Remembering My Fellow Vietnam-Era Vets

Every Memorial Day brings my mind back to the Vietnam era and memories of the hundreds of young soldiers I knew.

I was the luckiest man in the Army, with opportunities to meet and talk with so many different kinds of troops. As an Army journalist in Hawaii, where thousands of soldiers received training before deploying to the war, I met young guys from everywhere in the US, and from a few other countries.

CoverImage-forPromo112115Contrary to the common belief that most draftees were poorly educated southerners or disadvantaged young men from urban ghettos, many were educated people from mainstream America. Though politicians in Washington created a foolish program to draft some mentally disadvantaged people, ordinary draftees were often smarter than the political leaders who had sent them.

I met soldiers in several different environments. Many were returning from Vietnam, while others were undergoing training before deploying. I met many enlisted men at the lowest ranks, as well as prominent generals. I even had the honor of interviewing Admiral John S. McCain Jr., father of Senator McCain of Arizona. I later realized that the future senator, then a Navy captain, may have been in a Viet Cong prison camp when I met his father.

Some vets I encountered in my first few days after training, were already casualties of war. Serving as a parade-ground announcer during outdoor medal presentations, I would read a written citation before each honored soldier received a medal. With hundreds of soldiers in military formation, I would hear my voice echoing back at me over windy fields, as a senior officer presented each Purple Heart, Bronze or Silver Star. Many medals were posthumous, with families of each fallen soldier present to receive the medal. The sights of tearful parents, girlfriends, wives, and kids left me with indelible memories of the hardest job I ever had.

In visits to Tripler Army Medical Center, I met men who survived casualties, often with grave injuries that would trouble them for life. These brave men offered upbeat conversations as they told their stories, though I often wondered how they would survive in civilian life.

As the Eleventh Infantry Brigade deployed to Vietnam, I said goodbye to dozens of friends. Some would come home and resume life in the real world. Others would never return. Still others would come back physically, yet be forever unable to live a normal life.

All of this happened many years ago. Most of the names have faded over time. The faces remain, however. I wrote a novel based on those days, entitled “The Victory That Wasn’t.” It’s my version of how a few minor background events might have changed the entire story of America in Vietnam. Reviewers have said, “if only it had happened that way…”

Processing out of the Army with hundreds of others on our last day in the military at Oakland Army Base, I listened to final instructions, informing us that anti-war protesters might meet us with violence. I had prepared for that situation and wore civilian clothes as I walked out of the building. I wore sneakers and carried an ordinary suitcase. I had even invested in a civilian haircut before leaving Honolulu.

I was a civilian again, but my Army experience had changed me. I still knew that I had been the luckiest man in the Army. And I had shared a connection with my fellow Vietnam-era vets that exists to this day.

What We Learned from the Hiroshima Atom Bomb

NukeExplosionWith President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, Japan, the seventy-one-year controversy has risen again: Was America justified in using a horrific weapon on a civilian population? Or did we let the proverbial genie out of the bottle to initiate an era of potential nuclear destruction?

Americans are usually a compassionate people. News stories reminding us of thousands of innocents in 1945 dying the most brutal deaths sicken many of us. We personalize the thought of suffering Japanese civilians.

The other side of the proverbial coin indicates that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were entirely necessary. President Truman later wrote that ending the war saved hundreds of thousands of American and Japanese lives.

The hypothetical question then becomes: Were the bombs the only strategies to compel a Japanese surrender? A brilliantly researched book, “The Fall of Japan,” by William Craig, Fall-of-Japanoffers eye-opening information about Japan, following the Nagasaki bomb, three days after Hiroshima. Craig’s research is factual, compiled from sources like historical Japanese records, interviews with Hiroshima survivors, and personal letters. The author offers no opinion, hypothetical assumptions, or answers to the historical debate.

But the book includes word-for-word conversations between Japanese officials, military leaders, prominent civilians and family members. For example, Craig references anecdotes, about Japanese leaders discussing suicide with their wives, with some couples committing suicide together. In one case, a man contemplated suicide, then changed his mind, causing his wife to berate him publically for his cowardice and dishonor.

Japanese officials, even the Emperor— worshiped as a god by the entire Japanese population—could not sign a surrender. The very idea of surrender was so abhorrent that many military units revolted, vowing to fight on to death.

Craig’s picture of the Japanese population in 1945 reveals an entire country—millions of people—trapped mentally in hatred against America that is comparable to today’s Islamic jihadism. Though Craig makes no such comparison, it’s easy to conclude that the Japanese people of 1945 would have followed their fanatical leaders, with bloodshed that would have dwarfed the number of deaths caused by the atom bombs.

FullFinalIn America today, many of us have friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members who are Japanese-Americans. We genuinely like these people and often love them. Many Japanese Americans rank at the top of their fields, from the business world, medicine, the sciences, the arts, and professional sports. When we hear a discussion of the people who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we may associate them with the Japanese American faces we know today. We identify the 1945 fanatics with our Japanese American friends and ask ourselves why so many had to die. Sadly, millions of innocent people have died in wars since biblical times. We cannot, however, honestly compare the isolated culture of the 1940s with the today’s free-thinking Japanese people.

When zealous leaders can indoctrinate an entire country with a faith-based belief in hatred of an enemy, nothing but a horrifying future can compel surrender.

One lesson that we need to learn from this story is that wars are not chess games, where every move follows logically. Logical thinkers would have expected Japan to sue for peace after its military became decimated. But we learned after-the-fact that the expectation of a logical move was a fantasy. Japan’s fanatical leaders would have fought on for years.

When leaders today make pronouncements about what we should do with an enemy like ISIS, they are playing chess as some Americans did in1945. When political sound bytes become strategies, we are fooling ourselves. Our only realistic protection is to prepare for every possible move by the enemy—logical or unpredictable—and hope we haven’t missed any. If our leaders continue to reduce our military capability and rationalize that we’re only playing chess, they leave us vulnerable to destruction.

To build and maintain the most powerful, capable military in the world is the path to continued peace. Reducing our military in a misguided plan to provide more money for politically popular, “social justice,” is sadly a recipe for war.

Funny Cross-Gender Bathroom Stories

JPRestRoomsLaws about bathrooms have suddenly become headline stories. Though media and politicians often manufacture issues, no one expected a nationwide debate about bathroom protocol.

People on social media have secured hardline positions, but few of the thousands of tweets and posts reflect any real world knowledge on cross-gender bathroom use. As a public service, therefore, I offer four true stories related to this subject.

The Newark Airport Dilemma

Several years ago, painters at Newark Airport refurbished a passenger boarding area but were careless in replacing directional signs leading to the
FullFinalrestrooms. The final signs before reaching either restroom door were confusing. If a man or woman passenger wasn’t paying attention to the sign directly on the door, he or she might enter the wrong door, causing momentary embarrassment. As regular passengers of that flight gate, my colleagues and I had all noticed the confusing signage, laughed about it, and avoided any erroneous entrances.

A new member of our group, a young woman, was unaware of the potential bathroom sign confusion. Experiencing a state of urgency before a long flight, she mistakenly dashed into the men’s room. Though the lady realized immediately that she was in the wrong room, there was no one else there, and she decided to use one of the stalls. Exiting the stall and washing her hands, she saw a middle-aged male executive entering the restroom. As soon as he saw her, he turned red, backed away, raised his hands in surrender, and croaked, “I’m sorry! Please forgive me. I just made a mistake.” Our young teammate looked him straight in the eye, feigned anger and disgust, shook a finger at him and said, “Don’t you ever let it happen again!” Leaving the room and laughing to herself, she immediately joined us onboard and told us the story.

An Engineer’s Shocking Decision

George, one of our company’s favorite clients, was a thirty-something engineer from a large Connecticut tech company. Before the start of a large conference at our campus, we saw George arrive at the lecture hall from a distant entrance and noted that he seemed to be wearing an earring. Though some men at that time wore earrings outside of work, they rarely wore them in a business environment. A few gay men were exceptions.They sometimes wore a single earring on the right ear, symbolically identifying themselves as gay. I was busy greeting new arrivals and asked a woman staff member to welcome George, to note whether he wore an earring, and if so, which side it adorned.

A few minutes later, our staff member, returned at a quick pace, and breathlessly told me, “It’s not a simple earring, it’s a set of two, one on each ear. And they’re not the usual gold buttons; they’re hand-painted daisies!” Our friend, George, would henceforth be called, Georgia, and was undergoing injection treatments to become a woman.

Georgia’s transformation set his entire company atwitter. Another tech guy at his company told me about the attitudes that had developed around Georgia. Some people—mostly women—voiced a laissez-faire viewpoint. Some loved the ongoing story as a staple of prurient speculation. Others had attitudes somewhere between condemnation, and “torches-and-pitchforks.”

But, of course, the big question was, “Which bathroom will she use.” The HR staff led an effort to determine new bathroom rules for the company. They generated a confidential questionnaire for all women employees, to determine their feelings about Georgia using their restrooms. More than 60 percent of the women could accept Georgia as a restroom user, apparently led by one woman, whose associates all wrote, “I don’t care what she does, as long as she does it sitting!”

My Adventure in a Roman Restroom

Entering a hotel restroom in Rome, I was surprised to see a rotund, older woman standing there, apparently ready to clean. She said nothing and made no move to leave. I stood near the urinals, unsure of how to proceed. Should I wait for her departure? Realizing that I was hesitant, the woman reached in front of me with a cleaning brush, tapped one of the urinals, and said something in Italian. Though I know very few Italian words, I was pretty sure that she had said something that would translate to “pee here.” I performed as instructed. She watched me, with scant interest. I completed my assigned task, washed my hands and departed. I remember chuckling, and saying to myself, “When in Rome…” To the best of my knowledge, the woman wasn’t a transgender person. It’s difficult to imagine her as a man, selecting special women’s clothing to participate in our thirty-second mini-drama. I don’t believe that I experienced any harm. Nor can I imagine any law that would have improved the experience.

A Young Woman’s Complaint About Transgender Bathrooms

When my daughter was a student at the University of California-Santa Cruz, I would visit and take her out for lunch. On one occasion she chose the restaurant, a student hangout in downtown Santa Cruz. A few miles from the University, Santa Cruz is a small city with a 1960s feel, largely populated by aging hippies and cannabis-loving street characters. My daughter’s chosen lunch venue mirrored that vibe.

Before we entered the restaurant, she warned me about its restroom policy. Instead of the conventional pairs of women’s and men’s rooms, management offered a series of small “People’s Rooms.” I was therefore not surprised an hour later when I found myself in line behind a young woman. As we waited for an available bathroom, I noted a framed printed statement on the wall, explaining management’s bathroom policy and philosophy.

Using more words than necessary, the restaurant owners wanted customers to know that the bathrooms were “like your bathroom, at home. There’s no need to put signs on the doors.” I didn’t pay much attention to this issue, until the young woman ahead of me, probably high on something, turned around and said, “I hate using these friggin bathrooms.” I asked why, expecting some remark related to feminism or personal privacy. But her surprising response was, “Stupid guys keep leaving the seats up!”

A Final Thought

None of these stories is directly relevant to the government lawsuits about bathroom usage. But as a group, they help to emphasize the ridiculousness of this national debate.

A question for both sides: How would law enforcement people know that someone is transgender? Do they have to carry a special card? Hmm…perhaps we need to design a tasteful transgender pin. A lovely piece of jewelry might satisfy both sides of the great bathroom debate and elevate America in the eyes of the rest of the world.