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My Books

This is the post excerpt.

I have been writing since I was six years old. I now have four novels and seventeen stories in print. Adelaide Books in New York will publish my latest novel, Secretocracy, early in 2020.

My first published book, Friendly Casualties, was a novel in short stories derived from experiences in the 13 years I trundled between the U.S. and Vietnam to provide signals intelligence support to U.S. Army and Marine combat units fighting in South Vietnam. The first half of the book is a series of short stories in which characters from one story reappear in another. The second half is a novella that draws together all the preceding tales.

No-Accounts came from my years of caring for AIDS patients. It tells the story of a straight man caring for a gay man dying of AIDS. I got into helping men with AIDS to help me cope with the horrors of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury. When I was with my patients, men suffering more than I was, my unbearable memories went dormant.

Next came The Trion Syndrome. It begins with the Greek Trion legend about a demigod so brutal to the vanquished that the gods sent the Eucharides, three female monsters, to drown him. The protagonist, Dave Bell, is haunted by half-remembered visions of the war in Vietnam. At his lowest point, he recalls that he killed a child. Dave considers suicide, but a young man appears and helps him. It is his illegitimate son, a child he had tried to kill through abortion, who now helps him find his way home.

Last of the Annamese was published in March 2017. I used this novel to confront my memories of the fall of Saigon from which I escaped under fire. Once again, the image of the boy-child recurs, as the protagonist, Chuck Griffin, a retired Marine, grieves over the loss of his son, killed in combat in Vietnam. He returns to Vietnam as a civilian intelligence analyst after the withdrawal of U.S. troops and encounters Vietnamese boys whom he tries to save during the conflagration.

Secretocracy tells the story of an federal intelligence budgeteer persecuted by the current administration because he refuses to approve finds for an illegal operation.

 

Aging (2)

So I’m in remarkably good shape for my age. Despite all that, every day I feel the effects of aging getting in the way of what I want to do.

I don’t have the physical strength I once had. I’m not able to lift and carry the weight I used to be able to handle. I can’t run any more due to the flubbed knee surgery. I tire much too quickly and need to rest too much.

My brain doesn’t work as well as it used to. I can’t think as fast or as effectively as I once did. I can’t read as quickly anymore, and I sometimes have to go back and reread because I didn’t understand or even forgot what I just read.

Worst is my failing memory. Sometimes I can’t remember people’s names. I don’t recall what happened when. In writing, I have to search for words because they no longer spring full blown into my mind.

But just as I’m cunning in dealing with my body’s shortcomings, I’m wily at coping with my brain failures. I’ve taught myself to write down people’s names. I do the same with words. I’ve learned to find synonyms or antonyms for words I can’t remember and look them up in the dictionary. I use the memory of smells and sounds to spark my recall of names and words. Being devious isn’t always a vice.

Despite the slowing of the brain, the mind is richer than ever. I’ll talk about that tomorrow.

Aging

I’m blessed. I am in better health and better physical shape than any man I know of my age. I just passed a physical with flying colors.

But I have my share of problems. I have a slight limp as the result of a botched knee replacement surgery some years ago. My left arm still hurts periodically from a fall a year ago last winter. My lungs still produce mucous, and I’m subject to sneezing fits several times daily—the aftermath of lung cancer and the surgical removal of the upper lobe of my right lung. And I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury from my years in Vietnam and the horrors of the fall of Saigon.

The most annoying detriment is my lack of energy. Every day, by mid-afternoon, I’m worn out and have to rest for an hour. That means I carefully plan my work schedule to be sure I get everything done. What a nuisance.

On the other hand, I’m more active than any man I know of comparable age. I write every day. I do presentations and readings constantly. I maintain my home, cook for myself, shop, and entertain. My biggest problem is finding the time (and energy) to get everything done.

I owe my excellent health to several factors. One, I have the good luck to be preternaturally healthy. I have no idea why. Besides, I have always been physically active. I was a runner for many years before my knee surgery, and all my life, I’ve lifted weights. I watch what I eat to keep my weight at a healthy level. I’m a past master at sleeping. I can (and do) sleep anywhere, any time. I always get enough rest.

And I have a can-do attitude about staying healthy. I consider consciously what is good for me and avoid what is not. I’m a crafty schemer when it comes to tricking my body into doing what needs to be done. I know, for example, that if I sleep in the afternoon and go to bed before ten in the evening, I’ll awaken between four and six in the morning and have extra hours to work at peak performance before I tire.

More tomorrow.

Moving (4)

Beyond all the physical difficulties of my move to a new house, there is a psychological—or even spiritual—trial for me.

I’m at the time in my life when a man wants a settled, tranquil existence, devoid of physical and emotional tensions. The move is fraught with every kind of strain. I have no time to read, write, listen to music, play the piano, meditate, contemplate, or muse. I won’t be able to use my computer during the move. Maybe I won’t even be able to listen to the radio. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to cook or eat at home. Life disruption writ large.

As noted earlier, I am forced to say good-bye to so much that I have loved. That has wakened in my mind the feeling that the move is analogous to death. What will it be like when I have to say farewell to everything? At my age, that moment can’t be too many years away. Maybe the move offers me the opportunity to rehearse the mental and spiritual practices for finding peace.

Meanwhile, I’ll handle the challenge of the move. I’m adept at living through chaos. My survival of the fall of Saigon and my ability to arrange for the escape of my 43 subordinates and their families shows what I can do. But it won’t be painless.

This blog will reflect the disarray that the move is subjecting me to. I may not be able to post at all. If so, I ask my readers to bear with me. I’ll be back in top form once I’m settled in my new house. Be patient.

Moving (3)

Leaving behind the beauty nature created with some help from me is only one aspect of moving.

Moving is a huge amount of work. I will have to move a lot of items myself. The movers will not handle liquids, including beverages, cleaners, laundry materials, automobile fluids (like motor oil and windshield fluid), and paint. They’ll move my outdoor grill but not the propane and that fuels it. They advise me to transport myself fragile valuables. I haven’t yet figured out how I’m going to manage all that.

The u-shaped maple desk and bookshelves in my office and great room, custom made for me many years ago, will have to be taken disassembled to be moved. That’s scheduled during the week before the move. Once that happens, I’ll probably be unable to continue posting to this blog until after I’m settled in my new place in early June.

My beloved Steinway grand piano, a gift many years ago from my daughter, will be moved that same week. It will be stored during the move and reassembled in my new place next month. I’ll miss it.

In short, the move will test my organizing skills and physical strength to the limit. I’m sure I’ll get through it fine. But the move and everything associated with it has disrupted my life and introduced a level of chaos, eclipsed only by living through the fall of Saigon and its aftermath.

More tomorrow.

Moving (2)

The yard of my house, which I described yesterday, is what I will miss most. It is where I toiled hardest, and it reflects my love for the earth. Flowering bushes and trees I’ve planted include forsythia, rhododendron, weeping cherry, weigela, viburnum, crepe-myrtle, flowering pear, dogwood (both pink and white), rosebud, gardenia, and butterfly bush. In the spring, when those plants come to life, my yard is a constant show of glory.

The house I’m moving to has almost no yard that requires tending. That was deliberate. I’m old enough now that the hard labor required to plant and maintain is beyond me. Besides, I want to spend the rest of my life writing, not caring for a house and garden. But these days, as I gaze at my beautiful land, the sadness of losing it stays with me.

My new house is surrounded by natural beauty. It backs onto a park with a stream. Wild trees are everywhere, and there is next to no lawn to care for. I will spend endless hours on my deck and patio. During good weather, I’ll eat most of my meals out of doors, as I do now, and I’ll enjoy coffee in the morning and wine in the evening watching, smelling, and feeling unbounded nature at my doorstep.

And yet— I’ll miss the cultured beauty of the house I’ll be leaving behind. The beauty in my new place will be equal to the beauty of my old. But it won’t be the same. Some of me will stay behind.

More tomorrow.

Moving

I’ll be moving soon. I’ve sold my house. It was far too large for a man living alone, and I am alone now. I’ve bought a smaller place well suited to my current needs. But as I take a last look at the place I’ve lived for so many years, leaving makes me sad.

This house reflects me. Everywhere are mementos of my long and rich life. Objects from my thirteen years on and off in Vietnam surround me. Ceramic elephants, drum tables, paintings, vases, a marble chess set. Pictures of me and my family. Walls full of certificates and awards.

All of these objects will go with me to my new house. But other changes I’ve made here won’t. I installed two new bathrooms to suit my idea of what a bathroom should be. The walls, inside and out, reflect my sense of color and design. Luxurious draperies through are of my choosing. New appliances and a new sink have changed the utility room. The kitchen boasts a new stove and refrigerator, designed for my way of preparing and maintaining food.

At the back of the house is a four-level deck graced at the lowest level with an adjacent patio that I installed. I have worked hard and spent a great deal of money first perfecting the deck and then restoring it after the years took their toll. It is the most appealing feature of the house.

Behind the deck is the back yard, dominated by a great maple tree, undoubtedly near a hundred years old. Even though it is some twenty feet away, the tree’s branches reach out over the deck. To it’s right, to the north, is a flowering cherry tree, now taller than the house itself. To it’s left, close to the southwestern corner of the extended side year, is a mammoth oak, as old as the maple. In between are flowering shrubs of all kinds.

The half-acre yard surrounding the house is my pride and joy. I have labored many hours there, planting, pruning, mulching, raking, fertilizing. The front yard sports two mature maple trees and a smaller red maple. The small side yard on the north side of the house, about ten feet wide, is only lawn, except for the shrubs along the side of the house, all now much taller than I am.

But the glory of the house is its sloping southern side yard, some forty feet wide and extending from the street to the back fence of the property. When I bought the house, that yard was grass, covering a gently descending hill ending at the tiny stream that flows between my property and that of those behind me. I worked hardest on that part of the yard. It is now filled with flowering bushes and trees. As I write, the Kousa Dogwood, a late bloomer, is in full flower. It dominates the view from the sunroom that runs the full length of the house’s southern side, its walls all windows.

More tomorrow.

Honor Flight Keynote Speech (4)

The end of my keynote speech of 11 May. Yesterday, I told of being met at the San Francisco airport by mobs who spat on us and called us “baby killers” and “butchers.”
The result:

That sickened me even more. I first noticed the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) in the late 1960s, but it became more obvious with each returning trip and encounters with the raging mobs. After the fall of Saigon, when I got back to the states in May 1975, it was severe. At the time, I had top-secret-codeword-plus security clearances from NSA, so I couldn’t go for psychotherapy—back in those days I would have lost my clearances and my job, and I had a wife and four children to support. I had to manage on my own. I knew somehow that to cope I had to bring all my unbearable memories into my conscious mind and face them head-on.

So I did. I forced myself to remember the unspeakable, gruesome deaths I’d witnessed on the battlefield—guys I slept next to, eaten with, joked with, killed in ways so brutal that I still can’t talk about it. I know now that those memories never go away or weaken. They won’t change, but I can. I learned how to cope with the memories by learning to control my emotions. These days, except for crying sometimes, I live a normal life.

But there was another obstacle: when I got back to the world—that is, the U.S.—after the fall of Saigon, I found that no one wanted to hear about Vietnam. It was a shameful war, best forgotten. I was shamed by all who knew I’d been there. For decades, I never mentioned Vietnam.

Then about five or six years ago, I was invited to something I’d never heard of before: a welcome-home celebration for Vietnam veterans. I was leery but finally decided to attend. When I got there, young people, not even born when Saigon fell, walked up to me, smiled, hugged me, and said the words I had so longed to hear for so many years, “Thank you for your service. And welcome home.”

I cried.

So tonight, I want to do that for you, to thank you. You were willing to put your life on the line for the good of the nation and the welfare of all the rest of us. Accept the thanks of all of us. And representing everyone in this room, I reach out to you and say—

Welcome Home.

End of quote. The speech was well received. And I was grateful for the opportunity to express my admiration and thanks to veterans.