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"
From http://www.music.army.mil/music/buglecalls/taps.asp

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.


Gregg Barrios said...

Mil Gracias, Michael. You need to have this published in an op-ed (short version). I was in the Air Force back in the early days of Vietnam. I was a medic at 19. I enlisted before getting drafted since I was able to choose the branch of service and career field. I didn't want to go kill gente that hadn't done anything to me. So I figured being a medic was saving lives instead of taking them.

Here is the link to my reading "Chale Guerra" my poem about Vietnam that appeared in "Aztlan and Vietnam."


Gregg Barrios

msedano said...

thanks, gregg. "chale guerra" might be in next year's floricanto, a great piece ese.