Sunday, May 31, 2015

Jumping at the Sun in South Central LA: Spotlight on Skira Martinez and CIELO Galleries/Studio

Olga Garcίa Echeverrίa

“Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to ‘jump at the sun.’
We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.”
–Zora Neale Hurston.
On Maple Avenue, in Historic South Central LA, there lives a breathing piece of sky, CIELO. On the surface, CIELO Galleries/Studio appears to be just another industrial complex in the neighborhood. Not everyone passing by may notice it. There aren’t any flashy signs to guide visitors into the 9,000 square foot property. When I first visited, it was night time, and I circled the block several times unable to spot the address.

From CIELO FB Page: An Inconspicuous Piece of CIELO:

Depending on the day, the time, the mood of any given event, you may have to wander a bit around CIELO, like I did, exploring several portals to see which one opens up and welcomes you in. But that is part of the charm, and definitely, once you enter, welcomed you will be.

Inside of CIELO, you’ll find a space where art, community, and conscious-raising meet. Beneath the high ceilings, there is plenty of open espacio, hanging photos, art supplies, words to ponder. There are sofas to lounge on, blooming plants, a keyboard, paper butterflies on walls, a full kitchen with a large wooden table ideal for intimate conversations and breaking bread.
It’s a multidimensional place--part home, part school, part industrial loft, part gallery, part work studio, part literary space, part sky, as in you can stretch your artistic self and reach for something beyond the ordinary here. You can 'jump at the sun' and organize, as Teka Lark Fleming and Skira Martinez did this past March, the Blk Grrrl Book Fair, or host a unique live stream broadcast of a collective reading of Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. Yes, the entire book! Anything can happen at CIELO.

Skira Martinez and Teka Lark Fleming: Photo from LA Weekly
CIELO’s founder and owner, Skira Martinez, shares that “one of the most important things about the space is that it is open to everyone and that it’s diverse in all ways.” Like the visionary/dreamer that she is, Skira first conjured up CIELO in her mind and heart, and then several years ago, she set out to manifest her vision in concrete ways. Aside from hosting and/or organizing art shows and literary events, Skira rents space to local artists and also has a Liberation School component, which is a free radical school that she proudly describes as “anti-fascist and anti-capitalist.”

Photography by Slobadan Dimitrov at CIELO Galleries/Studio

Liberation School exists outside the realms of institutionalized education, so do not expect rows of desks, rigid schedules, or even mapped out curricula. There have been workshops and discussions on topics such as Copwatch, gentrification in various parts of the city, and radical feminism. The birth of any given class is highly organic and very much in the spirit of Pablo Freire, where classroom subject matter stems directly from the interests and needs of the participating community. Skira explains, “If you want to teach or share something, then you come to Liberation School and you do so. If you’d like to learn something, then you put a shout out and say, ‘I want to learn more about this,’ and I try to find someone who wants to come and speak about that.”

About the Liberation School’s scheduling, Skira adds, “Basically, it runs whenever it runs, so if someone contacts me and says, ‘I wanna do a class,’ then I post it and it’s Liberation School. Sometimes we’ll go on a spurt where we’ll have classes every day for a concentrated time period, and then it peters out a bit, and then it starts up again. It’s organized but at that same time it’s not organized, or it appears not to be. There are weeks when there’s nothing and weeks when things are really active. It depends on who’s here, who feels it. Every once in a while, I call a mass meeting to get people to come and to open up the doors and get something going again, but for the most part it just sort of happens, people decide when they want to do something or learn something.”
Important to Skira is also assuring that children are an integral part of CIELO. “One of the things I like about the space, and this is part of Liberation School, is that people feel welcomed to bring their children. Even in the classes, it’s important that children not have to be off in some little room somewhere else. I really like the idea of children being in the classroom, and if we need to speak louder, then we need to speak louder. If someone needs attention, then they need attention. We work it out. What happens is that kids keep coming, and after a while they just get into the routine of things. It’s good because the children hear those classroom conversations and they stay with them in their subconscious in one way or another. They are able to be around those conversations and to connect and even participate on certain levels.”

Photo from CIELO FB Page: Children Painting at CIELO

In regards to future plans for an evolving CIELO, Skira says that she’d like to make the space a literary capitol of LA. “I really want this to be a place for people of the literary world to come and to do their thing. I feel there are so many of us artists, whether that be visual or literary or whatever, that are waiting to be accepted into some place or some circle, and I just want us to have this mind set of ‘We can do this shit ourselves.’ We can support each other and we don’t have to always go to the mainstream or have to be looking at White-approved spaces. I think the literary world is very dominated by men and it’s also very White; it’s time that we stop trying to get in that door and that we have our own spaces, and then we’ll have them come and be our audience because they will come, trust me, they will come. That’s one of the important things about the Zora Neale Hurston reading that the Blk Grrrl Show organized here. Zora had such strong convictions. She was going against the grain in many ways, and even people that loved her didn’t always support her. Zora wasn’t scared to stir the pot. She wasn’t going to play that part of ‘Hush-hush-hush. Let’s be good Black people. Let’s be respectable. Let’s be acceptable.’ I can relate to that. I respect that.”

Self Portrait: Skira Martinez

To connect with CIELO on FB:

To connect with Blk Grrrl on FB:

To see Blk Grrl in Live Stream Action:!

To learn more about Blk Grrrl Bookfair:

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Where a children's fantasy came from

Writers are sometimes asked, "How do you come up with your ideas for stories?" Here's one where all the credit doesn't fall on me.

When old guys start kid stories
With the help of literary patrons, last week I enrolled in SCBWI's Big Sur In The Rockies, an intensive three days of Children's Book Writing Workshops, held in Boulder's Chautauqua Park. I took three of my manuscripts--two Young Adult novels and a children's story--with me, in hopes of learning how to improve them. I'm two years into transitioning from writing stories for adults to writing for younger people.

Over three days, through four workshops and some panels I learned a lot about what USican authors, publishers and literary agents consider good or great children's literature. Mine didn't always meet their criteria.

Being a writer of my own making, I understand I need to learn "The Rules." Gatekeepers of the children's literary world determine which books are picked up and published, as well as made into movies. That's where financial success and fame are determined.

Add caption
Story #1Sleeping, a children's story
This first story was critically shredded by a panel because it begins by centering on an old man, Grand Ta, who's climbing a mountain with a bunch of small kids, all unnamed.

The Rule is that such books should begin with and center on a kid or kids, not grown-ups. There was total agreement that my story needed working to bring specific kids into the opening chapter.

I agreed at the time, and may still follow that Rule. However, relegating Grand Ta to a later part of the story felt and feels wrong. Pinocchio and How The Grinch Stole Christmas are just two children's stories whose opening pages don't begin with the young characters. Geppetto and The Grinch, assumedly, would not see publication today, if the Rule was in force.

I'm not claiming to be the next Dr. Seuss, but it seems to me he tapped something that the Rule doesn't recognize. Children's inherent love for older members of their family--grandparents, aunts and uncles, and others. Their compassion for old people can't be assumed, but neither should it go untapped. Perhaps it should even be nurtured.

Ollin aztec to watch over grandkid
Once upon a time it was. Reverence for the elders was inherent to the survival not just of the family, but also, of the tribe. The shamans, the wisdom of ancestors and the cultural and historical lore of peoples enabled tribes to prosper and survive difficult times.

Of course, publishing in the USican children's stories industry is a different jungle. Children's fiction that begin as mine does, do get published, despite the generic Rule that I broke. We'll see in time how my Sleeping story ever gets rewritten. Or not. My other YA novels were critiqued or praised on different aspects, and I'll incorporate whatever I think would improve them.

Story #4 – When the mouth roared louder than the manuscripts

Drawing of Aztec cradle, different from mine
In the course of the weekend, I related to other writers the news about my new grandson and the rocking cradle I was building. [Almost a month ago, I wrote about that.]

On the final morning, one of the writers suggested that the entire narrative might make for another children's story--Abuelo's Cradle. A second well-published author jumped in and added her agreement and suggestions. I was stunned.

My three completed stories didn't generate as much excitement as my talking about the grandkid/cradle experience. Go figure, I said to myself.

Now, a week later, I'm three thousands words into the new story called A Cradle for Abuelo. Since I'm not into writing children's nonfiction, I transformed the writers' suggestions into a fantasy story. Taking the Rule to heart--just this once--I began Cradle with a kid as the hero-protagonist.

On my cradle & in the story
Why a book about an old man building a cradle for his grandkid is called A Cradle for Abuelo, is the plot twist that I can take credit for. The story's almost completed in first-draft form, so it will be some time before anyone hears about it again. When it makes it past the Gatekeepers, you may read it.

To my knowledge, this is the only time a story of mine came from other people, rather than simply my own head. Next time I'm on a panel and am asked the question about where my ideas come from, this is the one I'll use. If Cradle is published, it'll make for a great response.

Keep writing, but stay alert for strangers strangely provoking strange story ideas.

Es todo, hoy,
RudyG, a.k.a. the rule-breaking El Abuelo en A Cradle for Abuelo

Friday, May 29, 2015

Guest Post - Reflections After Watching The Last Days in Vietnam

Guest Contributor:  Daniel Cano

May 26, 2015

 A colleague asked if I would introduce Rory Kennedy’s film The Last Days in Vietnam, which was screened at Santa Monica College earlier this month. At first I declined. I’d had enough of war. But then I reconsidered and decided I did have something to say.

For more than forty years, I’ve sought a justification for the Vietnam War--or at least my role in it.
After my discharge from the Army in 1969, I just pretended that I’d never served or that the war ever existed. I was a walking contradiction, though, because I immersed myself in studying about Vietnam, the land, the people, the history, and politics --always searching, I suppose, for the elusive justification.

But no matter how I tried to hide from it, the war hovered overhead: Tet, Kent State, My Lai, Hearts and Minds, Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, and The Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial. Then I wrote Shifting Loyalties -- my own stories about Vietnam and about the friends I’d served with, many who took their last breath on Vietnamese soil.

Memorial Day 2015 has passed, right on the heels of April 30, 1975, the fortieth anniversary of the fall of Saigon.

Along with millions of Americans, I watched on television as Vietnam fell to the communists. Or looking at it from the perspective of our so-called enemy and many of their South Vietnamese sympathizers: Vietnam was finally liberated.

I don’t think any of us who had served in Vietnam wanted to admit then that South Vietnam was facing a total collapse. We’d been led to believe the South Vietnamese Army would provide for the country’s defense. But I think deep inside, we all knew better.

I remember those images flickering across the screen, the last helicopters flying off the rooftop of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. I felt ill--then angry, betrayed, and finally bitter. I remember thinking: what a waste it had all been. Chicanos served in large numbers. How ironic that the first American to be captured by North Vietnam was a Chicano, pilot Everett Alvarez. And the last American to board the last chopper out of Vietnam was also a Chicano, Marine Sgt. Juan Vasquez.

For years after, I refused to vote, to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or to hold my hand over my heart during the National Anthem. I hid the Army in a cardboard box: the photos, medals, and citations. I didn’t want my son or any of my nephews seeing them and glamorizing war. I felt that Chicano families had sacrificed enough, sometimes for no other reason than to prove we were American too.

In Vietnam, we fought communism. It was drilled into us as children that communism was evil, that it would invade and conquer us. In school, we hid under our desks: trial runs in preparation for Russia’s atomic bomb. We learned that Khrushchev was a madman, and we had to be protected from him. Then, under Nixon, we opened relations with communist China. The Soviet Union and East Germany collapsed under their own weight. Today we trade with Vietnam and are opening relations with Cuba, finally.

So then, why did we kill two million Vietnamese and sacrifice nearly 60,000 Americans, bringing so much pain to so many families?

In 1995, the ex-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara published his memoir titled: In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, as if the slaughter had been some sort of scholarly exercise: like telling us how to do it better next time. Essentially McNamara was telling the American public that the government had made a terrible mistake.

To be fair, McNamara realized in 1967 that the war was wrong, even immoral. He pressured President Johnson to end it--and found himself no longer Secretary of Defense but head of the World Bank. Many politicians and generals knew, even then, that it was a no-win war. But no one would pull the plug. Who was benefiting from this war? How many millions went into the pockets of Colt and other weapons’ manufacturers or the corporations that supplied the uniforms, vehicles, and supplies?

A few years ago as I walked through a local bookstore, I noticed a title glaring at me from the rack-- The Tiger Force: A True Story of Men at War.

The Tiger Force, I thought. My artillery battery of the 101st Airborne supported a recon outfit called the Tiger Force, guys we admired, wild, insanely courageous characters, guys who’d go into the jungle in small groups and sometimes initiate contact with much larger forces. I thumbed through the pages. Sure enough, it was the same Tigers that we had supported. Maybe I’d find a justification for the war in these pages.

Instead, I read that from June through October 1967, in the pastoral Song Ve River Valley, the Tigers had turned the peaceful landscape into a killing field. For nearly six months, the Tigers had executed, in the most heinous ways, hundreds of Vietnamese farmers and civilians. And it hadn’t been a secret. The brass knew. I remember thinking, “June through October, 1967-- that’s when I was there.”

I didn’t miss the part in the book where it said the Tiger Force called in artillery strikes. So was the artillery called in for the sole purpose of watching innocent civilians die and their hamlets and villages turned to ashes?

It was my job to remove those shells from the canisters and hand them to the gun crews who loaded them into the Howitzers and sent them flying into those villages. What sin did those villagers commit? They rejected forced relocation into filthy, unsanitary compounds the military called Relocation Camps. How much blood is on my hands? Can I be like Robert McNamara and just say, “Well, in retrospect….”?

Can I just pass it off as a lesson learned?

A reporter who saw McNamara years later said he looked like a “haunted man.”

For me, like many veterans, the Vietnam War is not abstract or theoretical. It isn’t an academic problem. It’s as visceral as a fist in the gut. That’s why it is difficult for many of us to talk about it. I can’t think about Vietnam without thinking of myself in it.

Memorial Day has come and gone. So, too, has Kennedy’s The Last Days in Vietnam. I suppose I hoped that maybe I’d find the justification I’d sought--or some resolution to the war.

But no, as beautiful as the movie is, and as uplifted as I felt when I left the theater, I found no justification for the war, not even in the faces of those Vietnamese desperately seeking a passage out of their country. Or surprisingly, on the faces of those Vietnamese waving North Vietnamese flags and welcoming the conquering army into Saigon. I suppose many just wanted the peace they’d been seeking for so long.

Daniel Cano is the author of three novels, Pepe Rios, Shifting Loyalties, and Death and the American Dream, and received best historical fiction by the 12th Annual International Latino Literary Awards. His writing has appeared in such publications as Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Fiction, Fire and Ink: an Anthology of Social Action Writing, Aztlan in Vietnam, Pieces of the Heart, Unnatural Disasters: recent writings from the Golden State, and the French literary journal Breves. He has held administrative positions at UC Davis, UCLA, and CSU Dominguez Hills. Daniel currently teaches English at Santa Monica College.  

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Chicanonautica: The Secret Yaqui Apocalypse

I consider the Yaquis to be family. My grandfather was a Yaqui – well, actually he was my mom's stepfather, but we didn't make those kind of distinctions in our large, extended Chicano familia. Identity can be such a bitch. So I'm a Chichimec, but the influence of that Yaqui warrior on me is monumental.

I've always been frustrated by how difficult it was to find information about the Yaquis. In most accessible culture, the dubious books of Carlos Castaneda dominate, but I'm been told by Yaquis I've met that they're not accurate, and Castaneda's "New Age" activities later in life backed that up. The Yaquis we bought my wife's wedding dress from in Guadalupe, Arizona, were nice enough, but why were they such badasses in the movie Two Mules for Sister Sara (in which Clint Eastwood plays a guy named Hogan)? Hollywood thought Burt Reynolds and Raquel Welch made believable Yaqui revolutionaries in 100 Rifles. And why were they trying to overthrow the Mexican government in the old serial Zorro's Fighting Legion?

Recently, I ran across a documentary by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, creator of the detective Hector Belacoarán Shayne, author of more fiction and nonfiction than I can keep up with. The Yaquis is part of Los Nuestros, a series he's doing for the Venezuelan network teleSUR. The missing Yaqui history is revealed.

The Yaquis tells the history that isn't told in Mexican classrooms: The story of Mexico's longest armed struggle that is echoed in the contemporary struggle for the waters of the Yaqui River, a struggle that could wipe the people and the river out of existence.

It's a story that's happened before, and is still happening, all over Aztlán. Ruins, ancient and modern, are usually found next to dead rivers. Towns, peoples, civilizations can die. It's a problem that will require very real politics, and more science than fiction to solve.

Meanwhile, here's the documentary:

Ernest Hogan's novel Cortez on Jupiter, introduced the subgenre of Chicano SF to a startled, dazzled American audience,” according to Publishers Weekly.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Latino Children's Summer Reading Program

From Monica Olivera,

On Monday, June 1st, Latinas for Latino Lit will launch our third annual Latino Children's Summer Reading Program. This year's program is huge with a new, bilingual family-friendly website and two fully digitized programs: Our basic Summer Reading Program for children up to 18 years old, and our Summer Reading CAMP for children 6 - 12 years old. 

The basic program is for kids up to 18, as well as parents with newborns and children up to 4 years old. All are challenged to read 8 books over the summer, and it comes with culturally-themed downloads, our Summer Reading Lists, and an online reading log.

The CAMP is an ambitious project that provides 10 weeks of literacy-building activities, such as reading passages and writing pages, designed specifically for Latino children. Each week features a different theme (i.e., Sports, Art, Poetry, Food), and we are lucky to have contributions this year from authors Alma Flor Ada, F. Isabel Campoy, René Colato Laínez, and Lulu Delacre. I look forward to expanding this collaboration with other authors and illustrators in the future.

Both programs offer the families a chance to win great prizes such as Latino children's books, chromebooks, and much more. 

But the best part is that both programs are completely FREE to everyone including groups. Early registration opened on May 1st and we already have over 40 groups that have registered, including many Spanish immersion classes across the country, the City of Santa Barbara & their United Way branch, summer schools, and libraries. We also have well over 200 individual families who have registered. Already we have exceeded the number of participants of the last two years.

For more information visit

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Memorial Day 2015 On-line Floricanto

Michael Sedano

Not that it mattered back in the Vietnam era, but one of those nameless men covered in mud is Michael Sedano doing U.S. Army Basic Combat Training. We all looked alike--piss pots, green fatigues, leather boots-- expendable factotums in the country's military juggernaut. At any rate, I'm the one grimacing in the center frame. It doesn't matter who's who, not then, not now. We all are, or were, soldiers. Except today's GIs to a man and woman are volunteers, Regular Army. I was drafted.

Ft. Ord overlooked Monterrey Bay and in this foto, I'm probably staring across the bay toward Santa Cruz, thinking I'd rather be just about anywhere else but crawling along the ground with Drill Sergeants shouting instructions in our ears to "stay low! keep down!," pushing us into the mud with a boot.

Basic Combat Trainees, Ft. Ord California, 1969. 

Marching cadence, Ft Ord 1969

I want to be an airborne ranger
Hup hup hup
I want to go to Viet Nam
Hup hup hup
I want to kill ol' Charlie Cong
Hup hup hup
hup hup hup
I don’t know but I’ve been told
Hup hup hup
The streets of heaven are paved with gold
Hup hup hup
If you get there before I do
Hup hup hup
Tell them I’m a comin' too
Hup hup hup

“double time…harch!”
--By traditional

Teamwork is the military's crucial variable. Early in basic training, the maggots learn to march and run as a collective. Military Oracy enlisted chanting and singing to keep troops interested in the relentlessness of marching and running for miles, day after day for three months, 40 men and a Drill Sergeant moving as one.

We sang call and response songs about Jody, the loverboy back home making time with the girlfriend you left; tales of girlfriends who wear mattresses on their backs, where they make their living; bravado about streets of heaven guarded by the U.S. Infantry. The worst was "I want to be an Airborne Ranger, I want to go to Vietnam, I want to kill old Charlie Cong." No I didn't.

My Drill Sergeant's signature cadence was sung to the tune of "Poison Ivy." SSgt. Smith, a decently rigid human being from the deep South, might have made up the lyric, I didn't hear it from other platoons. "Late at night, while you're sleeping, Charlie Cong comes a'creeping aro-ou-ou-ou-ou-ound, Charlie Cong comes a'creeping around. Vietna-a-a-a-am, Vietnam, late at night, when you're sleeping, Charlie Cong comes a'creeping around..."

Invariably, after a good song, Drill Sgt called the dreaded command, "Double time, harch!" and forty guys would take off running at the same time in the same direction, of a single mind, all headed to war in a few months, for all we knew then.

The night before graduation, Smith drunkenly took me aside and asked in deep sincerity, "Sedano, would you go into combat with me?"

next to of course god america

"next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn's early my
country 'tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?"

He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water
--By e e cummings

We thought Rounds was going to die. Possible meningitis, Doc told us. Oh crap, we thought. The last we saw of Rounds he was laughing and waving goodbye from the stretcher carrying him to the helicopter outside the barracks.

False alarm, we learned, after Rounds wrote us from home. Mike wasn't as fortunate when his jeep ran off the road. His last name started with "S" so we'd been herded together since we landed at Kimpo. Plus, since we were tocayos, we bonded instantly.

We both got orders for the 7th of the 5th Air Defense Artillery Battalion guarding the skies at the DMZ. Mike went to Alpha, I to Bravo, then Hq. We ran into one another a couple times. Laughed about our respective predicaments and that we'd be going home together, too. We had the same DROS date, the day we'd be returning from overseas.

The Army's M-151 Truck, Utility, ¼ ton, 4x4--aka the Jeep--was a killer. Indispensable for traversing the rough backcountry leading to missile sites, on the highway it rode high on the axles, ready to roll over at high speeds.

I was driving a staff car that day when I saw the jeep with Alpha battery insignia. The highway from Chunchon to Seoul followed the curves of the Han river. Mike's jeep, coming north from Camp Red Cloud to the southeast, had been driving fast, too fast to hold onto the pavement at one particularly wicked curve. The vehicle went straight, airborne. It flipped over and landed wheels up on the rocks. Blood spatters colored grey granite boulders. Crumpled bodies in green fatigues lay twisted between the rocks on either side of the jeep's path. We drove on.

Mike's name isn't on the wall--he died just outside of Gapyeong, Korea. But just as surely, the war in Vietnam killed that man, and this Memorial Day is for him, too.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
--By John McCrae

Bobby Ward was a playground bully at Lugonia School. A year older and bigger than I, after a few run-ins I learned to stay away from Bobby Ward. I feared him. Junior year in high school I had a class that included Seniors. This small guy in the next seat, thin like the cross-country runner he'd become, was Bobby Ward. The pomade and duck-tail haircut were gone, along with that attitude. We became good classroom friends and enjoyed discussing world cultures and our futures. I planned to go to college, Bobby planned to join the Army when he graduated in June.

One day in Senior year, word-of-mouth spread across Redlands High School. An alumnus, Bobby Ward, had been killed in Vietnam. "Did you know him?"

I knew Bobby Ward, Class of '62. QEPD.

Steve Payne hit a home run every time at bat in 5th grade. Steve Payne's homers travelled all the way to the street where Kingsbury School ended. When Steve Payne came to the plate, spectators and other players all shouted gleefully, "Move back!" The outfielders would move so far back they were on the infield of the adjacent field. Steve Payne never let his fans down, pounding softballs, arcing them high into the sky, lofting over the outfielders who'd moved back not far enough. They never did.

One day while I was in college at Santa Barbara, Steve Payne was getting killed in Vietnam.

QEPD, Steve Payne, Class of '63.

Coming out of Radio School at Ft. Ord in June 1969, I was a "hold-over," meaning I hung around with the ten kids who'd volunteered for Special Forces and awaited their orders to ship out to Ft. Benning for airborne infantry school. I had turned down an offer to attend Radio-Teletype School in Kentucky, thinking I'd outfoxed the Army and slickied my way into two years in California. ¡Ajua!

It was a foggy day when we holdovers gathered for a foto in front of the Re-Up office, for irony's sake. They were shipping out tomorrow.

"Fighting soldiers from the sky
Fearless men who jump and die
Men who mean just what they say
The brave men of the Green Beret."
--By Barry Sadler

I refuse to look for their names on the Wall. I will not look.

Green Beret volunteers, Ft. Ord 1969

Pershing at the Front

THE General came in a new tin hat
To the shell-torn front where the war was at;
With a faithful Aide at his good right hand
He made his way toward No Man’s Land,
And a tough Top Sergeant there they found,
And a Captain, too, to show them round.

Threading the ditch, their heads bent low,
Toward the lines of the watchful foe
They came through the murk and the powder stench
Till the Sergeant whispered, “Third-line trench!”
And the Captain whispered, “Third-line trench!”
And the Aide repeated, “Third-line trench!”
And Pershing answered- not in French-
“Yes, I see it. Third-line trench.”

Again they marched with wary tread,
Following on where the Sergeant led
Through the wet and the muck as well,
Till they came to another parallel.
They halted there in the mud and drench,
And the Sergeant whispered, “Second-line trench!”
And the Captain whispered, “Second-line trench!”
And the Aide repeated, “Second-line trench!”
And Pershing nodded: “Second-line trench!”

Yet on they went through mire like pitch
Till they came to a fine and spacious ditch
Well camouflaged from planes and Zeps
Where soldiers stood on firing steps
And a Major sat on a wooden bench;
And the Sergeant whispered, “First-line trench!”
And the Captain whispered, “First-line trench!”
And the Aide repeated, “First-line trench!”
And Pershing whispered, “Yes, I see.
How far off is the enemy?”
And the faithful Aide he asked, asked he,
“How far off is the enemy?”
And the Captain breathed in a softer key,
“How far off is the enemy?”

The silence lay in heaps and piles
And the Sergeant whispered, “Just three miles.”
And the Captain whispered, “Just three miles.”
And the Aide repeated, “Just three miles.”
“Just three miles!” the General swore,
“What in the heck are we whispering for?”
And the faithful Aide the message bore,
“What in the heck are we whispering for?”
And the Captain said in a gentle roar,
“What in the heck are we whispering for?”
“Whispering for?” the echo rolled;
And the Sergeant whispered, “I have a cold.”
--By Arthur Guiterman

Mrs. Baccus assigned her Speech classes to memorize "Pershing At the Front" so we could recite it from memory, adding frissons of drama to build up tension to the surprise ending. Macabre humor, Army humor, but I repeat myself.

I wonder how many can sing the first lines of the "Caisson Song"? Artillery--the Field Artillery-- carries its weapons on wheeled conveyances, caissons. Air Defense Artillery, where I served doing radio and telephone communications on the world's highest HAWK site, doesn't employ caissons, ADA uses tractors to carry missiles from the ready stands to the launchers.

I asked my buddies who were missile crewmen about loading the spares during an attack. They laughed that in all likelihood, they would be dead after the first attack. I laughed it off, too.

"First to fire"Air Defenders like to say. Sometimes, air defenders don't get off a shot. When the U.S. invaded Iraq, the first targets were the ADA sites. Take out their radars, they're dead. All of them, up on those mountains.

Fall 1969, Mae Bong HAWK missiles on stands, GI wind-blown hair.

The "Caisson Song" now comprises the official song of the U.S. Army, under the title "The Army Goes Rolling Along."

As a kid, I learned only the first verse and the refrain of the original version, appreciating the sweat of the cannoneer's task but never considering what fodder waited on the other end of that long gun.

“Caisson Song”

Over hill, over dale
As we hit the dusty trail,
And those caissons go rolling along.
In and out, hear them shout,
Counter march and right about,
And those caissons go rolling along.

Then it's hi! hi! hee!
In the field artillery,
Shout out your numbers loud and strong,
For where e'er you go,
You will always know
That those caissons go rolling along.

In the storm, in the night,
Action left or action right
See those caissons go rolling along
Limber front, limber rear,
Prepare to mount your cannoneer
And those caissons go rolling along.

Was it high, was it low,
Where the hell did that one go?
As those caissons go rolling along
Was it left, was it right,
Now we won't get home tonight
And those caissons go rolling along.
--By Edmund L. Gruber

WWII claimed 407,000 dead United States troops.
Ninety-two thousand troops were killed in Korea.
Five hundred eighty-seven thousand GIs died in and around Vietnam. 587,000.
Six thousand eight hundred have died in Bush and Obama's various Iraq and Afghanistan adventures.

Twenty-eight million men and women, however, are Veterans of U.S. military service. That means only about 7 percent of the United States has served in uniform. If you did not serve with anyone who died in one of those wars, or stood in line with me and all the other anonymous uniforms, it's not surprising. Good for you. I'd do it again.

Remember that mocoso, Holden Caulfield? He wore the uniform when he grew up. Holden Caulfield became a warrior, a soldier who went through WWII in Europe then to the Pacific.

from “This Sandwich Has No Mayonnaise” 

Where's my brother? Where's my brother Holden? What is this missing-in-action stuff? I don't believe it. I don't understand it. I don't believe it. The United States Government is a liar. The Governments is lying to me and my family. I never heard such crazy, liar's news.

Why, he came through the war in Europe without a scratch, we all saw him before he shipped out to the Pacific last summer, and he looked fine. Missing.

Missing, missing, missing. Lies! I'm being lied to. He's never been missing before. He's one of the least missing boys in the world. He's here in this truck; he's home in New York; he's at Pentey Preparatory School ("You send us the Boy. We'll mold the man-- All modern fireproof buildings..."); yes, he's at Pentey, he never left school; and he's at Cape Cod, sitting on the porch, biting his fingernails; and he's playing doubles with me, yelling at me to stay back at the baseline when he's at the net. Missing! Is that missing? Why lie about something as important as that? How can the Government do a thing like that? What can they get out of it, telling lies like that?

"Hey, Sarge!" yells the character in the front of the truck. "Let's get this show on the road! Bring on the dames!"
--By J.D. Salinger
(Click for the full story).

Play "Taps" for Holden Caulfield, for all the flesh and blood MIA, KIA, for all the walking wounded in troubled families, for Veterans who can't get an appointment with a VA doctor, for homeless Veterans living in cars or tents nestled under a freeway overpass. Play "Taps."

At midnight every night, a recording of "Taps" played across Camp Page, where I lived in 1970. Lying there night after night, the trumpet notes sent a soldier into private meditation about that song, sinking into the mattress emptying one's mind of anything but the significance of that song. He'd done his duty for another day, time for a satisfied sleep. Getting Short, one less day until DROS.

Come 0530, Sgt. Pinkerton, "Pinkie," comes charging through the barracks shouting, "Crawl on outta there!" And there'd we'd go rolling along, a todo dar until the next night and the loudspeakers played the loneliest sound in the world. Short.

Short and Shorter. S-1 (me), and Personnel crew, Hq 7/5 1970. SP4 Sedano in shades.


Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.
--By Pennsylvania Military College

Click here or title to listen to "Taps"

Por eso estamos como estamos: "The Star-spangled Banner"

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,
’Tis the star-spangled banner - O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto - “In God is our trust,” 
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Soldier’s Creed

I am an American Soldier.

I am a warrior and a member of a team.

I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values.

I will always place the mission first.

I will never accept defeat.

I will never quit.

I will never leave a fallen comrade.

I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.

I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.

I am an expert and I am a professional.

I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.

I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.

I am an American Soldier.