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:

Zimmerman and Martin and The Two Minutes

It has been 18 months since the death of Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012. When a tragedy of this scale occurs in the course of what might otherwise be described as an ordinary day, the word WHY pops up for me in capital letters.

         A trial lasting over a month, 15 hours of jury deliberation, and countless media stories have attempted to answer WHY, various media outlets have taken sides on WHY, drawn lessons from WHY and still it strikes me that we know more inflammatory details than facts.

Yes, passion has entered into the picture. Words like ‘racially charged,’ ‘profiling, vigilante and ‘hoodie wearing suspect’ have been hurled about. Please consider however on that fatal night, that until shortly after 7:00 pm, the two actors in this tragedy were just ordinary guys like you and me going about the simple tasks of everyday life.

         Then—in two minutes—life could no longer be taken for granted. According to Wikipedia, there were only two minutes between 7:15 pm, the time George Zimmerman hung up on his 911 phone call and 7:17, when Sanford policeman Timothy Smith arrived to observe Zimmerman and Martin, Martin by this time dead. Here’s another fact, again from Wikipedia: The scene of this death was but 70 yards from the unit where Trayvon Martin was staying at the time.

         Would that Zimmerman had waited just 10 seconds until Martin arrived at his destination, opening his door with a key that fit the lock just right.

         Only two minutes.

         Do I judge Zimmerman in this? Do I judge Martin in this?

         No, all I am saying is two minutes can last forever.

         Be careful, even on ordinary days.

Ted Magnuson is the author of The Bouchard Legacy, the story of two step-brothers, one black, one white, and a fourth generation family business set in St Louis and America 1968-1979. Paul has earned his inheritance, but Randy owns it. The Cover of The Bouchard Legacy

Link to the Bouchard Legacy

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It’s All About ‘Enough.’ Saying that Last Farewell

elderly people

As this is the season for often lengthy holiday trips and family visits, I’m posting this story:

At an airport I overheard a mother and daughter in their last moments together. They had announced her plane’s departure and standing near the door, she said to her daughter, “I love you, I wish you enough.” She said, “Mom, our life together has been more than enough. Your love is all I ever needed. I wish you enough, too, Mom.” They kissed good-bye and she left. She walked over toward the window where I was seated. Standing there I could see she wanted and needed to cry. I tried not to intrude on her privacy, but she welcomed me in by asking, “Did you ever say good-bye to someone knowing it would be forever?” “Yes, I have,” I replied. Saying that brought back memories I had of expressing my love and appreciation for all my Mom had done for me. Recognizing that her days were limited, I took the time to tell her face to face how much she meant to me. So I knew what this woman was experiencing. “Forgive me for asking, but why is this a forever good-bye?” I asked. “I am old and she lives much too far away. I have challenges ahead and the reality is, her next trip back will be for my funeral, ” she said. “When you were saying good-bye I heard you say, ‘I wish you enough.’ May I ask what that means?” She began to smile. “That’s a wish that has been handed down from other generations. My parents used to say it to everyone.” She paused for a moment and looking up as if trying to remember it in detail, she smiled even more. “When we said ‘I wish you enough,’ we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with enough good things to sustain them,” she continued, and then turning toward me she shared the following as if she were reciting it from memory. “I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright. I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more. I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive. I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger. I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting. I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess. I wish enough “Hello’s” to get you through the final “Good-bye..”

A post from Amanda Morris, K-Love Radio Portland, Oregon.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Auld Lang Syne.

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

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

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.

Is Marriage Dead?

While the craven hearts of men and women have long been lamented in popular song and story, shall we now dismiss marriage as outdated and irrelevant? With the divorce rate gyrating around 50% of all marriages, it would seem there is more ‘promise’ than ‘delivery’ to the archaic institution.
Perhaps marriage should go the way of slavery and transport by horse and carriage.
But wait, all respect to those cloven by divorce, as divorce does work on individuals and couples in all walks of life, under all manner of circumstances, on those with varying degrees of ‘wherewithal’ ($$$) and smarts (IQ), are we hearing the full story when statistics cite a 50% divorce rate?
When it comes to large numbers, like the entire adult population of America, can’t we also conclude that 50% of the people are below average? Note: I am not inferring these are necessarily the same people.
Are we hearing the full story when we hear that ‘freedom’ and focus on ‘income generating activity’ to the exclusion of a private life are more important priorities? Have people truly become so sophisticated these days that the simple pleasures of exchanging kind words, keeping house, candles at dinner, and grocery shopping have all become passé?
It is a sad world indeed, I should think, once people begin to say to one another such things as:
“I don’t lift a finger for nobody unless I am paid for it.”
“I don’t have time for intimacy. It is too labor intensive. The results don’t match the efforts.”
“I don’t have time for exclusive intimacy. I always find myself falling into the trap of giving to my partner more than I get in return.”
Surely, with over population such as it is, it is good there are those who would prefer to forgo marriage. It is good there are worker bees uninterested in childrearing. Would that more people take up that lifestyle, especially in the failed states and least techno savvy countries.
However, I should also ask those who pursue such freedom and such dedication to their profession; ‘what of the children? What of those who come after us? If taking time for conversation, over candles (or not) has become droll, if every transaction must have a dollar sign attached to it, what does that say about our commitment to being human? Vending machines are very good at giving value for the dollar, though I would be hard-pressed to find a vending machine that can cook a fresh caught rainbow trout or even a tasty bowl of Hungarian goulash, much less a hug or even a smile.
Perhaps dinner over candlelight with sparkling eyes, sweet bouquets and sobriquets aren’t meant to last forever, but infatuation isn’t marriage. Couples golf, tandem bikes and ballroom dancing count as together time, too.
If any case, when it comes to delving into the craven heart of men and women are concerned, when it comes to saying “Marriage is dead, 50% of marriages fail, I would also point out that 99.9% of the people can’t be president of the United States or the Sovereign Head of England.
Should those institutions be discarded, too?