Tag Archives: Vietnam

Eighth Decade, Here I Come!

During my activity against the War in Vietnam, as well as other Peace & Justice movement activities I was involved in, I really never thought I would see my thirties. I know now I was a dreamer and a bit too wrapped up in my view of what was happening in the country, but I thought we were ripe for a revolution and I thought I would be on the front lines. That was nearly fifty years ago and time has given me a new perspective on life, the universe, and everything (H/T to Douglas Adams R.I.P.).

Today, however, marks the mid-point in my seventieth journey around our home star, Sol. It’s my half-birthday! I know . . . aren’t I a little too old to be celebrating half birthdays? I suppose, but this day has some other significance for me. Today marks the thirty-seventh year since a man surprised me on my doorstep in Venice, California, where I was living with my soon-to-be wife. He held me at gunpoint*, threatening to blow my “fucking brains out.” I managed to escape when he went to get something with which to tie my hands behind my back, something I had no intention of allowing him to do. I was prepared to attempt attacking him as he tried, but I didn’t have to. I had been preparing by slowly getting my right foot behind the bedroom door. I was lying spread-eagled on the floor, and each time he looked away I inched my foot closer and closer to the position I wanted.

Fortunately, I was able to get away from him by slamming the bedroom door (well, almost. The landlord had installed new carpeting and neglected to plane the bottom of the door, so it was almost impossible to shut it without a lot of force) in his face, levitating myself from the floor (lots of adrenaline involved at this point), grabbing my Ithaca Riot Pump Shotgun from the closet where I had carefully hidden it and practiced this very thing, and suggested he leave before I killed him. The remainder of the story is a bit convoluted and involved numerous calls to three different police departments before the first one I called finally realized they were, indeed, the proper jurisdiction for where I lived; about 200 feet east of Carroll Canal, on Ocean Avenue. It was years before I was able to finally throw off the hyper-vigilance this episode generated in me.

Also, this coming April I will be ten years older than my father was when he shed his mortal coil. This past September marked thirty-two years since he died. If you’ve read some of my other posts, his death weighed on heavily on me for quite some time. I was always considered the spitting image of him and my mother used to say “You’re just like your father” so often I was convinced fifty-nine was the limit for me as well. I think it wasn’t until I passed the age where he had had his second heart attack, and I had nothing more than moderate hypertension to deal with, I finally convinced myself I would likely live longer than he had.

So, here I am on the downside of my seventieth year on the planet. I actually used Microsoft Project to determine exactly when I would begin the second half of the year, and it was midnight today. Now, in celebration of having made it this far, and because it’s “the season,” I’m sharing two pictures I just found of a couple of my earliest Christmases. Next year is going to be interesting, no doubt. Perhaps it’s been long enough, and I can fully retell the story of this episode some time soon. This was a start.

rickysanta

Not So Happy. Perhaps Wondering Why I’m Sitting on Santa’s Lap When I’m Jewish!

rickysanta2

Much Happier. I Must Have Decided I Was An Atheist By Now & It Didn’t Matter.

 


 

* The link “He held me at gunpoint,” above, is to the decision in a re-trial the defendant won on one count of murder he was found guilty of. I was required to appear as a witness and, since he had become a jailhouse lawyer in the interim, he represented himself, meaning he was the one who questioned me when I gave my testimony. Two things – He was partially victorious on several other charges and the case was remanded to the trial court for reconsideration. As far as I know, he’s still in prison. Second, although the appellate court states he took three guns from me, he only took one; a Ruger Blackhawk .357 Magnum, with which he shot and killed two people. I carried a fair amount of guilt around for quite some time before I could finally convince myself those deaths were not at least partially on me.


I’d Like to Give McCain and Graham The Back of my Hand

Last month was the 50th anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which resulted in the passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. This resolution authorized President Johnson to send in conventional forces and wage open warfare against the North Vietnamese and resulted in the dramatic escalation of the conflict. The coming years will bring us to many more 50th anniversaries of actions and engagements we never should have been involved in.

A side effect of researching the book I’m working on, which will chronicle my and my colleagues’ activities in the peace and justice movement from about 1966 through 1976, is revisiting the anger and frustration I felt at the terrible injustice of that and, really, all war. This video uses quite a few iconic images to good effect accompanying its song.

It also pisses me off to know how many petulant fools we still have as so-called “leaders”. The names John McCain and Lindsey Graham come readily to mind, but there are far too many others to think they’re anything more than the tip of the cold-blooded iceberg. Many of today’s problems can be laid at the feet of these war mongers and their sycophants.


A Subtle Dig From Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut quote

Damn Right!

Thanks to a post I made on Facebook yesterday, I came across this wonderful excerpt from a story by Kurt Vonnegut, “God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian”. I’m thinking it might fit nicely somewhere in my book. Many thanks to my Facebook friend Sam Garrett for pointing me to it.

“This morning, thanks to a controlled near-death experience, I was lucky enough to meet, at the far end of the blue tunnel, a man named Salvatore Biagini. Last July 8th, Mr. Biagini, a retired construction worker, age seventy, suffered a fatal heart attack while rescuing his beloved schnauzer, Teddy, from an assault by an unrestrained pit bull named Chele, in Queens.

“The pit bull, with no previous record of violence against man or beast, jumped a four-foot fence in order to have at Teddy. Mr. Biagini, an unarmed man with a history of heart trouble, grabbed him, allowing the schnauzer to run away. So the pit bull bit Mr. Biagini in several places and then Mr. Biagini’s heart quit beating, never to beat again.

“I asked this heroic pet lover how it felt to have died for a schnauzer named Teddy. Salvador Biagini was philosophical. He said it sure as heck beat dying for absolutely nothing in the Viet Nam War.”

You can substitute Iraq for Vietnam and it works just as well, eh?


What Didn’t You Say?

Horn Antenna

I’M ALL EARS!!

I think most anyone who finds their way to this blog, whether for the first time or if they’re regular visitors, knows I’m not really trying to promote myself or to make money off of it. Since I use the WordPress.com engine for this, I know there are occasional ads that pop up, but I don’t receive any compensation from them. I’m really not interested in it. I guess it’s a vestigial behavior related to my actually having a real job for over two decades. I’m not terribly adept at promoting myself, though I will surely have to improve if I’m to accomplish anything of value from my latest endeavor. More on that below.

Nevertheless, I am interested in making a difference; in reaching people and sharing something of my unique perspective on things. Because of that, I do look for one thing other than remuneration . . . feedback. Unfortunately, I get precious little of it. Certainly much less than I get on Facebook. One of the reasons I have a hard time tearing myself away from FB is the engagement I receive. There’s almost always a conversation going on and I get a fair amount of likes, comments, and shares for a guy who is far from well-known for anything.

As far as this blog is concerned, I do watch my stats, which WordPress does a damn good job of providing. I also try to promote most of what I write here using the share buttons and the automatic sharing the engine does when I publish. It’s gratifying to see how many people read (or, at least, visit) my blog, but there’s one thing missing and I’m hopeful that can be remedied somewhat.

What I’m referring to is comments. I get very few comments. I’m not sure why and I do worry sometimes it’s just because I’m not all that interesting. :/ In some respects, it shouldn’t (and mostly doesn’t) make one whit of a difference in terms of whether or not I speak my mind. However, I think that’s about to change.

I’ve announced I’m working on a book. It will be my memoirs of activities I was involved in during the period 1967 through about 1976. This was the period in which I was most active in the Peace & Justice movement, especially the effort to end the war in Vietnam. I am currently in the process of connecting with some of the people I worked with back then and am discovering it is difficult. I need to do a lot of research, as my memory is like a steel sieve. I remember a lot, but it was nearly four to five decades ago and I’m not sure I completely trust what I recall happened. Additionally, I want to include as much as I can from others who experienced some of the same things I did, either with me or in similar circumstances.

This means I need to reconstruct what took place during that time. I spent time working with lots of different organizations and people and there are details I’m hoping to get fleshed out by others. Some of the groups I worked with were the Peace Action Council, Indochina Peace Campaign, Los Angeles Women’s Liberation Union, The Resistance, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, The Committee to Free Angela Davis, the Brown Berets, La Brigada Venceremos, and the Black Panther Party. I’m sure there were more I will either remember as I get deeper into my research or that others will remind me of.

Some of the people I worked with were Dorothy Healy, Irv Sarnoff, Tom Hayden, Jackie Goldberg, Ron Kovic, Holly Near, Jane Fonda, the law firm of Margolis, McTernan, Scopes, Sachs, & Epstein, Daniel Ellsberg and Tony Russo, and many others. Some I spent a lot of time with and with others I was involved in one or two engagements and that was it. Since I did a lot of security work, some of those engagements were — shall we say — quite exciting.

I will be sharing more and more of what I’m doing, including posting portions of the book as it progresses. What I’m really hoping to see, and what I’m asking readers of my blog to provide, is a little feedback. If you or someone you know was involved in any way, e.g. anti-war demonstration, march, rally, love-in, teach-in, cultural event, or concert, etc., I’d love to hear from you and, if you are willing, I’d like to talk with you. I suppose you could call what I want to do an interview but, in this case — since I was so involved at the time — I tend to think what I’m seeking is an opportunity to reminisce.

Feedback. It’s what I need right now. After the book is complete everyone can go back to ignoring me. 😉


The Beat Goes On

Cartoon

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

One of the reasons I’ve decided to write about my experiences with the peace and justice movement in the late sixties and early seventies – specifically about a group of peace activists who dedicated huge amounts of time and energy providing organizational and security expertise – is because I believe there’s a concerted effort to marginalize those activities and their contribution to ending an unjust and predatory war.

Tom Hayden was one of the people I spent those years working with . Here’s a recent post from Tom’s website/blog. He writes, “We must call for inclusion in the memorial dialogue to prevent a false narrative of Vietnam [that] will lead to Vietnams without end.” Here, also, is an excerpt from a response to a request from Vietnam Veterans for Factual History, located in Missouri City, TX. (http://vvfh.org/):

“One reason I believe it’s hard to arrive at a true reckoning is that it would require an admission by too many authorities in the government and media that they lied – or distorted the truth, or were ill-informed themselves – when they sent millions of young Americans into dubious battle.

“But I believe it’s possible at grass-roots level, all across the country, for people like ourselves to engage in honest truth-digging and exchange of perspectives about those most intense years of our lives.”

My intent is to tell the story of a group who fought very hard — and who risked much — to bring an end to that war, from my perspective and through the recounting of my experiences. Knowing my memory has probably faded and, in any event, is incomplete because I wasn’t everywhere, I am contacting those people with whom I worked back then. Tom is one of them. You can read more about it at his Peace and Justice Resource Center. Here’s a link to the post I’m quoting from.


Making Contact

VVAW Button

An Honorable Organization of Good People

Since “announcing” my nascent book project the other day, I have communicated with four people who were part of the action back in the time I am writing about. One of them reached out and reminded me of some of the things we were involved in that had yet to cross my mind. Two of them I had been in touch with previously and they just happened to answer emails I sent out a couple of days ago. One I called today to give him a heads-up.

Of these four, two are Vietnam veterans; one an Army Engineer, the other an RTO with an Army LRRP team. They both played major roles in my life back then, as their opposition to the war they had fought in strengthened both my belief it was wrong and my resolve to do something to end it. I have a hard time putting into words just how much their friendship meant to me, but I’m going to try.

Right now I’m working on an Introduction; an attempt to explain what I want to accomplish in the body of the book. This is all kind of new to me. Not entirely, as I’ve had the honor and experience of working with a few other people (as an editor or proofreader) on books they’ve written. It’s just that I’ve never done the actual writing before and those books were business books (and a couple of Zombie Apocalypse novels). I’m hoping once I get going a lot of it will just come pouring out. Those were eventful times.


The Vietnam Anti-War Movement: A Participant’s Perspective

Below is the text of a post I just made on Facebook. Rather than spending the time to edit it, I’m pointing this out so you understand why it reads the way it does. I welcome feedback here as well.


Vietnam war protestors

Protesters making their sentiments known on the streets

I am on the verge of taking on what I believe to be an important project. I’ve been thinking about it for well over a year and I have discussed it with several old friends who were part of the experiences the project will speak to.

I plan on writing a book. It will be a combination of my memoirs, as well as a history, of a part of the peace & justice movement, specifically in Southern California, from about 1968 until 1973. At the time I was part of a group of amateur, yet reasonably well-trained, people who provided much of the security for rallies, demonstrations, and numerous cultural events. We provided building and personal security, including occasional armed bodyguard work, for people like Jane Fonda, Daniel Ellsworth, Tony Russo, a group of Vietnamese students studying in the U.S., Roger McAfee and family (they put their ranch up for Angela Davis’s bail after Jonathan Jackson’s disastrous attempt to break his brother, George, out of the Marin County Courthouse), Mrs. Salvador Allende, and cultural groups such as Quilapayun, Arco Iris, and Holly Near – to name a few.

The book I propose to write would be a combination of my memoirs and those of many others (some of whom I have recently contacted and who expressed great interest in seeing this happen) who I worked with. I was a member of groups such as The Peace Action Council with Irv Sarnoff, The Indochina Peace Campaign with Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, and Bruce Gilbert, Vietnam Veterans Against the War with Ron Kovic, as well as individuals such as Dorothy Healey, Frank Wilkinson, and others – many of whom I will need to do some research on to refresh my memory.

Part of this piece will be aimed at setting the record straight. Part of it will be pointing out the many sacrifices lots of people made in speaking and acting out during that time. We thank members of the military for their “service”, regardless of what they did and what their motives truly were, yet the people who risked so much during those difficult times were – and frequently still are – vilified as traitors and un-American. I’d like to help set the record straight.

Those of my friends who have any experience or thoughts about those times and the activities I will be addressing are welcome – actually, encouraged – to share them with me. While I am willing to read, even address, contrary opinion, anyone who attempts to engage me in frivolous argumentation will be asked to stop and, if that doesn’t work, will be unfriended. I am interested in useful, thoughtful opinion even if it doesn’t agree with how I see or remember those days, but only if it helps me understand my perspective more completely. I have a well-established POV after all these years and I’m not interested in useless argumentation over its validity.

This also means I will be incrementally backing off of Facebook; posting far less and paying less attention to others, even with the all-important mid-term elections looming. I want to get this done while I’m still able to and I will have a lot of reading, interviewing, and writing to do.

I’m also thinking of using Kickstarter to raise some money so I don’t have to worry about further depleting what savings we’ve managed to accumulate prior to my somewhat forced retirement. I’m thinking, if a guy who’s merely making potato salad can raise $70,000, I might be able to find enough interest to get $15 – $20,000. I’m anticipating the need to travel for some interviews. Many of the people involved at that time likely won’t be available via online technology.

I will probably share this more than a few times in the next couple of days or so. Knowing there’s only a small percentage of my friends who will see this at any given time, I think it will be useful to share it at different times. Please forgive me if I annoy you. Feedback is, of course, more than welcome. I’ll also be sharing my progress as I go along.


You’re Privileged to be Playing the Game

Levels of Difficult

You Can’t Choose This Difficulty Level!

I think I received my first comeuppance regarding white privilege around 1973. I was not quite 26 years old and had been a very active member in the anti-Vietnam War movement in Los Angeles. I had attended, organized, publicized, and provided security for a number of demonstrations and events.

Now I was preparing to spend a couple of months in Cuba as a guest of the Cuban government. I was a member of the Sixth Contingent (Sexto Contingente) of La Brigada Venceremos. I was excited. However, nobody was allowed to travel without first undergoing some rigorous training in how to not be an ugly American.

We Americans (even the term American is somewhat arrogant, as the U.S. is only one country in an entire hemisphere referred to as America), especially us straight males, have got it way better than we like to think. Unfortunately, due to the concept of American Exceptionalism, we really do like to think our shit doesn’t stink and we are in a class by ourselves.

Well, actually, we are in a class by ourselves – but it’s really not something to be all that proud of, in my less than humble opinion. But I digress.

Part of my ongoing training (which lasted several months) was learning about white privilege, i.e. the numerous and subtle ways in which being white gives those who sport the color (or lack thereof) a leg up on everyone else. The training was excellent. I was not made to feel guilty; merely shown how it works, the evidence of which was impossible for me to deny.

As a Knowledge Management professional, one of the things that’s important to me is the avoidance of re-inventing the wheel. That means, among other things, using the work of others to build on, where appropriate. I think this is an appropriate place to do that with a blog written by John Scalzi who, frankly, I don’t know much about. Nevertheless, this blog he wrote is absolutely brilliant and draws an analogy I think useful in understanding the concept I’m talking about. I want to share it with my small group of readers.

Here’s the link to his post – http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/05/15/straight-white-male-the-lowest-difficulty-setting-there-is/

I also want to share a video that’s a nice supplement to it. Enjoy!


Memories and Grief

Sp4 Steven Larry Ostroff

My friend Steve Ostroff (on the left) just before his untimely death

“Life doesn’t cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.” — G.B. Shaw

I have written previously that I am not a journalist and this post is clear evidence of that. My original intent was to publish this on either the Sunday before, or on the Monday of, Memorial Day. However, the subject was a bit emotional for me and I found it difficult to finish until now. I, therefore, offer it as a remembrance. It need not be tied to any particular holiday.

It’s Confusing

Memorial Day – much like Veteran’s Day, Pearl Harbor Day, and many other holidays or special days that commemorate the military or significant days in our nation’s history – almost invariably brings me a storm of mixed emotions. I have enormous respect for those who serve our nation. At the same time, I believe they are most often sacrificed not in defense of our freedom, but in the defense of others – who never serve – and in defense of their fortunes and their “right” to make money incessantly.

This Autumn it will have been 45 years since I had the dubious distinction of being a pallbearer at the funeral of one of my best friends, Steven Larry Ostroff, who was killed in the battle of Ong Thanh on October 17, 1967. He was the first of five classmates of mine who would perish in that unjust, stupid conflict and I was highly conflicted about it.

“I want to be an Airborne Ranger. I want to go to Vietnam. I want to live a life of danger. I want to kill the Viet Cong.”

Steve was by no means an innocent, angelic hero. I remember my brother recounting running into him shortly after he finished either Boot Camp or Advanced Infantry Training. What stuck out for him was Steve’s enthusiasm for battle and his desire to kill. I was a bit put off by hearing that at the time, but not entirely surprised. It was, after all, the mindset the Army wanted in their Infantrymen. It was what they trained them for.

I was just beginning to understand what the war in Vietnam was all about; an understanding that would soon blossom into full-blown resistance and activism in an effort to bring it to a halt. Steve, born 15 days before me, was barely twenty years old when he was killed. During the funeral his casket remained closed. As I remember it, we were under the impression his body was not recovered for a couple of days and his family did not want anyone viewing his remains.

I’m not sure at this point that was the reason, though. Based on the accounts of his death I’ve read recently, it seems more likely to me there wasn’t a whole lot of him left to identify and having what was left on display in an open casket would have been too horrific for his family and friends. The web sites I have found with his information state he was killed by “Multiple fragmentation wounds“.

I clearly remember the grief on his parents’ faces as we went through the acts of remembrance, consecration, and burial. I have always been moved most by the loss experienced by those who have been left behind and it’s especially painful to see parents having to endure the loss of a child. In this case, it was made even more difficult because – if memory serves – Steve was an only child.

Twice-Baked Rye Bread

He and his family lived right across the street from John H. Francis Polytechnic High School, where we both attended, and he and I used to hop the fence to eat lunch at his home. His mother, I believe her name was Sarah, always had hard salami in the house and, if I played my cards right, I could count on enjoying one of my favorite sandwiches, served on Jewish Rye . . . with real garlicky kosher pickles on the side.

We belonged to the same temple, Valley Beth Israel, and became Bar Mitzvah at around the same time. We went to the same Jr. High as well and, as crazy kids and adolescents, we had some good times together, the memories of which have receded well into the background after all these years. This is especially so because we never had the opportunity to reinforce our memories by reliving them and, probably, embellishing them.

When I was in Washington, D.C. years ago, I made a trip to the Wall to see Steve’s name and to reflect on his life and death. I did the same in Sacramento, where there is a memorial to the Californians who perished in Vietnam. Both of these trips were some time ago and both were quite emotional.

What Is Really Going On

I have remained dead-set against every engagement we have indulged in since, but I am hardly anti-military – and here is where the conflict, the cognitive dissonance, comes alive and dances crazily in my head. Steve was a friend of mine and the men and women who continue to serve include friends and family. I know and love many of them, yet I don’t believe they are keeping our country safe; at least not for the most part.

For the most part, I believe they are being used as pawns – as “cannon fodder” – in our ongoing efforts to make the world safe for lucrative investments in natural resources and trading opportunities including, and maybe especially including, the sale of arms and ammunition to just about anyone who has the money to pay for it.

I will continue to honor Steve’s memory, despite his apparent thirst for killing and despite my belief he was not fighting for our way of life or to keep us safe, just as I will continue to honor the men and women who serve today. However, I do so only because I also believe most of those who serve honestly believe they are fighting to defend their country. They believe this because they’ve been told it’s true and I’m not going to hold their naivete and ignorance against them.

Some would argue I should condemn them, based on the principles that ignorance is no excuse and the existence of the duty to refuse to obey unlawful commands. However, I think the situation is far more complex than that and I cannot turn my back on people who have been taken advantage of for so long they have no way of knowing how terribly they’ve been duped.

I feel for them – especially for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice – and I feel for their families. So much of the suffering that takes place due to war and conflict is completely unnecessary and truly counter-productive for all but a very few . . . and those are the ones who also profit the most handsomely from war. They’re the ones who should be shot.


24 August 2015

In preparation for my High School class’s 50th reunion in about six weeks, a classmate was putting together a Vietnam veteran’s collage. As part of the effort he is also creating a memorial to our fallen classmates. In doing research for this tribute, he came across this post and asked me, since I mentioned we had lost six classmates, who the sixth was. He was familiar with only five. I had long thought there were six members of our class who perished in that conflict, but I believe I was wrong. I have made the correction, above.


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