Saturday, January 30, 2010


Probably, those3 who serve think their war is the worst. It surely is when they are in it. Some chaplains recently weighed in at my request. The Question:

Compare the Army now and when we were in during the late sixties and early seventies.

It was worse in the sixties and seventies. I stopped taking my family to movies on post because of vulgar and racial stuff, not to mention violence. I looked out my office window one Sunday afternoon and watched about 30 blacks with clubs wade into a group of whites. Our Bn Cdr issued cheap cameras to soldiers throughout the Bn and said just take photos and I will sort it out. He did, too, calling soldiers out of formations, showing the photos, then sending them to the brig. I first wore a clerical collar then, thinking that with it I might obtain a bit more respect and safety. The priority of assignments was Vietnam and a lot of what Germany got was bad stuff. Also, I met an NCO that had made E-6 in a bit over 12 months, promoting to fill slots with what was available. He was pretty sharp, but definitely not sufficiently experienced to be an E-6. Ch (Col) LH, USA. Ret

Monday, January 25, 2010


The first time I saw Victoria I'll never forget. Her big yellow Cadillac was perched at the top of the hill by the Post Chapel at the Presidio of San Francisco. A big American flag streamed from it announcing two remarkable women. Over the years, I'd often see that flag flying in the breeze, always with the same authority. That day, Victoria merged from the car along with her Mom. She walked slowly, a pretty severe case of osteoporosis. Her Mom held to her as they made their way to the chapel, under the canopy and into it. They sat about two thirds back. I would see them every Sunday.

Presidio was what us paratroopers called a "leg" post. Most military types thought getting assigned to the PSF (Presidio of San Francisco) was a dream assignment. Not me. I had arrived dragging my feet. My original assignment was to 7th Special Forces at Fort Bragg. I actually was leaving my all time favorite assignment, the 82d Airborne Division to take the Special Forces. It was a natural progression for a macho, egotistical military officer. I don't know how it happened that I was now at PSF. My good friend and boss at the Presidio, a Priest, says he didn't engineer it but I was skeptical. I was one of the few SF trained chaplains in the Army. It seemed in my own mind, I had sacrificed and taken lots of risks to get Special Forces qualified. It involved a gruelling training regiment, culminating in a jump into the the very unknown Uharrie Forest with an m60 machine gun strapped on my back. I was going to Vietnam to a Green Beret unit but when I got to Vietnam, I got siphoned off to the 101st Airborne. it turned out to be a great assignment not to mention a great ministry. This should have taught me a lesson. The only reason this has any relavance is my gloomy mood thinking that Victoria and her Mom, Esther, were now my parisherners. Quite a change from the paratroopers of the 82d Airborne. I was so stupid. Every Sunday when I came out of the Chapel, her Mother greeted me with, "could do that thing you do." I smiled and gave her a big HooAhhhhhhhhhh, the paratrooper yell. She roared with laughter and it pleased Victoria so.

I didn't know it much then but came to realize later on--these two were the epitome of patriotism. Red, white and blue coursed through their veins. Victoria was always dressed to the "nines" with three pins on her blouse or jacket: an American flag, her WAC (WOman's Army Corp.) one and another in the shape of a flag with the words, "I pledge Allegiance."

The Post Chapel was the second oldest building on the Presidio, a dynamic historical chapel with these gorgeous flags of units that served at the Presidio hanging from high cathedral ceilings. Plagues adorned the walls as memorials to the decorated and famous military and the not so famous. It was almost like Victoria and her mother were born for that chapel. Victoria loved one story of the memorial plagues I told her and she repeated it often to almost anybody who would listen. A former Chief of Chaplains (Major General) came to the Chapel and replaced his former wife's name on the Memorial with the name of his present one.

Victoria's family was military through and through. Her Dad was a military man, retired with the rank of Major. They were stationed in Hawaii, Utah, Fort Benning, and other "postings" as she called them. He was in WW l. They lived for a long time in Seattle and put down roots and somehow made their way to San Francisco where Victoria became a 4th grade public school teacher. They lived in this really nice apartment on Nob Hill and she and her mother spent their time riding around the Bay Area and hanging out on the Presidio.

The Presideo was a big part of Victoria and her Mom 's life. They were a familiar site at almost every single event that went on: the chapel, the club, ceremonies, change of command. Someone said to me one day, "Who is that lady with the other older lady?" People remembered them because Victoria was beginning to suffer a little more from the osteoporosis and walked slower but always with her Mom on her arm. Must be somebody important. "Of course, I allowed."

For the vast majority of their lives, Presidio of San Francisco was a hard charging military Post with active duty soldiers and a first rate teaching military hospital. Victoria took it personal when anybody had the audacity to call the Presideo a base as opposed to a Post. And, when the "powers that be" decided to close the Presideo, Victoria again took it very personal and never forgave them, whoever "them" might be.

The love of Victoria's life was her brother Fred. Fred was pretty remarkable I think. He was in flight training in Southern California, preparing to be one of the Army Air Corps's finest. Victoria was herself a WAC (Woman's Army Corp) stationed in Virginia. She was a clerk and waiting her turn to go overseas. It was WW ll. Her Dad was an Artilleryman and was somewhere in the Southwest. All were "ready" to ship over to the big war.

Victoria never figured what might possibly happen. She got the call in the middle of the night and could describe it in intricate details--how the "Charge of Quarters" came to get her. She fell to the floor. Fred had crashed and been killed. It was a training accident. He was on his final check-out flight before he got his wings. Later on he posthumously got them. Fred was dead. Victoria could not believe it.

The funeral, the time of grief, all ran together with life. A war raged on in Europe and Japan had attacked us. Fred was dead. Here's where the story of Fred takes a turn, especially in Victoria's mind. There was an incident when her mother went to get Fred's personal items. Someone whispered to her, Victoria thinks maybe the Red Cross; "Fred is the 4th one to die in a similar act. We think maybe sabotage. A German sympathizer is suspected of sabotaging Fred's plane and the crash was the direct result of his actions." It was a blow to Victoria. The details and follow up to such a heinous act disappeared in the mist of war.

Years later Victoria wanted to clear it up. She travelled to LeMoore Field where the "act" occurred and talked to people. She joined the Aces Organization which kept her on the edge of those who had been fellow students of Fred. Had he lived, to her, no doubt he would have been an Ace (pilot that shoots down at least 5 enemy planes). She actually located some who had flown with Fred. Over the course of years, Victoria steeped herself in the history of these contemporaries of Fred. Along the way, the sabotage story faded and for Victoria, a kind of nostalgia set in. She could cry and did often when she talked of Fred. Her apartment had pictures of him everywhere--the correspondence concerning his death was stacked in numerous piles.

After Victoria's Mom's death, the actual beginning of our personal involvement with her began. She kind of fell apart, as there was literally no one to help. My wife, stepped in and took her under her wing (Jackie is an angel) so to speak. I got the commander to authorize her continued access to the Presidio and especially the Officer's Club where they hung out and were fixtures.

Victoria moved into the Sequoias, a retirement center. She continued to be a ubiquitous presence in the Bay Area, developing a cadre of good friends and driving that big old car around. Flag flying. She and Jackie made trips to Europe, numerous ones to Washington, visiting Arlington Cemetery and the graves of her Mom, Dad, and Fred.

A few weeks ago, Victoria had a heart attack. After her attack and subsequent hospital stay, she returned to the next level down at the retirement center. In the Health Center, Victoria had a small room as she would hope to gain strength and return to her apartment. The room had a nice TV but Victoria decided it was a place for the pictures of her family and mostly of her beloved brother.

Victoria died recently. The pictures of her family are still up. God bless Victoria on her journey. HooAhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Ruth, I love to hear from you. In fact, I read an article today that
reminded me lots of you. It was about Peg Mullen whose son was killed
by friendly fire in Vietnam. In fact, she died this year and the NY
profiled her along with many others who died last year. I found
it really a little strange those they did profile. And, here is
something equally as interesting: the first time I ever heard about
her, I was a student at the Command and General Staff College at Fort
Leavenworth, Kansas. I was hiding out in the library and picked up
the NY Times Magazine and read this story about her. Her son was
killed in Vietnam and she had been turned into a peace activist. She
wrote letters to politicians, the president who was Nixon--at that
time, there were only 5000 or so Americans dead. Four years later, it
was like 50,000.

Part of her belief or somebody's was that the government started
classifying many deaths as friendly fire as they did not have to be in
the total of all killed. I did not know this. She actually took her
son's last calculated paycheck, bought an ad in the paper and used the
background in the paper as all the soldiers killed in Vietnam from
Iowa with a white cross representing each soldier.

It was sad to read of her death and her grief. One thing resonated
with me especially. She lamented the fact that she didn't do more to
keep her son from going to Vietnam. What are your thoughts on this?

I am not sure war is worth even one life when you have to live with the pain of losing a loved one. That pain does not get any easier as time goes by, when they talk about "time heals all wounds" it is not least not in this case. The parents of all those men are at the age where they are all passing away now and I hope they can find some peace where ever the next deminsion is. My heart aches for those who had to live with their loved ones as MIA. Could there be anything worse in not knowing or the dying of hope as you sit around and wait for years and years. I still believe those who are so call "running" this governent should have to have their children be number one to draft into war and then lets see how willing they are to get into wars we have no right being in. Iraq is another joke. They have been fighting for 100s of years and we are suppose to go over there and settle their problems with our soldiers. It reminds me of this friend I have and she was tellling me how her son was going to join the Army and I told her she should talk him out of it. She told me that the Army promised her he would not go to Iraq. I told her don't trust your government. And guess where he was sent.....Iraq. And she worried endlessly for a whole year and told me how awful it was. I just don't understand how anyone can kill our presidents but we cant find one guy named Bin Laden. Couples can make it into the White House through security and we still cant find Bin Laden. Our so called "security" at the airport still lets a bomber get through. We have a president that is half white and half black and yet we say he is a black president. He gets a Noble Peace Prize for doing his job when that little old lady who saved so many children and had both legs and arms broken because of that doesnt get one. The pilot who brought the plane down safely and landed in the river was not a hero at that point, he was a very kind person who had been a hero to everyone all his life but it took something like landing in the river to show all what a kind person he is.....he is a person of my country not my government, you can tell he has always been a kind person.
Gee.....I guess I have done a lot of venting in my last two emails...LOL I am not bitter as my emails sound just expressing how I feel sometimes.

On Mon, Jan 11, 2010 at 11:23 PM, wrote:

Ruth, see you got the article. Interesting inasmuch as I wondered if your own view has changed. As we look back on Vietnam in terms of history, was it worth one soldier's life? I don't think so. It is a dilemma as soldiers (and I see this with the guys in Iraq and Afghanistan), have to believe what they are doing is right and worthwhile. We can't fault them for that but we have to fault our leaders for putting them in harm's way.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I forgot to tell you that Alan Nack was in the hospital in SF for chemo infusion to help him in his fight against pancratic cancer. Carole (his wife) said that while she was waiting to checked out their books and she started reading your book, "Pistol Packin Chaplain." You will remember them from the church, their kids Christopher and Jonathon. The boy's father used to come to church with Jonathon.

Saturday, January 09, 2010


A great article in the NY Times: Hard Choice for a Comfortable Death: Drug-Induced Sleep. If you have hung out much in nursing homes with relatives or friends, watching them struggle in their last weeks, days, hours, waiting for death, you want to read this long and informative piece. It talks about something I'm very familiar with--we use to do "help people die" all the time when I was a hospital chaplain at Letterman Army Medical Center on the Presidio when Letterman was a full scale teaching hospital. If you understand hospice, they essentially do relatively the same, which I think is great. They simply increase the morphine and the terminally ill, who at this stage are not with us, other than still breathing, slip into the terminal sleep. According to the article, it is called terminal sedation, a treatment that is already widely used and as the article says, "vexes family and a profession whose paramount rule is to do no harm."

What is different about this article is that for the first time, at least as I've seen, the medical community admits that they do this and even talk about cases and drugs they use. Two popular related drugs are ativan and roxanol (to calm the patient). These two medications often lower blood pressures which may be more a product of the dying process than the drugs.

The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine has endorsed "palliative sedation to unconsciousness." The fact that we are talking about it is pretty remarkable. Is this euthanasia? I don't think so. How about helping the natural processes of life take over, which include dying. Politics and zealots have unfortunately entered the fray, not much to do about it. What irritates me is that most of the zealots have no "skin" in the game. Only the families do. So, us paratroopers would say to the zealots, f... 'em.

We all die and so to figure out how to do it as easy as possible is no small thing. Recently, I read about a doc, A Stone Freedberg, who is an example for us all. He made it to 101, quite surprising to him. His genetics weren't good: father died at 75and Mom at 60. And, get this, in 1939, the year I was born, Dr. Freedberg discovered a remarkable truth: ulcers were not caused by stress which was widely believed. At the time, he was forced to move on by his boss as the finding was more or less a theory. 70 years later, two doctors won the Nobel Prize for discovering the same thing. The good doc might have wallowed around in self pity. Not so. He went on to have a remarkable career and life. When he was closing in on his final days, he even catalogued his organ shutdowns for a friend. And, when death was at the door, Doctor Freedman said, "It is time to draw the curtain."

We simply don't do a good job of helping people die. There comes a time when someone is not going to get better, they are not going to recover so why not make the end the very best we possibly can. What is fascinating to me is how reticent people, even professionals, are to talk about the end of life. Why? is always confusing to me as we all die and yet is understandable.

Seeing folks at the end is so sad, most in their 90s and beyond. You would think that these "front burner types" who've lived long and rich lives would simply be "ready" beyond any doubt to hit the trail so to speak. Not so as the denial of the process is a big factor. A doctor friend of mine told me about his mother, 92, well educated, had lived a beautiful life according to him. He was convinced that when it came "time" she would opt for the, "no extraordinary means." Shaking his head still in disbelief, she allowed exactly the opposite, "do everything you can," she said. "I want nothing spared to keep me alive."

Presently, my wife and I are doing all we can to prepare a loved one to die because it is what she wants. After a debilitating heart attack, the now 89 year old's once vibrant life has been reduced to being almost helpless with wearing diapers which, for her, is the height of indignities. If anything happens, "no extraordinary means or anything else to keep her alive," are her wishes which she repeats constantly. God bless her and more power to her. I'm going to sign off with a HooAhhhh for her Mom who use to love this when I did it for her at the chapel and pleases Victoria no end. HooAhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh