Infantry School

CLOSE COMBAT TRAINING was elevated to a whole new level in Officer Candidate School when the sheaths were removed from the bayonets. “Don't complain to mama or your Congressman,” the sergeant warned us. “If you don't like what we're doing here you're more than welcome to quit.” 
The truth is that more than half of all officer candidates quit before completing the six-month course. The tactical officers were scrutinizing us for weaknesses from the moment we arrived at Fort Benning. They were going to break us anyway they could. Physically. Emotionally. Academically. They would find our weakness and pick at it like a sore until we broke. Very few of us were thrown out.

There wasn't any penalty for quitting. Most of us had been promoted from Private E-1 or E-2 to Sergeant E-5 just for being accepted to OCS. We were allowed to keep that rank if we quit.

It's hard to know how anyone will react under combat. I had seen a few men break at the reception center at Fort Jackson when we were only asked to tolerate long lines and tedious forms. I had seen a few more break under the rigors of Basic Combat Training and Advanced Infantry Training. Better that they collapse there than on the battlefield when their comrades were depending on them. How much worse if a leader broke during combat? How much worse if the stress caused him to make even a simple mistake that would cost men's lives?

So, there I stood in a sawdust pit, my feet spread shoulder-width apart and my hands at my side. Another candidate stood opposite to me holding his M-14 pointed directly at my neck, the tip of his bare bayonet just four inches from my windpipe. The sergeant's disembodied voice reached me through a fog. I had eyes only for the eyes of my opponent. He was sweating. He was just as afraid as I.

“Thrust whenever you're ready!” the sergeant commanded.

My opponent whispered, “Are you ready?”

I hesitated. “Yes, but go slow,” I said.

“I'll go real slow,” he replied. “On three.”

“When you say three?”

“I'll say three... and then go.”




“Okay. One. Two. Three.”

I stepped back just as we had been instructed. I brought up my hand, the one nearest to my opponent, and guided his bayonet past my throat. I grabbed his rifle barrel behind the bayonet mount with the other hand and pulled, dragging him into the elbow that I aimed at his nose bridge. It struck.

“Damn!” he shouted, dropping his rifle and grabbing his nose. Blood flooded freely. “You weren't supposed to hit me,” he complained.

“Well, you weren't supposed to thrust that fast,” I defended myself.

“That wasn't fast.”

“Was too.”

“I barely moved.”

“No, I'll show you how fast it was,” I retorted. It was now my turn to thrust the bayonet at his throat and I may have thrust it a little faster than he had thrust it at me.

Before we were done, someone might have suspected that we were attempting to kill each other, but couldn't. Damn, we were good.

We trained equally hard in hand-to-hand combat. We trained until it became reflexive. There were no real defensive moves. Just offensive, killing moves. There is no time to waste with parrying on the battlefield.

Although our skills increased, we still respected our teachers. I remember clearly one day, an officer candidate was invited to help one of the training sergeant's with a demonstration. He was handed an M-14 with a bare bayonet attached. He asked what the sergeant wanted him to do. The sergeant replied, “Do whatever you want.”

The candidate threw the weapon out of the sawdust pit.

“Why'd you do that?” the instructor asked him.

The candidate replied honestly. “I'm getting rid of that thing before you take it away and kill me with it.”

Again, I thought back to those lessons as I wrote about Fidel Castro's revolution in Cuba. His men didn't have military-style weapons until they began stealing them from Cuban army outposts that they overran. The weapons that they brought with them were mostly sporting rifles and didn't have bayonet mounts. I'm sure some brought the knives they used to harvest sugarcane – heavy bladed machete-like knives with hooked ends. During the Cuban Revolution of the late 19th Century, Spanish soldiers feared the masses of peasants who survived their volleys and rushed to kill them with their cane knives.
I cannot find any record of rebels during Castro's revolution engaging in close combat with the dictator's army. They usually fought at a distance, much more like snipers than as infantrymen. They didn't close until enemy soldiers surrendered, and it was Castro's policy to treat their prisoners with compassion. Indeed, many were recaptured on multiple occasions, surrendering more easily each time knowing that they would be well-treated. 

Good Read

IF YOU HAVE been following this blog for any time – since late February this year – you'll know that I've been cooking for almost sixty years. (See Ship's Cook) I've been preparing a wide variety of dishes in that time including Eastern European, Italian, French, English, and Mexican. I have gone so far as to create my own recipes and been temped to write a cookbook: Cooking in a 19” Cast Iron Skillet. Sounds yummy, doesn't it? But writing a cookbook is no simple chore, especially for someone like me who tends to eyeball ingredients rather than measure them. And, the end result is always changing. To me, that's part of the adventure of cooking. It's always good and it's always different. Unfortunately, that doesn't work so well for the cookbook user. When I decided to try my hand at Chinese cuisine, I shopped carefully for the best cookbook on the subject. That's when I discovered Eileen Yin-Fei Lo.
Inasmuch as I was not blessed to be raised by a Chinese mom, I purchased Eileen Yin-Fei Lo's book, Chinese Kitchen.
 It seemed the best of her books to begin with because Chinese Kitchen is not just a book of recipes. It is an encyclopedia of, well, the Chinese kitchen. It begins with the cultural heritage as well as the ingredients founds in the Chinese larder and the tools including the two principle ones, the wok and the cleaver. This is essential information for anyone who has never shopped for a good wok or who wouldn't recognize a fresh bok choi if one were thrown in their face.
Click to purchase on Amazon
Armed with Eileen's expert advice, I purchased my wok from a distributor in San Francisco that imported them from China. It wasn't the sort of thing that I would have selected if I hadn't read her book first. Who would have guessed that those hammer marks were important? They help hold the food on the sides away from the hot oil while other ingredients are cooking in the center.

Anyone who takes their food seriously knows that the best dishes require the best ingredients. The best ingredients for Chinese cuisine are found at Chinese markets. A winning smile, an engaging personality, and a pretty face go along way to encouraging the proprietors and customers to help you select the best. Having none of these qualities, I had to rely on Eileen's instructions. 

My first results surprised me. I didn't achieve the kind of food that I had expected, like the food that I had purchased at Chinese restaurants and take out joints. This was authentic, really good Chinese food! Seriously good. 

To be honest, even well written cookbooks can't help some people. I had a married friend in law school whose wife couldn't boil water. (Sorry, I know that's a platitude, but it was literally true in her case.) I tried to help. I gave her the a copy of the Culinary Institute of America cookbook and strict instructions to use only those recipes that I helped her with. Her first attempt to strike off on her own almost ended the young marriage.

These days, there are several websites that provide excellent recipes. My favorites include 
  • All Recipes Recipes are ranked by user's ratings and users post modifications they're used to adjust them to their own taste. Registered website users can bookmark their favorite recipes for future reference.
  • America's Test Kitchen Well-tested recipes as well as great comparisons of kitchen tools and equipment to help you get the most for your dollar. Also features episodes of their television programming providing you with step-by-step demonstrations.
  • Food Network The companion website to the cable television Food Network featuring some of America's favorite chef's, their recipes, and video presentations. 
  • National Institute of Health I found this website by accident while searching for a recipe to prepare one of my wife's favorite dishes: Chicken Marsala. Unfortunately, it is loaded with cholesterol and calories. However, the NIH version is a healthful alternative as are all their recipes. Check it out, especially if you are on a special diet to loose weight, reduce cholesterol, or for diabetes.
However, I never found a website for Chinese cuisine that served me better than Chinese Kitchen, and it is one of the few cookbooks that I have kept.


I HAVE NEVER found anyone who I could agree with all the time. Left. Right. Communist. Socialist. Capitalist. Republican. Democrat. Libertarian. They all exist because that have gotten at least one thing right, maybe even a few things, enough to attract a following. However, they also have gotten some things wrong, some more than others. Unfortunately, the ideologues that adhere to each attempt to apply their point of view to every situation regardless of its appropriateness. This point was reinforced for me the other day as I watched an episode of Trifecta on concerning the relative merits of educational systems. 
Generally, I find the commentary on PJTV more to my liking than any other media. However, this one left me cold on several counts. First of all, there are too many unidentified assumptions. Were the Japanese math wiz kids representative of the student population or a limited number of savants? Same for the Americans playing with kites. There is no attempt to clarify these points and the comparison that they attempt to make suffers for it.

Secondly, Mr. Whittle asserts that young children cannot learn successfully except by rote. Really? On what does he base that astonishing assertion. You're expected, I suppose, to accept it on your faith in his expertise. That sounds uncomfortably similar to the assertions made by the very educators he is denigrating. Indeed, teaching by rote has much the same effect as marching troops using the goose step. It tends to dull the senses and stifle independent thought. I never succeeded as a scholar because I had too much imagination to put up with learning by rote.

One of America's greatest gifts to the world of education, Sesame Street, uses storytelling to teach preschoolers every imaginable subject. In fact, storytelling was used successfully for thousands of years to teach children the collective wisdom of most communities. It is second only to teaching by example. (Ironically, you'll just have to take my word for that assertion.)

Once upon a time, when we were an agrarian society, children learned the skills they needed to survive and prosper by observing their family and helping from an early age. Suddenly, with the birth of the industrial age, adults disappeared each day and children were left to wonder at what mysterious functions they might be performing at their jobs. Schooling became important to provide that insight and most performed that function well until a class of professional educators arose, educators who had no practical knowledge of business and commerce. The quality of education steadily declined as these professional educators lost touch with the world they were ostensibly preparing children to engage in, and ideology began driving the educational system.

Interestingly, as the Information Age is replacing the Industrial Age, more adults are working from home thereby once again exposing children to real life job functions. Indeed, their toys and games are not only similar to the tools that their parents use, they are in some ways superior. Compare your computer with that of a “gamer.” You'll see what I mean.

Mr. Whittle goes on to recount his own education in physics and avers that it prepared him to vote. Really? I know that we once used “levers” to cast ballots. That's as close as I ever came to using physics to vote. I can't begin to address his assertion beyond that because there is no other obvious connection between physics and voting that I can see. He'll have to explain it to us.

No, what this episode of Trifecta demonstrates is the ease with which three ordinarily sensible men can slip into a mindless diatribe when they allow their ideology to drive their discussion. I would have preferred it if they had remarked on the apparent stress the Japanese students appeared to exhibit as they were performing their mathematical gyrations. Seriously, didn't they appear stressed to you? And, what was the point of building kites? Maybe there was one even though it wasn't obvious from the brief clip they provided.

I will continue watching PJTV despite this lapse on their part, and I will continue recommending it to others. Even when their commentary fails to provide cogent analysis of a subject, it inspires rational thought. Well, at least it does for me.

Infantry School

THE ARMY PROVIDED a well balanced diet from the four principal food groups: Meats, vegetables, cereals, and dairy. Officer candidates provided for themselves from the fifth: Pogey Bait. 
If it didn't come from the mess hall, we weren't allowed to eat it. Simple. No questions. In fact, we had to eat it just the way they served it. I once had to stand on a chair in the mess hall and sing “Take me out the ball game...” because I had the temerity to place a hot dog onto the bun that was served alongside of it.

In the beginning, we went along with it. However, as we became comfortable with the rules, we began to break them. Our first attempt was a disaster.

One night, we ordered pizza. Two of our platoon met the pizza delivery guy at a water tower near our barracks. They took our money and a clean garbage can to carry the pizza back into the barracks. I don't know how they knew, but our Tactical Officer and the company's Executive Officer walked in before we could take our first bites. They had us carry the pizzas into the latrine and leave them until we were called back. When we returned, we found the pizzas on the floor of the shower room. The cold water was pouring full blast from every shower head, and we were told it was time to eat our pizza. All of it. It was nasty.
Our mail was sacrosanct and our families and friends sent us small treats occasionally. After a few weeks, we were ordered to open any packages that we received with a tactical officer present. If it contained contraband food, it was confiscated. However, we were allowed to keep “special items” that were sent on special occasions. When one of our platoon had a birthday, we all wrote to our families and friends telling them to send treats addressed to that person.

On the date of his birthday, our Tactical Officer called us to his office after training. A stack of parcels covered one wall, waist deep. He had us carry it all to our platoon area in the barracks and then told us to wait in the latrine. When he called us back, we found that he had opened every box and dumped its contents throughout every room and hallway. We were given fifteen minutes to eat all that we could and told to clean up the rest. 
We didn't have a successful “pogey-party” until our eighteenth week in Officer Candidate School. Almost half of our number had quit by that time, but those who remained understood tactics far better. We ordered pizza and took delivery just as we had on the first attempt. However, we created a diversion to distract the officer on duty while we sneaked the food inside. We prepared hiding places and posted sentries to warn us of anyone approaching so that we could secret the food without being caught. We had all the windows open to vent the aroma. We enjoyed our pizza without being caught. We were ready to lead men in combat.

Infantry School

AN INFANTRY OFFICER not only has to know his weapons, but also the weapons that his enemy uses. Inasmuch as the Viet Cong were equipped with surplus weapons from every war, officer candidates had the chance to practice with some real antiques. (When I got to Vietnam, I saw even more that I had only read about or seen in old war movies including the .45 caliber Burp Gun, the British Sten Gun, and others.)
Captured Viet Cong weapons
We also had to learn the weapons then popular with Communist forces, most notably the famous Kalashnikov assault rifle – AK47. Interestingly, weapons design seemed to reflect much on the attitude towards the infantryman. The Americans adopted the 5.56X45mm caliber ammunition and a lighter assault rifle so that infantrymen could carry more firepower with less effort. The Communists continued to load their infantrymen down with the much heavier AK-47 and its much heavier 7.62X39mm caliber ammunition, and expected them to carry it without complaint. Although some may argue over the relative ballistic merits of the two calibers, it isn't particularly pleasant to be shot by either.

More importantly, the early versions of the American M-16 suffered from issues that had little to do with its caliber. The early flash suppressor shaped like a three-pronged fork easily caught on jungle vines. Overpowering the ammunition to give it power comparable to the larger caliber M-14 that it replaced as well as the Communist weapons, caused frequent jams during fire fights. These defects were corrected in time, but not until many infantrymen suffered the consequences. Many of the dead were found with their rifles disassembled where they had been attempting to repair them in the midst of fighting. The Communist-manufactured weapons were simple, durable, and reliable. Of course, they had to be. Men who had grown up in more primitive environments didn't have the mechanical knowledge or experience to perform complex maintenance on complex weapons systems. Most Americans were expected to adapt more readily. None of us even had the chance to touch an M-16 until issued one on arrival in Vietnam. We trained on the M-14.

I missed the M-14. I loved that weapon. It packed a real punch and had a much greater effective range. However, as I was to learn later in Vietnam, most fire fights occur at short range and carrying a heavy rifle and an even heavier load of ammunition in the heat and humidity of Vietnam was not pleasant.

One of the more interesting features of the Communist weapons were their lack of safety considerations. This was particularly evident in their sidearms, Whereas the standard American-issued Colt .45 Model 1911 semiautomatic pistol was equipped with three safety mechanisms – half cock, slide safety, and grip safety – the Soviet 9mm sidearm didn't have any.

As surprising as this may seem to those who have never served as an infantryman, gun safety is important, even on the battlefield. It was Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to clear all weapons when returning to base camps from a combat patrol. I moved to the head of the line when we approached our perimeter and inspected each man's weapons as he passed. He had to show me that it was unloaded, the breech was empty, and then dry fire his weapon pointing in the air. Also, there was a sand-filled bucket outside every building and tent where every soldier was expected to dry fire his weapon before entering. These SOPs were ingrained into us during our training.
Weapons design also influenced infantry tactics when using them. For example, most Communist combat rifles had bayonets permanently attached. We carried ours in sheaths and attached them to the ends of our infantry rifles whenever we expected to engage in close combat. Ours could have sharp edges and theirs couldn't. Thus, we could employ slashing motions with our bayonets at the end of our rifles and they could only stab with theirs. 

We also had to learn the effective range and rate of fire for all weapons that we employed as well as our enemy's. Even more importantly, we had to learn how to maintain fire discipline among our men. We heard tales that many fired their entire basic load when the came under fire, and had nothing left to defend themselves when the enemy rushed their position. 

Inasmuch as I trained as an infantry officer early in the Vietnam War, we didn't have many trainers with experience from that theater of operations. During our time at the Infantry School, we watched training films produced by Nazi's who had escaped Europe following World War II and hired themselves out to fight insurrections in other parts of the world, such as the Philippines. We received Vietnam-specific training in dribbles based on early intelligence reports of Viet Cong tactics. Of course, after Tet, when the Viet Cong had been decimated and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) began to prosecute the war, I'm sure they had to change the training to adapt to new tactics. I left Vietnam before the NVA had infiltrated as far south as my tactical area of operations in the Mekong Delta. Indeed, the first rocket attack on Saigon occurred the night I left the country. But, that's another story... 

Infantry School

BY THE TIME we had finished our training in anti-tank warfare, I don't believe that you could have tempted any of us to transfer to the cavalry. (Armor officers wear the crossed sabers that once signified horse soldiers.) We had studied anti-tank rockets, anti-tank mines, anti-tank rifles (yes, there were shoulder-fired rifles that could fire a bullet that would penetrate armor), and anti-tank satchel charges. We also learned that columns of armor were vulnerable to aircraft and artillery. 
General Sheridan Tank
We laughed at these metal monsters until we were introduced to the then new General Sheridan tank. We were piled onto bleachers facing ruined and rusted armored targets down range. A sergeant introduced the General Sheridan and turned to face a road emerging from the woods to our left and sweeping across the ground just in front of our seats. The monster roared into view and leaped from a low log ramp. It was clear of the ground by a couple of feet just in front of us when its turret suddenly swung in the direction of the targets. It fired before landing and disappeared into the woods on the opposite side of the grandstands as a missile streaked down range and struck its target. It had been traveling in excess of 30 miles per hour during this demonstration.

When it returned, it parked to one side of the bleachers and the tank commander sitting in his hatch atop the turret began blasting nearer targets with 1,000 rounds per minute from his electrically fired .50 inch machine gun. It was a frightening demonstration.

Later, we were taken to a firing range where a platoon of tanks were parked on the firing line. Five candidates at a time entered them, one to each tank and directed to sit in the gunner's seat. When my turn came, the tank commander gave me just five instructions: (1) He directed my attention to a switch labeled “Off,” “Main,” and “Coax.” He told me to switch it to “Coax” to fire the machine gun located alongside the main gun. (2) He told me to grip the yoke in front of me (it looked like an aircraft steering wheel shaped like a “U”). and turn it right and left which made the turret swing right and left. The turret turned relatively fast or slower depending upon how far you turned the yoke. (3) He told me to pull back on the yoke and push it forward, thus elevating and depressing the main gun and the machine gun alongside it. (4) He pointed out that the trigger was the button next to my right thumb on the yoke. (5) He had me place my eye to the gunner's sight directly in front of me.

As I looked down range through the sight, the tank commander warned me that a target was approaching from the right at 30 miles per hour and would travel to the left rising and falling with contours of the track it was riding on. “Fire!” he commanded.

The sight provided little peripheral vision and the target surprised me when it first appeared. I jerked the yoke too far to the left and quickly overshot it. A moment later I settled the sight on the target and began hitting it with .50 caliber bullets from the coaxial machine gun. I did better when the target reversed its direction. I kept the target in the center of the reticule smoothly elevating and depressing the gun with the motions of the target. In those brief seconds, I had mastered the thing and blew the target to shreds.

As I walked away from the tank, a thought occurred to me. Yes, I had done well with just a few minutes of hands on training. Imagine what could be done with a well-trained gunner operating it. I wasn't so hasty then to dismiss the tank. None of us were.
As we studied platoon tactics, we learned that a tank is a terrifying weapon on the battlefield if employed correctly. However, it is vulnerable to infantry if deployed without its own infantry to protect it from close attack. Desperate Germans during World War II disabled many Soviet tanks by running up behind them and dropping satchel charges on their rear decks, just over the engine compartments and fuel tanks. Even then, the Soviets didn't seem to learn. Protestors disabled many tanks using the same tactics during the Prague Spring.

Later, as I studied Fidel Castro's revolution, I learned that, again, daring men with satchel charges and command detonated mines, neutralized Batista's tanks and armored cars. I couldn't help including the lessons that I learned in Infantry Officer Candidate School in my novel about the Cuban Revolution, Rebels on the Mountain. 

Infantry School

THE WISDOM OF the Army is memorialized in a library of Army Regulations, Training Manuals, and Field Guides. We were given a shelf full when we began Officer Candidate School. As I stored them away in my desk I paused when I found FM 5-25, Explosives and Demolitions. I was in heaven. 
We had learned the barest essentials in Advanced Infantry Training: How to insert a detonating cap into an explosive and how to ignite a fuse. Obviously, we were going to learn a lot more in OCS. There were pocket guides to blowing up bridges, radio towers, railroads, concrete embrasures, and more.

My fascination with explosives and demolitions began with a pretty young girl I met in junior high school, Mary Loizeaux. I think every boy had a crush one her. Did I mention that she was very pretty? Her allure grew when her family was featured in a magazine supplement to the Sunday Sun newspaper. They had a trampoline in their house that made her even more alluring. But it was her father who fascinated me even more. He founded Controlled Demolitions Incorporated. You've probably seen their work featured in television news broadcasts of major hotels being destroyed. Now that got my attention. Still does.

I had grown up with a fascination with explosives. I had manufactured my own black powder and gun cotton. I might have been crazy enough to make nitroglycerin had I been able to get my hands on the ingredients. At least I knew what I needed and how to blend them safely[?]. I wasn't certain that I was going to survive OCS, but I knew damn well that they weren't getting rid of me until after training in explosives and demolitions.

I was very fortunate to be teamed up with a classmate who was deathly afraid of explosives and was happy to have me do everything. I was happy to do it. Fortunately for me he didn't know that military explosives are far more stable than commercial ones. They have to be inasmuch as they are handled in abusive environments such as battlefields where more sensitive ones, like dynamite, might detonate accidentally. I can still see him cringing at a distance as I pounded a lump of composition C4 on a concrete work bench to get it into the desired shape. The stuff you see in the movies is more soft and malleable. It's fake. I once had to pry a coil of detonating cord out of his hand. He had thought it was plastic clothes line when the sergeant sent him to retrieve it from the storage locker.

We learned restraint with explosives. Most people tend to use too much when they don't know what they're doing. For example, I had a friend who I helped clear a field of tree stumps before I joined the Army. His father gave him and his brothers each a plot of land to build houses when they got married. My friend's parcel was covered in cedar trees. His father contracted with a lumber company to clear the trees but failed to negotiate to have them remove the stumps. He decided to use dynamite.

In practice, you need just a small amount – a quarter or half of a stick – to loosen the dirt and then drag the stump out with a logging chain and a pickup truck. However, my friend's father used three sticks with each stump. We went away – far away – when he detonated them. We found his father later under his truck. He was afraid to come out until it stopped raining tree stumps.

The Army also taught us about sympathetic detonations. Most explosives are detonated with the shock from a smaller detonation, such as a blasting cap. However, solid materials can transmit a sufficient shock from a nearby detonation to set off other explosives. I had seen this effect before joining the Army.

A contractor hired an explosives expert to clear an exposed shelf of bedrock so he could expand a commercial park. The expert supervised the drilling of holes for the charges and the contractor then fired him thinking that he could finish the job himself now that the expert had planned everything. He decided to save time by placing the charges in all of the holes thinking to detonate them one at a time. However, the shockwave of the first detonation was transmitted through the rock setting them all off simultaneously. The story that appeared in a local newspaper featured a photograph of a hole in the wall of an office building where a chunk of rock the size of a small car entered the building. Fortunately no one was injured, although a secretary was shoved against a wall as the rock propelled her and her desk backward.

I couldn't help applying my lessons as I wrote Rebels on the Mountain. I knew that there were nickel mines in the Sierra Madre mountains in Eastern Cuba and that the Fidelistas had stolen explosives there. They also stole them from military posts that they raided.

My research showed me that they derailed an armored train on one occasion using explosives, and that they dynamited buildings during their final offensive. It was obvious that they needed someone who knew how to handle them and I provided fictional character, an engineering student, Juan Tumbas, to fill that role. I couldn't find any extant documents proving me right or wrong.

Infantry School

EVERY WEEK WE were given a schedule of activities. One in particular perplexed us: Crack & Thump. We debated the possible meaning of this arcane class name until the last moment. No one could bribe the cadre to give us even a hint. 
A sniper on the prowl
We were taken to the training area in buses and led down a sloping trail to a hollow. We sat on benches and waited for the class to begin. A training sergeant welcomed us briefly and a rifle shot cracked over our heads. We heard a distant “thump” a few seconds later. There was no mistaking the crack of the rifle bullet breaking the sound barrier as it passed. We didn't realize until told that the thump was the sound of the rifle that fired it.

We were instructed to count the seconds between the “crack” and the “thump” to estimate the distance to the person who had shot at us – about one second for every 300 meters. If fired at by a machine gun, we began counting from the last crack until the last thump.

The sound of the bullet cracking overhead won't tell you anything about the direction from which it was fired. You listen for the thump and point in that direction. That's where you find the shooter.

It takes discipline to use “Crack & Thump” well. The first crack starts the adrenalin flowing quickly followed by the exhilaration that comes when you realize that the bullet missed you. It also isn't very helpful in a fire fight when multiple weapons are firing simultaneously. This technique is most effective when searching for a sniper.

I'm not talking about an “offensive” sniper – one shot, one kill. You've seen them on television and in the movies. They wear a ghillie suit to blend into the terrain. They use high-powered, long range rifles with telescopic sights and silencers to suppress the “thump.” They also use special “loads” with smokeless powder and special muzzles to suppress the flash. They infiltrate enemy territory and assassinate key personnel.
I'm referring to ordinary soldiers employed as snipers. Basically, they function as skirmishers hidden in positions forward of their main defensive lines. There serve to detect the approach of enemy forces, and delay them while their comrades get ready. They use camouflage to help secret themselves – a little grease paint to mask their face and hide reflections, and a few pieces of surrounding flora to break up their outline.

We practiced spotting snipers in many different situations and times of day. However, I disrupted one class with the hiccups. The aggressors were well hidden and we were struggling to identify them one evening. Dinner hadn't agreed with me and I let rip with a belch that could be heard over the entire training area. We were then able to spot them easily. They were giggling uncontrollably. It's a technique that I was loathe to apply in Vietnam.

Good Read

THINK OF YOUR favorite ghosts from literature. Dicken's A Christmas Carol fairly leaps to my mind, not because it's the best, but rather my favorite. On reflection, I may prefer the ghost of Hamlet's father from Shakespeare's play.  
Interestingly, the ghosts of Hamlet's father and Scrooge's partner are walking earth for much the same reason: Unresolved issues - a murder, a mean-spirited life. I'm willing to bet that's a fairly common motivation among ghosts. It's one that has been exploited in recent television serials. Jennifer Love Hewitt helped spirits deal with their unresolved issues and cross to “the other side” weekly in Ghost Whisperer (2009 – 2010). More recently, the BBC production of Being Human features a ghost, Annie, that has helped others find that “doorway to the light” after first fixing the mess that it left behind in life.

Forgive the distraction but did you notice what I did there, in that last sentence of the previous paragraph? I referred to the Annie as “that” and “it.” Seems rather impersonal, don't you think? Does a ghost deserve mention using more “human-oriented” pronouns? We better leave that discussion for another posting.

Andrews St. Aubin, the protagonist in a Place of Skulls by Caleb Pirtle, is followed by a ghost with unresolved issues. However, we're never quite sure whose issues they are: St. Aubin's or the ghost's. St. Aubins, a mystery unto himself, is sent without a clue to solve mysteries. He must find a murderer somewhere amid the population of Arizona with no more than the identity of the victim. Additionally, he must locate a religious artifact that the victim was carrying even though no one has a clue as to what it might have been. Amazingly, Pirtle crafts a tale which makes solution of these problems believable.

Along the way, you will fall into other plots involving drugs, drug lords, desperate peasants acting as drug mules, and even more desperate American officials breaking the law to defeat the law-breakers.

As with all of Pirtle's writing, the prose fairly sings. The metaphors give substance to the people, places, and events. The dialog leaves you with the feeling that you were a party to the conversations. The exposition graces the pages without ever obscuring the plot. All in all, a good story, well told.
Click to purchase on Amazon
As you follow Andrews St Aubin through the danger infested streets of cities and the even deadlier sands of the desert, you will wonder what its issues are and how they involve St Aubin. Be patient. The answer may come or it may not, at the end.

Now, you have a piece of unfinished business that needs your attention. Click here so you can begin reading Place of Skulls


BILL WHITTLE, a commentator on PJTV, went on a rant the other day claiming that our children didn't know that man had once walked on the moon. Seriously, how could that possibly be true?  
I spoke to my fifteen year old granddaughter a few days later. We stumbled through the conversation. Besides the generational difference, she lives with her grandmother, my ex-wife, on the opposite side of the country. She is being exposed to political, societal, cultural, and socioeconomic differences that form a chasm between us. However, our infrequent contacts give me the advantage in that I'm not a constant embarrassment or irritant in her daily life. Thus, I was able to slip in an innocent question: “Did you know that men had walked on the moon?” I was hoping for a surprise but disappointed when she said, “No, I didn't know that.”

One ignorant child is not an indictment of the whole system. However, it is my grandchild and it's enough to confirm that Whittle's assertion may be true.  One of America's and mankind's greatest technological achievements, and she has been denied knowledge of it. Whittle claims that some her age are even denying the event. Why? Of course, Whittle – a “knuckle-dragging” conservative – goes for the progressive's jugular and blames it on their wish to denigrate our nation in the eyes of our children. Now, we know that progressives dominate our institutions of education. This is demonstrably true. As I discussed in an earlier posting, it is easy to surmise that the lessons that we learned in civics and American history are being replaced with ideological indoctrination. (See Are Our Children Being Programmed?
Whittle also went on to rant about the fact that virtual friends are replacing actual relationships. Well, I can't argue too much with that observation. How about you? Have you watched people around you in public places, ignoring their companions while they text and talk on their cell phones? Have you seen them posting on FaceBook and Twitter with their iPads while they're sharing a meal at home or away? I have. I see it happening every time I leave the house. But, is that really significant? Who cares if people prefer keeping their friends at a distance? They won't catch the flu from virtual encounters, will they?

If everyone is so well connected, I shouldn't have any problem finding out if other people have observed the same thing. Does your child know about the moon mission? Do you know?