Sunday, November 2, 2014

MEMORIAL DAY - 2014



I was a soldier but denounce that responsibility for what it's worth. Full of fire and brimstone with an attitude to match I killed for the ability to say I did just that. I live in the realm of the aftermath of duties I still don't understand. I live in a place where men don't feel safe and search for answers with primitive feelings then lash out because they don't understand. I live with false promises of answers and become angry because deep down inside I know I'll never really have them. We're flying by the seat of our pants without a guidebook and I feel I'm in a grey area of life. I don't see right and wrong anymore, I'm more about being different so I continue to search for answers knowing I will never know the truth. We've lost our way in this fad diet disposable world and we forget we're only tenants here. Hard work, really hard work, may be the only answer.  


The rest of my military career was one disaster after another. Spending the better part of a year in hospitals taking morphine and other narcotics to survive I became addicted to drugs. The drug and alcohol abuse caught up with me at West Point when I was arrested, put on trial, and spent the remainder of my military career locked up in prison. I was discharged from Fort Dix Stockade in September of 1970 a shell of the rough and tumble kid I once was.

I floundered for the next decade in and out of Veterans Hospitals trying to get a grip on my life. The drug and alcohol abuse continued with the help of my doctors that gave meds out freely. A bullet in my spine, medical abnormalities, and Agent Orange residuals kept my life at a stand still and ate away at my very core. Bouncing from job to job I was caught up in a systemic merry go round. I was running in place and watching my friends progress leaving me in the dust.

Reacurring nightmares, flashbacks, and anxiety plagued my life at ever level and was beginning to reflect in my children. For decades I struggled as a functioning psychotic and suppressed all connections to the war and the atrocities I had committed. Being sanctioned by the government was no justification, in fact it only instilled a deeper anger that I also suppressed. I hadn't slept a full night in decades.


The formulation and diagnosis of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) began a new era in the emotional history of our country. Vietnam, if for no other reason, brought new light to a generation of souls that were divided at birth. THE PTSD GENERATION, as I like to call it, created a great schism in this country and this division hadn't been seen since the great Civil War. I envied those souls that took a different road and struggled with life without the added burden of guilt or perhaps a guilt that was placed in a different direction that I couldn't see. I, on a personal level, could not interact with others knowing my guilt and self loathing for my actions was an obstacle. Suppressing my thoughts and feelings was the only way I could survive and I knew if I let it out I would start to cry  and never stop. I was wound up like a coil and I couldn't unwind so I buried it deeper and kept to myself.

A day came though that was unlike any other in my life and all was not what it seemed when I reached in and touched a place I hadn't seen before. For a fleeting moment I found myself and I scrambled to retain it but I knew I would need help. I was diagnosed with PTSD and given an explanation, not drugs just a simple explanation, and for the first time something made sense. It was small but I had something to build on. I knew it wasn't going to be easy but up until now nothing was ever easy so I went at it full force and I haven't stopped since. 

I calculated how many days I thought I would have in my life and came up with approximately 30,000. I was astonished at the figure because I thought I had millions. I calculated how many days I was in trauma and to my surprise the bad outnumbered the good and that was no longer acceptable. I decided that everything had to change and there was no turning back. Hard work, really hard work, was the only way for me and I hit the ground running. I constantly think about the number of days in my life fore and aft and each day I either give one away or I make the best of it. 

A period of rebuilding and nationalism during the '80's ushered in the Raegan years with a lull in the aggressive imperialism of previous decades. Recession, jobs, and national debt kept America busy as we kept our heads buried in the sand and our military at rest. It was the Soviets turn to fight for a change and we simply fed the fires with finances we didn't have. When the nineties rolled around so did war as American troops or boots on the ground as they were now called were pressed into service. Movies like "Hunt For Red October, Courage Under Fire, G I Jane, and Saving Private Ryan" just to name a few instilled the power and might of the U.S. in the forefront of the American psyche. 

Like the Vietnam War the Gulf War or Desert Storm was fought on TV in every household in America. General Schwarzkopf held nightly press conferences describing the technology of new Smart Bombs with accompanying videos of buildings, bridges, and infrastructure being destroyed. These press conferences were held with a light hearted attitude almost mocking the very essence of war. 

To me it was war at any level and the attitude at which it was handled sickened me to the point of regression. Half hearted comments laughingly accompanied each news conference even if the collateral damage included hospitals and schools. If I felt this way then perhaps others felt the same. I decided rather than regress I would do something about it and uncover the reality of war for the heinous monster that it is. I began THE ART OF WAR programs for educators and students alike and brought the reality of war to light.

Aggressively pushing my agenda on school districts during wartime was no an easy task yet the more I spoke the more I realized it was as much about me as it was for them. Having never spoken before in public my words took on a life of their own. Feelings and emotions I forgot I had surfaced with an intensity and passion I carried as a young man. My life had come full circle and I realized that getting up after you fall can only make you bigger and better than ever and I got up. The journey, as it is in all of us, is the story. The beginning and the end are just that and are always the same, it's life and death. The middle of the story is the heart of life and it lies within each of us as the human spirit. If I let it die then my story dies with it and so I think about those 30,000 days and decide each and every day to either give one away or make the best of it. 



CLICK:  http://vimeo.com/m/96372603



                                                         MEMORIAL DAY - 2014

As young men and women at war we felt life and death with an intensity that is beyond any civilian emotion, and we formed bonds, as soldiers, that do not exist in everyday life. We were forever changed and will forever stand apart, for war has left its footprint on us.

So how amazing is the spirit of man! In spite of numerous failings, he continues to sacrifice his life and all be holds dear for ideals, for faith in country, for honor, for basic human responsibilities. The ideals may change but the capacity for self sacrifice continues, and it is impossible to loose hope in him. For though he is a plaything of the gods, with his spirit and his mind he fights back firmly. You must remember that nothing that can happen is likely to trample man for long and for all the sorrow, and ills of life, there is also joy and beauty.

The only way to remember the past is to move forward and carry it with you. To all my fallen friends, today I honor you, tomorrow I move forward.



Thanks to the people of Southeast Asia I have learned a valuable lesson. Life is,
                                 SAME SAME, BUT DIFFERENT.

                                       
                                          THE END

A special thanks for quotes, text, pictures, and historical information from;
The National Veterans Art Museum,
The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War,
The United States Government,
and all contributing artists, bloggers, photographers, and web sites.
For a full listing of contributing sites consult the REFERENCE page.

A special thanks to GOOGLE for making this possible.






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24th EVAC / CAMP ZAMA


My last adventure in Vietnam was a medevac helicopter ride stained with the blood of previous missions. Pilots were talking to the hospital, gunners were shooting, medics were trying to stop the bleeding, and escort aircraft were protecting anything with a big Red Cross on it. A symphony of man and machines came together to the rhythm of rotors trying to reverse the irreversible. Huey helicopter death machines once designed for killing now saved lives in the ebb and flo of war.

On January 11, 1964 Major Charles L. Kelly assumed command of the 57th Medicl Detachment (helicopter ambulance) and changed mobile rescue forever. His philosophy of putting the patient first, Americans and South Vietnamese, became the mantra for future mobile medical evacuation. Aggressively pushing his agenda for night evacuation he pioneered new and dangerous techniques in helicopter ambulance rescue.

Kelly fought an ongoing battle with both Washington and Saigon over the use of helicopters believing they should be of medical use only. Previously helicopters were of general use with removable Red Crosses that were put on only when needed for medical evacuation waisting both time and manpower. Kelly fought hard to keep his five Huey helicopters dedicated to his units primary mission. 


Some days the ground medics never took a brake and the skies over the 24th Evac were backed up with incoming choppers filled with wounded soldiers. These tireless workers played the middle man in a life saving chain of events as over 300,000 wounded Americans came through their caring hands.




Kelly's ace pilot, considered by many to be the best pilot of the Vietnam War, was Officer Patrick H. Brady. On January 5, 1968 Brady flew an incredible series of nine medevac missions in fog over the mountains of Chu Lai and received the Medal of Honor for heroism. By the time he finished his second tour of duty his resume also included Distinguished Service Cross and Distinguished Flying Cross with Five Oak Leaf Clusters. Flying his famous helicopter "Dust Off 55" the term became synonymous with medevac rescue for the remainder of the war. Instead of calling in a medevac helicopter soldiers would call in a "Dust Off." 

Life saving surgeries, amputees, and progressive new medical techniques were practiced in this room. The 24th Evac, considered by many to be the formost medical facility in the war, housed some of the most accomplished doctors in the world.

The 24th Evacuation Hospital (semimobile) found it's roots in Arkansas in July 1923 in the Reserves as Evacuation Hospital No. 24. By October 1, 1933 the 24th Evac was allotted to the Regular Army and later activated into service in June 1942 at Camp Rucker AL in preparation for the Eropean theater and WWII. Establishing itself as the premier Semimobile Unit of its time it moved into Occupied Germany for the rebuilding period and returned to the U.S. for deactivation at Fort Bennington GA. Activated and deployed again in 1966 for service to Long Binh Vietnam it remained as the center for medical treatment in Vietnam until the beginning of the U.S. pullout in 1972. 


Soft things, friendly aromas, and a white enviroment suggested I was dead and in a nice place. Soft voices, gentle hands, and the most beautiful face I had ever seen appeared in my peripheral vision as I opened my eyes. She spoke to me but I couldn't hear and focused on my senses that were working. I had to fight to remain conscious but then I drifted off. A month had pasted since my last conscious though and without my knowledge I was transported across the South China Sea to Camp Zama Japan. As far as I could determine I was alive. 

UNCLASSIFIED TRANSPOTATION ORDERS, SUBJECT MEDICAL EVACUEES
This piece of paper was the only means of identification I had and was pinned to my bandages. The document states four evacuees are to be transported to two different hospitals in Japan. Three of the for wounded are from my unit.
Highlights top to bottom:
1. USARV LBN RVN, U.S.ARMY LONG BINH RUBLIC of VIETNAM
2.SUBJ: REASSIGMENT OF MEDICAL EVACUEES
3.USAH CP ZAMA, U.S. ARMY HOSPITAL CAMP ZAMA
4. ROMEO FRANK J
On display in THE ART OF WAR exhibition.


Camp Zama's first hospital was built by the Japanese in 1940 with a capacity of 300 beds. It was enlarged to 1,000 beds during Japan's war effort and was called Sobudai-mai, Japanese Military Hospital. 

The 128th Station Hospital was activated in December 1942 at Camp Beale CA and headed for New Guinea and eventually the Phillippines. August 16, 1945 the hospital was attached to the 8th U.S. Army  unit and was part of a large invasion unit in Tokyo Bay that was never needed. On September 2, 1945 while the surrender was being signed the 128th battled a Typhoon and most of the hospital equipment was lost at sea. As General MacArthur first stepped foot on Japanese soil the 128th was the first unit to aid with American POW's. To give medical attention to the POW's the first medical facility was set up at Camp Zama. 

During the Korean War the 128th combined with the 141st General Hospital for the expected influx of casualties. By 1951 a total of 4,370 patients were admitted in one year to this 300 patient bed facility. Following the Korean War Camp Zama continued to serve U.S. military forces and aid the local Japanese civilians. 

During the early to mid sixties additional hospitals were joined together under one banner. The U.S. Army Medical Center become the U.S. Army Medical Command, Japan under the overall heading of 
CAMP ZAMA JAPAN. 

Camp Zama medically treated and housed the critically wounded that were to delicate to make the long arduous trip back to the United States. I fell into the category of critically wounded and spent months undergoing numerous operations to put me back together. I was shot in seven places with shrapnel and blast residue imbedded throughout my body. Unable to walk, talk, or use the lower half of my body I remained wrapped like a mummy hanging from a circus like apparatus trying to work through my lastest adventure.


New Hope


Phnom Penh boasts 4.5 million people and during Pol Pot's reign of terror the city was empty along with most others. The most populated area were the army centers and Security Offices like S-21 where his murderous killers were busy slaughtering innocent people and one third of the population was either murdered or displaced. 

China was anxious to make a deal with Cambodia early in the sixties allowing infiltration of its border regions. The Viet Minh Regime of Ho Chi Minh backed Vietcong were next to stifle and inhabit the area giving the U.S. an excuse to proceed with bombing missions from the border to the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Finally genocide swept across every aspect of Cambodian life capping off almost two decades of death and destruction. 

To say it touched every life in Cambodia is an understatement. In the week I've been here every person I've met has a story of family members who have fallen victim to the genocide. Two generations later the aftermath of terror is still vivid in their minds and overflows with emotion while they still try to cope and understand. Why is certainly a question but more so is why do it to your own people. This was not an invasion of WWII politics or ethnic cleansing but a suicidal event of a society from within. I myself am trying to understand and visually see the slow methodical comeback of a once proud society in ruins.

So, a teacher in New Hope Cambodia, teaches students English.


New Hope Cambodia School is located in Mondul 3, one of the poorest slums in Siem Reap Province in central Cambodia. The village is made up of 500 families of old army personnel, sex workers, and displaced men, women, and children. There is no formal education in Mondul 3 or any kind of vocational training and living conditions are appalling. Food is scarce. This village of dysfunctional families losses countless men, women, and children to disease and famine. Often the children rely on the elderly to survive or fend for themselves. In order to survive many girls fall victim to sex trade and trafficking or die of sexually transmitted disease.


Kevin a CEO working for G Adventures, a Toronto Canada based company and proud sponsor of New Hope, brought me to New Hope under the guise of being taken out for dinner. Before dinner was to begin a group of us were given a tour of the facility and I was privileged to sit in on a classroom in session. After the lesson was over I got to interact with the students and before I knew it I was answering questions, just like in America, about my prior experiences during the war. Interestingly enough the questions were identical to what American students ask me a half world away. It was then I thought, after my Skyping session with the American students, wouldn't it be fantastic if the two classes could Skype each other and I could mediate with the teacher. I've since contacted an American school and been given the Ok. I will work on it when I return home.i


Selfie in an English class in New Hope Cambodia. No talking!


I showed the students where in America I live, looks like any classroom in America.



Meet "So", of course I can't pronounce his name. So, I call him So.
So has been with New Hope for 6 years.


From humble beginnings as a grass roots organization, New Hope has become an internationally respected non-government organization run by a local Khmer called Sot Suo Kemsour. Sot Suo realized education was pointless without good health and so New Hope adresses the daily issues of its local population by providing food and a health clinic. 100 emergency patients come through the clinic facility daily and are treated free of charge. Food and support for over 340 families and 100 malnourished babies come through the clinic monthly.

New Hope clinic treatment area.


Every morning this waiting room is filled with desperate people in need.


Finally my long awaited dinner that I was promised, but this would not just be any ordinary dinner not at New Hope. Recently New Hope opened a restaurant completely staffed by students learning the hospitality trade. Cooks, waiters, and hosts politely introduce themselves by name and serve both vegetarian and meat dinners accompanied by beverages of your choice. The dinner was absolutely delicious with the exception of the appetizers of saut├ęd beatles and bugs. There are benefits to being a vegetarian. 

The new New Hope Dining Room.


After two generations the aftermath of war and genocide is apparent in Cambodia more so than the other Endochina countries and the legacy lives on. Being a part of this world since I was a young man makes me vulnerable to compassion and guilt. It is without reservation that I say we played a role in creating this enviroment and it is without reservation that I say we owe a debt. If only the fact that we, along with the rest of the world, turned a blind eye to the genocide then that alone should be reason enough. Money, greed, power, and the Cold War were our justified reasons to be here then why not genocide. So, why not be here now?



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Saturday, November 1, 2014

CAMBODIA


Ultimately suffering a worse tragedy than it's neighbors Cambodia was the last Indo-China nation to be drawn into the war in Southeast Asia. Surrounded by larger more powerful nations Cambodia historically has always had fears of being swallowed up by any one of a half dozen countries. Rimmed by mountains and hills on its borders it's heartland is a flat expanse of forests, fields, and grasslands watered by rivers and streams of the Mekong. River fishing and watered fields made Cambodians traditionally a well fed people during peacetime.

Angkor Kings ruled from the ninth to the fifteenth century but it was during the twelfth century that the kings converted to Buddhism. They built great temples in the shape of mountains which still stand today at Angkow Wat the religious capital of Cambodia. The dominant branch of Buddhism teaches that every person must seek his or her own enlightenment through meditation and it was this self enlightenment which made Cambodia appear  to be losing its national identity. France, while establishing colonial rule over Vietnam, made Cambodia a protectorate in 1864. Under it's rule it encouraged productivity in the region giving Cambodians a sense of worth and ruled for the next ninety years. Losing it's hold during WWII Japan seized the opportunity to expand and occupied Cambodia until it's ultimate downfall. At the 1954 Genva Convention Indo-China went through a regional upheaval and Norodom Saihanouk was given the title Chief of State of Cambodia. 

By the early 1960's Sihanouk was walking a fine line with all the major powers of the world. He broke off all relations with the U.S. in 1965 and permitted North Vietnam to use it's eastern border to supply the Communist takeover of the south. In March 1969 the United States began bombing both the Sihanouk and Ho Chi Minh trails to stop the influx of supplies and sent soldiers to deal with the Vietcong head on.

After one year of continuous bombing violent government orchestrated anti-Vietnamese demonstrations took place in Phnom Penh the capital of Cambodia. The National Assemblies and government Ministries voted unanimously to depose Prince Sihanouk as Chief of State. Sihanouk, then in Beijing to gain support, sealed an alliance with his former worst mortal enemy. To regain his thrown with authority he sided with the Khmer Rouge and led Cambodia down one of the darkest periods in modern time. 

A French educated Cambodian Communist Saloth Sar, better known as Pol Pot, led the new Khmer Rouge government. The Khmer Rouge emerged in the 1970's as the most extreme and violent Indo-China revolutionary movement in its history. From 1973 to 1979 new violent and fanatical doctrines were imposed. These ideologies were buried in the psyche of the people beneath years of isolation, hatred of their neighbors, and war. Cambodia spiraled deeper into savagery as the war weary U.S. ended its bombing in 1973 paving the way for Pol Pot's new regime. By 1979 one third of the population was either murdered or displaced in violent attacks by the government. Cities were emptied out and millions of Cambodians were forced into slave labor camps as the world stood by and did nothing. The Khmer Rouge Regime was responsible for committing the worst genocide in the twentieth century second only to the Nazi's during WWII. In January 1979 Vietnam invaded its former ally and ended the reign of terror. After 35 years of continuous fighting the war in Southeast Asia was over and for the first time since WWII there was peace in the region.


We were sent to the isolated border region to find Vietcong and stop the influx of weapons. The chances of finding a base camp in such a remote area was nil but Delta was good at its job.


Hacking through dense jungle is hard but adding in a mountainous terrain makes it almost impossible.


Nighttime brings with it an eerie surreal enviroment of shadows and forms as apparitions appear and disappear. This was the stuff that nightmares were made of.
                                      


Dawn in triple canopy jungle is the equivalent of having a night light on. I had been up all night dealing with my apparitions and exhausted from both the night and the previous days adventure. My feet were bleeding and swollen but I had to go to work and ignore the pain. To add to our misery our hunger would also have to be ignored and wait for resupply helicopters to drop off our food. The clearing was about a half mile away. The jungle was to dense for landing and much to dangerous for any kind of a drop zone especially in the Vietcong's backyard. Half our unit was ordered to make the dangerous trek to meet the choppers leaving my point position open. I volunteered to stay behind and hold down the outpost while Peter and the others went on a two hour hike through dense growth.

My bravery came a distant second to the pain in my feet as I carefully unlaced the tension on the blood soaked canvass of my jungle boots. As I suspected my socks wouldn't come off without that outer layer of skin it was so fond. My raw feet were stinging from the damp morning air. Foot powder and bug juice were essential to the ground soldier and were probably made of the same smelly stinging ingredients. From the height of my boots to the tip of my toes my feet were bleeding from oozing pockets of clumped skin. Closing my eyes to the instant gratification of pleasure pain I wallowed in foot powder enjoying the moment. 

An explosion rocked my body followed by the clacking of AK-47's first from the front then flanking me to one side between me and my unit. The day began, like many others in Vietnam, with a violent firefight pitting men against each other without personal cause. I was now alone without Peter for the first time and separated from my unit. I had a bad feeling about this place. 

Intense heat threw my head back, left knee ripped out, calf exploded, hips displaced, and pain shot up my groin through the center of my spine and they kept shooting me. I was alone and both the Vietcong and I both knew help wasn't coming. I took another round as they kept my unit pinned down at a considerable distance. I was their bate lying in no-mans land to be dangled in front of the men. They shot me again for good measure. The firefight continued breaking the silence of the morning mist with that familiar smell of battle as gladiators, both champions for their own cause, went at it. Some stood, some fell, and still no one came for me.

I was not here and I was not there but peaceful in a new place watching from a comfortable height. The light was bright but not intense as it cradled me in serenity and allowed me to think in a rational calm venue and view the events of the day. Ever so slowly my men were inching closer and with a volley our medic got to me and cut my clothes off feverishly. Doing what he could he signaled the men to wrap me up in a pancho liner so be could attend to the others in need.

Returning without supplies my six man team attended to me immediately. They would go back to the drop zone again only this time they would carry my limp body and exchange it for food. I could see the horror in Peter's face and tried to comfort him but no words came out. I was here and I was there and I tried to talk to him. I knew I would leave with unfinished thoughts from the previous night. What would he do without me? How would he survive? I wanted to be ok for his sake after all we were a team from back home and we needed to see this through. 

I floated awhile longer with grace and ease and an uncanny ability to think at multiple levels. Thoughts of Peter, the men, all the days here, and home all came and went fluidly with a clarity of mind I never possessed before. Focussing on Peter I wanted him to know I was sorry for leaving him but again there were no words just a limp body wrapped in plastic. I knew my time here was done, unfinished but done. I'm sorry Peter. 

Peter, Dave, and two others put me on the chopper along with a few other men wounded from our sister unit. Still limp I was first to be put on so I got the bottom rack while the others were locked in above me. Garcia was shot in the throat and bleeding all over me in sporadic bursts that the medic couldn't control. I had no place to go so his blood mingled with mine and coagulated on the floor. He was in bad shape I thought and I wondered if he too was watching or had he already left and gone to another place. Pictures in my head was all I had then everything went away.




When I thought I've seen it all I'm confronted with yet another surreal tidbit of life that I try to wrap my head around. It is times like this that I feel the odds of becoming old are astronomical and given the countless obstacles that we confront from conception to death is astounding. Conceiving, disease, war, and the rigors of everyday life make me scratch my head in wonder and it is days like this that I hold so dearly for it is days like this I'm so very grateful.

S-21


When you call it S-21 it gives it a museum stop touristy feel but once you enter Security Office number 21 your pulled into a world of darkness unmatched by any Hollywood script. Welcome to hell. Pol Pot came into power as a direct result of the conflict in Vietnam. Drawn into the war out of neccessity Cambodia suffered more than any other country in Southeast Asia. Skirmishes with Cambodian forces along the border were commonplace but little did we know we were fighting what would be the future genocidal killers of the savage Khamer Rouge Regime. 

A row of cell blocks houses a couple of hundred prisoners and in total approximately 1,700 were contained tortured and sentence to death for the crime of being educated. If you could read you were considered educated and so you were beaten and tortured until you confessed. Only 4 people survived S-21 and 2 remain alive today to tell their story.


Cell block and torture room.


Meet Bou Meng one of only two survivors. I sat with Bou and through his interpreter I told him who I was and why I was here. He sat patiently and probably thought to himself, who cares, but there we were both survivors and both moving forward. We were close in age but he suffered a fate far worse than I. His family including his wife were killed in S-21 and yet he feels compelled to continue. I could feel his spirit was large and I absorbed as much of it as I could. This is the energy that we all need and it keeps us moving forward.


Bou testifying before the world court.


From S-21 I followed the route of some of its inhabitants to the quiet little village of Choeung Ek and walked through the orchards of a mogul pock marked landscape. If I were in a picnic frame of mind I would have sat under a shady tree and had lunch. This peaceful setting holds the remains of thousands of victims of genocide buried in mass graves. Each mogul I walked through was filled with hundreds of naked bodies small and large.


I looked down at the muddy earth and was shocked at what I saw. It had rained that morning and human remains were uncovered by the downpour on the very path I was using.


Selfie in the orchards, welcome to The Killing Fields.


I was in a room containing 9,000 human skulls and other body parts.


Thousands upon thousands of souls appear to be trying to get out.


Children were beaten against The Killing Tree and the savagery didn't stop there. It is believed that when you eat the hearts and lungs of your enemy you gain their strength.


My Cambodian experience rounds out the last week of my journey and as hard as it may be to see such atrocities it is a necessary evil to convey the full picture of the War In Southeast Asia. As a direct result of outside interest this region has suffered greatly and although compensation will never happen an honest forthright understanding of the facts is not asking to much. We as a society, although maybe not directly, helped create this upheaval and we should at least aknowledge our role. Then and only then do we move forward in earnest without guilt and understand the past so that we may better see the future.

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Friday, October 31, 2014

THE SUMMER OF '69


Many believe the sixties to be one of the most bizarre, controversial, enlightening, and world changing decades in he 20th Century. Everyday was an adventure and it seemed like the world was changing not by the day but by the hour. As the the decade drew to an end the summer of 1969 revealed an amazing array of eclectic events unmatchinwd in modern times. People and events on the world stage close out a decade of pain, awareness, and hope never to be forgotten.

Neil Armstrong walks on the Moon.


The John Hancock Building, the tallest building in the world outside of New York, opens at a staggering cost of $100 million.


Woodstock the music, art, peace and love festival draws one million strong.


The New York Mets make a rags to riches run for their first World Series Championship.


Midnight Cowboy wins best picture.


Hurricane Camille slams the Gulf coast and reeks havoc across the mid-Atlantic killing 255.


Muhammad Ali is convicted of refusing induction into the U.S. Army and is stripped of his World Championship title.


Racial tensions escalate as the National Guard is called into Baton Rouge LA to quell the riots.



The summer of 1969 brings record 100 plus degree days in Vietnam broken only by the daily deluge of  torrential down poors dropping the temperatures to a chilling 85 degrees as the war rages on.


I never sleep on missions and we were always on missions so I merely closed my eyes in a conscious meditative resting state. Aware of my surroundings and clutching my grenades as a security blanket I closed my eyes listening to the unnerving sound of silence. Thoughts of finding an abandoned base camp with signs of occupation filled my head with senario's both good and bad but mostly bad. We were sent to the border to find Vietcong but instead we compromised our position and played right into their hands. Through circumstance and chance we were now on the defensive and to make matters worse we were out of food and water.

I felt eyes on me all night and smelled the presence of the enemy imagining ghostly apparitions hidden in the shapes and forms of dense foliage. I tried to get comfortable in a six foot piece of rip-stop nylon that kept me off the wet turf. Similar to parachute material we tied ropes to both ends serving as a light weight on the go makeshift hammock. I was on the lower sling dangling my wet boots barely touching the ground. I hadn't taken them off for a week and I could feel the lacing stretching from my swellen feet. Blood oozed from the raw meat infested with jungle rot, a bacteria infection from constant dampness, as my socks acted like a second skin to stop the hemorrhaging. 

Again the eyes were on me along with ever increasing apparitions that were now accompanied by voices or so I thought. I tapped Peter on the upper hammock for reassurance and confirmation of my thoughts but he heard and saw nothing. We dismissed my awareness as an over active imagination and he went back to sleep. I was good at my job and my sense of tracking the enemy was equalled to the other six senses and I had a bad feeling about this place. The border jungles were unlike any other place in Vietnam and now after disturbing that base camp the enemy had the upper hand. I remained vigilant for the rest of the night and welcomed the first signs of light. We survived the night without incident and daylight, or as much as can filter through the dense growth, gave us a fighting chance.




To date I've been travelling nonstop for five weeks and it's a grueling pace for anyone no less a 65 year old. I've sailed down rivers, ventured in jungles, reentered the lush delta and I have to be honest I'm a little tired but today my energy is peaked. I am on a eight hour bus ride to a nice hotel to skype with American students. This will be the first time I've spoken to an American since I left JFK Airport in New York 12,500 miles ago on September 22nd. I am very excited. 

I started my day exploring ancient temples and finished talking to American students by way of Skype. Entering the emerald green flatlands of endless rice paddies I began crossing Cambodia stopping at Siem Reap home of over 100 ancient temples. Built by the Angkor Kings to fuel their God-like egos these temples lie between the mountainous rock quarries of the north and the wetlands of the rice paddy food sources of the south. Angkor Wat is the crown jewel of the Siem Reap and is the single largest religious complex in the world.

Selfie before I climb the 120 steps to the summit.


Buddhist Monks meet and greet visitors from all over the world.


The jungle has taken back many of the temples leaving tourists with a unique visual experience. 
Harrison Ford filed "Tomb Raiders" at this temple.


Sitting quietly trying to understand an endeavor so large and the reason for it. Some of these temples took 40 or more years to build and many kings died before they were completed.


I came across this 4 or 5 year old girl creating art, one of my favorite subjects. I tried to talk to her but she was to busy creating.


A Disney Princess and only one of many drawn in the dirt.


Selfie on my hot, bumpy, and miserable eight hour bus ride.


Selfie in my hotel room while waiting for the Skype session to begin.


I met them at one of my lectures last year and they have returned to scrutinize my journey and share what I have learned if anything. The students of Walt Whitman High School in Huntington New York are some of the brightest and knowledgable students anywhere and I always enjoy visiting with them. Led by Mr. Donlon this government class doesn't hold back. As if I was right there they came at me with a host of well thought out questions. From questioning my feelings and emotions to life changing events I've witnessed here one by one they came up to the camera. I did my best to answer with a sincere and truthful response as the cameras were recording a TV special to air on Veterans Day. Thank you Walt Whitman for allowing me into your classroom.

Chanel 12 Cablevision hosted by anchor women Virginia Huie Allison will air a special show on Veterans Day. For the benefit of all my followers around the world I will post a link for the special. Veterans Day honors all American Veterans still living from all our wars. Originally called Armistice Day it falls on November 11th signifying the end of WWI. Thank you Chanel 12. 



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Thursday, October 30, 2014

THE CONFLUENCE


Prince Norodem Sihanouk ruled Cambodia since he wrestled independence away from the French in 1953 by politically maneuvering between right and left wing factions. For ten years the Prince managed to remain neutral during the ever increasing civil wars in neighboring countries while continuing political ties with the United States. Wedged between two allied forces, Thailand on the west and South Vietnam on east, he dealt with a civil war in Laos to the north. He performed this balancing act while remaining neutral with all the super powers of the world which was no easy task.

Sihanouk believed the Communist would eventually triumph in Southeast Asia and Cambodia was incapable of defeating a Vietnamese takeover. To survive Prince Sihanouk had to make a deal with the devil and on April 10, 1965 he broke off relations with the U.S.. To gain foreign support both economically and politically he turned to China. One of the terms of the agreement with China was that Cambodia would allow the use of its eastern border by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. North Vietnam and the Vietcong capitalized on this agreement and it became one of the most fought over area's in all Southeast Asia.

The North Vietnamese used this area to supply the Vietcong guerrilla force by land and by sea. The Ho Chi Minh trail was extended down thru Laos and into Cambodia by a labyrinth of trails, roads, and bridges then into South Vietnam. The second supply route was sailing ships into the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville then transferring the military supplies onto trucks and transporting them to the fighting zones. To circumvent the U.S. naval presence in the South China Sea ships would fly flags of other Communist countries, mostly from Europe's eastern block. War materials intended for use against U.S. forces sailed right past American war ships and again a labyrinth of routes was used to transport the goods by land. Eventually these routes would be known as the Sihanouk Trail. The Sihanouk Trail and the Ho Chi Minh Trail converged in our area of operations along the highly fought over jungles of the  Vietnam Cambodian border.


The Ho Chi Minh Trail in red meets the Sihanouk Trail in black in the southern portion of South Vietnam.


As tensions escalated and warring factions increased militarily more supplies were needed in the south. In 1965 the Ho Chi Minh Trail underwent a massive overhaul to try to handle the traffic needed to fight the Allied Forces. Engineers from North Korea, Russia, and China aided North Vietnam to widen the footpaths into roads, strengthen bridges, and piled rocks in streams and rivers to create fords. Creating fords, a shallow area beneath the water level, allowed supplies to cross bodies of water by foot or vehicle and was not seen from bombing missions in the air. Increasing amounts of material and men moved as much as 100 miles during the night and were hidden in depots during the day. Foot traffic also increased from 12,000 in 1964 to 33,000 in 1965 and vehicle traffic quadrupled. 

The fighting increased along these border routes despite heavy bombing and units were called in to deal with the buildup firsthand. The roads weren't the only problem, by 1968 a network of caves and tunnels littered the jungle and burrowed deep into the earth. There was now 820 miles of well hidden roads to contend with and Delta was brought in to handle the job.


Aidded by Noeth Korea, Russia, and China North Vietnam built fords to cross rivers and Streams. Fords were rock or cement dropped just under the water level to create a bridge. Because the bridge was under the water level they were hard to detect by Allied bombing missions.


Without ever seeing the sun we humped, chopped, and climbed the jungle slopes of the border region for a month coming dangerously close to Cambodian sovereignty. Some days I could swear I pasted the same tree several times. Unless we transversed a Bamboo forest or an Agent Orange Range everything looked the same, hot steamy and green. 

It seemed as though I spent a lot of time walking point and today was no exception. Intelligence had the whole area crawling with Vietcong base camps and tunnel complexes as supply lines from the Ho Chi Minh and Sihanouk Trails filtered into this bottleneck. We were tredding in their back yard and so we had to tred carefully taking our time to watch for signs. A slightly worn trail meant activity was close so I mirrored the parh off to one side and scrutinized the area. Smelling their presence I gave the sign to halt and lay low. 

Peter and Dave joined me up front and we came in low and quiet. There were bunkers on either side of the worn path like traps on a golf course. These bunkers were entrance's to tunnels and had to be checked out carefully. I took the first and jumped into the pit with my team looking over my shoulder for backup and immediately they pulled me out. The entrance to the bunker was booby trapped with poisonous snakes and I was their dinner or at least the appetizer. Blowing up the bunkers and caves would have to wait until we swept through the base camp and cleared it of any Vietcong. It was not in their nature to stay and fight unless they had the upper hand and today this was not the case. 

Peter was next and entered the first hut while we quietly stood guard ready to attack. We learned the hard way that anything was possible in a world with no boundaries and certainly this fit that category. Growing up on Long Island in New York couldn't be further from my present location both physically and emotionally. It was suburbia meeting a grass hut culture without an explaination and so I tried not to think to much about it and just did my job. 

The huts were small and it didn't take Peter long to emerge unscathed carrying a second weapon slung over his shoulder. This was a war trophy if he chose to carry it throughout his tour. It was an old Russian SKS Sniper Rifle and it was in good condition. Many soldiers carried souvenirs with them to take home and this was Peter's second, he already carried a human skull and I myself had two femur bones we found in the jungle. The bones were from a small framed body so we assumed they were Vietcong.

Dave was in the lead now and following the path through a patch of heavey growth he came face to face with a Vietcong. They both were startled, they both screamed, and they both began to run. Surprised by the intrusion the Vietcong had no weapon and took off with Dave right on his heels. Capturing a Vietcong in this area could be a valuable tool for information with locations and supply delivery times and could possibly save lives. 

Without a visual sight we heard yelling from the jungle outside the camp and still there were no shots fired. We assumed they were both still alive. The rest of the unit caught up to us and were locked on the yelling in full attack mode. As the rustling of the brush got closer we stood ready to fire when Peter called a stand down reminding us that Dave was out there alone. 

Out of the brush Dave appeared yelling as he bounced from tree to tree writhing in pain and covered with wasps. We tackled him and began a soaking of bug juice picking off wasps one at a time. His face had already begun to swell. It was a relief to see him and better yet it was a relief to see him not being shot by his own unit. The Vietcong had escaped and our chances of a prisoner were gone and so we went back to work destroying the base camp. There was cooked rice and weapons scattered throughout and bunkers to attend to and fast. Our position had already been compromised and we were dangerously close to the Cambodian border. We were in a bad position and finding this base camp empty was probably the worse scenario possible. Having no recourse but to continue our work the Vietcong knew we were there and they were not about to let us out without a fight. 

Staying off the paths we worked our way deeper into triple canopy jungle until we were well hidden and bedded down for the night without as much as a match being lit. In silence we opened our last cans of C-rations, drank our last potable water and sat in total darkness knowing we were in trouble. Exhausted from the trek I still managed to stay up all night waiting for the inevitable.


The 60 caliber machine was a two man job, a gunner and a man to feed the chain of rounds and carry a second barrel if the first one melted. It was a must have weapon in the jungle and could shoot through almost anything. If the gunner went down the second man took over.  


Peter on the left and Dave pose before leaving on an operation.

The less inhabited back area of the central highlands was a perfect venue for the Vietcong to hide and stage their attacks. Virtually impossible to find, no less negotiate, it was an arduous and massive challenge for the Allied Forces to deal with. Criss crossed with trails and caves the region was a guerrilla army's paradise and a sanctuary for resupply and rest.

I travelled by mini van through the confluence of trails and roads through the less kept roads of the back bush jungles and mountains of this rugged terrain. The scenery was breathtaking but the roads left something to be desired. More exciting than a roller coaster ride and a bit more dangerous I tried to photograph the essence of a hard life in the uninhabited makeshift villages of the mountainyard people. These elevation living villages helped the Vietcong on their journey to and from the war zones. 


Travelling the high country was a beautiful but dangerous journey.


Mountain peaks are broken by the occasional valley rich with soil producing crops.


From the air worn paths such as these are cancelled from arial view by dense jungle growth.


Natural land formations provide both storage and housing for an army on the move.



Natural camouflage helps to blend man, machine, and nature.


Some paths were later paved for small vehicles.



Selfie in the central highlands.


Housing on a mountain cliff.

     
Storage bins for rice.




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