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World War I, and War, generally.

Monday, November 13th, 2017

Saturday, Nov. 11, turned out to be a very significant day for me.

The intention was to be at the Veterans for Peace Bell Ringing at the Minnesota History Center (MHS), and that was accomplished. The same day, the 99th anniversary of the end of WWI, at the same place, was the final day of the excellent “WWI America” exhibit. Later that afternoon, the outstanding film The World Is My Country, about Garry Davis, a WWII bomber pilot who gave up his U.S> citizenship, disgusted by war.

Those who lead wars always portray them as necessary and thus good (our “side”) versus evil (theirs). It is politically useful to have an enemy. War is not nearly as simple as that. It is the young who go to die “for our country”; and who are proclaimed “heroes” when they do…. In this modern age, it has been the innocents who are slaughtered.

The entrance to the WWI exhibit at MHS said it pretty well:

(click any photo to enlarge)

The bare basics of WWI are simple: 1914-18, the good guys won, the bad guys lost. The truth is not nearly so simple. Part of another side of WWI came from my friend, Michael, who sent a long article from the Guardian newspaper expanding on the story of WWI. It is not politically correct from those who have written the official narrative of WWI, but it is very interesting. You can read the long article here.

In the hall outside the WWI Exhibit, Vets for Peace remembered Nov. 11 as Armistice Day; elsewhere in the building was a lecture about aspects of the War. In England, the day is now called Remembrance Day.

The local Vets for Peace especially recognizes the Kellogg-Briand Pact, signed 1928, which was supposed to end war permanently. The Vets for Peace podium had this explanation of Kellogg-Briand:

In “The World Is My Country”, Garry Davis went to war on a B-27 as part of the U.S. Army Air force after Pearl Harbor. In the end, his conscience couldn’t square killing innocent German people from a U.S. bomber over Germany to avenge the loss of his own brother, killed aboard a U.S. Destroyer in the European theater in 1943. At 26, he gave up his U.S. citizenship, and became a stateless citizen of the world.

Davis’ story is riveting and keeps everyones attention, and especially well suited for young people of today. The film is not yet fully released, but watch for it when it is.

Back at the Vets for Peace, at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month, Bellringers rang their bells 11 times to commemorate the end of a terrible war in 1918. This is a long tradition of the local Vets for Peace. I have been to many such remembrances since 2002.

Back in the nearby WWI exhibit down the hall were three displays which particularly spoke to me: the first of the Treaty of Versailles, which helped lead to WWII; and the second which needs no explanation, coming as it did before woman gained the right to vote in the United States.

At the time of the Treaty of Versailles

Both my mother and grandmother contracted the influenza but survived. The hired man on the farm went to war and died.

The most powerful songs I know, about WWI, and the folly of war are “Waltzing Matilda”, and Green Fields of France. Give a listen.

Today, November 11, 2017, Armistice Day (aka Veterans Day)

Saturday, November 11th, 2017

Today, at 11 a.m., on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, Armistice was declared at Compeigne France ending the deadly World War I. In 1928 came the Kellogg-Briand Pact, signed by France, Germany and the United States, to hopefully renounce War. In 1939 the even deadlier https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II began when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. In 1945, WWII ended and the United Nations was born. There has not been a pandemic war for the past 72 years.

Perhaps there is hope for humanity, though wars, its seem, will always be curses on our lives.

Today is the final day of the World War I exhibit at the Minnesota History Museum in St. Paul, and at 10:30 a.m. will be a ceremony conducted by the Veterans for Peace Ch 27 which culminates, at 11 a.m., with ringing the bells of peace. Details here.

At 4 p.m. today, at the St. Anthony Main theatre in Minneapolis, the story of Garry Davis will be told in the film “The World Is My Country”. Garry Davis was a WWII bomber pilot who took ending war seriously. Details below. More about the film here.

(click to enlarge. pdf version is here: World is my Country – 2002)

The Reformation at 500 Years

Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

500 years ago today, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door at his home church in Germany. It basically was the beginning of the end of the First Reich (which most know as “the Holy Roman Empire).

Saturday night we were privileged to be among over 1,000 people at Basilica of St. Mary for truly unique event. My “thank you” to Basilica of St. Mary and St. Olaf College: “The program Saturday night was magnificent, I would say, perfect in every way.” Saturday evening seemed to be more than just another program….

Basilica of St. Mary was filled for the concert featuring the famed St. Olaf Choir, and our similarly outstanding Basilica of St. Mary Choir. Here is the entire 1 1/2 hour program: My Soul Cries Out001

The program was free (with donations freely accepted mid-concert!); doors opened at 7:30 for the 8:00 performance. This gave time for a couple of snapshots:

(click to enlarge all photos, double click for more.)

Waiting for the doors to open Oct. 28, 2017

Waiting patiently.

Should anyone wonder: yes, we were orderly, and friendly, and patient, and the doors opened almost precisely on time at 7:30, and we walked in orderly fashion to our seats. Maybe I could ask you to pick out the Catholics and the Lutherans from amongst the group, but I am sure that there were far more than just those.

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For myself, a lifelong Catholic whose growing up was in the not-so-good old days of the 1940s and 50s, and participating in the pews of my home church, the evening was an emotional event.

In my recollection, the splendid St. Olaf choir processed down the center aisle to the sanctuary area, and the Basilica choir began the concert in the choir loft high above the church. I’m not sure how the entrance was stage-managed, but I couldn’t help but muse that the entrance wasn’t one of triumph, or conquest, or capitulation. It was, rather, a profound showing of respect for everyone, by everyone.

Photos for a snapshot guy like me were all but impossible. Here is one where, if you look carefully, you can see some St. Olaf choristers in their purple robes, and some Basilica choir members in their off-white. Just click a second time.

October 28, 2017, Basilica of St. Mary.

Most of us in the church were at least generally aware of the hundreds of years of history which preceded this signal event, one of many in this 500th year of reflection on Protest-ant, and the 50th year after official dialogue began between Catholics and Lutherans.

Here’s a Lutheran explanation of the last 50 years.

Here’s a commentary by Dr. Johan van Parys in the Basilica magazine: van Parys spring 2017002

Here is a good reference point for the Lund Sweden reflections referenced in the program.

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Of course, the Popes of the Catholic Church have not always been “saintly” in any sense of that term. Pope Leo X was Pontiff 1513-21. Luther had his own failings. We are all human beings, after all.

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The concert got to thinking back to my own history as a Catholic, growing up in tiny rural towns in North Dakota. Pope Pius XII died in Oct. 1958 when I was a freshman in college; and Pope John XXIII (Saint John XXIII) was his successor and enabled the opening of the windows of the Catholic Church, ecumenism and renewing relationships with other denominations.

I grew up in the old days of separation and division, and entered college not knowing that I was entering a new era.

Back at home, Sunday, I decided to take a look at my old college annuals, and there in the 1961 annual was this page, including a surprising face: Interreligious Coun 1961001.

I remember five of those in the photo from 1960 or 1961. Our most important act, which had to be facilitated by elders of all denominations at the time, was the very fact that we met at all, and that we were recognized as a group.

Inter-Religious Council Valley City State Teachers College 1960-61

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It would seem to me, as an individual, that the best we can expect in our pluralistic country, is that we respect each others beliefs, whatever those beliefs happen to be. We’ve come a long ways. We have a long ways to go.

What Luther did back in 1517 needed doing.

The debate will always continue, but perhaps we are making a serious effort to change.

POSTNOTE: 3:45 p.m. Oct 31.
The spiritual dimension of life has always been important to me, much more so than the orthodox definitions of particular beliefs (which vary greatly, as we all know.)

What intrigues me is the interrelationship between temporal power, and the will of the people.

People perceived to be in power are the ones who make the rules; who enable, or disable initiatives for change.

When I rediscovered on Sunday the committee I had been part of in college, it was something of a revelation to me. I had forgotten any involvement in such an “inter-religious” venture, which would not have happened two years earlier.

In this particular instance, Pope John XXIII was effectively the moving party, encouraging taking a new look at ancient practices, including relations between different Christian denominations. This in turn enabled others at other levels to begin informal dialogues, and not just Catholic. In my small example, some committee at the college had to authorize the organization and the faculty member advisor, and the local ministers also needed to be at least somewhat interested in the dialogue. Absent such leadership, we certainly wouldn’t have been memorialized by a page in the college yearbook!

Of course, direct action by the people themselves is also a possibility, but as we all know who functions as leader, at even local levels, makes a lot of difference.

People have a lot of power, and must exercise it in their selection of leaders.

#1306 – Dick Bernard: The Avenue of the Saints

Saturday, October 28th, 2017

About a week ago, I packed my bag and got on the road, destination an annual meeting of Citizens for Global Solutions near Lambert St. Louis Airport, St. Louis MO.

Over 500 miles later, I arrived at my destination, both exhausted and energized. It was good to see the open country between St. Paul and St. Louis, traveling I-494, U.S. 52, 63, I-380, IA 27, U.S. 61, and I-70 (to minimize confusion, the route is more or less a straight line from St. Paul to St. Louis). We are a very large and very diverse country, if one takes a moment to look.

Somewhere around Iowa City, on 27, I began to see a repetitive road sign:

(click to enlarge)

Somewhere in southern Iowa October 20, 2017

I could see the word “Saints” on the distinct road signs, but finally had to stop and read the rest of the story, and take the photo of Avenue of the Saints, unfortunately with the fleur de lis “impaled”. There oughta be a law!

There had to be a story. Back home I looked it up. You can read the fascinating story here. The “Saints” are St. Paul and St. Louis….

Such journeys have always fascinated me…49 states so far in life. Not much interested in the 50th – Alaska. Maybe I’ll still make it, but it’s not on my “bucket list”.

Even at highway speed, there is much to notice along the way. Friend Steve, hailing from Cedar Rapids, advised bypassing Waterloo due to road construction. His diversion allowed me to see the towns of Raymond and Dewar, and at least wonder about the town a few miles to the right on C66, Dunkerton.

The route took me to the outskirts of Hannibal, Tom Sawyer’s town. “Been there, done that” back in 1976 – stopped for coffee there, both enroute to and from.

After the conference in St. Louis, rendezoused with my brother in Belleville, at beautiful Our Lady of the Snows, where our Dad lived the last ten years of his life, dying there in 1997.

We took a trip to the nearby and very interesting Cahokia Mounds park, and I managed to get a good photo of downtown St. Louis a few miles away.

St. Louis from Cahokia Mounds IL Oct 23, 2017

On the 24th I headed home the same way I’d come, this time deciding to stop at a single point of interest I’d noted on the trip down, found east of Lourdes, Iowa.

Hwy 63, Iowa, south of Lourdes, Oct 24, 2017

The diversion six miles east was well worth the trip, even though there was no one there, and it was a chilly and very windy day.

At the farm site was the country school Dr. Borlaug attended (he was born in 1914). Also, some displays, one shown below.

Dr. Borlaug’s country school, opened in 1865.

Norman Borlaug Oct 24, 2017

Back home I wrote a note a good friend, born and raised on a farm, who I first met as an 8th grader in 1953-54, as follows:

“I made one stop enroute home which may interest you, as a farmer. One of the premier world agricultural experts – a Nobel Peace Prize winner – was Norman Borlaug of rural Cresco Iowa (perhaps six miles south of Cresco, about the same east of Lourdes, Iowa). I saw a sign pointing to the place where he grew up, and I drove the six miles off route 63 to see the place. It was chilly and windy and I was the only person there, but a fascinating stop. Here’s the web description of Dr. Borlaug.

His cousin was the country school teacher, and she recommended to his parents that he go to high school. She said he wasn’t the best student, but he had the attitude he needed to succeed. She called that one right!!!!

I once did a blog which referred to a chance meeting of my uncle and aunt with Borlaug, probably down in the Hankinson area of ND: You can read it here. The meeting with Dr. Borlaug was a vivid memory for Vince. It probably was sometime not long after he had won the Peace Prize. We all have our stories.”

In short order, my friend, a retired scientist, responded with his own message, which added to the learning experience of my week.

“Interesting article on Dr. Borlaug. There are a lot of people that have made great contributions to their respective fields, but as you know from my preoccupation with the forthcoming Ice Age and issues like that, what we need more of are folks that are big-picture thinkers. I was seeing on TV that the efforts of the Gates Foundation may completely eliminate polio. We spend much money on saving children from starvation and other preventable diseases, and yet, as per the population growth curve that I have shown you that I refer to as the “human stupidity index”, there will come a time when billions of people will be dying as nature reduces the earth’s human population back down to somewhere around 3 billion over the next millennium or two. As I have told you, my greatest charitable contributions are now focused on population reduction. I can’t do it by myself, and there are those that detest the idea of population control, but I will keep doing my bit to hopefully reduce the number of people that will lose their lives to natures forces as time goes on.”

In my life, I have found that there is lots to learn, and lots of richness in differences of opinion. Point of fact: I basically agree with my friends concern. What are we leaving those who come after us?

Returning home I did the periodic newsletter for my Minnesota Chapter of Citizens for Global Solutions. You are welcome to read it here: CGS News Nov 2017 Final-2. Of course, you can join an e-list for this five times a year newsletter if you wish. Just let me know: dick_bernardATmsnDOTcom.

Coming soon: Some thoughts a year after November 8, 2016.

“OldStuff”, Bingo, and the Travel Game.

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

Monday, I took our 88 year old friend and neighbor, Don, to see the Fall leaves along the Mississippi River on the Wisconsin side of the river (across from Hastings and Red Wing, Prescott to Bay City WI). It was a fun afternoon, and we ended up at an antique shop in Bay City WI. It was a beautiful day.

(click to enlarge photos)

Bay City WI Oct 16, 2017

This was a nice shop, the proprietors a retired married couple. The man had a specialty: making bat houses. Yes, bat houses.

I’d never seen a bat house; if there is a “Parade of Bat Homes”, his would have been on the tour, a unique design, a work of art. Each house, he said, was a unique design, and there was a demand for his work.

When we were there, he also was completing a hand-carved wooden horse, which was a marvelous work of art.

I’m an antique, not an antiquer, but this was a most pleasant visit.

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Saturday, my spouse convinced me to go to the semi-annual Bingo in the “Undercroft” at the Basilica of St. Mary. (Undercroft is a gussied up name for Church Basement.) There seemed to be about 100 of us. A good time was had by all.

How Bingo became a Catholic “tradition”, at least in the places I grew up, is a mystery to me. Wikipedia does have a history of Bingo, which dates Bingo back to 1929 in the U.S.

In the tiny towns of my growing up, Bingo was a social affair, using corn kernels for covering the numbers; with small prizes, like a can of soup, or sometimes a pie. It seemed a Catholic thing. No $100,000 prizes then!

I got to thinking about one of the curiosity things still saved from the junk on the ND farm: a set of Bingo cards from about 1936:

Bingo cards, etc., from a bingo game kit.

Here are the instructions for the game: Bingo 1936001

What intrigued me on Saturday was the large number of young adults in attendance, all enjoying themselves. Sitting next to me was a Dad and his teenage son, autistic and deaf from birth. Dad was signing the numbers for his son, and they were having a very good time.

BONUS: when I dug out the Bingo cards, I found in the same bag 83 playing cards which were an obvious part of a board game. Here are the variety of cards: Travel Game001 The set was incomplete. There was no board and no rules, just the somewhat bedraggled cards.

You can find most anything on the Internet. Here is a history of the game. Because the set includes a 30 miles card, it appears it would date from the 1937.

Trees, “junk”, and nostalgia…not all bad!

Have a great day.

Minneapolis Oct 15, 2017

Dick Bernard, Remembering Vietnam War 1961-75: My Morning Report

Friday, October 13th, 2017

Added Nov. 16, 2017: Here is a three minute clip of personal observations on Vietnam made in St. Paul Sep. 7, 2017.

COMMENTS at end of this post.

My thoughts. If nothing else, listen/watch Jim Northrup talk about Vietnam and War.

The most powerful testimony I’ve ever heard about the reality of Vietnam came from Native American author Jim Northrups remarks at the 2014 Veterans for Peace Memorial Day observance at the MN State Capitol Vietnam Memorial. View here. (Scroll down to “Peacemakers of Minnesota”. The Northrup segment is 20 minutes, at 6:55 – 26:11, and includes two segments. It is verbal and powerfully graphic. Four other Vets for Peace share the remaining 10 minutes.) (Also, see POSTNOTE at end of this blog).

(click to enlarge, double click for more).

Field Office, 1963, Yakima Firing Range Washington

Above is a snapshot I took of my “field office” as Company Clerk of Co. C. 1st Battalion,, 61st Infantry, 5th Infantry Division (Mech), while on maneuvers at Yakima Firing Range, Washington, May, 1963. We were preparing our Infantry Division for someone else’s future duty in Vietnam. As Company Clerk, one of my responsibilities every day was to do a letter perfect “Morning Report” which had multiple copies with a standard format reporting previous days activities, including personnel status (including to my recollection name, rank, serial number, status, such as “leave”, “promotion” or “demotion”…). The only way to deal with errors was to retype the entire report. I probably did 500 of these “Morning Reports” Morning Reports recorded the History of War at the basic level. (More in NOTE ONE, below)

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I watched every one of the 17 hours of Burns/Novick’s Vietnam War on PBS, and felt it was outstanding, and as accurate and complete a reflection of the reality as could be summarized in 17 hours.

Our country, unfortunately, has an entire history of War. It is our metaphor for life, in a way. Last year I did a graphic to help me understand our own history:

I was 20 when “the Vietnam era” began in early 1961; 23 when my two years in the Army ended in 1963; about to turn 35 when we lost the war in 1975.

Because I let it be known that I was interested in the PBS series, I have had many conversations, most of which do not see print on these pages. I wrote several times about the series (access here).

A recent e-mail from a good friend seems pertinent: “Also wanted to sincerely thank you for the dedicated and excellent work you have done with the subject of the Vietnam War. With sheepishness I admit that I find myself almost unable to watch/listen to anything about that war. Perhaps I’m the only person in Minnesota who saw not a single minute of Ken Burns’ epic review. For me it is as if the subject is still an open wound, such a tragedy for so many combatants and civilians, for Vietnam as a country, and for our country that has yet to recover from the moral damage.”

As the series ended, I found myself doing a personal timeline “biography” of 1961-75 as the war years related to me. In this simple act of writing down thoughts, some things unremembered came back to mind. Every one in my age range could make such a list, and I’d recommend it. It reveals and is cathartic at the same time.

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PERSONAL REFLECTIONS. I would summarize in three categories as follows.
(More in NOTE TWO)
1. NUMBERS :
5%
2%
3%
1.4% and 1%

3,000,000/58,000/?

2. THINGS I HADN’T THOUGHT ABOUT IN YEARS (see NOTE THREE)

3. THOUGHTS FOR THE PRESENT AND FUTURE (see NOTE FOUR)

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NOTE ONE:
All of those 58,000 names on the Vietnam Wall in Washington were likely first reported on someone’s Morning Report in Vietnam, typed by some Company Clerk, like myself, and checked by the First Sergeant who, in my case, was Fredric M. Strong, (a wonderful man in his late 30s. When I knew him at age 22. he seemed old).

The Morning Reports were finally approved by the Company Commander for transmission up the line to Battalion, etc.

Each Army Infantry Company was more or less 140 GIs with a Commander, usually a young Captain, several Platoon Leaders, usually green-as-grass 2nd Lieutenants; and an assortment of Non-Commissioned officers (NCOs), including Mess Sergeant (food), Supply Sergeant, etc. Other than combat infantrymen, there were some assorted duty assignments for enlisted, as mail clerk. Being 2d Lieutenant was hard enough in a training company; I can imagine what it was like in combat.

We were all of of various talents and temperaments, from different backgrounds and regions, thrown together as “warriors” in training.

It is societies ritual to call all of us “heroes”, “thank you for your service”. In reality, we were mostly just paying some kind of dues (the Draft), or looking for a way to make a living or a life. To call us “heroes” simply justifies a war environment: somebody needed to do the dirty work. Most of the “heroes” were like those listed on Washington DC’s Vietnam Wall: They were killed in action.

The enlisted men, draftees and volunteers, were generally very young. At 22&23 and college graduate , I was rather senior among the soldiers. I had an opportunity to opt for OCS (Officer Candidate School) but passed on the opportunity as it would have required an extension in my service.

We were a “motley crew” in every sense: from many different states, religions, nationalities, ethnicities. A best friend was a native of Hungary, not long before a refugee from the 1957 revolution there; another was native of British Columbia, Canada, etc. Thinking back, it had to be an immense job to manage the differences and the constant change, and this was before time of actual combat….

(Personally, I have never renounced or denied military service. In my opinion, there will always be war and a need for military. Each generation, each country, including our own, breeds its own evil doers. I’d like to see all swords beaten into ploughshares. This will not happen with humanity as it is.)

As I’ve noted in an earlier post, 27 men from my Company ultimately lost their lives in Vietnam, beginning about 1967. These were 27 names on somebodies Morning Report for Co. C, 1st Bn, 61st Inf, 5th Inf Div (Mech)….

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NOTE TWO
It would be nice if all were simple as numbers. Nonetheless, numbers do provide a base for discussion.

In 1970, at the hottest time in the Vietnam War, the U.S. population was about 200,000,000, compared with over 325,000,000 today.

5% – see end of this section.

2% – Back in 2010, my good friend, Rev. Verlyn Smith, was awarded the Hawkinson Award for Peacemaking.

In his remarks that evening, Verlyn, a Lutheran Minister, recalled his time as a campus ministry regional director in the western states. His service there came at the hottest time of the Vietnam War. He had evolved into a peace activist. A comment he made has stuck with me these subsequent years: in his recollection, informed by experience, he estimated that no more than 2% of the students were peace activists. The remainder were just going about living as they saw life at the time – classes, work, etc.

Verlyn didn’t make this as a moral statement; rather a reminder that only a small percentage, then, were actually activists.

3% – In his article critical of the PBS series, “The Tragic Failure of Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War”, writer Christopher Koch, estimates the Peace Movement of the Vietnam War as 6 million (about 3%) of the population. These are only his ideas of reality, but as with Verlyn’s, they are a good basis for conversation.

1.4% and 1% – At the time of Vietnam, it seems that about 1.4% of the population was in the military, not all in Vietnam. A few months ago, when I was at a Marine enlistment ceremony for my grandson, the presider told the recruit that today about 1% are in the U.S. military services. Even in the worst times, a tiny minority serve. They are always the young. We need to be careful about sending our young off to die.

Finally, there are the numbers: “3,000,000/58,000/?” These are the estimates of Vietnamese and American deaths in the Vietnam War. The (?) is those who didn’t actually die in the war, but continue to die from things like Agent Orange and other such effects of being at war, as PTSD, in all its assorted forms. These casualties did not stop in 1975, and don’t stop at national borders.

In my personal history, the one vivid memory from television (the primary source of my information as a civilian) was when the military and Gen. Westmoreland were found guilty in court of falsifying casualty figures. In those years, winning was connoted by how many more enemy were killed than friendly. Always the enemy lost far more than Americans. It didn’t make sense, but it was the only information we had. “Fake news” ultimately had to be called to account. On reflection, I don’t feel any pride at all at killing more than the other side. Then, and I think still, it was the rubric for measuring strength or victory. Killing was nothing more than a number, not somebodies son, grandma or neighbor.

Now, what about that 5%?: Back in February, 2008, I was privileged to be in a living room conversation in St. Paul with Daniel Ellsberg, and members of the Minnesota Eight. In my recounting of the meeting, someone in the circle, perhaps Ellsberg himself, said that you need 5% of the population to really make a viable movement (what I wrote then is here: Daniel Ellsberg 2008001, see p. 2.) Is 5% the accurate number? Probably not. Whatever the case, the Peace Movement never did reach a critical mass for success, even at its strongest point. We carry a lot of baggage….

(The Vietnamese refer to 1961-75 as “the American War”. We were not the only aggressors.)

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NOTE THREE: THINGS I HADN’T THOUGHT ABOUT IN YEARS….

In composing my personal history of ages 21-35 (1961-75), I recalled something with fresh eyes about the years mid 1966 – August 1969, when I lived in an apartment in Spring Lake Park Minnesota. At the time, a few short miles and about equally distant to the west and to the east, were two major military materiel operations. One was the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant, which made ammunition; the other was variously known locally as FMC (Federal Munitions Corporation/Northern Ordnance).

Both facilities were in the business of military contracts for Army and Navy.

Both were large employers, in my memory, thus providing jobs and income to working people.

So, here in my own city, as everywhere, there was a constant tension between the obvious distinctions between peace and war. This tension was well illustrated in an article printed in my college newspaper, May 24, 1961, at the very beginning of the Vietnam era.

(click to enlarge)

Viking News, Valley City (ND) State Teachers College, May 24, 1961

Another tension happened during the war years, but I wasn’t aware of it until about 2000, when I was cleaning out the house of my brother-in-law, Mike. Mike had had a hard life – didn’t know his father, that sort of thing. He was very intelligent, and he graduated from high school, and in 1969 graduated from the same college as I, Valley City State Teachers College. When he died, in 2007, a letter with instructions for burial self-described him as a “lone wolf”. It was true. He knew himself well.

After college, Mike taught two years in a small town school, and was the teacher assigned as adviser for the school newspaper. As part of that he apparently permitted high school kids to speak their mind about the war, going to Canada, or whatever.

I gathered that it was the kids who wanted to write about this, and he said okay.

This did not sit well with some of the local influentials, and he was let go. He then went into the Army about 1971, which apparently gave him the roots and stability that he sought. He got a top secret clearance, and an assignment to a post in Germany, and was intending to make a career out of the service when someone back home who didn’t like him reported him as unpatriotic and a security risk, investigating him back to college and teaching days before his time in service. The Army set out investigating him.

I found the entire narrative in a long deposition found in his house – the deposition that led to his death as a military man. The questioners zeroed in on every aspect of his college and post college life. A young social studies professor at the college was fingered as teaching what were perceived as anti-war ideas. The professors name was mentioned in the deposition. I won’t repeat it. It was misspelled, and I actually saw the man’s picture in the college annual just weeks ago.

Mike represented a quandary for the military. He was apparently an honorable service man. Mike was given an honorable discharge with a rank of Specialist 5th class – a high rank for a two years soldier. He went home, and spent the rest of his life, chronically mentally ill, a regular client of the VA Medical System from the 1970s forward to the time of his death.

I consider Mike a war casualty. His name doesn’t appear on any wall, just a modest grave in his hometown.

About the same time as I found Mike’s documents, I met another man, Lynn Elling, who showed me a 30 minute film made in 1972, for use in Minnesota public schools, involving an amazing coalition of political and civic leaders. It’s called Man’s Next Giant Leap, and you can access it here. At about 11 minutes a prominent Minnesota Republican politician of the time talks about the economic costs of war. Among others, the film features singer John Denver “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream”. It is worth the 30 minutes.

In sum, we Americans were at war with ourselves in the time of Vietnam, within our own country.

This continues today, perhaps even worse, though differently than in the Vietnam War. The tension remains.

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NOTE FOUR: THOUGHTS FOR THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE

In the series, much was made of lying by Presidents and high level government officials. They all lied about the war. I was particularly noticing the “why” of their lying: to accept and announce the reality that we were losing in Vietnam would be a very bad political (i.e. winning the next election) problem. To be against the war would be costly at the ballot box. It made no difference, Republican or Democrat. To lie on this issue was deemed essential. In effect, “we, the people” demanded the lies.

Robert McNamara is easily fingered as a bad person, an apologist for the Vietnam war. He came to grips with the problems with the war he was promoting quite early on. But the war privately tormented him. Much later in life, the film “Fog of War”, was his attempt to own his part in the tragedy of Vietnam. Years ago, a friend sent me an article he had written about “Just War”. You can read it here: Just War as seen by Robert McNamara Aug 2003001

In late 2017 we are at a truly dismal point in our own national history, but opportunities exist for change if we agree to do the necessary and very hard work.

About the time the Vietnam War series began, President Trump was throwing words around against North Korea at the United Nations, and is almost casual with his threats of doing bad things to anyone who disagrees with him. Suddenly the nuclear arsenal, always a major problem, is proposed for the first time in many years as a solution, rather than the certain calamity it would unleash.

Congress remains complicit in all of this, because for it to be honest about war is considered a liability (see comments about Presidents lying for electoral advantage). It is similar to lobbying for coal mining because military spending represents jobs and prosperity and always has…. For years, Congress has evaded its constitutional responsibility for war making, choosing to blame the President.

Still, I think the vast majority of our citizens, now, have a yearning for peace to get along with each other. I see this manifested every day.

A wise strategy, I think, is to get into the necessary conversations at the local level, working for cooperation and not competition particular among people with generally similar feelings. These conversations need to be with the unconverted, and presume and value other points of view. Talking only with fellow travelers in ideology is not really worthwhile. We need to truly engage with others to find out areas of common agreement.

I would like to see every young person in this country watch and discuss the entire series. (For me, young would be 50s and lower in particular). These folks need to know and understand the dynamics and consequences of a war society. It is their generation which will be devastated by the next war.

The conversation has to center on the “young”. I am again reminded that I was 21-35 in the Vietnam years, and that began over 50 years ago. Those who were active then were the young, my contemporaries. Today’s young have to make their own future. Elders are no longer in a position to give other than wisdom (which is valuable) but the workers are of another generation, our kids and grandkids ages.

I don’t think the 5% threshold mentioned earlier is at all unattainable. But it won’t come without lots of effort and in lots of ways.

POSTNOTE: The video of Jim Northrup and others is part of a series of ten interviews with Minnesota Peacemakers prepared in May and June of 2014 by Ehtasham Anwar and Suhail Abro, both from Pakistan, who were in the Fulbright program of the Human Rights Center of UofM Law School. I’m very proud I could be involved with them on this major project. The remaining interviews will be at the Global Solutions MN website from time to time over the next weeks and months.

COMMENTS:

from Frank: Dick: You are doing incredible service through this site. “VIETNAM War” is a
nightmare for most of us who lived through that time. I’ve had some time
with and know the different but equally horrific sufferings of younger men
and women who are/have been terrorized by this Endless War. One that my dad
and his generation of valiant souls thought they had “ended” when The Atomic
Bomb was dropped… on my first birthday … and back then it was also the
Catholic feast of The Transfiguration! Frank

from Christina: Jim Northrups part of the program was very good, very interesting and very sad. Why do we settle things with violence rather than diplomacy? It makes me think of the song, “Where have all the flowers gone? Where have all the young men gone etc. When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?”

From a friend: Sometimes war precedes peace. I don’t favor war just to kill and fight; but I do believe war is needed to stop fighting radicals.

Response from Dick: I don’t know what the writer means by “radicals”. There are “radicals” on all sides, I suppose. Whether small or large, down to interpersonal, wars won by overpowering or humiliating the vanquished simply beget the next war. Somewhat related, Jeff send along an interesting discussion of differences in negotiating differences. You can read it here.

Michael sends along a very interesting commentary on what JFK had planned to do had he ran and won the 1964 election. You can read it here.

More from Michael:

Pre-note from Dick: There ensued an interesting side conversation between Michael and another friend, Ron, relating to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Michael, who is very knowledgeable in such matters, shared the following opinion, which I in turn share with his specific permission. While I do not share his last name, he has a very long history of serious academic and personal involvement and willingness to personally engage in conversation about controversial issues such as this.

Ron started the thread: Thanks for providing that information from Michael about JFK’s plan to get out of Vietnam by the end of 1965. I was unaware of that clear evidence that that was Kennedy’s plan.

Having read that, I now wonder how much that plan of Kennedy to withdraw from Vietnam may have been the reason he was assassinated. Was LBJ himself involved in some way?

Do you (or Michael) have any comments or information about that? Is there any good source of reasoning about that and the details of who actually did the assassination?

In addition Ron asked for Michael’s opinion on 9-11-01

Michael:

Well that is a big question for which there are many, well documented answers. The big problem is the power of modern propaganda so vividly illustrated by Ron’s questions.

So I will cut through many pertinent but long winded complications to summarize my best opinion on these topics at this time. Also note that I have a longer section on Kennedy’s murder in my old book “On the Causes of War” which references 17 or 18 other books, only one of which supports the official story (“Case Closed” by Posner). That list includes Newman’s “JFK and Vietnam.” The conference at Harvard I was invited to in 1993 gave me personal access to many of the best researchers, including Newman and Dr. Cyril Wecht, former President of the Academy of Forensic Sciences who reviewed many details that showed Kennedy was certainly shot from the front right (aka “grassy knoll”) as well as from behind. So, on John F. Kennedy.

As best I can tell, there were 3 guns, 4 shots, 3 hits and a miss. The Israelis were not involved at all in this one.

The conspirators included rogue elements of the CIA, Pentagon and FBI, with some help from the Mafia with whom CIA was already collaborating on assassination plots against Castro out of CIA’s Miami station. All the best books on that important connection are referenced in mine, including testimony from an Army Ranger who was assigned there at the relevant time. His name is Bradley Earl Ayers, and a much more complete version of his perspective is contained in “The Zenith Secret” second edition. He graduated from Stillwater high school here in MN, and retired to the woods in western Wisconsin so I had some years to debrief him. The FBI’s main role was suppression of evidence, the plan was probably drawn up by Gen. Edward Lansdale at the Pentagon, and the CIA and mob provided shooters and a lot of disinformation. The best movie (as in most accurate, although every book etc. has inaccuracies) was Oliver Stone’s “JFK” based largely on “Crossfire” by Jim Marrs and “On the Trail of the Assassins” by Jim Garrison. One of the reasons was indeed Kennedy’s determination to withdraw from Vietnam, but other important reasons were his attempts at nuclear “detente” with the Soviet Union, and his brother Robert’s crusade against the Mafia which felt betrayed after they had delivered many votes in Chicago to help elect JFK. RFK was also deeply involved in “Operation Mongoose” out of CIA’s Miami Station (a long, complex set of covert attacks against Cuba).

On 9/11, it was certainly an “inside job” as the fall of WTC Building 7 in under seven seconds into its footprint most vividly illustrates. Here the Israeli’s probably were involved, but not as prime movers. They could not have silenced and misdirected air defenses at the Pentagon, nor arranged for suppression of evidence there, but Rumsfeld and Cheney could. The Saudi’s were almost certainly involved as well, and possibly Pakistan although the thread of evidence there is a single wire transfer from Pakistan’s ISI to one of the alleged ring-leaders, Mohammed Atta. The prime motive was probably creation of a rationale for 40 years of intense operations against “Radical Islamic Terrorism” including a doubling of defense and “homeland security” expenditures. My little video from February, 2008, gives a reasonable summary of my official position on that tragedy.

Work here calls urgently. These are summaries, all incomplete. Multinational, highly financed, professional psychological operations are always hideously complex with many blind alleys, red herrings and such. The most powerful part of the suppression of evidence aspect (in addition to providing a “patsy”) is sustained ridicule by major media of anyone who criticizes “the official story” which is also, almost always, a conspiracy theory itself. Just a totally misleading one.

from Lois: A year before, almost to the day, you reported for military service I had departed Valley City for San Francisco and lived there thru the entire war in Vietnam. My life went on, day after day, with little thought to that war. Like your friend, I did not watch the Burns’ documentary although I tuned to PBS during the time it was playing just to see if I could rouse an interest. Not so. Perhaps your comment “War is a waste” was the reason, and I “ignored” it again. I was thankful that those I knew, including my brother, joined the National Guard instead of enlisting in the regular military.

Your personal reflections article prompted me to read up on some history, as I noticed that
missing from you list of wars was the Mexican American War fought 1846-1848. 15,000 lives lost, 1773 died in battle, over 13,000 from wounds/sickness. The reason I noticed it missing from the list is because our government awarded military land grants in 1851 to my 3x great grandfather for the service/loss of his two sons in that war. The land grant was for territory in Iowa which was the reason for another son’s move from New Jersey, and the start of 150 years of my family in IA/MN/ND.
How sad that we bought the Louisiana Purchase territory for expansion, but for dubious reasons fought two wars that gained Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, and almost the entire Southwest part of our country. Seems that we fought the Revolutionary War to be free of foreign rule under a country seeking expansion, only to expand our own economic interests 50-100 years later through war (in opinion of some historians).

The funeral address give in 1848 for Ira C. Tunison is a good read. You can read it here.

Response from Dick: I will add your comment and link to the post, along with a couple of others, so look back. I assume you’re referring to my single page of data about war casualties. I had just arbitrarily started with the Civil War. No deliberate leaving something out. I was trying to keep on one page one side. I will revise. As for land grants, I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that my French-Canadian ancestor, who got a land grant in Minnesota in about 1853 which was authorized by a land warrant issued in the War of 1812 by a Captain in New York. My settler ancestor was born in 1803 so it certainly wasn’t he who fought in the war; perhaps some relative, and the warrant was passed on. It intrigues me. (There were quite a number of French-Canadians who fought in America’s wars, sometimes as hired surrogates, other times as voluntary enlistments.)

from a friend: The closest that I got to military service is that I registered for the draft, but was downgraded by our local draft board because I was the sole supporter of my parents, my two youngest sisters and my brother. When I went off to college the pilots in training at the Minneapolis Air Base would come up to Fargo and give us rides in the trainers and fighter aircraft. I planned to enlist and go into the Officers Training Program, but when I graduated and did my final physical, my eye sight had deteriorated, so I could not be a pilot, so I headed out to [my career employer]. In my first year there, I received an second [and permanent] draft downgrade.

Vietnam: Comments related to Burns/Novick’s Vietnam War Series on PBS.

Tuesday, October 10th, 2017

During the time of the Burns/Novick Vietnam series I had a number of conversations, and also invited comments. Below are those who were willing to say something about the time that was around the Vietnam era, (1961-75). As you’ll note, even among these ten or so, there is a variety of opinions about, and engagement in, the issue of the Vietnam War. This was also true amongst those who chose not to write any comments. Even today there remain a range of strong opinions, but most have no opinions, and even during the time period most were minimally engaged. (The vast majority of citizens then, and certainly even more so now, were neither actively in the military, nor in the ranks of protestors. War was an abstraction, rather than preoccupation. Not a healthy attitude, in my opinion, neither then, nor now.)

My previous posts on this topic are accessible here. My summary thoughts will be entitled “Morning Report” on Vietnam, and I’ll publish probably on Friday of this week.

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from Dan, Sep 13: HI Dick, I too volunteered for the draft. I served from Oct. of ’55 to Jul. of ’57. Basic training at Ft. Chaffee, Arkansas with the 2nd 8 weeks training as an artillery surveyor at Ft. Sill, OK. My Dad died unexpectedly while I was on my way to Chaffee. I started my military career with a 10 day emergency leave. After training at Ft. Sill we received orders to ship out to Korea. I assumed I would be stationed in the “Boonies” with an artillery battery for the duration of my 15 mo. tour. We left the ship at Inchon. Many of us from Ft. Sill were sent to 8th Army HQ in Seoul for duty other than the artillery surveying that we were trained for. I was sent to a sedan company which provided transportation for the 8th Army brass. Lt. Col. and up. My 1st job was driving for the 8th Army Dental Surgeon. A “Bird” Colonel [full Colonel]. I then worked as night dispatcher for our 40 some sedans. I did that until an opening on the staff of the 8th Army Commanding Gen. (4 stars) came up. I applied and got the job. One of 3 drivers on his staff. He was in Japan most of the time so we did a lot of V.I.P. stuff and spent much time at the pool. It was a pretty soft job but also very interesting. Also had a chance to see some of the country and get a feel for what the troops went through during the war. Hostilities ended in ’53 but the country was a mess. Seoul was just beginning to rebuild. They have done an amazing job. Can’t believe what I see today remembering what it was like when I was there. I had my 81st.birthday in June and we are still enjoying life. Summer has returned to the TC. Hope all is well on your end. Take care.

from Flo Sep 24: We watched The Vietnam War, tonight, part 4 of Ken Burns nine-part series on a war that I didn’t like, but really never knew much about. There’s no doubt it was a very turbulent time for the United States, to say nothing of Viet Nam and the countries directly affected by that “conflict”. I graduated from NDSU in 1966, went into Peace Corps in August that year, and came home in October 1968. The Dominican Republic had just ousted their dictator Trujillo with lots of covert US military assistance and anti-American graffiti was everywhere in Santo Domingo. I was in rural areas and was never bothered for my nationality, just loved! It was a great experience, but most of the guys with whom I was serving (we were two women out of a group of 24 in training!) were very much actively avoiding the war by doing alternative service with the Peace Corps. I was glad to have served with them as Peace Corps Volunteers. Most have gone on to serve in ways that continue to build peace here and around the world.

from Anonymous, Sep 19: [Husband] Dan was in the Army from about 58- ?63 and was a paratrooper in the top unit. Kennedy put his unit “on call to go to Cuba” and then the war was settled and Dan didn’t have to go. Being in the First Call Unit meant they had to be flight ready in 5 min. Dan was not the student you were / are. He was quite rebellious.

from Bob Sep 20: I am watching the Vietnam series, though it is depressing to learn how we were sucked into the abyss. Didn’t know you served in the Army, though not in combat. Thanks for your service. I was too young for Korea and too old with too many kids for Vietnam, so just plodded along as a civilian.

I will be interested in your end of series observations/comments.

Dave Sep 22: Good stuff Dick,

I served in Vietnam as a Naval Intelligence Officer. One day I will write about my experience and it will not be pretty for the South Vietnamese. The dismal manner in which our political leaders allowed us to fight the war is well documented. We were told we should not have gone… some of us were spit on. So we shut up. My brother a few years ago asked me why I never spoke about it. I am 75 and ready to write what I “lived and observed.” Not read about or something someone told me.”

from Jeff, Sep 25: The returning soldiers being spit on has been described as an urban legend. I don’t claim to know if it is true or not. I have read some articles suggesting this never ever happened. I would not doubt it if it did happen though, the divisions were so strong.

I think the doubters always seem to say that the phenomenon is always ascribed to someone else experiencing it.

I think the current issue of African American players protesting racism by kneeling during the National Anthem is related to this.

Most of the people who say it is wrong, including Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary on CNN yesterday, who said it was disrespecting our military.

I believe our veterans need to be honored for their service. But I also believe the military worship gets taken too far and its always at its utmost at NFL games. (and always has been)…. This allows Americans to never question why there are troops in over 180 countries around the world. Or why taking a small % of the Defense budget would pay off all our student debt.

To Jeff Sep 25:

Amen to all you say.

The Vietnam era was 1961-75, during which time I was 21 to 35 years old. So, for me, with all the personal complications (death of wife, etc), it is a riveting time in history, so I’m watching every minute of every segment. I’ll do a summary post sometime later, after it is all over. I’ll include your comment there, probably modifying the “urban legend” piece. I have no doubt it (being spit upon) happened. When you have a country with several hundred million people, stupid stuff does happen, and it only takes one!

from Jeff: (As you know)…. I would not disagree it probably happened, but it is one of those things referred to in the 3rd person usually by those who say it did.

Even your poster doesn’t specifically say it happened to him. Which once again means as a vet, his saying “some of us” gives credence to it when in fact, IMHO, if it did happen, it was not often.

Now, there was spitting on police during the protests. Then again a lot of peaceful protesters got more than spit on.

More from Dick Sep 30: in 1970 the population of the U.S. was about 200,000,000. The odds that someone was “spit on” or otherwise mistreated is 100%, but my read is that such mistreatment was very uncommon. Indeed, my two brothers were in the thick of things in the late 60s and early 70s. One of them came home as a burn victim and he was with us for a time at our home in late 1969. It did not occur to me until I was at the Vietnam Memorial the weekend it was dedicated, Nov. 14, 1982, that I had not welcomed either of my brothers home, and I wrote them both letters on my airline flight home. There was no slight intended. I just didn’t….

from Bruce, Sep 29: It’s too much to ask for that Americans learn from their history. One of the truths I’ve learned from Burns doc. is that the big difference between Vietnam war and all the other wars of aggression is the American soldier wasn’t respected for their part in the horror. Burns is trying to rectify that in order for it to be like all the rest of them. Support the troops that fight America’s wars of aggression is explicit.

Response from Dick, Sep 30: I think you have to “walk in the shoes….” I was one of the lucky ones. I went in (without knowing it) at the very beginning, when all we did was to “play war” out in the country: Colorado, eastern Washington, North and South Carolina. We were practicing for the big event. It wasn’t a vacation, but neither did we have to live with the possibility that someone was out to kill us. Not so in Vietnam, or in any war, with any soldier or civilian. Their worry is survival; they experienced it every day. It is up the line that the responsibility lies. It is customary to blame the President (Johnson, Nixon….) but it is deeper than that. Politicians need to get re-elected, and war and division is a good seller, and thus leveraged in any election. This was said often in the series. Want to blame somebody for the killing in Vietnam? Start with every one of us, collectively.

from Jermitt, Sep 29:
I, also have been reflecting on the lessons of that terrible war and wonder what is it that I can do to assure something like is will never happen again. Are we on the verge of another bloody mistake?

from Norm, Oct 2:
My Story
I served as a photo/radar/air intelligence officer in the USAF from 2/1965-11/1968 assigned to the Minot AFB (NoDaK) and Utapao AFB (Thailand) with the Strategic Air Command (SAC) following a 28-week initial training at a joint air force/marine/ navy intelligence training course in Denver. I received my commission as a second lieutenant in the spring of 1963 upon my graduation from UMD and completion of the AFROTC program at that facility along with nine other men, two of whom became pilots and were killed in Viet Nam. I joined the AFROTC program as a freshman and remained in it for four years until I was declared an officer and a gentleman upon the awarding of my commission. I had always been impressed with the idea of being a “citizen soldier” if you will by going on active duty for the four years required of an officer and then returning to civilian life. I had no intentions of making a career out of the USAF as did one of my brothers. I later received an educational deferment to pursue more education before going on active duty in February 1965 in Colorado.

After serving as a photo/radar/air intelligence officer with the B-52’s at Minot AFB for eighteen-months where my team and I evaluated training missions and assisted in the development of target related information, I was sent to Utapao AFB located about ninety-miles south of Bangkok, Thailand on the Gulf of Siam (Thailand). My duties at Utapao were to supervise a team of highly trained photo/radar interpreters who had taken similar training in Denver in the evaluation or “scoring” of the B-52 bombing runs, i.e. BUFFs or Big Ugly Flying Fellows, following their missions over the SEA area theater of operations. BUFFs flew similar missions out of Kadena AFB (Okinawa) and Andersen AFB (Guam), both places of which I spent time at while in SEA.

We had three such teams that worked 12-hour shifts, i.e. days, nights and then off and then repeat. Shifts ran from midnight to midnight. We would usually have one or two or more missions to “score” during each shift after the film had been developed and sent to us from the photo lab. The results of the bombing mission would be scored using visual photography taken from the bomb bays of the BUFFs using the negatives scrolled across a large light table. We would look for the first and last impact of the 108 500 and 750 pounders that were carried internally and externally by the BUFFs, i.e. they showed up as easily identifiable black spots on the negative, and then transferred that information to a special map and determined the relationship of the long train of bomb impacts to the intended target area.

More often than not, the target areas were covered by clouds and we had to evaluate the results of the mission by reviewing 35mm film of the radar scope of the cross-hairs at the time of bomb release. We had a mechanical device where we could “blow-up” the film, i.e. enlarge it, where we could then take a very close look at where the cross-hairs were positioned at bomb release compared to where they were supposed to be. We would then take that information and with the use of a special slide rule with which we could plug in altitude, air speed, and wind, we would then transfer that information to a special map just as noted above when we had regular photos to work with.

Our work required great precision as the results determined by our teams (they were three of them by the time that I left with the rank of captain) with lots of pressure to make sure that the results were correct before being forwarded to the appropriate parties who were anxiously waiting for them.

I was discharged in San Francisco from the USAF as a captain upon my return to the United States just short of having served for four-years due to having less than six-months of retainability.

I am very proud to have been able to serve as a reserve officer in the USAF and also very happy that I had the chance to spend that time as an intelligence officer which was the area to which I had always wanted to be assigned.

I went back into the “real world” following my discharge, got divorced (cannot blame it on the war necessarily as was often the case), got re-married, had a beautiful daughter and found employment in health care in the private sector and later for over 34-years with the state public health department as a regulator before retiring in early 2013.
Norm
USAF
2/1965-11/1968

from Larry, Oct. 2:
Though I think “Vietnam” is an amazing production, I have watched diligently for the pieces left out, especially when I noted Bank of America and David Koch as major sponsors. I will send you separately the MSNBC piece from a few years back when we organized veterans to stand in support of Vietnam Veterans being foreclosed on by Bank of America, and others. We won, and I in fact just saw [a veteran] (the non-foreclosed Vietnam veteran celebrity) at the Line 3 March at the Capitol last Thursday. Am copying [other vets for peace] on this, as they are doing a lot of the organizing of people to pay attention to the film. Also [a newspaper columnist], because he is writing, or has written a column, and has reached out to VFP types, as he often does.

Despite the constant refrain to present a balance, I saw Gulf of Tonkin stated as retaliation for North Vietnamese attacks on American ships. I saw no reference to the immediate questioning, as reported in the Pentagon Papers and elsewhere, of whether that attack ever happened. Even if people want to argue about it or discuss it, as they do, that’s a significant piece of information that should not have been left out.

And then, there’s the piece(s) I had zero expectation of seeing in the film. The concept we affectionately refer to as “war profiteering”; the concept no one really wants to address (except maybe us). I own an amazing book I found reviewed in the Strib business pages some time ago. It is THE PROFITEERS – Bechtel and the Men Who Built the World, by Sally Denton. I had never heard of her. I read it first from the library over a year ago, and then bought it, something I only do these days if it is someone I know, or if the book is so amazing I don’t want to stand in line at the library to read it a second or third time.

I looked up Vietnam in the index and got, among other things, the pages to read about John McCone, a businessperson/founder of Bechtel-McCone. He was a “revolving door” specialist, not unlike Dick Cheney of Halliburton fame. For a while he was Director of the Atomic Energy Commission, and Bechtel has built a majority of the nuclear power plants in the country. Then Kennedy appointed him CIA Director, even though McCone was Republican, because JFK wanted intense nuclear experience and someone willing to deal with the cold war nuclear power threats. Turns out McCone preferred LBS’s [LBJ’s?] more aggressive style over JFK’s questioning and considering pulling everyone out, strategically, right after the 1964 election (this little detail was not reported either in the film). Anyway, after JFK was killed and the war ramped up big time, McCone left in 1965 and Bechtel got enormous (I would guess no-bid) contracts to build much of the infrastructure in wartime Vietnam. And the list goes on.

#1301: The Medicine Wheel and The North Country Trail

Wednesday, October 4th, 2017

Monday I was in Valley City ND for an Alumni event at my alma mater, which I knew, back in 1958-61 as Valley City State Teachers College. The infrequent visits back are always nostalgic, this one more so than most.

My motel was a short walk from Medicine Wheel park, which I’ve known about since its first rough rendition back in 1992. It is a fascinating place, within sight of I-94, atop the “hill” which helps give Valley City its name. Here’s the park brochure: Medicine Wheel Brochure002The most recent Alumni Bulletin of the college tells the story of the Medicine Wheel, which you can read here: Medicine Wheel 001.

The current park is very impressive, a part of the American Scenic Byways. It is an interesting stop for travelers who know of it. At the park in early morning, just about sunrise, I met a person from Norway who was leading a bus tour through the area.

It happened, this trip, that I met the legendary Professor, Joe Stickler, who in sundry ways made the park possible. He was at the evening event, a soft-spoken but very friendly native of the Dayton OH area, who, I gather, made science come alive for generations of students. Prof. Stickler in turn gives the credit to generations of students who have brought the Medicine Wheel to its current state. Here’s what Joe says he’s been reading.

I asked if I could take his photo:

(click to enlarge)

Joe Stickler, Valley City ND October 2, 2017

This same day, I rendezvous’ed with my sister and brother-in-law at the Motel, and told them about the Medicine Wheel just down the street.

The Medicine Wheel was not new to them. They said that a number of years earlier, as new members of a group called the North Country Trail Association, they had attended a regional conference in Valley City. Medicine Wheel is part of the North Dakota Sheyenne River branch of the trail.

Carter at the North Country Trail marker at Medicine Wheel Park, Valley City ND October 2, 2017.

Flo and Carter are very active as stewards and volunteers of the Itasca Moraine (MN) portion of the trail, and I asked Carter how they happened to become involved. Carter remembered a day shortly after he’d retired: he decided to go for a solitary walk on an area trail. On the hike he met a solitary hiker coming in the opposite direction. The other man was a new volunteer for the North Country Trail. They chatted and the rest is history.

There is plenty of bad news in recent days.

My belief is that the positive stories above are replicated in thousands of ways, everywhere, every day, in our country and in the world itself.

What are your stories, where you live?

POSTNOTES:
1. I had planned, this day, to begin the retrospective on the recently completed Ken Burns/Lynn Novick series on Vietnam. The most recent post is here. I’ll add one or more posts perhaps beginning later this week. Check back.
2. While in Valley City I learned of the heinous massacre in Las Vegas.
Just weeks ago, I heard, in person, Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly give a very powerful talk on guns and our society at the Augsburg University Nobel Peace Prize Forum. Hopefully it will end up accessible on the internet. For now, check their website: Americans for Responsible Solutions.

I ask myself, about being cause in the matter of solutions: “If not me, who? If not now, when?”. Every one of us has more influence than we think. We just need to get in action.

Vietnam, 17 hours, 30 years, and the road ahead.

Friday, September 29th, 2017

Earlier posts on the Vietnam series: Sep 9, Sep 13, Sep 19 , Sep 21

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I watched every hour of the now complete and powerful Ken Burns/Lynn Novick retrospective on the War in Vietnam, 1945-75.

Today begins reflection after a powerful two weeks. What does this all mean to me? To us? How can I personally translate Vietnam into personal action to help us grow, to learn, from this tragedy.

Likely, midweek next week I’ll share my thoughts, such as they will be; and I encourage you to share yours as well, including at this blog space. If you wish your own blog space, just let me know. dick_bernardATmsnDOTcom. All I ask is respectful opinion, and willingness to share your name and your own personal role 1961-75. There is no judgement. We did as we did, then. Vietnam is an indelible part of our national history. We need to own and learn, from the experience.

To begin, among a flood of memories the series brought to the surface for me, below are two: meeting Daniel Ellsberg Feb. 23, 2008; and a totally unexpected visit to the newly dedicated Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC, Nov. 14, 1982.

(click to enlarge)

Then, remembering a powerful afternoon with Daniel Ellsberg and other anti-Vietnam war activists, Feb. 23, 2008: Daniel Ellsberg 2008001 Daniel was here in connection with a powerful program conceived by peace activist Frank Kroncke about the Minnesota 8, of which Mr. Kroncke was part.

Daniel Ellsberg (at right) being recognized for his contribution to peace Feb. 23, 2008, Minneapolis MN.

Here are shared some reflections received in the last days from friends. Doubtless there are thousands of such reflections, and they are just beginning. Thomas Bass, America’s amnesia; Jon Pilger. I have not picked these to pass along; they were forwarded by friends. There is room for lots of points of view in the conversations that are already being generated by this powerful series.

* * * * *

At a time like this, I feel very, very, very small…what can I do?

It is not a matter of moving on; rather feeling very, very, very small.

There is a great plenty which can be done, one small act at a time.

Just being attentive to the plight of the people of Puerto Rico, a country 4% the size of Minnesota, with 60% of Minnesota’s population, devastated by hurricane. One is tempted to say that we should pay more attention to them, because they are all American citizens. But how about the residents of tiny Barbuda, essentially completely destroyed in an earlier hurricane. How do they fit into my world view? Humans, anywhere, are our brothers and sisters. The globe has no borders.

We don’t need to live within a single event. There are endless opportunities to get constructively involved.

Tuesday, October 3, I plan to join what promises to be a very interesting 4-session course on women who have won the Nobel Peace Prize. Here are details. Course leader, Maureen Reed, MD, has sterling credentials to lead this course. Among other experiences, she served as Executive Director of the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, through which she worked with both the Nobel Institute and its laureates. Consider enrolling, investing, in this class.

My friend, Donna, makes another suggestion: “I wanted to tell you about a group Rich and I have joined called the Interfaith Coalition on Immigration (ICOM). People from many faiths are doing some actions in regards to DACA and immigration. One action is to hold a vigil from 8-9 AM on the 2nd Tuesday of each month at the Whipple Federal Building [at Ft. Snelling – near the airport]. It is there that the immigrant deportation court is housed. Last vigil we had 85 people attend, including both concerned citizens and religious. Our goal is to grow this group so if you know of anyone interested please pass the word. After last vigil some attendees attended a court hearing on someone in deportation. We have done this as well and it truly feels so evil. Many of these deportations tear stable families apart. Anyway I hope you can join us sometime and spread the word. The next vigil is scheduled for October 10, National Immigration Day.”

And on, and on, and on.

Be “on the court” for solutions.

POSTNOTE:
Take time to read this: Don’t Bother. It is long and it is depressing, but it cries out for activism. We live in this country.

Five Citizens Reflect on the Vietnam War

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

Your comments are invited for a follow-up post: dick_bernardATmsnDOTcom. Please include your permission to include in a post.

Following are some thoughts about Vietnam, prior to the beginning of the 17 hour film series on PBS, Sep. 17, 2017 7 and 8:30 p.m. CDT. Here’s the schedule of programs following Sep. 17 (see pages 21 & 25): PBS Vietnam Sep 17001

(click to enlarge all photos)

photo copy of Padre Johnson sketch from 1968, used with permission of the artist.

Re the sketch, above: I’m proud to count the artist as a friend, Padre Johnson. He was a field medic in the Mekong Delta in 1968, among other vocations in life. He sketched the incident, and describes it here: Padre J Viet Combat003.

Padre is one of many Vietnam vets, including conscientious objectors and protestors, I have come to know either in person, or through others. There are many “truths”, and perhaps the best we can do is to acknowledge differences, while working to learn from the past.

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from Jim, Sep 10: Fifty years ago my brother was in Vietnam. During the spring and summer of 1967 he saved lives, both American and Vietnamese. He spoke fluent Vietnamese and had tremendous empathy for the people even the so called enemy soldiers. He was soft spoken, kind and generous and very much a hero. He was honored this year in Washington on June 17th. I included a short summary on the Minnesota History Center’s Vietnam Story Wall: here.

As I said in my writing, I grieve for his loss every single day.

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from Norm, Sep 10: I am looking forward to watching the series as I am sure are many, many other veterans who served in SEA during that war let alone many others as well.

Burns has always done a great job with his previous efforts and I expect that this one will be done well also.

There was a series (TPT) on the VNW [Vietnam War] several years ago that I thought was very good as it included perspectives, experiences, reflections and remembrances from people fighting on both sides and in between, i.e. the Montagnards, the Bru, the Sioux and the Hmong, the latter working with the CIA in the “secret war” in Laos.

The feelings about the VNW were still kind of raw at that time so I was aware of many folks including several veterans that were not comfortable with the series as it included comments and perspectives from the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, including general Giap. In addition, it showed some of the destruction caused by the B-52’s when they “went north” over Hanoi and Haiphong in the early 70’s coming from Andersen AFB(Guam), Kadena AFB (Okinawa) and Utapao (Thailand) where I had been stationed with the BUFF’s(Big Ugly Flying F…….s)in the late 60’s.

The B-52’s had been involved in the Arc Light operations for many years bombing sites in that theater before going north and encountering SAM missiles in or near North Viet Nam. The BUFFs took heavy unsustainable losses early in the effort to go North as a result of the SAM [Surface to Air Missile] missile defenses around Hanoi and Haiphong as they would initially come in on predictable routes over those two cities.

Several of the crews became residents of the Hanoi Hilton albeit for relative short times compared to Alvarez (seven years) and McCain (five years) as the truce was signed not long after the bombing of the north began and the prisoner exchange began.

Some of the crews who survived being shot down in their B-52’s were rescued by the Jolly Greens (helicopters) and the crews of medics. Several BUFF crewman did not survive either hits on the aircrafts by the SAMs, the subsequent crash and/or their injuries from received from one or the other or both.

One of the BUFFs from Utapao was hit by a SAM when over the north and limped back to its home base before crashing just outside its perimeter as it made its final approach to the runway.

I am definitely looking forward to watching this important series.

I am sure that Burns will feature the unrest within our country related to the VNW as well which is of less interest to me as that has been so well and so often documented so many times already.

I am primarily interested in learning about what other veterans were doing in that theater at the same time that I was there, it, 1967-68 as well as when my brother was there as a helicopter pilot in the early 70-‘s working with the “little people.”

I really don’t care about the impact of the war on the domestic side of the equation for various personal reasons.

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from Larry, Sep 11: My “perspective” on War in Vietnam, with direct link to my story on the “wall”, here. And Aug 31 a radio interview at KFAI.org (here).

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from Susan, Sep 11: My husband, Tom Lucas, served four years in Vietnam. He worked in Supply, so wasn’t in the trenches. But he flew in helicopters from time to time and experienced ammunition fire.

Tom loved the children and visited orphanages often. He knew that often children were sent into areas with bombs attached to their bodies. (You probably know all about that.)

I’m sure he knew of other atrocities but never once mentioned any.

In the 37 years we were married he rarely spoke about his time there, and I never once asked him about it. I knew it was too painful for him to discuss it. Once in a great while he would be in contact with someone who also spent time in Nam and did engage in some conversation with that person. But I was not present. Tom had two photo albums he showed.

He left them laying in the living room after their meeting, and he didn’t care if I looked at them. Shortly after our first child was born I received a call from the government asking about Tom’s possible contact with Agent Orange and whether or not our child suffered any disability. Tom was not in the jungles so wasn’t in contact with Agent Orange.

That’s about all I can remember. He did receive a couple of Commendation letters, but right now I cannot recall what they were for. I know you will sum up the whole Viet Nam experience so I’ll let you add the descriptions of that war. Tom died one day short of his 62nd birthday. He planned to retire at 62. He will be gone 9 years the end of October.

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Dick Bernard, Sep 12: I am a Vietnam era Army veteran, which means I was in the service after Feb. 28, 1961. Truth be told, at the time I entered the Army, Jan. 11, 1962, I had no idea of the future significance of that time in history. A vivid memory from early in my Infantry days is of a long time Platoon Sergeant hoping to get assignment to Vietnam duty because he’d heard Saigon was good duty.

Draft Card. I must have lost the original.

I had volunteered for the Draft. At that time, we were required to register for the Draft and carry Draft cards. There was no patriotic impulse: it was something I thought I’d have to do anyway, and may as well get it out of the way. I had just graduated from college. I could have qualified for Officer Candidate School, but declined as it would have required me to extend the two year tour. I had no thoughts of conscientious objection, or alternative service. My family history has many military veterans.

My service time began at Ft. Carson, Colorado (Colorado Springs area), mid-January, 1962. My memory is that the night before we boarded a bus from Fargo ND to Ft. Carson, my roommate and I went to a movie down the street, Bridge On the River Kwai.

Ft. Carson, then, was primarily a Basic Training base for the Army. Midway through Basic Training the announcement came that an Infantry Division was being re-activated at Ft. Carson, and after we completed basic training we were virtually all transferred into this new 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized). I ended up in Company C, 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry of the 1st Brigade (if memory serves) of the 5th Infantry (Mechanized). I became Company Clerk. My recollection is that there were perhaps 140 or so of us in the Company, which shared a block with Companies A and B, and a headquarters Company.

Our routine was no different than anyone else preparing for combat.

Some years ago I contributed some pictures to a website which still exists, here.

Ft. Carson CO. Best I recall, Co C was at the NE corner of the 4th full block up. This photo is from the south and dates from 1962 or so. The church we attended (all denominations) was at the very end of the base.

Succinctly, we were, at that time, a peacetime unit being prepared for war. But if there was talk about a coming war in Vietnam, I don’t recall it.

I left the Army at the end of my tour, just before the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963.

Co. C continued, and ended up in Vietnam beginning in 1968. By this time, I was back home, with a “row to hoe” – working to raise an infant. My first wife had died in 1965, and our son was 1 1/2. I saw the war develop on the news, but that was all. I had no connection to protests, for no particular reason other than home duties.

In 1967 and 1970 my two brothers entered the Air Force as officers, and the war became much more personal to me.

About the same time, Company C became heavily engaged in combat in Vietnam, though I didn’t know that till years later.

The war ended in April, 1975, thence out of sight out of mind. In mid-November, 1982, I happened to be in Washington D.C. for meetings, and while waiting for my flight out of Washington National learned that the Vietnam Memorial was being dedicated that very weekend. I went there. It was a very powerful and emotional experience. Vietnam Mem DC 1982001

It was not until last week, when I revisited the unit website, that I learned that my Company C, that small group of about 140 men for whom I had done the Morning Reports for nearly two years had, in four years between 1968 and 1971, lost 37 men in Vietnam; in all the casualties of the Battalion which had earlier shared my block at Ft. Carson totaled 145. War was, indeed, hell. I just happened to get lucky.

May my comrades rest in peace, and may we intensify our efforts for peace.

POSTNOTE: I am always conscious of people who I know are veterans, particularly so at this moment in time – that is a benefit of this 17 hour film by Ken Burns.

Yesterday I was at my barber, a retired guy who works out of his home. I’m a long time customer and we’re good friends. He’s a combat Marine vet from Vietnam – assigned as tunnel rat, at times. His brother, another Marine, was killed at 18 in Vietnam about 1968. His name is on the Wall in Washington, and here on the Minnesota Capitol grounds.

Last Thursday at the preview of the film at the PBS station, my brother, John, was with us. He was an Air Force officer, a navigator on C-141 and other transport planes, for a year or more detailed on flights into Vietnam in the early 1970s, at least once drawing heavy ground fire.

The stories go on and on. I had a chance to say my piece on film at the preview, and I said that while I didn’t think war would ever end, we certainly can do a great deal to keep it to a minimum. There are no “winners” in war, only losers. We all lose.

I stay a committed member of Veterans for Peace. I am also a long-time member of the American Legion. VFP is my personal preference. There is no perfect organization, but such groups are important.