Tag Archives: military

War Stories

American society continues to suffer from an emotional disconnection between its civilians and its veterans of military combat.  Too often, veterans do not have the emotional license to articulate what they have witnessed and felt, and so a painful gap emerges that affects both communication and relationships. Veterans may relate their most intimate war stories to other veterans, but they are reluctant to tell them to people outside the military experience.

To bridge the gap of disconnection between civilians and warriors, thankfully there are veterans who have the literary skills necessary to document their war experiences in non-fiction accounts, fictions based on real events, and poetry. These forms as collected into an anthology provide authentic voices that connect to the deeply held personal experiences of war.  In many ways, these artistic efforts are pleas for understanding.

Remembrances of Wars Past:  A War Veterans Anthology edited by psychologist Henry F. Tonn, a man with his own literary credentials, is a bridge that connects us vividly to the men and women that we sent to war.  My own story in this collection, Jody Got My Girl and Gone, lay dormant for 46 years.  It was written while I was still in the Vietnam-era Army, and there seemed no market for it in the backlash of public resentment for that war.

Back cover of Remembrances of Wars Past

There must be millions of artistic efforts in prose and poetry that go unpublished as our society has habitually turned its attention away from the realities and the consequences of war. I say “millions” because wars have been a consequence of American politics since our founding revolution.  We seem always at war somewhere, and the casualties of those wars are always with us and among us while we generally have no appreciation for how they are different from us in the most profound ways.

If lack of understanding for the war veterans’ condition is the disease, then the vicarious experience of walking-in-their-boots via books like Remembrances of Wars Past is the cure. In reading these stories and poems I am struck by the power of these writers to bring us into their reality. The context may be grim or tragic, or lighthearted and humorous, but each creative expression resonates to the core of human endurance, and we may become awestruck on the reading of it.

I now bring myself to stand at attention and honor the editor and contributors of Remembrances of Wars Past with my most respectful military salute. Well done. You are a credit to the Armed Services and to the silent comrades in arms whom you represent.

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How I Came to Command Admirals, Generals, and U.S. Senators

Hey, writers.  Sometimes there are personal circumstances so inconceivable that they are too improbable to put into a novel.  Here is one of those stories.

In the late 1960s, I was the protocol specialist for the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce and the World Affairs Council of Greater Hampton Roads.  One of the Chamber’s gala annual dinners was themed to honor the military.  Norfolk and vicinity is home to the greatest concentration of military commands in the world.  The Supreme Allied Command Atlantic (SACLANT) is located on the Norfolk Naval Base, along with its fleet of aircraft carriers and submarines, that is the home base of the U. S. Navy Atlantic Command.  Across the Hampton Roads Harbor is Fort Monroe, headquarters of the Continental Army Command (where there are more high-ranking officers than sergeants) and Langley Air Force Base, an Air Force headquarters that was the original home of NASA.  The Marine Corps is at Little Creek Amphibious Base, where the East coast Navy Seals are based.  The Coast Guard also has its Atlantic headquarters in Norfolk.

Because two U. S. Senators, William Spong of Virginia and Stuart Symington (Missouri), the very first Secretary of the Air Force, were to speak at the event, the top admirals and generals of their respected commands accepted invitations to sit at the head table.  As the protocol specialist, I had to seat them according to rank.  The military officers all wore two or three stars, so their placement was challenging.  Whoever sat closest to the right and left of the two senators who anchored center stage had to be correct.  The decisions came down to knowing the time-in-grade of equally ranked officers.

The event was staged in Norfolk’s largest ballroom hotel that seated about 600 for the service of a formal dinner.  There was a crowded cocktail reception prior to the movement to the ballroom.  At the proper time, I collected the ten members of the head table and removed them to the Green Room where I positioned them in a line according to their order of introduction.  On cue, I would lead them to a curtained area in the wings of the platform where they would be introduced by the master of ceremonies and featured by a follow spotlight all the way to their seats at the head table.

The mood in the Green Room was jovial as I tactfully asked the distinguished men to assume their positions in the introduction line.  I personally knew Senator Spong, and I had encountered a few of the admirals and generals at previous events, but I was a mere 27 years old at the time and only a year out of the Vietnam War-era Army.  As the top brass of their respective military services stood before me in their magnificently decorated dress uniforms, a mad idea possessed me.  It was the opportunity of a lifetime, perhaps one that had never been afforded to someone like me.  I had to take the chance, not thinking that if my actions were taken as offensive, it might cost me my job.

“Gentlemen,” I said with authority to get their attention, “I would like to admit to you that only last year, I was honorably discharged from the United States Army with the rank of Specialist Fourth Class.  I hope that you will understand the great honor and pleasure that it now gives me to say to you, ‘Attention!'”  I spoke the order in my best military voice, and every man in line reacted and came to immediate attention with heels locked, backs straight, and arms at their side.  Aside from the broad smiles and chuckles, the squad line was formed in a military manner.

My next command as their squad leader was, “Right face!”  I swear, every admiral, general, and senator executed the turn precisely.  The stage cue came, and I gave the command to “Forward march” and then called off the cadence, “Your left, your left.  Your left, right, left” until I halted them at the curtained side of the stage.

I admit to having told this story to friends and acquaintances a hundred times, but I bet that it has been told many more times by the admirals, generals, and senators who were drilled like a squad of enlisted men by a lowly specialist fourth class.  I received generous commendation letters from Bill Spong and Senator Symington and later an invitation to dine with the senior officers at SACLANT.  Maybe these officers from the NATO nations were curious to meet an American who would dare to do such a thing.

Thank you, distinguished officers and gentlemen, for giving this enlisted Army veteran the military thrill of a lifetime.  If only the President had been there!

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