Friday, July 21, 2017

My War Stories.......

People have asked me to share my "war stories" about Vietnam. 

I have no war stories. I was not in daily combat. I was in a military support command. We re-stocked, re-assigned, re-supplied and basically ran the Army's entire logistics operation in Vietnam. The big advantage to having a job like that was that you could have something of a normal life, an illusion of safety, and, in my case, having the opportunity to travel around Vietnam while performing your duties. Many people were not interested in traveling, or learning, or experiencing. They just wanted to do their time and go home. I was eager to learn everything I could while doing my one-year tour. 

My life was rarely in jeopardy, but when it was you lived second to second. A sniper’s bullet flying within inches of your head in the middle of the night while on guard duty on a dark mountain ridge. Or upon waking in the morning, you discover a deadly Bamboo Viper sleeping under the head of your sleeping bag. Or one moment you are flying in a helicopter doing your job and suddenly experience a near mid-air collision.  Or you get stranded in an unknown area of Saigon one night at curfew because your mission ran late and have to spend the night with an unknown family in an unknown location, in an unknown situation, with your whereabouts being unknown to your superiors. 

My story is not what happened to me as much as it is about what I learned. I try to show that in everything I do. I do not glamorize or romanticize war or the military. I am not particularly proud of what we did there. But, it is what it is. My words, actions and art are a direct result and reflection of my time in Vietnam and of the things I observed there. They are my story. 

Many Vietnam Vets have used their experiences in the war as a catalyst and fuel for causes and projects they immerse themselves into to try to make the world a better place. I know of some and I call them my friends. 

John McCain. Not my hero......

John McCain’s hero status has largely been promoted by John McCain himself. There were over 800 POWs in Hanoi who suffered at prisons like ”The Hanoi Hilton" during their capture by the NVA. John McCain is the only one we we hear about on a constant basis. He has spent the last 44 years making sure of that. Let's not forget, those 800 men were all being held prisoner by an enemy, who did not start the war, for bringing indiscriminate death and destruction by the most powerful nation on earth to a defenseless people in a third world country. 

John McCain is the guy who returned home from being a prisoner of war, in 1973, to a former beauty queen wife who stood by him while he was being held prisoner for five and a half years, but who had been disfigured in a terrible car crash three years earlier. Her car had skidded on icy roads into a telegraph pole on Christmas Eve, 1969. Her pelvis and one arm were shattered by the impact and she suffered massive internal injuries. When Carol was discharged from hospital after six months of life-saving surgery, the prognosis was bleak. In order to save her legs, surgeons had been forced to cut away huge sections of shattered bone, taking with it her tall, willowy figure. She was confined to a wheelchair and was forced to use a catheter. Through sheer hard work, Carol learned to walk again. But when John McCain came home from Vietnam, she had gained a lot of weight and bore little resemblance to her old self. He divorced her in 1980. According to Carol McCain….”Not because of the accident but because he wanted to be 25 again.”

John Sidney McCain III was a well known "hot dog aviator”, careless pilot, who graduated at the bottom of his class and who was also the arrogant, troubled son of Four Star Admiral John Sidney McCain Jr, (the Commander-in Chief of the US Pacific Command during the Vietnam War, and thus his commanding officer) and grandson of Admiral John Sydney McCain Sr, whose routine daily job was to bring death and destruction from the skies by enthusiastically dropping hundreds of bombs on thousands of innocent, unseen men, women and children from 40,000 feet and was shot down, captured and imprisoned for it.  Had he never got shot down, we would know nothing about him.  He may be considered a patriot by some…but, to me, he is not a hero. 

What makes him any different than the savage and heartless soldiers who purposely and deliberately wrought mindless havoc and mayhem to the small quiet village hamlet of old men, women and children at Son My, Vietnam on March 16, 1968 which eventually became known as The Mai Lai massacre? The fact that we make people like John McCain a hero for what he did in Vietnam makes me nauseous. Why do we celebrate “The War Makers” instead of “The Peace Makers”.

To me, heroes are people whose actions save lives. A guy who flies a helicopter into a hot LZ to take out wounded. A guy who falls on a grenade to save his comrades. A guy who carries his comrade to safety in a deadly firefight. A hero is even a guy who is in an aerial dog fight in a jet like John McCain flew at 40,00 feet because he is facing the enemy face to face, on equal terms. And guys who speaks out against war atrocities……… Tom Glen, and Michael Bernhardt of the 11th Light Infantry Brigade, who blew the whistle on the Mai Lai massacre of 1968 which saw the murder of over 500 innocent women and children. To his credit, he has personally faced his former enemies with grace and forgiveness. 

John McCain has spent his life advocating for and protecting rich people and corporations. He is a STAUNCH Republican who cares nothing for the average American. He can only considered a moderate in comparison to today’s Far Right Nut Job Republican Party. He has never done anything for the working people of this country. The fact that Liberals are now praising him for ONE VOTE makes me ill. It does not change his past. He has never been “The People’s Friend”.

I am very sorry to hear about John McCain’s cancer prognosis…..but I have never liked John McCain much and I have never considered him a “Hero” and I will not be shamed into changing my position now because he is sick. I have the utmost sympathy for The Senator and his family in view of the announcement and have compassion for the serious and difficult battle they face and respect for the lifetime of public service he has given. I do not wish him harm or ill but I do not consider him a hero. You cannot rewrite history by taking one positive action in the 11th hour.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The USA only has a TWO Party System.......Like it or not......

The United States of America has a TWO party system. Like it or not. And to win in a two party system, you have to support one of TWO parties. All the idealism and perception of political purity and romanticizing about a Third Party will not change that…and demanding it will lessen your chances to win.
As long as we let extremists from either party create chaos and divide us, the majority of people in this country lose. Extremists have no desire to compromise or work together for a better country for all. They only want what they consider to be an ideal society in which their illusions flourish.
What we end up getting is an intolerant, closes minded, hateful atmosphere where nothing gets done. It is a standoff. It is a stalemate.
That is not the kind of society I want to live in. I realize that I am not going to get everything I want, but I am willing to get most of what I want in exchange for Progress.
To believe in idealistic illusions and political purity only damages the Democratic process and will eventually destroy our Democracy. All we have to do is look at The Tea Party and Donald Trump.
Democracy IS compromise. Democracy is working together. Sadly, Right and Left Wing zealots will never understand that or admit they are NOT Democratic. Anything else is a dictatorship. That is why they are to be avoided at all cost.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Bernie Sanders Needs to Stand Down, Join Up and Get In Line

Bernie Sanders is NOT a Democrat. He never has been. And he has spent his entire career trashing Democrats…………and continues to do so to this day. 

I don't care if he caucuses with Democrats. He is not our friend any more than Joe Lieberman was. He ran as a Democrat while still an Independent. He is still an Independent. He used the DNC for his own agenda. He is a total opportunist and self-centered as hell. He cares only about being in the headlines. 

Over his LONG political career (not an outsider) he has done very little except to stand on the outside screaming accusations and lies. He has done little more than run his mouth. Hillary Clinton’s list of Progressive accomplishments far out shadows that of Bernie Sanders. 

If he wants to be a Democrat, he needs to join us and get in line. We don't need to join him. Nobody asked him to reform the DNC. We owe him nothing!! He is not the leader of the Democratic Party. We are.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Quiet Night in Saigon.....

While serving in Vietnam from 1967 until 1968, I often volunteered to do “Official Courier Runs” to U. S. Army Headquarters-Vietnam in Long Binh, about 24 miles outside of Saigon. You see, back in those days, although we had computers (IBM 1005s, which were so big they fit into semi-trailers) we had no way of transmitting the information so we had to hand carry the paperwork, in the form of printouts, from place to place.
Leaving my compound in Quy Nhon at early dawn, I would take my “Priority Two” Travel Orders to the airfield and wait for a flight. There were almost no direct commercial flights in those days, so we had to do “military hops” from place to place until we got to our desired destination. I flew on everything, from private aircraft of very high-ranking officers as well as military normal aircraft, “Hueys”…(UH-1 Iroquois), to CH-47 Chinooks,  C-130 Hercules’ to C-123 Providers to DHC-4 Caribous, to get where I was going. My Priority Two Orders made that possible. I basically always got the next flight out.
When doing courier runs to Headquarters, you got an automatic free three-day pass. The trick was……if you arrived at your destination early enough on the first day and got your mission done, you would have two days of free R&R. That was always my goal. Saigon was very fun in those days and relatively safe…….during the day. On a particular trip in 1968, I did just that.
I arrived at Tân Sơn Nhất Airport in Saigon in late afternoon after a long, multi craft hopscotch trip across Vietnam from Quy Nhon. I walked across the tarmac to the heliport opposite to the main terminal to try to arrange for a flight to Long Binh, where the US Army Vietnam Headquarters were. That was my destination.
At about 3:30 PM, I finally caught a hop to Long Binh arriving at around twenty minutes later. I immediately grabbed my suitcase and parcel containing the computer print outs that were destined for USARV and jumped out of the Huey. The helipad was directly beside the headquarters building, so it was a short walk to the statistics office where I was to drop off my paperwork.
Having completed my mission, I went back to the helipad and waited for the next hop back to Tân Sơn Nhất Airport.
I arrived back in Saigon about 5:30 PM. I hired a cab to take me to my hotel in downtown Saigon….about 20-25 minutes away, depending on traffic. In those days, there was a curfew which started at sunset and went to sunrise. Since Saigon is only 10-12 degrees or so off the Equator….it has pretty much 12 hours of daylight. 6PM is the beginning of darkness.
As we approached downtown, the cab driver turned and said to me that he needed to drop me somewhere because he needed to get home before curfew. I was taken aback. He wants to drop me in the middle of nowhere at sundown in Saigon?? No…I don’t think so. I argued with him and told him he needed to take me to my hotel immediately. He refused. As the argument proceeded, we reached an impasse. He was not budging. He needed to get home to his family.
It was then, and only then, ever, that I have ever pulled a gun on another person. I reached down and pulled my .45 automatic out of it’s holster and pointed it at his head. I said he need to take me somewhere safe. He promised.
He drove a short way and then pulled up in front of a rather large house, by Vietnamese standards. The house was surrounded by a wall and gate. He quickly opened my car door and ushered me through the gate and to the door of the house where a woman was waiting. He introduced my to a friendly woman and explained to her, I guess, in Vietnamese, what the circumstances were. She welcomed me into her home, where she introduced me to her husband, and family, including a small boy with a small white dog. She showed me to a room at the top of the stairs and, although she could not speak English, indicated to me that this was my room.
As I was settling in, I noticed the small boy, with his dog, looking at me through a small open window between the stairs and my room. We smiled and waved at each other and attempted to connect. (I took a great photo of them, but, somehow, through the years, I have misplaced it.) After about one hour, the boy returned and indicated that it was dinner time.
I went back downstairs and was greeted by the family and invited to sit down at the table. This family was obviously very westernized, as most Vietnamese did not sit at dinner tables. They normally sit on the floor. We smiled and I expressed my approval of the food and my appreciation to them for providing me with a well needed home cooked meal.
It was easy to forget, at that moment, that I was in an unknown location, with unknown people in the middle of a war zone. Nobody in the Army, or anywhere else for that matter, knew where I was. I could have easily “disappeared”, but, as has always been the case, I trusted the Universe to take care of me.
After dinner, I excused myself and returned to my room. I was tired after a long day of traveling.
In the morning, I awoke to a sunny, beautiful day. I was served a small breakfast by my hostess and then bid her and the family farewell. I grabbed my small suitcase went out into the busy street and hailed another cab, which completed the trip to my hotel.
Since that time, and often, I wonder about the family. I wonder if they were OK after hosting a US soldier in their home. But that is assuming that they were aligned against the VC. Maybe they were, in fact, VC sympathizers. Maybe I had spent the night with “the enemy”.
I will never know……but I will always remember the great and unexpected experience I had one evening in war torn Saigon. And I hope they are safe and know how much their kindness meant to me on that very unusual night in a far off place called Vietnam.
It would be nice to know.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Force and Violence

I remember, while taking Taekwondo from the ROK Tiger Division in Quy Nhon, Vietnam back in 1968, I noticed that all my teachers were Buddhists. They used to invite me to spend time with them on our days off and visit Buddhist Temples and shrines around the city. 

Going anywhere with the ROKs was being the safest you would ever be in Vietnam. They were known for their ruthlessness and the extreme force with which they would use to quickly dispel any conflict that may arise. When they traveled down the streets, either in a vehicle or more importantly, the path ahead would clear for you. People went into their homes and closed the doors and windows. 

The United States Forces in Vietnam often used the Korean Army in situations where it might be politically or diplomatically impossible for the US to do something directly. One instance we witnessed in Quy Nhon during the famous 1968 Tet Offensive, a period that totally reversed the momentum of American-Vietnam War, when the VC took control of the local radio station. The ROKS were called in, the job was done. They gave the intruders 30 seconds to get out of the building, after which, being ignored, they destroyed the building. 

I asked my teachers one day, “As Buddhism is such a peaceful and pacifist philosophy, how do you justify the very aggressive nature of what you do here and the use of your martial art form, which, unlike some forms of martial art, when used to it’s highest capacity, is fatal?”

My teachers answered….”Because we do not support violence, we use our extreme force to quickly stop violence anywhere we can and remove it’s effects as quickly and efficiently as possible, using a maximum amount of force for a minimal amount of time, thus restoring peace.”