Happy Valentine’s Day – a time to remember loved ones serving far away

When I served aboard the U.S.S. Ranger (CVA-61) during the Vietnam War, I often “got selected” to work night shift as editor of the shipboard newspaper. In those days before WiFI and cell phones, there was no instant news other than this mimeographed, four-to-six page newspaper on legal size paper that I handed out to berthing areas, offices, the mess decks, and other compartments just before reveille every morning in 1968

Wikipedia photo

While my headline “Ho Chi Minh is Dead” probably got the most attention, my most popular headline–on a slow news day–was “A Modern Love Story.” Since we weren’t supposed to take those papers off the ship, I have no copies. So, I no longer know where this love story happened or when or even the details. It ran on the Associated Press wire and filled up a fair amount of the front page of “The Daily Shield.”

Basically, two lovers were separated from each other, perhaps by the war, perhaps by transfers to new jobs or colleges, or the random vicissitudes of fate. Like a tear-jerker movie, the young man and young woman spent many days months or years trying to find each other again. They went through hell and high water, never gave up, and finally–by the end up the story–were standing arm and arm, perhaps in the sunrise, filled with hope.

At a time when there was a long line of sailors who thought they had VD outside the sick bay door after every liberty call at a sailor town, that anyone on the ship would read “A Modern Love Story” seemed unlikely. After all, these are the tough sailors who said, as they went into town, “if you not in bed by nine o’clock, you might as well go back to the ship.”

Our cruises (as we called them) lasted about nine months. Being away from wives, fiancées, girlfriends, and parents for that long was more difficult than rough sailor talk about bar girls would lead one to believe. Even so, I was unprepared to walk through the mess decks at breakfast and find an unusual silence. The men weren’t talking, laughing, or complaining about the food. They were reading the story, some sharing the paper with others at the table. They cheered when they got to the end of it as the young lovers were reunited.

Pure schmaltz. The hard-boiled reporters and copyeditors back in the States would have relegated such a story to the features section, not page one. I didn’t run the story because I thought it would bring out the best in everyone, I ran it because I was desperate for enough copy to fill up the paper.

The Ranger was a flagship, and that meant the admiral and his staff we aboard. The following day when I arrived before the crack of dawn at the flag office, the admiral himself was standing there waiting for his papers. This wasn’t unusual. What was unusual was shaking his hand as he said, “If you find any more love stories, print them.” “Aye aye, sir.”

My good luck made me look like a genius, and that was unusual.

If your husband or wife or son or daughter or mother or dad is serving his or her country far away, remember them always, but especially on February 14th.

–Malcolm

 

 

Current Promotions – Malcolm R. Campbell

  • The Kindle edition of Lena, the third novel in the Florida Folk Magic trilogy, is the prize in an Amazon sweepstakes that runs through August 22. Four copies are available. The winners will be selected at random when the sweepstakes ends and sent to those with the winning entries by Amazon. There’s no purchase necessary. Entrants will be asked to follow my Amazon author’s page which is something I know you want to do anyway. Click on the book cover to go to the sweepstakes page.
  • The Kindle edition of Mountain Song, a Montana novel with a few scenes in the Florida Panhandle, is Free on Amazon between August 16 and August 20. David, who grows up on a Montana sheep ranch and wants to spend his life climbing mountains, meets Anne Hill from Florida who is a child of the state’s swamps and blackwater rivers. They meet as seasonal hotel employees at Glacier National Park. A summer romance begins. But will it last?
  • The Kindle edition of At Sea, a Vietnam War novel and the sequel to Mountain Song, is free on Amazon between August 18 and August 21. David is assigned to an aircraft carrier serving on Yankee Station off the coast of Vietnam. This book was inspired by my time aboard the carrier USS Ranger (CVA-61).

Good luck and enjoy the books.

Malcolm

99¢ sale for the Vietnam-era Navy novel ‘At Sea’ begins Friday

You’ll save $3.00 off the regular price if you download my Kindle navy novel At Sea during the next several days for only 99¢. Check its listing late tonight or Friday for the sale price.

Amazon Book description

Even though he wanted to dodge the draft in Canada or Sweden, David Ward joined the navy during the Vietnam War. He ended up on an aircraft carrier. Unlike the pilots, he couldn’t say he went in harm’s way unless he counted the baggage he carried with him. As it turned out, those back home were more dangerous than enemy fire.

Inspired by my experiences on board the USS Ranger (CVA61)

Unfortunately, the Navy saw fit to scrap the historic USS Ranger rather than proactively helping convert the aircraft carrier into a viable museum. Through my fictional account, I hope that some of the ambiance of shipboard and liberty port life will live on in this novel.

From the novel

AtSeaBookCoverThe Pacific Ocean filled multiple Bluehorse and Silver Bear composition books with an assortment of facts and lies about David’s two cruises to the Western Pacific aboard the “top gun” aircraft carrier. Both cruises began and ended at Alameda, California, with a primary destination of Yankee Station one hundred miles off the coast of South Vietnam, where the aircraft carriers and other ships of the “Gulf of Tonkin Yacht Club” assembled for combat operations.

As the crow flies, Yankee Station lay 6,448 nautical miles across the blue water from the California coast. When the exercises and operations and port calls were factored into the distance, the carrier steamed about 86,000 miles per year. The ship was at sea 225.9 days in 1968, with 124 days engaged in Special Operations (SPECOPS) at Yankee Station, 61.7 days in transit, 8 days in major fleet exercises, and 32.2 days in minor fleet exercises. The ship was at sea 215.5 days in 1969, with 98.5 days of SPECOPS, 57 days in transit, 8 days of contingency operations, and 52 days for minor fleet exercises. There were 15,871 arrested landings in 1968 and 14,000 arrested landings in 1969.

By rough calculation, in 1968 and 1969, while the flight deck was secured from flight operations, David spent roughly 500 hours standing on the port side catwalk near the stern of the ship just aft of the ladder that rose up from the hangar deck past the public affairs office on the 03 level. There the ship was quiet, except for the ever-present pulse of the engines, as he stood alone with the sea. There was much to think about: two deaths, two novels, a prospective fall from grace, a marriage, and a spiritual decision.

Standing on that catwalk, he was awash in photons because the Creator, like his romantic disciple J. M. W. Turner, was a “painter of light.” All that was wrong with the world, like the monsters in Turner’s “Sunrise With Sea Monsters,” was scarcely visible because the light had not yet become heavy enough to become water, much less the darker creatures beneath the surface.

I hope you enjoy the story.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is also the author of “Sarabande” and “Conjure Woman’s Cat.” Both books are available in paperback, audio, and e-book editions. See my website for more information.

Vietnam Navy Novel Free on Kindle for Three Days

My Vietnam War navy novel At Sea will be free on Kindle March 18-20, 2016.

AtSeaBookCoverDescriptionEven though he wanted to dodge the draft in Canada or Sweden, David Ward joined the navy during the Vietnam War. He ended up on an aircraft carrier. Unlike the pilots, he couldn’t say he went in harm’s way unless he counted the baggage he carried with him. As it turned out, those back home were more dangerous than enemy fire.

Here’s a short excerpt to tempt you out to Amazon. . .

David stood on the back porch on a spring evening listening to the slow sweet rising and falling howl of a wolf calling her pups while the wind stilled and the dark lavender lupine flowers disappeared into the gathering twilight. Behind him, the house was empty, his dinner long gone cold on the kitchen table along with the passionate Sparrow singing his chanson favorite “La Vie en Rose” again and again, and rather than stare at the letter in the silent company of canisters and chrome appliances, he brought the telephone and pinot noir outside where the world was less closed in on itself.

At the end of the long cord, he dialed her number, wondering—while the wolf pups yipped back at their mother—if her hello would still sound like her hello.

“Davey, how nice to hear your voice. I also hear wolves. Where are you?”

“On the porch looking down toward the box elders and the creek.”

“Don’t remind me. It hurts too much.”

“How are you?”

The book was inspired by my time on board the the USS Ranger.
The book was inspired by my time on board the the USS Ranger.

“Fine. I knew you would call. While practicing my flute this morning, I found myself playing a song we once knew.”

“I’ve lost myself to the war,” he said. “The letter arrived today. I report in July.”

“Davey, no. What do your parents say?”

“Not to rock the boat.”

“I hoped you went to Sweden with Brita. Then I heard the wolves.”

“I could never come home from Sweden.”

“If you die in Vietnam, I’ll forget you. If you survive, you’ll forget yourself. Either way, the vine may kill the elm.”

“You’re cold,” he said, “and dragging out old symbolism of fruitful grapes smothering their supporting tree.”

“Then stand quiet with me again.”

The wolves were silent. He heard her breath and her heart. The first stars were out. When she was at the ranch four years ago, she said, “Night is liquid magic; we’re stirred together. You’ve taken me beyond myself, higher than the wolf trail stars, and what we have of each other, we own.”

In the great quiet, he wept for the parts of himself that were no longer his.

“David, the baby’s crying. I’ve got to go.”

“Unfair! But I love you, Anne.”

USS Ranger at sea in 1968 - US Navy Photo, cleared for publication
USS Ranger at sea in 1968 – US Navy Photo, cleared for publication

“No doubt,” she said, hanging up and extinguishing the moon’s pure light.

He carried the wine bottle up to the chokecherry tree, sat beneath white flowers and watched the night where he once watched it with her.

She knows I’m here, he thought, because she knows me well. She despises me, too, because she believes some places are sacred.

He got an axe and chopped down the tree. It was neither the best thing nor the worst thing he’d ever done, but it was close.

If you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, you can always read the book for free through Amazon’s program. If you’re not a KU subscriber, now is a great time to download a novel about sailors and bar girls and mountain climbing and a young man wrestling with his conscience about military service.

I hope you enjoy the story.

–Malcolm

 

Creating a Book Cover on the Cheap

Since the release of my Vietnam novel At Sea is a relatively modest Kindle production, I didn’t want to spend money for a cover photograph, artist or a cover designer. It’s a hard choice. The expense might produce a cover that increases sales or it might run the whole project in the red.

I wanted a cover that showed readers At Sea is set on an aircraft carrier. When I was in the navy, the pictures I took as a navy journalist belonged to the navy. There are many stock images of aircraft carriers on navy sites, but they cannot be used without permission for a book cover or advertising.

Many self-published books end up with little or no art work on them and rely on print, color, and a few simple graphic shapes. I don’t think these attract attention or help sell the book. Plus, they give prospective readers little to no idea what the book might be about. I definitely needed an aircraft carrier on my book’s cover.

Finally, I found an old color slide of the USS Ranger’s flight deck I took when I was part of the crew:

flightdeckA

Several issues come to mind. Although a lot of people are doing a lot of things, the picture doesn’t have the dynamic punch it would have if it showed the ship navigating a stormy sea or a plane taking off.

Even though the color was muted due to the age of the Ektachrome slide, it still brings out detail, potentially leading some readers to infer this book is nonfiction. Also, it’s a landscape rather than a portrait photo. The first thing I did was get rid of the color:

AtSeaCoverPhoto

Now it’s less busy and the black and white photo rather lends itself to older times such as a book about a war that happened in the 1960s. Whether or not this picture would “work” depended on how it was cropped, how the title displayed, and how dramatic color might be added to the resulting book cover:

AtSeaBookCover

First, the detail has been downplayed via black and white and cropping. The cropping provided a portrait format and the added color framed the image of the two planes and the ship’s superstructure. To keep the author’s name and title from looking static, I have them displayed at an angle.

I like the two planes displayed on the cover because the main character works in the ship’s aircraft maintenance department and is best friends with one of the air wing’s pilots.

The result works for me because it came together without my having to hire an artist and/or pay for an expensive stock photo. Perhaps you would have approached it differently.

Doing a cover on the cheap won’t work if it looks cheap. Perhaps my ideas here from rough photo to finished cover will give you some ideas for your next cover.

–Malcolm

Note: Another version of this story was originally published as “The Sailor,” a book that’s now out of print.

 

Shameful: ‘USS Ranger, aircraft carrier once sought as Fairview tourist destination, heading to scrap heap’

“BREMERTON, Wash. — Naval Sea Systems Command says the mothballed aircraft carrier USS Ranger, once sought as a Columbia River tourist destination in Fairview, will be towed out of Puget Sound on Thursday on its way to be scrapped in Texas.

“The Ranger was commissioned in 1957 and was active during the Vietnam War and also deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm, the first Persian Gulf War. The carrier was decommissioned in 1993 at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.” – The Oregonian

rangerstobescrapped

Yes, I know, Naval Sea Systems Command (NSSC) has no reason to expect anyone to save the old treasure now as last-ditch efforts to bring the ship to San Diego as a museum apparently went nowhere.

The ship is in relatively good shape, as pictures showed last fall when the State of Oregon named the Ranger as a Heritage Site. That action had no apparent impact on NSSC or on other cities who could have brought together movers and shakers to secure the ship as a lucrative tourist attraction and educational destination.

I was a member of the USS Ranger Foundation, though from the other side of the country, I never could get enough feedback from them to find out why they were moving so slowly, why they couldn’t work with BNSF to work out the problem of a low railway bridge blocking the ship’s passage to the proposed site in Fairview, Oregon, or why they couldn’t attract the interest of more heavy hitters to get the job done.

I was a museum consultant at the time and offered to help, but never got a response. Sometimes, membership doesn’t have its privileges.

So now the Navy has sold the ship for a penny. Perhaps the Navy can spend that penny on a stick of gum or as a down payment on a sheet of stamps. We are not well served by this action. It is short sighted.

A carrier museum could serve a municipality well, for cultural tourist destinations typically bring in visitors who stay longer and who spend more in the community (hotels, gas stations, restaurants) than the average tourist. Some of the ship’s compartments could be devoted to exhibits, while others could have been used for classes, presentations or even as spaces for rental to groups wanting unique places to meet.

Short of a miracle–(Dear Mr. President: How about an executive action on this project?)–the ship will be turned into scrap metal, thrown out with the trash, so to speak, in a way that benefits nobody and does not preserve our history.

–Malcolm

I served on board the Ranger in 1968 and 1969 in the Gulf of Tonkin and used my experiences as inspiration for my novel “The Sailor.”

 

 

 

Ex-carrier Ranger set for last voyage in early 2015

from the Navy Times:

USS Ranger at sea in 1968 - US Navy Photo, cleared for publication
USS Ranger at sea in 1968 – US Navy Photo, cleared for publication

The ex-carrier Ranger is set to make its final sea voyage in early 2015.

The Navy paid 1 cent for shipbreakers to tow and scrap the decommisioned aircraft carrier, which once launched combat missions in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm, Naval Sea Systems Command said Monday.

“Under the contract, the company will be paid $0.01. The price reflects the net price proposed by International Shipbreaking, which considered the estimated proceeds from the sale of the scrap metal to be generated from dismantling,” the NAVSEA release said. “$0.01 is the lowest price the Navy could possibly have paid the contractor for towing and dismantling the ship.”

The Ranger is to be towed from its berth in Bremerton, Washington, to Brownsville, Texas, where International Shipbreaking Ltd. is based. The carrier will have to be towed around South America, a four to five month journey, as its too large to fit through the Panama Canal, NAVSEA said.

The Ranger was commissioned in 1957 and spent its entire 36-year career in the Pacific, making a total of 22 Western Pacific deployments, NAVSEA said.

The dismantlement comes after veterans’ and historical groups were unable to raise enough money to turn the Ranger into a museum, like The Intrepid Museum in New York City. The Ranger had been on donation hold for eight years.

“After eight years on donation hold, the USS Ranger Foundation was unable to raise the necessary funds to convert the ship into a museum or to overcome the physical obstacles of transporting her up the Columbia River to Fairfview, Oregon,” NAVSEA said. “As a result, the Ranger was removed from the list of ships available for [donation] and designated for dismantling.”

What a waste.

–Malcolm