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."