veterans

workingman’s dead ~ the grateful dead ~

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another dead soldier weekend has rolled around once again. pretty much the only time anybody cares about wartime vets especially WW2, korean and vietnam vets these days. that’s fine as we’re used to it.

when i was in vietnam i asked my parents to send me a reel to reel version of the dead’s ‘workingman’s dead’. one of my all time favorite LPs which sits around mid point in rolling stones top 500 LPs of all time. i have to say i was probably the only person in my platoon that liked the album. after a time when i’d play it i would hear, oh no. not that one again. or some such nonsense. yeah, there’s no accounting for taste or so they say.

the LP first appeared in june of 1970. it’s no longer ‘in print’ but thanks to rhino records you can score a copy if you’re so inclined. they released it in 2003 or so and even added a couple of different versions of some of the songs on the original LP. thanks, rhino, very nice indeed.

the album marks the dead’s new venture into vocal harmonies and a country rock sound with jerry garcia dabbling with the peddle steel guitar. which culminated with jerry garcia and guitarist david nelson’s homage to bakersfield, ca country music with their ‘new riders of the purple sage’ LP in late 1971.

‘working man’s dead’ opens with the studio version of ‘uncle john’s band’ one of my all time favorite dead tunes. it’s a semi country rocker with semi sorta religious overtones. or maybe not. later, on track 15, ‘uncle john’s band’ turns up again in a live version recorded at winterland in oct of 1970. the live version gets the standard dead jam thing going. something for the most part always lovely to behold and listen to.

another stand out cut is the studio version of ‘casey jones’. unfortunately we aren’t treated to a live version of casey ‘high on cocaine driving that train.’

at any rate, the rhino version has 6 live tracks including the already mentioned ‘uncle john’s band’ plus an alternate studio mix of ‘new speedway boogie’. the dead were at their best live. no doubt. sometimes really good or head scratching crappy. it was always a crap shoot.

i had the pleasure of seeing them live a couple of times. once here in socal at the rose palace if i’m not mistaken and once again at the filmore in san francisco. i was in the army at the time and made the trip up from ft ord in monterey. they shared the bill with miles davis who had just released his ‘bitches brew’ LP and the two of them filled the night with some stellar music.

ok. so, it’s dead soldier weekend again. raise a glass to the fallen soldiers of the past and continuing wars. and to all of those who’ve seen war close up. even more so to the vets of the great war, WW2. their ranks shrink and thin at an astounding rate with each passing day. there will come a time soon when they will all be gone. and all but forgotten i’m certain. old soldiers never die. they just fade away.

soldiers after all are just your average workingman doing a job no one else will do.

jmh

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pink boxers and war

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every year the memorial day holiday seems to come around with ever increasing speed. other holidays do too. it’s one of those getting older things. however, memorial day
is somehow a much more personal holiday to those of us who served in one of our never ending wars.

this first appeared a number of years ago and was re-run a couple of years ago. yeah, i have other tales of my time overseas like, the old west meets the old east, and others still unwritten. however, desire and and the muse must first meet for them to see daylight. which may or may not ever happen.

at any rate, happy memorial day to all who’ve served especially to all who gave everything. to my nam brothers and sisters, welcome home. once again.

jmh

while noodling around yesterday i came across the yahoo, and elsewhere, story of a young soldier over in the middle east who went to his firing position in his boxers and flip flops, during a fire fight.  seems like the secretary of defense, robert gates, is all a gog over the situation.  he’s happy about it.  well, it’s memorial day weekend or more to the point, dead soldier weekend, and i guess they needed to sound pro troopers and military.  plus, i’m sure folks everywhere are getting a kick out of the story. 

it makes me think back to my time in nam.  i’ve written any number of things about that experience here and other places.  if you are a regular, i have no intention of bothering you with details you may or may not remember.  if you aren’t a regular reader, you can always go through the archives or rummage through the vault.  or just wait for me to trot the old stuff out again.  but i digress. 

while attached to macv advisory team 48, in nam, we had this major on the compound.  he was either s-3 or s-1 or s-2.  military jargon for stuff.  not really important to this story.  other than the fact, he got his pink boxers all tied up in a knot about us peons and other soldiers hitting our firing positions in levi’s and flip flops, bermuda shorts, flip flops and no shirt(my personal favorite) or other variations of civilian attire, or maybe just our regulation gi boxers and flip flops, during alerts. 

yeah, civilian attire.  it was macv and they didn’t care what you wore on the compound if you weren’t on duty or working.  well, most of them.  any the ways, this particular major was not happy about the way we fell out during those alerts.  he made it his mission to see that we all hit our firing positions and bunkers in full regulation military gear.  yes, sirree.  no more of this civilian attire or gi boxer nonsense.  there was a war going on after all, and said war, demanded we be properly dressed for the occasion because mr charlie might not like it.  boy, howdy.   

said major, even held a few ‘practice alerts’ and those ‘practice alerts’ weren’t over until he personally inspected each position to see if things were being done to his strict liking.  yes, indeed.  practice alerts for dress code violations in a war zone.  no showing up with your weapon and ammo in boxers.  nope, not for that major.  not good enough.  thank you jesus.  thank you, lord, for some damn fine smoke and drink to help us all through the night.

well, we suffered through a couple of his practice alerts held in the middle of the night.  a lot of pissed off troops and lifers as well.  yeah, he wanted every swinging dick on board for his madness. 

as it turned out, things were very quiet during the time of his practice alert stuff and everyone passed with flying colors.  like what else were we gonna do?  frag him?  it was bullshit but it wasn’t worth a capital crime and/or offense. 

one night, a few weeks after all the hoopla about the dress code and fighting charlie, i was working the night shift in the commo bunker.  at the time, macv was using our commo bunker for their toc(tactical operation center) while their toc was getting a face-lift.  charlie or the nva, lobbed a few rockets or mortars into our general vicinity. 

the alert was sounded and it was all hands on deck.  everyone was to go to their alert positions and deal with whatever in full military uniform.  thankfully, due to the practice alerts, it was decided, by my signal sargent, my alert position would be in the commo bunker.  lucky me, i was already up, working, in uniform, where i was supposed to be and with my m-16 and ammo.  woo hoo!!

the incoming rocked my little world but i just opened my secret area door and casually leaned on the door jam to watch the deal go down.  a total lapse of military protocol but whatever.  i was probably somewhat loaded and had been listening to, ‘spooky tooth’, and reading porn at the time.  another breech of protocol i’m sure.

on a side bar drift, the secret area was a perfect place to have a nice non-legal smoke.  or take a nap.  we had it set up so even if you were dead an alarm of sorts would wake you.  though in hindsight it wasn’t necessary.  incoming was incoming and could wake a dead man.  count on it.

the drifts just keep on coming.  WD40.  the perfect weapon cleaner, for us lazy folks, was also a very good and efficient smoke cover-up.  better than incense.  yeah, ok.  i did take my m-16 down to the firing pin assembly at regular intervals and properly cleaned it.  so there.  i could be a good soldier if i felt like it.  my life depended upon it.      

at any rate, i was just waiting for orders and THE word to send something to somebody somewhere about something or another via my secure radio teletype.  real alerts were always something.  some worse than others.  but always angsty and an adrenaline rush regardless.  while i was standing in my doorway watching stuff, in came the major of dress code and practice alert fame. 

ah, yes, goddamn.  he was resplendent in his steel pot, m-16, ammo, un-tied jungle boots, gi issued undershirt and boxers.  yep.  that’s it.  nada mas.  no one, of course, said a word about his poorly dressed alert apparel.  lots of subtle snickering to be sure but not a word.  after that night, it went back to come as you are for alerts, and the only thing that mattered was the m-16 or some other weapon with plenty of ammo when you got to where you were supposed to be.

it’s interesting to see how things have or haven’t changed.  i wonder how melvin laird would have felt?  or perhaps dean rusk?  or macnamara?  at any rate, it’s dead soldier day weekend.  a time to say a prayer for those brothers in arms who never made it back.  a time to say just how much you appreciate the sacrifice of those who didn’t come back and those who are serving or have served and did come back.  whole or not.  seems like none of us ever come back whole.  a tragic veer if there ever was one. 

dead soldier weekend.  a proud american tradition since the civil war from whence it got it’s origins.  you may not like war, this current one in particular.  you may even be in the support the troops but not the war politically correct crowd.  tell you what.  god bless the child that wears his boxers to a fire fight.  at least he showed up and was ready for trouble.  god bless anyone who even shows up for the coming fire fights.     

make no mistake, it’s not what you wear to a fight.  it’s what you do when you get there.  happy memorial day weekend!!  light a candle for america. 

jmh

the old west meets the old east

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this morning
in the
crapper
reading
one of those cooking
magazines.

some guy in
north
vietnam
driving by a
sidewalk barber
shop.

the lightning bolt
almost tossed me
off my throne.

yeah, viet
hair cut joints.
picture
the
wild west.
back in the
day.

cornered.
by the marshall
a
bird
colonel.
jesus son
get a haircut.
yes sir.

next morning
we grab a
jeep
our horse.
four guys.
fully loaded.

a cloud of
dust.
a whiff
of smoke.
a quick
ride into
what passed
for
downtown.

a sea
side fishing
ville
by day.
indian country
by night.

i am the
walrus
fades into a
smelly dead fish
rot.
not
horse shit.

ft apache.
dodge city.
tombstone.
somewhere
off in
the
distance.

park out
front.
one stays with
the horse.
M-79 &
a bag of
rounds.
grenades &
buck shot.
nasty
effective
bad juju.

inside under the
barber’s sheet.
M-16 cocked and
locked.
we take turns.
first out
spells
the horse
sitter.

deed done.
crappy hair cut.
ride back to
the old
french mission.
maybe stop for
pho.
maybe not.

at some
point.
the whole
barber in
the ville
thing
was
deemed
too
hazardous.

a deal was
cut.
he came to us
on his day
off.
sunday
afternoon.

the wild wild
east
got a little
tamer.

it was
a long time
ago.
but it
doesn’t take
much.
some days more
so
than others.

jmh

hot dogs for breakfast pt 2

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after hanging up the phone he went to the stove and stuck his index finger in the seed and stem tea. it was cold to the touch and probably consisted more of stems and seeds along with assorted other gunk than liquid. he turned on the burner under the pot then rummaged through a drawer until he found a small strainer. jerry placed the strainer over the mug he’d already used while he waited for the stuff to boil again.

deciding it was going to take a bit he wandered off into the living room and his stereo system. the zappa LP was still on the turntable. he picked it up and put it back into it’s sleeve then returned it to sit with the other albums. jerry began looking through them again. new riders of the purple sage seemed like a good idea. he was placing it on the turntable when the phone rang again. he went back into the kitchen. turned off the stove and picked up the phone.

hello?

hi, son.

it was his mother.

hey, ma, what’s up?

not much. your father is outside doing yard work and i just finished an apple pie for your uncle. they’re coming over for dinner tonight. so, how’s work and school? are you dating anyone?

jerry sighed. it was his mother’s usual phone gambit.

just fine, ma. just fine. the pie sounds good. trying to change the subject he said. what’s for dinner?

your dad is bbqing chicken with the usual sides.

ok. wish i was there.

you know thanksgiving isn’t that far away. are you going to come down?

i hadn’t thought about it but yeah, sure. why not? he was thinking it would probably be a better place to score a cheap brick of weed. he still knew people down there.

good. i’ll make your favorites.

pickled tongue?

of course.

great. unless you hear different i’ll see you the wednesday before the big day. in the afternoon.

ok. love you, son.

love you too, ma. say hi to pops. joe and josie too. i’ll see everyone thanksgiving.

alright. take care of yourself. he could hear the smile in his mother’s voice.

ok, ma. bye.

bye, son.

jerry replaced the phone and picked up the pot of tea and poured the remaining liquid into the mug. the strainer removed most of the crap and all of the seeds and stems. he was surprised when he found the cup to be almost full. taking a sip he grimaced a bit then went and started the new riders LP. jerry wasted the rest of the day listening to music and staying very high.

it was almost dark before he was aware of time again. maybe it was the hunger he felt. he got off the couch. stretched. tuned on a floor lamp. found another LP and put it on the machine. the allman brothers live. the first notes hit with a jolt. too bad there wasn’t a lady around.

once back in the kitchen he found the squash in the fridge and an old onion. there was rice and tomato sauce in the cupboard. no meat anywhere. it didn’t matter there was plenty of rice. he made a sauce with the onion and canned tomatoes tossing in some dried herbs and garlic powder. after chopping up the zucchini he added them to the sauce. it simmered as the rice cooked.

duane allman was ripping it. another rocker dead before his time. jerry decided to have one of the tall cans of colt .45 with dinner. he popped the tab and took a long pull. it was good. cold and tasty. dinner was ok. filling and somewhat tasty.

after dinner he drank the rest of the malt liquor he’d bought earlier in the day and smoked his last remaining joint. comfortably numb and pretty well toasted he spent the night on the couch.

the next few weeks went by quickly. work was work and fairly non-taxing with plenty of spare change to be found on the floor of denny’s. school was another matter. he just stopped going though he still got a check from the VA for the past month. he wasn’t sure why he’d quit but it was as if he wasn’t really there anyway. it was hard to fit in again after the nam. the nam. he kept that to himself as best he could. no point in making it well known. all things considered it seemed like a good idea.

the wednesday before thanksgiving he got up early and headed south. it was an 8 hour car trip that went fairly well. jerry was looking forward to seeing the relatives and eating all that good food. piles of it to be sure. the trip south was uneventful. he arrived at his old home around 2 in the afternoon.

the garage door was closed which meant no one was probably home. no matter, there was a key in the garage. his father liked the door open as it was easier to move around and work in the garage that way. if someone was home the door stayed open until around sunset. he parked his car in the street. grabbed his bag and went around the north side of the house. the back gate was closed and the dog on duty sign was still there. his dog. the dog had died while jerry was in nam. the gate was unlocked as always and the back garage door was open. also as always. he went inside the garage. as he’d figured, the car wasn’t there. his dad had built a row of large cabinets when they’d moved in years ago. jerry opened the one closest to the door.

he reached inside and up into the second shelf. he found the nail and the key hanging from it. taking the key he unlocked the back door and then replaced the key it on it’s nail. as always. it was SOP. his dad had drilled that into him long long ago.

the house smelled good. his mother must have been busy getting ready for the big day tomorrow. turkey day. he took his bag and went through the house to his old room. it was like he’d never left. it was just like it had been for years. the double bed. a small desk and chair by the mail slot. the desk was covered with a sheet of glass which in turn was covered with surfboard company decals.

he paused and looked at the decals then ran his hand over them. memories. deciding he was hungry he went back into the kitchen to see what he could scrounge. it was then he noticed the note on the kitchen table. it was for his aunt. apparently she was bringing something over for turkey day. of course, she knew about the key. the note said his parents were at bellevue cemetery putting flowers on a grave. it also said his mother would call her sister later. jerry figured they were at his grandparents grave site.

forgetting he was hungry jerry decided to surprise his parents by going to the cemetery. besides he hadn’t been to visit his grandparents grave in a number of years. plus, there was a gas station across the street from bellevue and he needed gas for his ride anyway. so, jerry locked up and headed south to the cemetery.

on the way down he didn’t see his parents heading home. he figured he was on the route his dad would use. they must still be at the cemetery. he’d get gas later. turning into bellevue’s drive he noticed his father’s car over in the newer area of the cemetery. his grandparents grave site was in the older section behind the mausoleum. what was up? finding it interesting he followed the road toward his parent’s car.

jerry parked behind is dad’s ford. got out and walked towards his parents. their back was to him and his dad appeared to be holding his mom up. her shoulders were shaking. was she crying? what in the world was going on? as he got closer he called out to them. nothing. maybe they couldn’t hear him.

he was almost upon them when they turned towards him. his mother had been crying. jerry smiled and said.

mom. dad. what’s going on?

they looked right through him. his mother still crying. they didn’t say anything or otherwise acknowledged his presence. for good or bad. in fact, they silently walked right by him as they returned to their car. jerry stood there for a moment and watched them.

dad? mom?

it was all he could think to say. baffled he turned towards the grave where they had been standing. there were fresh flowers and a small american flag on a stick stuck in the ground next to the flowers. it was then he saw it. the gravestone. on it was his birthday and a day in june from the year before. along with that was jerry’s name and army rank.

they found jerry’s bag beside his bed when one of the young second cousins had gone into his old room to take a nap after dinner on thanksgiving day. it freaked everyone out to be sure. however, there never was an acceptable explanation as to why or how the bag got there in the first place.

jmh

a shift in time

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it’s almost time for another memorial day weekend. the beginning of summer as it were. time to once again honor all those who never made it back from one of our endless wars. time to pause and raise a glass in honor of those soldiers. happy dead soldier weekend, my brothers and sisters. this post first appeared back in august of 2007.

jmh

i spent several hours yesterday on line at the vietnam center and archive, texas tech university.  lots of good stuff to noodle around and look at if you are a veteran or a history buff.  there’s numerous oral histories and collections in their museum to meander through as well.  it’s a very nice place and i’m more than happy to have given them what little stuff i had from my collecting or picking up stuff days from that place long ago.  what i was looking at wasn’t the oral histories or the museum stuff but their maps.  a very nice and easily negotiable 1:50,000 map of vietnam.  map sections blown up to very large jpgs, everything there.  all the contours, streams, rivers, and mountains with names so long ago forgotten but still remembered when given half a chance.  it’s odd to look at those maps and the places i once traveled thru or lived in and around.  seeing the names again brought back a flood of stuff.

i spent most of the time tracing the road trip from saigon to out where i was stationed in ham tan.  80 miles of 2 lane black top or hwy 1 as it was and is still known today.  the 40 miles or so out to xuan loc were fairly civilized even boasting mp(military police) speed traps.  yes, strange things in strange times.  the last 40 miles or so after xuan loc and a right turn were another story.  particularly the 30 or so miles of dirt road with the jungle closing in on both sides fighting it’s way back to life after many doses of agent orange.  that stretch of road had that certain pucker factor to it.  your body telling you, this ain’t right and can’t we just go someplace else, now, please.

that 80 mile road trip was my introduction to the wilder side of vietnam.  i’d spent a few days in the company area in bien hoa but i knew where i was going right from the start.  when the first sargent saw me his first words were, boy, you going to ham tan.  the die was cast and the deal went down a few days later when a solitary deuce and a half rolled into the company area to pick me up. 

i made that trip more than a few times in the old smoking deuce hauling building supplies out to ham tan in order to finish a bunker for our generators and large a/c units.  units used to cool all the communication gear inside the bunker.  that first trip though was an eye opener for sure. 

yeah, for 2 hours yesterday i was back on the road again.  memories exploding like a 105 round.  the last 40 miles of bad road in particular.  just like the old duane eddy tune from the early 60’s.  i think i’m still there today.  oh, i know i am today because the memories of those single deuce and a half trips have been running pretty much non stop since yesterday.  then again maybe i never left in the first place.

jmh