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:

Authors Road- Contemporary Storytellers speak of their vocation

Interview2WbSmI recently attended a presentation of interviews titled ‘The Authors Road. But you don’t have to wait for the Road Show to come to you. Vist the website. George and Salli of ‘The Author’s Road.’
have interviewed dozens of living American writers and even done treatments on authors who live on in name only (John Steinbeck, Mark Twain). If contemporary fiction the likes of Haki Madhubuti, Jo Harvey Allen, Frederick Turner, Michael Blake, Jim Harrison, Philip Caputo, Jim Fergus, Diana Gabaldon and many more; if these names speak to you, then don’t delay, please visit ‘The Author’s Road.’ Pictured: the Interview with Tom Robbins. A link is provided.
The Authors Road
Thank you George and Salli for what you do!

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.

Apollo 11 turns 40.

It was 40 years ago today when Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins touched down on the moon. The Byrds, the quintessentail folk-rock group sang:

Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins were launched away in space
Millions of hearts were lifted, proud of the human race
Space control at Houston, radio command
The team below that gave the go they had God’s helping hand.

A high school senior at the time, I was very excited about the journey to the moon. I read widely…Jules Verne, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C Clark. I even wrote a book myself on space travel-It’s called
The Moses ProbeMaybe it was escapist, but with the media ballyhooing nuclear showdown with the Russians, with political leaders being assinated and riots wracking the inner cities….OK, we’ve got bad news today, too. Anyway, Neil Armstrong said it best as he uttered the first words on the moon… “A big step forward for humanity.” many There are those who said the space program was pork barrel, but look at all the technological advances that can be traced to the space race. Transistor radios, better paint finishes, communications tech. It was disappointing that not much new seems to have happened in the last 30 years, so far as manned missions go.

Then again, now take satellites for granted. The Hubble telescope, the Mars Rover. There is talk of travel to Mars in our lifetimes. One can only speculate what resources can actually be gleaned from space. But perhaps the greatest gift of all is the mental challenge and the focus it brings to discovery, invention and collaboration.

The Day Trickle Down Economics Began

Nixon guard hatsFor those who’ve just joined the passing scene, or for those who’d like a recap as we face the latest downward spiral of the economy and civilization as we know it, a quick survey of recent years may be useful. Once we take a quick spin through the past 40 years, I’d like to dig deeper into this archeological construct we call government back to the very foundations of democracy itself.
Hold on, we’ll move fast.
Some time ago, it was the 1970’s. Richard Nixon gave the US Presidency a certain Imperial sheen. This was exemplified by outfitting the White House Guards in high peaked hats and tunics. Very chic, very continental. But the European style didn’t sit well with opinion makers or Americans at large, and so it was dropped. Indeed, King Richard the Nixon himself was unceremoniously dropped from office for a serious breach of etiquette, whether real or imagined. Some go so far as to say he was framed, never having ordered the Watergate break-ins in the first place, but nevertheless, eager to cover it up nonetheless. —as to the truth of such a tale, I can only refer the reader to The Bush Dynasty by …..
There seems to be a pattern here for our Presidents. They are given a big job to do, and for the most part, they are criticized and condemned for it. Jimmy Carter gave the office of the president a folksy spin by addressing the TV audience in a cardigan sweater, and placing solar panels on the White House roof, urging everyone to turn down their thermostats. Speed limits on the Instertant Highway system were reduced to 55-double nickel, to conserve fuel. It seemed to hobble the whole idea of America the Beautiful, which was taken down a further notch when 52 Americans were held hostage in Iran for 444 days.
Ronald Reagan took the helm in 1981, the hostages were released thanks to numerous pressures faced by Iran such as the Iran/Iraq war, the freezing of Iranian assets in America and the diplomatic efforts of Carter’s Deputy Secretary of State, Warren Christopher. One thing that can be said about Reagan is he knew how to stand up to the media. He gave the country a great psychological boost, though what he did for the economy may not be quite so illustrious. Reagon tore down Carter’s solar panels. He said “America is great. We don’t need no stinking reduction in Highway Speed limits or constraints of the burning of fossil fuels, just because the price of fuel has tripled in the last ten years.
He went on to be a great statesman President, one who quipped “Let’s reduce taxes on the wealthy, so they can invest all the additional money they don’t pay in taxes. They could build anti-ballistic missiles with this additionally repatriated money. …and we could build eight star luxury hotels to show our appreciation for all their hard work and contributions to society. What’s good for the top 5% of the population is good for everyone, as they are good tippers.” OK, OK, Ronald Reagan didn’t really say it quite like that, but anyway the theory is called trickledown economics.
Actually, I’m not sure where the trickling really starts or what it is that is being trickled. It seems like every chief executive of the United States has been ‘trickled on’ by a bumper crop in “Impeach X” where “X” stands for the seated head of state.
So enough with humor. Let us look at the interaction of the classes in a democratic society. Modern democracies can trace their lineage back to monarchies. The evolution of monarchies into democracies began about this time of year. It was June 15th, 1215 when King John signed the Magna Carta. This year marks the 794th anniversary of that signing. The Magna Carta wasn’t the first time constraints were placed on the British Monarch by his or her Aristocracy, but it was the first time that someone took the trouble to gather up all the various agreements and practices that had existed previously and codified them into the Magna Carta. Some will argue that the Barons who met with King John at Runnymede Meadow were just watching out for their won backsides. True, to a degree. Actually, they were more looking out for their families. Rights of inheritance were a major issue in the agreement.
However, Edward Coke, 17th century jurist and Member of Parliament, known to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, argued what was actually at stake was The Law; no one, not even the King is above the law. This is powerful stuff. It led to the English Petition of Rights. So again, we might ask ourselves, when it comes to ‘trickle down economics,’ what is trickling down on whom? That is the challenge that governments are supposed to be set up to answer.