Sunday, December 30, 2012

On The Road to La Porte City, Iowa April 8, 1971

 To pass the time on his way to meet Peg and Gene Mullen for what was a possible New Yorker magazine article and became Friendly Fire , Dad made notes of the journey. He drove 561 miles in a faded yellow Volkswagon bus with an eight track tape player.


 Leave Guilford 8:30. Mileage 34213. Park at underpass off 95 to settle gear, check maps, gauges. Plucky Lindbergh in a VW bus. The Spirit of St Desperation.
 The sign on the Conn. Tpk: "Are You Dying For A Smoke?" and all the levels of paranoia that appeals to from cancer to marijuana bust.
  Plug Nilsson's "The Point" into the tape deck and heading South on 95 to "Me and My Arrow, straight up and narrow" Swinging into the exact change lane and laying out a 25 cent toll, have travelled this road hundreds, maybe thousands of times but shortly after the New Haven oil spill area, it's off and up 91 to Hartford.

It's 9:20. I've been on the road less than an hour and I miss Sam terribly? How can this be with all the anguish and tension she causes me and I cause her? Listening to Richie Havens on the Woodstock tape going through the outskirts of Hartford. I pass a school bus and a 7 year old boy in the back flashes me a Peace sign.


 An aging Pontiac passes me and its bumper sticker reads "I'm a Polka Fan". The Silent Majority speaks out at last! It's 33 degrees at 9:50 at Springfield. This is where I move onto the Massachusetts Turnpike. The line from James Taylor's song about Stockbridge to Boston. The fantasy of being on the road along Northampton ( Smith College) and Holyoke ( Mt Holyoke) and hitchhiking are two college girls. I pick them up, we get along fine and its mixed doubles in the Holiday Inn. Instead there is one bearded kid hitchhiking to Boston - the wrong way. And I find myself following a bloodmobile. Next fantasy: the truck is hijacked by an upstate colony of vampires who've come, capes flapping, out onto the road. Driven down from the hills by the harsh winter...

Dad drives into New York State, buys a bad meatloaf meal for lunch at Swann's ( for $1.85 + a 25 cent tip) and fills up the bus with 12.3 gallons for $5.10.

  The Erie Canal parallels the road. Lord how that must have been glorious the day the Canal was opened in 1825. Top hats off for Gov Dewitt Clinton, I will see the canal off and on to Buffalo.

  Farther on, on the left, is the town where Beechnut has its huge factories all in a row. Candies, gum, baby foods.

 I pass a sign for Route 233 Westmoreland and that makes me think about Calley. And what is there but to think of the Calley in us all. Was Calley more of a criminal because he killed 22 women and children than me who willingly selected nuclear targets over North Korea. We are both obeying orders. The criminals, surely, are the ones who give the orders as well. Route 233 Westmoreland.

Dad stops for a cup of salty coffee in Leroy, NY and fills up the bus with 12.9 gallons for $5.25. He's now wishing he drove Sam's jaguar. He's noticing an enormous amount of elderly people on the road.

  Fantasy: there is a conspiracy of old people. A secret gathering of them somewhere in the Dakotas. They are going to start a revolution. But of what sort?
  And then I am in the Buffalo area with regiments of high power lines marching out of Niagara Falls...At five o'clock I reach the exit for Niagara and pick up two hitchhikers from Canada. They are young and the one sitting up front is telling me how he likes to ramble around. "Trudeau," he says, "is a very grokky guy."..and out of impulse they've decided to continue onto Ohio where his friend's parents lived.
  I tell them I'm only going as far as Erie. A Toyota with two college girls go by and I tell the boys to make themselves a sign and we will hold it up to the window so that perhaps they can get a ride with the girls. We pass the girls and they blush and mentally cross their legs then write a sign saying they are only going as far as Pittsburgh.

  So I drop the boys and head into the Holiday Inn at the Erie PA South.
   During dinner in their mock-English restaurant I am entertained by "The Whispering Organ of Brad Swanson" and through the grill by the bar I see a powder blue faded blond who, with a surprisingly sweet voices, is joining in on "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometimes..."

   Outside the dining room there was a display of Swanson's three albums. His songs were When You're Smiling, Deep in the Heart of Texas, Quando Quando Quando, Ramblin' Rose, Paper Doll, My Happiness, Satin Doll, Whispering, Gimme a Little Kiss, Will Ya, Huh? Peg O My Heart
  There was a lovely sunset and Lake Erie looked almost clean
I called Sam from my room. And it is true. I did miss her. And Amanda. And even Magoo.
561 miles the first day.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The General

Dad first met H. Norman Schwarzkopf in October 1971. He was then a 37 year old lieutenant colonel not long back from completing his second tour of duty in Vietnam. Twice wounded, he had just been released from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and was recuperating at home with his wife, Brenda, and two year old daughter, Cindy.

 Seventeen months earlier, Schwarzkopf had been commanding the Americal Division's 1st Battalion of the 6th Infantry Brigade in South Vietnam's Batangan Peninsula when a young soldier a dozen yards from Schwarzkopf stepped on a mine. The explosion punched the kid up into the air, injured Captain Bob Trabbert and Schwarzkopf himself. The soldier's right leg was flapping out to one side. "I'm going to die! We're all going to die!" he screamed. As Schwarzkopf began inching across the mine field to reach the soldier, his legs began to shake uncontrollably:

  His knees were suddenly so watery that he had to reach down and grip them until they were stilled. Perspiration stung his eyes. The men watching him, waiting for him to move again. To his astonishment, Schwarzkopf said, he suddenly thought of the sign on Harry Truman's White House desk:"The buck stops here". 
   The kid was whimpering, "I don't want to die! You've got to get me out of here."
    "I'll get you out," Schwarzkopf said. "Just Keep Still. You're all right."
     Five feet...three feet...Schwarzkopf gently lowered himself across the wounded boy's body to keep him still. "I don't want you to move around," Schwarzkopf told him. "We're going to have to set that leg." 
    Schwarzkopf needed a splint and spotted a small, waist-high tree back where he had left Trabbert and three other men. Schwarzkopf called to them to cut some splints from the tree. Trabbert pulled out his sheath knife and passed it to one of the men. The soldier took one step toward the tree and triggered another mine. 
    Schwarzkopf was horrified. Trabbert had taken the full force of the explosion. His left leg was blown off, an arm broken backward so that the bone of the elbow socket showed, and a great hole was gouged in his head. He would survive, but three other men were killed instantly.
     For having crossed the mine field to rescue the wounded private, Schwarzkopf was awarded his third Silver Star. He says he had no other choice, It was his responsibility. And by being there in the mine field taking care of the boy instead of with Trabbert, his life was saved. "But you live with those things, " he said. "You become terribly fatalistic in combat."

Dad had interviewed Schwarzkopf repeatedly for Friendly Fire, a book he wrote about an Iowa family whose son, a sergeant in one of the infantry companies in Schwarzkopf's battalions, was killed by a howitzer shell fired by his own supporting artillery in Vietnam. Another death that deeply distressed Schwarzkopf.

These were some of the experiences that helped Schwarzkopf prepare for Operation Desert Storm command. For a 1991 article that appeared in The New Republic, Dad asked Schwarzkopf if he would be disappointed if his ground forces never got the opportunity to go into battle.

   "Not in the least!" he said vehemently. "I don't want to kill one more American! I don't want to see one more American die-- be it from accident or from battle. There's no blood lust on the part of myself or anybody else around here. What we want to do is accomplish the objectives of this whole thing, get it over as quickly as we can, and get back home. And I tell you, that's the attitude of everybody from the top general down to the lowest private."

Saturday, February 4, 2012

LA Times Interview With Dad (1987)

100 Years of a Living Legend : C. D. B. Bryan Records Growth and History of National Geographic, the Society and the Magazine

November 04, 1987|BETTY CUNIBERTI | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — C. D. B. Bryan, a successful writer of both fiction and nonfiction, had not read the familiar yellow-bordered magazine for 20 years when he agreed two years ago to write a book on the National Geographic Society's 100-year anniversary.

Bryan had, of course, read the National Geographic magazine "as a kid. It was the kind of magazine your grandparents gave you."

Considering the source of the gift, it contained an unbelievable bonus for a young male mind: those pictures of bare-breasted native women.

Trademark Photographs

"It's their trademark," said the 51-year-old Bryan, who is best known for his Vietnam drama "Friendly Fire," about a soldier accidentally killed by his own forces. "Generations of schoolboys have grown up with this pre-Playboy."

In the 1950s and '60s, the Geographic became "bloody boring" in Bryan's estimation. Increasingly in the latter decade, protesting the war in Vietnam began occupying his time, so, bare-breasted women or not, he stopped reading it.

"I would read it when I went to the dentist, like everybody else," he added.

Nonetheless, Bryan agreed to write the book for the Harry N. Abrams publishing company, having already authored a commercially successful book for Abrams on the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum. Writing about the Geographic would, among other things, give him a financial base to work on a "Friendly Fire"-style account of a real family coping with a teen-age suicide, a book he is still working on.

To Bryan's surprise, not only was "The National Geographic Society, 100 Years of Adventure and Discovery" a lot more work than he had envisioned--two years of interviewing staffers and plumbing through files--but it has already become much more successful than he thought it would. It was released last week with a first printing of 750,000, it was chosen a Literary Guild selection and there are plans for translations and sales in foreign countries.

"None of us in our wildest moments thought it would do this well," Bryan said.

What apparently has proven irresistible is the 473-page collection of dramatic stories and photos of earthquakes, undersea and polar expeditions, volcano eruptions, microscopic cells and the peoples, vegetation and wildlife of foreign lands.

Not Always Flattering

The book also contains Bryan's unauthorized account of the history of the National Geographic Society, which is not always flattering to the main figures: Alexander Graham Bell, who was president of the society in 1898, and three generations of the Grosvenor family who followed him.

"Like every organization, it's filled with fiefdoms and riven with jealousies," said Bryan, who said he admired the society's "courage" in hiring an outsider to write its history. The society, which has had its headquarters here since its founding in January of 1888, gave Bryan complete access to its massive files, and Bryan spent months submerged in them.

Hearing the adventures of the explorers, photographers and writers was an adventure in itself for Bryan, a tall, pencil-thin, academic-looking man with glasses, who does much of his writing in a Guilford, Conn., cottage on Podunk Road.

"I loved 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' so I had sort of a vision of people trooping into the office covered with seaweed, dressed in safari jackets and snake-proof boots," he said. "But in fact they dress rather like members of the Metropolitan Club, in suits and ties for God's sake, very old-fashioned and very gentlemanly and probably more WASP than you would think they might necessarily be."

Despite their Washington-issue apparel, staffers were able to delight Bryan with, as he wrote in the book's introduction, "tales of bandit raids and angry mobs, of walking away from airplane and helicopter crashes, of being flung from boats into icy rapids, of having cameras bitten by crocodiles or retrieved only through tugs-of-war with venomous sea snakes, of surviving shark bites, capricious imprisonments and mysterious fevers."

"Where else but at the society would one learn of free-lance photographer Alan Root, who, while on assignment in Mzima Springs, Kenya, in 1974, was attacked by a bull hippopotamus? 'The next thing I knew,' Root said, 'he had my right leg in his mouth. The hippo then shook me like a rat.' After skin grafts, treatment for gangrene and a month's convalescence in a Nairobi hospital, Root recovered."

The society liked the book enough to give each magazine staff member one as a present and offer a cut-rate edition to its 10.5 million membership, but Bryan said there were disagreements about what went into the book.

"There were things they would rather not have seen in the book, discussions of the racial prejudice of one of the editors, a discussion of their rose-colored-glasses reporting, the confrontation between the very conservative members of the board of trustees and the less conservative and younger editors, and the palace revolution (as it came to be called) in the illustrations department, where they got fed up with funny little issues jam-filled with tiny little pictures."

Current society president and board chairman Gilbert M. Grosvenor, a great-grandson of Alexander Graham Bell, said of the book: "While none of us may be comfortable with everything he says, this volume is the most objective, credible, frank and honest history of the society ever written."

Before the invention of television, the Geographic "was our window on how the rest of the world is," Bryan said. "It was a real public service. It was exciting."

Magazine Milestone

One milestone occurred in the November, 1896, issue, which contained the first photograph of bare-breasted natives to appear in the magazine. They were called "Zulu Bride and Groom," and the article that accompanied the photo stated: "These people are of a dark bronze hue, and have good athletic figures." Another of the most famous Geographic adventure stories of the pre-television era was Comdr. Robert E. Peary's tale of becoming the first man to reach the North Pole in 1909, an expedition partly funded by the Society.

After television began to show the world to itself, the magazine's primary contribution to American culture quickly became the development of color photography, Bryan feels.

"Nobody does it better," Bryan said. "Nobody has poured the amount of money and had the amount of money to pour into experimenting with different kinds of cameras and lenses and lighting equipment."

The magazine's circulation, which doubles as the society membership, went over the 1 million mark in 1930, then dipped during the Depression and rebounded over the million mark again in 1940. In its largest growth period, the circulation rose from 2.5 million in 1960 to 6.9 million in 1970. It hit its peak of 10.7 million in 1980 and has since levelled off to 10.5 million.

Who reads the Geographic?

As Bryan points out: "There can't be 11 million dentists in this country."

Trying to figure out exactly who did read the Geographic, a survey was taken in 1943 and, as Bryan reports in the book, among the 1,199,738 "loyal members" were: 39,543 housewives; 36,816 farmers; 11,715 dentists and dental surgeons; 13,710 executives; 32,589 clerks; 1,557 barbers; 3,000 undertakers; 39 bartenders; 228 politicians; 261 college matrons; 156 masseurs; 114 members of royalty; 15 poets and 3 tropical fish-raisers.

No More 'Rose-Colored Glasses'

The major journalistic criticism of the Geographic over the years, according to Bryan, has been its "rose-colored glasses" reporting, especially of major wars. This stemmed from staffers having to obey the guiding principles of editor Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor, who decreed, among other things that:

"Nothing of a partisan or controversial nature is printed.

"Only what is of a kindly nature is printed about any country or people, everything unpleasant or unduly critical being avoided."

Bryan said one reason for this philosophy was the Geographic's need to stay in the good favor with countries so that staff members (numbering 200) could return. But the modern Geographic, said one staff member, has had the rose glasses off for "10 years," pointing to articles in the March issue on South Dakota's faltering farm economy, in the April issue on global pollution and the May issue on Chernobyl. There also have been memorable photographs of starving African children and Afghan fighters.

The world's largest nonprofit scientific and educational institution, the society has a number of endeavors beside the famous magazine and television specials. It has sponsored more than 3,200 scientific research projects and expeditions, publishes three other magazines, makes maps and classroom teaching aids and has a program to upgrade the teaching of geography in American secondary schools.

"I knew it could not help but be fun to do a book on the National Geographic," Bryan said. "Whether or not it would be worth two years of your life, I didn't know.

"And the answer is, yes, it was worth it."