Tag Archives: military

440. Pearl Harbor Day is Tomorrow

Pearl Harbor Day is tomorrow and for the third time, I am not going to write about it directly.

In 2015, I used Pearl Harbor Day as a jumping off place to discuss the decision to go to war in Iraq.

In 2016, I used Pearl Harbor Day as a jumping off place to discuss Japanese Internment.

In 2017, I am even less able to salute and shout hallelujah than I was on the last two times Pearl Harbor Day rolled around. Things are even worse than they were then.

Do I think we were shouldn’t have retaliated to the Pearl Harbor attack? Don’t be absurd.

Do I support disarmament? I wish I could, but it would be national suicide.

Am I a veteran? Yes; and I would love to be the last veteran.

Am I a pacifist? Don’t I wish. I would love to live long enough to be able to say yes to that, but I won’t. Neither will you, and you are younger than I am.

There are times when we have to fight and Pearl Harbor signaled one of those times, but our national default setting should not be attack. We should fight rarely, and only when necessary. For many years now, we have been doing a terrible job of deciding when to fight, so I find it hard to wave the flag. Someone might think that means I’m ready to start shooting.

Tomorrow is Pearl Harbor Day. It is also the forty-fifth anniversary of the last manned moon launch. I think I’ll write about that.


434. S. L. in Occupation

Last post was about my father in the closing days of WWII. After his wounds had healed, he was returned to his unit, now in occupied Bavaria.

How he felt about the German soldiers he fought, he never did say. In his stories, he never shot them — just scared them a bit. Somewhere along the line he had ditched his M1 Garand for a Thompson sub-machine gun with a broken stock. He carried it (he said) one handed by the pistol grip; in combat he pulled the trigger and recoil sent the muzzle swinging up and to the left, with a spray of bullets that sent the enemy sprinting for cover.

It was a good, clean story for the wife and kid, but once he almost slipped in the middle of telling it. Comfort and humor almost got swamped by blood and truth. He changed the subject. There is no doubt in my mind that, like a million other WWII veterans, he only told what his audience could bear to hear.

His feelings about German civilians were quite clear; these were his kind of people. Bavaria was a long way from the seats of power, and these were farmers and poor shopkeepers. He hated Nazis, and German generals, and politicians, but he liked the local people and they liked him. So did their daughters.

My father was handsome young man, full of life, full of fun, and he had money. The young German men were gone. They had gone to war and were now dead or in Allied POW camps. The German civilians were hungry. As I read between the lines of his stories, my father kept several families fed, in exactly the same way my grandfather kept several families of out of work townsmen fed with produce from his farm during the depression.

My father’s feelings for his Bavarian Germans were conditioned by his childhood. These were working people, like his own family and friends, and like the German settlers that lived around Owasso, Oklahoma where he was raised.

He fell in love with a German girl and they planned marriage, but he discovered that to marry her, he would have to reenlist and remain in Germany two more years. He was a homesick farm boy, ready to feel the Oklahoma dirt beneath his feet again, so he left his German girlfriend and came home. A year later he married. A year after that, I was born.

433. S. L. Goes to War

I served but did not see combat. The Syd Logsdon in this title is my father.

World War Two was a presence in our home when I was young. My dad served, was wounded, and returned. It was the biggest and most concentrated experience of his life.

My dad was a storyteller, but all his war stores were humorous tales of incidents along the way, or descriptions of enduring exhaustion and cold, or brief, dry, cool descriptions of the techniques used to clear a town or take a pillbox. He went through some of the worst fighting in the war, but his stories were essentially bloodless.

These were not the kind of gung-ho stories that would lead to hero worship. He didn’t consider himself a hero, anyway. He was just one of millions who went where he was sent and did what he was given to do; that was enough.

I can see him in memory, telling his stories. Even as a child, I could see the pain in his face. He had to tell the stories — he couldn’t keep them in — but he kept the horrors shut up behind his eyes. I don’t know how much he told my mother when they were alone, but I do know how often her nights were disrupted by the terrors that came to my father in his dreams. PTSD they would call it now. Then, it was just the way men were, when they came back from war.

He joined the First Infantry Division as a replacement after D-day and fought his way across northern France. His view was a soldier’s view — a road here, a village there, this particular house, that particular pillbox. I don’t think he ever had a global picture of where he was. He left combat in an ambulance before the assault on the Rhine. He always said that wound kept him alive. He had an almost superstitious belief that he would have died on the Rhine.

He was there for the entire Battle of the Bulge. Roughly two hundred thousand American and German troops died in a small corner of the Ardennes forest. You can see windrows of the dead, in history books, in grainy black and white photographs. He never talked about that, although he was eloquent about the cold and the exhaustion.

The wound that sent him out of combat came under incongruous circumstances. After the Battle of the Bulge was over, his group had captured a stash of German weapons. The lieutenant in charge wanted to try them, so he, my father, and some other privates took a panzerfaust — a German antitank weapon — out to an open field. My father put it on his shoulder and pulled the trigger.

My father always speculated that some Jewish prisoner in a munitions factory had sabotaged the weapon, in hopes of taking out a German soldier. No one will ever know. The weapon exploded an inch from his head, and he spent the remaining months of the war in a hospital in Paris. more tomorrow

432. The Making of a Navyman

I am writing a steampunk novel called The Cost of Empire. Here is a quote:

        He was a patriot. Unit A should have seen that. Patriots are not to be trusted; they act by their own lights, and they don’t always follow orders.
        Too bad for Unit A. Too bad for Daniel.

Actually, I’ve said that before, a year and a half ago. Here is a repost:


The military has no use for patriots, because patriots think for themselves. In combat, a soldier who shouts, “We must not do this,” is likely to get himself and his teammates killed. He has to go on, following orders.

So how do we turn patriots into yes-men? Boot camp. That’s what it’s there for.

Boot camp is not seen as something important, or morally debilitating. And, I suppose, compared the things that happen later in the field, it isn’t that important. But . . . without boot camp to turn patriots into soldiers, those later events could never happen.

This isn’t about me. I went through boot camp in neutral mode, observing, remembering, and trying not to feel. I wan’t always successful, but I was successful enough to survive intact. I was changed, of course, but by my own experiences, not by pre-programmed manipulations.

This also isn’t about the eighteen year old children who made up most of the recruits, who were eager to follow the path their elders had set, and ready to go over and kick some commie ass. (It was 1971) This is about one young man, and those he represents. He came into boot camp a patriot, ready to serve his country, full of love and compassion, but ready to do his duty. They broke him. I can still see him standing in the barracks before lights out, talking to his friends, saying, “This isn’t right. I joined up to fight for my country. Why are they treating us like this?” His friends laughed at him and told him that this was nothing, it was just getting him ready for what was to come.

It wasn’t nothing, but it was getting ready for his life to come. That was the point.

I never talked to him. There was nothing I could say. He was learning in front of my eyes what I had learned years before, at other hands, under other circumstances. But I never forgot him.

Boot camp is what in Anthropology we call a liminal experience, one that tears down an old identity in order to build a new one. The folks at boot camp are really good at this, even in mild boot camps like the one I experienced at the San Diego Naval Training Center. We could see the real thing across the fence at the Marine boot camp, and we thanked God every day that we weren’t Marines. While I was there, a Marine recruit who could no longer take the daily abuse, ran off and stowed away on a jet liner at the civilian airport just over the fence. Hours later the jet landed at his home town on the east coast and he fell out of the wheel well, frozen, asphyxiated, and dead. The Marines said good riddance. We worms (as Navy recruits are called) laughed. Learning to laugh at the death of others is part of the boot camp experience.

It was all choreographed indignation, play-acting inflicted onto a captive audience. They said that if we didn’t keep our barracks clean enough or our socks rolled tightly enough, the Trouble Shooters would come.

“You worms have been given socks to roll! That’s all we trust you with now! How can we trust you with nuclear bombs once you’re on an aircraft carrier if you can’t roll socks now!”  Every word was delivered at a shout.

Of course, the Trouble Shooters came. They always do. They came in the night, screaming in manufactured rage and tearing the barracks apart while we stood at attention in our shorts at the foot of each bed.

Near-naked, helpless, frightened into immobility, knowing that the only way to survive was to  let the insanity happen. Civilian identities dying; new, military identities growing.

The making of a Navyman. You could put it on a poster.

431. The Other Veterans

This is an update of a post I wrote for Veteran’s Day 2015. Not many were reading yet, so I could simply repost, but a lot of things have changed since then. The new writing is indented.

I am an American; I vote. During my nearly thirty year career as a school teacher, I always went to the polls early and wore my ”I have voted, have you?” sticker throughout the day. Children would ask me, “Who did you vote for?” I never told them. Sometimes they would ask me, “Are you a Democrat or a Republican?” I never told them.

Teachers have a responsibility to be involved and have political opinions, because they are citizens. But they also have a responsibility to avoid shoving those opinions down the throats of their captive audience.

You are not a captive audience. You get both barrels.

I am one of the other veterans, the ones who went, did their job, and moved on. I don’t march in parades. I love America, but I still have a love/hate relationship with the flag. It stands for aspirations toward universal freedom, and when I think of it like that, I love it. But it also stands for the darkest of horrors.

For twenty-seven years, I had to endure the flag salute five days a week in my classroom. Understand, there were days when I said it with my whole heart. There were also days when I could only remember the dead on both sides in that useless war in Viet Nam; on those days, I said the words through clenched teeth.

But I said them. I could have refused. I might have been fired, or I might have won my case on first amendment grounds. Either way, the children I was there to teach would have had their education disrupted. It was my problem, not theirs, so I gritted my teeth and said the words.

Even the words “under God”, notwithstanding that I stopped believing in God when I was fifteen. But every time I said them, I thought of the children who have to pray five times a day facing Mecca.

NFL players, I get it. I support your right to protest. I agree that the situation you are protesting is unacceptable. Nevertheless, I think you are making a mistake. The people who see you kneeling can’t get past the flag. You are alienating the people you need to convince.

My draft number was 41.

Heinlein said slavery is not made more appealing by calling it Selective Service. I agree, mostly; however conscription levels the field. Without conscription, the white and the rich would not have protested so loudly as they (we) did, and the Viet Nam war would have gone on much longer.

When I got to boot camp, I was surrounded by whites, blacks and variations. There were only two who stood out — me, and one other guy. I was 24, mature, married, and with enough life experience to resist brainwashing. The others were all malleable, except for one recruit. I’ll tell you his story on Monday.

During my last year in college I signed up for a term in the Peace Corps. Then Nixon did away with the Peace Corps deferment. The Marines were drafting, so I joined the Navy.

I wasn’t trying to avoid death; I was young enough to foolishly assume I wouldn’t get killed. I just didn’t want to shoot anyone who was defending his homeland.

Four years later I was a civilian again, the Viet Nam war was over, and the general opinion had shifted. Most Americans had come to believe that the war was a mistake.

Thirty years later Bush Two sent troops in to find weapons of mass destruction that never existed, as if we had learned nothing.

I am a veteran; I believe in defending my country against real enemies. But I’m also a retired teacher. When I see starry eyed children who can’t wait for their chance to plunge into battle –- well, pardon my lack of enthusiasm.

There will be three more veterans’ posts next week.

430. The Rocket’s Red Glare

from Congreve’s original work.

“Oh, say can you see . . .”

No, this is not going to be about the NFL. It’s going to be about the rockets which figure into the anthem, into history, and into the steampunk novel The Cost of Empire, which I am now writing.

Rockets got their start in China, where they were used as fireworks and as military weapons. Just keep that in the back of your mind. We are going to start in the present and move backward in time, but not all the way to China.

When the average American sings the Star Spangled Banner — or mouths it, since it is a hard song to sing — it is unlikely that the image in his mind looks anything like the rockets which actually burst in air over Fort McHenry. My generation has V-2 rockets in our DNA, largely because early SF films used actual films of V-2 rockets as stand-ins before special effects were perfected. A later generation has Saturn-V rockets imprinted on their brain. To both, rockets are pointy ended cylinders with the flames coming out of the bottom.

Not so in 1814. The rockets that rained down on Fort McHenry looked more like fireworks rockets. They were called Congreves and a page of drawings of them is given at the top of the post. Some were explosive tipped. Some were parachute flares, which “gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.” All were guided, more or less, by a long stick that acted like a rudder, similar in function to the fins on a V-2.

They were nothing like accurate. That was the way of things before modern times. If you recall the battle of Agincourt in the movie version of Henry V, the English longbow men drew back together and fired hundreds of arrows simultaneously at a high trajectory, which rained down en masse on the French. The battle of Hastings was lost when King Harold Godwinson looked up at a bad moment and caught such an incoming arrow in the eye. Muskets in that era were also nothing like accurate, so lines of musket men firing together in the same direction managed to hit somebody, but probably not the targets they were aiming at.

William Congreve (not the playwrite and poet) gets credit and naming rights for the Congreve rocket, and he did make improvements, but his work was based on rockets captured in India.  Which brings me to why I’m writing this post. Here is a quote from The Cost of Empire. An Englishman who has gone native in India is speaking:

“About a hundred years ago this whole region was called Mysore and Hyder Ali was in charge. He fought the British and all the Indian princes around that kept shifting from the British side to his and back again. After he was killed, his son Tipu Sultan took over and formed an alliance with the French.

“It’s an old story. The same pattern happened all over India, as we British took over one region at a time. But this story has a kicker. Rockets.

“Rockets came from China. Everybody knows that, but they were widely used in India as well. Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan used them extensively; some of their rocket brigades had over a thousand men. Rockets were made that exploded, that set fires, and even that had sword blades attached so when they came down spinning, they made a bloody mess of British ground troops.

“When the Mysore wars were over, the winners sent hundreds of captured rockets back to England. Congreve studied them and replicated them. The Congreve rockets we used all throughout the Napoleonic wars were just English versions of what Hyder Ali had used against us.”

The old guy is telling this story because a group calling themselves the Sons of Hyder Ali have built an arsenal full of rockets. They have bad feelings toward the British and a plan concerning the flotilla of dirigibles our hero is serving on.

I would tell you more, but that would be a spoiler.

414. Day Jobs

I  have had a lot of jobs in my life. The shortest lasted one day. I took a job as a rough carpenter, and spent a day putting blocking between rafters. I had a rough time of it. I had just spent four years indoors working in a naval hospital followed by a year in grad school, and I was out of shape by the standards of the farm boy I had once been. It was a hot summer day in California and I probably wasn’t worth my wages that day, but I would have gotten better. I had the skills for the job, but it was a physical challenge and I was up for it. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, the boss said that tomorrow I was to go to a site in Sonora to work. That was a town fifty miles away, not the state in Mexico. I realized that if I had to drive my dying car that far every day to get to work, it would cost me more in gasoline and repairs than I would make at minimum wage.

If you end the day with less money than you started, that isn’t a day job. That’s a mistake. However, when you write your first about the author for your first book or for your website, having worked at a lot of day jobs is an asset. It makes you look worldly and interesting.

Farm worker. That’s a job I didn’t get paid for at all. I started at age eleven and continued until I escaped to college.

Trim carpenter. That sounds skilled, and I am that skilled now. I wasn’t when I did the job, one summer between college terms. I was hired because the wages were so low that people who had the skills wouldn’t apply. I took the job because I was newly married and needed money to carry me through my last year of college.

Horticultural agent, peace corps. That’s a job I applied for, was accepted to, and really wanted, until Nixon did away with the deferment and I had to face my low draft number. I can’t count that one, since I never made it to India, to my eternal disappointment.

Cabinet maker. Another minimum wage job in a local shop to keep body and soul together while waiting for the Navy.

Surgical technician. Yes, really. I spent my naval career in the dental service of a naval hospital, stateside during the Viet Nam war, and happy not to be shot at. Since I was the only enlisted man with a college degree (the recruiter said, “College man? We’ll make you an officer.” Riiiiight!), I became head surgical tech. That meant standing across from the oral surgeon during about 2000 extractions of wisdom teeth.

Surgical nurse. I never count that one, because no one would believe me. The person who stands next to the doctor and hands him his instruments during an operation in the main OR is written down on the report as surgical nurse, whether they are a nurse or just have OJT. I did that maybe two hundred times while I was in the navy, usually on broken jaws, but occasionally on some pretty sophisticated maxillofacial reconstructions. Fascinating, but it didn’t make me a real nurse.

Writer. Nope, not a day job. A lifetime job, but you don’t make minimum wage.

County Red Cross Director. I earned that job. I had become a full time unpublished writer when I started as a Red Cross volunteer. I became a first aid and CPR instructor and taught hundreds of students, then became a member of the board of directors, and finally went full time for fifteen months. There weren’t a lot of applicants, since the job didn’t pay much above minimum wage. Non-profits are like that; they have to get money from donors, and it goes mostly to providing services, not cushy salaries — and that’s as it should be.

I was proud to work for the Red Cross and considered making it a career, but the bureaucracy is brutal. Besides, my first novel came out from Ballantine and I thought I was going to make a living at writing.

Stop laughing. It seemed possible in 1978. more on Wednesday