RSS

Tag Archives: Vietnam

Battling e-mails . . .

Battling e-mails . . .

For some time I have considered posting this series of e-mails but I have held the posting in abeyance until now. I doubt that many viewers will hang on long enough to finish reading it, but that will be their loss. It seemed to me in the past that a rift had been created between me and the finest neighbor and friend one could ever wish for, and through no fault of either of us. Nevertheless, it appeared to exist—now it seems to have gone away, or perhaps never was.

These are the e-mails that passed between me and my neighbor lady to the west, posted as transmitted and as received. My e-mails are in standard type and hers are in italics.

Feb 3, 2010:

Good morning, Sherlock Holmes here:

I’m currently conducting an investigation to determine why and how my daily copy of the Express-News is mysteriously appearing on my front step, neatly placed there by someone or something to be determined. It was there this morning at an early hour. Today is the second time the phenomenon has occurred in as many weeks, and we had rain on both days.

My first thought was that the paper carrier wanted to ensure that the paper stayed dry, but it was double-bagged and would have to be submerged before it could suffer any damage. Besides, I have not remitted a gratuity to the carrier since 2007 and cannot reasonably expect her to be so obliging. Unless, of course, she is buttering me up for the coming Christmas season. I suppose that could be it, but I have serious doubts.

I next considered the possibility that Rudy, the cat that lives with the family across the street, is picking the paper up with his teeth and placing it in a dry spot, hoping for a continuation of the chicken and salmon handouts.

That is not likely, because he was nowhere in sight when I picked up the paper either time. He did not show at all on the first day, and as of the time of this writing I have not seen him today. That reduces the probability that he is doing the good deed. I suppose Ralph, the cat that resides with my neighbor to the west, could harbor the same thoughts, but I would think that Rudy would be more likely.

There is a third possibility, one a teeny bit more plausible than the first two. Two weeks ago I stepped out on my stoop, looked very carefully in all directions, except to the rear because no danger lurked in that direction. The coast was clear (so to speak), so I ambled out toward the mailbox (the paper was in proximity to said letter receptacle). Wearing a bright green fuzzy housecoat and brown house shoes, I arrived at my destination and bent over to pick up my paper, and at that instant I heard someone say, very audibly and gleefully, “I wish I had a camera!”

As to whether my ensemble included pajamas, it did not. A pair of skinny white legs were in full view. Well, not in full view, just up to mid-tibia. Said legs were supported by a matching pair of skinny white feet, ensconced in brown leather house shoes.

So the third possibility is that the person that voiced that wish, not wishing to be faced with that apparition again, is defending himself by placing the paper on my stoop, thereby keeping me out of sight in the process of retrieving my paper.

This is a very serious investigation, and I would be grateful for any and all assistance.

Feb 3, 2010

WHAT???? Your paper doesn’t get wet??? Our paper gets soaked. Now that I think about it, the water probably runs down the driveway right into the bag. Well, I don’t think you need to worry about your paper phenomenon any longer. Do let me know if the culprit starts hiding the paper, though. That would definitely require a more thorough investigation.

Kathy

At this point a three-day quiet ensues with no e-mails between me and my neighbor. I was very busy running between home and the hospital and I neglected to read and respond to my e-mails.

Feb 6, 2010

It has been eerily quiet over there. Did my response offend you? You are very funny and clever in your writings. When I try that tactic, it usually backfires, since I am neither funny nor clever. I did put your paper on your porch because I thought it was getting soaked like ours often does. Your white legs had nothing to do with it! Now that I know your paper does not get wet, I’ll leave it there. You are free to retrieve it in whatever attire you choose. I often retrieve our paper in my robe. So, let’s just agree to leave our cameras out of this.

Kathy

P.S. You are a very good writer, a trait that obviously not everyone has. I hope you decide to continue writing your memoirs for a potential book. I’d definitely buy one, but I would want it autographed.

Feb 7, 2010

Hi, Kathy,

I read your e-mail at 2:30 this morning (I had a brief sleep last night —up at 2:01). Nothing new there, of course—my sleep is brief on most nights.

A hundred mea culpas!

No, make that a thousand mea culpas because there is nothing you, Kevin or Ralph could do to offend me, and had you and Kevin and Ralph not banished the girls to another exotic location, there is nothing they could do to offend me. Even if you, Kevin, Ralph, the banished iguanas and your extended family banded together in a concerted effort to offend me, I would not be offended. The only way you could possibly come close to offending me would be to take me and my babbling seriously—life is simply too short for me to be serious—besides, it’s not in my nature!

I had the best of intentions to answer your previous two e-mails, the one on Victor Borge’s video that Cindy posted, and the one in which you asked me to let you know “if the culprit starts hiding the paper.” Of course, as the saying goes, “The road to (fill in the blank) is paved with good intentions.”

Unfortunately, recent events got in the way and I delayed my responses (actually, that means I forgot to respond). We’ve had an unusually busy week, and things are not going as well as we would like. Yesterday especially was not a good day, but things seem to have leveled off. I believe—I hope and I pray—that the worst is over.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! I found that phrase on Wikipedia— I am greviously at fault, and as an apology Wikipedia said it far better than I could.

I have no knowledge of how or why or when your Sunday paper was placed neatly just outside your door this morning, placed at a right angle to the street (I just pray that the picker-upper doesn’t trip over it). Also if I were forced to guess, I would guess that it was placed by some nut wearing a bright green robe, etc., etc. I would also hazard a guess that the deed was accomplished somewhere around 6:00 AM (Central Time).

March 2, 2010:

A card from Kathy, delivered by the US Postal Service although our mailboxes are approximately sixty feet apart:

Dear green-robed phantom and your pink-robed wife:

Thank you so much for the delicious edible arrangement! That was quite a surprise. The other big surprise is that you used 4 exclamation points after “Happy Birthday.” I was so perplexed that I questioned Kevin, “Do we know any other green and pink-robed couples?”

I hope you know that your presence as our neighbors is truly a real gift. Any more than that is really not necessary. Thank you, though. That was very kind!

Your (one year older) neighbor,

Kathy

March 3, 2010

Dear One Year Older Neighbor,

Thanks for the card and for the kind thoughts, especially the thought that you consider our presence as your neighbors to be a real gift. I wish I had said it first but I didn’t, so I’ll just bounce it right back at you. Regarding our presence as neighbors, As ours is to you, so yours is to us.

On the subject of exclamation points, I have given up. You know that in a dog fight the vanquished dog, rather than running, may simply end the fight by lying on his back, thereby giving the victor access to his underbelly, his most vulnerable area—it is a sign of surrender.

I’m not going to that extreme, but I have surrendered. I have given up on my quest to eliminate, or even to reduce, exclamation points. I realize that the practice is too well entrenched, so I’ve decided that if I can’t beat ‘em, I’ll join ‘em! And I enjoy it—it’s fun!

I just took a closer look at the sentence that says “As ours is to you, so yours is to us.” When viewed out of context it seems to take on some profound meaning, similar to a Tibetan monk’s summary of life or some other chant.

Try it. Read it aloud several times. Look real solemn and speak in a deep tone. You’ll find that it takes on mystic properties. I think I may have created something. I should probably copyright it!

March 4, 2010:

You are so funny!! I wish the Express-News would replace that Marcie Meffert (Elders Express) in the S.A. Life with your writing. I’m not sure what the “elders” is for, and I’m not implying anything concerning your age here. I think she writes for the group of readers who would also qualify for AARP membership, older folks fifty-ish plus. I have only read her articles a few times, but I have yet to read one that I like. She tries to tell stories about her life, and I think she is trying to be humorous. She seems to be lacking the charm that you seem to have captured. You are a far superior writer, and way funnier! This “Dear Neighbor” writing had me LOL today! I agree on the mystic properties—copyright it!

Kathy

March 5, 2010:

Those are some really kind words. Ain’t nobody that good, but you finally convinced me! Normally I would be delighted to replace the Meffert lady, but I have such distaste for the Express-News that I would be unwilling to have my name associated with it. I fought a running battle last year with Bob Richter, the editor for Letters to the Editor—dueling e-mails, if you will, and I won—he apologized for his lapse in judgment. He had asked for permission to print my letter, saying that he liked it but would omit my “whining” about the paper. I refused to authorize its publication.

I no longer strive to have my thoughts printed in Your Turn of the Metro section of the Express-News—my gain, the public’s loss. However, I sometimes throw rocks at the paper by posting items that I did not submit for publication, then I bad-mouth the Express-News on Word Press by claiming that my submission was rejected. Sneaky, huh?

Kathy, it really is a small world—we were neighbors to the Meffert family for several years in the latter part of the 1960s, with only one house between us, in what was then a decent lower-middle-class neighborhood near Lackland Air Force Base. It’s now a shambles, a nightmare with gang activity everywhere, gunshots frequently heard both day and night, lots of graffiti, chain-link-fenced front yards and junked cars behind them. The fences are not to keep the kids in—they’re there to keep the dogs out and to slow down burglars laden with items purloined from the houses.

Marcie had five children, two girls and three boys, their ages ranging from one year up to nine years—a very fertile lady, that one! Her husband was a surgical dentist in Lackland’s dental service, and attended me through a long series of dental procedures required by my failure to pay proper attention to dental matters. I was a smoker at the time—he said he did not smoke, and frequently lectured me on the evils of tobacco, then on almost every visit apologetically bummed a cigarette from me.

We were never close friends with the parents. We waved at them when appropriate, and Marcie and Janie often stood outside to discuss whatever women discuss—their children, I would suspect—Marcie was usually out looking for her children. As best as I can remember, neither family ever entered the other family’s house, probably because neither family ever invited the other family in. However, we came to know her children well. She put them out to graze each morning and called them back in for lunch and dinner, leaving the neighbors to look out for the kids. They were well behaved—the older girl was Cindy’s best friend, and she spent lots of time in our home.

All five children received good educations and seemed to fare well following graduation. Cindy’s best friend Lisa died several months ago—her obituary in the Express-News said only that she died suddenly. The obituary included her siblings’ names, marital status and their whereabouts. Their various professions were impressive—two colonels in the military, two doctors and one biology professor. I am of the opinion that their early association with our girls gave them the necessary head start to put them on the way to success—then again, maybe not.

When we returned to San Antonio in 1987, Marcie was the mayor of Leon Valley and wrote a column on city activities. I believe the Elders Express gig came after she was no longer the mayor. We have never made any effort to contact her to talk about old times. Lacking any strong desire to relive history with Marcie, we have been content to read her columns. Those columns, along with her daughter’s obituary, comprise our knowledge of her and her family.

But it is a small world, wouldn’t you agree?

March 5, 2010:

Agreed—a very small world sometimes! I hope that my observations of her writings weren’t too unkind. I just think that you would be a much better writer for that spot in the paper. Well, as long as I’m wishing, you’d make a far better editor to the Letters to the Editor too, but let’s not even go there!

I see that you and Kevin must have talked. He didn’t know that I would be home for a short time this afternoon and I didn’t know either. One of my tutoring students canceled out, so they may make the delivery while I’m here. If they do I’ll call and let you know. Thanks!

Kathy

March 5, 2010

Your observations of her writings were not unkind at all, and your analysis of her work is right on. Writing with a restricted amount of space is more difficult than the writing I do. I have unlimited space and therefore just keep writing until I everything I want to say has been said, and is available somewhere among the verbiage. The reader just needs to keep sifting through the chaff in order to find the kernels of wheat.

At various duty stations during my military career, I wrote performance reports for a whole gaggle of people, officers as well as enlisted people, and that included writing my own performance reports. My superior only needed to sign them. The writing wasn’t part of my job. People heard about the guy that could get a person promoted and came to me with the details. I fashioned them into a performance report. The narrative had to be fitted into a limited space, and I soon learned that 250 words wrested from my vocabulary filled that space nicely. When I reached the magic number, I stopped writing.

No, writing such reports was not my job. I was a maintenance analysis superintendent, whatever that was, and I dealt more with numbers than with words. I hated numbers and loved words. Go figure!

While at Kelly Air Force Base in the late 1960s, I wrote performance reports for my commanding officer. In our association over a period of five years, he was promoted twice, from lieutenant colonel to full colonel and then to brigadier general. Coincidentally, I was promoted twice during the same period. My pay raises were not quite as generous as his, of course, and shortly after the second promotion, both his and mine, I was unceremoniously shipped off to Vietnam. I guess the general figured that one star was all he was going to get. Bummer!

November 16, 2010:

That concludes the exchange of e-mails between me and my neighbor. I trust that some of my viewers made it this far in this posting. I realize it’s lengthy, but I also realize that it contains some interesting neighborly communications, perhaps with comical, even historical value that may appeal to my family and to my neighbor and her family, and perhaps to some of my viewers—I hope, I hope!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Meet Papa John (not the pizza man) . . .

Meet Papa John . . .

Papa John, my stepfather, is a recurring figure in many of my postings, and he looms just as large in my memories as he did in life. For good or for otherwise, he was part of my life for some 28 years, from the time of his marriage to my mother in 1942—the first of their two marriages—until the time of his death in 1970. I trust that el Hombre ariba—the Man above—will forgive me for saying that his death coincided with one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Actually, it was not a coincidence—his death brought about one of the best things because it got me out of Vietnam and home with my family for a month. I had to return to Vietnam to finish my scheduled tour, but those thirty days at home were priceless. That month brought me out of the darkness of the Vietnam war and into the bright light of my wife and my children—the time with my family restored my faith and my sanity and allowed me to return, unwillingly of course, and finish my assignment with renewed vigor.

The military did not want me to have the thirty days at home—evidently my presence in Vietnam was critical to the war’s success. While I was honored that I was so important to the war effort, I managed to convince the brass to honor my right to be at my mother’s side following the death of my stepfather, and I recorded the events leading up to my return to the US in a prior posting. Click on the following URL for more details: https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2009/06/09/554/

With my mother’s marriage to my stepfather, my family was reduced to four—mother, stepfather, son and daughter. The older son and the two older daughters were safely outside the family, and were influenced by Papa John only through observation and interaction with my mother, my younger sister and me.

My stepfather had a rudimentary education, but over the years he became a skilled carpenter and cabinetmaker. His talents were in demand during the years of World War II, but those demands ebbed and flowed and required several re-locations, from Mississippi to Tennessee on two separate occasions, and eventually to Texas.

Between his job assignments and the dissolution of the family for one reason or another, mostly caused by his alcoholism, we always returned to Columbus, Mississippi. From my birth until the age of nine, I lived in six residences in two states, Alabama and Mississippi. In the seven–year period between the ages of nine and sixteen, following my mother’s marriage to Papa John, I lived in 17 different residences in five different states—Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas and New York. My travels involved living in eleven different places in three Mississippi cities—one in Durant, one in Long Beach and nine in Columbus.

I spent 22 years in military service and another 26 years in federal service as a law enforcement officer, and in that 48 years I traveled all over the United States and several foreign countries. Is it any wonder that I don’t like to travel now? And if I do leave home, for whatever reason, I desperately want to be back home before dark!

Forgive me for digressing from the purpose of this posting. My intent here is to talk about some of Papa John’s idiosyncrasies, some of his peculiarities that we quickly learned and adhered to—I’ll mention only a few but not all, because I would soon exhaust my ink supply. He was fifty when he married our mother, so his habits were firmly ensconced.

He saucered his coffee. He would pour a bit from the cup to the saucer and when it cooled, he sipped from the saucer. We were told we could do that when we turned fifty.

He drank directly from his cereal bowl to drain the last vestiges of milk. We could do that at the age of fifty.

He allowed no pets unless they worked, hunting dogs for example, and no cats except for rat and mouse control. For his idea of pets, click here to read about his promise of two dogs for my sister and me as pets for Christmas presents. Click on the following URL for the details: https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2010/06/27/two-pets-for-christmas/

He was prone to produce intestinal gas in prodigious amounts, and was always polite when he released it. He always excused himself and left the table when the occasion demanded it, but no matter where we lived there was no place in the house that would do much more than muffle the sound. This was a source of mirth for me and my sister, but as we grew older the mirth waned rapidly. Our mother’s response, whether the explosions came while watching television, dining or  after retiring for the night, she never deviated from an exasperated exclamation: My God, John!

He did not use swear words, nor did he allow us to use them. His favorite expression was to refer to a person as a peckerwood, a corruption of woodpecker, I suppose. However, the way he pronounced that word left no doubt that the person was at least some of the swear words that describe people in scathing terms.

He used prodigious amounts of aftershave lotion and talcum powder, so he always smelled good—well, almost always. His use of talcum powder caused one of our family breakups, one that took us from an idyllic life on a farm in Mississippi—talcum powder was the immediate cause, but the underlying cause ran much deeper—my guess would be that he used the talcum powder incident as a reason to dissolve the family so he could pursue activities more desirable than managing a small farm. For a reading of that breakup, click on the following URL: https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/sid-looney-and-a-model-t-ford/

He was an inveterate gambler, and when enough money had been accrued to constitute a grubstake, he usually returned to Midland, Texas where he was a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, an organization that was legally authorized to conduct gambling in a state, county and city where gambling was illegal. When the money ran out—and it always did—he took the necessary steps to reassemble our family, ostensibly having seen the light and turning over a new leaf, but actually to build another grubstake. For a comprehensive posting of the Fraternal Order of Eagles and life in Midland, and a recount of my brief stint as a cocktail waiter, click on the following URL:https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2010/03/03/my-brief-stint-as-a-cocktail-waiter/

There is more to tell about Papa John—if I appear to be dwelling on his less than acceptable manners and his pursuits outside the family, it’s because those are among my most vivid memories. Papa was not all bad—there were good times—it’s just that the other than good times outweighed the good times. There were periods of genuine affection among our small family, but they were darkened by times of affliction. Just one instance of someone inflicting pain, distress and grief on another person or persons, whether physical or mental, is one too many, and Papa John was guilty of such actions repeatedly over the years, particularly on my mother.

I have a sneaking suspicion that with my writings I am saying some of the things I would have liked to say to Papa while he was alive—and should have said—but prudence coupled with fear forbade me doing that.

I hope he’s listening now.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A letter to Jessie (1915-1997) . . .

Dear Big Sister,

I hope you like this photo—I have several shots of you from over the years, and this is my favorite—just check out that glorious smile!

I believe this is where you were living just before you and Victor bought a farm near the air base and moved there. I remember it clearly, especially because when I was home on leave having completed Air Force basic training, I climbed a tree in the front yard to inspect a squirrel nest and had to holler for help from Victor, your husband and my brother-in-law—he brought a ladder and helped me down from my lofty perch!

This coming December will mark the thirteenth year since you left us. My family and I have passed the time peacefully—very little fuss or muss. We have health problems, of course, the young ‘uns as well as those of advanced ages. I know there are no health problems where you are, and no calendars or clocks—there would be no need for them.

I can capsule the major changes in my family rather quickly, changes that have come about since you left. Important changes for my girls include Kelley’s marriage in 1998 and the subsequent births of a boy and a girl. The boy is now eight and the girl is 6 years old. They live in a nice Dallas suburb and are doing well.

Debbie lives just one mile from us. She works at one of our local schools and loves her job. Landen, her son, was graduated from high school last year and is continuing his education at the University of Texas at San Antonio—UTSA. Lauren, his older sister, was graduated by UTSA this year. Her degree is in Early Childhood Development—she is great with children and seems happy with her work with a local Child Care center.

Cindy and Michael are a properly married couple as of last October, still living, loving and working in Northern Virginia. As you will probably remember, they had been a committed couple for many years, a total of twenty years prior to their marriage—they finally put it on paper! They seem very happy—no children, but they have two cats on which they shower all the love and rights and benefits that would be accorded children.

I won’t be able to bring you up to date on your family—you are probably more up to date than I am. I can’t tell you much about your sons, Wayne and Lynn, but I believe that Lynn still lives in South Korea and Wayne still lives in Maryland. I know very little about the boys and their families, but I imagine that you are watching over them—I want to believe you are, and because of that it takes very little imagination! I also know very little about your daughters or their families. I haven’t seen them since we were all together at your funeral. I talk to Toni infrequently on the phone, and exchange e-mails with Vickie even more infrequently.

Jessie, I’m writing this letter for the purpose of recording some of our mutual history in response to my daughters’ request to learn more about their aunts and uncles and cousins. As I continue with my writing I realize that it makes me feel I am in some way connected with you—if you would like to respond to this letter in some fashion, please do so—trust me, I’m up for it, and as the television commercial says, I’ll leave the light on for you!

This is the third letter I have written. The first was to Hattie, our sister that lived only one day—you probably won’t remember her. She was our mother’s second child, born in 1917, so you would have been only two years old at the time. Had she lived she perhaps could have shared some of your responsibilities as the eldest of six children. Looking back on those years, I know that it was tough for you, but you willingly shouldered those tasks and thereby took some of the weight off our mother’s shoulders. My letter to Hattie is posted on my Word Press blog and can be found here.

It’s odd, but I rarely heard any of my siblings talk about our father—a bit from Larry, a bit from Lorene and nothing from you. Most of what I know about Willis I learned from our mother, and I never heard anything positive. There must have been something other than the negative things, given the fact that our mother birthed seven children for him.

I wish you had told me about the incident in the garden between our dad and you, his teenage daughter. Mama said that he gave you an order and you did not comply quickly enough, so he beat you with one of the wooden stakes, or poles, used for growing beans to climb on—unmercifully, I believe, was the word mama used.

I also wrote a letter to Larry, our brother. You may have been looking over my shoulder when I wrote it, just as you may be looking over my shoulder as I write this letter to you. You can read the letter to Larry here. I was recently contacted by Larry’s daughter Deanna, and we are now friends on a web site called Facebook, a place on the internet where people can find new friends and chat with old friends—not necessarily old, of course! I have mixed emotions about the process, and am considering opting out of it.

I often wonder about Larry’s first wife, Toni, and their two sons, Troy and Marty. If she is still in this life, Toni would be about 86 years old now—you might want to check around to see if she is there with you—one never knows, right? I’m sure you remember that I lived with Larry and Toni for a couple of years or so in Suitland, Maryland. That was a hectic time in their marriage and I was caught in the middle of it. That was not unusual for me—things were hectic from the time Mama married Papa John until I enlisted in the military at the age of sixteen, a period of some seven years. The military provided the stability I needed. I finished growing up in the military, and as you know I stayed with it and retired after 22 years. I can proudly say that I assisted Uncle Sam in fighting two wars during that period, wars waged in Korea and in Vietnam. We lost both wars, but I will always be proud of my contributions to them.

Hey, big sis, this letter seems to have a mind of its own, and it’s getting far too long for a single posting. Let me close this one out and get back to you later with more details. There is so much to talk about—perhaps we should consider putting the letters in book form when I run out of words—if I ever run out of words, that is!

Lots of love,

Mike

 
6 Comments

Posted by on August 2, 2010 in Family, marriage, Travel, Writing

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

13 weeks of basic training . . .

This is the first of what may be many postings concerning my 13 weeks of basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The training was a lifetime crowded into a mere ninety-one days. A related posting covering my enlistment and arrival in San Antonio can be seen here. That posting also has some interesting insights on Boy Scouts, rattlesnakes, John Wayne, Mississippi’s National Guard, tortoises, snipes and bacon and eggs and wieners and various other unrelated items—trust me, a visit is well worth your time!

And now on to the first day of my 13 weeks of basic training:

I entered the United States Air Force’s basic training course on March 7, 1949 exactly 61 years, one month and 29 days ago as of this date. I was there for 13 weeks, and to this day the sights and sounds and smells and events, whether positive or negative—and there were plenty of both—of that 13 weeks are just as strong as they were then, more than 61 years later. I can successfully recreate in my mind—and as one will see, in print—the tiniest happenings and recall of the faces and many of the names of most of the people involved—fellow trainees, training instructors, commanding officers, chaplains, cooks and Red Cross representatives. I can vividly recall my first day at Lackland Air Force Base here in San Antonio, Texas, a day of whirlwind events involved in the requirements of first-day processing.

We started by stripping to the buff—off with shirts, pants, shoes, socks, undershirts and shorts. Our clothing and shoes were picked up and placed in a container labeled with our names. We were told they would be held and returned to us at the conclusion of basic training—unless we indicated that we did not want them back, and in that case we were told they would be donated to various charities. I cheerfully abandoned my T-shirt, shorts, jeans, socks and scuffed sneakers. They were called tennis shoes back in those days, even though nobody played tennis, at least not in my level of society—come to think of it, nobody plays tennis in my current level of society either—not much change there.

In return for giving up our garments and our modesty, we were issued a Towel, bath, olive drab, 1, an item that we dutifully wrapped around our waists—unrolled, of course, to provide a modicum of cover both front and rear. There were several people that had to hang on to both ends of their towel at all times—their ample waistlines prohibited knotting the corners together at one side or the other to provide cover.

From there we submitted to the official ministrations of barbers, gentlemen that were proficient in rendering one unrecognizable to one’s mother or any other person, with just a few strokes of an electric clipper. The barber shop was a large room with multiple barber chairs, each with a long wooden bench directly in line with each barber’s chair. We straddled the benches and hitched our way from the rear to the front as the work progressed, and then from the front position to the chair. The hitching along generated lots of jokes, most obscene but all funny, many involving splinters and sitting too close to the man ahead, or for lagging behind (so to speak) and not putting enough distance between one’s self and the man directly behind (again so to speak).

When the barbers finished with us, not a hair was left standing—one could see where the hair had been but could only speculate as to the nature of the departed coiffures. For many of the trainees, ears that had been invisible—including mine– were now quite prominent. We were directed from there to the shower room, a huge area with multiple shower heads on both sides, closely spaced, and once there we doffed our towels and showered. Here, as in the barber shop, there were many jokes, most off color but most were funny depending, of course, on whether one was the butt of one or more jokes—and I’ll have no more to say on that subject!

After showering, we girded our loins with our towels, now quite wet, and joined a line to pick up military clothing—olive drab undershirts, olive drab shorts, olive drab one-piece fatigues, an olive drab fatigue cap, kakii shirts and trousers, collar brass, an olive drab web belt and brass buckle, hat brass and a garrison hat, a stiff-brimmed hat that was issued in two pieces—the hat cover was separate but was not available. We wore the hats to our quarters with no covers, nothing to protect our bald pates from the merciless summer sun of South Texas. Our issue of clothing included four sheets and two pillowcases, one pair of brown low-quarter (dress) shoes and two pairs of  brown brogans (work shoes), a laundry bag and and a duffel bag—both olive drab—carriers in which we stuffed our newly acquired wardrobe.

Yep, I joined the Brown Shoe Air Force—black shoes and blue uniforms came in 1951—I was in Japan when the first GIs arrived with the blue winter uniforms and the blue accessories for the summer kakis. When any of the Japanese girls asked why the others wore blue, we told them that the blue uniforms identified men that were afflicted with a social disease, men that  should be avoided at all costs. It worked for a little while, but it was too good to last.

As an aside, I must state that I was the only trainee that was issued white T-shirts instead of the olive-drab wife-beater undershirts. The smallest size available  was too large for me, so I was given a supply of T-shirt, white, round neck, 7. At first I felt special because I had always worn T-shirts, but as basic training progressed I would come to hate those T-shirts—more details on that later.

We marched several blocks to our barracks, a two-story edifice built before World War II began, constructed of wood with asbestos siding and standard roofing. Our home for the next 13 weeks was identical to all the others in that area, differing only in the building numbers—ours was numbered 4029, just one of many in Lackland’s 3724th Basic Military Training Squadron (BMTS). I said we marched, but it wasn’t much of a march—our combined movements were simply pitiful attempts to keep in step to the cadence voiced by our training instructor (our TI).

We entered the barracks, picked out a spot on the lower floor of the building, put down our bags and sat on them while our TI briefed us on things to come in the next 13 weeks. His first words on entering the building, after taking a long look at the group, a prolonged look at each man, some of the looks prolonged to the point of nervousness on the individual’s part. After staring at each trainee, his gaze returned to me, and he held that gaze while he said “Well, you look like a pretty good group—with a few exceptions.”

As one might expect, I took that to mean that I would find some obstacles in the road ahead—and I did. However, although I took some pretty hard hits none stopped me—I encountered rocks frequently in the 13 weeks, but one by one I conquered them by ignoring them, climbing over them or going around them. I graduated successfully in spite of being one of a few exceptions. At the end of the 13 weeks I proudly sewed on the single stripes of a Private First Class in the world’s greatest air force, a promotion after only 13 weeks in service! I accepted my pay raise of $2.50 a month, making my total compensation a whopping $75 per month and left for home, with a ten-day delay authorized while en route to technical training at Chanute Air Force Base at Rantoul, Illinois.

Hey, don’t laugh about my salary! My food, lodging, clothing, cleaning, laundry, medical care and dental care were all free, and all I had to do was follow orders and say sir to everybody with more than one stripe. I was just 16 years old and I had the world by the tail with a downhill pull—a veritable bird’s nest on the ground. And I was no longer under the watchful eye of a certain Salvation Army captain, the duly empowered truant officer in my small Mississippi town. I was free at last, and all I had to do was  go to places such as Japan and Korea and Germany and Vietnam whenever I was told to go—I figured that was not too bad a deal, except when wars were being fought in such places. Since none were being fought at the time, I felt little concern about future wars—perhaps I should have, but I didn’t.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 6, 2010 in Humor, Military, Travel, wartime, Writing

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Revisited: Vietnam, circa 1969 . . .

This posting was originally unleashed on an unsuspecting audience almost ten months ago on June 9, 2009. It has languished in the bowels of Word Press since that time. The number of visitors the posting has drawn, for whatever reason, is unknown, but the number that bothered to rate the posting is known—one, and in the interest of full disclosure I must admit that the one vote is mine. I briefly considered commenting on the posting’s excellence, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it and remain anonymous. However, when I reread the posting I was so pleased with myself that I gave it a vote of excellence, but no one knows I did it because voters are not identified. Given its poor performance in attracting readers, voters and comments I decided to bring it out into the bright light of 2010 for the enlightenment of those that, for whatever reason, may find it in their wanderings around Word Press.

I beseech you, visitors to this posting, to leave some evidence that you were here—a footprint or a finger print or an old sock or cigarette butt or a few marijuana seeds or a burned bobby pin or a beautifully crafted joint holder—anything to show me that someone was here. Whether the story pleases or displeases you, please take the time to vote on it and leave a comment, either positive or negative. And whether you like it or hated it, tell me why your liked it or hated it—if I know why you hated it, I can change it for the better, and if you liked it I can change it by making it doubly better—or I’ll make it worse if you insist. See how that works?

The original posting follows—view it at https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2009/06/09/554/

In the spring of 1969 I began an extended vacation in Southeast Asia in Vietnam, one of the most beautiful countries on our planet, courtesy of the United States military with all expenses paid. My trip over was on a commercial airliner, with a brief stop on Guam. That stop was probably meant to prepare us for the sweltering heat we would soon be enjoying at Tan Son Knut air base on the outskirts of Saigon, Vietnam’s capital city, renamed as Ho Chi Minh City when Saigon and the rest of South Vietnam fell to the communist forces of North Vietnam.

My visit at Tan Son Knut was all too brief, but it lasted long enough for me to enjoy the last three months of the southern monsoon. According to our briefings, Vietnam has two distinct monsoon periods, six months in the south and six months in the north, cleverly labeled, respectively, the southern monsoon and the northern monsoon, with one beginning when the other stops. When I was transferred to Da Nang air base in the north, very much against my will, I was privileged to enjoy all six months of the northern monsoon, for a total of nine months of rain while in the country.

Monsoon, by definition, is a seasonal prevailing wind that lasts for several months. A monsoon typically includes the monsoon rainfall, a period during which a region receives the majority of its rain. On my vacation I was granted the opportunity to be drenched almost daily over a 9-month period.

I was wet every day that I spent in Vietnam, one way or the other, either drenched by rain or soaked with perspiration—one is supposed to be cooled by the evaporation of sweat, but in that climate perspiration could not evaporate because the air was already full of moisture. Shoes, boots, wallets and anything else made of leather, if left in an enclosed space for any length of time, would come alive with a solid coat of mold, looking like something in a Japanese movie on late-night television, more realistic, of course. By eight o’clock in the morning my undershirt was soaked with sweat and clung to my body like glue—I learned to not wear an undershirt, and I continue undershirt-less to this day. I also learned to wrap my wallet in plastic to keep it from imitating a Japanese horror monster.

My vacation tour of Vietnam was scheduled to last only 12 months—the thirteenth month was the result of a death in my family. I was allowed a 30-day respite from my vacation activities, but was allowed to complete my original commitment by staying an extra month on my return to Vietnam. The purpose of the thirteenth month was to make up for the break in my vacation tour—incidentally, the U. S. Air Force generously debited the 30 days from my accumulated leave time.

What a gift!

I have much more to tell about my tour of duty in Vietnam, but for this posting I’ll cover little more than the emergency 30-day leave—how it came about, and how and why and by whom it was initially denied but later authorized. I’ll try to be brief, and then return later with more details of my vacation.

Early one morning I was summoned to the office of the Red Cross representative at Da Nang to be informed of the contents of a telegram received from his counterpart in my home town. The telegram stated that my stepfather had died peacefully in his sleep, and that “… the mother is doing well and requests that the service member not return home.” That request not withstanding, I took the telegram to my Personnel Officer and requested a 30-day emergency leave in order to be with my mother to console her in her time of grief. I told him my late stepfather had held that title for 28 of my 37 years, except for a brief period during a divorce from my mother, a divorce that was soon followed by remarriage to my mother. I told the Personnel Officer that I felt that I owed my stepfather a return home because he was the only father I ever knew.

The truth of the matter? I desperately yearned to leave beautiful Vietnam, if only for a brief period, and 30 days of emergency leave was authorized in such circumstances as the death of my stepfather.

The Personnel Officer, a major, denied my request because the telegram stated quite clearly that my mother did not want me to return. My initial reaction was anger, but I calmly—well, sorta calmly—said to the major, “Sir, if my mother had requested my presence and I did not want to return, would you have ordered me to go?” He responded to my question  with these exact words, uttered with strength, volume and passion:

“Sergeant, that’s insubordination!”

I considered that for a long moment and then said, “Thank you, major.” I saluted, did an about-face, left his office and the building and hotfooted it to the Non-commissioned Officer’s Club, an organization that I was a member of and a very frequent visitor to, and I was also a part-time off-duty worker—I considered the Club Manager to be a good friend.

I briefly explained the situation to him and asked if he could get a call through to my wife in San Antonio. He immediately picked up the phone and established a connection with a U. S. Navy vessel anchored off-shore from China Beach. From that ship the call went to a satellite, from that satellite to the ground somewhere in Scandinavia, then up to another satellite and from that satellite down to my home phone in San Antonio, Texas, all in a matter of minutes.

My friend handed me the phone and I heard my wife’s perfectly clear “Hello,” as distinct as if she were in the room with us. I told her not to talk, just listen and do what I was going to tell her to do. I told her to call my mother in Mississippi and tell her to go to the local Red Cross immediately and tell them that she desperately needs her son home from Vietnam, that she is suffering mightily from her recent loss and wants her son to come home because she feels he will be able to assuage her anguish and grief—and tell her that time is of the essence!

I used several unrepeatable words and phrases to emphasize the importance of the call to my mother. I told my wife to tell my mother that if she failed to convince the Red Cross to authorize my absence from helping lose our war with North Vietnam, she would never, ever, see me again or hear from me again. This was not a threat—it was a solemn promise that I intended to keep. My wife said she understood and we terminated the call. This was no time for small talk—time was of the essence!

I felt no pride in what I was doing, nor do I feel pride in it now. It was necessary and needed to be done, similar to the ultimatum given to the defenders of the Alamo when surrounded by the Mexican army: They were told, “Surrender now, or we will give no quarter.” I wanted my mother to surrender and deliver, and to understand the consequences if she failed—I would give no quarter. There was no time for deliberation, reluctance or self-recrimination—I needed action, not excuses—time was of the essence!

Early the next morning I was again called to the office of the American Red Cross, and  the local representative gave me another telegram and told me to take it to the Personnel Office. Always one to comply with a direct order, I hastened my return to the office of the Personnel Officer. I was again ushered into that worthy’s office, wherein I saluted smartly, placed the telegram on his desk, stepped back and remained at attention while he read the message, a message which consisted of the things my wife told my mother to say, but without the unrepeatable words and phrases.

The major, apparently speechless, said nothing. Not a word, at least not vocally, but his face spoke volumes. He stamped the telegram APPROVED, with almost enough force to make a dent in the desk. I retrieved the approval, said “Thank you, sir,” saluted smartly and smartly pivoted 180 degrees (an about face), and went to the Administration Section to process for my return to the land of the big PX and round door knobs.

I departed Da Nang the same day on a commercial airliner, stuffed mostly with military personnel who had completed their Vietnam vacations. At the exact moment the wheels broke ground, a concerted and prolonged cheer erupted from the throats of some 200 men—I didn’t expect it and it scared the hell out of me, but I managed to join the choir, albeit somewhat belatedly.

I returned to Da Nang 30 days later to complete my tour in Vietnam—I never saw the major again, something we both can appreciate.

That’s all for now. I’ll have to get back later with more details of my vacation in Vietnam. It was one of the most memorable times in my life, a life which has, to date encompassed beau coup memorable moments.

See there? Even the word “beau coup” brings back memories of Vietnam—France occupied and fought in that country for many years. They no doubt took many mementos home with them, but also left many mementos behind when they left Vietnam, including a substantial number of Vietnamese mothers with children fathered by French soldiers. The French efforts in Vietnam were, of course, a prelude to American soldiers leaving similar mementos, probably in even more substantial numbers, of Vietnamese mothers with children fathered by American soldiers.

The plight and the beauty of those children deserve a separate posting.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Somewhere over the North Pole . . .

I left Vietnam in April of 1970 on a commercial airliner packed with military personnel, most of whom had finished their combat tours and were returning home. Somewhere over the North Pole, on a flight that took 14 hours to complete, the temperature in the plane dropped so low that I started shaking and couldn’t stop. I quieted my chattering teeth by keeping my jaws clenched shut, and curled up into the tightest ball I could manage in a seat considerably scaled down in order to accommodate more passengers. Seat width and leg room were severely reduced, and when the seat ahead was fully laid back, getting into and out of of my seat was a real chore.

I was a passenger on a commercial airliner, one of a fleet leased by the U.S. military to ferry personnel to and from Vietnam during our prolonged war in that country. Our flight from Da Nang, South Vietnam would take us over the North Pole and on to Los Angeles’ International Airport.

Spring was in full bloom in the United States, but the season was a hard cold winter over the North Pole. When I first began to feel the cold, I asked a flight attendant for a blanket. She said that she would be right back with a blanket, but after a considerable amount of time passed, she had not returned, and I noticed that blankets were being passed out up and down the rows of seats.

The same attendant came by and I reminded her of my request. She apologized nicely, saying that she had been busy and had forgotten my request, and told me she would return shortly with the blanket. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep—it isn’t easy to sleep when one is shivering violently. Another long interval of time passed and she finally returned, minus the blanket. She again apologized nicely, but this time she told me there were no more blankets, that the aircraft’s supply of blankets had all been handed out to other passengers. A quick look around showed that in my immediate area I was the only passenger without a blanket. Apparently they were handed out while I was trying to sleep.

My three-time loser of a flight attendant was young and attractive, attributes that would have, in a normal situation, prevented me from voicing the comments that followed the news that I would not be—could not be—given a blanket. I won’t repeat what I said—Word Press has some rather stern restrictions on the use of vulgarities and some of the terms that I used, terms that I had accumulated over many years in military service, would probably not be well received.

I will only say that, had my verbal censure of the girl been a double-barreled shotgun, she would have received censure equal to being blasted with two full loads of double-ought buckshot, delivered at very close range. Any hunter can describe the terrible damage that would be caused by such loads.

Resigned to my fate—an unnatural fate of freezing solid at 40,000 feet over the North Pole while crammed into a baby seat in a commercial aircraft traveling at some 400 miles per hour—I curled up into a ball again, wrapped my arms around myself as fully and tightly as I could, and tried to sleep—in the words of Hamlet, I sought to sleep, perchance to dream, etc.

And I did sleep—to paraphrase Brother Dave Gardner’s words, I reached for the arms of Morpheus and fell into that somnolent state of glorious oblivion—I slept, and I dreamed.

I dreamed of being warm again. I dreamed that I was covered with something soft and furry, a cover with an aroma that combined the smell of budding roses and lilacs in bloom—an aroma superior to any of the world’s most expensive perfumes, with just a hint of chicken frying in my mother’s kitchen—no, scratch the fried chicken—that was an earlier dream, one that I had the night before I boarded the plane to begin the long journey home—I suppose some residual of that odor remained in my brain.

I know the suspense is gnawing at anyone reading this posting, so I will hold back no longer. While I slept, the flight attendant that failed to deliver a blanket after my repeated requests for one—far in advance of the time blankets began to be handed out to passengers—the flight attendant that I berated so forcefully and fiercely—yep, the same attractive woman that patiently endured my verbal onslaught on her professional conduct, had returned with a full length fur coat and gently placed it over my numb body, tucking it in as well as she could, considering my fetal pose.

The coat was probably hers, but she could have borrowed from another flight attendant—that point is moot. Regardless of the owner, that fur coat saved my sanity and possible my life. I quickly returned to that somnolent state of glorious oblivion and spent the rest of the night gamboling through Elysian fields with Bambi, Flower and Thumper—I awakened only after daylight filled the cabin.

I never saw the flight attendant again. The fur coat had been retrieved while I slept on like the proverbial baby, probably picked up by its owner after we left polar bear territory. I searched for that familiar face, but exited the aircraft after landing without an opportunity to thank her, and to apologize for my boorish behavior during the flight. She may have been busy in the galley or perhaps had business in the cockpit, if you catch my drift.

No matter where she was then and regardless of where she is now, I owe her my thanks for saving me from becoming a curled up block of ice—even though it was her fault for exposing me to such a potential ending.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Third time is charm—but not always . . .

In March of 1969, I had the privilege of taking a 13-month tour of South Vietnam with all expenses paid—my tour began in the the capital city of Saigon and ended at Da Nang Air Base in April of 1970. While at Da Nang I made two week-end visits to Hong Kong. The first was rather harrowing, but turned out okay. To read my posting on the first flight click here.

The second week-end trip was even more harrowing, and I wisely declined  all invitations for additional trips. Had another aircraft been available—another model a bit less vintage, I perhaps would have returned—no, belay that—the only circumstance that would have gotten me on a third flight to Hong Kong would be the imminent fall of Da Nang to North Vietnamese regulars. In that case I would have made a third flight to Hong Kong on any conveyance that could get me off the ground, whether on the Gooney Bird, in a lawn-mower-powered ultra-light or under a parasail towed by a child in a rowboat.

This posting will reveals the details of the second flight, details that would cause anyone, particularly my mother’s youngest son, to forego a third flight to Hong Kong.

Saturday dawned bright and clear at Da Nang, South Korea on a day in 1969,  and we lifted off for our flight to Hong Kong, the star of the Orient. We were ensconced in a C-47 transport plane affectionately nicknamed Gooney Bird. Powered by two reciprocating engines, our Gooney Bird was assembled in the late 1930s or the early 1940s—a durable bird, but not exactly a state-of-the-art conveyance. However, its age and its continued use by the United States Air Force were testaments to its reliability.

Our flight from DaNang to Hong Kong was routine, uneventful, with nothing to portend the nature of our return flight to South Vietnam. We arrives at Hong Kong in mid-morning and passed the the day shopping—I purchased a a reel-to-reel tape recorder, one of the finest units available at the time, along with a plentiful supply of tape, some jewelry for my wife, and a wooden model of a Chinese junk—the recorder was junked, the jewelry is part my wife’s heritage to our three daughters, and I’m still stuck with the Chinese junk—it’s still accumulating dust and it’s still an eyesore. I can’t decide what to do with it—I’ve offered it as a present to several people—all expressed their appreciation of the offer, but none accepted it. I hate to give it up, and I hate to keep it—bummer!

But I have digressed—back to our return flight:

We left Kong Kong in mid-morning on Sunday. Our flight was routine until a short while after passing the point-of-no-return to Hong Kong—regardless of circumstances we were required to press on to Da Nang—if an inflight emegency should 0ccur, our options would be to ditch into the ocean, land somewhere in China, either on an island or on the mainland, or land somewhere in North Vietnam.

An emergency did in fact occur, and a mayday call—a call for assistance—was made to DaNang. Our #2 engine—that’s the engine on the left if one is facing the nose of the aircraft—began coughing, a series of sounds indicating a problem with fuel intake or ignition problems. The coughs were infrequent and minor at first, but soon  became more frequent and longer in duration. I was privileged to be seated at the window closest to that engine, and each time it coughed the propellers would stop, only for a tiny instant at first, but the stop  was clearly visible.

Our loadmaster told us that a mayday message had been sent to DaNang and that a Navy PBY, an aircraft with the ability to land on water as well as land, had been dispatched to meet us in the event that our aircraft had to be ditched in the ocean. The loadmaster began moving all our luggage and our Hong Kong goodies to the cargo door. I asked him why, and he said our load had to be lightened to help the Gooney Bird remain aloft in case we were reduced to only one engine. I protested—mildly, of course—and was told something to the effect that the load had to be lightened, one way or another, and that it was either my new reel-to-reel tape recorder or me. Naturally I chose to remain on board and sacrifice the recorder.

However—and that’s a really important however—I, my tape recorder, the passengers, the crew and the aircraft landed safely at DaNang. The ailing engine stopped completely several times–all three prop blades became clearly visible for a few seconds—but the engine recovered enough each time to contribute to the other engine’s efforts.

Following the loadmaster’s explanation of our current situation and his description of possible changes to that situation, the passenger section became eerily silent, with each of us enveloped in our own thoughts. I venture that my thoughts were identical to the thoughts of others.

Yep, I prayed. I prayed to my god and to the gods of others, regardless of the nature of their gods. I prayed that the engine would recover, that the PBY would arrive soon, that ditching would not be necessary, and that we would land safely in South Vietnam. If their prayers were anything like mine, then they made promises they knew the would not—or possibly could not—keep.

I have no doubt that our combined prayers were answered, all except my prayer that the engine would recover—it was still coughing mightily when we landed at DaNang. The PBY soon arrived—its pilot made a 180 degree turn and placed his aircraft near our starboard wingtip—a position taken in order to observe the ailing engine—and escorted us to a safe landing. Made all the gods bless PBYs and their pilots!

A quick aside at this point, just in case a viewer is unsure of the difference between left and right in nautical terms—port is left, starboard is right. Running lights on vessels are red and green—red is for left side, green is for right side. Here’s a memory aid that may help one remember which is which—memory aids seem to be items for which I have an ever-increasing need as I advance in years!

Just remember that port, left and red are short words with fewer letters than starboard, right and green, so port and red are on the left side—starboard and green are on the right side.

Got it?

Below is an image of today’s Da Nang—it did not look like that when I was there!

Speaking of inflight aircraft malfunctions, Brother Dave Gardner (1926-1983), an old-time stand-up comic, created a skit to use in his comedy routines, a skit dealing with an inflight emergency on a commercial flight in the United States. An engine caught fire inflight, and a little old man seated near the burning engine prayed long and loudly for his god to rectify the situation, saying “Please get me on the ground safely and I’ll give half of everything I own to the church.”

The fire was instantly extinguished and the plane landed safely.

When the little old man deplaned he was met by his minister and the minister said, “Brother, I heard what you said up there! I heard you tell God that if he got you on the ground safely you would give half of everything you own to the church, and I know you’re going to start right now!”

The little man said, “Nope, I made a better deal—I just now told God that if I ever get back on another one of those things, I’ll give Him everything I own!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,