Day About Veterans

1422555_10202116325577158_742156603_nYes, I am a Vietnam Veteran. However, I don’t have to be a Veteran to share my personal belief that Veteran’s Day must not be simply another day of celebration. I believe that it should be specifically about inspiring us to celebrate our Veterans every day! In every way possible.

Veterans dedicated and risked their own lives to protect each of us and our families. And to protect our country. Many carry the memories, traumas, health issues and PTSD the remainder of their life.

Should you, and I seriously give less in protecting the well-being of our Veterans? They are yours, mine and everyone’s Veteran. They are family.

You have my permission to share this post exactly as it is presented with the content and image. I do not know who to credit for the incredible image. I stood at the Wall and had the same experience. Even more powerful in person.

Appeasing My Empirical Interests Resulted in Serendipity

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When I was in high school, I spent some of my weekends appeasing my empirical interests by undertaking thought-provoking science experiments. Included in the research; I tied a small lightweight cardboard box filled with scientific instruments for measuring ambient temperature, pressure, humidity, and other atmospheric properties to the bottom of several small balloons filled with helium gas.

Walking out into an empty church parking lot, near my home, I carefully released the balloons and cardboard box. I knew that animals may mistake balloon debris for food, ingesting the material, blocking their stomach or intestines leading to starvation. Therefore, I kept the balloons tethered to a very long line and not floating free. After sufficient time for the instruments to gather the information, I retrieved the balloons and cardboard box by pulling on the line and bringing it back to the ground.

When it was colder I used a PEACOCK brand lighter fuel hand-warmer which used a lighter fluid that reacts with a platinum catalyst to release heat by oxidation reactions. It generated heat for about 12 to 24 hours to keep me warm while launching and retrieving the balloons, especially at night.

One day I remembered reading that in 1962, John Glenn thrust into space on board the Friendship 7, America’s first manned spacecraft to orbit the earth, with a specially modified Minolta Hi-Matic camera. I decided to get more sophisticated by adding a camera that had a self-timer to my experiments.  This way, I could take photographs of the city and countryside from a high altitude.

During several months the increasingly quite larger, now single authentic weather balloons, reached ever greater heights with more complex electronic equipment packages including cameras in a large wooden basket. I was in the process of locating and purchasing a huge weather balloon when I received a phone call from the Command Duty Officer at the Naval Air Station Los Alamitos, later renamed Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base / Los Alamitos Army Airfield.

Always interested in aviation, I thought this call was a to notify the surrounding community about an upcoming airshow provided by the NAS Los Alamitos. The officer invited me to a tour of the base, lunch at the mess hall officers club and a brief meeting with the base commander. Continue reading

Human Brains, Vietnam & Schizophrenia

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Photograph: Tony Latham

IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. Charles Dickens wrote these opening lines in his novel, Tale of Two Cities.

It could very well have been written for the Vietnam War. Certainly for my 14-month Vietnam War tour of duty.

The war in Vietnam was looming bigger each year. The Tet Offensive, one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War, launched on January 30, 1968 by forces of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese People’s Army of Vietnam against the forces against the forces of South Vietnam, the United States, and their allies. This was a campaign of surprise attacks against military and civilian commands and control centers throughout South Vietnam. The name of the offensive comes from the Tết holiday, the Vietnamese New Year, when the first major attacks took place.

I was drafted in May 1968. I went through the rigors of basic training at Fort Ord, a United States Army post on Monterey Bay of the Pacific Ocean coast in California and trained on firing ranges with hand grenades, M18 Claymore anti-personnel mines and rifles. The beach was the military firing range and closed to the public for nearly 77 years. I recall that at the rifle range it was so cold and windy and the Army field jacket so inadequate that I envied the drivers in passing vehicles with their heaters blasting.

Completing basic training I was sent to Ft. Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas for combat medic and medical laboratory training. After the training in 1969 I was ordered back to Ft. Ord to Silas B. Hayes Army Community Hospital, as my first duty station. I became the non-commissioned officer in charge of one of the primary hospital medical laboratories.

I lived off the post just above Cannery Row. I had read the novel, Cannery Row (1945) written by John Steinbeck and my curious writer’s mind was invigorated as I visited the areas depicted so well in his book and began my own novels and short stories when off duty.

I had wanted to be a novelist since I was a child. My older sister said I was writing short stories at least by age four. Nonetheless, I knew that it was inevitable that I would be sent to Vietnam in the medical field. And whatever the future held for me, I trusted writing would be of significance.

I was kept very busy as we were short staffed since many personnel had been shipped to Vietnam. In a small room in the hospital laboratory there were approximately fifty whole human brains sitting silently, preserved in large specimen jars of formaldehyde. I remembered spending what time I could spare gazing into each of the jars and wondering about the person whose brain now floated in formaldehyde. Continue reading

Praying Mantis vs Mosquito

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While serving 14 months in the U.S. Army in Vietnam my fellow soldiers and I experienced frequent rocket attacks around 2:00 AM to 6:00 AM while sleeping in our hooch. Of course, it was unnerving. All we could do was wait until the rockets stopped hitting our compound. Each of us knew that if even if a single rocket landed nearby, most of us would die.

Initially, I crawled under the small army cot just like everyone else, banging my shins and head and waiting for the end of the rocket attack. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I might just as well lie down on the cot and count the rockets, as there usually were the same number each morning, rather than banging my body trying to get under the cot that provided no protection anyway.

During the day and early evening mosquitoes, carrying a variety of diseases including malaria besieged us. I decided on a creative method to stop the mosquito attacks that kept me awake. I explored the insects indigenous to the area and found that the Praying Mantises in Vietnam were rather large and voracious.

After catching a large Praying Mantis, I tried sewing thread around its thorax and then on objects in the hooch where I lived. There was enough thread for the Praying Mantis to have a great deal of mobility. Initially, I provided water and other insects for it to eat. Eventually, it lived quite well eating the mosquitoes that swarmed around the hooch.

I found a large beaker from the medevac hospital nearby and began raising Praying Mantises. I learned a lot about how they mated, what they ate and how they bushwhacked and ate insects. I learned the best way to feed and provide water for them while they grew.

It was a fascinating experience and stimulated my interest as a naturalist in my off-duty time. The greatest benefit was that I no longer had to worry about mosquitoes buzzing around trying to bite me.

I apologize for the quality of the photographs that somehow survived after all these years. You can click on each image to view it larger. The top image is of a Praying Mantis in its home in my hooch. The bottom image is of two Praying Mantises in the beaker. The images do not do justice to how large and beautiful these Praying Mantises were.