"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

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Message of Thanks

In the six days that this blog has been online, the greatest surprise, the greatest magic, to me has been the healing I have felt, personally, by sharing along with you the wonderful memoirs and poems you have sent in and the incredible, accompanying emails.

I have been given a rare gift for which I am extremely thankful. I am seeing and sharing the pain we've all felt for so many years from both sides. While the pain came from two different directions, mine as a widow, yours as vets, pain is pain and there's no getting around it, pain hurts. What I am seeing is, there's really no difference in how we've dealt with it through the years. Each of us carries it along with us, but it's buried -- packaged much like an onion, to use that as a metaphor.

In my life, each time I've faced one of those memories that hurt, it peeled a layer off of that onion, and there was a small healing that took place within me. I've been through counseling at many different stages in my life, two divorces, the hellish nightmares, anger at Doug for dying, anger at myself for not dying, too, I raged at God for taking someone so good, while prisons are full of evil ... and I've seen the Moving Wall and relived the agony as it brought me to my knees. Each layer I've peeled off has been a small step forward, one step closer to healing.

Thank you.

God Bless America, and God Bless you ...

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mike: Death of a Soul

I don't know too much about Mike, other than he's a very nice guy and a good friend that I met through Facebook. What I do know is, this is the very first time that he has shared this poem with anyone at all. After I received the poem, I asked him how long ago he wrote it. He told me it was in 1969, while he was in Rehab.

Mike has requested that I not used his last name and I will respect that. In his words, "I would really prefer my last name not be used. I spent 2 years after I got home trying to function again and this is how I feel ..." I will tell people that I spent six years in USMC, two tours in Vietnam, from 1969 to 1975.

I would like to now share a poem, written by Mike in 1969:

Death of a Soul
Written in 1969
by Mike

As I sit here in my hollowed out hole,
waiting for the next bullet to take my soul
I often wonder what I would die for
as another man falls and they're asking for more.
If I should die and be dragged from this field
would I have made a difference, what did my soul yield?
But I continue to fight, but for what I'm not sure
is it for my country, are my motives pure?
But fight I must do, so I can go home
not like the others, who die here alone.
Am I proud of my service, did I fight for a cause,
when our government still wants us to take another pause?
Let them take back, what we fought so hard to get
for getting the lives that it cost us to get.
So I want to say to Americans today
that we fought the good fight, no matter what you say.
You spit in our face and called us your names
but for all that had died, they did not die in shame.
We did what was asked, without asking them why.
We did it for you, even if it meant that we'd die.
Please don't pity us, don't hold out your hand,
all we ask is that somehow you'll understand.
Lets not make the mistakes that cost us so much
remember the lives and all that they touched.
Don't let us die in vain,or our memories past
without at least acknowledging what we did in our past.
I came home without even a scratch but so many others
gave their all and they gave me a patch.
I don't feel so good about getting back home now
because so many didn't come home I honor them now
with words that I write, tell their families today,
stand proud of your sons, and the price that they paid.

Thank you, my friend, for sharing.
God Bless you -- God Bless America.


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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Michael Van Strien: The Wild Jungle

I'm proud to again introduce my friend, Michael Van Strien (3/17/49). During 1970, he served with the 101st Airborne Division's 34th Public Information Department (PID) as a combat correspondent. He was stationed in Phu Bai in Northern I Corps, which is approximately twenty-five miles from the DMZ.

Michael has been happily married for twenty-seven years. He and his wife, Jackie, have one son, Micah. He has a B.S. and an M.S. in Communication Theory from Illinois State University, and an A.A. in Speech and Drama. Michael is an Associate Professor of Speech and has taught at Richland Community College, Decatur, Illinois, and Tri-County Technical College, Pendleton, South Carolina. He was also the Director of Forensics (Competitive Speech) at both schools. In 1989, they won the National Tournament for Small Schools.

Michael Van Strien's Memories from Nam
“The ‘Wild’ Jungle”
by Michael Van Strien

It was June, 1970, and our Lieutenant just stepped out of the daily meeting at Battalion Headquarters. He was steaming down the hallway, while we were all waiting in the office of the 34th Public Information Detachment of the 101st Airborne Division in Phu Bai, Northern ‘I’ Corps, in South Vietnam.

As the Lt. rolled into the press office, he seemed agitated as he bellowed out, “Ya’ll are going out this time and the General wants some good stuff.”

Phil, a likable guy from Raleigh, North Carolina, yelled out, “Oh damn! I’m so used to reporting crap!”

The Lt. didn’t seem amused as he told us to sit down, shut up, and listen to our assignments. “Phil, just for that smart mouth, you’ll be going out with the D Company 2/327th for the next two weeks. They’ll be leaving for the A Shau in two hours!”

Now the A Shau was just about THE most foreboding and dangerous place in all of ‘I Corps.’ In fact, in our hooch, we had a great aerial shot of the "Valley" with the following quote in large letters: “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here.”

Anybody, grunt or not, who got assigned to the "Valley" took everything VERY seriously, because one mistake could be your last. So, Phil got his rucksack situated, cleaned his M-16, and then headed out to the Heli-pad. He gave his orders to the First Lt. of the 1st Platoon of the D Company 2/327th “No Slack” Battalion. Everyone boarded their birds and they were off to the Valley.

After two days of humping up and down the very thick triple canopy jungle, there had been no incidents. After having a brief breakfast of C-rations and then walking a couple of miles, it had become time for Phil to ... take care of "nature’s business". In the jungle where there were people who want to kill you, even going to the bathroom took “the Army way” of getting it done, and you REALLY found out who your friends were. You see, you had to get a ‘friend’ to step away from the squad's position, go with you into the brush, and then he guarded you while you took care of business.

So, there squatted Phil with his olive drab fatigues down around his knees. Now, picture his friend who stood idly by --- on guard. All of a sudden, the man on guard got this terrified look on his face and his body became frozen. He didn’t say a word. He just slowly turned and ran off, back toward the platoon.

Well, as you might imagine, poor Phil was squatting there in this precarious position thinking that the entire Vietnamese Army was right behind him with their weapons pointed at him … NOT! Slowly, Phil turned his head to get a quick look. Just fifteen feet to his rear (literally) was a tiger -- and this was a LARGE tiger! Once Phil fixed his eye on the tiger and it focused on him, it began a deep, low, guttural growl. Phil no longer had to go to the bathroom! In that one instant, Phil had to determine what the hell he was going to do. You see---his M-16 was leaning against a tree a couple of feet from him, and the platoon was about twenty feet away along with his not-so-good guard. His mind quickly made up, he decided to grab his pants and RUN for it. Just as he grabbed his waist band to haul it north, he heard gun fire. It was three guys from the platoon -- his bare ass was saved! Whew!

Turns out, one of the guys from the platoon was a hunter from Montana, so he skinned the tiger and rolled the meat up in plastic. He said it was good eating (yuck). They measured the tiger from the tip of the tail to the tip of the nose --- it was fifteen feet! Now THAT is a Tiger Tail/Tale for a Screaming Eagle … No Slack!

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Michael Van Strien: Phu Bai 1970

God Bless the Red, White, and Blue - "These colors don't run!"

I'm proud to introduce my friend, Michael Van Strien (3/17/49). During 1970, he served with the 101st Airborne Division's 34th Public Information Department (PID) as a combat correspondent. He was stationed in Phu Bai in Northern I Corps, which is approximately twenty-five miles from the DMZ.

Michael has been happily married for twenty-seven years. He and his wife, Jackie, have one son, Micah. He has a B.S. and an M.S. in Communication Theory from Illinois State University, and an A.A. in Speech and Drama. Michael is an Associate Professor of Speech and has taught at Richland Community College, Decatur, Illinois, and Tri-County Technical College, Pendleton, South Carolina. He was also the Director of Forensics (Competitive Speech) at both schools. In 1989, they won the National Tournament for Small Schools.

An Excerpt from the Book
"A Screaming Eagles' Tales"
by Michael Van Strien

The date was 1970. I had just finished my advanced training as a Combat Journalist and I was just about to head to Vietnam. The night before, I had let roughly fifty of my friends throw a tremendous going away party for me and it really rocked.

The next morning, before it was time to leave, I had breakfast with my mom. As I hugged her goodbye, I tried my best to reassure her because she was visably nervous. I told her not to worry, I'd be fine, and I headed for Bill's Thunderbird and a ride to Chicago's O'Hare Airport.

After flying to Newark, New Jersey, I got a cab to Ft. Dix. I spent two full days there, before we all got on board the longest jet I ever had seen. Eighteen hours later, we arrived in Hawaii. From there, we were escorted to a private bar area where we were put under guard ... like we'd all run away, or something. I mean, we're on an island! Then, we got back onto the plane with the next stopover in Guam ... I mean GUAM ... it was a very small stopping place.

At last, we landed in Lng Binh, which was a HUGE base in country. We were trucked out to a temporary billeting area for incoming troops. Twenty minutes later, we were in housing when the first rocket attack took place. Needless to say, we were terrified. The troops that were stationed there acted like this happened all the time -- like it was a walk in the park. Geez, were we ever the FNG's (Fucking New Guys)!

Three times a day, they called everyone out into the main yard and called out your name and the last four digits of your SSAN. Then, they announced where you were going to be stationed. Now, to help you KNOW where that is, they have a mapboard made out of six sheets of 4 X 5 plywood with the whole map of Vietnam on it. When they called our name and unit, we went over to the map. You always had to start at the very bottom of Vietnam to start looking for where you were going to go, moving your finger up slowly, looking at the same time you're tracing the units with your finger.

So, what I was looking for was where the 101st Airborne Division was. I started out looking in the most southern part of the map. I traced the units with my finger very slowly, not wanting to miss it -- but the place NEVER comes up. I kept looking, but there was no Screaming Eagle! Then suddenly, when I got within an inch or two from the DMZ (North Vietnam), I saw it -- there was the picture of the Screaming Eagle --- Oh My God! I'm going to die!

Well, I headed out to find the correct helipad and then I started the hop to the airport. From there, I was put on a C-130 with what were obviously new guys, and a couple of older guys who had been there for a long time.

One of the guys asked where I was headed and I told him, "Phu Bai, near Hue."

He said, "Oh man, you're going to love it there -- they have hot C's."
What he was saying was, we would have hot C-rations -- canned food that was heated in garbage cans full of hot water.

I asked him how long he'd been there and how old he was. He told me he'd been there for eight months. He said he was eighteen, freaking eighteen. I mean, I'm twenty! Oh my God, this was going to be a weird place.

Anyway, I signed in at Phu Bai. This was to be my new place of work, and it was on a HUGE base. I had to get ready to go out with the troops to gather information for stories, take photos and just generally stay alive in the process. I never thought I would meet so many incredible men and have such fine co-workers like my buddy, Craig Latham. I learned a lot about myself during that year ...

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Combat Medic

"And I'm proud to be an American,
where at least I know I'm free.
And I won't forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me."
~Lee Greenwood

This story was compiled from members of:
34th Public Information Detachment
101st Airborne Division (Airmobile)
1971 Republic of S. Vietnam.

Members of the 34th PID were:
Craig Latham
Charles Kahn
Mike Van Strien

The sharp crack of an enemy rifle and the groan of a wounded Screaming Eagle trooper break the jungle's silence. In one simultaneous movement, everyone in the platoon hits the dirt to look for the enemy. All remain motionless, except for one man. He crawls through the low vines and shrubbery to the wounded trooper.

While the two forces exchange fire, the medic quickly throws off his rucksack and begins treating the bullet wound in the trooper's lower leg. After cutting away the man's pant leg up to his knee, the medic reaches into his aid bag and pulls out a pressure bandage, places it on the wound and winds and ties the two straps around the man's leg. He reaches into his green bag a second time, pulling out an intravenous set and a pint bottle of clear saline solution. Ripping apart the sterile plastic bag that houses the set, he takes out the needle and tube, connects the tube to the bottle of solution, and then to the needle. After rolling up the wounded man's sleeve, a tourniquet is placed around his upper arm. Then the medic inserts the needle into the soldier's forearm. The bottle of vital, blood-replacing liquid will flow into the man's veins for 25 minutes, enough time to sustain the soldier until a "Medevac" helicopter can fly in to take him to the hospital.

With three pieces of equipment -- pressure dressings, a bottle of saline solution, and an intravenous set -- Screaming Eagle medics have saved the lives of countless comrades. That's their job -- "to conserve the fighting strength".

There is one combat medic in every infantry platoon. Almost without exception, the medic is called "Doc" by his friends, a title which he earns. He is the infantryman's family doctor, helping the sick and injured, soothing the distraught, and befriending all.

A soldier can become a combat medic in one of two ways. He either volunteers, or he has an aptitude for it, which makes it imperative that he be trained to become a medic.

The combat medic arrives in Vietnam after 10 weeks of training at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. Half of his training is devoted to hospital work. The other half is spent on doing tourniquets, intravenous injections, pressure dressings and splints. A large amount of his time is spent practicing the life-saving steps on another trainee.

The last week of training is spent on a field training exercise, climaxed by a life-saving trek. The class is divided into four-man litter teams, which have to carry a wounded man one quarter mile in the dark through thick foliage, barbed wire, and streams, keeping the patient protected at all times.

"You don't have much need for a litter team in the 101st with the Medevac helicopters," said one medic, "but the exercise enforces the importance of doing your job in spite of all obstacles."

"You get a short familiarization course in medications and minor ailments," said another medic, "but when you get to Vietnam, you have to become skillful at treating the ailments peculiar to this country. You have to learn which medication works best on a particular fungus, on a particular man. Some men will even tell you what medication to use, because it has worked for them in the past. You also pick up other bits of experience from other medics who have already been in the field for awhile."

A green, zippered aid bag one-and-a-half feet long by a foot wide by six inches deep, strapped to the medic's rucksack contains everything he needs to treat anything from a combat casualty to an infected boil. Fully-loaded, the aid bag weighs 25 to 30 pounds and not an ounce is wasted. The medic has to work with what he carries on his back. And to be sure he has all he can carry, he uses his rucksack to hold extra bottles of saline or dextrin solution, giving up space that would normally be used for some of his personal items. Strapped to his rucksack, he also carries extra canteens of water for heat casualties in the summer, and for fever or chills during the winter monsoon.

A normal day for a combat medic begins at dawn with sick call. Several troops gather around his rucksack. The "Doc" quickly washes the dirt from a cut on the first man's arm with hydrogen peroxide, dries it with gauze, and bandages it.

"Let me dress it again tonight," he tells the man as he leaves, then turns to the next patient.

"How's the hand?"

"Still swollen." The medic pulls out his scissors and cuts the wrapped gauze from the soldier's hand, swollen from a bacterial infection.

"Have you been taking the penicillin pills every six hours?"


"Okay, I'll dress it again today, If it doesn't get better by tomorrow, we'll get you to the aid station and get it cleaned up."

Five or six patients later, sick call ends and "Doc" makes his rounds, passing out the daily malaria pills. Then the platoon "rucks up" to move out on patrol. He stays with the patrol wherever it goes; walking, slipping, and sweating along with every other member of the unit. As they move, he is as alert for danger as the rest but, at the same time, he is keenly aware that only he has the life-saving skills which may be needed at any moment. His only wish is that that time will never come.

Whatever the roll -- "Doc", friend or both -- the medic serves with a sense of devotion and responsibility that marks him as a "Man with a mission". Often that mission involves a life or death battle; usually the medic and life win.

Thank you, members of the 34th PID. It was a great honor to post this story. God Bless you for all you did for us.
My warmest regards,

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