And I will be doing a book signing at The Rendezvous Café in O’Fallon MO, 217 S. Main, on December 7, from 6:30 to 7:30.
|Author John Zerr||
New book of short stories is now live on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iBooks. To find it, type in “j. j. zerr” in their search slot. There are a lot of “War Story” titles out there, but j. j. zerr gets you to the book. It is available in paperback and in all three ebook formats.
And I will be doing a book signing at The Rendezvous Café in O’Fallon MO, 217 S. Main, on December 7, from 6:30 to 7:30.
This day after Thanksgiving I cannot see as black. I am remembering what I heard a Jesuit say last summer. We are not what we do. We are our friends. And a friend once told me we are our faith, our family, and our friends.
Jesuits have smart minds.
My friend, who is female, has a smart heart.
From both the Jesuit and my friend, I am just smart enough to know to be thankful for all of you, and I am.
Gooshy stuff aside. Day after Thanksgiving. Time to remove Credence Clearwater from the pickup truck CD player. I started listening to them twelve years ago when I worked for a major aerospace company whose name starts with a B but will remain anonymous. The program I was on was cranking up the capability to take a 737, fill the backend with electronics, and set it out over the oceans to hunt and kill “Red Octobers.” Somebody brought in a song they thought we should play before every staff meeting.
“Sure,” says I. “We’ll give it a listen.”
The piece intro is an electric guitar whanging out psychedelic chords and a jackhammer playing drums. Then there’s four seconds of just eighteen jackhammers drumming at once. Then the first line of the lyrics goes, “737 comin’ outta’ the sky!”
Music devoid of discipline, sweating raw emotion, riding right up to the ragged edge of out of control, but stopping just short. It curdled the cream in people’s white coffee, which is another reason I drink it black.
Anyhow, “They’re playing our song,” we all said.
Another friend, who is neither Jesuit nor female, said he lives in the past because it is cheaper there. And I think he’s right. You pay the price to live there once and you can live there 111,000 additional times if you have the wings to get there, like I do, with the wings of Credence Clearwater Rivival.
So thanks for the blessing of working on the P-8 program in company B.
And now we move into a new season. Credence had to get out of the way for Handel’s Messiah. From Credence to the Hallelujah Chorus, ain’t music grand?
Thanks, Lord, for coming back to work on the 8th day and creating music. Just like Ringo Starr said you did.
War Stories is a collection of thirteen short pieces I wrote over the last eight years for various purposes: contests, anthologies, etc. The settings range from Vietnam to the Civil War in Missouri and from the decks of aircraft carriers to a grade school playground.
Characters such as Joe Bob, Heiny Bauer battle both against society and to fit in. US Navy pilot Stretch has a fight with himself. Other stories feature gender contests.
One story, "The Free Upgrade," I submitted to a Missouri Liar's Contest. I was one of ten finalists. So I am the tenth best lair in the state. And that's the truth.
The snippet of the cover came from the proof I received from the publisher.
The book should be available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble in soft cover and ebook and iBooks.
Should be this week.
I read Killing Reagan. I thought it was a 5 star book. Next I read Killing Patton. I thought it was a 5.15 star book. Then I read Killing the Rising Sun. I give it 5.5 stars.
Mr. O’Reilly, I think, does a great job of pulling together the biggest and most important pieces of the subjects he writes about and herds them past a reader’s eyes in a most logical and pleasant manner.
In Killing the Rising Sun, we get the Second World War II clawing its way to a conclusion on that half of the planet, the development of Little Boy, and the decision to deploy him. A book packed with fifteen kilotons of importance.
Thank you to all I was privileged to serve with. Every duty station I served at, I left a better person than when I arrived. I like to think we brought out the best in each other.
Thanks to the active duty service men and women.
Thanks to the families of service people. All too often, they are called to sacrifice at the “above and beyond” level.
And a special salute to grunts. Slogging through jungles and mud or sand dunes and crowded cities to root out terrorists, that’s still where wars are won and lost.
I blogged about Leonard Cohen and Halleluja last month. This morning’s paper reported that he died.
Here’s looking at you, kid.
You contributed some fine verses.
I hope twenty-seven angels carry you to the Tower of Song.
After the North Vietnamese launched their Easter Offensive in 1972, I experienced combat as real as any I ever wanted to see. My traumatic stressors, however, did not come from combat. I experienced them after I returned to my country and was called that name: Baby Killer. Crowds of people shouted the name and waved their fists. And, I was sure, hated me. That name is stuck in my craw and for the life of me, no matter how often I pray, how many “thank yous” I hear, I cannot expunge it.
I confess to being a curmudgeonly old poop. But I have an excuse.
In 2013 I attended a symposium with the theme, Fortieth Anniversary, The Vietnamese War POWs Come Home. During one of the panel sessions, a US Air Force pilot, a POW for six years, told us that, as he was about to board the bus to take him to the airport and the flight home, he stopped, turned back for a last look at the Hanoi Hilton, and said, “I forgive you.” He said he hated the North Vietnamese for the torture and deprivation they inflicted on him and on his fellow POWs, and he knew he needed to get that hate out of his heart right then, or it would be with him forever.
So, I confess, I am not the man he is. What hurts most is I have to say that about an air farce puke. Rats!
In 2008, I began work on my first book, I forced myself to read books, articles, and editorials written from the anti-war perspective. At times, reading those works, my teeth ground so hard I was afraid for the structural integrity of my molars. But I read them. And I now know several people who believe it was right to protest in the sixties and seventies, and I have come to admire and respect them.
One of the things I’ve concluded is that when we believe in something fervently, when we have faith in something, it becomes hardwired into our minds and spirits. Being hardwired, it is difficult, and in some cases, impossible to change that wiring, that faith.
To change an element of social fabric, which is time-tested, group-think faith, a polarized, radical, vocal crowd needs to be mobilized. Would there have been an Emancipation Proclamation without abolitionists? Prohibition without radical preaching against Demon Rum? Female vote without femi-nazis (forgive me for the historical/hysterical disconnect)? I have come to believe that our nation experiencing all those things were for the long term betterment of the country. All things in moderation. At times, especially moderation in moderation.
I believe the human race needed a generation at some time, in some country, to stand up and say, “This time, we are not going to fight in your stupid war!”
I believe our country needed to lose a war at some point in history.
The World War II generation has been called “The Greatest Generation.” In James Lee Burke’s novel, The Wayfaring Stranger, the main character says of that generation, “We would be the last generation to believe in the moral solvency of the republic.”
I read that and figured, “That’s right. That’s what happened.” During Vietnam, we stopped believing in the moral backbone of the United States of America, and look what we have now. There is no black and white, only shades of gray, and right and wrong are defined by who gets on twitter first.
All of that, I figured, made my generation the worst. We lost the war. We threw morals out the window.
I had the great privilege to be on the mall in Washington, D.C., between the Capitol and the Washington Monument during the post Desert Storm tribute to the troops. I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and praise. I didn’t quite know how to process what I was seeing. In the space of a generation, we went from calling returning vets “Baby Killers” to calling them “Heroes.”
I like the notion of having a Greatest Generation. I like for it to be the ones who fought at home and abroad to resolve that conflict in unconditional surrenders. I no longer mind the notion that my generation might lay claim to the title, “The Worst Generation.” And perhaps the verse my generation contributes to Whitman’s Powerful Play, is “Hell, no, we won’t go!” It is a verse, I am convinced, America needed to hear.
One of the women in my writing critique group commented on Part I of these reflections. She told me that she and her friends were protesting the war, not the country, and that they were right to do so.
She told me in a calm, emotions-under-control, and no-back-down-either tone of voice. She talked to me in a tone of voice that made it easy to listen to her, rather than shouting at me and auto-triggering defense against an attack on my belief, my faith.
So here I am on Vet’s Day eve. I have already admitted learning a lesson in forgiveness from a guy in the junior service, and so now, I confess, my sisters and brothers, that I have learned a lesson in forbearance, in listening from a peacenik.
I think one of the worst things that could happen in our country would be for all of us to think the same. We need to grow, to evolve toward the goals laid down in the Declaration of Independence and in our Constitution. We are human, flawed, imperfect, inclined toward faith in things, which, at times led many of us in very wrong directions. We absolutely need our differences of opinion. We need to challenge faiths, but we need to do so with not only open ears, but with the edges of our faiths open as well to find the flaws in our doctrines. So that we might fix them.
Perhaps a generation or two down the road, we can find our way back to faith in the moral solvency of the nation. Maybe there is a new greatest generation there waiting to make these things happen.
Wait! Did I just say that?
There goes my “Member in Good Standing” status in the Curmudgeonly Old Poops of America Society.
The first time I went to Nam was in 1966. I was a US Navy ensign, an O-1, the lowest life form on earth. Lieutenants, O-3’s, who considered themselves the highest life form, told us we were on the evolutionary scale below worms that eat whale poop and live on the bottom of the Marianas Trench.
In the spring of ‘66, the destroyer I was assigned to was on its way north in the Tonkin Gulf to man what was called the North SAR station. SAR being Search and Rescue. Back then, we bombed North Vietnam from carriers in the Gulf and from air force bases in Thailand to the west. Our destroyer, and another one, would drive around in a ten-mile square box for the purpose of rescuing an aviator, if perchance his plane sustained damage during a bombing run and he managed to get his plane out over water before ejecting. Back then, we flew a lot of missions against the north every day. Almost every day, a plane would be shot down, but very few pilots made it out over the water to eject. They landed in Nam. Some died, some were captured and became POWs.
North SAR station was at twenty north latitude. As my ship, and the other one, passed nineteen north, we picked up three North Vietnamese PT boats steaming at us at a high rate of speed. The guns on our destroyers could fire fifty-five pound explosive projectiles nine miles and we could pump out sixty rounds a minute. We pointed the guns at those PTs, but the guns did not fire. Planes from the carriers south of us sank the PTs.
There were five of us Marianas Trench dwellers on the ship, and we had two thoughts. One was, “Holy crap. Our first day on North SAR, and we’re attacked by PT boats! This is going to be an exciting five months in the Tonkin Gulf.” The second thing we wondered about was why in Sam Hill didn’t we fire our guns. Why did we need the stupid aviators to sink the boats?
We were dead wrong about the excitement factor. We never again, in the 149 remaining days we spent in the Gulf, got another glimpse of combat. But the pilots, they continued to fly over us on the way to and from Nam on their bombing missions. And it turned out, in the five months we spent there, the helo from our ship rescued one pilot. His was the only plane which made it out over the water before he ejected.
At this time, I also began to get disgusted with the members of my generation who protested the war. The war was immoral they said. From what I read of their behavior, they didn’t practice a morality I recognized. I saw them as juveniles caught up in the excitement of revolting against the establishment. I saw them as more anti-America than anti-war. I didn’t agree with them, and so, I felt I needed to do something about it. I had never intended on serving longer than it took me to pay the government back for the college program I’d signed up for, but the protest changed my mind about that. The other thing was, it didn’t seem like I was contributing much on my destroyer. The aviators were the ones carrying the war.
I applied for flight training.
By the time I got back to the war in 1971, the bombing halt on North Vietnam had been in place for more than two years. Our bombing missions were in South Vietnam and Laos. We called the missions, making toothpicks. We dropped bombs on the jungle probing for trucks and stockpiles of supplies on the Ho Chi Minh trail. We seldom blew up anything constituting a worthwhile target. We only blew up trees, turning them into toothpicks. And logged combat missions in a war we weren’t trying to win, but couldn’t figure out how to quit.
I came home, and the American people told me I was the lowest form of life on earth. I was a baby killer. Which I was sure was lower than a Marianas Trench bottom dwelling worm.
The first time I heard a “Thank you for your service” was after the troops came home from Desert Storm. Since then I’ve heard it a lot. Still, I cannot believe those thank yous were, or are, for me. The thank yous are for the Desert Storm-ers, the men and women who won a war, and for the next generation, still fighting to win the next one.
I accept, and acknowledge, those thank yous with a smile, but I accept for them, the nation’s last two generations of servicemen and women.
The end of Part I.
John Zerr is the author of four novels, The Ensign Locker, Sundown Town Duty Station, Noble Deeds, and The Happy Life of Preston Katt.
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