A Momentous Day in the American War in Vietnam; Monday, February 12, 1973, The Day the POW’s came home

POW coming home

Chapter Fifteen: Operation Homecoming

Paul

Monday, February 12, 1973

The following is an excerpt from The Bouchard Legacy, a novel of how one family changed and survived the years 1968-1979.

Paul spent the last few months of his army tour at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. As the American presence in Vietnam dropped, Clark started becoming less a staging area and more a quiet backwater—until that is, Operation Linebacker II kicked into high gear. A new vigor shook up the flight line.

Bright brawny B-52s, air-tankers, and various other military aircraft flew in large numbers.

Tents sprung up on the athletic fields and the flight crews ran around the jogging trails and stood in formations under the mimosa trees. They drilled up and down the tarmac and stood stiffly in formation under the wings of their planes.

All through January, these big metal birds rolled down the runways, lifting off, punching big holes up into the sky. Operation Linebacker II was on task, doing its part to assist in the peace negotiations then taking place in Paris. While the North Vietnamese squabbled over the shape of the negotiations table, the B-52s made bombing runs over North Vietnam.

Incredible amounts of ordinance were loaded onto those bombers. Paul saw it. Day after day, the process repeated tirelessly.

At mess the night of February 11, Paul’s friend, Staff Sergeant Vincent Morrison, asked “Do you have anything going on tonight?”

“No,” Paul said. “I work day shift, counting boots, helmets and cases of 30.06.”

“Well,” SSgt. Morrie said “I know you take an interest in radio communications from your days in the field. If you’re up for it, maybe you can help keep me awake. Operations at the radio shack tonight could be instructive for you.”

Lt. Paul laughed, remembering the lifeline the radio had been in Vietnam. “What are you not telling me?”

“You’ve got to be there if you want to know,” SSgt. Morrie said with a wink.

So Paul went. No sooner did he step into the radio shack than he sensed it: something big was happening. The electricity, the briskness, the energy.

Several operators were on duty with SSgt. Morrie. “We’re patching calls Stateside,” he explained. “They’re coming from one of the three C-141 Starlifters in flight from North Vietnam.”

“Did you say North Vietnam?” Lt. Paul asked.

“Oh yeah. The American prisoners of war are coming home.”

The signal corpsmen were taking phone numbers from the repatriated prisoners even while they were in flight from Hanoi to the Philippines on leg one of the trip back home to the United States of America.

After witnessing a few calls, Paul began to dial and make the Stateside connections himself.

Every call was charged with emotion. If the returning POWs or the call recipients Stateside became speechless, doing little more than breathe, cry, or mutter “Oh” and the like, the radio operator had to ad-lib. “Your family is looking forward to your coming home, Lt. Owen. Mrs. Owen, you will receive further information as Lt. Owen clears quarantine. If you have any questions…”

“Yes, thank you, Sergeant.”

A few calls uncovered soldiers given up for dead—others where spouses had remarried. Even in such cases, a connection could be sensed. Other callers showed quiet strength in a trying time. “Son! You call me just as soon as you get an ETA Motown. Man! We’ll have a dinner waiting for you here that will not stop. God bless ’em all! You made it. Ben, you’re coming home. Amen.”

Time and again, all through the call list, Paul saw countless examples of how the closed culture of the military normalized demanding situations.

“What do you think?” SSgt. Morrie asked after the last call was placed.

“I’d say there are a few hundred very happy soldiers going home,” Paul said. “Thank you for suggesting I sit in with you.”

“Now you know there’s more to it than that,” SSgt. Morrie said. “Sure, you could sit out the remaining three months of your duty counting Ka-Bar knives or whatever you do for entertainment over there at Commisary, but if I was you, I’d walk over to Major Dawes right now, tell him you assisted with the Stateside patch detail, and request service as an escort for one of the returnees. Get real specific, if you like. Major, who do you have on the list for my hometown, Saint Louis?”

Another night, another skimpy catnap before dawn, and Lt. Paul waited. He was out with the crowd of GIs, dependents, and civilian workers on the Clark Air Base tarmac, waiting and watching for the three C-141 Starlifters and the lone C-9a that were bringing the POW returnees home.

Then, there.

Over the shoulder of volcanic Mt. Arayat, swooping down to glide over the cogon grass and touch down on American pavement, the planes carrying the soldiers coming home came in.

This day, February 12, 1972, Lincoln’s birthday, marked for Lt. Paul the day the American war in Vietnam ended.

The Starlifters rolled to a stop, the brass band struck up a medley of “Grand Old Flag,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy“ and the army and marine anthems. The boarding stairs rolled into place, the plane hatch opened, and the returnees deplaned. The crowd applauded and cheered as the men descended, dressed in navy slacks and long-sleeved blue dress shirts that their North Vietnamese captors had issued to them on their release.

Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, and other TV news correspondents were there, adding a “day at the fair” commentary to the occasion.

The man Lt. Paul would escort back to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, SSgt. Sidney Wentworth, came in the last plane, a C9A, from South Vietnam. He and those with him still wore orange prisoner pajamas, unwashed, emaciated, bruised but unbroken. SSgt. Wentworth stunk, his eyes were sunken back in their sockets, and he came down from the plane on a litter. But once the welcome ceremonies were over, he grabbed Lt. Paul’s arm. “Get me a wheelchair. Please, no ambulance. I have got to clamp these tired jaws of mine around the fattest, juiciest, bloodiest hamburger this base ever pulled off the grill.”

Paul couldn’t find a wheelchair, but SSgt. Sidney looked vigorous enough to stand up to a short jeep ride, so that’s what Lt. Paul grabbed. He reasoned if SSgt. Sidney wanted a hamburger, then by God, he’d jump by the CABOOM and grab the man a burger. He knew how to reply a soldier who had endured what SSgt. Sidney endured: “You got it, soldier,”

Once they arrived at Clark Air Base Officers’ Open Mess, the chef himself personally came out to serve SSgt. Sidney a chocolate malt, a hamburger, and French fries while he sat in the jeep under the shade of the mimosa tree in the dooryard.

Most everyone inside also came out. “Welcome home, SSgt. Sidney. How do you like that hamburger?”

Several soldiers shook SSgt. Sidney’s hand and asked him the name of his hometown.

“Cape Girardeau, Mo,” he said.

“How glad are you to be goin’ home?” one gushed.

Another said, “It’s going to take more than one of Arnie’s hamburgers to put some meat back on your bones.”

SSgt. Sidney asked for all the fixin’s, including pepperoncini, but after each bite, fewer fixin’s remained on the burger until, after about the sixth bite, Paul put a wrap on it. “Maybe we’d better let you digest what you’ve et so far,” he said.

The Sergeant nodded. he could hold no more. “Man,” he said, wiping his mouth with his sleeve. “That was good. If I ever see another fish head on a bed of rice with maggots, I swear to God, I will puke.”

The guys all put hands on Sidney’s shoulders. “It’s all over now, babe, you going home!”

Lt Paul said “That’s right, it would be good for SSgt. Sidney to break away from here now, guys.”

The chief cook said “Cape Gireadeau, huh? You ever get yourself to Paducah, you see my brother. His place is at Kentucky and 8th. Now he’ll fix you a burger you can really rap your jaws around.”

Lt Paul fired the jeep up and pulled away. “This man’s got a med-check…and he’s going home.”


 This is an excerpt from ‘The Bouchard Legacy.’ To see the complete book click here.

Coverage of the POW’s return on ABC news:

Memorial Day 2013. A Still Small Voice…through the ages

mem 2013

For Memorial Day- A still, small voice

 

         As the media drown us in allegations of malfeasance at Benghazi, IRS overzealousness in scrutinizing the tax deductibility of politically motivated contributions, sequestration, tornado devastated cities and the other traumas faced by so many, I thought today of Elijah the ancient sage who had hid from the king in a cave. The king, threatened by Elijah, would have him killed. Elijah questioned where God had gone, given all the torment the sage faced. Even in his cave refuge, a storm raged, holding him like a captive.

         After many days had passed, the storm died down and an ominous silence took its place. In this silence, the sage sensed the presence of God. In this moment of reflection, touched by God, the sage knew what he must do, so that he could continue in his work. Empowered, he went back to the city where he found strong allies.

Now this imagery of a sage communing with his god thousands of years ago may, admittedly be a tough act for us modern secular types to wrap our minds around. How does one experience this ‘ominous silence.’

         Yet this Memorial Day, another image comes to mind that also illustrates the set of mind I’m talking about. I wonder if this ‘ominous silence’ occurred again after Abraham Lincoln spoke at  Gettysburg.
The War Between the States still raged on when Lincoln had gone to help dedicate the cemetery for the war dead. In November, 1963, letting the south secede, dividing one nation into two, could have become a possibility. In the ultimate ‘political soundbite,’ in a speech a little over two minutes in length,  President Lincoln urged those in the North to press on for Union.

And so, the war continued on for many more months until Robert E Lee at Appomattox urged his troops to return home and accept the peace that was offered them.

         Even today, here and there, this ominous silence is present, touching people, helping pave the way for a commitment to the larger values, whether it is service to a belief or a nation; or both. Something to think about for Memorial Day.

Listen to the Gettysburg address and other documents that made democracy on ‘Those Self Evident Truths,’ a CD produced and presented by Ted Magnuson
400 years of democracy in the making in 72 minutes.

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Eternal Vigilance and the Wild Child

What has become of our language? Looking back in history, we find words that ring with Celestial Power. Take for instance ‘Eternal Vigilance is the price of liberty.’ No politician today could get away with such a well coifed phrase.

A great sentiment; ‘Eternal Vigilance is the price of liberty.’  It is often falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson.

         See how these seven words unfurl a whole raft of associations, meanings and contemplations.

First: Who are these culprits lurking out there ready to rob me/us of my/our liberty; are these enemies of liberty foreign, domestic or both?

What vigilance should I/we exercise? Should preemptive strikes, anti-profiteering precautions, and situation appropriate paranoia be precluded from my/our retinue of responses?

No, I decide as I settle down, as I contemplate the root source of this phrase, the enemy, dear friends lurks closer to home. I refer to (is this too polite a term?) The inner child.

Now perhaps inner child is too polite a term to describe this character. It certainly does no favor to childhood to describe this phenomenon as ‘inner child.’ Could I better call it the id monster, the devil on (my/our) left shoulder or oh; Maybe ‘wild child’ is as good a term as any to describe what I am talking about.

Call it by what name you will, here are some examples of near misses, encounters I have had where had ‘my wild child’ been given free reign, life would not be as rosy for me.

Way back when I got hired for my first professional job, there I sat with the HR man. He was indeed hiring, for not just one, but three positions, one of which was in Portland Oregon, where I now life. At the close of the interview, he said he’d get back to me by Friday. That being Tuesday, when 3:00 PM Thursday afternoon rolled along and I hadn’t heard from the HR guy, I called. His secretary said ‘Plane tickets for that Sunday were sitting on his desk. She suggested I’d best hustle on over and pick them up. If I’d listened to my inner I might still be waiting for that call back, right? Some may think my call back was a no brainer, but believe it or not, some people have a hard time with this lesson; No one will ever take as keen an interest in your career as you do. Always have an action plan; no matter how much confidence your wild child has in the benevolence of the universe, Eternal Vigilance is required if we are to earn a living or enjoy our liberty.

Later in life, my vigilance becomes more keen:

At some point, I left that first job. I had $10,000 sitting in my 401K. It was August 1987. I opened up an IRA and placed a buy order for a stock I liked; Berkshire Hathaway. At the time, the chart said the value of a share bounced between 10,000 and 12,000. But I only had 10. So I placed my order at 9700 so even I could afford it. Wouldn’t you know it, several weeks later black Monday, October 19, 1987 came along. The broker even called me to see if I still wanted him to honor my order? What? Was he allowing me possibility to lower my bid? Had the market gone lower? No. Was it an ‘out’ to cancel my order? How easy it would have been to listen to my wild child and do just that: cancel the order. “No,” I said. “Please execute the order.” That share is worth $120,000 today.

Another example of eternal vigilance, of being alert to the false map of reality, of situations where the wild child could mislead, misrepresent and sabotage our plans.

More recently, OK, it may’ve been 15 years ago, I got a call. “Hello,” the caller said. “I’m not sure if I have the right number. I’m looking for Ted Magnuson, the author.” I hadn’t published anything at the time. Was the caller putting me on? How my wild child preened for repartee. “Is that you Richard? You trying to get a rise out of me?” Or worse; “Yeah, it’s me, I’ve got five freaking books on the New York Times bestseller list. What are you selling?”

But no, thanks to years of adult style disciple, thanks to years of practicing eternal vigilance, I simply said “speaking.”

I got offered to do a book deal.

In these three simple examples, my wild child could have disrupted my life had he been given the run of the place. Am I alone in this? How many of us have a wild child? Worse, how many of us have a wild side and don’t even know it? And so I pose a question to you. When such occasions occur, in our own lives and the lives of those around us, who is in the driver’s seat? The wild child or the director? Oh, the wild child may be entertaining. And yes, they do need their space to romp but when it comes time to do some business; we all need to be alert, we all need to make sure the director is on duty or at least on the scene.

I suspect that were more wild children better educated many of the problems now afflicting the world would be much closer to being solved.

         If you think education is expensive, try ignorance

Ted Magnuson’s audio CD Those Self Evident Truths,’ captures more words that ring with Celestial Power, 1215-1865.

Who’s that yonder do I see? Seen while cycling in Oregon

Ah, summer in Oregon.
I mount my bike. I spin past the farm fields of the valleys, shifting down, climbing up the north sides of hills clad in evergreen trees, descending fast down southern slopes planted in vineyards. I ride for miles and miles.
Pausing at the crest of a hill who do yonder I see but Mitt Romney, pecs glistening in the sun. He wears only running shorts, sneakers and yes, that shrewd smile of his. He flicks a finger in greeting as he acknowledges me as he passes by.
No. Surely it couldn’t be Mitt Romney…but who knows what one might see while riding a bike through the mystic Oregon countryside on a summer day. It’s Sunday. Quiet.
I pass by a church. Again, a coincidental surprise. Who was that shaking the pastor’s hand? I kid you not; it was George W. Bush. And seated outside the café at the crossroads- Gorbechev…talking with Henry K? Ho! This must be a big day in history, to see the doubles of so many prominent people as I cycle by.
What state am I in, anyway? Is it Oregon or Dehydration?
I pick up a sport drink at a market. Is the shopkeeper handing me my change Bill Clinton? He turns to stack his merchandise in the front of his store.
Then on the move again. There’s Ronald Reagan tearing down an old barn, mending a fence, riding off on his ATV, tipping his hat to me. Richard Nixon boards a Cessna on a grassy field. He’s heading west, the gas station attendant tells me.
Jimmy Carter talks to some migrants at a camp. I stop by the side of the road to refill my water bottle at a farm stand disbelieving everything I see.
Who is that, working out in the hazel tree orchard, scraping the ground, preparing for the harvest? The mannerism, the deportment of the man. He looks familiar. He raises his hand to wave. Good lord, it’s the President! Barack Obama—
Now admittedly the bike is a marvelous machine, bringing the rider closer to the countryside, much more so than in a car. Yet have I become too familiar with my country, expecting to see, yea seeing, so many luminaries out shirt sleeves rolled up toiling away under a now very hot sun? But no, isn’t it what we would expect to see, our Presidents hard at work just like you and me?

Move over teabaggers. Make room for the Espresso Patriots.

TR gave us the Square Deal, FDR the New Deal; OBAMA, give us the Real Deal!
It’s about time our country reinvigorates, revitalizes, revamps Education, Infrastructure,
and the Industrial Government Complex. As Thomas Friedman has titled his new book
“That Used to Be Us.” If you haven’t read this book, please do so.
It can be us again, back in the saddle again, off to reinvent America, and by proxy, the world.
China is sick, Russia is aging, while Muslim reactionaries are getting pinged by Predators, and ST6.
There’s a leadership vacum out there craving to be filled by stalwart sensible Espresso Patriots, teabaggers!
Let me hear an Amen!

What about the North Korean Escapees? How do they cope with the changes in South Korea?

Trouble keeping up with the changes in the modern world?

Take a walk in the shoes of North Koreans who travel south

until they are breathing free.  In the Christian Science Monitor, August 9, 2010

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-Pacific/2010/0805/North-Korean-refugees-adapt-to-life-school-and-prejudice-in-South-Korea

The Congressional Investigations: Will honor, integrity and value be consigned to the dustbin of history?

The congressman may grill, embarass and browbeat the CEO’s of Toyota and BP. Will they likewise extract an “I’m sorry it happened” from Goldman Sachs? Hello. What’s the point? Does making the powerful appear powerless appeal to a certain block of voters? While this may be great STYLE; where’s the SUBSTANCE? What about fixing what ails society? What about holding people accountable? Will the $20 Billion in restitution ever be spent? Can the Gulf of Mexico be restored to pre-spill condition (or better)? How long will we live in this netherworld?

While cycnicism (and apathy?) towards these things may be the ‘generally accepted reality measuring principle’ of such things, one can only look back in awe at other times in history when the top 1% of society took too many liberties with the remaining 99%. At such times, when ‘enough was enough,’ true change took place. The signing of the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address come to mind. When will we see their ilk again? For those desiring to revisit those acheivements, I’ve compiled ‘Those Self Evident Truths;’ 72 minutes of audio inspiration for your edification. Available through itunes. follow the link above.  Thank you for your support.   

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