MY VIETNAM STORY is on hold. Nick Andrews, the protagonist from Rebels on the Mountain, refuses to die in my head. So, I'm now embroiled in the Korean War when Nick came of age as an Airborne Ranger. No, it isn't going to be a war story. It's going to be the story of a young man coming to grips with his past, present, and future while fighting for his life behind enemy lines during the Korean War.
The research phase has begun and I'm already fascinated with the history of Korea. Little did I know that Korea's enmity with Japan began long before World War II. Japan's vision of a united Asia with themselves at the top evinced itself during the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) during which time they began their dominance of the Korean peninsula while the Western World watched with approval. Of all the Asia nations, Europe and America found Japan to be the most civilized after their own fashion.
Besides Nick, I have every intention of introducing a character from my past who has long intrigued me. He was an old sergeant who came under my command when I was assigned as Special Services Officer at Tripler Army Medical Center in 1968 after my tour of duty in Vietnam. When I met him, I couldn't help but be curious about the fact that he wore only one ribbon on his uniform, the Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster indicating two awards of it. I stopped one day at the personnel office and requested his 201 file. It was the thickest service record I had ever seen. From it I learned that he had lied about his age to join the American Expeditionary Force in Europe during The Great War (WWI), then rejoined to serve in World War II, and again during the Korean War. After returning to the service to participate in the Vietnam War, he accumulated the last of twenty years service, all in time of war. Buried deep in that record were two sets of orders, yellowed and crispy dry with age, awarding his the Silver Star. Both were signed by General John J. (Black Jack) Pershing.
The title is selected – Behind Every Mountain – and the Prologue is written. Actually, I wrote the Prologue for Rebels on the Mountain, but there was too great a gap between the events it describes and the beginning of that story. Some may argue that I am writing the new book just to salvage it. That may be true, however, as I begin my research, I am finding a great new story taking shape in my imagination.
I WAS READING the latest book from Alan Bradley, I Am Half Sick Of Shadows
, featuring a precocious eleven-year old detective, Flavia de Luce, when I came across a line of dialog that resonated with me. Flavia is speaking with an elderly aunt about her exploits in the Secret Service during World War II. She is especially interested in learning about the murder victim in the story, Phyllis Wyvern, who served with her aunt.
“Miss Wyvern must have been a very brave woman,” I [Flavia] said.Aunt Felicity returned to the window and looked out as if World War Two were still raging somewhere in the fields to the east of Buckshaw.
“She was more than brave,” she said. “She was British.”
I believe there was a time when the British were among the most stout-hearted peoples of the world. They fought like bobcats, overcoming great odds not only to survive, but also to prevail, and build one of the vast empires of history. There was no hyperbole in the claim that “the sun never set on the British Empire” at one time.
As a student of history, I know that they accomplished this feat with surprisingly limited resources. For example, I was well aware that captains and crew of British men 'o war preferred to capture enemy ships during the Napoleonic Wars rather than destroy them not only to collect prize money, but also because England simply didn't have sufficient forests to supply the lumber and spars needed to build and maintain their far-flung fleets. However, I never really appreciated the paucity of their resources until the other night while viewing Top Gear
on BBC America, I was stunned to learn just how small the British Isles really are. During one segment, Jeremy Clarkson and his co-hosts traveled to Scotland to build a kit car. Their challenge
was to complete and drive it to a race track and cross the starting line before The Stig,
their tame race drive, could arrive from Surrey, England, after driving through London. The shocking part was that the distance from the south of England to the Scottish capital was only slightly farther than driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco!
I wonder just how stout-hearted these Brits are today. After decades of societal experimenting, could they even defend their island nation let alone conquer so much as a cabbage patch? Have entitlements softened that iron will? Would Churchill be wasting his breath if he encouraged them to “fight them on the beaches?” Is it possible that the Battle of Britain was “their finest hour,” never to be repeated?
Despite the fact that those now holding the reins of power in Washington are attempting to steer us down the same path of social democracy that has ruined Europe, I am an optimist. I firmly believe that America will recover from its current malaise. Indeed, I believe the recovery will begin on the same night when we learn that men and women who have trust and confidence in our people have been elected. America's next great recovery will begin when liberty is restored so that the people can succeed or fail by their own mettle rather than collective decision makers. I believe that our finest hours are still ahead.
THE SOLDIER STOOD and faced God,Which must always come to pass.
He hoped his shoes were shining,Just as brightly as his brass.
'Step forward now, soldier ,
How shall I deal with you?
Have you always turned the other cheek?
To My Church have you been true?'
The soldier squared his shoulders and said,
'No, Lord, I guess I have not.
Because those of us who carry guns,
Can't always be a saint.
I've had to work most Sundays,
And at times my talk was tough.
And sometimes I've been violent,
Because the world is awfully rough.
But, I never took a penny,
That wasn't mine to keep...
Though I worked a lot of overtime,
When the bills just got too steep.
And I never passed a cry for help,
Though at times I shook with fear..
And sometimes, God, forgive me,
I've wept unmanly tears.
I know I don't deserve a place,
Among the people here.
They never wanted me around,
Except to calm their fears
If you've a place for me here, Lord,
It needn't be so grand.
I never expected or had too much,
But if you don't, I'll understand.
There was a silence all around the throne,
Where the saints had often trod.
As the soldier waited quietly,
For the judgment of his God.
'Step forward now, you soldier,
You've borne your burdens well.
Walk peacefully on Heaven's streets,
You've done your time in Hell.'
-- Author Unknown
DON'T TELL ME how much you love the soldier but hate the war. They can't be separated. Don't tell me that war is evil. It is fought to end evil. If you can't think of something nice to say to a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine, don't say anything at all.
Don't tell me that President Bush sent us to fight an unjust war. Every wartime President was vilified, even Lincoln. Even Roosevelt. Even Truman. Even Johnson. In every case, the war they presided over was Constitutionally sanctioned, and in every case the people tired of the conflict and turned against their leaders.
Don't tell me I'm being belligerent. I already know that I am. I have just finished watching Vietnam in HD and am reminded of the abuse suffered by courageous young men and women at the hands of moral and intellectual cowards. I'm not referring to dissidents in general. We fought for their right to dissent. I'm referring to those who went beyond dissent, and attacked returning veterans.
I had avoided watching the series and then relented. I was proud to see and hear that many Vietnam Veterans are beginning to realize that they served honorably and it was those who abused them on their return who acted unjustly.
INVARIABLY, I AM drawn into a discussion of television from time to time. Some of my more snobbish friends refuse to have one in the house. Others can't seem to get enough of it. I've watched a fair share of it. We got our first black and white RCA console television with an eight inch screen in the late 1940s. That being said, I believe it has a place in my musings on history inasmuch as I have witnessed much of it as it revealed itself in its glowing lens in my lifetime.
Although television was invented a few years before my birth, it didn't become popularly available until the mid-1940s. I remember my father bringing home that first television. I didn't understand anything about it, not even that it was going to display pictures somehow magically. It just looked like another piece of furniture when he first dragged it into our living room. I had to wait to find out.
My father proceeded to completely disassemble it before it reached room temperature. My father was an inveterate tinkerer. He was working as the maintenance machinist at the Lever Brothers plant in Baltimore at the time. He had a native talent for repairing almost any kind of machine, frequently fabricating replacement parts from raw stock. Over the years he worked there he taught himself to become a journeyman welder, pipe fitter, and machinist. However, electronics were not in his wheelhouse.
Although a very intelligent man, my father was not a scientist. He could not be dissuaded from an explanation once he had crafted it no matter how badly he missed the truth. He once explained radio to me as follows: Imagine, he said, a infinite string of “A's” in the air. When the radio station broadcasts a man saying “A” they are adding an “A” to the string and one at the other end “drops” off into our receiver. Yes, he actually said that.
Thus, although he was able to completely disassemble that television and reassemble it to work, he derived no real understanding of its operation. Still, he was able to remove tubes regularly and replace one that had burnt out using the tube tester at the neighborhood pharmacy (any day of the week except Sunday – but that's another story).
I can't remember much of what we watched in those days. I was five or six when we got the television. I'm pretty certain that my father bought it to watch boxing on the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports
. He had escaped the coal mines of Pennsylvania as a professional prize fighter and never lost his love of the sport. He would sit on the front edge of his chair with his fists between him and the fighters on the screen, ducking and weaving, stopping only between rounds to refresh himself with beer and potato chips.
I believe that I was among the first fans of puppeteer Burr Tillstrom's Kuklapolitan Opera
and Foodini the Great
, a marionette magician.
My first memorable brush with history on television came when I watched the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth of England. I was just ten years old and yet remember it well. I remember the wonder of the technology used – a restored World War II P-50 Mustang fighter was used to fly the film from London to New York by way of Ireland and Greenland – so that we could watch the event just 12 hours after it occurred! No tape then. They flew raw film footage to the studios in New York and put it on the air as fast as they could develop and dry it. They were able to do a little crude editing as the show progressed.
Interestingly, we were still watching tape delayed programming in Hawaii in the late 1960s. News broadcasts were flown in and aired daily, but regular programming, including sporting events, were aired a week later. We spent the week during football season avoiding sports pages in the newspapers so that we could enjoy the game without foreknowledge of the results. Of course, some wise guy would walk by just as we sat down with our beer and pretzels and comment on the outcome.
To say that television has brought about a revolution in communications and entertainment would be a weak excuse for including it as a topic in this blog. However, it is valid to discuss its impact on American politics, especially its role in shaping public opinion during the Vietnam War as well as the War on Terror.