossed the line, in my opinion, in Vietnam. What began as a war to defend the free people of South Vietnam against aggressive Viet Minh insurgents, degenerated instead, to become a war of aggression in which we raised a lot more hell and bloodletting than we could legitimately justify; in a quasi-primitive nation that had not yet progressed to a phase of development in which they could truly understand the difference between these two words: communism and capitalism.

And may that never happen again.

A year or two ago, I also wrote a sociological novel pertaining to our Vietnam ordeal, King of Soul.

Let us Americans never be the aggressors. We are defenders. What makes our nation great, if anything, is simply the massive scale of defense we are able to muster on behalf of free and innocent people, whether it’s in Europe, Rwanda, the Middle East, or anywhere, including at home. May our great strength never corrupt us.

We are defenders not only in the military applications. We are-and should always be–defenders of the defenseless in matters of law. We are, according to our original founding codes, advocates for justice in all of our institutions: courts of law, legislative bodies, government agencies, immigration agencies, overseas aid, and administrative law from welfare to wall street. That is what makes America great.

May we never stray from the preservation and extension of truth, justice, and yes, the American way.

And may we always be defenders of same.

Glass half-Full

The Bang at Trang Crossroads

September 18, 2016

Here’s ann excerpt from chapter 11 of the new novel, King of Soul, now being written; the scene is Vietnam, about 45 years ago. . .

(Warning: viewer discretion is advised. This passage could affect your feeling of well-being in the world as it presently exists, and as it existed then. . .)

Ahnika was terrified; she was so scared to turn around and then see that plane coming at them, but she turned her head  anyway. The pounding of her bare feet against the road made everything in her terrified vision seem to bounce up and down with insanely out-of-place energized chaos and this only compounded her terror. The planes that usually zoomed above their village had never come this close before. Why was it flying so low, so fast, so directly toward them. And why, since it was bearing down so close, so fast–why were bombs coming out of it, tumbling projectiles? This was not right. There was something wrong. Then came the explosions. It was no bad dream. These bombs were exploding; the smoke was billowing faster than the villagers could run; it was covering the whole world. Her brothers were just ahead, running faster than she could. But Auntie was behind; that’s why Ahnika was looking behind, because Auntie was back there, with little brother in her arms. There was a part of herself–a part of her family–a part of her Vietnamese life still behind her, trying to run, stumbling, falling. Falling?! Auntie had fallen. No No No No!, but no, Auntie had not fallen, but little brother had fallen from her arms; little brother was down on the road. Ahnika saw the look of confused desperation on Auntie’s face, and just as Ahnika was about to try to do something, maybe stop, maybe try to get little brother,  a soldier grabbed him and then little brother was in the soldier’s arms but he was still wailing while the soldier was up and running again. Go! go! he yelled at Ahnika. Just ahead, other villagers were coming fast out of a the hut by the side of the road. Yellow and purple smoke was swirling as they ran through it; now there was bomb smoke behind and yellow and purple smoke ahead where the men had set off the smoke markers that were supposed to mark the temple grounds so their pilots would know where to not drop, but something was wrong and these explosions meant for the Viet Cong were hitting us instead something was wrong. After the first marker plume had fanned out but failed to prevent the pilot from hitting the wrong spots and so after he had dropped his loads off course something was wrong and while the ARVN commander was trying to stop the next drop, Auntie buckled at her knees, reached back behind herself to find out what was wrong with her leg and her pain was registered on her face she was clutching at the back of her leg and now her fingers were stuck together with the sticky napalm and so Auntie did not see it when the soldier who had got little brother took a direct hit of the stuff he was incinerated. But then the white-shrouded Caodai man who had earlier been in the temple with them picked up little brother he was not crying anymore and the whole scene was darkened with smoke and roaring noise and pain so bad you couldn’t even tell where it was coming from but then Ahnika was struck with such a force from behind that she was down on the ground gravel in her mouth in her face and the worst pain ever felt by woman or child behind her, or in her behind in her shoulders, her arms but then she was up again desperate energized by the fear and running, running, pulling at the neck of her clothes because they were too hot, too hot but when she pulled at them then suddenly their entire cloth just fell away and she was up again running, running, wailing naked, crying with the pain, past any understanding of what was happening to them all or why or why or how this burning world could have turned out this way and she had her arms flung out to the sides , like a cross while she wailed and cried, like a cross she appeared and she felt like the pain of the whole world had fell on her shoulders but it was not her shoulders it was somebody’s else’s in the nightmare, somebody else’s writhing, stretched out in pain and taking on the shape of a cross. It wasn’t her any more it was somebody else in that cross, in that Trang crossroads as they ran, ran, toward Cu Chi, but she couldn’t remember who it was taking the brunt of so much pain could it have been her or somebody else as everything in the world is going wrong and the weight of the whole damned world falls on those shoulders stretched out like a damn cross.

King of Soul 

The Old Men and the Young

July 25, 2015

If ghosts could speak, they would probably agree with what the old man said. Sitting on the lowered gate of his black pickup truck, Ramus was saying that old men make wars; but young men fight them.

Now while we understand there is some truth in such a statement,  we all know that it’s not really as simple as that. Nothing in this life is so easily explained, especially the thing called war.

Ramus blinked both his eyes at the same time. It was a habit he had. Some crows were making a ruckus in the nearby hickory, but he paid no attention to them.

“Consider Medgar Evers: he was a young man,” Ramus said. “He slogged his way across Europe, along with thousands of other Allied soldiers, to arrive triumphantly in Germany and then knock the hell out of the Nazi war machine. So he contributed to that great collective effort through which we won the big war. But then he came back to Mississippi and was told to go to the back of the bus.

“So, at the end of his homeward journey, Medgar entered, almost involuntarily, into another great war. It was an old war that had been started by old men. That is to say: men who we think of as old because they had lived and died long ago—men who, in centuries past, had embodied the fallacies and the limitations and atrocities of their own era. Those men had brought his ancestors to America in slave ships. It was a helluva an evil thing to do, but that’s what was happening at that time; there was shit just as bad going on over in Africa that enabled the slavetraders to do what they did, and that’s what started all this trouble we got now.

“Any trouble you find on the face of the earth is traceable to shit that happened a long time ago,” he said. “I don’t know if it ever ends. I hope one day. . .”

Behind Ramus and his truck, the morning sun was peeking up from behind distant pinetops. For whatever reason we know not what, the nearby troop of bothersome crows decided to vacate the hickory tree they’d been in, and get the hell out of dodge. Their sudden departure presented a scene of black wings flapping out against a cloudless summer sky. Ramus glanced at their disturbance, but gave it not a thought. In these mountains, their antics were as old as the hills.

The volume of Ramus’ speech, which had steadily increased in order to compete with the birds, now rescinded to a soft, summary tone. “The Mississippi man’s newfound battle—a great struggle into which he found himself caught up, by default—it eventually killed him. So he was a young man who never tasted the privilege of becoming an old man. Although he had marched with the victors in World War II, the battle that he found simmering back home was the one that put him in his grave.

“In 1963, only six months before Kennedy was killed, Medgar Evers was shot dead in his own front yard in Jackson Mississippi. He had just come from speaking to some brothers and sisters at the New Jerusalem church.”

That quiet following the crows’ departure was blissful.

“But I got to go now: places to go and people to see.” Ramus said. He slid off the tailgate, called to his old hound dog and prepared to leave. His talk about old men, young men, and old wars was put on the shelf of memory for a while.

Now in 1969, a new war, hot off the press, was being waged. But it was fast becoming an old one. Young men were dying by the thousands. Old men too, and women and children. What else is new?

VietMem2

The scene above is an excerpt from the new novel being written:

King of Soul

Walking into Maelstrom, 1969

January 3, 2015

I graduated from high school in May of 1969. Then I left home and went to college. What a change that was. There was a lot going on at the university.

I think most kids who leave home at the tender age of 17 find out that there’s a whole ‘nother world going on out there, and it seems quite different from what they grew up in. It’s exciting, like turning over a new leaf, or starting a new chapter of life.

Now that I’m past sixty, I’ve gained some perspective that I didn’t have then. And since reading and doing historical research are pursuits I enjoy, I’ve decided to study that decade in which I lived as a teenager–the 1960’s.

I have a feeling I’m not the only boomer who is doing this, which is why the stuff of my research will eventually be written as a novel, my fourth. It is named King of Soul.

Back in September ’68, when my senior year in high school had just begun, I addressed our student body as the incoming President of the Student Council. I remember telling them something about there was a lot going on out there in the world, and that our generation seemed to be discontented. But we, as responsible young adults at a Catholic high school, could certainly change the world by acting reasonably and playing by the rules. The students rewarded my innocent positivism with a standing ovation at the end.

About a year later, when I was a freshman at LSU, I began to see (although not necessarily understand) that my well-received idea of playing by the rules was not so simple as I had presented it.

There was, indeed, a lot going on in in 1969, and a lot of that change was being propelled by kids, not much older than I, who were working against the system with organized resistance, rather than “playing by rules.” There was an authentic reason for this.

The Vietnam War.

One of the things that happened to me while I was discovering all this angst and protest in my g-generation was the draft lottery. My number came up 349, so I didn’t have to worry about being drafted. I would be able to stay in school without being called to go fight the Viet Cong.

Nevertheless, all that ’60’s stuff was not just about the war. There was something happening here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5M_Ttstbgs

Among the war-protesters, there was a wide array of strategies being implemented to end the war–everything from pacifist Episcopalians, to SDS “bring the war home” agitators, to outright Weatherman revolutionaries.

In the research I am now doing, here is something I have come to understand clearly:

The seeds of antiwar, anti-establishment resistance tactics were sown into the American experience during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s-60’s.

Oppression breeds Resistance, which leads to Tactics.

You know what I’m talking about–Little Rock Schools, Rosa on the bus, Dr. King’s courageous, nonviolent leadership, Selma, Greensboro Woolworth’s sit-in, voter registrations in the deep South, etc. It was mostly black folks getting organized.

Medgar Evers had fought in the Great War, in Europe. He was a hero, like all them Americans and others who had run the Nazis into the ground back in ’45. But when Medgar got back to Mississippi (where I was in the 1950’s a clueless white kid living in suburban Jackson), he got on a bus to ride back to his hometown, and the driver told this war hero– who had risked his life for our freedom– to go the the back of the bus!

Say what?

Medgar, being a man of peace, a Christian–well, he got through that humiliating incident–but he quietly went about his bid’ness. But he got to thinking he might try to help his people make some changes (and he was playing by the rules) so he started working with the NAACP to get black folks registered to vote in his home state.

But in June, 1963, brother Medgar was shot dead, near midnight, in his own front yard.

Now that–along with all the other injustices being brought into the light of day– got the attention of a lot of Americans.

So some of us honkys started to see the light and get involved.

The next year, 1964, saw a flood of white folks headed from up Nawth, going down South, to help black folks get organized and register. The whole movement was called the Mississippi Freedom Summer. It was a great event in American history, except for when Andrew Freedman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner got murdered.

During that sweltering summer in Mississippi, the seeds of American antiwar, antiestablishment resistance were sown. White kids from Boston, Philly, Santa Monica and Sausalito and everywhere in between went down south to help black folks.

And the black folks taught ’em how its done–civil disobedience to resist injustice, in the streets of America.

There were hundreds of white kids who went. To name just one: Mario Savio, who went down South to do civil rights work, then returned to his home in California. Later that fall, 1964 he climbed on top of a car so he could be heard while making a speech about a local issue to his fellow protesters.

And the Free Speech Movement was born in Berkeley.

Now, go back to the future–the year I was telling you about when I started this piece–1969:

While the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley was still rattling the ivys at colleges all across the nation, including the campus at LSU were I was a clueless freshman . . .

The administrators of the University of California at Berkeley had bought a vacant lot very close to campus. It was, according to David Obst, in his book, Too Good To Be Forgotten, a “three-acre field the school had bought a couple of years before.”

http://www.amazon.com/Too-Good-To-Be-Forgotten/dp/0471295388

David writes:

“In mid-April a number of street people decided the field would make a groovy park. They decided to reclaim the land from the university and give it back to the people. All this was to be done under the doctrine of squatters’s rights.

For the next few weeks, hundreds of students and street people, folks who wouldn’t work if their parents or employers begged or paid them, worked for free at the park. They transformed the mud-splattered field into a grass-covered park by bringing together a weird collection of sod, shrub, and seedlings. A grove of apple trees was planted and and a brick walkway was laid. Swings and a sandbox for kids were put up; there was even a fishpond, and a . . .’revolutionary cornfield.’ “

Now, I, reading this, thought that was a pretty productive, creative way to make good use of a vacant lot.

But of course the Berkeley admins didn’t think so, so the chancellor called Governor Reagan, who called in the National Guard, and things got ugly, kind of like, you know, Selma, or you know–but this was a bunch of white kids.

By ‘n by, I later came to appreciate Ronald Reagan, when he was President. But this was not one of his shining moments.

Which gets to my point: there are two sides to every story. Confusion is the order of the day when you’re a freshman.

When I walked into the college maelstrom of 1969, I was entering a storm of controversies. . . with both sides right and both sides wrong. How was I to make sense of it all?

As I later learned from Scriptures: “There is not one right, no, not one.”

The long, collegial tradition of free thought and orderly discourse was being challenged from both sides–left and right–during those  tempestuous days.  On the left, the “Movement” was being split. A huge rift was tearing the violent-prone revolutionaries apart from the “play by the rules” nonviolent protesters.

David Horowitz, years ahead of me, had been, along with David Obst (quoted above) in the very thick of the antiwar, antiestablishment resistance during those days. But later, in the 1970’s, he changed his tune and his political affiliations. In his book, Radical Son, Horowitz wrote:

http://www.amazon.com/Radical-Son-A-Generational-Odyssey/dp/0684840057

“Although the Panther vanguard was isolated and small . . .its leaders were able to rob and kill without incurring the penalty of the law. They were able to do so, because the Left made the Panthers a law unto themselves. The same way the Left had made Stalin a law unto himself. The same way the Left makes Fidel Castro and the Sandinista comandates laws unto themselves.”

“. . .the best intentions can lead to the worst ends. I had believed in the Left because of the good it had promised; I had learned to judge it by the evil it had done.”

Such is the electrifying commotion of ideologies and tactics that I walked into while starting college in 1969. And I am still trying to figure it all out–who is right, who is wrong.

More about all this later. Film at 11. Book in, probably, about three years.

Glass half-Full