Most are resentful of my affected cheerfulness. They greet me with suspicion and some never surrender it. They are almost all depressed, their chronic diseases and injuries afflicting the soul as well as the body, serving as constant reminders of battlefields best forgotten. However, they will never forget which is why we must never forget them. They are patients at the nation's Veterans Administration Hospitals.
I used to visit them at Tripler Army Medical Center when I was stationed there as the Special Services officer after my tour of duty in Vietnam. Their wounds were fresher then and hadn't yet eaten away at their psyches. Most were still cheerful in a morbid way, still marveling at being alive, their wounds perceived as a winning lottery ticket. The prize, a discharge from the horrors of combat. It was to be a short assignment. Unfortunately, I carried my own wounds. A dose of malaria, a nagging sense of survivor's guilt, and a bad attitude that my colonel couldn't see past. I still carry vestiges of all three. Thus my tour of duty at Tripler was brief, and I was sent on to trouble another, happily a commanding officer who was more tolerant and found a way to channel my energies more productively.
There's a political proverb that “Only Nixon would go to China”, meaning that “only a politician or leader with an impeccable reputation of upholding particular political values could do an action in seeming defiance of them without jeopardizing his support or credibility”. (Wikipedia)
President Nixon was a hardliner when it came to dealing with the communists. No one would suspect him of coddling them by visiting China and opening formal relations, but he did. Even those who did not suspect that Nixon's intent was to leverage the Chinese against the Soviets never questioned his motives. They trusted him to be tough with communism regardless of appearances.
Yes, you know where I'm going with this, don't you? Do we trust President Obama's motives in opening formal relations with Cuba? Can we say with equal confidence that “Only Obama could go to Cuba?”
As I write this, responses to that question are arriving every minute from the Vietnam Veterans Only group on Facebook. It seems my question has hit a nerve. Take a look at a random sampling of the responses...
Can you imagine my surprise?
I was fortunate that when I completed my tour of duty in Vietnam, I was assigned to a post in Hawaii where there was little hostility between the military and civilian communities. Thus, I was spared the abuses that many Vietnam Veterans experienced on their return to CONUS (the Continental United States). I am appalled to learn that my comrades could not find sanctuary even among other veterans. It seems that “The Greatest Generation” wasn't as great as I once believed.
As I read Dr. Ben Carson's book, Gifted Hands, I discovered that he shared a problem with me in school. No one bothered to teach either of us how to study. Although Dr. Carson relates that he excelled in grade school in spite of the handicap, his lack of study skills almost caused him to flunk his first semester at Yale. Fortunately, as he believes, God extended a helping hand and got him over the hurdle. Afterward, he perfected his study skills and went on to great accomplishments.
Sadly, God never gave me a hand. However, inspired by Dr. Carson's example and believing that late is better than never, I set out to learn how to study. I turned, of course, to Google to show me the way.
I may be guilty of overthinking this, but I read a book that got me to thinking about verb tense in storytelling. That's tense as in past, present, or future. Maybe I haven't been paying attention, but it seems to me that most stories are told in the past tense. Consider this example from Charles Dickens: “Marley was dead: to begin with.”
That's the first sentence of Stave 1 in A Christmas Carol. What? Is he no longer dead? Was he not dead at the time of the story? Or should Dickens have written: “Marley is dead: to begin with”?
As I said: I'm overthinking this, or am I?
It's my son's fault. He gave me a book to read, Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, in which the author played with the present tense. I say played because he wasn't consistent in its use. I wish he had been. It's the reason I read the book.
When I was a Buck Private in the Army, I earned $89 per month. Just beer and cigarette money we called it. Everything else was provided: Food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, etc. Obviously, we couldn't support a wife and family on such a pittance, but we were told that if the Army/Marine Corp/Air Force/Navy wanted us to have a wife, they would have issued one to us. That was in the days of conscription.
With the advent of the All-Volunteer Military, all service members were promised a living wage and many privates and corporals married and some have children. However, the promises haven't been kept. It's become so bad that many on welfare feed better at the government trough than those charged with protecting our nation and its Constitution and people.
There are a few quaint traditions that have faded from the culture but not from my memory. People wore poppies on Veterans Day. Everyone wore a carnation on Mothers Day, red if she was alive and white if not. Americans stood for the playing of the National Anthem, hands held over hearts. Sure, some still observe these traditions. Others do not. Many do not even know that they were common practices once upon a time.
I saw the disparity of memory and knowledge as I sat outside a neighborhood grocery store this weekend passing out Buddy Poppies for the Veterans of Foreign Wars and taking donations from those who cared. A few paused to talk. One offered to fetch me a cup of coffee for it was chilly this November 11th in Southern California. I could not help but wonder how many or how few understood the significance of the little red artificial flowers that I offered.
Movies were a popular escape from the cares and woes of the Great Depression. Just five cents could buy a brief reprieve in a theater where audiences laughed in mutual appreciation of the antics of the Keystone Kops and Laurel and Hardy among others. Sadly, there is little escape today from the unrelenting assault of the liberal/progressives who dominate Hollywood and the television producers. Fortunately, one show on CBS, Blue Bloods, provides a more rational approach to storytelling. The October 24th episode, Loose Lips, was a silver-lined example. The granddaughter of the police commissioner is caught venting her frustrations on the Internet over a Fascist school teacher and is denied admission to Rutgers. The following minute-and-a-half clip contains the scene where she returns to the classroom with her mother to apologize to the teacher.
Sadly, the high school teacher portrayed in this scene is representative of many American teachers and college professors. In a later scene, she targets the police commissioner's granddaughter during a class extolling the virtues of progressivism and castigating the authorities like the girl's mother and grandfather. Her sanctimony is sweetened by the iconic portrait of Ernesto “Che” Guevara peering over her shoulder. No one ever abused authority more rapaciously than the hero of progressives and misguided children everywhere.
Have you attempted to help a child with their Common Core homework? Confusing isn't it? Common Core seems to complicate even the simplest of tasks just for the sake of complication. Is there another agenda? Are they trying to drive a wedge between us and our children?
Read Emancipation: A short story about a boy luring his younger sibling into the world of emancipated youth.
Are you bored with roller coasters, pendulum rides and drop rides? Are their height and speed no longer thrilling? Are you becoming bored with amusement parks?
Maybe, just maybe you're ready for a ride on the Carousel...a new short story.