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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

We Are Soldiers Still

I had just finished reading We Are Soldiers Still - A Journey Back To The Battlefields of Vietnam. The book is by Lt. General Harold Moore and journalist Joseph Galloway. Why go back and read about a long ago, divisive and disasterous war? Simply because there are still lessons to be learned.

For me, an interest in the recent appearance of this particular book began several years ago with a movie. The title of the movie was We Were Soldiers - And Young. It was based on the book of the same name also written by Moore and Galloway. It starred Mel Gibson as the young officer Moore, who's task was to convert the 7th Regiment (Custer's old cavalry unit) into an effective component of the new airmoble 1st Cavalry. That division was about to be sent and tested in Vietnam.

An old Irish folksong "Gary Owen" was the 7th's marching song and greeting.. The 1st Cavalry (Airmobile) division would mount a fleet of helicopters instead of horses.

The 7th regiment was soon shipped in its entirety to the escalating war South Vietnam. There they were quickly helicoptered into the Ia Drang valley with the mission to locate North Vietnamese forces and to cut the Ho Chi Minh trail. The idea for airmoble unit was to be able to chose its own time and place for battle. In that valley, they were immediately surrounded and attacked by hidden and well entrenched regular forces of the regular North Vietnamese army. That army had been moving south to reenforce the Viet Cong .
With great difficulty and heroism, the 7th held its own, under Moore's brilliant leadership, against an attacking force that greatly outnumbered them.

Several days, later a sister unit from the 1st Cav. that was moving into the same area was ambushed and basically wiped out. That, of course, never appeared in the newspapers of the time. Fifty thousand Americans were killed in this war before it was over seven years later. Moore was obviously a fine man and a great leader. I'm sure there were many others like him. The movie as movies are wont to do, elicited a strong surge of patriotic emotion, during the battle scenes. One's fellow countrymen, putting there lives on the line to protect our freedom, it seemed . And yet. And yet walking out of that theater I couldn't help but thinking..... what a waste. What a godawful waste.... The wisdom of hindsight perhaps
I had remembered a Christmas family gathering a few years before, where I met my cousin who had just returned from Vietnam. He was a civil engineer working on water projects in Saigon. Today, I guess, he would be called a "civilian contractor." He had utterly shocked me with tales of massive corruption in South Vietnam's military government. How the Americans had to bribe people left and right to accomplish anything. How, except for some of the Catholic minority, the people despised that government and regarded them as lackeys for the American "colonialists," who had replaced the "true" nationalists. A generation later, Moore kept a promise he had made to his men, that someday they would return to that battlefield, to make peace within themselves and to their fallen comrades. After years of difficulties that promise was kept and a number of these heroes returned to the Ia Drang Valley. One of those heroes is pictured here, at that place and that time. His name was Rick Riscorla. A generation later, he was the new chief of security at the World Trade Center. There he died after his actions saved the lives of thousands of people on that fateful day. Hal Moore, Joe Galloway, and many of their comrades were to return to Vietnam. There they met and befriended some of the soldiers they had fought. Moore's counterpart in the NVA was among them. In fascinating detail we learn of the strategies of each side. More importantly, we read of their hopes, dreams and illusions. Given the delusions, that have at times colored our own foreign and security strategies, it is a tale well told and worth learning from. General Hal Moore follows up on the Vietnam war in We Are Soldiers Still - A Journey Back To The Battlefields Of Vietnam.
I highly recommend it. A few days ago an American aircraft carrier docked at a Vietnamese port. American tourists now flock to the country. America seems now wary of Chinese ambitions in the South China sea. So are the Vietnamese. How times have changed......

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Lost in the Wild

In the wilderness, one false step can make the difference between a delightful respite and a brush with death. Survival  stories are one of my favorite genres.

On a beautiful summer afternoon in 1998, Dan Stephens, a 22-year-old canoeist, was leading a troup of  boy scouts deep into Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park. He stepped into a gap among cedar trees to look for the next portage—and did not return.

Three years later, Jason Rasmussen, a third-year medical student who loved the forest’s solitude, walked alone into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on a crisp fall day. After a two-day trek into a remote area of the woods, he stepped away from his campsite and made a series of seemingly trivial mistakes that left him separated from his supplies, wet, and lost, as cold darkness fell.

Enduring days without food or shelter, these men faced the full harsh force of wilderness, the place that they had sought out for tranquil refuge from city life.   Lost in the Wild takes readers with them as they enter realms of pain, fear, and courage, as they suffer dizzying confusion and unending frustration, and as they overcome seemingly insurmountable hurdles in a race to survive.

This true adventure book  hit me hard several ways. As a youngster Jack London’s  Call of the Wild brought me close to the Artic Wilderness and much later filmmaker author Jon Krakow brought me up and back down Mt. Everest attementing to rescue stranded, trapped and dying climbers. My own experience taking my teen age boys into Minnesota BWCAW (Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness) brought many personal wilderness memories  back to life as exemplified by problems and dangerous choices revealed in this riveting book. Another connection for me was  when the deputy sheriff who led the various joint agency  rescue teams turned out to be a former student of mine. His name was Steve V.

Real People Real small mistakes can cascade into life or death survival choices. This is not the fake survival stuff you see on T.V. Enjoy! But be careful not to get lost.....

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@Barrie Summy

Monday, February 26, 2018

Troutbirder Goes on Broadway

It was the spring of 1959 and leaving St. Paul Union Deport the senior class of Harding High school was heading east to Washington D.C. and New York City by train. I was on board playing poker in the Dome throughout the night. Perhaps I was a youthful version of Sgt. Bilko as the cards kept falling my way. My only other memory was seeing the forges light up the hillsides as we passed thru Pittsburg. In Washington, we saw all the famous sights. Unfortunately, we missed seeing “Ike”  in the White House as he was busy warning the nation against endless wars and the military industrial complex taking over. That hasn’t gone so well….:(

More famous places to see in New York followed. There was a real sense of vibrancy and excitement there.  Staying at the Roosevelt Hotel an evening out to world famous “Coney Island” was planned. Everyone was excited except me.  My mom had advised me that this night might provide a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a Rogers and Hammerstein musical. The name was “Flower Drum
Song.”. That morning before our tour bus left, I asked the man behind the counter if two tickets were available. “Not a chance,” he replied.  “It’s booked up months ahead, of course, there might be a cancelation. Check back about 5 o’clock.”  I did but no luck. Then Plan B appeared. “If you want to see a Broadway play, one recently opened right across the street from your first choice and within walking distance. It’s called The World of Suzy Wong."   To this day I can still claim I’ve been to a play on Broadway…..

Actor William Shatner has a unique place in the history of the romantic novel The World of Suzie Wong. Shatner, known for starring as Captain James T. Kirk in the Star Trek T.V. series, was the first man in the world to “woo” Suzie Wong in the original stage version. Shatner, 27 won the heart of a decent Hong Kong prostitute played by Vietnamese-French actress France Nuyen on Broadway between Oct. 14 1958 and January 2 1960.

I have no real memories of the play itself except between the acts I bought a couple of very small glasses of orange juice for the outrageous price of two dollars a glass. Apparently, the play was roundly panned by the big city critics so it didn’t last very long.  Later, yet a movie version was produced starring handsome William Holden.  I advised my mom against seeing that movie having giving her a somewhat sanitized version of the plays plot along the lines of “love conquers all”



Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Dovekeepers

There is only one ancient source on the story of the Jewish Uprising culminating in the stand at the fortress of Masada. Its veracity has been questioned by recent archaeological evidence. Still the story, whether entirely true or not, is an inspiring one. Novelist Alice Hoffman in The Dovekeepers tells the story from a feminist perspective. Hoffman is a prolific author whose books are both widely loved and frequently damned. Mix feminism with frequent doses of mysticism and controversy may be the result.
The Dovekeepers follows four very different women from the second destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem to the final suicide at the fortress of Masada. There a disparate group of men and women chose death over slavery. Strong stuff indeed. ( A view across the desert of the Dead Sea from the fortress of Masada).

I found the book a little too  long at points. This is because some the points of the beautifully evocative writing are repeated to often, losing their power in the process. Also because  mixing in  dreams, visions and confusing allusions doesn’t always  work for me.  Still  much else about this novel is very good, from the characterizations to the contrast between the shabby, hungry refugees and the magnificence of Herod's abandoned palace at Masada. All in all though I think this book is  well worth reading.....

Monday, February 5, 2018

Storm Front

I’m not often a mystery/thriller type of reader but I managed to get seven book report credits out of twelve required by my 11th grade English teacher for reading The Complete Sherlock Holmes.  Still later, writers like P.D. James, John le Carre, Tony Hillerman, Patricia Cornwell, Scott Turnow and  John Grisham caught my eye. So there I was in a small waiting room at Mayo Clinic waiting for my wife on the 2nd day of three days of testing, apparently looking really bored. A kind secretary noticed and offered access to the departments   lost and found collection of mysteries  This was a first time read of John Sanford. A Pulitzer prize winning journalist and  highly successful author of  mysteries. His stories are often placed in a Minnesota setting. Hey! I live in Minnesota and frequently pick out books with settings I’m familiar with. Set it in Paris (I’ve been there twice) and if the murder takes place on the steps  of the Opera, I’ve been there chaperoning  a class of high school seniors eating a bag lunch. I can still  see it clearly….


Which brings me to John Sanford’s Storm Front.
When John Sandford is traveling around Minnesota, he's got one thing on his mind: Is this a good place for a crime? A veteran thriller writer with more than 40 novels to his name, Sandford has staged crime scenes all across the state, from the North Woods to the Mall of America.  
In this one an ancient relic in unearthed during an archaeological dig. A Minnesota college professor who finds it, returns it to the Gopher State naturally and is followed by two conflicting Israelis ( a Mossad agent and a member of the agency responsible for protecting ancient relics, along with several Hezbollah terrorists, a Turk and several thieves who want to make a killing moneywise or otherwise. The relic could change the world's history as we know it. Virgil Flowers, southern agent of the Minnesota BCA (Bureau of Criminal Apprehension) is put in charge.
This is good stuff.  Stephen King describes it as unapologetic guy fiction.  Stop! There is such a thing as Chick Flicks and I've be reading a lot of Victorian and Jane Austin lately so lets all keep and open mind.  It's not smarmy. It's gritty but not in the category of a President claiming "locker talk" to justify grabbing women's privates because he is rich and famous.  I enjoyed the book and will likely find some more  by Sanford at our local library....:) 


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@Barrie Summy

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Post

"The Post"  reminds us about the indispensable role of the press in a democracy, ours in this particular case. An historical fact that comes to illustrate the dangerous times we're living now. The story of The Pentagon Papers, that Defense Department secret study of how this country became entangled in a no win war in a faraway place for no valid reason.

 Steven Spielberg directs Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in the movie. It shows a suspenseful  drama about the unlikely partnership between The Washington Post's Katharine Graham (Streep), the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, and editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks), as they race to catch up with The New York Times to expose a massive cover-up of government secrets that spanned three decades and four U.S. Presidents. The two must overcome their differences as they risk their careers - and their very freedom - to help bring long-buried truths to light.

 The film is both a gripping and timely celebration of the free press, and, in the remarkable hands of Streep, an exploration of what it meant then (and, perhaps, now) to be a woman thrust into power in an all-male world.  Even for us Golden Agers who know this story  and its’ Watergate follow-up as well, in our present time of “alt-facts”, it doesn’t hurt to reflect upon a President who broke the law, lied and tried to suborn the process of justice….

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Crusades

After the 9/11 attacks, George W Bush said: "This crusade… this war on terror is going to take a while." This misapplied comment was all Osama bin Laden needed to win over many new supporters. His often used phrase "Jewish/Crusader attackers of Islam " had a certain ring to it in the Muslim world. Thanks, George.
Thomas Asbridge, the author of the  The Crusades makes a similar point. Is it appropriate to use words about wars in the early middle ages in reference to current issues in the Middle East? Is their a real connection between the two eras? I wondered about that, and having limited knowledge about the crusades, I decided to find out. Meaning I checked my local library.
Asbridge concludes that the crusades are a potent, alarming and dangerous example of the "potential for history to be appropriated, misrepresented and manipulated" for political ends." Adding religious fanaticism to the potent force of unbridled nationalism, in any conflict in the modern world, is merely ugly at best. The world could well do without jihadist or crusader mentality.

Initially, the emotive words the author uses, as he details the origin and history of this long ago conflict, seemed inappropriate to a well written, researched and documented history. I changed my mind about that as I struggled through each horrifying chapter. Yes, horrifying. I use that word carefully. If you have the it. It's well worth your time. If not, take my plea to heart. "Oh God. Save us from the religious fanatics, of all stripes."
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@Barrie Summy

Friday, December 29, 2017

Goldilocks and Troutbirder

Friends Romans Countrymen I'm still way behind reading the Decline and Fall of Your Empire. Also thereupon neglecting my book review blog.  Whereas, I shall now make amends by going back almost as far as the Roman Empire by recalling a favorite book of childhood wisdom introduced to me by my mother..... Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
At the table in the kitchen, there were three bowls of porridge.  Goldilocks was hungry.  She tasted the porridge from the first bowl.
 "This porridge is too hot!" she exclaimed.
 So, she tasted the porridge from the second bowl.
 "This porridge is too cold," she said
 So, she tasted the last bowl of porridge.
 "Ahhh, this porridge is just right," she said happily and she ate it all up.
From the wisdom of our mothers and childhood lessons.   Perhaps our leaders in Washington and all of us as citizens should cool down and warm up to working together and make it "just right."...:)

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Jesus The Outlaw

Not a book review this time. Just a message passed on by our friends Don and Sandy. Details found by jumping to my other blog .... Troutbirder. :)  Merry Christmas.