Category Archives: Life

Vietnam

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Wikipedia photo

Some said we were killing commies for Christ, some said we were killing babies, some said we were killing civilians in a Sherman-takes-war-to-the-people style, some said collateral damage was to be expected, and some said we should be proud of what we were doing while others said we were supporting the wrong side.

Vietnam was the first war brought into our living rooms. Ken Burn’s Vietnam documentary has brought it back though some people say the war never left us even if we were born years after the April 29, 1975 photo was taken of an American helicopter at 22 Gia Long Street in Saigon evacuating civilians as the North Vietnamese advanced on the city. Some say we killed those we left behind.

Pro-Vietnam war and anti-Vietnam war Americans saw in this evacuation photograph a sad and sobering epitaph for the two million civilians, 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers, 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers, and 58,200 Americans who were killed during the war. The picture smacks of defeat, though the U.S. was not defeated: it left Vietnam based on the 1973 peace settlement. Nonetheless, what happened in Vietnam seemed like defeat because our political and military objectives were not met and, in fact, were impossible to achieve. Much of the anti-war anger comes from the fact that as the United States sent in more and more troops, its leaders knew that losing the war (by whatever definition one chose) was a foregone conclusion.

My wife and I see our reflections in the Vietnam War memorial this past summer as I find the name of a high school classmate two died there.

Those of us who were against the war wondered, with singer Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind,”. . . “how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?”

There’s no point in rehashing the arguments here about whether we should have been there or not. I served two years and three months in the navy before leaving as a conscientious objector. The summer before joining the navy under the threat of being drafted into the army, I was in the Netherlands with one foot on the gangplank of a ferry that would take me to the safe haven of Sweden when I changed my mind and came back to the U.S. I regretted that for a long time. Burns’ documentary, which seems balanced to me, has brought back all the images and doubts and regrets and angers of those days of war and protest.

I’ve never felt comfortable saying I am a veteran, much less taking advantage of any prospective veterans’ benefits, because, while a pacifist, I still experience survivor’s by suggesting that I “fought” in the Vietnam War. I was on a aircraft carrier one hundred miles off the coast, a far cry from the terror and danger of those who served in-country. I was in Da Nang for only 24 hours as I flew back to the states for a change of duty assignment. I feel this guilt all over again as I watch Burns’ series.

Burns takes us back many years prior to the United States’ involvement, background which I think is necessary. He tells us that the U. S. initially supported Ho Chi Minh via covert ops in his fight against the French. I don’t think we knew that during the 1960s. He shows us images we want to forget. He makes us (well, some of us, I guess) wonder just what the hell we were thinking or if going there was really the right thing to do. Either way, we paid for it with a lot of blood.

Personally, I don’t think we’re past Vietnam as a country because we’re doing the same things again in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. I know I might be wrong about all this, but I don’t see the point of it. Ken Burns’ series has added a lot to the discussion about military intervention and national policy even though I could have done without the memories becoming energized again.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “At Sea” based on his experiences aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger during the Vietnam War. His novel “Eulalie and Washerwoman” was nominated for a Readers Choice Award in the fantasy category. Click here to vote.

 

 

 

 

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Ground Zero In Florida: Labor Day 1935

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Rescue train blown off tracks.

When I was in grade school in Florida in the 1950s, the parents and grandparents of my fellow students compared every tropical storm and hurricane to The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935.

While the cat 5 hurricane is still listed as the worst hurricane (in terms of intensity) to hit Florida, it’s seldom mentioned by forecasters and reporters now in spite of its sustained winds of 185 miles per hour and gusts at 200 mph. Its landfall pressure was 892 mbar, followed by Camille at 900 mbar in 1969 and Karina at 920 mbar in 2005.

I guess it happened so long ago, it’s no longer real to us.

The fatalities, at 405 were, however, far short of the deadliest hurricanes: Galveston in 1900 (8,000 dead), Lake Okeechobee in 1928 (2,500 dead), and Katrina in 2005 (1,200 dead). The worst hurricane to hit Florida when  I was growing up there was Donna, a cat 5, which got more than our attention in 1960 with 160 mph winds.

I doubt that most people driving the overseas highway to Key West these days know that between 1912 and 1935 Henry Flagler’s extension to the Florida East Coast Railway traveled 128 miles past the end of the Florida peninsula to Key West. All that ended in 1935 when the tracks were destroyed and never rebuilt.

As hurricane Irma approaches, I can’t help but think back to the stories our elders told us when I was a kid, long before the Weather Channel and 24/7 news channels gave us minute to minute reports of the hurricanes’ locations. “Yep,” they said, “you should have been here in 1935.”

Heck, I don’t want to be there now even though the storm seems to be headed toward us here in North West Georgia.

–Malcolm

 

I wonder how many people think there’s another eclipse today

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The information warning signs, many with messages like ECLIPSE TODAY – EXPECT DELAYS probably reminded people about potential traffic congestion. The thing is, the highway department hasn’t taken down the signs. They were still there yesterday and this morning.

One wonders how many drivers think there’s another eclipse coming. That would probably be the same group who had to be warned–in the eclipse tips category–don’t wear your eclipse viewing glasses while driving if you’re on the road during totality.

Meanwhile, the funniest sign I’ve heard about so far is this one from the Iowa DOT:

I’m sure people were texting and driving during the eclipse. GOSH IT SURE IS DARK. CAN’T EVEN  SEE ANY TRAFFIC. Duh.

We enjoyed the eclipse along with totality’s chorus of singing tree frogs. Hope you had a great experience as well.

Malcolm

Preparing to visit the moon’s shadow in the mountains

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According to Being in the Shadow, 39% of the people in the United States live within 300 miles of the eclipse. We’re well within that distance of scaring ourselves by the fast-moving moon shadow racing across the sunny (hopefully) sky, so we’re going. Our trip to the North Carolina mountain rental cabin where eight of us will meet is only 188 miles,–according to MapQuest, that’s three and a half hours on the road.

Artist’s conception of an eclipse.

We’re arriving at the cabin several days in advance because if all Americans within 300 miles decide to travel to a great viewing location, that’s 127 million people on the road. So far, we’ve seen estimates for north Georgia of about 60,000 extra cars on the road.

This is the post-eclipse estimate of people streaming back toward Atlanta minutes after the totality period is over. I-85 backs up every Thanksgiving, so–even if we still lived in an Atlanta suburb–we’d travel on a different day. That’s the good thing about being officially retired and working at home: we don’t have to rush back to work.

Initially, my attitude about driving so see the eclipse was kind of “ho hum.” I maintained that I saw eclipse conditions every night after it got dark. Nobody else in the family bought this. We have the shortest drive. Four people are coming from Maryland and two are coming from central Florida. It will be fun getting together in a cabin where we have plenty of room. Of course, as soon as we get there, we’ll check out how much sky is visible from the cabin’s deck.

We’re getting ready to go. We have our approved eclipse glasses (the cops say don’t wear them while driving). The car has new tires and a recent oil change. We have somebody coming by the house here in NW Georgia to check on our cats. We have extra wine.  We have dinner reservations on eclipse day, compliments of my wife’s tireless planning efforts. And we have a nice list of places to go and things to see while the eclipse isn’t happening–depending on traffic. As for pictures, I’ll post some if I can capture anything that looks exciting other than the black rectangle.

What are your plans? If you don’t live along the eclipse track, are you giving there?

Malcolm

 

Mayonnaise Users Are At Fault

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Today’s politics is a highly polarized mess. People on both sides of the political aisle have been asking how this happened, why there’s not more love in the world, and why people would rather spout weird beliefs rather than seek compromise.

The short answer is: mayo, which, as you can see (unless you’re a user) is a four-letter word.

The United States is composed of several kinds of people:

  • Good people: We use mustard and possibly ketchup (but not catsup) on our hamburgers.
  • People on the wrong side of the tracks: They use mayo on their burgers and probably break into grocery stores in the middle of night when they run out of it.
  • Special Sauce Scum: They use thousand island dressing mixed with God knows what else on their burgers.

True Americans know what belongs on a hamburger. Americans who are supporting the wrong political candidates and putting the country in peril are people from the Mayo and Special Sauce camps.

Some of us add stuff to our burgers, but we don’t force our beliefs on others. I like bleu cheese (the scum spell that as “blue cheese”) and a dab or horseradish on my burgers. Some years ago, I accidentally got addicted to guacamole sauce  on burgers, but I have been clean for over twenty years.

I never force my habits on others, much less go to Congress or the Supreme Court to get my likes and dislikes codified one way or another into the national psyche. But I draw the line a mayonnaise.  Why the hell (pardon my French) would anyone want to spoil an all-American hamburger with (as Wikipedia defines it) “a stable emulsion of oil, egg yolk, and either vinegar or lemon juice”?

As a survivor of the cold war, my first thought is “Commies.” But the conspiracy is wider than that. Have you noticed? A lot of so-called “regular people” are slathering mayo on their burgers–and just about everything else. Yes, it works in chicken salad and tuna salad, but that’s about it.

If you’re a mayo user–or even a thousand island dressing user–please stop for the good of the country.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “En Route to the Diddy-Wah-Diddy Landfill While the Dogwoods Were in Bloom,” a new e-book short story available on Kindle, iTunes, Kobo and Nook.

 

 

Happy Independence Day

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“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” – Ronald Reagan

“The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.” – James Madison

“It does not take a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.” – Samuel Adams

“Independence is a heady draught, and if you drink it in your youth, it can have the same effect on the brain as young wine does. It does not matter that its taste is not always appealing. It is addictive and with each drink you want more.” – Maya Angelou

“The independence of the United States is not only more precious to ourselves but to the world than any single possession.” Henry Cabot Lodge

“The Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the constitutions of the several states, and the organic laws of the territories all alike propose to protect the people in the exercise of their God-given rights. Not one of them pretends to bestow rights.”  – Susan B. Anthony

Have a free July 4th.

–Malcolm

Memorial Day Excerpt from ‘At Sea’

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Excerpt from At Sea

Jayee’s Lists (The Poor Sons of Bitches who Died) lay faded in a low kitchen drawer beneath batteries, broken pencils, expired dog food coupons, forgotten pink birthday candles, gum erasers, and other unsorted miscellany.

Superimposed over the small battlefield of the ranch where lambs and eagles met largely unrecorded deaths on a rangeland framed by fences and box elders and cottonwoods and a narrow creek carrying water off the backbone of the earth in years of drought and years of flood, the old man recorded soldiers’ names and souls.

He read the news from Vietnam with morning coffee and evening spirits, and with a fine surveyor’s hand, he tallied the bare bones of body counts between narrowed-ruled lines in light-weight Bluehorse notebooks intended for the wisdom of school.

After dinner he walked his dessert out through the bluebunch wheat grass and settling sheep to his ancient Studebaker pickup truck. He carried a sharp yellow pencil and a pack of Chesterfields, tools for doing his sums, “calculating Montana” in a cloud of cigarette smoke from “vintage tobaccos grown mild, aged mild, blended mild.”

On the first page of the first book he wrote, “Here are the poor sons of bitches who died.” On the last page of the last book, he wrote, “The dead, dying and wounded came home frayed, faded, scuffed, stained, or broken.”

On the pages in between, he wrote the name of each Montana soldier who was killed or missing in recorded battles far away. Sipping bourbon, smoking like a lotus in a sea of fire, he ordered, numbered, and divided the names by service branch, by casualty year, by meaningful cross references, by statistically significant tables, by the moon’s phases and sun’s seasons, by the cycles of sheep.

Jayee remarked from year to year that the notebooks grew no heavier with use. He saw fit to include the names of the towns where the dead once lived, fathered children and bought cigarettes. These names he learnt were also lighter than the smoke.

The current of his words between the pale blue lines of each thing page arose in fat, upper case letters that scraped the edges of their narrow channels. They began as a mere trickle from 1961 to 1964 that grew in volume in 1965 before the first spring thaw, to become a cold deluge that crested in 1968, wreaking havoc across the frail floodplain of pastures and pages, carrying the dark angry names scrawled with blunting pencil, and broken letters, through irregular grey smudges, over erasures that undercut the page deep enough and wide enough to rip away the heart from multiple entries. There was little respite in 1969. After that the deaths receded and most of the physical blood dried up by 1973.

The pages were dog eared, marked with paperclips already turning to rust, and fading to pale dust behind the list of towns: RICHEY, WHITEFISH, HELENA, CHOTEAU, BOZEMAN, BUTTE, KALISPELL, THOMPSON FALLS, THREE FORKS, STEVENSVILLE, TROUT CREEK, BILLINGS, CHOTEAU HINSDALE, GREAT FALLS, HARDIN, SACO, SIDNEY, HAVRE, HELENA, GREAT FALLS, HELENA, BOZEMAN, BUTTE, DODSON, HELENA, ARLEE, REEDPOINT, HAVRE, BIG SANDY, MISSOULA, BILLINGS, WHITLASH, ROUNDUP, ROUNDUP, ST. IGNATIUS, HARLEM, BUTTE, BUTTE, WIBAUX, STEVENSVILLE, ABSAROKEE, LIBBY, WHITEFISH, GREAT FALLS, MISSOULA, HELENA, LIVINGSTON, CONRAD, GREAT FALLS, EUREKA, GREAT FALLS, HARDIN, HELENA, JOLIET, BUTTE, MISSOULA, BROCKTON, MISSOULA, LEWISTOWN,  LAME DEER, SCOBEY,  ROSEBUD, GLASGOW, BILLINGS, ANACONDA, FT. BENTON, MISSOULA, KALISPELL, GREAT FALLS, HARDIN, ST. IGNATIUS, DODSON, MISSOULA, SHELBY, MILES CITY, CUSTER, GLASGOW, LEWISTOWN, BILLINGS, BELT,  LARSLAN, MILES CITY, BUTTE, BUSBY, MISSOULA, MELROSE, BILLINGS, LIBBY, BILLINGS, BAINVILLE, HATHAWAY, BOZEMAN, BILLINGS, BILLINGS, BUTTE, MCALLISTER, WIBAUX, BROWNING, MISSOULA, THOMPSON FALLS, THOMPSON FALLS, LOGAN, AVON, MISSOULA, ST. IGNATIUS, KALISPELL, BILLINGS, ROSEBUD, DENTON, CHARLO, ST. XAVIER, HARLOWTON, SANDERS, LEWISTOWN, LIVINGSTON, MISSOULA, LIBBY, BUTTE, BILLINGS, SUNBURST, TROY, BUTTE, CHINOOK, JORDAN, DODSON, GREAT FALLS, LIBBY, HELENA, BUTTE, ROSS FORK, GREAT FALLS, INTAKE, BUTTE, BUTTE, GREAT FALLS, LIVINGSTON, BILLINGS, REDSTONE, MISSOULA, BILLINGS, MCLEOD, FORSYTH, BILLINGS, HELENA, BILLINGS, MISSOULA, BOZEMAN, BUTTE, MALTA, KALISPELL,  ANACONDA, GREAT FALLS, ST. IGNATIUS, INVERNESS, RONAN,  MISSOULA,  SCOBEY, ANTELOPE, BUTTE, MISSOULA, FORSYTH, BILLINGS, BUTTE,  BILLINGS, GREAT FALLS, DODSON, HELENA, GREAT FALLS, LAUREL, BUTTE, CUT BANK, WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, DEER LODGE, BUTTE,  HAMILTON, MILES CITY, KALISPELL, VALIER, SHELBY,  KILA, CHOTEAU, GREAT FALLS, MILES CITY, HAMILTON, GREAT FALLS, HAVRE,  LAME DEER, GREAT FALLS, TROUT CREEK, POLSON, PABLO, HELENA, BIG TIMBER, LAUREL, BILLINGS, GREAT FALLS, GREAT FALLS, BUTTE, MISSOULA, ANACONDA, GREAT FALLS, MISSOULA, BOZEMAN, GREAT  FALLS, GLEN, GREAT FALLS, ST. IGNATIUS, FROMBERG, MISSOULA, KALISPELL, CORAM, KALISPELL, BILLINGS, HAVRE, GREAT FALLS, COFFEE CREEK, LIBBY, FT. PECK, BOZEMAN, FORSYTH, POLSON, MISSOULA, WOLF POINT, KALISPELL, BUTTE, FAIRVIEW, MISSOULA, MILES CITY, ANACONDA, GREAT FALLS, BILLINGS, WIBAUX, BILLINGS, CUT BANK, TERRY, ANACONDA, BUTTE, MISSOULA, FLORENCE, HAVRE, SUNBURST, EUREKA, BILLINGS, THOMPSON FALLS, RONAN, WOLF POINT, FLAXVILLE, GREAT FALLS, HELENA, KALISPELL, MISSOULA, ANACONDA, ALDER, VALIER, TROY, RICHEY, LINCOLN, CHOTEAU, BUTTE, MISSOULA, BILLINGS, CLYDE PARK, MISSOULA, MISSOULA, HAVRE, and TROY.

Jayee’s tallies added up like this:

USA  – 169

USAF – 16

USMC – 59

USN  – 23

TOT  – 267

 

The old man made 267 trips around Montana between 1961 and 1972 that no surveying jobs could account for. He said little to the family about it and they didn’t often ask.

During Jayee’s second trip to Havre in 1966, Mavis, a waitress at the Beanery, noticed a stack of 44-inch white crosses sticking out from beneath a tarp in his truck.  On each cross there was a name. When she suggested that Jayee was stealing them from roadside accident scenes, he said he made them per spec to repay old debts.

Mavis asked Katoya if Jayee was all right and Katoya said “right enough.” He returned to the restaurant multiple times to prove he was right enough and was sitting there on August 31, 1967 when the 77-year-old Great Northern restaurant served its last bowl of Irish stew and closed its doors for good. When the building was torn down the following February, he pounded “an extra cross” into the rubble where the counter once stood and said it was the best he could do.

Months passed and additional stories surfaced about an old man crisscrossing the state searching for the families of the fallen, and of warm conversations lasting long into the dark hours. Jayee remained solitary and taciturn in the face of public or private praise or blame and traveled from town to town methodically, as though he was marking chaining stations along an endless open traverse.

After each individual’s name, he wrote XD (cross delivered), XR (cross refused), or CNF (could not find).

On October 18, 1974, Jayee died (surrounded by old relatives and the close perfume of vintage tobacco) with a freshly sharpened yellow pencil, with a half-smoked pack of Chesterfields, with lists and spirits close at hand, “waiting,” he always told those who asked about them.

Reverend Jones stood before the mourners in the small church and read the names of those who wished to remember and to be remembered, and one upon one, they created a great hymn that rose up over the banks of their consciousness and flowed down the rivers of their perception in a crowned deluge.

Copyright (c) 2010, 2016 by Malcolm R. Campbell