Sunday, June 29, 2008

THE 101st Airborne Division Vietnam Reunion

Dan Roach was a Lieutenant platoon leader in Vietnam. The below is his account of his recent reunion experience. There really is nothing emotionally in the world like being with guys that you literally were in combat with in Vietnam. Here you are in the room with them, the emotional electricity is simply overwhelming.


BY: Dan Roach, 3rd Platoon Leader, Delta Company 1/501, 2nd Bde. 101st Abn.

Father’s Day, Sunday, June 15, 2008; I’m flying home to California after attending the 2nd Bde. Reunion at Ft. Campbell Kentucky. This was my first reunion and the four day event was packed with activities and good emotions. Thursday was a travel day with vets arriving from across the US and as far away as Alaska, California, Connecticut and local Southern States. Delta Company 1/501 had the best representation with at least 13 troopers. My first evening culminated with heart felt greetings from guys I hadn’t seen in over 40 years. Our departure from Vietnam was fractured to say the least, yet each individual reconnect seemed to involve a glaze that peered through the years seeing beyond the wrinkles, thinning grey hair and weathered structural changes to a rediscovery of that recognizable voice and physical mannerisms that was the essence of each soldier then and now. Heartwarming is a good term yet fails to describe the discovery of GOLD I experienced that first evening. It was like picking up where we left off without the pressures of WAR and with wholesome gracefully aged friends.

Day 2 of the Reunion started at 0800 with the boarding of the military buses which initiated an 8 hour tour of Ft. Campbell. We were treated to several briefings by post staff explaining the evolution of the configuration of the 101st from 1968 to the present. We also toured several memorials and were introduced to the Air Assault Course where several vets got the opportunity to repel off the Air Assault School’s Repelling Tower. A mess hall style lunch was served at a college type cafeteria; boy have things changed. I didn’t even miss the fragrance of the sun baked canvas mess tent or the rattling of stainless steel mess trays. Throughout the day it was evident by their absence that the 101st
Division was missing from Ft. Campbell due to their deployment to the Mid East.

The Don F. Pratt Museum tour was impact full as the history of the 101st was portrayed from inception to the present. One highlight occurred when a visiting family encountered two of our vets from the 3rd Platoon of Delta Company, 1/501 discussing their experience with a 90 mm recoilless rifle. The family was elated that they were actually speaking to a real vet that was an expert 90 gunner. The family’s experience was greatly enriched with their interaction with our vets. Though the evening ended with a BBQ Dinner at the Holiday Inn Express throughout the entire day bonds between brothers were once again forged with gratitude.

Paul Adamic a firefighter/paramedic from Joliet, Illinois brought his 101st display and placed it in our hospitality room at the Holiday Inn Exp. Although Paul never served in the military his passion for capturing our history through “soldiers in uniform” was evident; he got it right. Paul wanted feedback concerning the authenticity of his collection; a collection that Paul’s been working on for the past eight years. Though Paul received some minor feedback he got the opportunity to join in with us in our celebration and enjoy the many stories that ricocheted through the years and the photos that told the story of our “rendezvous with destiny.”

Day 3, Saturday could be described as a “minimum day” since our official activity was an 1800 Reunion Dinner at the Sportsman’s Lodge. Our group spent the morning touring a local memorial trail and military shops in the area. I had forgotten what a “Military Town” looked like yet Oak Grove seemed deserted since the Division was deployed to the Mid East. Once back at the hotel most of us gravitated to the “Hospitality Room” where we continued with our reconnect. I can truthfully say that I laughed till I cried then cried and laughed some more. Chaplain Jerry Autry, though not at the reunion in person, seemed to be present in spirit as he gifted each of us an autographed copy of his latest book the “GUN – TOTIN’ CHAPLAIN;” thanks Jerry and “God Bless!”

Later at the dinner LTG (then COL.) John H. Cushman led the celebration with a “key note” presentation which was extremely inspirational in linking our Vietnam service as part of the continuing legacy of the 101st. I was always proud of my service yet by evening’s end I was bursting with pride. LTG. Cushman (retired) asked for a show of hands of those that would be willing to commit to attending a follow-up reunion next May when the 101st “Returns Home,” from the Mid East. It would be a fitting welcome from those of us that weren’t welcomed home to celebrating a homecoming that we wish we received upon return to CONUS; count me in. The Alpha Company Co. Don Shive, presented Col. Cushman with a book “General William C. Lee, Father of the Airborne,” written by none other than Jerry Autry his chaplain. Once back at the hotel many of us continued the very important business of reconnecting until 0100 Sunday morning. Personally, I had an extremely important exchange with a warrior that was left undone for the past 40 years; our reconciliation of the event was priceless. I slept well that night.

Day 4, Sunday; move-out and return home. Some of us caught a quick breakfast in the hotel lounge and said our “good-buys” as others were already homeward bound. I made the 50 min. drive to the Nashville Metropolitan Airport (BNA), turned in my rental car; it was finally over. I was walking to my gate and was hailed by a soldier from A Company. We hadn’t had an opportunity to talk during the previous three days and for the next 90 minutes had the most interesting and bonding conversation. At one point we were interrupted by a young woman who had just deplaned and spotted my Screaming Eagle Base Ball Cap. She said “it’s Fathers Day and I see that you served in the 101st in Vietnam and I want to thank you for your service.” Shaking my hand, she said “my dad served as a Marine in Vietnam.” I was overcome with emotions though I responded with “I sincerely thank you for remembering and I forgive your dad for being a Marine.” She laughed and said “I can’t wait to tell dad!”

Delta 3-6 OUT; somewhere over Arizona headed west.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


The first time I met Joe Bobrow was at an interfaith memorial service where he was the Buddhist representative. At that time, I thought: what a gentle person. It was somewhat of a generalized statement as my experience with the Buddhists in Korea had been quite extensive and always good. The Buddhist are a wonderfully "at peace" group that we would do well to emulate. Anyway, I lost contact with Joe until my wife met him at a gathering for organizations serving Iraqi and Afghanistan vets. Joe's organization, the Coming Home Project was and is doing fabulous and extraordinary work with Iraqi and Afghanistan vets.

The Coming Home Project seems to have zeroed in on how to grapple with the special needs of vets. With all the emphasis now, Joe's organization is already running retreats and providing therapy to hundreds of soldiers and families. I think it is poised to be the premier helping Provider for vets--no small thing. Too many organizations have great programs on paper but in actuality provide very little.

And, as we know, unfortunately, the bureaucratic processes often overshadows the care of the soldier. It always happens. Unless a soldier is unbelievably tenacious, he/she falls through the cracks. The Coming Home Project is a wonderful stopgap and advocate.

Friday, June 13, 2008


I just finished the book "Wiser in Battle", by LTG Ricardo S. Sanchez
(USA Ret.) and Donald T. Phillips. Sanchez commanded coalition forces in
Iraq after the invasion. Phillips has written several books on
leadership from a historical/political perspective.

Though the meat of the book is Sanchez's account of his command in Iraq,
his biography, learning experiences and explanations of Army command
form the context from which he tells the story. It's a helpful
approach. Just what is it that generals do? What do they have to worry
about? What goes on in a headquarters? Where does civilian
authority end and military authority begin?

V Corps assumed total responsibility of all U.S. and coalition ground
operations in Iraq after President Bush declared "Mission Accomplished!"
The fact that a corps (3-star) command assumed this monumental task was
only the first in what was to be a never-ending series of mistakes and
disorganized knee-jerk reactions. The agenda that took us to war was at
best short-sighted, and at worst handled in a way that put the
President's second term in higher priority than the war, and troops
fighting it. As commander of V Corps, Sanchez experienced 18 months of
poor (or little) strategic planning that would increasingly put him in a
position of having to rob Peter to pay Paul, create policy where none
existed nor was given when requested, and hold the collective hand of
the State Department. In addition, the Army was trying to appease a
Secretary of Defense who insisted on complete control of the remote,
changed channels on his terms, and kept the volume on mute

Sanchez outlines his military experience at each command level he
assumed along his career, and the lessons learned. He also shares his
personal life and how it shaped his attitudes and thinking. He then
takes the reader on a journey into 'post-war' Iraq, where the lessons he
learned during his career were at odds with the White House, the Senate,
and media-driven public perceptions. He covers, in detail, the problems
at Abu Graib, the insurgency, when and how al-Qaeda got involved,
Falluga, and the problems with Muqtada al-Sadr. He describes having to
take equipment from U.S. troops, who were already under-supplied, to
give to the coalition forces. Recounting the first assault on Falluga,
he writes how a few days into the operation, the President ordered
forces to 'cut and run' under fire -- a decision that fueled the
insurgency and invited al-Qaeda to pour into the country. His accounts
of dealings with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Ambassador Paul
Bremer, who was supposed to be administering Iraq's recovery, leave the
reader with a sense of dismay as to how such people could be selected
for the highest positions in the country.

I think back to the Clinton years, and the years since, and all of the
stories of how the Clintons disrespected the military. Yet, in all of
those years, not one service man or woman, officer or enlisted, ever
stood up and supported that claim. GEN Colin Powell resigned his
position as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when President Clinton
advocated allowing gays to serve in the military, but he claimed only a
strong difference of policy. Sanchez is not the first military officer
to make these claims about the Bush administration. According to him,
he was urged by many serving officers to write this book because they
can't speak out while in uniform. Sanchez supports a large number of
claims in the military and other government agencies that this
administration has repeatedly demonstrated a 'my way or the highway'
attitude and will squash any dissent.

To be fair, Sanchez was ultimately relieved of his command of V Corps.
He was blamed, at least initially, for the failures in Iraq. It
ultimately cost him a fourth star and nearly cost him his third. He
feels betrayed, set up as a fall-guy, and the victim of blatant lies.
To say that there are some sour grapes in his book is an understatement.
It can be argued that this book represents the ravings of an angry
ex-employee of the government. Yet, his claims are supported and shared
by some investigative committee findings and many fellow officers. He
doesn't attempt to hide his ill will and goes to great length to explain
the reasons for it. He states a good case for the poor treatment of
himself and others, along with the devastating effects being suffered by
our troops. Jerry O

Saturday, June 07, 2008


Almost every Vietnam vet who has been in heavy combat has pretty much the same "story." Sleeping problems, nightmares, and a long period of reconciliation. Most enter into the workforce and live a reasonably successful life while coping with various symptoms of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).

During America's participation in the war, from 1959 into 1975, we lost 58,000 men and more. The Vietnamese recorded more than 1 million soldier deaths and perhaps at least 2 million civilians. One recovering combat Vietnam vet said something like this, which is so "right on." The process of training an infantryman for war is a dehumanizing process--we are transformed as just average "joes" to killers. We are forever changed by a type of brainwashing. The soldier comes home and is afraid to talk about his experiences for fear of losing control. Lost of control may have far reaching effects way past Vietnam but a direct result of the war. At its extremes, loss of control destroys lives in one way or another, i. e., jail or suicide, not to mention divorce, inability to cope, and all sorts of other results. At some point which is a gigantic trigger for the Vietnam combat vet, he grasps that Vietnam was a total waste of human life on both sides.

Thursday, June 05, 2008


What does it all mean? Without sounding almost cavaliar about a sacred subject, at least to me, (I did get in trouble once by saying the following about a purple heart) Being a combat soldier and a dollar and a half will get you a cup of joe in San Francisco, a small one, based on how much of the general population is interested in a combat soldier's war stories. Look at what little fanfare the war movies about Iraq or Afghanistan have gotten. Like none.

I just read where one of my favorite actors, John Cusack, is going to give it another shot in a movie called, War, Inc. He plays a mercenary in a fictional country. It is an antiwar satire. John, I doubt it will be on everybody's "to see" list, based on previous records of war movies. But, who knows! I thought In the Valley of Elah would get people's attentions, along with about a dozen others--most hardly made it out of the movie can. I do like the idea of John's movie, however, since he plays the role of a mercenary. At least it might be vicarious--in the old days of all these dictators who were abusing their people, we at least might have entertained the idea of taking them out. Now, with our morass in Iraq, we only can do it in the movies. Good luck, John.

Now, if you are really interested in reading about combat, I just read a fascinating account on Hamburger Hill. It was only called Hamburger Hill by the movies but an apt name. In actuality, it was called Ap Bia Mountain (in military parlance, Hill 937). And, from my perspective, the movie was pretty accurate, overall the best Vietnam movie made. I have recommended it to those who wanted to see authenticity.

It may have been the epic battle of Vietnam. But, in a sense, other than historical significance, who is interested or why should they be? Well, it is part of the American experience, and we need to acknowledge and hope against hope, that somehow it might make a difference to future leaders. It surely didn't work with our present one as he and his cohorts acted like Vietnam never existed. But, to those who fought, it surely did.

The details of the logistics and the battle itself are unbelievable feats. The battle costs the lives of 60 Americans with 372 GIs wounded. It is estimated that the regular NVA (North Vietnamese Army) lost 2000 in the battle.

The assault on Hamburger Hill signaled the beginning of the end. As a typical example of our many failures in that war, Americans took the hill and then were ordered to give it up. In less than two weeks, the 29th Regiment of the North Vietnamese Army reoccupied Hamburger Hill.(A really great book that details some Hamburger Hill type decisions made in Vietnam, Self Destruction by Cecil Currey)

Combat vet, Max Cleland's comments seem appropriate here: "I have seen this movie before (Iraq), and I know how it ends with thousands dead and tens of thousands more injured, and years later you ask yourself what you were doing there." And, to the troops, Phil Woodall's mantra in his wonderful poetry book, Rhymer in the Sunset, "They may have died in vain but they lived in honor."

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


FINISHING THE SEASON. In the movie, Bull Durham, Kevin Costner, a minor league baseball catcher is released. He comes by to see his love interest who has a voice over once he leaves and says, “he has to finish the season.” I feel this way about Hillary. When I hear those criticizing her, I think, give me a break: she is just finishing the season.

And, she has done just that. Even though she lost the nomination, the media cannot cease bashing her. I am fascinated in how vitriolic some are toward her. I have been a supporter all along if for no other reason than she is a woman. Men have screwed up the country so much, let's give a woman a shot. Didn't happen. And, I am amazed that she did not get the nomination. My disclaimer, as if anybody is interested, "I would vote for almost anybody if he/she were a Democrat." I made my mistake for “W” first term. And, who likes all the Congressional types who call themselves Democrats? Or, say, Howard Dean. Well, not I! But, of all things considered, based on performance and the mess our country is in, putting the Democrats in gives us the best chance to right a whole series of disasters, mainly Iraq.

But, of all the things I’ve felt bad about this campaign, it is that Hillary has been treated so badly by the news media. I don’t think anyone who is the least bit objective can deny it; shameful as my Mom would say. There has been almost no subject that she has not taken abuse on: the “talking heads” foray of her remarks about JFK’s assassination as if she meant somebody is going to knock off Barack. Please! These O’Reilleys and Limbaughs need to get a life. But, it really is not only them, teh main street media too--amazing that the people, especially where she has won, have risen above the media negativity and voted for her.

In some ways, it is simply politics as I see it but then again, it isn't. To be honest, always in the past, I have not been so overwhelmed about the presidency, thinking having a majority in Congress counter-balances but "W" has made me think differently: a president can take you to war and that makes all the difference in the world. And, this president has done that and now we are in a debacle from which we cannot extract ourselves.

Congratulations to Hillary for finishing the season.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


Barach Obama has recently resigned from his Church, the UCC (United Church of Christ) in Chicago. All of us are familiar with the controversy over the remarks of his now former pastor. I didn't get very excited as I understand preachers like the good Reverend Wright since I "are" one. The preachers have to stoke their ego, create controversy, stir the mix, fire the people up with outrageous statements and views of oppression. The demomination, UCC, was created out of several other denominations and has moved to where much of their leadership are minorities. And, as minorities have felt oppressed. Reverend Wright has made a theme out of the issue and I understand. Obama resigned, he said, so that simply he would not have to deal with it, nor would the Church: too distracting (my paraphrased view).

I continue to be amazed at how religion seems to dominate so much of the political life of our nation. And, so crazy in so many ways. Recently, I saw a "b" movie in a sense, Brooklyn Rules. So much of it, amidst the "f" word, had to do with being a Catholic: the Virgin Mary, the total lack of reality in tying everyday living to the Church. "Let's go out and kill someone and then go to Church and possibly confession, get forgiven for our sins and then we'll be cleansed and ready for our next murder." Really! And, truly, we talk about the fanatical Islamists--somewhat sisters under the skin with the views of the Brooklyn Catholics. The Brooklyn Catholics, however, are not going to blow the infadels up nor view that they are getting virgins in heaven. However, if I had a pulpit and preached this, I could stir folks up: and, if a member of my Congregation was a possible future president, look out news media. Get it?

I recently saw this letter to the editor, "Not to be outdone by Obama's pastor problems, John McCain turns down another pastor's endorsement from a preacher who said that God sent Hitler to help the Jews reach the promise land. All these wacko preachers make me 'thank God' I'm an atheist." I like it.

Just when you are at the point of shaking your head at how people use religion to convey such idiocy views or for their own purposes, making hypocrisy the rule rather than the exception, along comes something or someone that makes you stop and think. This stoper was an article in the local paper about a young preacher in Oakland, California who somewhat mirrors the ministry of Jesus: walking among the down and out, the downtrodden, dope heads, the poor. From the account, there doesn't seem to be any reward for him personally. I am slightly worried that now he has attained some notoriety, he might go "south" himself. It has happened before.

The "preacherman" as he is called has a flock of about 50 who mostly sleep on the streets. He gave up a comfortable life, a wife and child, was a PhD candidate at Berkeley. What gives? He shows up seven nights a week, rain or shine, to gently sermonize and pass out sandwiches, blankets and a few dollars he makes through day labor. This may be the only chink in his armor: giving away money to dopers, etc. might be a motivator for them to show. But, overall, a minor thing.

It surely appears that the "preacherman" believes his preaching. His message is very simple and basic and right out of the gospels. His prayer, "Lord, help us against the cold, the poverty, the loneliness, and keep us on the right path so we can love our brothers and sisters."

He works on odd jobs as a carpenter, hmmmmmmmmmm: At his 30 minute service, he hands out a few dollars to each--about $50 from a deck rebuild job he had done--blankets and food. "I don't expect people to become saints listening to me, I just hope they walk away with seeds in them that someday will flower. I want them to live better lives."

What gives? What would cause someone to give up a good life to live life on the streets with some elusive idea of helping people? Preacherman is a graduate of Rutgers--"I'm not nuts. I'm basically just a regular guy. But at one point I began really reading the Scriptures, and they really blew me away. God gave me faith. This is what I must do."

He got married right after college and was into his doctorate when he received the "calling." The marriage hit rocks when his wife couldn't deal with the homeless sleeping in their home. Yeah! "That was terribly difficult but we just disagreed about how I do this work, and I can respect how she felt." His ex wife moved back East. He rarely sees her or his son. "It hurts like a thousand darts in my heart not to see them, but this is the path God has chosen for me." The peacherman's mom said that he was not an unusually devout Catholic growing up. She thinks his transformation began when, as a history PhD candidate, he began reading the Bible in one of its ancient Aramaic-language versions. The Mom says, "My son is a hard worker and a good man, but he simply dropped out of school and chose his calling." The last time she visited him was about three years ago. "I didn't know where he was, but all I had to do was go to East Oakland and ask around to the homeless people. They all knew him."

Preacherman said he didn't start sleeping outside until four years ago, when he decided the best way to reach his audience was to live like them. He sold his collection of 300 scholarly books, turned in his apartment key and hit the streets. "It was pretty scary taking that step and I do miss the comforts, my family, all those things. But this is where God led me. And I will be out here until He has other plans." One non-homeless says of the Preacherman, "I was never that religious, but when you see the effect he has on these people who are just trying to survive, I have to say this: "You can feel God's love in him."

Contrast the Preacherman to Reverend Wright, Obama's pastor or these mega church preachers. I am amazed and always think: what is it that would lead this promising young man who wanted to be a college professor to end up on the streets of Oakland as a Jesus figure.