Thursday, December 11, 2014

From the Sunbelt to the Rainbelt

  We moved from Arizona to Washington State early in December. Most of the moving trucks on the road were headed in the other direction, toward the sunny southwest. To avoid snowy mountain passes, we drove straight to southern California and then north toward Washington. A major rainstorm had just blown in and we hit it outside of LA. The deluge continued for the entire trip north. From the very beginning of our relationship, Katie and I have known that we were Nomadic. In the 1970s, when we first got together and were working at a Burrito booth at the Saturday market in Eugene, Oregon, we seriously considered buying a bus, converting it into an RV and spending our lives together traveling around the country. Instead we rented a cabin in the woods. 002We probably should have bought the bus, because over the years, we have called twenty three different domiciles home. So five years in Green Valley, Arizona, in the same house, was a long time for us. To Roots people, our behavior is crazy. Only to other nomadic types does it make sense. Moving, to Nomads, is an exciting adventure, but to Roots people, it is a gigantic, nerve racking, pain in the ass from start to finish. To read my blog called Two Kinds of People click this link: Each time we move to a new house or area, there have been a number of negative things we are moving away from and positive things we are moving toward. Since we have moved from Washington to Arizona before and vice-versa, the negative and positive attributes get a little tricky. For example, at the top on our list for moving away from Arizona was the weather. But weather was also at the top of the list when we moved to Arizona from Washington. To Nomads everything is relative. We are escaping the hot, relentlessly intense sun and dryness and are returning to the refreshing, cool moist air. But when we were moved to Arizona, we were leaving the cold and damp weather of the northwest for the beautiful sunny days of the southwest. To Roots people we seem to be never satisfied with where we live, but to other Nomads, we are taking advantage of opportunities for change. And with each change we reinvent ourselves. Possessions cannot be clung to if you are a Nomad and this includes the home. One has to be willing to let go of things. Nomads realize that we are only passing through, nothing is really owned, only borrowed. This attitude makes change a lot easier. Nomads don’t actually need a “for and against” list, but it helps in order to explain to others why the move. For us it’s enough that we both felt ready for a change. There is always a honeymoon period with every move. It’s like any new relationship. We will enjoy eating at new restaurants, including several Thai. Frequenting the  bakeries and a bagel shop and browsing in the book stores. There is a large record store that specializes in vinyl records and a small movie theater that often has knowledgeable speakers introducing the films. I will enjoy sitting in one of many coffee shops and writing, which is what I’m doing now and generally getting to know our new home town. Perhaps Nomadic people like us could turn into Roots people, but I doubt it. So, for the time being you can find us in Port Townsend, Washington. Only time will tell how long until we pack up the caravan and move again, for all too soon the ride will be over. A few of the homes we lived in over the years:

 004 (2) This was the first house we purchased thanks to a VA Home Loan. It was in Bellingham, Washington and our son Ben was seven years old.

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From the sale of that house, we were able to purchase this one in Spokane, Wa. The street was lined with huge Sycamore trees and it was located between two beautiful parks. As you can garner from the picture, one of the reasons for leaving  was the harsh winters, too cold and too much snow.

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We rented this cabin in Prescott Arizona. It was perched on a hill above the town. The back was totally private and the bedroom had windows on three sides.003 (3)

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We always left a house in better shape than we found it. This is a before and after picture of a house we owned in Bellingham. Our friend Nancy told us that we are beautifying America one house at a time.


We insisted that the toilet be placed inside the house. We’re fussy about things like that.

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We fixed this house up in Port Angeles and enjoyed living in it for five years. As you can see we have a preference for small bungalows.


This is another house in Bellingham that needed a face lift.


Tired of fixing up houses, we lived in a Condo in Prescott for several years.


This two story tiny house with a separate Artist’s studio is our new home. Our living spaces are getting progressively
smaller now that we are retired. The nomadic life insures that one doesn’t accumulate too many possessions. Although after the experience of moving our stuff in and out of the moving truck, it still seems like we have way too much. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

My Year in Vietnam

With my parents at home before shipping out
In 1966, like many young men my age, the US government forced me to make a choice. I could either join the military, go to jail or flee the country. I joined the Army.


Craig Paugh, me & Al Robbins

I turned twenty in October of 1968 on a Merchant Marine troop ship headed for Vietnam. On the
month long voyage, somewhere out in the Pacific ocean, one fellow soldier jumped overboard and was never found. The rest of us had a good idea why he jumped.

Al Robbins, me, Rob Pittard,& John Yount (2)
Rob Pittard, Al Robbins, me and John Yount
We stopped in the Philippines and were allowed two days of shore leave. Some of us spent the day at the beach swimming and collecting beautiful brightly colored shells. 

198th headquarters basecamp

I spent most of my year living and operating out of the 198th Infantry Brigade Headquarters. This is a view from a jeep driving north on Highway 1.

scan0094This view is looking down at the base- camp from a perimeter bunker on the hills behind it. In the distance is the South China Sea.

Hooch at 198th Brigade Headquarters

I lived in this hooch with five other guys. We were all part of the 635th Military Intelligence Detachment. Several of the other surrounding hooches held personnel from our detachment as well.

Dennis Hensley & Ken Brown
Dennis Hensely & Ken Brown


We fixed up the inside by building a bar covered with grass cloth to give it a tropical look and surrounded it with empty bottles of alcohol that we had consumed. We each chose two playboy pinups and I put up a large drawing of Mick Jagger.  Dennis from Tennessee was our mechanic and company scrounger. He could get just about anything we wanted trading with the Air Force personnel up at the Chu Lai Airbase.

POW compound

I worked as an Intelligence Analyst and a Prisoner of War Interrogator. This is the POW compound where the detainees were held before and after interrogation.


I flew around in helicopters for both my jobs. Mostly I flew in the Bell UH-1 Iroquois, better known as “Huey”. Hueys had two door gunners, so when the bad guys shot at us, we could shoot back.

In Chopper between Chu Lai & Duc Pho

Sometimes I flew in a smaller helicopter, the Bell H-13 Sioux. It was a light utility helicopter and had no armaments to protect us. The pilot either flew very high up, out of small arms range or very close to the ground, almost at tree top level. I always sat on my flak jacket and had my rifle ready to fire on these trips. It is an understatement for me to say, I went on some wild rides during my year there.
 View of Rice paddies from chopper

Anton was a small group of shops that sprung up along highway one. We took our laundry to Helen’s, where you could buy toiletry items, food  and souvenirs. In the back beautiful young girls, who should have been in school or at home with tHelen's laundryheir families, worked as prostitutes.

We each named our jeeps. The one to the right  says “dead chicken” in Vietnamese. I named my jeep “Luv”, spelled like the rock group. The Beatles told us that was all we needed and I think I wanted to spread a little more around.  

Interpreters by chopper

We lived and worked with Vietnamese Interpreters. These young men were drafted into the army for however long the government wanted them. I became very close to these guys. I will never know if they survived after 1975 when the communists took over.

 The two interpreters in the picture to the right were ethnic Chinese, but born and raised in Vietnam. They were not totally accepted by the Vietnamese, but they were both very good, honorable guys.

Chang & Bao
Chang & Bao

Each interrogator chose an interpreter to work with. I mostly worked with Chang  at our interrogation section in the base camp and out in the bush when we went on missions with the infantry. On New Years eve Chang was shot by not so friendly, friendly fire, but he survived and was able to return to our unit.

Rob & I
Rob & I
Bao worked with Rob. Bao was college educated and spoke many languages including French. Rob also had a college degree and had lived in France for two years. So he and Bao conducted their interrogation sessions in French and Vietnamese. 

Being in a war with others, you make close friends and have a great deal of respect and trust for one another. Rob was a fellow interrogator and helped me to quit smoking.

The little boy we called Sam
Me, Sam & Owen Davis(OD)

My friend Owen is barbequing at one of our many detachment cook outs. The little boy, we called Sam. He was sort of a company mascot. I don’t know if he had a family or was an orphan.

Lt. Mitchell
Lieutenant Mitchell
One night when both Owen and I were on perimeter guard duty, we were attacked. Owen, we called him OD, grabbed a radio and ran between bunkers and tanks and coordinated our defensive fire. He really acted heroically that night and saved our bacon. We  laughed about it later over a couple of beers. 

Lt. Mitchell was part of the Imagery Interpretation section of our unit. I took this picture early one morning when he was waiting to go out on a flight mission to take surveillance pictures which would later be analyzed in the Imagery Interpretation van at headquarters. He was an avid reader like myself and we loved to discuss books.  L.T. was shot down on one of these flights, but luckily survived to tell the tale.


 Vietnam is a beautiful country. I loved the culture, the country-side and the people. While I was there I tried to imagine it without a war.
Bus 2

This is the bus from Tam Ky to Quang Ngai. As you can see no space was wasted.



I bought a Fujica camera at the Division PX. and decided I would not take pictures of injured or dead Vietnamese or Americans. There were too many to count, but out of respect, I put my camera away.

 This is the amphitheater at Chu Lai, where in December we  saw the Bob Hope Christmas show. We all loved it and felt so much appreciation for Bob and his entourage.
In the background is the hospital where I interrogated many wounded Vietnamese and where the American dead and wounded soldiers were brought in from the field.

Rick Wright & John Mitchell

 Rick and I went through Intelligence training together at Fort Holibird Maryland. Shortly after settling into the 198th base camp, he was transferred to a small Intel post in Quang Ngai City.

Mitch called me "Lil Bro" and introduced me to south east Asian cannabis. We shared a love for Motown music especially the Temptations and Marvin Gaye.

The  largest city I went to was Quang Ngai. Visiting my friend Rick there was a treat. We sat in restaurants and ate meat wrapped in leaves and dipped in nuoc mam(fish sauce) and drank warm Ba Moui Ba(33) beer.

Quang Ngai

Rocket damage
In January of 1968 the enemy launched the TET offensive. Rockets and mortars rained down on our base camp in the middle of the night. We ran for cover across the road, dodging tracer bullets and held up in a bunker thinking that we  would soon be over run.

Several hooches were totally destroyed and our motor pool took several direct hits. Many vehicles were destroyed. Our first Sergeant’s hooch took a direct hit also and he received shrapnel in his ass. We didn’t like our first Sergeant and thought that was hilarious. He survived and filled out the paperwork for a purple heart that he’d been hoping to get.
After TET

Some American soldiers were killed that night in our base camp. I didn’t know any of them personally.

Bunker by hooch 

A few enemy soldiers were found dead within our compound, but we were not over run. The next morning we knocked  a hole in the side of our hooch and began building a humongous bunker so that if and when it happened again, we could quickly dive to safety.

me with chu hoi

I am standing with a married Viet Cong (VC), couple who defected. They were part of the Chieu Hoi program,  a  propaganda campaign by the South Vietnamese government. Leaflets were put in artillery shells or dropped from helicopters over enemy territory. They promised defectors no retribution and a bunch of other positive benefits. I have no idea if the government kept their promise. I enjoyed talking with this couple and they gave us a lot of valuable information.

These little three wheeled vehicles transported civilians up and down Highway 1. One day I witnessed the aftermath of an accident. A tank had run over one of these vehicles, killing all the civilians. Women and children’s bodies were strewn all over the road. Later that day in the Tactical Operations Center (TOC), I overheard a Colonel arguing with someone over the field telephone about which unit should get credit for the enemy body count from this accident. 
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Here I am back “in the world” with a brand new MGB-GT which I bought for $3200 cash from my over-seas combat pay. Except for PTSD issues, I survived that year pretty well.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ferguson Continues to Shape Lives

The following blog was written by my friend Paul Brehm. We met in cub scouts when we were both nine years old and have remained friends since then. We grew up in Ferguson, Missouri in the '50s and '60s, a more segregated time in history. In 2002 we drove from New York to Ferguson together. If you would like to read about that trip, go to Also I have a category of posts at this blog site  called "Ferguson Stories" with more about Ferguson in the past.

Florissant Street, downtown Ferguson, 1978

I grew up in Ferguson during the 1950s and ‘60s. It was a magical time for this sprawling St. Louis suburb. Nothing to worry about except maybe building a bomb shelter for protection from the looming Communist threat. In the early 1950s, Ferguson was a distant suburb of St. Louis. It required a lot of time to get to the downtown area. There were no highways to speak of and rapid transit did not reach out into the suburbs. So downtown Ferguson was pretty much the center of our universe and was teaming with life, Barbays Market, Quillman's Drugstore, Ben Franklin Five & Dime, Velvet Freeze, Martins Restaurant, Savoy theatre, Sonderagers Bakery, Ferguson Bowling Lanes and of course Ferguson Department Store.

Ferguson Department Store 1978
In hindsight we were blind to the fact that steps away from Ferguson, people experienced a different life, one that probably does not conjure up fond memories. Kinloch, the largest black community west of the Mississippi at that time, bordered Ferguson. Ferguson was not wealthy by any means, but Kinloch spelled abject poverty. Many Ferguson families employed a cleaning lady from Kinloch. We never inquired about where they lived or about their family. It embarrasses me to think that my parents were more concerned about these kind women stealing things from our house. Other than that, we never gave Kinloch a second thought. Adults told us to stay far away from it, so we did. When the roads turned from concrete to dirt, we turned around.

Lake at January-Wabash park where we ice skated every winter.

The Clubhouse at January -Wabash Park
McCluer High School back then
McCluer was our high school. It may still hold the record for the largest graduating  classes in Missouri. Not all white, but nearly so in the ‘60s. The half dozen or so blacks in the school were quiet, respectful, and kept a low profile. It never occurred to me at the time what those students went home to or even where they lived. I wonder what happened to Albert Holmes, one of the few blacks at school. He was a great athlete and a gentle, kind person. I can only wonder where he is today and what he is doing. Didn’t Kinloch have its own schools and if so, why didn’t we play them in sports? 
Ferguson Junior High(Used to be the High School)

In the ‘70s things began to change. When my parents retired to Arizona in 1976, they sold their house in Ferguson Hills. A prominent realtor refused to show it to a black family, so my father confronted him and demanded that he show the house to all interested parties, regardless of race. It was my first realization that Ferguson was all white for a reason. My father invited a black family with young kids to view the house and when he found out they could not afford to pay $25,000, he dropped it to a price they could afford. He told me how pleased it made him that they fell in love with the house, just like he did in 1953.

The Fire Station and Bakery
I no longer live in Missouri, but have, on several occasions, driven down my old street, Ford Drive and watched kids playing just like the old days. It does look different. The trees are bigger, the homes look smaller, and most of the kids are black. I’ve thought of Ferguson often over the years and just assumed that integration was working. But I guess Ferguson wasn’t ready for the change.

I used to tell people I was from a small place near St. Louis that they’ve never heard of. That has changed forever. Even Wikipedia now features these recent troubles. Maybe I’ll tell people I grew up in Florissant from now on.