Tet and the Forgotten

The Vietnam war exploded into the American consciousness 55 years ago, January 30, 1968.  Known as the Tet offensive, it was a coordinated surprise attack by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces that caught American and South Vietnamese troops by surprise and inflicted serious casualties.  And it opened the eyes of the American public not just to the truths about the Vietnam war, but to the lies they were being told by their leaders.  The politicians and military brass who had cheerfully insisted we were winning the war and that there was “light at the end of the tunnel,” were revealed to be scoundrels and con artists with only their self-interests at heart.  They were willing to sacrifice the best of American youth to a futile and unwinable war for bragging rights that America stopped the spread of communism in Southeast Asia.  We didn’t.

The Tet offensive is largely forgotten today, along with the soldiers who fought and died in it.  This is a great American tragedy.

My friend, John Huddleston, one of the few survivors of those dark days, refuses to allow the Tet offensive and the overall horror of the Vietnam war to flush down the American memory hole.  John was one of 100 Army medics assigned to support Marine troops.  He was the sole surviving medic.  John’s story is one of courage, pain, and sacrifice, fighting hand-to-hand alongside the Marines, and struggling in the aftermath of the battles to patch up the wounded and comfort the dying.  

During my second tour to entertain troops in Vietnam, John and I crossed paths in Pleiku in the central highlands—a dangerous and godforsaken place.  John and his friend Rick saw my show in Pleiku and were, according to John, changed by it.  But that is a story for another time.  John’s story of the war, how he survived and returned, and how he was unable to endure the scorn of his fellow Americans deserves more than this short memorial.  In due time it will be part of my next book.  

For now, remember Tet in 1968 and those who survived or died.  Shed a tear for them and for the loss of innocence the war inflicted upon us.  Vietnamese monk and Buddhist Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh, was once asked what terrible karma the Vietnamese people committed to cause the Vietnam war to happen to them.  He replied, “The Vietnam war didn’t happen to the Vietnamese people.  It happened to all of us.” Peace.

mvd

China and Me: An Intimate Review

The review below was written by John “Rusty” Huddleston, a Vietnam vet I first met in Dak Ho, South Vietnam some 52 years ago. John lives in Sydney, Australia today. He became an expat after being spat upon and scorned when he returned home.

China and Me is available on Amazon.

“Animals are a window to your soul and a doorway to your spiritual destiny. If you let them into your life and allow them to teach you, you will be better for it.”

                                                                          Kim Shotola,

The power in your book is your openness and inherent honesty.

Your story of your odyssey with China is both simple and complex at the same time. It is also subtle.

You do not use the word ‘love’, but it is on almost every page in your book. That’s what makes it so moving.

I know I have read a good book when I get to the end and I am sad. I write ‘I am sad’ because I wanted more. I didn’t want it to end.

Your tenderness is on every page. It is evident when you were going to return China to Parrot Mountain and when you got there you couldn’t do it. It was present when you saw China after he had flown away. It was there when you gave him a mate. 

Each page had both tenderness and love.

The story of you and China was not about a glamorous movie star, but about a woman who formed a loving relationship with a wild animal. That’s what made it so moving.

Your epilogue was honest and moving. You referred to Joanie Olander and Mamie Van Doren was there, but it was written by the wise Raindrop that is here today.

Through your book the reader gets to know you better. I got to know you better.

The epilogue was written by your true self, but your true self also stands out on every page.

The story begins with Joanie Olander loving farm animals. Mamie Van Doren loved animals too and Raindrop provided the wisdom that age, and a life well lived, endows.

And so this is my last email of the year. It is appropriate that it is for you.

I have learned so much this year and the profound benefit of knowing you intimately.

I know if Raindrop writes Secrets of the Goddess, it will be a east seller.

Please tell China Happy New Year for me.

Love,

Rusty

 

 

 

 

 

Proud Texans

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas picked Christmas Eve to bus more than a hundred immigrants to Vice President Harris’s home in Washington. It was 23 degrees when these men, women & children got off the bus. The white Christian state of TX did this. Gov. Abbott, you among all the pistol-toting population of white supremacists down there should ask yourself, what would Jesus do? There’s no limit to the Lone Star hypocrisy. And don’t they seem proud of it? mvd

December 7, 1941

Eighty-one years ago today my life changed. On December 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. It was the beginning of World War II. SHOCKINGLY THERE HAS BEEN NO MENTION ON TV OF THIS PIVOTAL EVENT IN WORLD HISTORY. It changed the world and my life. My dad immediately left for California to find work in a defense plant. By spring my mother and I joined him, I fell in love with movies, and the rest is history. Remember Pearl Harbor today and the many lives lost there and in WWII.

mvd

Forgetfulness

By Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go followed obediently by the title, the plot, the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of, as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain, to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag, and even now as you memorize the order of the planets, something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps, the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember, it is not poised on the tip of your tongue, not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen. It has floated away down a dark mythological river whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall, well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

The Dust Has Settled

Now that the dust has settled over the 2022 midterm elections, it’s obvious that the GOP seriously miscalculated the mindset of the American people.  This crop of fascist bullies scares everyone.  The Republicans trotted out candidates who were some of the sorriest, scariest, most ignorant, unprepared, and downright stupid motherfuckers in American politics.  But when the Supremes overturned Roe v Wade, they handed the Dems a ready made issue.  Women will not stand for being told what they can and cannot do with their bodies, and they showed it in this election.  God willing, they will continue to flex their muscles,  Once the new Congress is seated, members like the pedofile, Jim “You boys enjoy the showers” Jordan, and the angry half-wit, Marjorie Taylor Greene, will be on the attack.  We need to be prepared for that.  We’re the minority in the House for now, it’s true, but the GOP’s majority is so slim that Democrats will be able to make their lives miserable every day.  Some of the Republicans can be flipped to our side on certain issues.  Many of them are embarrassed to have supported Trump and are anxious to distance themselves from the stench of treason.

Predictably, Trump proved unable to put the ERECTION back into INSURRECTION, and most of his handpicked candidates were defeated.  Except for the mouth breathers in MAGA, Trump’s whining tirades have worn thin.  He has now become a liability as an endorser of candidates, not to mention sliding more deeply into pathetic caricature.   He’ll keep making noises because his ego won’t allow him to let go, but he’ll quickly devolve into a graceless and strident has been.  Authoritarian clowns come and go.  Trump’ll be lucky to avoid the fate of some of his historical  predecessors.

Programming note:  if you haven’t listened to Rachel Maddow’s new ULTRA podcast, take the time to do it.  It’s an 8-part series about a plot to overthrow the American government in the 1930s.  Before and during WWII, there were many ardent sympathizers to Germany and Adolph Hitler in America.  I grew up seeing it.  Several right-wing groups, including members of the House of Representatives and Senate, abrogated their oaths of office and worked hand-in-hand with Nazi spies to overthrow America’s democracy and constitution to establish an autocratic government in the image of Hitler’s.  Hatred of jews and minorities figured largely in their philosophy, and many espoused their cause loudly and publicly.  The parallels between then and now will make your hair stand up.  Rachel’s keen grasp of history makes it worth listening to.

mvd

High Water High

Though the Blue Tsunami I predicted didn’t quite happen, there’s comfort in knowing that many handpicked Trumpazoid candidates lost. There still may be enough voters who care about America to hold back the gathering darkness of GOP neo-fascism. [Crossing fingers] My next prediction is Atty. Gen. Garland will soon indict Trump for espionage and obstruction. Get out that 4 XXXX orange jumpsuit, Fluffy. Donny’s gonna need it. mvd

Election and Beyond

I put last night’s extra hour to good use: I slept in.  It was a useful antidote to the rising tide of despair over the upcoming election among the liberal media.  Like Smaug, the dragon in the Hobbit said, “A great darkness is coming.”  It’s wise to adjust your expectations in today’s world, but hope springs eternal that grown people, otherwise outwardly competent, will come to their senses and stop believing the hypocrisy, hogwash, and plain old horseshit being shoveled out by the right-wing, former GOP, now fascist Republicans.

And the balls of these geniuses is stunning.  They will stand in front of a working class crowd and actually say out loud that they want to end Social Security, Medicare, and veterans benefits.  And the dimwits in the crowd nod and applaud; contribute money; debase themselves by swearing fealty to the godhead, Trump; and then vote for the zombies the sonofabitch endorses.  Go figure: there are women out there still wearing those MAGA ball caps, even after being told to their faces that they no longer control their bodies—not medically, not culturally, and not communally.  And they’re being urged to vote for as grotesque a gaggle of bigots, liars, election deniers, holocaust disbelievers, and dictatorship wet dreamers as you’d ever want to see.

Just vote, for God’s sake.  I mean, how much do you want to KEEP the Social Security you have earned?  Vote against these fanatical whack-jobs.  If you have dawdling friends, take them by the arm and escort them to the polls.  And tell them to vote their own self-interests.

mvd

Raindrops

The letter below is printed with permission. John is a Vietnam vet who lives in Australia. He and his friend Rick saw me perform in Vietnam.

Dear Mamie,

If I helped you to get a good nights sleep I am pleased.

I know what it is like to not be able to sleep and to be haunted by things I saw and experienced in Vietnam. I learned to live with them, but they are always in the background.

I think one way to comfort yourself when you feel those things in the night is to recognize that you feel them because you actually have a kind, compassionate heart.

When you toured in Vietnam, all those years ago, you saw suffering and put your life on the line as well. You could have died there and you knew it. BUT you went anyway. At that point in your life your heart told you that you needed to go and your head got you there.

Mamie, you and I have grown old. The memories are even more vivid now than twenty years ago. Be kind to yourself when you feel down.

You asked about Rick. Rick was an ordinary guy from Idaho. He grew up in a small town, never had a girlfriend and died never having had sex. That was Rick. He was funny, blue-eyed, open souled and faced the world with a shrug.

Rick was happy that day when he and I saw you. After he died and I returned to the States, before coming to Australia, I visited his parents. They wanted to know how he died. All I said was “When he died he had people around him who loved him”. For them that was enough.

The world is strange and we don’t know what to believe anymore.

I had been a member of a Vietnam Veterans’ group on Facebook for 3 years, but never posted anything. One day I was reading all these heroic war stories, that I didn’t believe, and decided to post something of my own that was true.

Here it is:

“After I was shot in 1968 I was taken to a military hospital in Saigon. While I was there I slipped in and out of consciousness. At one stage I heard a nurse saying to another nurse, about me, “It’s really bad!” I remember I opened my eyes, looked at her and said, “You think this is bad? I got a letter last week that told me my dog had died”.

Sometimes our feelings seem in-congruent with what’s happening. That can happen in a war, after a war and late at night when we can’t sleep.

Remember Mamie, in your life you have made many more people happy than you have made sad. You made Rick happy, even if only for those few moments.

When I am depressed about my life and past I remember what Buddha said, “You came upon a raindrop and called it your life.”

Until the next time,

Your friend,

John

The Buddha’s raindrop analogy is part of a teaching on death he often gave to his students. Simply put, our journey as raindrops begins when we leave the raincloud, and continues until we rejoin other droplets in oceans and rivers. Our death then is not the end of life, but merely our consciousness rejoining our fellow raindrops in the ocean of cosmic consciousness, waiting to take rebirth in the next rain shower.

mvd

THE CLOSEST THEY GOT

I have PTSD.  If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you know it because you often catch me posting at all hours of the night.  PTSD keeps me awake.  I hear from many of you who are sleepless for the same reason.

I spent months in Vietnam entertaining the troops.  Far from being part of a traditional war zone tour, I hired my own musicians and performed my shows wherever I was wanted.  The Army kindly helicoptered me up and down the country from the Mekong Delta in the south to the DMZ in the north.  Many times my tour took me close to the heart of what war means:  random and senseless destruction, my own death, the deaths of the innocent, the deaths of soldiers, and, perhaps worst of all, the cruel mutilation of the wounded.  The things I saw and felt in those months left a lasting impression on me.  Changed my life.  Sometimes they surface in the form of nightmares.  Strangely, instead of fading with time, they have become more vivid, more terrifying.  You could be a veteran of any war, a victim of a violent crime, a rape victim, or a victim of an accident.  PTSD is likely part of your life too.  The chances are you feel isolated, afraid, angry, and depressed.  Or all of the above.  Others who have not had similar experiences will try to understand, but only a brother or sister in arms can truly fathom the depths of your pain.

A Vietnam vet named John Huddleston recently reached out to me, having spied me prowling around social media in the wee hours of the morning.  John served two tours in Vietnam as a combat medic. You can be sure he saw some really bad shit.  In our back-and-forth messaging, John was reassuring as only someone could be who has walked the walk.  With John’s permission, I am reprinting a portion of one of his posts.

Mamie I can’t express how important your visits were.You stuck your neck out for us and we knew it. I hope you realize you’ve always been more than an entertainer. You also have a social conscience and a good heart. Many who saw you there never came home. You are the closest they got. Mamie, you are the last thing many of them ever saw from home.

I read the last two sentences and couldn’t stop crying.  You are the closest they got.  John, your kind words refocused my thinking.  Being the final link for those brave ones who didn’t return shifts the burden for me.  I don’t think the night terrors will be less, but when the cold sweats dry and the cotton mouth of fear is washed away, I’ll carry on for as long as I can.  They swapped their lives for mine.  I’ll wear their memories on my sleeve.

mvd