"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Bob Staranowicz: My Story, Part 3

Bob Staranowicz
When I left Vietnam in 1970, I left behind many memories, some bad, some good. I put the experience of Vietnam out of my mind for a very long time.

I was discriminated against while job hunting in my first few years back, so I took my service off my resume for a while.

I went to an interview at RCA in 1972 and the interview was going well. From out of nowhere the interviewer asked me how much drugs I had done in Vietnam. Unfortunately, I took it in stride and let it pass. So I ended up staying at a job that I had returned to until 1980.

But, in 1992, I was encouraged by a co-worker to start writing about my time in Vietnam.

When I eventually started writing, the memories of a very important place were resurrected. I came home to a world in turmoil because the war had gone on for much too long.

I was working for IBM at the time and we opened an office in Sai Gon (Ho Chi Mihn City). I became friendly with several of the people in the office since I was in daily contact with them. They were aware I served during the war. 

One of the girls had met an American IBMer and eventually became engaged to him. I jokingly asked for a wedding invite and she complied. So, after several weeks of consideration, I asked my daughter, Stacy, if she would go to a wedding with me and I accepted the invitation.

Stacy was thrilled to be able to visit another continent on her quest to visit them all and she also wanted to experience the culture of Vietnam. So we made our reservations and the wheels were in motion.

We flew from JFK airport to Hong Kong via the North Pole route and thanks to a great ticket agent, were upgraded to business class which made the 15½ hour flight more bearable. The flight from Hong Kong was relatively shorter – about 2½ hours.

We arrived in Sai Gon and were met by the happy couple and escorted to the hotel. It was difficult to go through customs seeing the uniforms that reminded me of the enemy from past times, but it was a different time and having my daughter at my side was a great help in overcoming any hatred or fear. Well, that is how I got back, but the real reason for my return was several days away.

When I was at Camp Eagle, each Sunday, someone from my company (501st Signal Battalion -- 101st Airborne Division) would take laundry to a Catholic orphanage in Hue - Kim Long. 

On one of those Sundays, I was invited to go along. That experience and the many return visits to Kim Long left an indelible impression on me that has never disappeared. When I finally made contact with the orphanage in May of 2008, I knew I had to return and the wedding invitation was the catalyst.

We arrived in Hue via Vietnam Airlines at Phu Bai airport on a Sunday evening. Since it was already dark, there was nothing that I could see during the cab ride from Phu Bai that was remotely recognizable. At the hotel, I could see the Citadel (the ancient Imperial North Vietnam Army during the war).

After a night of restful sleep, we awoke to see in the daylight, the structure now visible across the Perfume River. After breakfast on the patio, (it was 85 degrees on that January morning) we hailed a cab and headed for the Citadel. 

It was a bit tough at first to walk the same path as I had in 1970; I felt the same rush and heart pounding that I did when we landed in Saigon. But having my daughter with me to share that moment made it much easier. A lot had changed, but a lot remained the same. Having Stacy with me to re-live this moment was pretty amazing. I wish I could have had both daughters with me.

So, the time had arrived and with gifts in hand, we hailed a cab and headed to Kim Long Orphanage. We once again rode across the bridge and past the Citadel before arriving at 42 Kim Long. 

We were greeted by a young Vietnamese girl, dressed in black. Her name was Trang and she was the “interpreter” for the sisters. One was Sister Xavier who was also a member of the orphanage staff when I left it last in 1970. Sister Xavier was 91 years old. Although we didn’t remember each other, it did not matter. Sister Xavier greeted us with the same cheer and smile that all of the nuns did during my tour.

When I showed a picture of me in 1970 at Camp Eagle, Sister Xavier looked at it and uttered, “Ooh La La.” We all laughed.

We went to another room to find an assistant changing the diaper of a one-year-old. Lin had come to the orphanage at the age of one day.  She then handed the girl to Stacy who walked the rest of the tour with her. Lin was expressionless; it was somewhat sad to see this beautiful child and no smile.

Sister Xavier joined us on the tour, laughing at each comment any of us would make -- but as we moved on, she lagged behind and Trang and Sister Chantal did not seem to feel obligated to wait for her.

During the tour, we met the European contact for the orphanage, Christian, and his sponsored godchild who was as cute as any of the others. We would meet up with her later in the day.

We then went to the newer section of the orphanage – Son Ca II. But before we left, I was to meet two very special people. On one of my visits to Kim Long in 1970, I took a random picture of two boys playing in the garden. I had sent this picture to Christian who shared it with Sisters Chantal and Xavier. 

The day before we arrived at Kim Long, the orphanage was celebrating its 120th anniversary. At that celebration were the two boys, now men, who were in that picture. In terms of randomness and coincidence, who could have ever imagined that after 39 years, I would be again meeting these two men? It was an awesome reunion.

Tu and Lân and I spoke for a few minutes with the help of Trang. I had my picture taken with them and then they were gone. I would later find out that I would meet the daughters of these two men. The teenage girls were also students at Kim Long.

With the reunion accomplished, we were off to Son Ca II. We had to traverse small alleys and narrow streets to get there. We passed many small homes and businesses and out of some came young children, anxious to say hello to the two Westerners passing by. 

On the way, we met a friend of Sister Chantal who was tending to his garden. He invited us in to show us the altars and tombs that he was preparing for the Tet Celebration. The Vietnamese New Year was less than a week away and the many preparations could be witnessed all over the country.

The new orphanage’s entrance is about a five minute walk from Son Ca I, the former orphanage. The new complex is actually built on the former cemetery of the orphanage. We had to get there via a small street perpendicular to the Perfume River. We finally arrived at Son Ca II where we saw a huge courtyard with trees and fountains. It had several buildings and was immaculate. It housed more classrooms, vegetable gardens, kitchen, and dining areas.

One classroom we visited was a special needs class. The children had all types of disabilities. There was a 22-year old girl with Down syndrome who was very high functioning, another younger Down girl and a boy with Cornelius DeLange Syndrome. There were also several others and they were all so happy to see us. 

We talked with them, played a little and they all wanted to sit with us. They all seemed so well adjusted and well behaved, but this was true for all of the children we met. We spent about 30 minutes with them before moving on.

We headed back to Son Ca I; it was almost time for school to let out and the transient children would be picked up by their parents. It was snack time and Sister Chantal was distributing cookies to the children. Again, there was no chaos or ruckus of any kind as each child received their treat.

I was pushed into taking about five children on a cyclo ride. This bike with a huge seat on the front - sort of a rickshaw – held the children as I whisked around the courtyard a few times. It was a real treat for them.

Stacy had a little girl latched onto her – Mai Ahn who extremely cute. Stacy said she had a few Angelina Jolie moments that day and now understood why it is so difficult to leave any of them behind. 

I had my own little girl who sat with me – Christian’s godchild, Anh Xuan. She had taken a cookie from Sister Chantal and found me standing close by. She came over and took my hand and led me to a place across the courtyard and sat with me. It was as if she didn’t want to share me with anyone. She, as well as Stacy’s little one, joined us that evening for the special performance given by the girls of Kim Long and they sat on our laps all night.

Later, the children – all the permanent residents - filed into the dining room where they had assigned seats. The little ones sat on lower chairs and tables, while the older ones sat on bar-height tables and chairs. The special needs children also joined in. There was no chaos, no noise, no misbehavior as Sister Chantal led them in prayer. They then sang a short Vietnamese song that we did not recognize.

The staff, both nuns and lay people, served the children a meal of rice and shredded meat. It is amazing how much energy these workers have. I learned later that their day starts at 4 AM and sometimes does not end until after 10 PM. It is truly a labor of love for them.

After dinner, the children were led back to their respective bedrooms to prepare for the show that some of them would be performing in that evening.

We then headed back to the area we first entered earlier that afternoon where we met Sister Julienne Loan. Sister Julienne took over the responsibility of the orphanage in 2007. She is supported by Sister Chantal who guides her in this tough task. Sister Julienne replaced Sister Marie Kim who is currently in charge of a school for poor children in Tuy Hoa, in the South of Vietnam. Sister Julienne thanked us for the gifts we brought and also for a previous donation in 2008.

We spoke for a long time about previous visits of the O’Neills and others who had also given large donations to Kim Long. When I mentioned the O’Neills, she smiled.

Sister Chantal then read from a script that Christian had prepared for her telling us that although this is the first time we met, we were already friends. She told us that when the good sisters returned to Kim Long in 1991, the place was surrounded by barbed wire and it was just a slum of hen houses and dirty stables. 

With the help of God and many others, everything was rebuilt. She spoke of the war and Sister Xavier’s longevity at Kim Long. She thanked us for the washer and stove, (the first donation), and told us we would always have a place at Kim Long.

We then were taken to the dining room where we started with a bit more homemade wine and then a can of Saigon 333 (ba ba ba) Beer. Sister Lihn then brought the first course of Pho (a great Vietnamese soup with vegetables and noodles), then a platter full of a great fried chicken (breaded with panco) and a whole fish. Everything was cooked to perfection. The company and conversation was great.

After dinner we were lead to the courtyard where the children were waiting. We sat in two padded chairs while the others all had wooden or steel chairs. We felt like royalty.

Trang read to us, again from a script that Christian had prepared. She addressed Stacy and me telling us what a great honor it was to have us at Kim Long after all of these years. She told me that because I had sent a picture of the church to Christian (called Bac Ki, by the staff and children) back in May of 2008, that verified Kim Long was the orphanage I had known, she had renamed the church as "Bob’s Church." She was happy that the church was the link in my return.

The church had been returned to Kim Long by the government just a few short weeks before. Sister Chantal continued, telling us that it will be necessary to build a wall around the church soon to bring it back to Son Ca I.

She thanked us for our previous gifts, the new gifts, and asked me to take thanks back to all who contributed. She felt we would leave a piece of our heart in Kim Long, and I know we have. She told us she and the staff would never forget us and we would always remain their best friends. She ended with another thank you and sadness that Bac Ki could not be here with us. She invited us to come back any time and we would always be welcome.

Trang then introduced the first act and each subsequent performance. There was singing and dancing and all was done rather well. All of the outfits worn by the children were made by the older girls in their seamstress class. Some were ornate and many were silk.

Our companions for the evening were Anh Xuan and Mai Anh. They sat with us through the entire show, holding our hands, snuggling, just sharing their love. When the show was over it was difficult to let them go. It was difficult to say good-bye to all the children.

We returned to the reception room where we were given gifts by the good sisters. Two bottles of homemade wine and four bags of Vietnamese coffee. A taxi was summoned and we were soon to end our visit of more than seven heart-warming hours. It all went too quickly and it was definitely not enough to spend at this great place.

Sisters Julienne, Xavier and Chantal said good-bye to us in the traditional European manner of a kiss on both cheeks. We then got into our taxi as Sister Chantal gave directions to the driver and we were off.

This day was one of the most rewarding days I have ever spent anywhere. I am, and will be, eternally grateful that I had Stacy there to share it with me. It will take something great to top it. I don’t think I have ever felt as good about anything I have ever done in a charitable way than I did that day.

I am absolutely positive that neither Stacy nor I will ever forget our day at Kim Long. We rode back to the La residence talking about all that had occurred.

It has been almost three years since that reunion and I would go back tomorrow if I could. Many Vietnam veterans will never return to this land that took so many of our fine people from us and whose names are emblazoned on The Wall in Washington.

I feel very fortunate to have been able to return to Vietnam and experience a Buddhist wedding, an orphanage in Hue, and visiting the capital that was in enemy territory during the war. Ha Noi was not on my original list of cities to visit but after going there and seeing the infamous Ha Noi Hilton where John McCain and so many others spent years in captivity, it was well worth it.

This ends the series of my story but if anyone would like to read about the other parts of my visit, feel free to comment and I will add another section at a later date. Or you can visit back2vietnam.blogspot.com

[Bob Staranowicz, born in Philadelphia, served with the 101st Airborne in Vietnam. He is a graduate of LaSalle University and has Bachelor's and Master's degrees. He lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania with his wife.] 

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Book: "We Never Wanted A Parade"

By Donald Tackett

Publisher: BookLogix
300 pages

About the Book:

Imagine growing up in a small town, leading a normal life and hoping to become a journalist. Then one day you make a decision that changes your whole life -- to become more than a man -- to become a US Marine.

"We Never Wanted a Parade" is a coming-of-age memoir by Don "Tack" Tackett. He discovered loss, respect, and became a man in the steam-filled jungles of Vietnam.

With his unit all but gone, Tack was re-assigned and began the process of making friends and earning respect all over again with sound judgment and good leadership.

"I thought every day in the bush would be my last. I just knew that day was the day I would get hit. When I turned every corner, I could visualize confronting the little bastard that would end my life. It was a very scary thought.

As if that wasn't enough, we had to deal with the booby traps. Then the night would come. It was so dark we couldn't see the guy next to us, let alone see out into the bush where we just knew a sapper was going to sneak up and cut our throats.

Then daybreak would come. Thank God for daybreak. We'd lived another day, and it was another day closer to going home."


“This book was a great read from start to finish. Really goes in depth from basic training to combat patrols in Vietnam. As a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, You really make a connection with the author and the friends he had and some he lost while in country. Even if you’re not in the Military this is a 'lessons of life' book and should not be passed up.” ~Sniper762m

“Sgt Tackett served in the same unit as myself Kilo 3/7, the only difference is he arrived, in country, a couple of months after I was wounded and returned back home. He has written a true and honest account of what life was like in Vietnam, especially Kilo 3/7.” ~joesasnit

“Very easy to read, hard to put down. Don tells HIS story without getting into the politics of the war. Just his experiences. The good, the bad and the sometimes humorous. GREAT BOOK.” ~Rob

“Very well written, true account of a young soldier's life at war. I would recommend this one for anyone who loves a VietNam vet-it will help you to understand what they endured and how they were treated upon returning home.” ~battchief53

“A must read! I couldn't put it down, as a matter of fact I loved it so much I bought copies for my friends and family. You did an amazing job not only writing this book but in life and war!”~Sgravitt

“This is a very good read. I've read many books about Viet Nam from former service members but this is by far the best. I read it from start to finish the day that I received it.

I felt like Don was sitting at the kitchen table and we were just having our own private conversation. It's just one of those books that grab you in the first few pages. I wish everyone could read this book and think it should be required reading in English and History classes. If you get the chance to read this book please do not pass it up,because you will be passing up a very good read and a great writer.” ~Roberta Myers

“I served in the U. S. Army in Vietnam Nam at the same time as the author. This story brought to my memory many of the events I had forget. I have known Don for several years, we have talked many hours about our service, but "We Never Wanted a Parade" hit it out of the park. The only thing missing was the sounds and smell of actual combat.” ~Warren Pennington

"Vietnam was the unspoken war of my youth. I had friends who went to Vietnam right out of high school and didn't come back. The ones who did return did not talk about their experiences, at least not to me. This book caught me from the first page and I couldn't stop reading until I finished it. Don wrote in a manner that was like he was talking just to me. It brought tears and smiles as I read it. I also felt sadness for all those who were in Vietnam because they deserved our love, support and our thanks for serving our country. I cannot imagine the horror they lived and to come home to people who didn't even recognize their service -- we certainly need to at least say thank you and support them as they are still fighting to let go of those memories. Thank you Don for sharing your story and for serving our country." ~Gaynell Dillon

About the Author:

Donald “Tack” Tackett was born on July 13, 1949 in North Bend, OR, but grew up in Zanesville OH from the age of three.  He graduated high school in 1967 and joined the Marine Corps immediately after.

After boot camp at MCRD San Diego, he was sent to Vietnam (December ’67-December ’68), where he was assigned to Kilo Co., 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Div.  He was wounded once.

In ’72, he joined the Army and, like the Marines, he spent his time as an infantryman.  He retired in May of ’98 as a Sergeant Major.

“I served in every leadership position available to an enlisted soldier.  In the end, I was a much better soldier than I was ever a Marine.” ~Donald Tackett


“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Monday, April 21, 2014

Bob Staranowicz: My Story, Part 2

Bob Staranowicz
I arrived at my duty station in Vietnam on November 2nd, 1969, after a horrific ride on a C-130 aircraft.

I was in the air 20 minutes before I knew it because the plane shook so much. I still thought we were on the runway taxiing for takeoff.

After a deuce and a half truck ride from the Phu Bai Airbase, I arrived at Camp Eagle Headquarters Company of the 501st Signal Company, 101st Airborne Division.

As I got out of the truck with my belongings, I was greeted by a familiar face – Mike Checchia, who attended training with me at Fort Monmouth. He was a most welcome sight.

It was a little cooler up north in the highlands, but it was still hot. Since HQ was newly formed, there wasn't enough space for all the newcomers, so I had to be squeezed into an 8-man hooch which now held 10.

Luckily, it was Sunday so at the Mess Hall that meant steak. We headed up the hill to the mess for my first real dinner with my new company. The 501st consisted of HQ and “A” Company.

As time went on, we started to build more hooches. We were overcrowded because the Crypto officer, Mr. Thomas, a Warrant Officer, had been requesting replacements for guys who were leaving. Since he wasn’t getting any responses, he kept requesting and all of a sudden, his replacements came in. He tried to cancel his request but not until eight more, including me, arrived.

So, as we built our own place to call home, we had to set up a tent to house us for the week it would take to build and sandbag the place. We had to fill each sandbag by hand, enough so the eight man abode, (about 32' by 16'), had sandbags piled all around, four feet high. This was so shrapnel from an incoming mortar or rocket would be contained at a level above our heads if we were lying in our bunks.

After the hooch was built, we dug a huge bunker next to it with a backhoe and old telephone poles were used as a roof, also covered with sandbags. It was about 8' underground. We used it quite often. Each time an alarm sounded, we had to run into that bunker and stay until an all clear was sounded. Sometimes the rockets were close, sometimes not.

My first holiday in Vietnam was Thanksgiving. It wasn’t too bad. We had a traditional meal at the mess hall and got some time off from our 12-hour day.

Christmas was much more difficult. I made phone calls home but it was just not the same. My first call was to my fiancé and the modulation was so bad, it sounded like I was talking to an alien.  Since it was over a Ham radio connection (MARS), whenever we were done, we had to say “over” so the radio operator would know to switch the handset to the other party. It was frustrating.

When I called my Mom and Dad the next week, the reception was much better and I could hear them clearly. I didn’t use MARS after that and didn’t hear voices from home, except on tape, until I got to Japan in August.

Christmas Day 1969: Bob Hope was coming to Camp Eagle. Because I was the last one in the shop, I was chosen to pull bunker duty during the show, even though there was a guy who was just given an Article 15 for insubordination and he was confined to quarters.

(An Article 15 is nonjudicial punishment.  It refers to certain limited punishments which can be awarded for minor disciplinary offenses by a commanding officer, or officer in charge, to members of his/her command.  

It's kind of a "mini-trial" conducted by the commander of a company when someone commits a punitive offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), and the commander feels the offense is too minor to warrant a full-blown court-martial. ).

Anyway, here I was, thousands of miles from home, close to a legend who has been performing for the troops all over the world, and I was going to miss it.

It was a warm day as we trekked to the berm line to perform our duties. I sat with another newcomer on top of the bunker, making sure nobody decided to invade the camp while the show was going on. The only thing we saw was a Vietnamese family walking about 500 yards out with their water buffalo.

It didn't seem fair to miss this icon of military shows, but somebody had to. After we saw the Hope helicopter leave camp, we were relieved and could go to the mess tent for Christmas Dinner of turkey with all the trimmings --  a traditional holiday meal, but it sure wasn’t "home". Since we had been on guard duty, we were first to eat, so that was at least some consolation.

But before that, we had to carry the ammo boxes back to the ammo dump. I remember carrying the heavy box while balancing an M-60 machine gun on my right shoulder. The guy on the other side of me slipped and dropped his end. As I tried to hold up the weight of the box, I felt my shoulder give way and I was in immense pain for about three days.

For New Years, since I had missed the Hope Show, I was rewarded with a trip to an in-country R&R site at China Beach in Da Nang.

I left via Chinook on New Year’s Day after a night of partying the night before. We had celebrated with a bottle of Four Roses whiskey that my future mother-in-law had sent me, along with parachute flares that some of the guys had “confiscated” from the bunkers. It wasn’t Times Square but it was all we had.

Compared to the C-130 ride, the Chinook CH-47 was noisier and slower. Our only defense was two machine gunners. The US lost about 200 of these aircraft during the Vietnam War.

China Beach was one of several areas in Vietnam for short times of relaxation for the troops. It was a beautiful area and would have been a lot nicer if not for the concertina barbed wire strew along the beach. Today, it is one of the most visited beaches for tourists visiting Vietnam.

The “resort” was filled with drinking establishments, a bowling alley, and many other recreational areas including the beach, which was only open during daylight hours. I missed that sign at first and was almost shot by an MP enjoying the peace and quiet, walking on the moonlit beach, after several twenty-five cent rum and cokes.

Even with the peace and tranquility of the area, the local VC decided to lob a few mortars at us on one of the nights and I spent a couple of hours in a bunker. So after three nights of watching “round-eye” shows, (a term we used for shows not given by the locals but by American or Australian groups), it was back to duty at Eagle.

One of my duties as a Communications Security support person was to deliver secure communications equipment to several firebases in the 101st Area of Operation.

(A firebase is a small area in the middle of nowhere that has artillery units on it for air support of the infantry units in the field).

One of the ones I visited with another guy was Firebase Bastogne. Many of the Firebases operated by the 101st Airborne were named after cities they served during WW II.

Another was a smaller area called a landing zone. LZs were used because of the widespread use of helicopters, which were usually the fastest method of transport in Vietnam.  As such, Landing Zones needed to be established for the helicopters. LZs allowed troops to be moved to closer positions near the front.

While many LZs were temporary, being little more than a clearing in the jungle or a clearing made using defoliant bombs, which cleared everything in a diameter of 150 feet; many others were either permanent or semi-permanent.

I also went to Camp Carroll way up near the DMZ. It was off Highway 9 and was a Marine base. It was one of nine artillery bases constructed along the DMZ and had 80 artillery pieces, including 175mm guns from the US Army. We flew to these places in choppers like the UH-1 (Huey) and the Light Observation Helicopter (Loach OH-6A).

Bunker duty was also a part of our duties. All E-4's and below served on this guard duty about two nights a week.

One night, I was sleeping on the top bunk and felt something go across my chest. I reached for my flashlight and turned on the red lens to see the biggest rat I ever saw in my life -- I stayed awake the rest of the night.

On another night, it was raining. Usually the carrier of the M-60 machine gun will set up outside on top of the bunker. Well, this night it, was raining and he didn’t want to have to clean the weapon in the morning before turning it in so he stayed inside.

It just so happened, on that night, a lot of activity was sighted to the front of us, so the Command post asked us to open fire. Well, firing a machine gun inside the most acoustic-unfriendly structure, a bunker, was NOT a good idea.

After about 20 rounds, I had to get out of the bunker. Sound bounced off those sand bags and affected my ears so badly, I could not hear for two days. My ears still ring to this day because of that.

Another memory I have of guard duty was funny, yet scary.

When you first arrived at the berm line, you had all kinds of set up to do. The hand grenades had to be placed for easy access, the ammunition cans had to be distributed, and the M-60 machine gun had to be set up. Finally, the claymore mines had to be put out about 50–100 yards to the front of the bunker.

The directions were quite simple. We set them out correctly, I am sure of this, because we always backed ourselves up by double-checking the position. The mines were connected by wires back to the bunker and there was a trigger that had to be clicked several times to set the mine off.

Well, that night we heard a lot of movement to the front of us. We called the Command Post to see if we could open fire and they said there was no word of any possible activity in the area, so we couldn’t even send up a flare to see if anyone was out there. We heard a ruckus all night, but we couldn’t do anything about it.

Morning came and when we went out to retrieve the claymores, I saw that the ones we put out were all turned around facing us. The VC had moved them and they made all the noise so we would set them off and all the shrapnel would have been sent our way. We called the CP and he said ‘Oh, I guess you guys really did hear something last night.”

Once I got into the flow at Eagle, I traveled around a bit, going into town with the laundry to deliver it to the orphanage where the French nuns and staff would wash our stuff.

It was a weekly ritual for awhile and we took the kids candy and toys sent from home. It made us forget the war for a few short hours each time I was lucky enough to go. Little did I know at the time the effect these visits would have on me and eventually, even bring me back to Vietnam 39 years later.

I was up for promotion in April and had to go before a board to qualify. Our shop boss was not happy about some of us getting promoted so soon and tried to stop the process. In fact, he sent some of us to the field after the board had reviewed us.

I spent a month at Camp Evans, near Quang Tri, a bit farther north in I Corps. While there, we were hit almost every night, so we spent a lot of late nights in a bunker. I received orders that I had been promoted and headed to the local PX to have my stripes sewn on. I didn‘t get the normal camouflaged stripes, but the regular gold stripes that are worn in the States.

When I returned to my shop at Camp Eagle and the WO saw me, he was so upset that he had me transferred to another Radio shop in the Company. I stayed there for about two months and then, when the mail clerk was going home, I was asked by the Captain if I would be interested in taking over.

Mail clerk was probably the best job in Vietnam or any Army post. From July until I left in October, I worked about two hours a day. I wasn’t exempt from guard duty, but as an E-5, I was no longer just sitting in a bunker. I was the Sergeant of the Guard and had to constantly visit each bunker throughout the night to make sure everything was OK.

One night, the officer of the guard was Mr. Thomas from my Crypto Shop. He still was upset about not being able to stop the promotions, so it was an uneasy night and I had to be on my toes the entire shift.

In August, I finally decided I would take an R&R. We were eligible after six months and I decided that it was time for me. I wanted to go to Hong Kong, or Australia, but because I waited so long to apply, I had to settle for Tokyo. The Philippines and Hawaii were available but I liked Japan so much my first time there, I wanted to go back.

I had to find a replacement to take over the mail room and take the post office test and then I was ready. I went with my friend, Jackie Madden, from Tennessee. Jackie was a true mountain boy. Whenever anyone asked him how he liked his coffee, he said, "Just out of the pot. It ain’t coffee, once you Yankees put all that s--- in it.”

We left for Tokyo through Da Nang, so we had to catch another flight via Chinook to get there. This bird was so noisy -- you had to shout to be heard, once airborne.

When we got on the plane to Tokyo, it was great. We had a steak dinner on board, but a weird thing happened as I started to eat. After being on Camp Eagle for nine months eating with plastic utensils and paper plates, when I went to pick up my metal fork, the first one I had seen in months, I dropped it.  The shock of its weight in my hand was startling, but I got used to it real fast and enjoyed the dinner.

We landed in Japan and were taken to a reception center where we selected a hotel. Jackie and I chose the Shikubu which was right outside of Tokyo for about 35,000 yen a night, or $11 at that time. The yen was not as valuable as today and the exchange rate was 360 yen per dollar.

Japan was so different this time. We had six nights and we spent most of them eating, sightseeing, and shopping. We went to the Imperial Gardens, rode the bullet train and shopped.

I bought a tailored double-breasted suit with two pair of pants for $25.00, a zoom lens for my camera for about $60.00, and many souvenirs for everybody at home. We cruised the Ginza at night, visited many bars along that famous strip, and toured the Sony factory.

We rode in a cab a few times and with the steering wheel on the right side.  It was a weird sensation and the Japanese cab drivers drove like maniacs. We had several close calls going back to our hotel.

The Ginza was amazing. Tokyo has so many people, walking the Ginza was worse than a crowded night in New York City. People were everywhere but the flow was smooth and everybody seemed to know how to handle it.

I was able to call home without the interference of a radio. At that time, it was very expensive to make an international call, about $3.00 a minute.

So after six days of fun and relaxation, we headed back to Camp Zama to catch a flight back to Vietnam. I had about two months left before going home, it was a good feeling.

The last two months went by quickly. I spent most of my time getting a tan. The mail clerk job only took two hours or so of my day. The Captain knew I was a short-timer, so he didn’t bug me either.

A lot of the guys were getting their orders early. My date to leave was October 21st; I got orders around October 1st that I would be able to leave by the 15th. It was only six days, but it was better than nothing.

I prepared by packing all my gear and sending other stuff home. I had my replacement, I was ready to go. It had been a long year. I was lucky. I had two friends get blown away because they replaced two others who had gone on sick call that morning and were replaced by my friends.

I was able to learn photo developing and printing; I was fortunate to come into contact with an orphanage that I will never forget; I flew on three different kinds of helicopters and learned to drive a stick shift ¾ ton truck. I experienced the heat of Vietnam and the cold of the mountains. I experienced monsoons and walking in two-foot-deep red mud.

When it was raining and cold, it felt like it was going to snow. It was 50-60 degrees, but after 110 during the day, it felt very cold. Our hooches had only screens as windows and no heat source, so it was unbearable at times. That is when I knew why the supply sergeant handed us sleeping bags on our first day. It really did get cold in the North.

I experienced things that no one can ever imagine. Most of my friends were stationed near Saigon and I was very jealous at first, but I would never give up the experiences I had while living in this area of Vietnam with no electricity that wasn’t self–generated, no plumbing, having to use a 1920s style outhouse to do your thing, no air conditioning on the hot day,s and no heat on the cold nights.

I met many people, although I cannot remember their names, who had been a part of a most significant part of my life. I lost two friends who were victims of two very selfish individuals. I hope they have lived with the guilt but somehow I feel they made peace with themselves and saw it as a stroke of fate on their part.

I left Cam Rahn Bay on Flying Tiger Airlines and as the plane left Vietnam airspace, a resounding round of cheers and applause was heard in the plane. We were going home. I was getting back the day I lost as we crossed the International Date Line.

We landed in Washington state, and after about six hours, I was processed, had a new uniform with all of my medals and 101stAirborne patch on my right soldier (showing that I had served with them in Vietnam. It was on the left when you were in Vietnam) and off to the airport.

I had made reservations from the post for a flight to New York, landing at 1 p.m., for either bussing to Philadelphia, or waiting for a later flight. When I got to the airport, I saw Eastern Airlines had a flight to Philadelphia, leaving in 45 minutes. I booked that one immediately. It would stop in Portland, Oregon, St. Louis, Missouri and finally home. I did not have to deplane at all.

When I got to Philadelphia, it was an eerie feeling. I entered the airport terminal to try and find a phone and this little old lady said something to me and then spit at me. “Welcome Home” was not as I expected. I was the only soldier to get off that flight, but there were others in the airport. I didn’t see or hear any other incidents but I wasn’t there very long.

I was home. After a year of wondering if I would come home whole or not at all, I was home.

It was Thursday, October 15th. We were getting married November 7th and I was to report to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, on November 20th. I hadn’t told anyone yet. My first stop in the cab was at my fiancé’s and then off to my parents' house. I had called each of them from the airport and they were all surprised since I was a week early.

I started looking for a car with the money I saved the past year. I found a 1970 Ford Torino Coupe for $2881.00, my first ever brand new car.

While home one day, I visited some of my friends from Allen Street. As I was talking with some of them, one guy I played ball with for many years and thought of as a very good friend walked up to me with a blank look on his face. He stopped, looked my way and said four words I will never forget because they were the last four words I ever heard from his mouth. He said, “Welcome Home, Baby Killer.”

We were all in shock. He turned and walked away and I have never seen him again. He was always the different guy in the group with different views on life, but I would never have expected to hear that from him. It still bothers me to this day.

I was aware of the protests that were going on in the states but never thought they would be in my own backyard. The lady at the airport was an aberration, or so I thought. To come home to my neighborhood and experience it was sickening and unbelievable.

In the next few weeks, I got married, drove to Arizona and reported to my new duty station with my new wife.  We spent nine months in an on-post two bedroom house, far away from family and friends. We became friendly with Doug Dunham and his wife Kathy.

I went through COMSEC School with Doug at Fort Monmouth and it was good to see a familiar face. Doug and Kathy were married on the same day as us and we enjoyed a visit from them to our home in Pennsylvania in 2004. Kathy recently passed away from cancer.

So, the nine months went quickly and on Friday the 13th of August 1971, our car was packed and we were headed home to start our civilian lives together.

It was three years of service at a time when many were crossing borders to avoid it. I am proud to have served my country and would do it all over again.

In my next posting, I will tell about my recent trip to Vietnam, why I went back, and the circumstances around how it came to be.

[Bob Staranowicz is a Vietnam veteran and a member of the Doylestown Post 175 VFW. He lives in Buckingham.]

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Book: "Marble Mountain Memoirs"

By Robert Romaniello

Second Wind Publishing, LLC (March 9, 2014)
216 Pages
Format: Paperback and Kindle

About the Book:

After a Diagnosis of stage 4 Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma caused by Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam 35 years prior, the author is launched back into the depths of his soul as a young man, the soul of America at war, and the enemy within.

Buy at Amazon


“Anyone who came of age in the sixties can relate to this book. It was a time of turmoil with the vietnam war and the protests at home. Mr Romaniello did an excellent job of capturing the mood of the times and giving accurate statistics of the events happening during this time while telling his own story. A very enjoyable read and a chance to remember a time in history unlike any other. I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to step back in time and get a glimpse of the war in vietnam and it's repercussions for one man. An excellent read!” ~elart

“It was after I had read the book the second time that the windows of my memory began to open.  The more I read, the more I went back in time. The book brought back many memories of my youth at 18 years old and in Vietnam. I thought I was going to be GI Joe. 

This book says a lot about me and a hand full of guys that just wanted to get back home alive and in one piece.  Robert has done a great job writing this book.”
~Gary Malone

“As a veteran with similar Vietnam experiences as Mr. Romaniello, I enjoyed reading his story and applaud him for having the courage to give an honest accounting of his tour along with his thinking before, during, and after. For some I'm sure its a lot easier to wear medals that were never earned and tell stories that never happened.” ~TT99

“…Whether this memoir makes you outraged, repugnant, or brings a warm identifying smile to your face, "Marble Mountain Memoirs" is guaranteed to provoke an emotive response. Anyone that went through the late 1960's and early 1970's is guaranteed to relate to Romaniello's provocative recollections.  A Vietnam War book with a unique perspective.” ~Bernie Weisz

“I enjoyed this book and that's saying a lot for a person who doesn't typically enjoy reading. Having always had the utmost respect for American Soldiers, especially those who fought in Vietnam, this book seems to respectfully share the views of solidarity, anti-war, fear, disgust and camaraderie that many soldiers felt and experienced.” ~bhajek01

“Mr Romaniello's accounts give a humorous view of this period in Viet Nam but also put the whole war into historical perspective. The Story is laced with poignant quotes from writers of the past which help make Romaniello's story even more lucid.” ~Francis Caruso

About the Author:

Robert Romaniello lives in North Carolina with his wife of 22 years. He has two children and he is a Vietnam Veteran and Cancer survivor. 

He studied English Literature at Los Angeles Valley College, and Brooklyn College in New York City.

"Marble Mountain Memoirs" is Robert’s maiden sojourn into the world of semi-autobiographical War novels.

[U.S. Army - 1969-70
633rd Collection, Classification and Salvage (CC&S) Company]

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Bob Staranowicz: My Story, The Beginning

Bob Staranowicz
I am a Vietnam Veteran and I am proud of my service.

I served with the 101st Airborne while in Vietnam and was assigned to northern I Corps at Camp Eagle, near Hue.

I would like to tell you a little bit about myself and maybe in a future posting, something about why I went back to Vietnam in 2009.

I was born on October 11, 1948 at home since Mom couldn’t afford, or didn’t want to go to, a hospital.  I already had three older brothers.

Where I grew up was residential, as well as industrial, within the shadow of the Philco Electronics building. Directly behind was Kissling’s Sauer Kraut. Al Kissling - yes, a real person - manufactured sauerkraut, pickles, mackerel and mush – all still available in local supermarkets.

Also in the neighborhood was a Bon Ton Potato Chip factory, a lumber yard,  and Strunk's, a trucking firm. Strunk also had a car inspection and repair service in the 200 block. 

There was a bar on almost every corner, the 200 Bar at 200 Richmond, McGuirl’s at 101 Richmond and others throughout the neighborhood. I can remember four bars from Front and Richmond to the middle of the 200 block. 

There was an Esso gas station – Wolfman’s, and another luncheonette, Wojcik’s, on Shackamaxon Street. Down the block from Wojcik’s was one more luncheonette, Conroy’s, and a Gulf gas station.

We also had a rag and newspaper reclamation plant, a kielbasa plant and a sugar house (now, the Sugar House Casino), all within a two block walk.

On the corner of Richmond and Shackamaxon, were four businesses: McCracken's which was a luncheonette, the 200 Bar, Wisnieski's Grocery Store, and Black's Drug Store. McCracken’s moved to the middle of the block later.

Then there was Tilly’s (Maryanski) Candy Store, where soda and candy were sold.  It was also where the pinball wizards of the time hung out -- five balls for a nickel! No, you never had to go far to get anything you needed.

It was an interesting place to live. A typical blue collar city neighborhood of that era, where dogs ran free, everyone knew each other, and being home by dark in the summer was really the only rule we had.

We never knew we were poor, until we got out into the world and experienced other neighborhoods. Once I started going to school in 1954, more discoveries were made. 

As I crossed Frankford Avenue on my way to Immaculate Conception School, I would pass by a steel smelting plant – Ajax. Once I got to the end of the block, I came to Front Street where the elevated train ran and crossed over to the Tip Top playground which was the school yard for Immaculate Conception school.

We had a graduating class of 35 in 1962. After leaving ICS, I attended Northeast Catholic High School and graduated in 1966. I worked in my senior year at a family shoe store on Girard Avenue – the OK Shoe Store. After graduation, I decided to take the summer off before starting a real job and ended up at Sears Roebuck before I received my letter from Uncle Sam.

I received my draft notice on April 1st 1968 and before I could be inducted I joined the Army in 1968 because I wanted to control my own fate during a time that the US was involved in what was becoming an unpopular war. 

I did my basic training at Fort Bragg, NC starting in the hottest month of the year – August. Then I was assigned to Fort Monmouth, NJ to attend a Communications School. I enlisted in order to get this school since it was so close to home and would keep me in the States for at least another 10 months and allow me to get home most weekends.

My recruiter, (who shall remain unnamed), told me that with all of this security training that I would never see Vietnam. I am still looking for him… (HA HA). I received my orders for Vietnam about six weeks before I completed my training. There were 26 of us in class and 25 were sent to Vietnam. The lone member, who had the highest average, was off to Germany.

Little did I know that my tour in Vietnam would become one of the most gratifying experiences in my life. I cannot say that it has not affected me negatively in some ways, but there are many positive experiences, as well.

So, after I finished my studies at Fort Monmouth, I came home for a 30 day leave. I had met a gal in June and saw her on weekends, along with my friends, when I came home. It was a casual friendship and since I was going away to war, I didn’t want any kind of commitment while I was away. Well, that plan failed miserably and I married that girl when I returned home the next November. I had turned 21, five days before I left and also knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. Some 40 years later, we are still together.

The war was being protested more and more during that time and the day before I left, the largest moratorium aimed at ending the war took place on October 15, 1969. Almost 500,000 men and women were deployed in the conflict, and opposition to the war was growing.

The Moratorium for the first time brought out America's middle class, middle-aged voters, in large numbers. The focal point was the Capital, Washington DC, where more than 40 different activities were planned and about 250,000 demonstrators gathered to make their voices heard.

There were protests all over Europe, not just the US. Peace activists congregated outside US embassies across Europe. In London a crowd of some 300 people demonstrated opposite the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square.

So, with all of this going on, I headed to the airport after saying good bye to my Mom and Dad. Of course, my mother was upset, but it was the first time I had ever seen my Dad cry. I left with my future wife and my brother and sister-in-law and headed to the airport. Corny as it may sound, as I kissed my future mate good bye, I handed her my high school ring as an assurance that she would have to give it back to me when I returned.

Then I got on the plane, my first ever flight, headed for Chicago, then to Oakland. I was joined by several other Fort Monmouth classmates and my future best man, who at that time had no idea, nor did I.

We spent several days in Oakland, before receiving the call to get on the plane to Vietnam. We departed Travis AFB around midnight for what would be a year in Vietnam. After a brief stop in Alaska, we headed to Tokyo.

Upon landing, there was a problem with our plane and it would take at least 24 hours to repair. Our plane was carrying about 150 second lieutenants with artillery or infantry specialties, along with many enlisted men, some returning to Vietnam for another tour. The young officers all knew that that their specialty had a great deal of casualties in Vietnam.

While waiting for plane repairs and with all of this freedom, Joe and I decided to hit the bars. Little did we know that those Kirins we were drinking were high in alcohol. After several hours, we retired to our hotel and fell asleep. We were supposed to be called when the plane was repaired. 

There were two officers in our room as well and when they got the call, they failed to awaken us from our drunken stupor. Sometime later, when the hotel manager was checking rooms, he found us, woke us and told us the plane was leaving. We hopped in a cab and raced to the airport to see out plane on the tarmac ready to leave. We had just made it.

The flight to Vietnam was uneventful after that, until we landed and the hot steamy air hit us as the doors opened. Needless to say, that did not help our still existing “hangover” condition. We both walked down the steps to the tarmac on wobbly legs with queasy stomachs.

We were off to the reception center where I found, after a few days of jungle training, that I was to board a C-130 to Phu Bai. I knew nothing of the country’s geography and searched a map around the Saigon area, where I wanted to be assigned. Up and up my finger cruised to find Phu Bai in the northern I Corps region. I was shocked. I was hoping to stay in the “safer” area around Saigon but it was not to be. I was headed to the boonies.

So, I got to Camp Eagle and was happy to see one other guy from my class. It was November 2nd, almost two weeks after leaving home. This was most difficult since I was writing letters home but had yet to receive one in return. I now had a mailing address, but it would take another two weeks to receive a reply after I sent the information home.

My travel was over and I settled in to the daily 12 hour, 7 day routine. Along with the duties of the communications shop, there was KP, guard duty, and other company-related duties. I wasn’t happy but something happened in the next several weeks that would change my whole point of view about this place.

In a future blog I will continue this story and share an experience which has stayed with me until this day and which brought me back to Vietnam 39 years later.

[Bob Staranowicz is a Vietnam veteran, a member of the Doylestown Post 175 VFW, and Author of the book, "Chapter One".  He lives in Buckingham PA.]

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Grey-Haired Brigade

[Contributed by my brother-in-law, Dennis L. Kempf]

The typical U.S. household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35, according to an analysis of census data released Monday.
If us old farts have all the money, then let's try to elect someone who might be near honest and not be after feathering their own nests.

They like to refer to us as senior citizens, old fogies, geezers, and in some cases, dinosaurs. Some of us are "Baby Boomers" getting ready to retire. Others have been retired for some time. We walk a little slower these days and our eyes and hearing are not what they once were. 

We have worked hard, raised our children, worshiped God and grown old together. Yes, we are the ones some refer to as being over the hill, and that is probably true. But before writing us off completely, there are a few things that need to be taken into consideration.

In school we studied English, history, math, and science which enabled us to lead America into the technological age. Most of us remember what outhouses were, many of us with firsthand experience.

We remember the days of telephone party-lines, 25 cent gasoline, and milk and ice being delivered to our homes. For those of you who don't know what an icebox is, today they are electric and referred to as refrigerators. A few even remember when cars were started with a crank.

Yes, we lived those days. We are probably considered old fashioned and out-dated by many. But there are a few things you need to remember before completely writing us off. 

We won World War II, fought in Korea and Vietnam. We can quote "The Pledge of Allegiance", and we know where to place our hand while doing so. We wore the uniform of our country with pride and lost many friends on the battlefield. 

We didn't fight for the Socialist States of America; we fought for The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. We know this is a Republic and NOT a Democracy and the difference is vast and extremely important! 

We wore different uniforms but we carried the same flag. We know the words to the "Star Spangled Banner", "America", and "America the Beautiful" by heart, and you may even see some tears running down our cheeks as we sing. 

We have lived what many of you have only read in history books and we feel no obligation to apologize to anyone for America.

Yes, we are old and slow these days but rest assured, we have at least one good fight left in us. We have loved this country, fought for it, and died for it, and now we are going to save it. 

It is our country and nobody is going to take it away from us. We took oaths to defend America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and that is an oath we plan to keep. There are those who want to destroy this land we love but, like our founders, there is no way we are going to remain silent.

It was mostly the young people of this nation who elected Obama and the Democratic Congress. You fell for Hope and Change which in reality was nothing but Hype and Lies.

You now have tasted socialism and seen true evil face to face and have found you don't like it after all. You make a lot of noise, but most are all too interested in their careers or Climbing the Social Ladder to be involved in such mundane things as patriotism, your freedom, and voting. 

Many of those who fell for The Great Lie in 2008 are now having buyer's remorse. With all the education we gave you, you didn't have sense enough to see through the lies and instead, drank the Kool-Aid. 

Now you're paying the price and complaining about it. No jobs, lost mortgages, higher taxes, and far less freedom. This is what you voted for and this is what you got. We entrusted you with the Torch of Liberty and you traded it for a paycheck and a fancy house.

Well, don't worry youngsters, the Grey-Haired Brigade is here, and in 2014, we are going to take back our nation! We may drive a little slower than you would like but we'll get where we're going, and in 2014 we're going to the polls by the millions!

This land does not belong to the man in the White House, nor to the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. It belongs to We the People and We the People plan to reclaim our land and our freedom. We hope this time you will do a better job of preserving it and passing it along to our grandchildren. 

So the next time you have the chance to say the "Pledge of Allegiance", stand up, put your hand over your heart, honor our country, and thank God for the old geezers of the Grey-Haired Brigade.

Can you feel the ground shaking?  It's not an earthquake, it's a STAMPEDE.

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

To All My Veteran Friends

On April 3, I put an article on the blog with the title, "Do You Still Think About Vietnam?"  

It was an excellent article, by a Vietnam Veteran, who shared his thoughts and feelings about how and why he cannot NOT still think about Vietnam.

He did not put his name on the article, preferring to remain anonymous, but he should feel proud, because it became immediately obvious that his article touched on something important which was universal among all Vietnam Veterans: Yes, they do still think about Vietnam.  

I'm only sorry I can't thank the veteran for his article.  The feelings and memories it evoked have been overwhelming, not only for those in every group where it was posted on Facebook and LinkedIn, but for me, as well.

To All My Veteran Friends:

I want to thank you, all of you, for your honesty and for openly sharing your thoughts and feelings about the Vietnam War.  I expected to hear that you do still think about Vietnam, just like our anonymous veteran.  What I wasn't expecting was how deeply everything you had to say would also touch me.

Every time I read something one of you shared, without your knowing it, you helped me face many things I have also buried since 1969. 

Through reading about your experiences and your loss, I have felt your anguish, because it also touched those things that I had buried and brought them to the surface. Often, it was sudden, like a body slam and it was frightening. Other times, it was a gentle pull, like a whisper and I cried.

But I'm learning. I know that to heal, that's exactly what I need to do more of.

Pain is pain. It doesn't matter who owns it, or from which direction it comes, or how it got there. Pain is pain, it hurts like bloody hell, and we want to avoid it, because we're afrait it will consume us. But stuffing it brings even worse pain, the kind that can haunt forever, through nightmares or flashbacks.

You have helped me see that we are not our fear, nor are we the pain. They do not own us. And, we are not separate.  We are whole, we are good, and above all else ... we are human.

I've found that healing begins with the realization that the horror, loss, or even the guilt of still being alive -- are all significant and defining moments in our lives. They couldn't help but change us.  We are who we are because of those defining moments and that can bring acceptance.

Every time one of us shares something, we are all facing it together -- and we are honoring the men, like my husband, and the women on The Wall, the fallen heroes who can never share their stories.  Through sharing, we give them a voice ...

I just needed you to know how very much you have helped me. So, once again, I thank you.  My only hope is that I have in some way also helped you.

I am here for you ...

With my deepest respect and admiration, I remain ...
your friend,

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Final Inspection


The Soldier stood and faced his God,
which must always come to pass.
He hoped his shoes were shining,
just as brightly as his brass.
"Step forward now, My Soldier,
how shall I deal with you?
Have you always turned the other cheek?
To My church have you been true?"

The soldier squared his shoulders.
'No, Lord, guess I ain't.
Those of us who carry guns,
can't always be a saint.
I've had to work most Sundays,
and at times my talk was tough.
And sometimes I've been violent,
-- the world is awfully rough.
But I never took a penny
that wasn't mine to keep.
I worked a lot of overtime,
'cause the bills just got too steep.

I never passed a cry for help,
though at times I shook with fear.
And sometimes, God, forgive me,
I've wept unmanly tears.

I know I don't deserve a place,
among the people here.
They never wanted me around,
except to calm their fears.

If you've a place for me here, Lord,
it needn't be too grand.
I never expected or had too much,
But if you don't, I'll understand.
A silence fell around the throne,
where the saints had often trod.
As the Soldier waited quietly,
for the judgment of his God.
"Step forward now, My Soldier,
you've borne your burdens well.
Walk peacefully on Heaven's streets.
You've done your time in Hell."

~Author Unknown~ 

Contributed by John Norwood
Retired aircraft Flt Engineer

It's the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us the freedom of the press.
It's the Soldier, not the poet,
Who has given us the freedom of speech.
It's the Soldier, not the politicians that ensures
Our right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
It's the Soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag.

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Monday, April 14, 2014

Documentary: "The Ghosts of Ripcord"

The Last Battle of the Vietnam War.  Coming in the fall of 2014.  

"It is an incredible story that needed to be told." ~Director John Daily

[Documentary, "The Ghosts of Ripcord", produced by Temple University, written and directed by John Daily, and produced by Amanda Boisselle and Katie Frueh. The premier of the documentary recently took place April 6, 2013 at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia.]

FSB Ripcord (upper left), A-Shau Valley)
The documentary tells the story via old photographs, film, and interviews with those who served, of the disastrous overrun of Fire Base Ripcord by approximately 30,000 North Vietnamese Army regulars in 1970.

Nearly forgotten back home, fighting for their lives against impossible odds, the heroes of RIPCORD withstood the advancement of more than 30,000 enemy troops.

The siege of Ripcord cost the lives of hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of those on the opposite side. This is their story:

Fire Support Base Ripcord was located in the A-Shau Valley in the Northern part of I Corps in South Vietnam.

Because of the heroics of the battle, three Congressional Metal of Honors and six Distinguished Service Crosses were ultimately awarded.  248 American soldiers were killed and three were missing in action during the time that the 101st occupied the firebase.

Fire Support Base Ripcord
The actual Battle of Fire Support Base Ripcord was a 23 day battle between the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division and the North Vietnamese Army from July 1, 1970 until July 23, 1970. It was the last major confrontation between United States ground forces and North Vietnam of the Vietnam War.

Little was known about the battle until 1985, when the FSB Ripcord Association was founded.

President Nixon secretly began the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam early in 1969. As the only full-strength division remaining in Vietnam in early 1970, the 101st Airborne Division was ordered to conduct the planned offensive Operation Texas Star near the A-Shau Valley.

On March 12, 1970, the 3rd Brigade, 101st began rebuilding abandoned Fire Support Base Ripcord which relied, as with most remote bases at the time, on a helicopter lifeline to get supplies in and the personnel out. 

The firebase was to be used for a planned offensive by the 101st to destroy NVA supply bases in the mountains overlooking the valley. Located on the eastern edge of the valley and taking place at the same time as the Cambodian Incursion, the operation was considered covert.

As the 101st Airborne Division planned the attack on enemy supply bases, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) was secretly observing their activities. 

From March 12 until June 30, the NVA was sporadically attacking the firebase. After weeks of reconnaissance by the NVA, on the morning of July 1, 1970 the North Vietnamese Army launched a mortar attack on the firebase.

During the 23-day siege, many were killed, including Colonel Andre Lucas, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, and First Lieutenant Bob Kalsu, the only active pro athlete to be killed during the war.

Kalsu was an All-American tackle at the University of Oklahoma and an eighth-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills of the American Football League in 1968. Kalsu was a starting guard in 1968. He played the entire season and was the Bills' team rookie-of-the-year. After his rookie season, he enlisted in the Army to fulfill an ROTC requirement from college and was sent to Vietnam Nov. 15, 1969, as a first lieutenant.

On July 21, 1970, the base received word that a damaged helicopter would be coming in for an emergency landing, and that enemy troops would be in close pursuit. Kalsu left the bunker to warn the soldiers serving under him when a mortar shell went off 15 feet from him, killing him instantly.

Kalsu left behind a wife and two children – one of whom was born just days after Kalsu's death. A base in Iraq has been named after him, and he is on the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame.

The actor, Chuck Norris, also had a brother who was killed in the battle.

Fighting from four hilltops, surrounded, and outnumbered nearly ten to one, U.S. forces brought about heavy losses on eight enemy battalions before an aerial withdrawal under heavy mortar, anti-aircraft, and small arms fire. After the U.S. Army withdrew from the firebase, Air Force B-52 heavy bombers were sent in to carpet bomb the area.

By end of day on July 1st, a Chinook CH-47 had been shot down, and there were fifteen wounded. At 1030 on July 2nd, another Chinook was shot down.

On July 23rd, the final day of the battle, from around 6 a.m. until around noon, FSB Ripcord was being evacuated. The Chinooks took out the artillery and heavy equipment first.

Eight Chinooks were hit by fire, including mortars and .51-cals atop Hill 805, and AK-47 fire from NVA in the debris at the base of Ripcord. Another two Chinooks were shot down, the latter crashing into the previously destroyed 105mm guns of B/2-319th, preventing their extraction. 

During the extraction of the infantry, two Cobras attacked helicopters and twelve Hueys (UH-1) were hit. There were a total of 22 Chinook sorties and 100 Huey sorties.

The last living man off Ripcord was a Kit Carson Scout. "A Cobra saw him walking around," a door gunner wrote. They immediately had a LOH (Light observation helicopter) OH-6A go in to get him. They barely got him off in time. 

Five minutes after his rescue, several hundred NVA charged up the hill and threw satchel charges into the empty bunkers and operations center. At 1225, the final extraction began.

The heroics of those who fought on Ripcord have not fully been properly conveyed. Since the disaster of Hamburger Hill, Hill 937 on Ap Bia Mountain in May of 1969, the media was deterred from reporting other major battles.

The only documented pieces of Ripcord come from Army photographers and film crews, pictures and films from those who fought and verbal accounts of those who served. 

It was not until the Ripcord Association was created that members started to come together in reunions and other gatherings to talk about their memories of the battle. 

In 2000, the Ripcord Association website www.ripcordassociation.com was created and is managed by Frank Marshall.  There is also a Ripcord Association Group on Facebook (by Anthony Critchlow).

It is the hope of the association that with documentaries such as this, that the true significance of the battle of Ripcord will never be forgotten.

Reviews of the "Ghosts of Ripcord" Preview:

"In every one's life, one looks back to see what he or she has accomplished.

In your case, the documentary you did for us on Ripcord will always be a shining moment of many accomplishments to come.  For me it was a powerful film. It brought back memories of the experiences I had at Ripcord and gave me a better idea of what went on. One realized that something was happening, but not the magnitude of the situation at the time.

Getting the the story from all the units involved in the operation was enlightening as well as your getting the events of the situation first hand. I have never been more proud to have served with the Veterans of Ripcord.
If anything your film has given the Vietnam Veteran the respect he deserves by showing the sacrifices he made while over there.
John, thank you for taking the time do this project and for your interest in us. You are now a member of Ripcord."
Curaheee Brother
Tim Newman 
Forever Proud

"Everyone who was on Ripcord has their own small personal experience of the battle, but after seeing The Ghosts of Ripcord Documentary premier, I feel all of us now have a much better understanding of the entire battle and all that went on. I learned a lot I didn't know before. I thought Temple University did an excellent job of telling our story in the time they did. Great job!"
George D. Murphy
B 2/320 Arty

"I was overwhelmed with emotions after viewing your film Saturday night. Actually, I haven't slept a whole lot since then, as so many memories have flooded back in. It is absolutely the best documentary I have seen, which so accurately relates the story of the guys on the ground. 

Most such films come through the filter of those who were not actually in harm's way. Yours, so eloquently told by the veterans on camera, was spot on. It captured the gritty reality of that event, including the understandable bitterness about some of the tactical decisions that were made, which ended up costing lives, and the quiet heroism of those brave men who endured, and who took care of each other.

I was a pilot with the Lancers, Co. B, 158th Assault Helicopter Bn. As such, our role was solely to support the guys on the ground. If we could actually get in and out of Ripcord, or any of the "LZs" surrounding the FSB, without getting shot down, we were out of harm's way until the next sortie. Each trip in was an adventure in just trying to limit ours and the ground troops exposure to all of the weaponry the NVA could bring to bear, which was formidable.

The guys on the ground, however, had no respite from that onslaught. I salute them all, and you, too, for telling their story.

I could not be prouder of the number of times our aircraft, with the telltale white dot on the tail boom, were included in the footage. I can now show my children, that "We were there".
Bill Walker
(Lancer 17)
Co B, 158th Aslt. Hel. Bn., 101st Abn, Div. 1970

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Sport of Kings

by Lloyd Cates

Lloyd Cates

Combat is the world’s ultimate sport, the “Super Bowl” of life itself.

Other sports exist to serve as theatre for the masses as they eat their popcorn, drink their beer and place their bets.

Combat requires the consummate bet, as the ante is your sanity and the wager, your life. It is man on man, will against will, and stink on stink.

The playing field lies at the intersection of Kiss Your Ass Goodbye and The Gates of Hell. 

This is not a game for bush-leaguers, or the timid, and spectators are discouraged. No official score is kept, but the field is strewn with winners and losers. The pay is low and the risk is high but all you need to participate is backbone and a short memory. A player would be well advised to bring his “A-Game”. 

Lloyd Cates
Come on boys, its hotter than hell, it looks like rain, we’re suited up and we ain’t showered in a month. It’s a perfect day to die. 

 Somebody kick the Devil in the nuts and let’s get this show started.

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale
"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate, anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite, as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us." ~Susan Wittig Albert