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:

Disaster Story; Is it some kind of Joke or What?

GT-H2O-DZ 13

Congratulations on surviving Dec 21 2012, the much ballyhooed ‘End of Time’ according to Mayan Mystics. Did you think it was some kind of  joke; think again. These stories have been around since the beginning of time.  You know about the Great Flood? Noah and his ark? Everybody died but Noah and his people. Listen, these stories have a grain of truth. They tell me “If life were a raft trip, you may be drifting in the slack water now, but there are rapids on the river, you better get ready—or suffer the consequences.

True personal disaster story; about mid December, I was frantic–looking for Noah. That’s right; it’s about my house. A strange hissing sound like water running. Do you hear it? I sure did. Were the Mayans right? Could that sound be the floodgates opening? I checked all the toilets and faucets in my house. Nary a drip anywhere. Then I checked my outdoor water spickets. There, right next to my arbor vitae—something new–a bubbling spring.

How’s that? What did it mean?

Oh no. My problem wasn’t plumbing inside the house, it was plumbing outside the house. My water line, buried two feet down had burst. If all the water soaking into the ground around my house hadn’t flooded my basement yet, it will. Plus; it’s metered water. That won’t be cheap.

Not only that. I live on the side of a hill. If my house slides down to the highway, I’ll have to get it licensed as a motor vehicle and take it in to DEQ for  motor vehicle inspections every two years. Nuts to that!

Now I don’t have the tool to turn the water off at the meter, do you? I’m pleased to report that before you can say ‘Hurry on down to the hardware store,’ my City Water responded to my emergency call. Workers were out to the house. They turned my water off.

Were my problems over? No. I need a plumber; like now! Instinctively, I reach for my yellow pages. Have you forgotten about the yellow pages? The Aardvark Alpha Plumbing AAAAAA… knows the yellow pages well. They had five identical full page ads sprawled all over the plumbing section. How could I call anyone else? Their dispatcher even said it– “Don’t you call anyone else. Our man will be there in the hour. He’ll have you back in water by lunch time for sure. After three more phone calls, Aardvark Alpha AAAAAA… finally did show up. He could get my water back for only $5,000. Does that sound steep? It sounded steep to me, too. But the Aardvark man said it was a good deal, adding “A disreputable plumber would have charged me $12,000. Good old johnny-on-the-spot Aardvark AAAAAA… even threw in a Mayan calendar. Turns out the only way he could get my water back by lunch, was through a garden hose. “See you next week,” he said and left.

That’s when the other plumbers started showing up, the ones I called before Aardvark Accidental.  The second contractor quoted me half of Aardvark Alpha’s price, but no Mayan calendar, not even one mention of Noah, either. The third contractor Metro Plumbing, came by. He was not only pleasant, but quoted a third the price of Aardvark AAAAAAA… Wait a minute. Talk is cheap. I’m living in the 21st century. Why don’t I Google these contractors? For good measure I yahooed ‘em and yelped em, too. I even looked at the complaints filed with the State Construction Contractors Board. Did I get an eyeful. There are some bad operators out there swindling a gullible public.

Wouldn’t you know it, Aardvark Alpha AAAAAA… was at the top, or should I say bottom of the sleaze ball opportunist leak-chasing bad operators, list. The lowest of the low. They almost got kicked out of the state. In this case the early bird didn’t get the worm. The early bird was the worm! I called up Aardvark Alpha A-hole lot of A’s immediately to cancel my contract.

Then my friendly realtor neighbor came by. He saw my yard all tore up. I told him of my experience with the three plumbing companies.

He asked who’d I go with?

“Metro Plumbers,” I said.

He said “Good choice. I would have recommended them myself. Why, I had lunch with Mike Metro just last week. And the next time something like this happens, call me. I can recommend plumbers, painters, windows, HVAC guys. I know who does good work…and who’s going to work you over.”

Disasters, floods, fires, financial house of cards implosions; the end of the world. Oh yeah, these things are going to happen. Life is like a raft trip and there are rapids on this river. Be prepared,  know your equipment, at home, at work, in the community and in the world; how to take care, and who to call with the river starts rising. The sleazy operators don’t stand a chance if we can all work together. Let’s run Aardvark Alpha Awfuls –out of business.

If you enjoyed this story, Ted Magnuson has written The Bouchard Legacy, about a fourth generation family business that changed with the times 1968-1979.

Link to the Bouchard Legacy

The Grand Staircase of Life

The Grand Staircase of Life

A friend of mine once explained it all to me. Life is like a giant staircase—something on the scale of the Grand Canyon. You go through periods of intense activity and growth, climbing up a step or two but then a year might go by, or two, where you consolidate stuff, don’t learn much, and just put life on autopilot. “It’s less hectic that way,” he explained.

His analogy may be very apt—depending on which plateau you happen to be on at the time. For the analogy does break down, doesn’t it? The ‘Staircase of Life’ aren’t necessarily navigated on autopilot.

The ‘prompts to climb,’ the times for growth, change, turmoil; call it what you will are many, are sudden, and can be trying.

The appearance of a ‘staircase’ could be as simple as boredom, or a new assignment at work. It could be as intense and tumultuous as the loss of a job, or of someone close to us. Whatever it is, crises/growth/the spur to change…happens. Can we choose to ignore change? Will it then go away?

Not in this life!

Change is inevitable. Our response to change is what makes all the difference.

In his book ‘A Stranger’s Gift,’ Tom Hallman describes how on Sept 11, his flight home to Portland from Chicago got grounded. He spent the next two days coming home on Amtrak. Conversations at dinner with fellow passengers prompted him to ask the larger questions; what did he want out of life, what direction was his life taking?

As a result of this train trip, Tom Hallman changed. He took a spiritual journey, which he generously laid out for us in his book ‘A Stranger’s Gift.’

Now, change is admittedly difficult. There is something in human nature isn’t there, that stubbornly insists “That’s the way it’s always been and always will be.”

But whether we see them or not, these facts, these prompts for change happen. We are the better for it, then; if we train ourselves to both recognize and act on these prompts for change.

How?

Mainly, I believe, by the people we meet, the books we read, the broadening of our experience that we do in times when we are ‘on the plateaus’ of life.

Then when it’s climb time, we are ready.

In my own life, this past month saw the release of my novel The Bouchard Legacy. I have been working on this change, this project, this book for the past 15 years! Several things prompted me to write this book. And I could easily have ignored them. But having acted on them, look what I’ve got: my very own book. You may have heard it said; “Everyone has a book inside them? Or as Paul of Tarsus said “We are all books written by God.”

That being so, now I know that at least in my book, there are pages with stuff written on them!   Hoo Haa!

How about your book? Are there pages with good stuff written on them? I hope so, for all our sakes.

If my own case rings true, I know there won’t be much good stuff on the page if I haven’t gone to the trouble of putting it there. Good doesn’t’ happen on autopilot.

How then does it take place?

Lately there’s been some talk about ‘hope.’

But what is hope?

A cure-all panoply?

Some kind of sleight of hand, woo-woo hocus pocus?

How can we nail hope down?

What if we reframe the concept of hope as believing?

Once we believe there is a solution.

We believe that we can tackle the job before us.

Then achievement is possible.

In my own situation, I’d always enjoyed reading, the idea of writing a book had always appealed to me, but it wasn’t until I decided I would believe, that I took steps towards writing my book. Suddenly, opportunities began to appear.

A writer’s conference is announced in the news; I will go.

A cheap computer/word processor appears at a garage sale; I buy.

I plug it in; it works!

And so day by day, change took place and now I have a book to my name. Hoo Haa!

Whatever the stimulus for change may be for you; an uneasy feeling, ominous undertones at work, a pink slip, a personal tragedy or even an unconscionable streak of good fortune, first keep your head.

Believe.

Next: Be alert to your opportunities, your resources and your direction.

Finally; the last step is much the same as the first: Keep believing.

Again, to my own example. My novel, The Bouchard Legacy is about a family whose wealth is about to be passed on, possibly to a fourth generation.  It’s about coming of age in the mid America of the 1970’s.

It’s about the journey from child to adult, boy to man, girl to woman, perhaps one of the most phenomenal changes of them all.

I offer this book to you as a proof, a product of what happens when we accept the challenge change presents to us.

What changes would you like to see in your life?

What changes in the world around you?

Can you can be that change?

About that staircase in your life? Is that a wall you see before you now…or a step?

[https://www.createspace.com/3833507]

What an Age We Live In

What an age we live in. Trillions have been blown on bailing out industries that ‘deregulated’ themselves into penury (except for executive compensation), Wars have been declared with budgets conveniently hidden ‘off budget,’ Computing capacity has expanded exponentially over the past 20 years into the region of terabytes yet some industry wags can claim with a straight face–innovation is dead. Healthcare costs consume 17% of our Gross Domestic Product –and growing at a rate twice as high as the rate of inflation (half of healthcare spending is Medicare related)…
Whoaaahhh now–Enough with the problems already. It’s enough to make a body sick. Worse, according to the press, all these problems are highly entertaining. The arguments are framed by the extremes. Now ain’t that a kick in the pants?
Our elected leaders hold town halls and are shouted down with irrational argument. Attempts to get a handle on escalating healthcare spending are called fascist (Nazi). I would hope that those who have taken the trouble to secure a career in either government or journalism would be seeking solutions instead of sowing such discord. Leonard Pitts called them on this in a recent column. ‘Too, socialism’ is hooted by some about as a dirty word. Perhaps if those who complain of such an outrage as socialism were to surrender their social security income once they were eligible, that could go some ways towards offsetting the tremendous expenses that are now bandied about so freely.
The truth of the matter is No One achieves anything on their own. Our society works because there is a certain assumption that we should all be working together on building the world we live in. If I were to build a house, I wouldn’t rely on just a carpenter, or just a plumber, or an electrician. Neither should you. Specialization has been going on for a very long time now and to the degree that some of us are supervisors and leaders, we shouldn’t be inciting one group of people against the other.
As to our current problems, there is plenty of blame to go around as to how we got to where we are today. While it may be entertaining or even cathartic for some to rant and rave- is this really productive? Why is attention so directed at the extremes of a problem, at the outliers, if you will?
Let us hope rather that there is an eye at the center of this storm where progress is being made, where sound judgment is exercised, and society can move on in its primary objectives, to provide a healthy environment for all humanity to live, pursuit their ambitions and make the world a better place for us all.
Such crises are nothing new. Before democracy became the law of the land, ‘Royalty’ was said to have divine rights. If you do doubt the ingenuity of people to rise above their problems, I invite you to listen to “Those Self Evident Truths,” an audio reading of the English Magna Carta, the Amercian Declartion of Independence and the events leading up to the need for them.
Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.