Friday, April 19, 2013

19 APR 13

Quotes ...

On a very early morning, sitting in my kitchen ... yawning, yet wide awake.
Thought to record some of my favorite quotes from years past.

1.)   "The opposite of resonance is amplification.
A choir is the unified expression of voices
resonating with each other; a loudspeaker
is the amplification of a single voice, excluding
all others. A bell resonates, a cannon amplifies.
We listen to the bell, we are silenced by the
cannon."
(James P. Carse - from Finite and Infinite Games)



2.) 

                                 _____________________________ 


Beginning at 0300:
The other side of the day ...
Of a sudden, the Boston bombers have been identified,
confronted and violence has ensued.
The pair are brothers. One is 26, the other 19.
They came here from the Chechnya region of Russia.
They've been in the country for the past 12 years.
They are Muslim. 
They seemed to have fit right in to their neighborhood.
As of right now, the older brother is dead, a police officer
is dead, a police officer is in the hospital, the younger brother 
is on the run and being hunted by most of the police in New England.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

16 APR 13 (2)

War Story ...
Of another kind.

Berlin in my memory ...
Boston on my mind ...

Years back, the mid '80s, we were at odds with Libya and the Red Army Faction. (That would be The Baader-Meinhoff Gang to the uninitiated.)
There were others too. It was the Cold War and the Soviets had a great deal of influence with societies who had no reason to love us.

After several bombings, in Berlin and elsewhere, we developed a strong sense of mistrust for all things unusual, out of place.

On this one normal weekday morning, my wife is leaving for work. I'm in the kitchen finishing my coffee. She leaves by the front door, then returns and informs me that there's a trash can on the sidewalk, directly in front of our front gate. I tell her to go on ... but to be sure not to touch the trash can ... that I'll be out shortly.

I walk outside, with my coffee in hand, inspect the can ... walk all around it. Our cars, with the distinctive American plates, had both been parked at the curb. My Beetle is still there. I form the opinion that if I were to build a bomb meant to kill a specific person, or persons, THIS is what I might come up with. It's a near perfect delivery vehicle. It's the official Berlin residential trash can, ubiquitous, made of a dark gray plastic, about 30 gal. in size, with a locking handle mechanism on it's top. The thing could be filled with C-4, then wired with a spring-activated contact switch set to go off if it were in any way disturbed ... then set directly in front of the local American's front garten gate ... begging to be picked up and moved.
A VC wet dream.

First, I called the Provost Marshall's Office. Reported on what I'd found. I was told that since it was so near to Tempelhof Central Airport,  it was a problem for the USAF Security Police.
Called the TCA Security Police ... was informed that since it was off base, it was a problem for the German Polizei.
Since my wife spoke excellent German, and mine was rudimentary, I telephoned her and had her call the local police to explain what we were dealing with.

I waited an hour and a half, guarding the trash can.
Finally! ... a green and white Volkswagen police van shows up, with two officers inside. They stop in the middle of the street, get out, walk over and asked me "Was ist los?" (What's going on?) I try explaining, with my basic German, until one cop gives me a disgusted look and walks over, picks up the can, sets it down on the curb. My heart about stops ... I fall flat onto the street behind the cops' van and stopped breathing. When nothing happens, I stand back up and give the cops a sheepish look. They seemed pissed ... but I don't much care. I KNEW what could have been ... knew that we would all be dead right now if I had been right. They seemed to have no concept of what it was that I'd been concerned about.

Bombs scared the crap out of me back then.
They still do today.

-Fini


PS:






16 APR 13

War Story ...

Split personalities ...
people in the National Guard seemed
to all be afflicted with this malady.
I joined the Guard in 1990.
I chose the local battery of the
192nd Field Artillery ...
became an OJT 13B, cannon-cocker.

My very first drill week-end,
I stood on the drill floor in my brand new,
unfaded, BDU uniform looking about me.
What I saw was a very mixed bag of men,
some of whom I had to wonder at.
They seemed to be trying to provoke an
"Unfit For Military Duty" discharge.
What ran through my mind, actually,
was something a former First Sergeant
might have said:

"You!!"
"You're fucking up my formation!"
"Fall out!"
"Now!!"
"Blizen birksen blusaflock"

Anyway ... that was my thinking for the first few
months of my enlistment.
Slackers.
Came my first trip to Annual Training and in the
field, my thoughts were changed.
One such "slacker" was our assist. gunner.
He was a walking laundry-bag ... always wrinkled.
On the gun ... he was Wyatt Earp.
He was fast and smooth, knew exactly what he was doing
and ... did I mention that he was fast. During one
FFE exercise, with the guns all firing as fast as they
could, I watched him, mesmerized by his repetitive
actions.
We were heavy artillery, firing the M-114,
155mm gun. The A/Gunner removed the firing lock,
opened the breech block, inspected the breech (for
burning residue), swapped primers in the firing lock,
inspected the breech again after the projectile and
propellant have been loaded, closed the breech block,
inserted the firing lock, attached the lanyard,
waited for the order to fire, pulled the lanyard ...
BOOM! ... a sudden, soft punch to the gut ...
then started the process all over again ... at top
speed. It was something to see ... and it changed
my opinion of all the rag-bag soldiers in the unit.

They didn't do this for the spit & polish army ...
they were in it for the "dirty-shirt soldier" army.
Indeed ... so was I. Loved field duty with the Guard.
Wet and cold, hot and dry ... crappy chow or MRE's ...
all was worth it when you recieved a "Go" rating at the
end of a field exercise.

                                          Breech end of the M-114 Howitzer


-Fini

Sunday, April 14, 2013

14 APR 13

Drummers ...
Specifically female drummers.
I try to encourage my granddaughter, Grace Mei,
with any news or video of female drummers.

There's Viola Smith ... from back in the '40's ...
a contemporary of Krupa ...
and every bit as good, in my opinion.
She was kept from the limelight because she was a woman
... and at 100 years of age, she's still drumming!



                                                                 Viola today




-Fini

Monday, April 8, 2013

08 APR 13

War Story ...
Thanksgiving 1966
TINS

         USASATC&S Fort Devens, MA
Was in casual status, awaiting class assignment.
Company C, the Holding Company ... everybody was a casual.
Thanksgiving approached.
We were given five-day passes for the holiday.
We were free at the end of the duty day, Tuesday.
(That would be 1600 ... 4 PM in civilian speak.)
Return was to be NLT 12 Midnight, on the Sunday following.
(We had "Cinderella Passes" back then.)

                            Main Gate, Fort Devens, MA (from Town of Ayer)

My permanent casual detail was Guard Duty.
It was a day on/day off schedule.
It was touted as an honor to serve in that platoon.
I bit ... took the bait when I arrived.
(My only excuse is that I was fresh out of Basic Training.)

The duty day was early to rise, morning chow,
afterwards, prepare for Guard Mount inspection ...
lunch, then dress.
Report for Guard Mount.
Receive your guard-post assignment.
Report to the guard's barracks.
Enter the rotation ...
usually two hours on guard, four hours off ...
until reveille was sounded.

Off-duty day was dedicated to personal needs and getting prepared
for Guard Mount. Hours spent spit-polishing boots, studying the
Soldier's Manual, going over the eleven General Orders until you
knew them backwards.

The actual guard duty wasn't bad ... during October.
But come November, it grew real cold at night in Massachusetts.
(We guarded such places as the commissary, the finance building,
the PX building, the ammo dump. We were issued M-1 Carbines
with three rounds of ball ammo. Do believe that those guarding the
ammo dump were issued 12 ga. pumps and three shells. There was,
also, a "Roving Patrol" who drove around the entire post all night,
keeping watch. This was the most sought after post ... usually
assigned to whoever made Supernumerary at Guard Mount on the day.)

The Thanksgiving break was a welcome one.
(One important detail ... it was also the week-end when the Army/Navy
Game was to be played in Philadelphia.)
I had some cash. Caught a ride to Boston's Logan Airport.
Eastern Airlines ran a shuttle flight that flew Montreal, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta (or maybe Miami??) ... then back again.
Cost for a ticket was $30 ... no reservations ... no frills.
The aircraft was a Boeing 727, used like a bus that flew.
Back then military personnel, in uniform, could fly stand-by for half
the price of a regular fare. My trip to Philadelphia cost me $15.
Had a great Thanksgiving. Saw family and friends ... ate myself sick
... told "war stories," from Basic, to everyone ... drank some beer.

Along came Sunday. Was driven to the airport late in the afternoon.
Walked up to the Eastern counter and asked about a shuttle flight
to Boston. EVERYTHING was booked solid. All the people who'd
come to Philly to see the Army/Navy game were leaving town too.
Every plane left fully loaded. What to do? My girlfriend volunteered
to drive me back ... but we had to hurry ... Cinderella passes, remember?
Went back to her house, packed quickly, departed. We drove but not
quickly enough ... arrived in the town of Ayer at around 0200.
Already late. Found a motel for her on the main drag, then reported in.
Signed the CQ log and found my bunk.

Later that day, the expected summons came.
The 1SG wanted to see me.
I explained what had happened.
He explained his position on discipline.
He told me that my planning had been effed up ...
to use this as a lesson.
He was going to punish me by removing me from the Guard Platoon and assigning me to permanent KP duty.
Groan ...
I was to move immediately.

The KP barracks were a half block up from the Guard's barracks.
Two buildings instead of just the one.
I was assigned to Company A's mess hall.
Duty day for first shift began at 0400.
Second shift came on at 1200.
That shift ran until work was done.
The shifts rotated.

When I reported to the mess sergeant, he asked what school I was
waiting for. When I told him 98C, he said that since it would be
a long wait for a security clearance before my school could begin, he
was going to take pity and assign me to an easy duty ...
Dining Room Orderly.
My job would be to sweep, mop, buff the dining room floor,
fill all the salt/pepper/sugar dispensers.
Keep the milk dispenser going.
Clean the serving line after the meal ...
to include shining all the copper piping contained therein.
Make sure that the silverware holder was always full.
Etc ...
It was a full, but not oppressive, routine.


I'd lucked out but didn't realize it.
Until ... this one December afternoon.
Outside it was snowing, windy and cold.
Inside I was sitting, looking through the
window and drinking hot coffee as I filled
the salt and pepper shakers.
It dawned on me that my former
platoon mates were lining up in the snow
for Guard Mount and would be spending
the night out in the weather, while I would be
sleeping in my warm bunk.

I, silently,  offered my thanks to the First Sergeant
and toasted him with my coffee.

"ASA!  All The Way!"

-Fini




 






Friday, April 5, 2013

05 APR 13

War Story ...
Upon Leaving

(A word ... my English professor at WCSU would give me a failing grade were he to read this narrative.  I switch tense in the middle and do not compensate ... but since this is more a "stream-of-consciousness" piece, I forgo the editing.)


An observed fact:
Stay put for any length of time and you will accumulate "stuff."
I arrived in Vietnam with a duffle bag and a gym bag as my luggage.
Contained in both was everything that I thought I'd need to last
me through the year of deployment.

One year later, when leaving the 8th, I carried my duffle bag, my gym bag and a B-4 bag ... packed full. (The B-4 was a double-sided, foldable, suit case with a compartment for carrying a suit/uniform without wrinkling it much. It had a large shoulder-strap too.)

                                                      B-4 Bag

I departed Phu Bai on a USMC C-130.
Landed at Da Nang ... needed to transfer to a USAF bird for further transport to Saigon.
Trouble was ... the USAF occupied the other side of the air field.
I had to trek around the length of the runway, then back, to reach the air force terminal.
It was a hot day (Surprise!).
I was burdened with the three bags ... but managing ... sorta.
Along came a Marine Corps jeep, loaded with a USMC flight crew.
They allowed that even though I was naught but a Doggie, courtesy dictated that they offer me a ride ... but only if I could, first, sing the Marine Corps Hymn
... which I did,
... loudly!
I was hot and thirsty ... fast becoming tired and cranky.




The air force got me down to Saigon in one piece and I checked in with the 509th RR Group.
I was quartered in the Saint George Hotel.
Showered, shaved, changed into my khakis and went exploring.
Felt strange (not to mention unsettling) to be walking around in a war zone unarmed. Missed the heft of my M-14. Can't remember just how long my stay at the Saint George was ... couple of days, maybe. Then, it was off to Bien Hoa Air Base for another day of waiting before my TWA 707 "Freedom Bird" arrived.
                                                     

                                                    Me, at Bien Hoa Air Base
 
On the day, waiting on the tarmac, watching the aircraft taxi up to us ... excitement building ... the plane stops, boarding stairs are emplaced ... doors open ... couple hundred dour-faced GIs, in jungle fatigues, deplane and file past us.
We just watch ... silently.
They stare at us blankly.

I feel sorry for them but am almost shaking with excitement,
wanting to board the aircraft immediately.

Seen through the cockpit windows, the pilot is white-haired.

We board.

Stewardesses are middle-aged, peppy, smiling ...
ours wearing a vest with a million unit pins on it.
She's made this Vietnam run many times.
I ask her about the old man who's flying the plane.
She gives me one of those "Idiot child?" looks
and replies that he's not old, just more experienced. 
"Now, please, take a seat."
I sit down and shut up.

Fully loaded, the plane sits immobile on the tarmac.
Thoughts of VC mortars run through my mind.
This white and red bird makes a fine and fat target.
What's the hold-up?
We're fueling.
It's a long way home.


Finally, we move ... taxi to the end of the runway, engines spooling up.

We start the take-off roll.

Over the PA system, which has been spewing elevator music,
comes the 5th Dimension song, "Up, Up And Away."

That jet engine roar fills the cabin.
Acceleration pushes us into our seatbacks.

I look out the window.

Vietnam,

... becoming smaller, farther away,

... now distant,

... now gone.

Up ... up and away.

We are silent.

The stewardess suddenly yells,
"What's with you guys?" 
"You're going home!"
"Let's hear it!"

The cabin erupts with clapping, cheers and whistles.

We're going home . . .
Stateside bound . . .
"The World!"

"Fini Phu Bai."

-Fini

PS:
All these years later, I hold no rancor for the NVA or the VC.
They were our enemies ... we were theirs.
We fought, no holds barred.
It was us who gave it up.
The only recollection that still rankles is of the Customs MPs at Bien Hoa. They unceremoniously dumped out my carefully packed baggage, rummaged through it ... and seemed to enjoy themselves at my expense. They confiscated my K-Bar knife. It had been my step-father's, carried by him through the battle of Okinawa and given to me for luck. When I explained this, the MPs just gave me that flat cop-stare and said that if it was stamped USMC it was government property, then turned and tossed it into a bin full of contraband.
An ignoble end for that sentiment and memory.

PPS:
ca. 1968 - A photo depicting what boarding a "Freedom Bird" looked like.

PPPS:
My family picked me up at the Philadelphia Airport. Met my 5 month old daughter for the fist time. My mother had organized a "Christmas Party" at the house. Friends and family. Lots of talk, lots of laughter. I was mute, mostly. I was of age . . . and drank my weight in cold beer. Found myself out back, at the picnic table, shirtless and shoeless, wondering how my friends at the 8th were doing.
It was hot. It was muggy. It was New Jersey in June . . . and I didn't feel civilized.
The only one who seemed to know anything about how I felt was my step-father, Don, who'd been a marine and fought in the battle of Okinawa. He kept a weather-eye on me.
I was home.
I was not home.
I didn't know . . . anything
any more.

(Now, decades later, I've decided that what had to be "was.")



Thursday, April 4, 2013

04 APR 13

More War Stories ...

Unsung Heroes ...
It might seem that posers, claiming to be hero soldiers, all served in Special Ops. Truth is ... ain't that many Special Ops troops in the world. Real heroes just do their jobs, with competence, in trying times. These guys are the engineers, mechanics and cooks who service every combat unit in the forces.

The ones who I remember best are the cooks ...

The mess sergeant who, of his own volition, hauled a silver-bullet of hot chocolate through the Ft. Devens Tactical Training Course on a very cold, wet day in May 1967. He found us in our bivouac area, in the snow, and saved my life ... I swear.

Then there were the cooks at the 8th RRFS, Phu Bai, Vietnam. During the 1968 Tet Offensive, while those not engaged in intercept and analysis were hunkered down in bunkers and trenchline, the cooks were at their stoves, upright and cooking ... making hundreds of bacon and egg sandwiches, which they delivered to the operations building in the midst of a barrage ... along with a silver-bullet of fresh hot coffee. A meal much appreciated by us, eaten with great relish.

Cold War Berlin ... Site 3, Teufelsberg Dining Facility.
A cook who, actually, loved his job and took great pride in what was served to his shift workers. A Friday Mids Meal ... deep fried red snapper the main course ... off-duty soldiers lining up at the door, having driven the 15 miles from the barracks, at 2 AM, to get there, just because it became known that this cook was working and was serving red snapper.
An FSB legend.


-Fini

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

03 APR 13

War Story ...

An ASA War Story
TINS

1967, the dry season.
So ... it was summer in Phu Bai, ...Vietnam ... Republic of .
Unpaved roads were all miniature dust bowls ...
red dust coated everything at the 8th RRFS.
The very occasional monsoon rains were heavy
but of short duration.
Inside the Operations Compound was
a Command Bunker.
If memory serves ... it was located to the right of
the main entrance, very near the fence line,
close to the gate. The bunker was constructed
of concrete and buried about four feet underground;
it's entrance camouflaged by a grassy berm.
The bunker contained a plethora of commo gear.
One piece was the encrypted radio we used to
talk to the ARDF birds aloft.
Encryption was by one-time-pad and had to be
re-set each day. Can't remember if it was changed
just daily or for each eight-hour duty period.
I suspect the latter, since I worked straight swing shifts
and setting the encryption keys was one of my jobs.
This one day ... a very hot, very dry day ...
I entered the bunker and noticed that the air
conditioner had a huge build-up of ice on the
vents. After setting the radio, I took my knife
and scraped the vents clear, ending up with a
sizable ice/snowball that began to melt ...
immediately.
Exited the bunker and looked around for a suitable target.
Walking down the road, in front of the compound,
was a Marine. He was wearing field gear with his
soft cover ... M-16 slung. He was dusted red.
Each footstep created a small cloud as he moved.
Don't know what he was doing on post but he made
a fine target. I lobbed the snowball up, over the fence,
and ducked down behind the berm.
Apparently my aim was good, for I heard a short,
shouted, "What th..."  before I peeked over the berm
and watched the Marine trot off down the road,
cupping a palmful of melting snow ...
looking for a witness, no doubt.

If said Marine ever reads this ...  
"Bazinga!"   (As Sheldon Cooper is wont to say.)
"Semper Fi" and "Welcome Home, Brother."


-Fini


PS:
Here's where memory gets murky ...
there had to be two MPs in the Operations
guard shack ... but I don't remember them
at all. They're not part of my narrative.