"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

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Movies and War

Robert and I just finished watching all ten episodes of "The Pacific", a 2010 HBO special, which he downloaded from a server online. I have to say, while I understood that it wasn't about Vietnam, it was still very difficult to watch. My second marriage was to a Marine Vietnam Vet, so I've watched many films about war -- to be honest, some were not really by choice: "Saving Private Ryan", "Full Metal Jacket", "Band of Brothers", "The Deer Hunter" and I could add more, but I won't.

For me, "The Pacific" wasn't so much about war as it was about personal discovery -- war shown from the point of view that war, itself, tries soldiers' souls, and minds and all of their moral aspects. It showed all too well how the war felt and how it changed the men, and I couldn't help but relate all of it to Doug; the things he must have seen as an army medic, and the many ways he would have been changed.

The movie brought me to tears several times, especially the last episode, when the men were all returning home -- except for the Medal of Honor recipient who was killed in action during his second tour in the Pacific. His wife of only seven months gave his medal to his parents, which she met for the first time when the war was finally over. This was difficult for me and I found myself relating to her in a very personal way, even though it was only a movie.

I have to say that this series was different from most war movies I've seen -- yes, it was brutal but it was also an eloquent story that was finally less about how men fight and die than what happens to them when they fight and survive. I saw how character and sheer, unfair randomness combined to produce cruelty or decency and I felt deeply for the men who returned home at last.  It also underscores the honor, respect and understanding due our veterans, no matter what war they fought in.

Welcome Home.

“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

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Just a Common Soldier

Vet Memorial

(A Soldier Died Today)
by A. Lawrence Vaincourt

He was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past.
Of a war that he had fought in and the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies; they were heroes, every one.

And tho' sometimes, to his neighbors, his tales became a joke,
All his Legion buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke.
But we'll hear his tales no longer for old Bill has passed away,
And the world's a little poorer, for a soldier died today.

He will not be mourned by many, just his children and his wife,
For he lived an ordinary and quite uneventful life.
Held a job and raised a family, quietly going his own way,
And the world won't note his passing, though a soldier died today.

When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great.
Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young,
But the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.

Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land
A guy who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man?
Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?

A politician's stipend and the style in which he lives
Are sometimes disproportionate to the service that he gives.
While the ordinary soldier, who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal and perhaps, a pension small.

It's so easy to forget them for it was so long ago,
That the old Bills of our Country went to battle, but we know
It was not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys,
Who won for us the freedom that our Country now enjoys.

Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand,
Would you want a politician with his ever-shifting stand?
Or would you prefer a soldier, who has sworn to defend
His home, his kin and Country and would fight until the end?

He was just a common soldier and his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us we may need his like again.
For when countries are in conflict, then we find the soldier's part
Is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.

If we cannot do him honor while he's here to hear the praise,
Then at least let's give him homage at the ending of his days.
Perhaps just a simple headline in a paper that would say,
Our Country is in mourning, for a soldier died today.

© 1987 A. Lawrence Vaincourt

My thanks to Craig Latham for sending this to me today in an email.  For those who are interested, here's a website with several books by Mr. Vaincourt.  A. Lawrence Vaincourt Books

“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, February 21, 2011

TAPS: Michael Van Strien

My Friends,

Whenever I hear the familiar notes of “Taps”, tears always come to my eyes. I’ve never known the full story of this ‘martial’ song, which is so often played to honor the fallen ... it always sounds so sad.

Read about the song, and you’ll see and hear and I, for one, came away hearing this wonderful song in a new manner. Taps now will bring me to a state of honor and joy for my comrades in arms, not sadness.

God is good.
Every Breath, His Grace.

The conductor of the orchestra is Andre Rieu from Holland. The young lady, Melissa Venema, her trumpet, and her rendition of Taps is guaranteed to make your hair stand on end.

Many of you may never have heard Taps played in its entirety, for all of the men and women that have died for you to have the freedom you have in America. This is an opportunity you won't want to miss and I guarantee you'll never forget it. Amazingly beautiful, Melissa Venema, age 13, is the trumpet soloist.

Here is Taps played in its entirety. The original version of Taps was called Last Post, and was written by Daniel Butterfield in 1801. It was rather lengthy and formal, as you will hear in this clip, so in 1862, it was shortened to 24 notes and re-named Taps. Melissa Venema is playing it on a trumpet, whereby the original was played on a bugle.

Watch at this site:  TAPS solo

***Thank you for sharing this wonderful video, Michael -- it's truly magnificent.  It still brought tears to my eyes ... but tears of pride, respect, honor, and joy.  ~CJ

“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

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

... a Pin Drop

This was sent to me today in an email from a friend.  I wish I could say I checked it out through Snopes to validate it, but I decided I didn't really care whether it actually happened or not.  It sends a message, as is, to everyone.

At a time when our president and other politicians tend to apologize for our country's prior actions, here's a refresher on how some of our former patriots handled negative comments about our country:

JFK'S Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, was in France in the early 60's when DeGaulle decided to pull out of NATO.  DeGaulle said he wanted all of the US military out of France as soon as possible.

Rusk responded, "Does that include those who are buried here?"

DeGaulle did not respond.

... you could have heard a pin drop.

When in England at a fairly large conference, Colin Powell was asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury if our plans for Iraq were just another example of empire building by George Bush.

Mr. Powell answered by saying, "Over the years, the United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our borders. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those that did not return."

... you could have heard a pin drop.

There was a conference in France, where a number of international engineers were taking part, including French and American engineers. During a break, one of the French engineers came back into the room saying, "Have you heard the latest dumb stunt Bush has done?  He has sent an aircraft carrier to Indonesia to help the tsunami victims. What does he intend to do, bomb them?"

A Boeing engineer stood up and quietly replied:  "Our carriers have three hospitals on board that can treat several hundred people; they are nuclear-powered and can supply emergency electrical power to shore facilities; they have three cafeterias with the capacity to feed 3,000 people three meals a day; they can produce several thousand gallons of fresh water from sea water each day; and they carry half a dozen helicopters for use in transporting victims and the injured to and from their flight deck. We have eleven such ships; how many does France have?"

... you could have heard a pin drop.

A U.S. Navy Admiral was attending a naval conference that included Naval Admirals from the U.S., England, Canada, Australia and France.  At a cocktail reception, he found himself standing with a large group of officers that included personnel from most of those countries. Everyone was chatting away in English as they sipped their drinks but a French admiral suddenly complained that, whereas Europeans learn many languages, Americans learn only English. He then asked, "Why is it that we always have to speak English in these conferences rather than speaking French?"

Without hesitating, the American Admiral replied, "Maybe it's because the Brit's, Canadians, Aussie's and Americans arranged it so you wouldn't have to speak German."

... you could have heard a pin drop.  

Proud to be an American!  ~CJ

“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

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

The National Anthem

The National Anthem at the Super Bowl - this is an editorial sent to me via email by my brother-in-law, Dennis Kempf. Neither of us knows who wrote it, but they are my sentiments exactly ... and right on the mark.

“With all of the kindness I can muster, I give this one piece of advice to the next pop star who is asked to sing the National Anthem at a sporting event:

Save the vocal gymnastics and the physical gyrations for your concerts. Please, sing this song the way you were taught to sing it in kindergarten —- straight up, with no styling.

Sing the National Anthem with the constant awareness that there are soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines watching you from bases and outposts all over the world. Don’t make them cringe with your self-centered ego gratification. Sing it as if you are standing before a row of 86-year-old WW II vets who are wearing their Purple Hearts, Silver Stars, and flag pins on their cardigans and you want them to be proud of you for honoring them and the country they love —- not because you want them to think you are a superstar musician. They could already see that from the costumes, the makeup and the entourages.

Sing “The Star Spangled Banner” with all of the heart-felt courtesy and humility and love that tells the audience, and the whole world, that our National Anthem is about America, not you.”

“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

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Friday, February 11, 2011

PTSD: Al Comeau

Today, Al Comeau left this as a comment on the January 1, 2011, blog post by David Westfall, "More on PTSD". I felt what Al had to say might be overlooked, if left merely as a comment on another article. This is well-written, poignant, timely, and well worth being posted here as an article on its own merits. I'm sure you will all agree.

I am a Vietnam Veteran who served with the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) from November 1965 to December 1966. I am receiving 100% VA Disability Compensation and Social Security Disability for the disability of PTSD.

I have chronic PTSD and I receive treatment and counseling once a week at the VA Medical Center with a PTSD Nurse Clinician, a PTSD Group, as well as a PTSD Psychiatrist and Resident Psychiatrists, who also sit in on our groups.

I also contributed an article, "A VIETNAM VETERAN", to CJ's Memoirs From Nam on January 28, 2011.

In answer to CJ's question, "Can a widow of a Vietnam Veteran have PTSD?" My answer is yes, absolutely! My wife has this affliction and receives similar medications as mine to help her. She receives counseling and has, what is referred to as, Secondary PTSD, as a result of the trauma inflicted upon her by me, over the years. My nightmares were so violent and of such a nature that I assaulted her during sleep and was awakened while choking her on one occasion.

Besides my nightmares, I was often verbally abusive or snapped, if you will, and placed into lockdown at the VA, twice, even spending one whole Christmas Season in that facility. I also drank heavily and was almost arrested for threatening my wife and the police with guns. The guns have been taken away. I am no longer drinking and the treatment has brought me to a better place, however, the journey will never be over for me or my wife. The nightmares continue, I do not sleep well, and other difficulties persist with PTSD.

Yes - A Vietnam war widow can have PTSD!

Al Comeau
34 Roland Street
Waterbury, CT 06706
Tel: (203) 419-0378 (Home)
(203) 597-7687 (Cell)

[Thank you, once again, Al.  Your thoughtful article and answer here has helped very much. ~CJ]

“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

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Military Health Issues: Tiffany Best

The following article is from a young woman who contacted me recently, asking whether I would accept a guest blog post from her concerning health issues for Military veterans.  After she described what she had in mind, I was  very impressed by her knowledge of the subject and I invited her to send the article.     

"My name is Tiffany Best and I'm a student at the University of Central Florida. I've always been a very big health advocate and I'm trying to expand my writings so more people can understand the dangers of these less-known topics. My goal is to educate as many people as possible, who may be affected or know someone who could be affected."

War is nothing trivial. It may not always be necessary, but the men and women who fight for and protect our country always are. They are brave, intelligent, able, and absolutely necessary. Though we can’t always protect them from many of the danger they face overseas, we can protect their long term health through spreading awareness of dangers like mesothelioma and asbestosis.

As early as 1920, the U. S. Military has been using a natural mineral as a building supply. Used for its fire-resistant qualities in ships, planes, and other parts, asbestos is perfectly safe if undisturbed. In fact, asbestos was thought of as a safe and inexpensive material. But when the materials that contain asbestos are cut, sanded, broken, or burnt, microscopic fibers are released into the air.

Because asbestos was often used in materials located in enclosed spaces, men and women who worked with or near the damaged asbestos end up inhaling or ingesting it. Over time, this causes mesothelioma. Mesothelioma symptoms include a cough, shortness of breath, and chest heaviness. Because these symptoms are subtle, they are mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed and the required treatment often postponed as a result.

Asbestosis is also caused by prolonged exposure to toxic asbestos, but results in the scarring of the tissue of the lungs. Such scarring prevents the lungs from contracting and expanding properly, which in turn inhibits gas exchange. Without the gas exchange necessary for cellular respiration, muscle and brain functions can be impaired. Symptoms of asbestos are almost identical to mesothelioma.

Veterans who experience asbestosis and mesothelioma symptoms should be encouraged to request a cancer screening from their doctor. Screenings include chest x-rays, MRIs, CT scans, and PET scans. Because of the latency period of mesothelioma and asbestosis (20-50 years), veterans may not recognize symptoms until the cancer has spread to other vital organs. By then, treatment is either difficult or impossible.

If you or someone you know and love has served in the military, whether in World War II, the Vietnam Conflict, or during today’s troubled times, impress upon them the need to screen for cancer and asbestosis. Our men and women fought and still fight for us; it’s time protect them as best we can.



[Thank you, Tiffany.  Your article is well-written and very timely!  My warmest regards, and best wishes in your studies!  ~CJ]

“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

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

This Time of Year: by David Westfall

David Westfall

This comes to us today from David Westfall, a regular contributor here at Memoirs.

His articles, while describing his time as a Navy helicopter crewman so well, always seem to touch our hearts, too ... CJ

This Time of Year

by David Westfall

I hate this time of year. My anxiety goes up and my heart aches. I'm sure many of you can understand. Although at times it seems like it just happened, it's been almost 18 years.

For those of you that don't know me, to make it simple, I was a helicopter crewman in the Navy. I operated all of the sensors and was a door gunner and rescue swimmer.

My "foxhole" wasn't in the dirt or sand, it was the helicopter. That's where I spent thousands of hours of my life. For 50% of that time, it was just three of us: me, the pilot and the co-pilot. The other 50% found my junior crewman in there with us, learning from the master.

Much of our time in the air was spent doing routine patrols in the South Pacific, Indian Ocean and Gulf. Some of it was spent in fun places like Somalia, Panama and other hostile parts of the world.

Because of the recent death of a very close family member, my nerves are already on edge and my heart raw. I normally don't get into this funk until early March. I'm guessing most of the people that read this lost someone in the military -- either a family member or a very close friend -- so I know you all understand what I'm talking about.

My first helicopter, the SH-2F SeaSprite, was an old airframe. They didn't call it the Kaman Coffin for nothing. Over the years, a lot of good men I knew went down in it. Some survived without a scratch, some are crippled for life, and some we never got back. The sea is a cold heartless bitch sometimes.

You can imagine how close you become with the other men when you are trapped together in that flying can. There often wasn't much to do but talk. We talked about our lives, our dreams, our families. We knew each other about as well as any men could know each other.

I was assigned to a detachment that was getting ready to deploy to the Gulf. We had been together for almost a year training and making short cruises.

A couple of months before our deployment date, they shuffled some of the crewmen around. I was assigned to a new detachment that was deploying at the same time as my original one. We were going to be in the same battle group. Everyone was pumped up.

Two birds from the same squadron deploying together just doubles the fun. My guys from my old detachment were some of the best. Kelly, my old junior crewman, took over as senior crewman and was assigned a new junior crewman. The pilots remained the same on the old detachment.

Over a month went by and we were now in the Indian Ocean. We were heading to the Gulf. The birds were fitted with some new avionics and M-60s in anticipation of getting into the 1st Gulf War. We were all pumped up. Loaded and locked, ready to rock.

Right before we entered the straights to get into the Gulf, my ship was rerouted to Somalia. We were out flying a double pump, 6 hours, when the ship made the turn south. Our fellow squadron members with their bird and ship headed into the straights on their way to the Gulf. Both birds were up flying at the same time and we chatted on the radio for awhile until we were out of range of each other.

Our helo landed on our ship about 3 AM, and being exhausted, I hit the rack. I slept in late, until 6:30 AM, and then got up for chow. I swung by the hanger before eating. One of the pilots was up there and, for some reason, he had a real bad attitude. I asked him "what was up his ass", and he glared at me. That's when he told me our other detachment's bird had gone down in the Straights, flying a security patrol in front of the battlegroup. I thought he was joking. Then I saw one of the other pilots in the corner crying. I couldn't breathe.

The Officer In Charge, Lyle, was in the bird that went down. He had been my OIC. He was 36 years old and had just gotten married for the first time in his life, right before we deployed. He had also just bought a sweet new Mitsubishi GT.

Jim, the other pilot, was a true child prodigy, who's short but extraordinary life, had led him into many adventures and, finally, to be a Navy Pilot.

Then there was Kelly, my old junior crewman. He was like a little brother to me. He was short, not physically short, but short in that he didn't have much time left on his enlistment. He actually extended his enlistment to make this cruise. He was saving money so he could attend college in his home state of Texas in the fall.

These were guys I had spent countless hours with, both in the helo and out. We had trained together, drank together and opened our souls to each other. These were my brothers. And now, now they were gone.

The rescue ships and aircraft found some seat cushions, a helmet, and a few other bits of debris. It was many months before the salvage crews could bring up the helo from the bottom of the ocean. One body was found inside.

During the months that followed the crash, we did our mission in Somalia and the Gulf. Back in Hawaii, the squadron held memorial services for those we lost. Those of us still in the Gulf region were given a short 5 minute prayer with the Chaplain on our ship as a way to say goodbye. Then it was back to the mission.

Although more than a few years have passed, I still think of them often. I see their faces. I picture the cars they drove, what their wives or girlfriends looked like, even the designs on their flight helmets. I remember what they wanted to do with their lives. I know what kind of soda and beer they drank.

Yes, the pain has faded some, but it will always be there. For the rest of my life I will remember and honor these 3 great guys that I shared so much with. Maybe at some point, my heart won't feel like it is going to explode when this time of year comes around. I know my loss pales compared to some of yours, but it hurts badly just the same.

Fair winds and following seas, my friends.

“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