Taps

A friend sent me information about the bugle call known as Taps. Here’s the story:

Background: Taps is one of more than a dozen short tunes played on a bugle to announce events on military camps, forts, and ships. The first is Reveille, a wake-up call. The last is Taps, marking the end of the day. Taps is also used at military funerals to signal the end of a life. Here’s one story about the tune’s origin, probably apocryphal:

During the Civil War, Union Army Captain Robert Elli was with his men near Harrison’s Landing in Virginia. The Confederate Army was on the other side of the narrow strip of land. During the night, Captain Elli heard the moans of a soldier who lay severely wounded on the field. Not knowing if it was a Union or Confederate soldier, Elli decided to risk his life and bring the stricken man back for medical attention. Crawling on his stomach through the gunfire, he reached the stricken soldier and pulled him toward the encampment.

When Elli reached his own lines, he discovered that the man was actually a Confederate soldier. He was dead.

Elli lit a lantern and caught his breath. In the dim light, he saw the face of the soldier. It was his own son. The boy had been studying music in the South when the war broke out.  Without telling his father, he had enlisted in the Confederate Army.

The following morning, heartbroken, the father asked permission of his superiors to give his son a full military burial, despite his enemy status. His request was only partially granted.

Elli asked if he could have a group of army band members play a dirge for his son at the funeral. The request was turned down since the soldier was a Confederate. But, out of respect for the father, the authorities allowed him only one musician.

Elli chose a bugler and asked the him to play a series of musical notes he had found on a piece of paper in the pocket of the dead youth’s uniform. The haunting melody we now know as Taps used at military funerals was born.

More tomorrow.

April 1975: The Evacuation of Saigon (7)

So the record of my horrors is now out in public for all to see. I wrote about them as fiction so that I could tell the story from multiple points of view.

My Friendly Casualties is a collection of short stories and a novella that pulls together the characters and their experiences. All of it is about the Vietnam war, and all of it is drawn from the events during that war that shaped my life.

The Trion Syndrome is in some respects the most direct of my books. It tells the story of a man suffering from Post-Traumtic Stress Injury (PTSI) as a consequence of the combat he went through in Vietnam.

No-Accounts is not about Vietnam or combat or war. It’s the story of a straight man caring for a gay man dying of AIDS. Early in my struggle with PTSI, I discovered that when I was helping people worse off than I was, my hideous memories faded into the background. I worked with the homeless, the dying in a hospice, and, at the height of the crisis, with AIDS patients. I had seven patients, all gay, all died. The experience moved me so deeply that I wrote a novel about it.

And finally, Last of the Annamese tells the story of the fall of Saigon from five different points of view, three American and two Vietnamese. One review noted that, like all my writing, the book is fiction in name only. I forced myself to include all the grim happenings, even my escape under fire after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of Saigon.

I am content and relatively at peace. I rest my case.

April 1975: The Evacuation of Saigon (6)

A fact about Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) that is often overlooked is that it never goes away. The unspeakable memories don’t fade. The visions of things I can’t talk about are as vivid today as they were the day they happened. They will be with me always.

In short, there is no cure for PTSI. All one can do is learn to cope. The first step is to compel oneself to face the memories head-on. Suppressing them forces them into the unconscious where they lurk and attack when a stimulus calls them up. Some impulse in my soul knew that if I was to survive, I had to relive the memories and come to terms with them. So I wrote down what happened even though I couldn’t talk about it. That eventually turned into 17 short stories and four novels, all now in print. The result is an imperfect peace. The horrors I lived through are now not confined to my head. They’re out there in public for the world to see.

I’ve taught myself over time to calm my emotions when the memories come back to haunt me. Crying jags are now reduced to a moment of tears. Now when I feel a rage coming, I breathe deeply and put myself into a meditative state. The nightmares are still with me, but now they’re old enemies that no longer waken me with screams.

An imperfect peace, but peace nonetheless.

April 1975: The Evacuation of Saigon (5)

May, June, and July of 1975 were the all-time low point of my life. I was physically ill and psychologically damaged, and I was absolutely alone with no support from anyone. My wife refused to join me. My children were with her. When I returned to NSA, I was discouraged from talking about Vietnam. The war there had been shameful. The less said about it, the better. I had no job assignment—the agency wasn’t expecting me to return for another year. I sat at an empty desk with nothing to do.

The worst was a condition we didn’t have a name for back then. At various times in various wars, people referred vaguely to “combat fatigue,” “gross stress reaction,” “war neurosis,” “battle fatigue,” and “shell shock.” By the twenty-first century we had settled on the name we now use: Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). I use the term “injury” rather than “disorder” because the malfunctioning of the psyche is the result of an externally inflicted wound to the soul, not an internal malady caused by the mind having gone awry. For me the affliction came not just from the atrocities during the fall of Saigon but also from my years of combat with army and Marine units throughout South Vietnam. I still can’t talk about some events I witnessed and participated in.

A point so often overlooked in discussing PTSI is that its origin is a healthy reaction to horror. Only the profoundly unhealthy do not respond to ghastly events with deep emotional angst. Nor is the condition limited to people who have been through combat. Any grisly experience can bring it on. It is common, for example, in women who have been raped.

I suffered all the symptoms—irrational rages, flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks. I knew I needed therapy, but I held top secret codeword-plus clearances. Had I sought psychotherapy, I would have lost my clearances and therefore my job. I still had a wife and four children to support. I gritted my teeth and endured.

More tomorrow.

April 1975: The Evacuation of Saigon (4)

Resuming the story of what happened to me after my escape from Saigon as it fell in 1975:

Passing out at the briefing for CINCPAC (May 1975) should have made me realize that I needed to see a doctor. I knew I was sick, but in my befuddled state, I attributed my physical problems to exhaustion. I should have realized that I had a disease. After all, the whole time the 7th Fleet had been circling in the South China Sea, I’d been sleeping. But I wasn’t getting better. I was getting worse.

I didn’t seek medical help. I wanted to go home. I can’t tell you how I yearned just to go home. I booked a flight to Baltimore with a stopover in San Francisco. Between flights I tried to find a doctor, but there was a doctors’ strike in progress in San Francisco, and no physician would see me. I flew on to Baltimore. The next day I finally got a physical check-up. The doctor diagnosed me with dysentery and pneumonia and pointed out that “Heavy smokers are more susceptible to pneumonia than normal people.”

By this time, it was nearing the end of May. My wife and children had completed their tour of the world while Saigon was falling and were in Massachusetts staying with her father. I telephone her and begged her to come to Maryland. I told her I was ill and needed her. She said no.

She and the children would not return to Maryland, she said, until I got our house back from the family that had leased it while we were in Saigon. That lease had another year to go. I contacted the family and paid them to move out and return the house to me. By the time my family returned to Maryland, it was July.

The grim truth was now before my eyes. Whatever this woman felt for me, it wasn’t love. That was the beginning of the end of the marriage.

More tomorrow.

April 1975: The Evacuation of Saigon (3)

Today, I resume my reminiscences of the fall of Saigon in 1975.

I’ve posted here over the last year and a half the story of what happened to me in April of that year following my escape under fire from Saigon after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city. Let me briefly recap.

After I landed on the Oklahoma City, the flagship of the 7th Fleet, the ships of the fleet continued to circle in the South China Sea. I don’t know how many days they tarried there, and I don’t know why. Although I wasn’t diagnosed until I got back to the states, I was suffering from ear damage (due to the artillery attacks), amoebic dysentery, and pneumonia. My physical state was due to the extended period with no food and no sleep during the last days in Saigon. So I was in no shape to grasp what the fleet was up to.

We finally set sail for the Philippines. When I got to Subic Bay, I booked a flight immediately for Honolulu because I knew I had to get to Pearl Harbor to brief Commander-in-Chief, Pacific (CINCPAC) on what had happened in Saigon. My predecessor in Saigon, now chief of the NSA Pacific office, met me at the airport when I arrived in the middle of May. I was still wearing the clothes I’d been evacuated in and was a physical wreck. Rather than greet me or ask how I was, he took one look at me and said, “You can’t be seen around here looking like that.”

One of his subordinates took me to a men’s store and a barber and got me looking presentable. Nevertheless, the briefing didn’t go well. I kept coughing and couldn’t talk. I was having trouble focussing my eyes. I was perspiring. I felt like I was running a fever. Then, when I sat down, I lost consciousness.

More tomorrow.

Trump’s False and Misleading Claims

I interrupt my series of posts on the evacuation of Saigon to quote from an email yesterday from the Washington Post:

President Trump has made 4,229 false or misleading claims in 558 days

Unraveling President Trump’s top 5 claims | The Fact Checker

The Fact Checker is keeping a running list of the false or misleading claims Trump says most regularly. Here’s our latest tally as of July 31, 2018. (Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

By Glenn KesslerSalvador Rizzo and Meg Kelly  August 1 at 3:00 AM

Because of summer vacation schedules, we had fallen a month behind in updating The Fact Checker’s database that analyzes, categorizes and tracks every suspect statement uttered by the president.

It turns out that’s when the president decided to turn on the spigots of false and misleading claims. As of day 558, he’s made 4,229 Trumpian claims — an increase of 978 in just two months.

That’s an average of nearly 7.6 claims a day.

When we first started this project for the president’s first 100 days, he averaged 4.9 claims a day. But the average number of claims per day keeps climbing the longer Trump stays in office. In fact, in June and July, the president averaged 16 claims a day.

Put another way: In his first year as president, Trump made 2,140 false or misleading claims. Now, just six months later, he has almost doubled that total.

End of quote.

As I reported earlier, because I changed the timeframe of my novel Secretocracy to 2018, I’m having to alter the text daily as new scandals surface. As it happens, the 1 August announcement by the Post comes one day before, in the novel, the administration withdraws the security clearances of the novel’s protagonist, Gene.

It’s all fitting like a glove.