Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dinner in Salon E

Three days of getting acquainted, touring Nashville, being entertained, and attending meetings reached the zenith at the Saturday evening dinner in Salon E of the hotel. The commander hosted the evening. Food was served buffet style. Raffle tickets were drawn to decide the lucky winners of desirable prizes. Friendly talk continued among veterans and families as had happened each day. A cash bar was the source for adult beverages and desserts were on the buffet.

The veterans assembled after dinner for a group picture.  Multiple cameras clicked photos for several minutes as we posed.  Then it was time for the wives and families to take their turn. 

Two photos are below and can be enlarged by point and click.  I'm kneeling on the front row far right.

I could continue to write about the reunion and the patriots I met and spent time getting to know. Each person has as an interesting life and experiences that I admire and respect.  I enjoyed all the people I met at the reunion. Everyone was welcoming to me and I look forward to 2010 when the next reunion is scheduled.

When my son and daughter were growing up in our family, there were times when behaviors, attitudes, fun times, or complaining brought me to the point of saying to them, "enough is enough!" which meant stop, change, or leave it alone.  

Now is the time for me to say to myself, "enough is enough" of reporting on the reunion.

Return here on August 3rd for something different.

Have a good week!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Remembrance Service

The colonel stood straight with his weight equally distributed on each foot. He wore his cavalry hat and held a sheaf of papers containing names and dates. His posture, speech, and demeanor were that of an army commander-which he had been. He was now the Alpha Troop Association commander and the occasion was a remembrance service for deceased warriors of Troop A, 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry of the 101st Airborne Division. 

As he stood facing us, we were seated at round tables inside the hooch of the Jackson Room in the Doubletree Hotel in Nashville. The mood was quiet, respectful, and reverent. The colonel read aloud the names on the alphabetized list. He spoke the full name, year(s) served in Vietnam, and the casualty date. After a pause, he gave voice to the next name and dates. When a veteran in the audience recognized a name, he stood and made comments about the hero who made the ultimate sacrifice. Sometimes the comments brought tears among us. Other times the levity of the remarks brought laughter. This continued for almost 2 hours as around 160 names were spoken.

A name was missing from the list. Gerard Vincent Palma, a 1964 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, was my platoon's leader the year of 1966. Lt. Palma completed the Troop A tour of duty, went home, and returned to VN in 1969 as a captain for a second tour in the 11th Cavalry. The helicopter in which he was riding on 4/19/69 was hit by enemy gunfire, crashed, and all aboard were killed. 

A 1966 picture of him is below.  Below the picture is his name as it appears on the Vietnam Wall on panel 26W line 8. Captain Palma is buried at Arlington National Cemetery at section 8 site 5518-E.  I spoke his name at the meeting and it will be added to the Alpha Troop list for the next meeting in 2010.  

I am the shirtless soldier at age 19 in the same picture somewhere in VN.  I'm now 61. 

Alf Iver Hovland was on the colonel's list. He, too, was in my platoon. His picture is near the bottom showing him as he removed a biscuit from a can of C-rations as I snapped this photo. His date of death was announced as 4/10/92, after tour.  He is buried at Ft. Snelling National Cemetery in section U-2, site 1102 in South Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The bottom picture shows Hovland standing and Palma seated in a jeep somewhere in central VN in January 1966.

Think about this for a moment.  Will a group give voice to your name and dates long after you pass?  How about your rotary club, college fraternity or sorority, former employer, or the church or synagogue where you worship?  I doubt it.

An old WWII veteran from Connecticut who is a patient at the veteran's hospital in Salisbury, North Carolina said this when I was there to help serve watermelon on July 5. He said,  "there is an unusual bond between men who served and fought in war.  It's different from any other bond between people." He continued, "the bond that exists between these men is the way the Lord intended."

Have a good week!

Mouse and click to enlarge photos for clearer viewing.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Hooch

The Jackson Room is located on the first floor above the Doubletree Hotel lobby in downtown Nashville. We called this room "the hooch" for our gatherings because this term was used in Vietnam by GI's to refer to shacks at base camp.  However, there was no hooch for Alpha Troop in 1966.  Alpha Troop departed base camp at Phan Rang on 1/5/66 and didn't return.  

The hooch remained open all day and late into the night as veterans met to talk, eat snack foods, consume beverages, look at old photos albums, and watch a DVD of film footage taken in 'Nam by one vet from Texas.  Food and beverages were replenished regularly by a devoted member and his wife who were from Wisconsin.  They took great interest and put forth much effort to make certain we were cared for.  The couple also managed the raffle sales and prizes. 

A business meeting was led by the association president one morning with agenda and presentation data delivered by PowerPoint and digital projection. Among other reports, the meeting included the treasurer's report on financials and discussions about open positions. Ample time was given to members seated at each table to make comments or ask questions.  

The only input I offered was near the end when "other business" came up on the agenda.  I spoke to the members about substitute teaching 301 days in high schools since my retirement 3 years ago.  I pointed out that I've noticed an interest by today's teenagers, history teachers, and junior ROTC leaders to have Vietnam veterans speak to them when their curriculum in US History brought them to the Vietnam War.  I commented about the invitations I received to speak to classes about my participation in that war.  This interest by them is unusual compared to my generation.  Most boomers and older people generally showed little interest in hearing from Vietnam veterans.  I progressed through a university and a career in corporate management of big business and few people ever asked about my experiences.  

(I didn't say this to Alpha Troop, but my experience has been that whenever Vietnam came up in conversation, the other person quickly remarked how wrong it had been for our country to enter that far away war . . . blah, blah, blah.  I always thought these were inappropriate and insensitive comments to say to one of their country's warriors who fought there.  This type of comment should be directed to policy makers, representatives, or historians. Perhaps your experiences as a veteran are different from mine.)  

The modern teenager today is different from us and I've discovered them to be better quality than my generation when we were their age.  I encouraged Alpha Troop members to gauge the interest in their local high schools and be proactive to sub or become a guest speaker to these young people.  One member from Wisconsin followed me by speaking about his experiences with high schools for many years. 

The president concluded the meeting with an classy touch.  He had a gift for everyone, but instead of distributing the gift like a teacher passing out a class assignment paper, he invited anyone who chose to receive it to come forward after the meeting.  When that happened, he handed each member a tag and chain and embraced the person or shook his hand.  I thought his presentation of the gift was a class act.  The picture below is the tag called Shield of Strength.  The reverse side expresses a commitment to the scripture verse from the book of Joshua chapter 1 verse 9 in the Holy Bible.  The verse can be read by clicking here.  The shape of the tag and style of chain are like a military dog tag. 

Mementos were for-sale in the hooch. I purchased a bumper sticker, a DVD, and a challenge coin struck with a  Screaming Eagles shoulder patch insignia, 17th Cavalry crest and guidon. The coins are sequentially numbered on the obverse side.  The bronze coin or medallion measures 1.5 inches in diameter and weighs 26.38 grams.  I plan to send this coin, number 188, to the medic who was in my platoon in '66.  We've made contact with each other for the first time in 42 years. 

On 7/20 I'll comment about the remembrance service.

Have a good week!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Sites in Nashville

The StockYard at 901 2nd Ave. N is among the top ten steak restaurants in the U. S. according to our waiter. The restaurant sent a complimentary shuttle bus to our hotel to take us to our dinner reservation in this former animal auction place. There, we dined, engaged in friendly talk, and enjoyed the presence of Alpha Troop family members who joined us for the evening meal.  This building functioned as a livestock auction during the first half of the twentieth century. Its location is between the Cumberland River and the railroad yard in Nashville. This hub was a marketplace for farm animals brought here by river boats and rail cars. Some upstairs rooms were used as market offices. Other rooms were secret and used for gambling, drinking, and sex-for-money during some periods of its history.

The waiter at my table was a veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division and participated in the invasion of Panama in Operation Just Cause, the military operation to remove Manuel Noriega from power in 1989. He expressed how honored he was to serve a group of veterans like us and some of us expressed comments of appreciation for his military service.

Earlier in the day we toured parts of the city on a bus called the Nash Trash Tour. A picture of the bus is at the bottom.  We drove past famous sites in the city as two guides explained the significance of the places, the people, and the music. The guides were female with a hick comedy act. Their antics created laughter as they engaged us with their craziness. One of the guides snorted when she breathed between sentences. The pink tour bus was known around the city as these ladies sometimes shouted through an open window to pedestrians. Their shouts suggested the pedestrian looked like Elvis or some other country music star. Most of us seemed to enjoy this unusual tour of downtown Nashville.

One evening most of us attended the Grand Ole Opry where Little Jimmy Dickens and Vince Gill were the main performers.  Again, we rode by bus from the DoubleTree Hotel to Opry Land.  This transportation was prearranged by the Alpha Troop Association activities committee.  Other entertainment opportunities during the three days included tours of Country Music Hall of Fame, the Hermitage (President Andrew Jackson's estate), and the Ryman Auditorium (the original site for the Grand Ole Opry). 

On July 13 I'll report on "The Hooch" and our meetings there.  Have a good week!