Last week while taking Route 2 to Eastern Washington, I picked up a hitchhiker in Sultan who was on his way home in Gold Bar. One thing led to the other with Don, nickname "Sterno" telling me about his three days being held captive in 1969 during the Vietnam War. Given that my friend Kaus was a prisoner in Laos for nearly seven months roughly during the same time period I was very interested. That my last book was a Vietnam War related biography provided Don with a ready and knowledgeable audience. I had already noticed his "POW in 1969" tattoo on his wrist. Briefly this is his story.
While out on patrol on an illegal incursion across the near Laos border, they were ambushed, with many of his platoon members either killed or wounded, or as in his situation, captured, instantly staring up at a bayonet wielding soldier. Taken to a camp near the Mekong River, Don found himself in a partially submersed bamboo cage with two other Americans, a helicopter pilot and jet bomber pilot unfortunate to have had their aircraft blown out of the sky. On the third night, Don decided to escape, understanding that the cage was bound by thin twine. With each of them taking turns, they lowered their heads and literally began chewing away on the twine. After a while they were successful, with all three escaping their prison. The plan was to grab hold of one of the giant lilly pads floating in the river, break it off at its base and drift back across the river border and into South Vietnam. Don and the jet pilot made it to the same part of the river, not knowing what happened to the other prisoner. Don began his watery journey only to lose contact with his comrade. He never saw either man again. After a few hours his troubles ended when he came upon a camp with bright shining lights beaming into the Mekong. Hearing American voices he was then rescued, shouting out in the dark who he was.
Just this month Time/Life issued a new magazine/book examining the Vietnam War. I bought it last Wednesday in a Coulee Dam-area Safeway when shopping for organic orange juice. It is well worth the 12 dollars, especially for those new to the subject, serving as a good introductory primer. While some know, most don't that I am a Vietnam-era 1-0, official Conscientious Objector from my draft board located in Brighton, Colorado November, 1972. I came to Seattle to do what is called "alternative service" but President Nixon ended the draft in February 1973, meaning I just missed being included in the final call-up of the war. I say this as explanation to my continued and abiding interest in that most horrible of subjects, war.
Another reading recommendation I have is a new book just recently published concerning WWI, "The Burning of the World, A Memoir of 1914" by Bela Zombory-Moldovan, an Hungarian painter who died in 1967. The book is a translation by his grandson, Peter Zombory-Moldovan. It is a valuable read.
I end this digression from "all subjects taxi" with a poem taken from Canadian poet Robert Service's book, "Rhymes Of A Red Cross Man" which he dedicated to the memory of his brother, Lieutenant Albert Service who was "Killed in Action, France, August, 1916." I really like this poem, an excellent example of its kind. For further reading, check out the paperback edition of the "Penguin Book of WWI Poetry." I bought my copy while on a weekend vacation in Calistoga, California in 1980. That book was, and remains a major influence. Check out the poems of Wilfred Owen. You will never be the same, I assure you.
(France, August first, 1914)
Far and near, high and clear,
Hark to the call of War!
Over the gorse and the golden dells,
Ringing and swinging of clamorous bells,
Praying and saying of wild farewells:
War! War! War!
High and low, all must go:
Hark to the shout of War!
Leave to the woman the harvest yield;
Grid ye, men, for the sinister field:
A sabre instead of a scythe to wield:
War! Red War!
Rich and poor, lord and boor,
Hark to the blast of War!
Tinker and tailor and millionaire,
Actor in triumph and priest in prayer,
Comrades now in the hell out there,
Sweep to the fire of War!
Prince and page, sot and sage,
Hark to the roar of War!
Poet, professor and circus clown,
Chimney-sweeper and fop o' of the town,
Into the pot and be melted down:
Into the pot of War!
Women all, hear the call,
The pitiless call of War!
Look your last on your dearest ones,
Brothers and husbands, fathers, sons:
Swift they go to the ravenous guns,
The gluttonous guns of War.
Everywhere thrill the air
The maniac bells of War.
There will be little sleeping to-night;
There will be wailing and weeping to-night;
Death's red sickle is reaping to-night:
War! War! War!
There you have, War! in all its glory! May it end, but when, but when, but when!
Post Script added October 23rd, 2014
Another book recommendation:
"The Long Shadow, The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century" by David Reynolds,
published 2014 by Norton.
Well researched and the photo pages are incredible, looking at those alone, separate from the text, will provide you with important and long lasting insight. As is obvious, wars' impact lasts far into the future, peace treaties little better than a band aide covering a festering wound. There are no heroes, only the dead and maimed.