Is Asia the Europe of World War I?

Political matters are certainly tense these days in Asia, what with China’s squabbles with Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines among others. But is it fair to compare the region to Europe pre-WWI?

Despite no one wanting to see conflict in Asia, the ranks of doomsayers and worrywarts seem to grow by the day. The specter haunting the continent is that of China’s geo-political rise. Governments near and far are watching warily as the budding nondemocratic superpower asserts itself on the international stage, tacitly challenging a Pax Americana that has existed since 1945. Some countries are already locked in combustible disputes with Beijing: the region’s waters have been roiled in recent years by standoffs over barren islands to China’s south and east; Chinese relations with Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines all soured as a result.

The climate of tensions is thick enough to have drawn comparisons to a perilous moment a century ago. In separateopinion pieces this week, two former Asian foreign ministers likened Asia now to pre–World War I Europe, then strung together by a tangle of imperial enmities and alliances. The South China Sea — a pivotal, strategic body of water that China considers its “internal lake,” much to the ire of its neighbors — is, like the Balkans a hundred years ago, the supposed tinderbox that could spark a larger regional conflagration, if not a full-fledged war.

Local militaries are not just standing by. Look at what Manilla is doing:

Military officials looking at a model of a FA-50 fighter jet. Manila will soon finalise a US$443 million deal to buy 12 of the jets.

Military officials looking at a model of a FA-50 fighter jet. Manila will soon finalise a US$443 million deal to buy 12 of the jets.

And the article states the Philippines may soon acquire F-16s as well.

A Dinky Dau Pin for You

I know you’ve been searching for a Dinky Dau pin. Search no more:

Dinky Dau

Dinky Dau

The intel on the word Dinky Dau:

Crazy or crazy in the head. Derived from half French half Vietnamese. Boocoo (Beaucoup) Dien cai dau (Crazy, or literally “crazy head”).

A phrase used by Vietnamese street vendors to American GI’s to suggest that GI’s bargaining offer is crazy. Before Americans stepped onto Vietnamese soil the French were there for around 150 years so their influence can be seen.

No need to say thank you. . .

Free “I Served” Sticker to Non-Flag Stompers

I served Iraq, Afghanistan, Desert Storm, VietnamNavy Times is offering a free I Served (in) Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, or Desert Storm sticker for all those who have served.

I’ll bet I know of one person who does not want the sticker, the Chapin High School English teacher (South Carolina) who repeatedly stomped on the flag in class to make a point.

Please ignore my pet peeve of folks misspelling or misidentifying Berkeley in the comments. Like Sergeant First Class Brice Harris who calls it UCLA-Berkeley. C’mon SFC, I expect better. Two separate schools, Berkeley and UCLA. Separated by almost 400 miles!

Vietnam, Above and Beyond

Vietnam veterans pulled the short straw when it comes to respect and honor for their service. I won’t rant (click on the Veteran’s category below and to the left for a rant) about their treatment. Truly, the Above and Beyond Vietnam Veteran’s exhibit helps alleviate some of that pain:

On Memorial Day 2001, the museum added a stirring and spectacular new exhibit to its already highly praised fine art collection. The work of art, an immense 10 x 40 foot sculpture entitled Above and Beyond, is comprised of imprinted dog tags, one for each of the more than 58,000 service men and women who died in the Vietnam War.

Above & Beyond, Vietname Memorial

Above & Beyond, Vietname Memorial

Above & Beyond is the first new permanent Vietnam War memorial, other than The Wall in Washington, D.C., to list all those killed in action. 

Above & Beyond at the National Veterans Art Museum is a singular honor for Chicago. It was even the subject of a question on the TV show, Jeopardy, on Jan. 10, 2011.

Neat, I would not have gotten the question right.

What Can You Do to Help Our Vietnam Veterans?

I’ve visited the Vietnam Memorial several times, with Vietnam vets or alone. It’s always struck me as a very somber, dignified place. There are others who see it, or what it stands for, in a different way. The story of Jeff Davis, and his reaction to it, is heartbreaking:

Jeff Davis committed suicide years after he returned from Vietnam

On Sept. 15, 1984, Jeffery Davis left his shift as a Washington, D.C., plainclothes police officer and, as he often did, went drinking. After midnight he ended up at the Wall he had described as “foreboding.” Later, the Bronze Star winner walked away into the night and shot himself with his service revolver.

He was 36, and he left behind Alice and their two children, Kelly, 6, and Scott, 3.

Fellow Vietnam vets holding a vigil at the memorial, which had been dedicated two years earlier, found his body the next morning.

I alluded in an earlier post that I’d had a run-in with two other Vietnam vets. In the interest of privacy, I am going to greatly anonymize the details of the first one. (The second I shall save for another time.)

A gentlemen sat down loudly next to me on a return flight from DC two months ago. He was friendly with some of the other folks in our row, but I was neck deep in work (call me a nerd) and I just powered through my project. About halfway through the flight, we started chatting. He wore an expensive watch of a brand I’d never seen before. He was an Army vet, he told me, who grew up in Compton, back before Compton was Compton. (The hoodiest of the hoods.)

And he went through a tour of duty in Vietnam and returned to the States for special forces training. I should say I am usually adept at picking up on bs. The con-men need you to swallow their nonsense. He merely told me his story and did not care if I believed him or not. He shared that he had to move out of California when he returned from his second hitch in ‘Nam  because the kind folks in LA would pick fights with him. And he could not very well let an insult stand. The VA suggested he move out of state and he did. To Texas.

As is the case (sometimes) with the land of the Longhorns, he struck it rich. He called himself a stupid man with a lot of common-sense. He bought up land around a major city that was being used for farming. And when the city stretched out he made a killing. He now works in real estate development and house construction. He rattled off the who’s-who in Texas and I knew them all, public figures who used his business.

I thanked him for his service and he seemed to find that strange. He could not accept what I was saying, or it seemed apart from him. Perhaps I am not explaining it well. But that was my impression. I shared some of my stories and he was very keen on labeling me a hero. And I was a linguist, far from the heroics he had encountered. It was odd, but when I gave him my in-the-rear-with-the-gear stories, he told me he “was getting goosebumps.” (Several times I was tip of the spear, but still those were not for tactical reasons but for intelligence ones. And high above the battle, in a plane, does not compare to traipsing through the jungle.)

People are put in our paths for a reason and we chatted more at the baggage claim. He introduced me to his wife, a “good Christian lady” as he referred to her. I thought he was going to cry when his bag came, so I gave him hug. I am not much of a hugger with either dudes or strangers, but I called him brother and did it none-the-less. He had told me he was the last of his unit still alive. And I hope it stays that way for a long time. One day, maybe, he will see himself as the heroic guy.

I told a friend later about meeting him. My only regret, I told my friend, was that I did not tell his wife what a hero her husband was. My friend shook her head, and told me: she knows. A wife knows. 

I have a dream of getting a novel published one day and, when I retire from the Navy, running workshops for vets like my Texas friend. To help them tell and write their stories. But then, I still got some seas to sail before I hang up the aquaflage and maybe someone will have taken the idea and run with it. Please do. These guys, like Jeff Davis, like my Texas friend, are our brothers and they need a good listening to. And perhaps a good reading of as well.

Army Air Boats in Vietnam

Although I wasn’t able to get a visa for Vietnam, I was able to talk with swift boat veterans to get a feel for the time and place, and I visited a tropical prison in the Philippines to get a sense of what a Vietnamese prison might have been like. –Tony Hillerman

An Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Korea, and Vietnam Vet

United States has many places for retired folks to stroll out their golden years in peace. Presumably, these neighborhoods are cheaper, with available services nearby. If you are retired military, especially Navy or Marine Corps, many of you’all don’t leave San Diego or the Norfolk area.

In my gym this morning, I had three conversations with retired vets. One was a Surface Supply Corps guy who taught at the local high school. He felt embarrassed because even though he had retired many years ago, he asked me if I was in the Marines or the Navy. I smiled and said, Navy, and took it as a compliment. Maybe you Leathernecks might be insulted. Nothing I can do. Blame the Supply Corps and their weak uniform recognition.

The second was a quiet, elderly man. He had been stationed at the ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) base over in Point Loma. You know of it? he asked.

Yes sir, my dentist is over there, I said before leaving him and the locker-room.

And the third veteran was one I had chatted with a couple of times in the past. He looks about 65 years old. Except, he fought in World War II, after enlisting at age 16 in the Marine Corps. I’m 86, he had told me once.

I see him working out on one of the machines as I head toward the door.

Hey sir, save some weights for us, you can’t lift ‘em all!

He laughs. Keeping my weight. I was 123 pounds when I joined up. Not anymore. My rifle and bayonet were way over my head when held to my boot.

Marine Corps, are you not the Department of the Navy? I ask with a wicked grin.

He shoots me a look of miscomprehension, before boxing my arm. I guess so.

How long did you stay in the Marine Corps?

Three wars, he replies. (Not, I retired. Not, I did my hitch. Not, I did twenty years. But, three wars.) World War II, in the Pacific, I was shot twice. Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal. Korea, and of course, Vietnam.

I look at my watch. I am late for work, I had lifted weights after cardio. Still, I listen as he continues.  You hear all these guys saying they have PTSD? I had it. We all did. You better not creep up behind me. It’s all part of war. 

How was coming back home?

Different in each one. They offered me a slot at OCS when I was in Korea. I was a Staff Sergeant then. I could sign on as an officer, but I would have returned to Korea.

You still can, we need you!

He laughs. Me and this other guy both got talked to. He took it, and retired a Major. I passed and retired a Sergeant Major. I’m just a guy. A Sergeant. I didn’t have no education. I was happy.

You miss it?

Yes I do.

How was Vietnam?

What you read and what you hear are nothing close to what happened. You know Tet?

Sure.

I was there. Our first day was rough. But after that, we kicked the dog-crap out of the VC. Sixty, Seventy thousand dead. Or more. There was none left for us to fight.

I have always thought you all deserved better when you returned.

Yeah. Maybe. I never got called nothing. No baby-killer. None of that. Maybe it was my look. I would’ve beat the pis out of anyone that did.

Sir, I say. I got to run to work. Thanks for chatting.

He shakes my hand and off I push through the doors out into a San Diego morning. I am late. But it was worth it. I don’t get to speak to heroes like that every day.

Oddly, enlisted Sailor, Marine, Soldier, or Airman is listed as the third-worst job by CareerCast.com to hold. In my eyes, most polls, lists, and surveys reflect bias:

In their annual career survey, an online job bank ranked one of the nation’s toughest, proudest and most critical occupations as the third-worst job to have: sailor.

Sailors stand at attention while manning the rails on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) as the ship pulls out of Naval Station Everett, Wash.

In fact, the CareerCast.com survey didn’t appear to appear to distinguish between the services; the category was named “enlisted military soldier,” but the photo accompanying it features four models in Navy uniforms (BDUs, crackerjacks, flight suit and summer whites). Only lumberjack (first place) and dairy farmer (runner-up) edged out enlisted as the worst-of-the-worst. (To be sure, newspaper reporter was not far behind at fifth-worst.)

To any young man or woman considering enlisting, I can tell you that joining the military is the challenge and time of your life. You can take my word for it or I can introduce you to an old Sergeant Major, the kind of man maybe we don’t raise anymore in this country. He’ll tell you, he wants back in. . .

Gunnery Sergeant John Crazy Bear

I am insatiably curious about the military. I know that sounds odd, considering that I am inside. The military. But I will talk to anyone in the service about their job/rating/MOS. And I frequently do. I particularly like chatting up the folks whose jobs I am not often around, for obvious reasons.

For example, I have a friend. She reads this blog every now and then (ahem) and she is close friends with a local SEAL. He is an OIC, over at some unit, and I keep telling her, Hey when are we going to roll over and chat your buddy up?

Random readers should encourage this sort of nosiness. It gives you more schtuff to read on this here blog. Every day, I will find something to post. Do you want to read that Elle Macpherson is a socialist or do you want to hear about a SEAL’s exploits?

Or would you prefer to read of this great American:

John Crazy Bear, a three-war veteran and retired Marine gunnery sergeant, shakes hands with Brig. Gen Thomas A. Gorry, commanding general, Marine Corps Installations East

It is a story of distant travels, perseverance and time, but one more name has made it home from Vietnam; John Crazy Bear.

The three-war veteran and retired gunnery sergeant, was reunited with the dog tag he lost during the Vietnam War in a ceremony held aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, March 17.

Crazy Bear, a Lakota Sioux Native American who was orphaned as a child, enlisted in the Marine Corps at the age of 14. He hitchhiked more than 400 miles to join a service he admits he knew almost nothing about.

And what did Gunnery Sergeant Crazy Bear say when he got the dog tag back?

“It looks like it’s been through heck and high water,” exclaimed Crazy Bear. “But I think I’d rather have it than a Navy Cross.”

Errr-rah! I wish he lived locally. So I could buy him lunch. And chat with him about Vietnam.

Drugs and Our Navy


USS John Paul Jones DD-932

I am sitting in my cubicle.

A retired Commander, who works in my office as a contractor, turns to me and says: you have no idea what it was like. You guys have it really good when it comes to certain things. We had drugs, knifings, and smuggling back when I was in.

Knifings?

Sure. During Vietnam, it was a different Navy. One day the Commodore was doing an inspection of the engineering spaces and he found a hash pipe. And this was in a space with a lot of dangerous things going on. Like steam.

What ship?

USS John Paul Jones DDG-32

The John Paul Jones. After it went from a DD to a DDG.

Wow.

On another ship, we found a million dollars worth of drugs stashed in the Captain’s gig. (The Skipper’s personal craft.) We were just coming back from a RimPac.

Unbelievable. I could not imagine. Do you know Alex?

Sure.

He was on the Truxton during Vietnam as a Third Class. And he was warned by his Chief not to walk near the fantail at night. And one evening, he was out there, just stretching. And there they were, sure enough, Sailors smoking pot.

USS Truxton CGN-35

Before zero tolerance, it was different.

I love zero tolerance. I went to Berkeley and I hate when I am around someone on drugs. It is weird.

Not to mention dangerous. I was Chief Engineer later in my career. I can’t depend on someone who is stoned.

No kidding. . .

Vietnam, from the USS Oxford

I am a listener. It may not appear so with some of the stories from this blog, but I listen carefully when someone wants to talk. Every week (or oftener) I run into people, veterans usually, folks who want to chat military.

A Sea Story from the USS Oxford, steaming north to Da Nang

They do most of the talking. I usually nod and nod and then run and find a piece of paper to jot down their sea-story. So you, cherished blog reader, can catch a glimpse too, provided it is not either: too salty or too operationally sensitive. Or too personal. I also ask if I can share their tale with others.

I travel for my job, more so than I would like. Still, when I run into old Navy salts, they invariably pepper me with a story or two of their service. These come from a retired Master Chief out of South Carolina.

As a Second-class Petty Officer, he was assigned to the USS Oxford (AGTR-1, an Oxford-class technical research ship acquired by the U.S. Navy for the task of conducting research in the reception of electromagnetic propagations.)

He recounted the tale of steaming north towards Da Nang onboard the Oxford. Suddenly, he felt a little shake in the water. With bright eyes, he described it as such:

Dong Hoc to Da Nang

It was a tiny quiver. First, I thought we had thrown a screw (ie: the propeller of the ship had come unbalanced.)

We were less than a hundred miles outside of Da Nang, passing a town along the coast known as Dong Hoc (Vietnam Vets: I searched the map for Dong Hoc. And found a small town in that general area, south of Da Nang. But it appears to be inland and not directly on the coast.)

No one else seemed to be concerned. When I questioned it, I received knowing looks and was told to wait and see.

Dang! Da Nang gets shelled

As we sailed toward Da Nang, the disturbances in the choppy water got more intense. We were not even that far up the coast when I saw and heard it.

How could I have thought we had thrown a screw?

A Battleship had been shelling Da Nang, one of the Petty Officers told me.

As we got closer, rounds seemingly as large as Volkswagon Beetles streamed across the smoky sky into the mountains and hills behind the harbor of Da Nang.

Battleship, not only a movie

I must have seen thirty of them fly by during the day. Yes, that was what was disturbing the water, those massive shells being launched.

(Note: he told me the name of the Battleship, but I am drawing a blank. Was it possibly the USS New Jersey?)

The Master Chief’s second story is a chuckler. He was also shipboard, on another vessel. The Skipper (the CO, the Captain of the ship) wanted to send out a message, but the transmission device was broken. Neither he, nor his Operations Officer, could get it to work.

So they called the Chief over. He could not fix it, nor could the LPO. Finally they summoned the Master Chief. (Remember, he was still relatively junior at this point in his career.)

Hey, Petty Officer can you repair this?

Yes, Chief.

Navy Sailors, Gorillas?

Well, make it happen!

Our retired Master Chief stood up on his tip-toes and slammed the bottom of his fist down on the device. The whole mechanism shook. The senior folks exchanged surprised looks as the Captain pressed a button.

Presto, it functioned! And the relieved Chief, Operations Officer, LPO, and Petty Officer left the space while the Skipper conducted his business.

Postscript: Apologies for any incorrect Vietnamese geography or faulty shipboard designations. I think I was faithful to what he said. But it was 98 degrees outside. (And only slighter hotter inside, at 98.6 degrees.) With bugs. Not the Russian embassy kind, comrade, but the Carolina summer kind. And they grow ‘dem dogs big down ‘der. . .