Tag Archives: Vietnam

Warmongers and warriors

‘I love war, let’s kill somebody’CULTURE.WARMONGER SAMURAI

by Stacey Warde

I’ve spent most of my adult life studying the ways of a warrior and unlearning the ways of war.

I grew up during the Vietnam war in the midst of air fighter squadrons, the roar of jets blasting and taking off from El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, and the whoop-whoop of Chinook helicopters from another base closer to home, all done in readiness for war.

My formative years were steeped in war talk.

I heard the nightly body counts from Walter Cronkite and wondered why that was so important.

I learned that the “good” guys don’t always win, that not everyone likes war.

Countless Marines, sailors, and soldiers from all over the country  patronized local bars and liquor stores, returning to their quarters drunk and happy. They looked strong and tough, if not a little weary.

They were boastful and rowdy and rash, belligerent and angry. More than once as a teenage boy I had to fast-talk my way out of a fight with one who always wanted me to know for some reason that Marines will kick your ass.

It wasn’t until much later that I learned the difference between a tough guy, or even a soldier or a Marine, and a genuine warrior.

By warrior, taken mostly from the Japanese samurai tradition, I mean one who has mastered himself. He has honed himself like his sword—sharp, swift, capable of delivering blows. His spirit is strong and generous. He rises above and prevents conflict. He doesn’t oppress others. He is kind and quick and steady. He is fierce and formidable.

My understanding of the best warrior is the one who stops conflict before it begins. He has the skills, training and heart to care enough to confront without rancor or bellicosity or violence. That way, few people get hurt and precious resources do not get squandered or destroyed or taken.

Fortunately, I’ve avoided combat and kept my fisticuffs to a minimum. I know plenty of guys who love to fight. I’m not one of them. I may be combative, but I try to avoid bloodletting as much as possible.

I began my fascination with war, as most American little boys do, growing up with war. I had barely started grade school in 1965 when a family friend shipped overseas to Vietnam, a jungle dangerous and dark, full of mud and men in black pajamas who wanted to kill you. He showed me black-and-white polaroids of him and his buddies camped out in the middle of the jungle, their army issue socks and skivvies hanging on a clothesline behind them. They stood together, arms around shoulders, cigarettes hanging from their mouths, crooked smiles. I stared at the photo, studying the detail of plants behind them, which I’d never seen before, and the spooky darkness between their massive leaves.

“Did you kill anyone?” I asked him earnestly, wondering what lay beyond the jungle darkness.

He took the polaroid from my hand, gave me a squinty look. “We don’t like to talk about that, son.”

"RAMBO" David Settino Scott (http://www.davidsettinoscott.com)

“RAMBO” David Settino Scott (http://www.davidsettinoscott.com)

A boy in this country discovers quickly that he’d better learn how to fight because, one way or another, there’s a bully or a commie or a terrorist who’s coming after you and you’re going to have to show him you’re not afraid, you won’t back down, and you’ll do what it takes to knock the bejesus out of him. You have to take a stand, or find someone who will take it for you.

I scrapped with most of the boys I grew up with. We argued, pushed, shoved and sometimes fought. As I grew older, the gaming and roughhousing got more risky, bloody and brawling, so I decided to pursue wrestling, organized and competitive, and learned quickly, as dad liked to say, “There’s always going to be someone who’s better than you, son.”

Still, it was as important as ever to develop a killer instinct, to go after blood if necessary, to make it on the mat against other wrestlers, and eventually to make it in the world. More than a killer’s instinct, I learned how to endure, how to give and take a beating, to experience pain. This has always made me think twice about getting into a fight, unlike many of our leaders.

My interest in the combat arts grew as much from curiosity as it did from environment, from growing up in the U.S., where militarism and warcraft permeate nearly every aspect of our culture. I wanted to know it as well as  anyone else. I didn’t want to just play but be a soldier, and I was encouraged by friends and family to do it.

Joining the Army at 17 made sense because, like so many other young men at the time, I had nothing else going for me, and I could reform myself, study a craft and improve my limited opportunities. It became a rite of passage, where boys become men who learn the art of warfare.

In 1976, the Soviet “threat” kept spreading across the globe and I signed for a three-year stint as an Army Ranger to contain it; we were a light infantry strike unit whose mission was to destroy enemy communications and supply lines. We trained for terrorism and kidnappings, and conducted rescue operations in the desert. We drilled and trained hard, preparing for any likely scenario involving terrorists, guerillas and regular combat troops. We were given plenty of opportunities for honing our killing capabilities.

I took a course in explosives from Sgt. “Boom Boom” Mattoon, Ranger demo expert, and an advisor in the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, to broaden my kill potential.

“I got da record for blowing up da most churches in Vietnam in one day,” he boasted.  “So listen up, and listen good!”

He demoed the explosive magic of C4, a putty-like substance kids would love. Roll it up in a little ball, or light it with a match and cook your meals and it won’t explode, but stick a blasting cap in a brick of it and you can take out a church.

“I love war, let’s kill somebody!” a newbie to the unit said after “Boom Boom” detonated a charge.

You could always count on at least one person, usually someone who’d never seen combat, someone who didn’t really know what they were talking about, to make these comments. They were usually the first to wash out of the Ranger unit.

Even my father, as I was preparing at 17 to go into active military service two days after my 18th birthday, advised me: “Son, you either kill or be killed.”

Not many days later at a seedy hotel in Los Angeles, dizzy from the realization that in the morning I’d get on a bus to the airport with dozens of other young recruits and fly to New Jersey for basic training, I found a pay phone on the street and in tears pleaded with my mother, “I don’t want to go!”

“It’s too late now, son. You made your decision.”

The military did not train me to be a warrior. I learned that much later. I learned instead how to be a tactician, how to plan an attack and kill. It takes so much more to be a warrior, to be a voice of reason in the heat of combat, to see the futility and stupidity and waste of war, to be diplomatic and prevent war from happening in the first place.

Unfortunately, we don’t have that in this country.

Rather, we have warmongers, not warriors, who love to talk about killing and war. They talk a big talk, men of dubious reason, lacking humility, pounding the war drums, who have no experience as warriors, and lead others into hell. Don’t listen to them. Listen to the ones who have mastered themselves, the true warriors, who know how to stop war before it starts. §

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice.

Black is beautiful

A young American lieutenant, his leg burned by an exploding Viet Cong white phosphorus booby trap, is treated by a medic.  1966.

A black medic treats a young American lieutenant, his leg burned by an exploding Viet Cong white phosphorus booby trap in Vietnam in 1966. http://bit.ly/1CBinSv

by Dell Franklin

Willie Green come into the 25th Army field hospital in Verona, Italy, and he green all right, he so country he don’t know it, he don’t know what to do, he don’t know what to do with himself, and he slow, Georgia slow, don’t wanna talk, and you can’t tell if he don’t wanna talk cuz he so shy, or he ashamed of bein’ slow and dumb.

Top-kick McCray can’t do nothin’ with this skinny kid, he ain’t but 18, and he all hands, got these big old hands, always wavin’ ‘em around, like he don’t know what to do with ‘em. They send him everywhere in the dispensary, and he useless, he go to mutterin’ you ask him do anything and mope in the corner like a dog been whupped up on with a switch.

McCray, he say Johnson, you got to look out after that poor dumb nigger, take him under your wing, like his big brother, or he ain’t gon make it, they send his sorry ass to goddam Nam in the infantry, fight Charlie.

I talk to my bud Thomas, tell him we got to take care of doofus Green, and Thomas mutter how he from south Philly and don’t like no country nigger, a country nigger from the south nothin’ but Uncle Tom slave bait, Whitey gon fuck him over big time and the dumb country nigger gon kiss his ass while he gettin’ fucked over, and I tell Thomas McCray want us to look out for Green so he don’t get his ass killed in Nam like the rest of us poor niggers.

By this time my good buds are gone—Ruffner, DeSimone, Mills, Lamb, Robbie. I been here longer than any of these troops and officers and doctors, they like me, Top-kick McCray got me runnin’ the shot room and emergency and sterilization rooms, got me a promotion to Spec.4 and damn near runnin’ the dispensary, cuz I know what to do, I surprise myself, knowin’ so much stuff, I can suture, I save a Colonel’s life when he have a heart attack, doctor Stein come in after I pound his chest and give him mouth-to-mouth, and say Johnson, you save his life, you ask questions and are prepared, we trust you with the lives of folks, which is most important. Yes.

I don’t try and teach Green the shot room stuff, cuz he too shaky with that needle. He ain’t no good behind the desk with sick folks and their records, so I take him to sterilization. We got suture kits, minor surgery kits, instruments. I pack and sterilize all kits and instruments in the big steel autoclave, hemostats, forceps, probes, scissors, clamps, I wrap ’em and put ’em in the cabinets in the emergency room, and when a doctor prepare to work on somebody, I do what the docs tell me to do, and if it real busy they tell me go ahead and suture up a dude, or wrap a plaster cast, or splint, or bandage folks, I’m good at it, like a pro. Oh yes.

Now Green, he listen but he don’t listen. He won’t look at you. He look down. I say, “Green, look at me. Don’t be lookin’ down like some whupped up nigger. I be your bud. Come on now.”

Thomas and me, we try and explain that hey, Green, you got you a boss gig here, but he mumble and mope, like he don’t care, like he got no life, and we ask him what he do on the outside and he mumble he a “bree-lay since he 12, and it take a while understand he mean a “brick layer,” work with his daddy and nine brothers, and you see why he got them big strong hands, he wiry from layin’ them bricks, he ain’t muscle-strong like me or lanky big like Thomas, but the dude got some powerful grip, and he got ants in his pants, he ain’t lazy, just confused, so first thing I do, I pick up a little wire probe, and I say, “Green, this here a probe. It don’t look like much, but it important, docs use it to dig poison out of folks, rub out cysts, like a knife got no point. Now it got to be sterilized, cuz if it ain’t and doc go gougin’ around in folks, they gon get a nasty infection and maybe croak, so we got to be careful sterilizing this probe, and all the other stuff in this room, it’s powerful important, most especially to the docs, and the docs, they God around here, Green. God!”

Thomas watchin’, arms folded in his whites, pens in his pocket, cuz he runnin’ the front desk and helpin’ me in the shot room, and he know how to handle himself, despite bein’ a stubborn, contrary ghetto nigger angry alla time, ain’t gon catch him smilin’ at Whitey ‘less he got a trick in store.

I show Green how to wrap a probe. Then I let him do it. He do it all wrong. I say, “Green, watch me do it, you got to pay attention, or you do it all wrong and piss off the docs!”

He make a face and grumble and walk out the sterilization room and go trampin’ around post. I guess he angry and hurt. I run his ass down and bring him back, tell him cool down. I tell him they gon get his ass killed in Nam he don’t shape up. Doin’ all this stuff ain’t that hard if y’all pay attention. So I lay the probe on the cotton wrapper and show him how to wrap it, and then I unwrap it and have Green wrap it, and he do so, like I show him, and I say, “Now Green, keep doin’ it the way I doin’ it, you gon be okay, my man.” He grin, sleepy-like, like he proud, he wrap a little old probe, big deal, yeh, but it a big deal to him, so now I show him how to wrap a forceps, and he do it right, and then I got him wrappin’ all the other instruments, and when he finished we lay ‘em in a row in the big steel autoclave tank, got levers and dials and gauges, and then I show him how to operate the autoclave.

I go step by step, then start over. Green do the first step, and we start over. Green do the first and second and third steps, and I see he getting’ a bit fretful, this is enough for now, I do the rest and get the autoclave workin’, so then I take him to the operating room for minor surgery and emergencies and show him the glass cabinets hold all the stuff doctors need—disposable syringes, needles, gloves, swabs, band-aids, compresses, thread, gauze, ointments, peroxide, soaps, instruments a doc use look in a guys’ ear, or up his nose, look up a guys’ ass, his throat, everything in the cabinets I show Green, and I say, “Green, you doin’ fine, you learnin’ MOLTO BENI, my man, now let’s go eat chow.”

This boy, he eat like he ain’t been fed before, and he stuff apples and oranges in his field jacket after we finish. We go back to the sterilization room, and I say, “Green, wrap me a hemostat.” He do it. Then we check the autoclave. Everything in it warm and sterilized. Then I got him wrappin’ instruments all afternoon and tell him what they used for. He get them all down, he learnin’ now, and when the dispensary close we go to chow and he eat seconds and then in the barracks I tell him he got to keep his area clean and neat, like me, not like Thomas. I learn that from McCray, who can’t stand a dirty troop, most especially a black troop, cuz McCray the cleanest nigger in the U.S. Army. Green nod, say okay, boss.

 “These Italians cool with us, they got nothin’ against us black folk, they don’t care if we peep at them white chicks, they ain’t gon lynch our asses. It ain’t like back home. These folks, they like to talk to us, like we mothafuckin’ human bein’s.”

Next day I say, “Green, run the first three steps of the autoclave.” He look at it. “Go on now.” He place all the wrapped instruments in the tank like I show him, nice and snug, and he do step one, step two, step three, and look at me. I show him the rest, real slow. We keep goin’, and Green go through all seven steps and got the autoclave hummin’. He stand back and listen to it workin’ up steam, cookin’ them instruments, and he got that little grin, and I say, “Green, you bad-ass, yessir, you a bad man with that autoclave machine.”

Thomas come by and I got Green wrappin’ suture kits and minor surgery kits. He goin’ at it like a pro. He ain’t dumb at all.

I say, “Green, the army give us niggers a chance to be somebody. Look at me. I’m a boss. Run the dispensary for the docs and top. Look at big ol’ south Philly nigger Thomas, he boss, too. Top-kick McCray, he boss of this outfit, tell officers what to do. We all bad-ass niggers in this white man’s army.”

“Sheee-it,” Thomas say, but he grinnin’, like he done a trick.

Green, he grin, like he one of us.

Next day I stand back and watch Green wrappin’, runnin’ the autoclave, stockin’ cabinets, he dustin’ and moppin’, without bein’ told like Thomas, and I tell captain doctor Stein, this new dude, he ready for a little on-the-job-training, so when Stein cut a sebaceous cyst out a GI’s neck, I got the gloves on and I swab and sponge up goo and blood, and when Stein say “forceps,” Green hand him the forceps. “Probe.” Green hand him the probe. Green hand him the scalpel cut the cyst open and ooze blood and pus. When doc done he let me suture the dude up like he taught me, and then I bandage the dude, and Green help me like I help doc. Green, he serious, likin’ this business, likin’ it big time.

Pretty soon McCray say, “Green lookin’ good, Johnson. You keep workin’ with that kid, cuz he takin’ your place.”

A week later Green don’t need me in sterilization or emergency. He askin’ docs Stein and Graves questions like crazy. He want know everything. I tell him keep askin’ questions, so he prepared for emergencies. Green, he walkin’ around like a pro now, so I figure, he got THAT down, now I got to teach him be a man.

***

Come pay day, me and Green and Thomas walk downtown on a Saturday afternoon. Me and Thomas dressed cool, but since Green got no proper threads, we get him some nice pants and shirt in the PX, and he wear the only shoes he own, army-issue low-quarters. We walk along the river to the Piazza Bra, by the ancient Coliseum been here since Roman days, been bombed by the USA durin’ the war. Everybody sittin’ at cafes outside and sippin’ vino or espresso or they paradin’ up and down arm in arm, and I explain to Green Italian customs and what they call ALFRESCO.

I tell him, “Green, these Italians cool with us, they got nothin’ against us black folk, they don’t care if we peep at them white chicks, they ain’t gon lynch our asses. It ain’t like back home. These folks, they like to talk to us, like we mothafuckin’ human bein’s.”

We mosey down to Piazza Erbe, little square where tourists snappin’ cameras at Romeo and Juliet balcony, and we find Bruno’s bar, where dudes from post millin’ around, waitin’ for the whores, so we sip some vino, sit at a table, chum with dudes from the air force base in Aviano. By and by the whores come, and Tom got his regular, Roselee, and he gone, and me and Green watch big blonde Carla come in, she got some fine tittiies and dye her hair cuz GIs like blondes, and she make a big fuss over me, ask why I don’t come around no more, and I tell her I got me an Italian sweetie in town, so then she glance at Green, and he starin’ at her real shy like, and I introduce them, and go off to the bar sit by myself, and soon Green gone with Carla.

I wait. Tom come back with Roselee. We wait for Green, and wait. He gone over an hour. Then when he come out they holdin’ hands, Green grinnin’, Carla grinnin’, noddin’ at me, and alla way back to post Green skippin’ along and say he got a steady woman, he say Carla say she like him and love him somethin’ powerful.

“Green,” I say, “Y’all got to watch out for whores. They don’t love no man. They love money. They love the U.S.A., where it rich, but they ain’t gon like no place a poor nigger live.”

He ain’t listenin’. He get back to post and take his night shower like I train him and next day he gone ‘til midnight, take his shower, and Monday morning he ready to go, waitin’ for me in the sterilization room. He follow me around like a puppy, little brother, friskin’, slappin’ at me with them big old hands. Now I can’t get rid of him. He even come to the gym and play buckets with me and Thomas and though he ain’t played much before he good right off with them hands and the ants in his pants, he everywhere at once, and he got big time hop.

In a month Green a bad-ass medic and a bad-ass bucket man. He growin’ and puttin’ on weight and eatin’ everything and seein’ Carla at night, which mean he getting’ it free. All right! My man.

One day docs Stein and Graves come up to me. Stein say, “Green, he is quite a medic, Paladin. I think he wants to operate next.”

“He has strange powers,” says Graves. “I’ve never seen such hands. Very deft, quite a touch, steady. He retains everything you tell him. He’s amazingly intelligent and a very nice kid.”

“He’s perhaps…an idiot savant,” says Stein. “You know what that is, Paladin?”

“No sir.”

“It’s a person with genius qualities who is backward in most other ways.”

“That sound like Willie Green.”

Stein look at me. He ain’t some dude hand out compliments. “Paladin,” he say. “You’ve done a good job of mentoring Willie. We are all very proud of both of you.” He point a finger at me. “Now you know what doctor Graves and I have been telling you—go to school on the GI bill when you get discharged, and follow up in the medical profession. You can be an excellent nurse. You will earn a good living, you can raise a family, and Paladin, you will be a helper of mankind. I want you to continue with this. Willie, too.”

“Okay, sir,” I say. Because these docs, they are God.

By this time I’m ready to leave the army and go home to my ghetto in Cleveland, Green runnin’ the whole damn dispensary. He givin’ shots, takin’ blood, runnin’ sterilization and emergency, work the front desk, he know how to suture and take an X-ray, he already promoted, and he engaged to Carla.

Night before I leave me and Thomas and Willie party, I already said good byes to my sweetie and friends in Verona I do black market business with, and Willie give me this little beret he buy downtown, hand-made, beautiful beret, he know I want it, and we soul shake and hug, and I say, “Willie Green, you my main man, I so proud of you, love brother.”

He so shy, he just look down and grin, and then he gone to the sterilization room, got work to do, and I leave post and Italy and the army and go home.

Doc Stein write me, cuz he keepin’ tabs on me, make sure I stay outta trouble, go to school. I do. He say Willie marry Carla and re-up. When Stein get discharged he write me from Chicago and say Willie back in the states goin’ to airborne school cuz he wanna be a paramedic, and I write Stein back, tell him I’m drivin’ an ambulance nights and goin’ to nursin’ school durin’ the day on the GI bill. I don’t hear from Stein for a while and then he call me on the phone one night and say Paladin, sit down, I got terrible news, Willie Green killed in Nam. I sit down. Stein, he don’t sound too good, and I ain’t hearin’ too good, but I guess Willie save a bunch-a lives and get a silver star and buried with honors. Shit, that don’t do me no good. I find that beret and wear it for a month. Then I put it in plastic and wear it on Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, 4th of July, remember Willie Green. Ain’t nobody allowed to touch that beret, just me. My little brother. §

Dell Franklin is a writer living in Cayucos, Calif., and is the founding publisher of The Rogue Voice.