Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day 2008. The Pit from Pole to Pole.

Michael Sedano
US Army, 1969-70
B 7/5 & Hq 7/5 HAWK (Korea)

One of my earliest memories of war veterans takes me back to my father and mother loading up the Plymouth with water and food for the long drive from Redlands to the Long Beach or Los Angeles Veterans Hospitals. Our next door neighbor, Mr. Gardner, survived mustard gas attacks in WWI, only to spend his days next door to us a nearly blind invalid, sitting in his living room as Mrs. Gardner did all the yard work, household chores.

My Dad, a WWII veteran, explained our treks as an obligation he had to a fellow veteran with no way of getting to the hospital. If we didn’t take Mr. Gardner to the Veterans Hospital, and if Mr. Gardner didn’t get his treatments, he’d die. So we’d drive him. Mr. Gardner sat wheezing next to me. Now and again he would tell me in his whisper voice about the battlefield and his inability thirty years later to fill his lungs with a deep breath of clean (in the 1950s) Redlands air. One day we drove Mr. Gardner to the hospital, and drove back home to Redlands without him. I never saw “old Mr. Gardner” again.

Looking back, I understand Mrs. Gardner, too. She had a good heart. She once told me a chilling story of an apparition that followed her home one night, back when she was a girl in Arkansas. Years later, when I first heard Der Erklönig, Mrs. Gardner’s tale provided the frame of reference. But back then, I thought she was a crazy old woman, remonstrating loudly her dog Rito. “Now see here, Rito, I told you not to do that, do you hear me?” She wasn’t crazy, just defeated. Mrs. Gardner, too, was a victim of the attack that mutilated Mr. Gardner’s eyes and lungs.

This is not my story alone, nor is it unique. The current administration is creating thousands of Mr. and Mrs. Gardners.

As of October 4, 2008, icasualties.org counts thirty-four thousand four hundred twentysix war casualties. 34,426. Include “non hostile” injured, the total reaches 69,390 Mr. and Mrs. Gardners.

This is not to ignore the almost four thousand two hundred killed—QEPD—but they won’t require VA medical services, these veterans already have all the land they need.

I was thinking about Mr. and Mrs. Gardner at a menudo breakfast the other morning with some of my fellow veterans. One ex-Marine recounted his frustration that political machinations are stealing land from veterans, placing it in private hands. The Department of Veterans Affairs West Los Angeles Healthcare Center sits on 388 acres deeded "in perpetuity" for Veterans health care. Abutting the exclusive Brentwood barrio of West Los Angeles, the land has been coveted by private interests for years—already a commercial laundry, theatre complex, and private school athletic facilities occupy veteran land.

The veteran sadly explained how his Congressman, Henry Waxman, helped a non-Veteran group, the hubris-overloaded, mis-named "Veterans Park Conservancy,” seize 16 beautiful acres of canyon and oak forest, converting this from land that would have served injured, PTSD, and disabled Vets, into a cozy park for locals. Compare the scandal that erupted at Walter Reed last year that was laid, rightfully, at the feet of the Republican administration. This gift of Veterans land constitutes an ugly acknowledgment of the failure of the Democratic Party to defend the nation's war injured. Here’s a website that goes into all the sadly disgusting details of this land grab.

There’s little hope that veterans will regain control of that stolen land, but ample hope the new administration genuinely cares for its soldiers and veterans. But you gotta keep 'em honest. As a result, the Marine has begun to expand his horizon from the stolen land to finding ways to bring veterans issues into the public eye. After all, Waxman and his land-grabbing subversives pulled off their movida because no one is keeping an eye on veterans health.

Taking a cue from the 1960s, the ex-Marine is looking to organize returning veterans by means of teach-ins, and today's technology, like Facebook and a blog. Back in the 60s, anti-war activists mobilized on college and high school campuses across the nation by reading and sharing knowledge with like-minded peers. There was no single leader nor traveling pitchmen and women. They taught themselves. What today’s veterans and supporters will need is a curriculum. How to hold and follow-up meetings, agenda boilerplate, informative handouts and lecture materials, recommended reading, websites.

La Bloga’s friends read and understand the power of books. What should modern-day activists read and share with others that will help energize publics about veterans, that could have created an upsurge of public outrage to stop Henry Waxman in his tracks? Certainly practical work like Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. Patriotic work like Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States. Straightforward insight like Charles Beard’s History of the United States.

Beyond such focused, pragmatic work, I recommend reading the literature of Vietnam. Charlie Trujillo’s novel, Dogs From Illusion, and his oral history, Soldados, offer compelling stories of war. Trujillo frames Dogs in puro irony. A couple of boys from the central valley tire of picking melons and bosses cheating them on wages, so they join up, go to war, and convert into cold-blooded killers. Then they come home to pick the same melons, where the boss welcomes them back by cheating them on their wages. And they have to take it because that’s what they fought for. Equally compelling is Alfredo Vea’s Gods Go Begging. The war episodes raise a sweat for their graphic power. The character’s PTSD lingers thirty years after Vietnam, reducing his social relationships to declivitous, constant struggle. Daniel Cano’s superb collection of stories, Shifting Loyalties, covers the interpersonal pain and aimlessness that plague combat veterans long after their time in country. See also Stella Pope Duarte's Let Their Spirits Dance, with its controversial roll call of Chicano Vietnam war dead, to the exclusion of all the others. Readers not familiar with the impressive library of Chicana and Chicano war literature will find a survey here.

Social disintegration, or failure to re-integrate, is not a theme of fiction but a disastrous consequence of military service. As of early October, US Iraq invasion casualties already number over 69,000. A significant number of these veterans will require ongoing medical rehabilitative care. This is not a guess. Look at the conclusions of the National Academy of Sciences in their publication, Gulf War and Health: Volume 6. Physiologic, Psychologic, and Psychosocial Effects of Deployment- Related Stress. The findings point to growing severity of problems with a proportionate growth in need for services like West LA is supposed to provide.

In cold, scientific phrasing, the report notes, “there is a causal relationship between deployment to a war zone and a specific health effect in humans”. The scientists divide the injuries into those with clear causation between war and later health effects--psychiatric disorders, including PTSD, other anxiety disorders, and depressive disorders, alcohol abuse, accidental death in the early years after deployment, suicide in the early years after deployment, marital and family conflict—and injuries likely caused by exposure to war-- drug abuse, chronic fatigue syndrome, gastrointestinal symptoms, skin disorders, fibromyalgia and chronic widespread pain, increased symptom reporting, unexplained illness, incarceration.

Read the fiction then read the science and find the congruencies. As usual, the artist has it right, depicting all along what society wants to deny, or hide.

David tangled with Walter Reed's image machine when he wanted to attend a ceremony for a fellow amputee, a Mexican national who was being granted U.S. citizenship by President Bush. A case worker quizzed him about what he would wear. It was summer, so David said shorts. The case manager said the media would be there and shorts were not advisable because the amputees would be seated in the front row. " 'Are you telling me that I can't go to the ceremony 'cause I'm an amputee?' " David recalled asking. "She said, 'No, I'm saying you need to wear pants.' " David told the case worker, "I'm not ashamed of what I did, and y'all shouldn't be neither." When the guest list came out for the ceremony, his name was not on it.

It’s Veterans Day, raza; you know who you are. Celebrate. Be glad you are alive. If you’re a veteran, this is for you:
Attention!
Present, Arms.

Ready, two.

Taps.

At ease.


Fotos: Top. Michael Sedano posing next to a Korean home near Bravo Battery 7/5. Middle, Jane Fonda, Ron Kovic at USC's Tommy Trojan. Bottom: Bob Handy standing up for Veterans land. See link.

La Bloga welcomes your comment on this column. Please click the Comment counter below to share your views and recommended reading. La Bloga welcomes guest columnists. When you have a book or arts review, a cultural observation, or an extended response to something you've read here at La Bloga, click here to talk about your invitation to be our guest.

8 comments:

Tom Diaz said...

On August 30, 1945, my late father of blessed memory was awarded the Bronze Star. The medal was pinned on his left breast at a ceremony in Luxembourg. It was for his dedicated service in Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army. Not bad for a man who had entered the United States brazenly but illegally 21 years earlier. CWO Gregorio A. Diaz retired in 1954 after 30 years of regular military service. He went to his grave some three decades later without bothering to tell anyone else — including his wife and family — that his entry into the United States at El Paso in February 1924 was a fraud based on a single but oh-so-important lie.

Okay. There were technically two lies, one not so, so important. Sometimes, a man has gotta do what a man has gotta do.

http://tomdiaz.wordpress.com/2008/11/10/veterans-aliens-and-draft-dodging-nativists/

msedano said...

Tom:

Maybe our fathers knew one another. For sure, they covered the same ground. My Dad was an orange picker turned tanker with Task Force Zweibel in Patton's 777 Tank Battalion. He operated a .30 cal machine gun from Belgium to Leipzig with your father and the rest of Patton's army.

Anonymous said...

Michael you are the voice with words we need to read and take to heart.
You as an artist weaving and molding our situation into clarity and truths depicting this issue of legal abuses and political underhandedness ( my largest word ).
Damn you are good !!!
Now we must celebrate that Marine and those assisting him in this struggle for Veteran justice.
I salute you and this blog which carries the seeds of our service to the nation
May it grow hearty and remember Mr and Mrs Gardner.
Please post this comment if you will because i tried and could not get past the guards.

Magu.

norma landa flores said...

Michael, thanks for sharing your memories of the Gardners and how your dad was so dedicated to a fellow veteran.

My life as a Chicano rights activist and as an ESL Speech Communication educator, has been greatly motivated by my cousin, Fili "Corky" Miranda. Corky came to Los Angeles from El Paso, looking for work, back in 1969. I had never met him before. But he and I carried la sangre Landa de Jalisco on my mother's side of the family. So, it was only natural that I asked my husband to find Corky a job.

They drove all around Los Angeles and applied for work at about 8 different warehouses, on the loading docks. But Corky couldn't read, write or speak enough English to follow instructions, understand shipping bills or fill out shipping bills.

The dock supervisors all laughed at him and asked why he didn't learn English in the El Paso High School he had just graduated from, "It's in America, ain't it?" Schultzie, my husband's boss asked, suggesting that anyone who didn't speak English was more or less "UN-AMERICAN"

Since Corky couldn't find work, he joined the Army. they sent him to Viet Nam where he was blown up in a rice field. He was shipped back home to El Paso in a body bag and he was buried, not too far from the school that failed to give him the skills to speak for himself and to defend himself.

His name is on the Viet Nam Memorial Wall in Arlington, Virginia. When I visited the Capital of our country, I kissed his name, engraved in cold, black marble stone and ran my fingers over his name, promising to teach future Corkys how to read, write and speak como los Americanos, so he they would have a choice not to die in a senseless war. IT'S AMERICA, AIN'T IT?

Norma Landa Flores

Veteran Patient Advocate said...

Today, is Veterans Day. Today has been specified by a supposed "grateful nation" as the day to give thanks and honor the service of men and women as American Military Veterans.
I'm beginning to feel that not too many people are hip
on Veterans Day, not as many who are "grateful" for having a holiday or day
off.
What, with the economy in the pits, with homes being reposessed, having a day off is cool, less traffic is cool.
Today, I hurt inside. I hurt because I have spent over 10 years reporting on the "Land-grab" at the
"HOME" at VA, WLA, CA. 10 Years of believing that if I give enough information to Veteran organizations, Veterans and people who believe and support Veterans that, together, we
will stop the wealthy from taking land from Veteran patients of today and tomorrow.
NOT!
The beauty and poetic value
I read about Michaels "Mr. and Mrs. Gardner", Tom Diaz' father, my own Tio receiving the Navy Cross for action in the Gilbert Islands, Mario Trillo's wounds received in Au-Shit Valley, Vietnam, all of these incidents, what do they mean?
Up until this morning, feeling for myself, I doubted that they meant anything. Then, my wife and I attended the Veterans
Day ceremony in Pico Rivera, CA. Even then, I was silently beginning to criticize the speakers. That is, until 3 young people were brought up to read their stories. The crowd thinned a bit at this point but, as they heard the first reader, a genuine moment was beheld.
Unfortunately, as the third
little girl was reading her story, a Veteran, looked Vietnam age, cut her short asking, loudly, if she knew how many Americans died, he repeated his question several times until security, without altercation, escorted him from in front of the stage.
The little girl was obviously shaken and read the rest of her piece with tears streaming from her innocent eyes. This incident reminded me that everything is not okay, things are very complex and, without intervention and education by Veterans, things will remain the same. I was so moved by these three young people that, after the ceremony, I asked the first young lady for her speech and she gave it to me. I will transcribe it here.
"A FOLDED FLAG, by Daniela Angelo. 'War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!' So goes the 1969 anti-war song by Edwin Starr. However, is war good for 'absolutely nothing'? Some good has to coome out of all of the sacrifices soldiers make on the battlefield. The haunting nightmares of their friends falling to the ground, their blood oozing out of their body, their screeching outcries, is it all worth nothing? The hope of a better life is victory of war that a soldier strives for.
As a young girl [this is a senior in high school], I enjoyed looking through the old boxes in the attic. Finding small treasures every time I searched. One day, I found a box labeled 'Dad's stuff'. Curiously opening the box, I began to wonder whose belongings I had stumbled upon. A portrait of a young man in a Navy uniform, standing in front of America's colors and a folded American flag were the first things I gently pulled out of the box. The man in the picture looked like my father. I ran to my grandmother, asking her who the man in the portrait was. Handing her the flag she beckoned me to give to he, my grandma spoke the words, 'This is your gradpa, dear. He fought in World War II protecting us from the bad guys." She took a deep sigh and continued, 'when he died, the soldiers put this flag on his coffin.' Ever since that day, I learned who my grandfather was and what he did for this country. I have come to appreciate the freedom my grandfather, and other Veterans, has provided me and today's youth. The service and sacrifice by America's Veterans benefit today's youth by providing freedom, democracy and a safe homeland.
By going out to fignt in other countries, Veterans have assured today's youth a life where they can speak freely and express their opinions, no matter what those opinions are. Freedom is an important quality my grandfather always valued. He believed without freedom, hou could this country be the "land of the free"? Veterans fought in passed wars when America's freedom was at risk. Because those soldiers fought so bravely to retain the rights of all Americans, they have provided a land full of opinions, full of opportunities, a land of freedom.
Freedom and democracy are both doors that open into the ideology of what America is. Democracy is the concrete base of what holds up America's government. During a war, that democracy is the most precious idea Americans have to hold on to. If it were not for the courageous
Veterans that fought ever so bravely, that democracy would have been stolen a long time ago. Grandpa always admired the soldiers in the American Revolution who first fought so hard for freedom from England so that a democratic government could be born. Everyone is equal, everyone has a voice, everyone has a chance to change history, this became a legacy. It is because of the brave Veterans who fought in the past wars who have allowed today's youth to live with democracy. My grandfather, along with his fellow Veterans, has protected that democracy from ever disappearing.
"Home sweet home," my grandpa would say after a long day of work. In the hopeful eyes of the people, the United States of America is truly a "home sweet home."
This country is one of the safest countries to live in, one of the most peaceful. Veterans have made this country almost bullet proof because they have protected it like the baby it is. Other countries have been around longer and have more experience with their armies. However, thanks to the sacrifices made by America's men and women, today's youth is privileged to live in a safe homeland, privileged to have a homeland, a place to call their home. Veterans have done a lot in wars abroad to keep the enemy out of the current home of America's youth.
Veterans have made many sacrifices in their life for today's youth. All the horrors of war, all the deaths, all the haunting images endured by war Veterans during their period of service has served for something great. The American flag given to my grandmother upon my grandfather's death
is an important symbol to me. My grandfather's flag reminds me not only how Veterans' services and sacrifices benefited today's youth, but how they will also benefit the youth of tomorrow and future generations to come."
Happy Veterans Day

Corina said...

Wonderful post! Thank you for the links. I will definitely check out some of the titles. Some I know but most I didn't until you pointed me to them. Many thanks.

Rebel Girl said...

Thanks!

norma landa flores said...

Michael, your "Veterans 2008" post touched many people's hearts and minds and set our memories free. I was particularly moved by the message "Veteran's Patient Advocate" posted. He was so open in revealing how much he was hurt by the land-grab of Veteran's properties and facilities, that I don't blame him for being bitter and skeptical, to the point that he was silently criticizing the speakers at a Veteran's Day Ceremony in Pico Rivera.

I'm pleased that he kept an open-mind and realized that "Things are very complex without intervention and education by Veterans." A Chicano saying goes, "Ayúdate y yo te ayudaré!" When the Veteran Patient Advocate asked for the Senior High School girl's speech, and shared it with us, through your blogspot, he led us through the labyrinth of Veteran's sacrifices before, during, and after valiantly serving our country.

In my childhood memories, I've stored a purple heart that my uncle, Daniel Lujan, received in Okinawa during WWII. He gave it to me so that I would never forget that he had paid with his Post Traumatic Stress, for me to live safely in Whittier, California, the good old USA. That was in 1942.

He died an incurable alcoholic, searching for scriptures in the Bible to forgive him for having killed "The Japs," as he was trained to do. The Veteran's Hospital staff in Camarillo tried to help him but he never did "Get Straight From All The Hate," as he explained his long-term malady to me.

What the Veteran's Administration did manage to do for him, was to give him a free burial at Riverside's Veteran's Cemetery, a couple of years ago. I contribute to several Veteran's Organizations hoping to, symbolically, pay for the purple heart my uncle gave me. Thanks for the opportunity to hear from many of our gente about this complex issue of loyalty, patriotism and helping our Veteranos.

Norma Landa Flores