Friday, October 30, 2009

A Connection to the Vietnam Graffiti Project

The official insignia of the 22nd Infantry regiment.

The reunion I went to a few weeks ago was somewhat disappointing to me as I didn't get to see or meet or shake the hand of anyone that I actually knew and served with in Vietnam. That doesn't mean it was a bad reunion or that it wasn't a good worth while experience. There were many people I met there that I didn't know before. Like the artist I mentioned in an earlier post, Jim Nelson from Kansas. I gave a set of audio CD's I had made along with a DVD to Jim as he showed a genuine interest in the works. He wanted to pay me, but I declined. After all, I had the technical equipment to make the discs and the cost of the blank CDR's and DVDR's was nominal. Jim insisted and sent me some prints of his art work. I received them in the mail recently and I am grateful. They are beautifully done and describe a lasting memory of a young soldiers life, fighting in a war, in a land far far away. Jim also does other work and has painted many book covers and portraits over the years.

I also saw a couple of books that were for sale on the vending tables. There were baseball caps, license plate holders, T-shirts, polo shirts and button down denim shirts, all with the 22nd Infantry Society emblem printed or embroidered. Pins and patches for sale, and displays showing pictures and the written word, telling stories from the perspective of the author, who was another Veteran like myself. I believe someone had a scrapbook of pictures on the table. I put my pictures on a DVD along with audio that was sent to me ten years ago by a fellow I served with in 1969.

One of the books that was there was something called The Vietnam Graffiti Project. (This site is from Texas Tech and has pictures) These pictures were of the graffiti the soldiers scrawled on the canvas bedding while traveling to Vietnam on a troop ship. They were sent out of Fort Lewis Washington, near Seattle, where the reunion was held. The first members of the 22nd Infantry were sent over by boat. These guys are what we refer to as "The Originals". The original soldiers sent to Vietnam to fight from our unit, my unit.

I flew over. I was a replacement. These Warriors went over as a fighting infantry unit on a boat. The passage took about three weeks. There wasn't much to do aboard a troop ship carrying men to war. The bunks were close to one another in all directions. When the guy above you climbed into his bunk, it was literally a few inches above your face. Seems that much of the idle time was spent in the bunk and the soldiers wrote messages, thoughts, sayings, prose and drew pictures on the canvas undersides of these beds.

Someone found the ship, a hulk named The USNS Nelson M. Walker in a ghost ship yard in Virginia. The canvas remnants were saved and the graffiti then preserved in actual physical pieces and in the pages of this great book. Can be purchased at Amazon

This Sunday, November First, CBS Nightly News will present a story about the Walker and its graffiti. The story was filmed and produced at the reunion I attended. You can get More Information and I also posted a short article I found about The Vietnam Graffiti Project and I'll post it here:

Albemarle historian behind Vietnam Graffiti Project
Published: July 18, 2009

The typical voyage from America to combat zones in Vietnam took 18 to 21 days. Confined to a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with sleeping quarters so tight troops had little to no room to move leaves plenty of hours to occupy the mind.
How that time was spent by soldiers is the focus of the Vietnam Graffiti Project, an endeavor started 12 years ago in Keswick in Albemarle County by Art and Lee Beltrone.
"These stories, to us, are very, very important because before long, they're going to be lost," said Art Beltrone, a military historian.
The project began in 1997 when Beltrone found graffiti-inscribed berthing unit canvases from the former troop ship USNS Gen. Nelson M. Walker. At the time, the vessel was part of the Ghost Fleet in Virginia's lower James River.
Some of those canvases are part of the exhibition "Marking Time: Voyage to Vietnam," currently on display at the Virginia Historical Society as part of the museum's look at the Vietnam War era.
Many soldiers left their marks behind on those canvas hammocks where they slept, stacked four high so that "once you got in your cot . . . you had to lay flat on your back because the other guy was coming down and he was inches from your face," said William Painter of Goochland County, who rode the Nelson for his second tour of duty in Vietnam.
Beltrone wants to capture the personal stories of those transported by ship, not only in wartime but also in peacetime. The Vietnam War signaled an end to transportation by troop ships in America, a tradition that dated to the War of 1812, the historian said.
He has recorded experiences from more than 100 soldiers, obtaining audio files of the humorous, stressful or unique experiences aboard the ships. Since the exhibit opened at the historical society last month, he has received names of dozens of soldiers who want to share their stories.
He hopes to get more soldiers today during the Family Day Open House at the historical society on the Boulevard. As people examine the graffiti-lined canvases on the wall, they may get to hear first-hand what it was like sailing to Vietnam aboard a troop ship.
Vietnam veteran Calvin "Sandy" Humphrey of Richmond said he is going to be at the historical society today "to lend a face to the experience, as opposed to just people looking at pictures, reading exhibits."
Humphrey spent nearly 30 days aboard the USNS Gen. W.H. Gordon to make the trip from San Diego to offload in Da Nang, Vietnam. Like Painter, Humphrey didn't leave behind graffiti during his 30-day voyage. He did, however, mail a letter to his parents, chronicling aspects of his voyage.
"I think it's great to read soldiers' personal accounts or, more specifically, their letters home, to know what's going on in their lives -- what they might have been thinking," Humphrey said. "I think this falls right in line with that."
Both veterans said days on ship were filled with boredom, whiling away the hours. In port, soldiers weren't allowed off, unless it was for physical training on the dock. Time was filled by conversation or reading books. The soldiers even read the graffiti left by previous troops.
It was inevitable during those long hours on the ocean that thoughts wandered to the future and whether they would survive to return to the U.S. Humphrey wrote in his letter to family of watching the Golden Gate Bridge slip into the horizon and thinking then "if I, or we, would return."
"In a different sort of way, I wonder if the me that left came back. Was the person that left the same person that came back?" Humphrey said this week.
More than 40 years later, Beltrone is aiming to capture these heart-wrenching stories of a soldier's life on the way to war, with nothing but a vast, somewhat turbulent sea separating them from home.
"What makes it so poignant, I guess, is we were never welcomed home," Painter said. "I never told anybody but my immediate family that I'd been to Vietnam. It was . . . like you weren't welcome home; you were kind of shunned if you spoke it. It was hard to do that, after having spent two years in Vietnam."

Peace to all and a Happy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pictures and My Friend Mel

Northern Wisconsin pine tree perspective.

Motivated and inspired by my friend Mel who writes "Melsdream", I looked through just a few of the thousands of pictures I have on any one of three computers that are up and running at my home, and came up with some photos that I really like. These are all of nature and I have taken them on digital equipment. There are so many more thousands in a large plastic tote box. We've gotten as far as categorizing them by place and ages of the kids, but by no means have them all labeled and in any order.

Taking photos is such an art, and to do it right, they must be labeled and the goings on that are taking place when the photo was taken should be written down. I fail at this. I can honestly say, I like these photos, but I was there, taking the pictures. They are not to be considered professional or even my best effort. I do get lucky from time to time and frame a photograph just right with the available light, but that cultural phenomenon doesn't happen very often. For example, as I was looking through pictures for the choices shown in this post, I thought to myself, "Now where was this one taken? And when was that?" Note to self: "From now on, label each and every photograph you take right when you import them from the camera to the computer from now on, okay?"

Bald eagle, watching my movements

Here are some shots. Mel just posts a photo. Not much of a caption on them. I think she just lets the viewer look at it or makes a little suggestion as to what it might mean to her, or what she sees in it. Of course viewers may see other things, or the view reminds them of another place or experience. It does me. I will look at some of the pictures she has posted recently, of beautiful Fall scenes in what looks like to me, the midwestern rural country, and be reminded of Fall. I'll look out my window and see similar sights, but remember that I saw them two weeks ago, as the winds and rains have changed the view from golden sunlit leaves clinging to trees, to barren branches in black and white against a cold gray sky and mottled dark brown leaves making a carpet over the greenish grass.

I might also mention, Mel also has Fairy visitors that will remark about life and its struggles and joys. As I sometimes struggle through an episode of this time continuum called life. Gentle but poignant reminders of what we might need to have some peace in our hearts. "Fairy Thought for the Day" and "Things I Like" are just but a couple of headings she will use. The ideas are pure, sweet and simple and remind us not to take ourselves too seriously. Her posts have helped me along this path as I fight my demons, and I am grateful. Need an inspiriation from time to time? Then check it out. In the meantime, I hope you like the photographs I've chosen to display.

I'll be busy the next few days, getting ready for our Days of the Dead celebration which will take place on Sunday.

Peace to all.

Buffalo getting ready for roundup.

Buffalo stampede during October roundup, Custer State Park, South Dakota.

Pacific driftwood along the Northern California coast.

Early Spring mountain stream, Central Idaho

Horses on a Tennessee hillside in November

More leaves

Fall leaves sitting on water.

Oak leaf on a sandy Lake Superior beach.

Late Fall sky in Northern Wisconsin

Friday, October 23, 2009

Los Dios de Los Muertos, 2009

This beautiful quilt, given to us by a good friend a couple of years ago, holds a place of honor at our celebration.

I’m getting pretty darn excited. The Days of the Dead are quickly approaching. They take place on November first and second every year. We celebrate by having an open house at our place. Everyone who wants to be there is invited, but we do make an invitation and send them out to friends. Many of the people I invite can’t make it, but I tell them about it anyway. Maybe I’ll get a surprise some year and someone I thought would never make the journey will show up.

A close up showing pictures of our loved ones, the "dead bread" and some mementos of what they liked when they were with us. (Someone must have loved Mountain Dew)

I can see it now. I invite a blog friend that I have been in contact via e-mail and blogging for the past four years and he/she shows up:

“Hello, can I help you?”, says I as I open the door after the loud knocking.

Yeah, it’s me. I’m here for the Los Dios de Los Muertos party!”, Says the surprise guest.

“Well, who the hell are you?”, I ask.

“I’m (put your name here), you invited me to come”

That scene, followed by laughter and hugs, then each of us telling the other how they don’t look anything like their avatar and their hair is much grayer than thought, (and fatter too, but we’d never say that to each other's faces).

Here are some of the spirit guests that might show up. As you can see, they are dressed up and ready to party!

Anyway, it’s coming up November 1st, 2009. It’s a Sunday this year. In the past, folks asked us to have the party on a Friday or Saturday night. Well, if November 1st didn’t fall on a Friday or Saturday night, we couldn’t do it. It is traditionally the first and that’s when we host it. We usually start in the evening, after dark, but this year, we will start in the mid afternoon so more friends can make it. Plenty of space if you need a place to stay. I'm making Italian food this year. Traditional Mostaccioli with meatballs and sausage. I'm baking cookies too. Folks bring things and there is always plenty of food.

Here's your invitation right here:

Click on it to enlarge.

There are many thoughts and practices about The Days of the Dead, but most definitions explain it as a time when the spirits of those we love and have lost might have a chance to pass through the realms and visit us. In some places, the people gather and spend the night in the cemetery, then return home in the morning and start the celebration by sharing food and fun all day. Hence the “Days” of the dead. First day in the cemetery, second day at home partying.

People gathering and having fun around the food.

Another table full of food. Most people bring a dish to pass.

We celebrate right from the get go with food and fun. People are never asked to leave and if it goes into a second day, well that’s okay. As far as we know, the visiting spirits might hang around all night anyway.

I love this picture of the decorations and the lights taken from outside when we lived in Ashland.

Here are a couple of sights that explain the tradition. The first site has many pictures of scenes from throughout Mexico. You can see from the pictures of our past celebrations they are similar.

This second site is informational and includes a recipe for Pan Muerto, or Dead Bread. It is said the spirits need certain things to help them on their journey. Bread and water to nourish for sure. The bread is made in special shapes. We buy a loaf or two of Pan Muerto from a local Mexican panaderia, (bakery)

We lost our oldest daughter over 18 years ago. She was involved in a car accident. While foundering around trying to make sense of it all in November of 1991, six months after the event, we stumbled upon the display of Days of the Dead culture in old Los Angeles while we visited there. The idea gave us inspiration to do the same at our own home and remember our dearly departed daughter. It has caught on and we celebrate every year.

The Ofrenda, (alter), in 2006.

The first year, we had a shoe box size alter sitting on an end table. As you can see in some of the pictures, the Ofrenda, as the alter is called, has grown to be a quite large and colorful affair. Many blogger friends have sent me pictures of loved ones to put out on our alter. If they were hung there once, they will hang there forever, or until the owner asks for them to be removed.

Ofrenda in 2007

If you can’t make it, I understand. If you want a loved one included at our place, send me a picture with a name, (e-mail okay as I can print one), and we’ll include it. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. The idea of it all means a lot to me. It has kept the spirit of my daughter alive in more than the usual way for us. We remember our daughter all the time, but this special celebration is like having all the Christmases and birthday parties she's missed since she left this world. For all we know, she’s in the next room enjoying herself and hasn’t left us at all.

Peace to everyone.

This is an alter of ours from 2001.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is there, in spirit

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It's a Small World After All

It’s a small world. This is a saying that is repeated by so many, and so often. What makes the world small? Having one of those synchronicity events in your life? And some are more smaller than others. If the distance or the time, or even the time and distance, are substantial, then the small world event is more than just a small world event. How many times have you said, or heard someone else say, “Oh, that gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.”?

In my last post, the one about my reunion in Seattle, I received a comment that told of an amazing small world story, (hereto referred to as a SWS), about a soldier from WWII who, many years later, was in a hospital and some soldiers that served with him long ago found him by the purest chance of hearing someone else say his name in their presence.

I’ve had many of these experiences. I’m never surprised anymore that they happen, but I am surprised at what happens. Like the time the eagle sat in the tree in front of the Cabinette at the same time I was being treated by a spiritual healer with the wing of an eagle. Or the recent picture I saw of a Facebook friend with her new boyfriend, a guy I knew from years ago, but didn’t know she knew him, let alone start going out with him. Small world! I mean SWS!

The other words used to describe these phenomena are coincidence or synchronicity. I’m sure you’ve also heard the response to, “Isn’t that a coincidence?” as “There are no coincidences.” Or someone starts speaking the melody of the Twilight Zone theme song. I’m not sure that coincidence isn’t the right word when things happen, after all, it can happen, coincidence that is. I’m not sure of the exact Webster’s definition, but I’d say that when someone slams into your bumper when you come to a sudden stop, that it is a coincidence that it happens in some kind of respect. I think so.

Back in 1972, I worked at a sheet metal products manufacturing plant as a truck driver. I remember waiting around while the truck was being loaded. I’d wander around the plant and make my way to the section where the machinists were making parts to keep the machines running. One guy, a lanky chain smoking guy named Ike, would always have a few words for me. We talked all the time. That section of the facility was a great hideout. It was ten years later, long after my friend Hal moved to California and was back for a visit that I met him at his friend’s house. His friend was named Ike. I remember mentioning that I used to work with a guy named Ike and the conversation came around to the fact that I worked with my friend’s best friend’s dad. SWS. A lot of years passed by, but the distance wasn’t so far as we all lived in the same suburban region of Chicago.

I found out about a wonderfully coincidental synchronistic Twilight Zone SWS experience over this past weekend, though, and the miles and time are astronomical. I want to tell you about it. I went to the Chicago area to visit my Mom and sister. We sat and talked at the dining room table in the morning over coffee as we do often. My sister told me that she had been to her 50th high school reunion. I’m sure the conversation started as I was telling her about attending the reunion I went to in Seattle.

Well, it seems that some of the people my sister went to school with have little brothers and sisters, just like my big sister has. And some of these kids went to school with me. Surely not a surprise or even a real tight SWS to hear about my sister talking with the sister of a friend I just got in contact with after 40 years. But there was another name mentioned, and this is the really seriously unbelievable connection story here.

Seems there is a gal my sister went to school with named Mary Lupo. We lived in a stronghold of ethnic Italian folks. So many had Italian surnames. Never gave the name Lupo a second thought. Except for this morsel of trivial pursuit.

When my Grand parents on my Mother’s side of the family came to America from a town in Sicily, about 25 miles East of Palermo, called Termini Imerese, my Grand mother was very young, which was common in those days around the turn of the nineteenth to twentieth century. By very young I’m talkin’ like 17-18 years old. She got homesick, and wanted to go back to Italy to visit her mother. My Grand father, Giuseppe Caruso, accommodated her and sent her back home for a visit.

When she returned to the USA, she traveled with another family. When entering through Ellis Island, a common port of immigration to the United States in 1916 thereabouts, she was with this other family and considered a member of said family. Since she was young, the authorities assumed she was one of the offspring of this family. Are you guessing what their surname is? Well, you are right if you said Lupo.

Now my sister asks Mary Lupo where in Italy her Grand parents are from and of course, it is Termini Imerese. She asks her when they immigrated to the new world, and the year was the same as the Ellis Island information available. And even though Lupo is sort of a common name in the old country, it was enough of a connection to assume that her friend from high school, which graduated in 1959, was the Grand child of the family that escorted Mary Bova, her Grand mother, back to the USA after a visit with her Mother in Italy sometime before 1920. And to find out 50 years after high school is amazing!

Now that’s a small world. I know, you may say I didn’t prove it. That’s okay. No proof needed. It’s the possibility and probability of it that stands alone in my mind. The name is the same, the town is the same, the era is the same, mode of travel, ages, area where they came from and where they moved to. Enough to think, “How about that!”

Tell me your stories. I know there are some that are even more weird than this one, even less of a chance and can be considered Twilight Zonish or even supernatural and driven by the hand of the almighty. It used to surprise me when this happened, but I think we really are all related at some level. I’m always finding out we have things in common.

Peace to all

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Triple Deuce Reunion, Seattle, 2009

Clouds over the Cascades in Washington State.

For those keeping up with the happenings of the last week, I’ve returned from my trip to Seattle. I went there for the annual reunion of the 22nd Infantry Regiment Society, of which I am a member. This regiment is the unit I served with when I was in the American war in Vietnam in 1969. The Triple Deuce Vietnam is the designation for the group of people who were in Vietnam, where the regiment society as a whole is everyone who ever served with the 22nd through all time. So, there were some old folks there from WW II and some young folks from Iraq and Afghanistan. A quick note: I did add the link to the Triple Deuce site, but it has been erratic and sometimes does not work. Sorry for any inconvenience.

The Vietnam Veterans there were numerous and out numbered the rest. All in all, I believe there were over 200 attendees which included the Veterans themselves and their spouses. My wife did not go to this reunion with me, but many did have their wives with them. There were no women Veterans attending the affair, although I believe there might be a few women members.

After the train trip from Minneapolis, I arrived on Thursday and rented a car. I drove around Seattle and found a good little 50’s style diner for some lunch. After eyeballing where the ferry terminal was and a little sightseeing from the drivers seat, I went South of the city towards the airport and settled in at the Marriott where the reunion festivities were to take place for the next few days.

I checked in and found great accommodations. I went to the hospitality room and found many people gathered around talking. There were snacks and beverages of all kinds available. I registered and got my name tag and took a seat. I didn’t recognize anyone either by their face or their name. In fact, the entire weekend went by and not one of the people who were in Vietnam when I served there showed up.

I was in Company B. There were some “B” guys there, but they had served before I got to Vietnam in February of 1969. I sat with them, for the most part, and we talked about places where we all had been, but no one knew any of the names of people I mentioned. I sat around for quite a while Thursday, Friday and Saturday in that hospitality room and listened. I met a few other guys here and there, all from the Vietnam era, and talked a little about when I was there. Scheduled dinners were on the agenda for Friday and Saturday evenings, with the Saturday dinner seeing most guys dress up a bit with suits and ties. I wore a clean button down shirt that needed some ironing. I did hang it up in the hotel room and hoped the wrinkles wouldn't be so bad. No one noticed at all, to my knowledge.

The B company guys were great hosts and invited me to have dinner on Friday as well as Saturday with them. There was but one other guy who came there without his wife besides me in the B company group. As you can see, there isn’t much to say and this account is quite a bore to read. That’s because the whole affair was a bore to me. Not connecting with anyone I served with was a huge disappointment, but I stayed and listened and watched and found out that this society is not anything I need be associated with in the future.

At first, I had found the organization on line while looking for information about the unit in Vietnam. I did put my name on the locator and pay the yearly dues as a member. I did get in contact with many guys I did serve with through the group. Some of them, I still E-mail and/or talk with on the phone occasionally, but none of the people I had connected with came to this reunion and many never became members. The organization finds and contacts these guys in hopes they will join the ranks of the 22nd Infantry Regiment Society. Most don’t join, but they allow themselves to be found by the people who work very hard at doing so.

All in all, I can see where I would have enjoyed myself if I had met up with any of the actual people I was in Vietnam with, but since I didn’t, It was not a great experience for me. I learned that if I wanted to have this happen, it would be up to me to contact those that I do already know and ask them to join the society and come to the next reunion which is 18 months away in April of 2011 in Atlanta. I decided that I wouldn’t talk to my friends about joining, but rather just talk to them.

I have met a few of the guys I personally knew and served with outside of any reunion gathering in the past. Those times were great! At this reunion, I came away with the personal feeling that the majority of the members who came look at war completely different than I do. I cannot embellish the ugliest part of my life on this planet and make it good for any reason. The war talk, attitude, dress and politics of the attendees, from what I saw and heard, will keep me from attending another reunion and will probably result in me not renewing my membership in the society.

There were a couple of high points, so the whole affair was not a bad experience. One is that I did meet one man, the guy who does the website for the Triple Deuce Vietnam. He is also a Facebook friend of mine. On his Facebook profile, he listed himself as a pacifist. When I met him, I mentioned that to him and we sat quite a while aside and by ourselves and spoke to our respective one man choir about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other social problems that could be solved with the billions of dollars we spend on war. His name is Mario. We connected largely because I have submitted articles to the quarterly newsletter the Triple Deuce puts out and he has seen my name. Other than Mario, I saw no outward sign of anyone who might be a peace activist.

The other good thing to come of this for me was the random pairing of me with a fellow named Jim Nelson as a room mate. Jim wanted to save a few bucks and share a room and so did I. I had never met Jim before. Turns out that Jim is an artist of some renown. Before I left for this trip, I took some pictures, audio and video and made some CD’s and a DVR to share with anyone interested. Jim got wind of this and wanted to listen to the CD’s and see the DVD. I had the laptop with me, so I played them in our room. Jim enjoyed them so much, I gave him a set of the recordings. He said he would send me some prints of his work in return as I refused any money. I didn’t make the recordings to sell, but rather to share. Here’s Jim’s website. Take a look at his gallery and the paintings he did of wartime in Vietnam in the late 1960’s. I've posted a couple in this article.

A painting by my randomly selected room mate, Jim Nelson. It is entitled "Eagle Fight".

Jim is a great guy and a damn good artist. He also has done artwork for many book covers. I’m looking forward to getting some prints from him. Jim appreciated my efforts with the recordings and was a gracious room mate. He is from Kansas.

I did receive an award. Everyone does the first time they attend one of these Regiment Society reunions which are held every eighteen months. It is The Order of the Red Ant. Seems that when the first troops from the Triple Deuce were sent to Vietnam by boat in 1967, they encountered many red fire ants in the area where they were deployed.

The Order of the Red Ant

Story after story emerged and the guys decided that if you were there, you had a run-in with these biting nuisances. To be honest, I don't remember the red ants. I do remember scorpions and have a story or two about them. To add a little excitement to the reunion, all newcomers are to tell a red ant story. They then receive the award. A Proclamation and a medal depicting the Order of the Red Ant.

When I was asked to tell my story, I mentioned the red marks and scars I have on my ass from jungle rot and ringworm. The group accepted that as just as bad as any red ant encounter.

I’ll leave it at that and tell you about my experience on Amtrak another time. The trip there was one experience and the trip back completely different. I’ll explain in another story. I took some pictures while on the train. I didn’t take any at the reunion. They would be nothing but people smiling for the camera, people I did not know. I also had one full day with the rental car from Sunday to Monday. I took a ferry across Puget Sound to the Olympic Peninsula and went back to a place I hadn’t been to in a long while, Port Angeles.

In the meantime, I’m home for a couple of days and leaving for Chicago on Friday to visit my Mom. I’ll return home Sunday evening.

Peace to all.

This painting, done by Jim Nelson, is of Battalion Chaplain Toban, who was in attendance at the reunion. Chaplain Toban was much liked by the soldiers, shown giving communion at the battle field.

Monday, October 5, 2009

California Dreamin', Reconnection With an Old Roadtrip.

Another beautiful sunrise.

I wasn’t always able to travel. I did have to work regularly to support a family. I helped my wife raise three daughters. We had a couple of dogs and cats and we built our own solar heated house in the early 1980’s.

In those days, there was no traveling. Only the trip to Chicago to my Father’s funeral in 1983. That trip was sponsored by an older man who was a friend and neighbor. He gave me some cash in folded bills and let me use his late model car to drive my family down to Chicago, from East Central Minnesota, to be with my Brother, Sister and Mother.

Most folks know that you can’t have this life of a vagabond, being on the road, while also being a family man. I did have many jobs as a truck driver over the road. It paid good wages and that is what was needed to support the family. When I could, I’d get off the road to be closer to home, but invariably got back into the cab of a semi when we needed to make a better paycheck. Traveling for money is a lot different than living the life of a traveler.

Here's a picture of a restored B Model Mack. I cut my truck drivin' teeth on one of these, a 1946 B Model.

It was in early 1990’s that I got a job that afforded me a block of time off of work while the paycheck still came in. I was working at a YMCA camp in extreme Northern Minnesota on the Canadian border. The camp was on a lake, and the lake had to follow natures guidance and freeze and thaw each year. Since it was impossible to cross a freezing or thawing lake with a boat on the water or on foot over the ice, I was just given April and November off.

I worked there as the camp cook in summer, and did caretaking duties the rest of the year. The first year I worked there, 1991, was a great experience. And now, here we were, November, off of work and a little money in our pockets.

I drove a 1978 Chevy sedan in those days. We took the kids out of school and loaded up the family car. We headed Southwest and left the Northshore of Lake Superior buried in 42 inches of snow. We drove all night, and after a short nap in the middle of the night while we sat in the car in a rest area on the I-35, we pulled in to Wichita, Kansas in time for breakfast at a diner I spotted on old US Highway 54. In the old days, US Highway 54 was a cut off shortcut for the trip West on US 66. Instead of going through Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle, US 54 went West at Witchita, KS and rejoined US 66 at Tucumcari, NM.

You got a plan to motor West? Try Route 66.

In Dodge City, Kansas, we went to a self serve car wash and sprayed the overcast of salt off the Chevy. The windows were rolled down part way by the time we hit Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our arms getting tanned near Phoenix, Arizona and we swam in the ocean in Los Angeles.

We ate Mexican food and drove through the Navajo and Hopi Nations. Grand Canyon welcomed us and we drove through and toured Hoover Dam. I showed the obnoxious lights and glitter of Las Vegas to the children. When we arrived in L.A., the weather was great. Still summery in early November. We visited some friends for a couple of days, then traveled North to San Francisco.

From L to R, Daughters Jayne and Alyssa and Mrs. Spadoman in 1991 at Grand Canyon.

The City by the Bay was beautiful as well. We walked over the Golden Gate Bridge and went to Fisherman’s Wharf and the Embarcadero. My eyes as wide as the children's. We ate way too much sourdough bread.

Hoover Dam, a highlight of the 1991 West Coast trip.

We saw more of the ocean and the giant redwood trees and visited more friends in Eureka, California, and although we were broke by then, we managed to get home via a scenic route through the Bitterroot mountains in Idaho through Clearwater National Forest with a short time in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

My daughters with good friend Hal in the Redwoods, 1991.

We saw wild elk and deer and buffalo, eagles and hawks flying, birds and animals strange to us midwesterners. Those racoons and skunks seen dead on the road from the untimely meeting with the tire of an Oldsmobile doing 75 were said to be taking a nap at the center or side of the road.

Then 13 and 15 year old daughters swimming in the ocean. This year, we have pictures of our Grand children following suit.

By that time in our life, we traveled with the remaining two younger daughters. They were 13 and 14 respectively. I say remaining because our oldest daughter was lost to this world earlier that same year. We simply took the kids out of school and told the teachers that we were going on a trip across the country.

US Highway 101 at Big Sur on the California coast, 1991.

The school made a little fuss, but the wiser of the staff knew this was going to be more than time off. An educational process would take place by actually seeing things that most kids just read about in books. The family bonding that took place was worth far more than a few weeks of public education. After the trip, my youngest daughter told me her highlight was Hoover Dam. She has gone back a couple of times to see it again in adulthood.

The girls drove the Chevy on old Route 66 in the desert of Arizona. The younger was cautious and sensible, the older seemed to like to put her foot down hard on the accelerator.

Kids got to drive on old Historic US Route 66 in our "vintage" '78 Chevy.

Los Angeles provided teachings about Los Dios de los Muertos, or, Days of the Dead. A Mexican and South American celebration, on November 1st and 2nd, where it is said that the spirits of the dearly departed come to visit those of us remaining on the Earth. The displays of the event were still up in old L.A. when we went there to visit.

These displays, alters, are erected and items reminding the living of their departed are placed on them. These items, or offrendas, are things the departed one may have liked. We put up an alter each year and throw a huge party. It beats going to the cemetery and crying. The tears are still there, but not so much when friends are together and memories are sweet. We still celebrate “Los Dios” in our home each year. It is our favorite holiday. We look forward to sharing the fun, laughter and community with our friends and the friendly spirits that visit. We learned about it on this fabulous trip.

Our Los Dios de Los Muertos , (Days of the Dead), alter, 2006 when we lived in Ashland, WI.

Look for the official notice of this years Los Dios de Los Muertos celebration. I’ll post an invitation and tell some stories right here in the Round Circle as soon as I return from Seattle on October 14th.

On the road, we ate sandwiches and cooked a little on a single burner stove. We camped a lot on the side of the road. Motels were there, but our budget didn’t allow for constant luxury. A shower, or a swim, every few days was good enough. McDonald’s and like were out of the question as the grocery store allowed a better diet on fewer dollars.

We tried to see everything. Disneyland was a disappointment, no Mickey there that day, and it rained besides. Rodeo Drive, which had no meaning to our lifestyle, was gawked at. We missed a few things but have been back since to see those we missed and revisit the places we fell in love with. Most of the natural things intrigued us, and as I look back and remember that fact, I am proud of what we held as priorities.

I don’t get to travel with the girls much now. The older has four children. There is no vehicle big enough to carry us all any distance. The younger is busy with life and career. I don’t get to travel much at all anymore as we can’t afford it anyway with the prices of gas food and lodging.

When I quit working for the camp. I moved back to Duluth, then eventually, to Saint Paul, Minnesota. I started working in the movie business, driving truck and operating equipment fulfilling duties with regards to motion picture production.

A Wintertime photo of beautiful YMCA Camp Menogyn in Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

The work was very intense. Long hours every day for six days a week. Each movie shoot varied in length, but most were 8-10 weeks. I’d catch up on sleep and laundry and get back to it on Monday. When it was over, I had a pocket full of money and time off, usually, before the next movie started.

That’s when I really was able to travel. That time between movie shoots. A better and newer vehicle and a little extra cash to boot. I made many trips during that stretch and got to go back and check some places out that I passed through on trucking journeys.

A heart problem and subsequent surgery in 2003, my third such in 18 years, slowed me down a bit, but after a long recovery period, I was able to travel some again. I was disabled from the onslaught of heart disease and diabetes and given a disability. All that meant to me was a modicum of income and time off to travel. Early retirement so to speak, and I knew what I wanted to do if I ever retired.

I realize that this article isn’t about the trying times that face each of us every day in regards o the current world situation. It is my badly needed break from it all. The writing about memories past is paramount in recovery. So instead, I gave you a snapshot of how I have lived my life. I am still very much aware of the turmoil we have on our hands with war being the first and foremost on the list of things that I find hard to endure.

Talk about being hard to travel, it’s impossible now. No amount of fixed income money will allow it and it isn’t prudent to be so wasteful with resources. Obligations that I didn’t take the time to make in the past are staring me in the face today. The idea of being a Grandparent has weight, the Peace Vigil held weekly in the town where I live is a commitment, and there are things to do everyday in this fight to “live” right up until we die.

I added to that the idea that maybe I have something to share that may be of help to others. This is not to brag or put up a shingle, but rather admit to myself my mistakes and teachings and share them with others when I feel so compelled.

Maybe I’m not smelling the roses as they say, or eating enough ice cream. In other words, I might seem to be enjoying life as much as I did before when I was footloose and fancy free and traversing the continent on four wheels ala William Least Heat Moon or as John Steinbeck had done before me in Blue Highways and Travels With Charley respectively..

Some folks comment about the interesting life I have lead because I got to travel and live out a few dream scenarios. Now you know the rest of the story. I’d trade the heart attacks, my lost daughter and the horrors of Vietnam for a home life any day. And I’d sure wish I could forget the current war and the lack of any peace around the globe. The daily bombardment of news about so many atrocities has me reeling some days. That’s when I go back and remember the roads I have traveled and recharge. Pinch me and wake me up, Okay?

Peace to All.

Authors Note:

This was written and posted long ago on my Round Circle blog. Since then, not much has changed, although recently, in the Summer of 2009, I took my Grandchildren on the same trip to many of the same places and some others that we didn’t get to the first time. 6670 miles and 22 days on the road. Look HERE and compare the pictures from 1991 and 2009 trips.

By the way, all these pictures were taken by yours truly on that trip in 1991, or at home, except for the one of Hoover Dam.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Only the Good Friday, October 2, 2009

Sunrise on the highway.

Some Good things in the world:

I know there are people that want peace and an end to all war.

I am confident that there are people who help others through hard times and are "Good" friends.

There are generous people that donate food to food shelves to feed those less fortunate.

People pray and send "Good" Karma to others on a regular basis.

I realize that those that don't want the war to end might have a reason for it and are not bad people, but "Good" people with a different opinion than mine. ( Although I can't for the life of me see why anyone would want to perpetuate war).

Some Good things in my own life:

I am happy today. (One Day at a Time)

We are well fed. (One Meal at a Time, and some snacks)

There are those in my world that love me. (Stand up and be counted!)

I know I am capable of forgiveness and love.

The family prospers emotionally because of this unconditional love we have and show to each other.

I'm going to a reunion next week. I'm taking the Amtrak to Seattle. Riding the Empire Builder from Minneapolis, MN. I'll leave Tuesday night and arrive Thursday morning. The reunion is at a big hotel in Seattle. It will last until Sunday the 11th of October. I'll spend an extra night, but not at the fancy hotel. I plan on taking the ferry across to the peninsula and spend the night in Port Angeles, a place I've been to before but have not visited in a while. I'll get a Mom and Pop motel and return to Seattle Monday to catch the train around 4:00 p.m.

I'll get back home on Wednesday morning, the 14th of October. I'm bringing the laptop and a camera. I'll try to take more pictures. Usually, I am so engrossed in the world around me and living life that I don't use the camera enough. I'll try to photograph life around me. It is something I want to attempt for no other reason than I find it so interesting to see photographs on other peoples wonderful blogs and I want some too!

The reunion is of the unit I was with in Vietnam in 1969. A forty year reunion of my Army unit. I have been busy making photo CD's and DVD's of things I have from Nam. I'll share what I have with others. I'm not sure if I will see anyone I remember or if anyone will remember me, but I am looking forward to the experience.

I joined the 22nd Infantry Regiment Society some years ago and have been in e-mail and phone contact with a few people. Some knew me, some I knew. Some served at the same time and in the same place as me. I am ready for this journey. Up until now, I wasn't ready for this undertaking. On the path of healing, I am ready to partake. I have enough confidence in myself that I know I can handle the tears and sorrow. I may face the sorrow for the first time. I'm aware of that and accept it.

Spadoman sometime in 1969, Republic of Vietnam.

There is an off shoot of the Society called Triple Deuce Vietnam. The 22nd Infantry Regiment had a Battalion in it called the 2nd Battalion. So, the unit designation was the 2nd of the 22nd, or, Triple Deuce. Three Twos. I was in Company B. B 2/22. All part of the 25th Infantry Division. Incidentally, Oliver Stone, in the movie "Platoon", was showing us Co B 2/27, 25th Division. A unit I am familiar with. I was there all of 1969, same time the movie was set. The highest casualties of the American war in Vietnam were in 1969.

Spadoman in 2009 at Lake St. Croix with Zeke, his new companion.

Anyway, wish me luck. I hope it goes okay. I'm a little anxious about it. That's why I'm taking the train and renting a car when I get there. The train will get me there quickly, but not too quickly. Traveling to the event will be a journey and journeys take some time. The ride home will give me time to write and reflect and debrief from it all. The car will be used in the event I have to escape from it. Always a fail safe for me, part of my own landscape, and I accept that too.

Fall is here. I have read many a blog post where folks are welcoming the Fall and love the sights, sounds, scents. tastes and textures. I love this time of year as well. I have been "Cooking up a storm" and taking some pictures of my creations. I'm getting ready to start posting recipes once in a while. I love to cook, especially when the weather outside is getting cool. I wonder how folks that live in milder climates do it. I sure like the change of seasons. To each his or her own and so be it and all that. Looking forward to sharing recipes, with those that are interested, in the near future and that will be "Good" too!

So, It's all "Good". It's a Good Friday. If yours is not, I send all I can to make it so. Prayers to those that suffer. Prayers for courage and prayers for peace in your heart today and every day, for you and all you hold dear.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Couple of Trips to the VA Medical Center

I thought the Eagle photo was appropriate for a post about the VA. Besides, it's a nice pic.

So, I had some appointments at the VA recently. In the past, I have had some problems and I have also had some great treatment with no problems. This past week, I had to see the dentist and someone in the mental health department. I must tell you, the meeting with the mental health professional went great. I am involved with a PTSD support group with eight other Vietnam Veterans. The facilitator wants to see each participant one-on-one every other month or so. This appointment was my bimonthly meeting. Incidentally, the issue of health care is important to me. I have health care through the VA and I am glad I do. More on this issue in another post.

I went to an appointment in the mental health department at the VA the other day, for this bimonthly meeting. The doctor's name is Thad and he asks that we call him by his first name and not Doctor or Mister. He is younger than the Vietnam Vets that are in the group. He sits quietly by and lets us talk and bounce things back and forth off of each other. The group is very helpful. For me, it mostly fills the gap of structure in my life. I have learned that I do better mentally with some structure.

I’m going to make a statement here, before I get too involved with this story. When people mention mental health and psychologists and group work, people have a tendency to immediately judge that one is unstable or has a mental problem. Do what you must, but I feel that the mental health department is by far the best at keeping me healthy and not just giving me pills to alleviate an ache or pain. In fact, I don’t take any medication for anxiety, depression, sleeplessness or any other mental problem. I go to group and see the doc once in a while and that keeps me pretty darn healthy.

Now the dentist is another story. Check this out. I was seeing the dentist at the VA in Minneapolis two years ago. I had some work done. Treatment of a few cavities, a bridge on my lower front teeth and a cleaning. When I was done with all that, I had a treatment plan that had the dentistry department making me a crown on a lower molar, making me a bridge on an upper molar that I was missing and another bridge or implant for a front tooth I was missing from an extraction a few years ago.

I took a break from seeing the dentist and the break lasted almost a year. When I went into the office to make an appointment, they told me that even though my records were there, it has been too long since I was seen there and that I must go to a fee basis and see a doctor. The fee basis deal is when they let you go get a dentist on the outside of the VA system and they pay for it because I am eligible for dental services through the VA.

They gave me this 1 800 number for a place called Delta Dental of California and a program they have called “Project Hero”

I first had to go to an office at the Minneapolis VA that was in the basement where they verified my eligibility. I did that, then went home and called Delta Dental of California.

Delta Dental, hereby known as DD, asked a few questions and told me that I had been approved by the VA and that I needed to choose a dentist. I didn’t know any local dentist because I have been a disabled veteran for a number of years and had been receiving all of my medical care, dental and other wise, at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center. The phone clerk asked for my zip code and mentioned three dentists in the local area. I chose one. My choice was based solely on knowing where the office was located and nothing else. A blind shot in the dark.

I went to this dentist and told them I was on DD’s Project Hero. I should have known right then that this wasn’t the place to be because the dentist didn’t seem interested in seeing me, but I was eventually seen for an exam, x-rays, an assessment of what was needed and a cleaning. These procedures were okayed through the VA and the dentist agreed to perform them at an agreed price that the doctor and the VA negotiate. I would not have to pay for anything.

In filling out a form for the dentist, they wanted me to sign that I would be responsible for the bill if he did anything the VA wouldn’t cover. I refused and said that I wanted him to only do what is covered. We argued this point a few minutes. I agreed that if I wanted to do anything deviant from the approved procedures, I would indeed pay myself, but I wouldn’t pay if the dentist didn’t tell me about said procedures first. Fair deal, I thought.

I had x-rays, he examined me, he probed and stuck the pointy pick in between my gums. It hurt like hell. He was not a gentle dentist and was actually rather rough. He came up with the exact assessment the Va did. Build a crown on a lower molar, make a bridge for an upper molar and bridge or implant for a front tooth.

He told me that there would be a long wait. I was used to that because there is always a long wait at the VA for dental and eye care. Medical care from my primary care physician is quicker. I can usually get in to see him in a couple of weeks.

I waited and waited. In the meantime, I moved away from the area where the dentist was and into my current residence in River Falls, Wisconsin. I called DD because I hadn’t heard anything in a long time, ten months had gone by. I know I moved, but since I use a cell phone for a home phone, my phone number didn’t change. And I did put in a change of address form at the Post Office to forward all my first class mail.

DD told me that they were waiting for x-rays from the butcher, I mean the dentist. I voiced my disgust with his torture and told the clerk I had moved and could I see another dentist. She advised me to go to the VA and ask them. So, I was at the VA one day for other business and I stopped up to see the dental office to ask how I might proceed with this change of venue.

A very nice clerk took my contact information and I was told that an appointment clerk would call me. Well low and behold if I didn’t get a call a day later and an appointment was made for the next week. That appointment was last Monday, September 28th. I saw the same doctor I had when I had been receiving dental care at the VA two years ago.

They took x-rays and he examined me. He was so gentle, I hardly felt his fingers in my mouth and I’m not even close to exaggerating this fact. He said I don’t have any cavities and that I should continue to brush and floss. He made an appointment for me to get a cleaning and made another appointment to start the rehab work. He’ll start with that crown of the lower molar.

As you can see in this photo from 2007, I could use a tooth in front.

When I asked why I was seen at the VA instead of the fee basis deal I was told that the VA was out of money for the fee basis program. The doctor, thinking I wanted to be seen by an outside dentist, offered this piece of information. He told me the fee basis program through DD was out of money and that there might be more money for the program available after the end of the fiscal year which was coming up. I told him was very pleased with his work and I wanted to continue getting treated at the VA.

So, I will have to wait over two months for the cleaning, and the actual dental work won’t start until sometime in January of 2010, but I’m on my way. I should have a full set of teeth, some fake, some real, by the end of 2010. I started seeing the VA dentist in October of 2004.

Now, I need to see about some glasses.

Peace to all.