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Posts tagged ‘Vietnam War’

Excerpt from ‘At Sea’

If you were around during the Vietnam War, you’ll probably remember that much of the news coverage dealt with body counts, to show the progress the U.S. was making in ridding the country of the Viet Cong. In my novel At Sea, the protagonist’s grandfather (“Jayee”) keeps his own listing of those from Montana who were killed in the war.

Jayee’s Lists

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The pages were dog eared, marked with paperclips already turning to rust, and fading to pale dust behind the list of towns: RICHEY, WHITEFISH, HELENA, CHOTEAU, BOZEMAN, BUTTE, KALISPELL, THOMPSON FALLS, THREE FORKS, STEVENSVILLE, TROUT CREEK, BILLINGS, CHOTEAU HINSDALE, GREAT FALLS, HARDIN, SACO, SIDNEY, HAVRE, HELENA, GREAT FALLS, HELENA, BOZEMAN, BUTTE, DODSON, ARLEE, REEDPOINT, HAVRE, BIG  SANDY  MISSOULA, BILLINGS, WHITLASH, ROUNDUP…

Jayee’s tallies added up like this: USA—169 USAF—16 USMC—59 USN—23 TOT—267

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2010, 2016 by Malcolm R. Campbell

 

 

On this day of memories, an excerpt from ‘At Sea’

My favorite writing, I think can be found in my linked novels Mountain Song and At Sea. The books are true in ways I can never tell you and they speak of loss and other sad things and looking for oneself. At Sea is my Vietnam War novel. It’s still patiently waiting for the right audience to find it. Here’s an excerpt on a day when we remember those who didn’t return:

At Sea

On his last night aboard ship, David stood on the catwalk after stopping by the head to wipe the blood off his hands only to discover there were no damn towels. He wondered who, if anyone, he had betrayed: Píta, his golden eagle messenger, perhaps, and the dead on Jayee’s Lists; those who called him into the center of the lotus in the sea of fire or those who called him away from the lotus. Or even Jill, one way or another. He sought clues. Yet, with the ship steaming as before at various courses and speeds on Yankee Station at condition yoke on a clear commander’s moon of a night, with sleeping birds behind him with folded wings, with eight bells struck in pairs announcing the end of the first watch, he was blind.

Angelita once told him while they were treading water at the foot of Magdapio Falls, surrounded by sheer cliffs and a hovering rain forest, “God brings to us the ones we love if our calls are pure and strong.” She looked tiny and cold in the shower of spray and quite distracted by the everlasting call of the water, but he asked her nonetheless what one ought to do if his pure call spoilt over time. She climbed out of the water on to one of the many sun-warmed rocks, grabbed a towel, and chattered out a reply. “Ask God if your true love has a sister. If she doesn’t, then call an angel.”

He headed home nonetheless, wondering how many angels a man could scare away in a lifetime: To Danang, South Vietnam, aboard the ship’s C-1A Trader. To Cubi Point aboard a nondescript plane. To the Galaxy Bar in Olongapo to say goodbye to the angel who saved his life. To Clark Air Base aboard an HU-16 Albatross. Then, to Travis AFB in California via a TransInternational DC-8, arriving on January 1, 1970.

His orders granted him an honorable discharge, for reasons of conscientious objection and though the system said it was his right to do it, he would not be much liked for signing his name on that line. Anti-war protesters at the base spat on him and called him a baby killer. Ultimately, his liberal parents would yell at him on the phone and call him a hypocrite—it would not be the last time.

Jill was not at Travis to watch him run the gauntlet of the war protesters’ love-in beneath cumulonimbus clouds spinning the scattered late afternoon sunlight into threads of gold. Her parents had lured her into their snowy world along the Lake Michigan shore for the holidays, knowing—as did she—that he would show up wherever she was whenever he showed up. Using his bulky seabag as a battering ram, he pushed through the ranting flower children toward a dull blue military bus for the ninety-minute ride to the Alameda Naval Air Station.

“Mr. Ward?”

A tall, large-boned, gangly blond woman stood apart from the crowd with her hands on her hips. She had bangs; they hung loosely above her pale brown eyes, while her long hair swept back into a ponytail that was determined to catch in the collar of her denim work shirt.

“Yes?”

“I’m Eleanor Rose, Jack’s wife.”

He dropped his sea bag with a thud and they shook hands. “How did you recognize me? Are you meeting somebody?”

“Chief Coleman, of your recent employer, called me. He told me you looked emaciated, sick almost unto death. Hard to miss that. I’m here to meet you unless you want to ride to Alameda on that bus.”

“I don’t, unless you’ve got something worse.”

She picked up his sea bag as though it were weightless.

“Come on, Mr. Ward,” she said. “I’ve got a bright red Mercury M-250 pickup. It rides fine.”

“Call me David.”

“Your Chief Coleman was also right about your wife.”

“What about her?”

“She’s not here.”

“I didn’t expect her.”

Eleanor slung the sea bag into the back of the truck. “Get in,” she said. “It’s not locked.”

“Jill’s spending Christmas with her parents.”

“With all due respect,” she said as she guided the truck out of the parking lot, “she ought to be here.”

“I wish she were,” he said. “Not that you’re chopped liver.”

“I understand. You’ll need a home-cooked meal, I expect.”

“Are you offering?”

“I am.”

“Lucky break for me. I was expecting shit on a shingle at the base.”

“Jack loved this truck,” she said, and settled back in the seat like she wasn’t expecting a response.

The world flowed by, a normalcy of sorts. She looked at him from time to time, a pragmatic smile washing across her squarish face. South of Pinole, she told him the first money from Chogori was sending her back to school to get her teaching credentials. South of El Cerrito, she told him he would have to convince her over her best pot roast that Jack really had a fair hand in writing the book; it seemed so unlike him. As they drove through Berkeley, he told her about the hell-bent-for-leather Mt. Olomana climb, and she said that was Jack.

Then she said, “Your wife should have met you at Travis, not because you came home from a war or even because you survived. Survival isn’t our first duty. When you took a stand and became a conscientious objector, you became your true self.”

“I am not without regrets.”

“I don’t doubt it. They’re battle scars. Your family and friends will never see them. You will always feel them, don’t you think?”

“I do,” he said, happy that she couldn’t see the blood on his hands.

Copyright © 2010, 2013, 2016 by Malcolm R. Campbell

Malcolm

Review: ‘Hope in the Shadows of War’ by Thomas Paul Reilly

When injured Vietnam War veteran Timothy O’Rourke returns home in 1973, an open wound accompanies him. Today, we might call it PTSD or survivor’s guilt. When his helicopter was shot down and then attacked by the Viet Cong on the ground, he was able to save one of the men with him–but not both. The prospective roles of fate, destiny, fairness, and second-guessing oneself plague him as surely as a virus

Vietnam War veteran Thomas Paul Reilly saw the war for himself and subsequently applied that knowledge and his degrees in psychology as an author (Value-Added Selling) and public speaker focusing on the importance of hope, attitude, and value. He effectively uses this background to create a realistic, yet troubled protagonist in this novel which will be released on Veterans Day.

In the chronicles of war and returning veterans, Timothy’s issues aren’t unique, but in an era where veterans’ issues were not well understood, he believes he is alone in trying to heal his psychological wounds. He’s attending college, works multiple jobs, drives a falling-apart old car, has a steady girlfriend named Cheryl, and remains one step ahead of bankruptcy. Friends and family either can’t or won’t help him when he’s confronted with unexpected expenses such as replacing the ancient furnace in his mother’s house where he is staying. Cheryl has money to lend, but he refuses to accept it.

Co-workers at a Christmas tree lot where he’s working to earn extra money tell him that college and dreams aren’t for “guys like us” and that he needs to quit college and get a real job. In almost every area of his life, he is without hope. Among other things, he’s driving away Cheryl, who unconditionally loves him, by constantly telling her he’s not good enough for her.

Reilly has created a character who epitomizes veterans who have reason to believe fate and their country are conspiring against them. Broke and in ill health (emotional or physical), they end up living on the streets as one of society’s festering wounds that seems impossible to heal. A co-worker, Hoffen, at the Christmas tree lot casually talks to Tim about hope, perseverance, and attitude. The man speaks like a sage down from the mountaintop, but will his advice be enough to convince Tim that the open wound he brought home from Vietnam will never heal until he lets it heal?

If Tim were in therapy, his analyst might ask him if he wants the wound to heal. His memory of the helicopter crash–which is well written and rings true–replays over and over as though he either wanted to be rescued from the wounds it caused or return to the scene and die along with the buddy he couldn’t save. Tim is a character who is easy to admire for his dilligent attempt to save his dream against great odds. He is less easy to like because his overly hopeless attitude, as demonstrated in his thoughts and his conversations with Cheryl and others, comes close to whining, justified though it may be.

The book would be stronger if the plot focussed on the major highs and lows of the story and left out the step-by-step “transcripts” of minor–or recurring–thoughts and actions. The inspiring ending would be stronger if readers felt that, other than his stubbornness, Tim had played a more active role in making it happen.

Reading Hope in the Shadows of War should be a cathartic experience for struggling veterans and those who want to understand veterans’ issues and motivations. This is the story’s strength. So is the message of hope from Hoffen and others. Readers will probably take that message with them after they finish the novel.

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

Vietnam

Wikipedia photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Malcolm

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

 

 

 

 

Summer Sale – Two Free Books

To celebrate the arrival of summer, my companion novels Mountain Song and At Sea are free on Kindle June 22 through June 26.

Mountain Song

David Ward lives in the Montana mountains where his life was impacted by his medicine woman grandmother and his utilitarian grandfather. Anne Hill suffered through childhood abuse and ultimately moved in with her aunt on the edge of a Florida swamp. Their summer romance at a mountain resort hotel surprises both of them. But can they make it last after the initial passion wears off and they return to their college studies far apart from each other especially after an attack on a college street changes Anne forever?

At Sea

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.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is also the author of Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman.

Memorial Day Excerpt from ‘At Sea’

Excerpt from At Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jayee’s tallies added up like this:

USA  – 169

USAF – 16

USMC – 59

USN  – 23

TOT  – 267

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gammal kärlek rostar aldrig, or those long-ago regrets one seldom mentions

“Old love never rusts.” – Swedish Proverb

Hej!

Over time, I’ve learned that while everything we acknowledge we did probably impacted our lives forever, it’s best to say little or nothing about the other things that almost happened, because had they happened, we wouldn’t know the very people who sometimes ask to hear the story.

Göteborg (AKA Gothenburg)

Göteborg (AKA Gothenburg)

I seldom mention Sweden, not because I’ve ever been there, but because I almost went there during the Vietnam War. When I went to Europe about a year before the draft would catch up with me, my local draft board had to be convinced I was planning to return. I was when I filled out the paperwork for permission to leave the country. By the time the summer was over, I came very close to never coming back.

While on a summer church work project, the two Americans in our international group started dating the two Swedish girls in our group. Most people will say, “that figures” because dating a Swedish girl is supposed to be the epitome of dating. Frankly, I don’t know how it happened because even though you won’t believe this, I wasn’t paying much attention to the Swedish girls in our group because at the outset they stayed together and chattered in Swedish.

When it did happen, I was lost.

In time, she asked me what I would do when I went back to the States at the end of the summer.  I said that I had another semester of college to finish and then I’be probably be drafted unless I joined, say, the navy (which I ended up doing) before the draft put me in the army.

This began multiple conversations about the Vietnam War, my distaste for it, the fact I couldn’t (not then) file as a conscientious objector if my church had no formal anti-war statement, and how military service was one of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune we all had to put up with.

One day A___ said, “You would be safe in Sweden.” I knew that already because the newspapers constant printed stories about people who dodged the draft by going to Canada or Sweden. I said I was pretty nearly broke and couldn’t afford to go to Sweden, and that even if I could, I’be put in jail if I ever went back to the States.

She said, “well, you know the government will teach you Swedish and help you get a job. Before that happens, you can stay at my house. ” “What?” “My parents are fine with it.” “You asked your parents?” “I thought it best to make sure before I brought an American home with me because you know what we say about dating Americans.” (She never did tell me what they say, but I figured it would be unflattering.)

My parents didn’t support my anti-war beliefs and, I believe, my not coming back home was something that might have occurred to them. If they had, I would have gone home with her and would probably be writing this post in Swedish. As it was, when I borrowed the work project’s truck to drive A___ to a nearby city at the end of the project where she would catch the ferry back to Sweden, I seriously considered leaving the truck in the parking lot there and going to Göteborg with her.

As the sages say, you have to be at least a little mad to take such a leap of faith. I guess I wasn’t mad enough in those days, though several of the people at the work project were surprised to see me return. “What the hell’s wrong with you?” they asked. “I couldn’t take a step that meant never seeing my family again.”* They had to admit that made sense.

Who knows how it would have ended up. Everything and everyone I’ve known since that day in August, 1967, would have been vastly different. As it turned out, my parents would have passed away before amnesty was offered to those who went to Sweden, though they did take a vacation trip over there after my dad retired. I was happy for them, I thought, seeing the life I almost had without ever knowing how close I came to seeing it before they got there.

I’m glad I came home. I wasn’t glad then. I had trouble keeping my grades up during that last semester of college. My folks wondered why. I thought it best to tell them I had no idea or that it was bad karma or evil spirits. That seemed better than saying that when I fell asleep at night, I dreamt of A___ whispering “Gammal kärlek rostar aldrig.”

It’s easy to see now, of course, that if the wind or the clouds had been slightly different and I’d gotten on that ferry, my cool daughter and my two wonderful granddaughters wouldn’t exist, that I wouldn’t now be married to the person who is my soul mate, and that I would have missed a lot of memorable moments with my parents and two brothers.

Sometimes the gods keep us from doing what we want to do for a reason we think is capricious at the time.

Hej då,

Malcolm

  • Following up on an amnesty related comment, I actually would have been able to come home sooner than I expected. Gerald Ford offered conditional amnesty in 1974 with some legal strings attached that I wouldn’t have liked. Carter offered a pardon in 1977. My folks lived until 1986 and 1987. Knowing what I knew in 1967, I had to act on the assumption that amnesty would have never come or would come much later than it did.

 

 

 

 

Eagle Scout Goes to Hell

Olongapo as it was then

Everyone aboard every Navy ship that cruised between California and Vietnam in the late 1960s knew about liberty in Olongapo, Republic of the Philippines. The city stood just outside the main gate of the U. S. Naval base at Subic Bay, a regular port of call for Western Pacific (WESTPAC) ships.

Old salts called the town “hell” and promised Seaman Recruits coming on board the carrier USS Ranger out of bootcamp that anyone leaving the main gate of the base on liberty would be corrupted immediately by booze, drugs, girls, gambling and crime. They called the drainage ditch separating the base’s main gate from the town “the shit river,” though I saw it as the River Styx.

I crossed the shit river multiple times and found the world there to be everything the old salts described. As a former Eagle Scout, it crossed my mind on more than one occasion, “if only my Scout master could see me now.” Our Scout troop was sponsored by a church, so the Scout master was the least of my worries when I thought of how the deacons, elders and Sunday school teachers should they ever see a photo taken on Magsaysay Drive.

As a writer in training, I saw Magsaysay Drive and the Galaxy Bar and the touts and the constant ruckus in the streets as “research.” But I doubt my Scout master would have understood, or anybody else I knew, for that matter. Luckily, webcams and cell phones hadn’t been invented yet. There was no Facebook either in 1968. This meant that no pictures of me crossing the shit river appeared anywhere–and since a lot of time has gone by since then, I doubt they ever will.

Everyone who might know the Eagle Scout and paperboy who went to hell and then put his research into a novel called Garden of Heaven is long gone by now. So, I think I can safely post this excerpt without word getting back to the old neighborhood.

Excerpt from Garden of Heaven:

Standing on the bridge over the Shit River listening to the half-naked children in flimsy boats below shouting for a handful of centavos, the city in his face was—with more pride than apology—very much a city with its tattered underwear showing. If Magellan only knew what was here now. If Dad only knew David was here now.

Night was settling down over the hazy first lights of the bars and hourly rate hotels along Magsaysay Drive and the razor-sharp edges of Kalaklan Ridge like an old whore.

David dropped several 25-centavo coins over the railing, heard an explosion of whitewater, heard the laughter and the shouting, ‘Salamat, Joe, Salamat.’

He crossed Perimeter Road, ignored the hopeful greetings of the money changers behind their well-caged windows, then dodged a badly mixed throng of sailors, girls and honking multi-coloured jeepneys that swelled out into the Gordon Avenue intersection. He cut across the street, smiling, waiving at imagined friends in the distance, and moved with the deliberate intent of a man who had crossed this street hundreds of times.

‘Casual alertness, that’s the key to surviving Olongapo’s jungle of thieves, gangs, girls, high-strung Marines, bored Shore Patrol and Hard Hats, and drunk boatswain’s mates and snipes,’ Lowell had said.

“Hey Joe, cold beer cold beer cold beer, nice girls.”

Touts were everywhere below the slapdash smorgasbord of disheveled signs and awnings, leaning telephone polls, and the rag-tag assortment of buildings with upper floors stacked up in odd strata.

Assorted conversations flew past, barely audible in the close heat… ‘Hintayin mo aki,’ …‘Magandang amaga, Carlo, kumusta ang bagong sanggol?’… ‘Hey Joe’… ‘Tao po! Tao po!’… ‘Hoy, tulungan mo akong magdiskarga sa trak na ito, pwede ba?’… ‘Good food here, Joe!’…Galing akong Maynila. Nasaan ang Zambales Bank?’… ‘Balut, Balut!’… ‘Tayo na’t kumuha ng makakain’ ‘Magandang ideya, handa na ako sa napunan’… ‘Nagustuhan mo ba ang bago kong kamera?’

The sign for the Galaxy Bar was plainer than most. An unadorned interior stairway led to the second-floor club, a large room strewn with tables occupied by sailors, many with girls whose eyes caught the low light like predators or gods. David didn’t see anyone he knew. He had a small envelope in his back pocket for Maria.

Two girls who had bathed in perfume and spackled their faces with makeup were leaning against the bar watching a waitress organise a tray full of San Miguel beer bottles.

“Maria, tingnan mo itong malambing na lalaki.”

“Lamayo ka sa kanya, Adelaide.”

Assuming he’d actually heard her name in those quick Tagalog comments, Maria was the one wearing a red dress, thrusting herself forward to him as he approached, posing her sweet curves, allowing her long hair to seductively frame her face, smiling as though they were friends with a history. He could almost see himself in the high gloss of her lipstick.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Malcolm R. Campbell

USS Ranger (CVA-61)

Ranger - Wikipedia Photo

The USS Ranger has been decommissioned. The USS Ranger Foundation is working diligently to convert the aircraft carrier into a museum on the Columbia Driver near Portland, Oregon.  The effort requires multiple phases, the next being a comprehensive environmental site analysis of the propose mooring location.

The Foundation is seeking donations to help pay for its on-going work. If you would like to contribute to the $15 million dollar fund raising project to bring a historic ship to Oregon as a museum, please click on the link above. Once you’re there, you’ll find some handy PayPal buttons.