“The Vietnam War,” Episode Two, PBS

John F. Kennedy Inauguration-1961

I was still in high school when John F. Kennedy was elected President. I remember discussions in our Protestant Republican family and community about whether a Catholic should be elected President (the consensus was that he would not take orders from the Pope). In his Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961, I remember his idealistic call, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” and in March, when he signed the executive order establishing the Peace Corps.

Woolworth Lunch Counter Sit-In —     February 1, 1960, Greensboro, NC

I remember on TV, watching the student lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, and not at first understanding the courage these young men had to break the color line and defy the KKK and other white supremacist enforcers of Jim Crow segregation. Then, as editor of my high school newspaper, I recall asking my advisor why we had no African Americans living in our all-white suburb of Cleveland. He suggested I ask a real estate salesman, who told me, “I don’t think they want to live here.” I built this scene into my novel, Canoedling in Cleveland.

Buddhist Monk Self-Immolation – 1963 South Vietnam

But back then I had no awareness of the Vietnam war, until I saw on TV, on June 10, 1963, a Buddhist monk in Vietnam set himself on fire  in protest of the persecution of Buddhists under the administration of Roman Catholic President Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam. This was arguably an even greater demonstration of courage than the students showed, this one to gain freedom of religion. That self-immolation was followed by others that led to widespread Buddhist protests, in a country where between 70 and 90 percent of the people were Buddhist. These martyrs aroused the people to demand religious freedom from President Diem. [Parenthetically, religious conflict has always plagued the human race–between Christians and Muslims in the Crusades, Nazis against Jews, Catholics & Protestants in Ireland, Sunnis & Shia in Iraq, Muslims & Buddhists in Myanmar, etc.–and is a theme of my latest novel, Masjid Morning.]

Strategic Hamlet

President Kennedy wanted to win the war without using U.S. troops and conventional warfare–only advisors–and he committed Special Forces troops–Green Berets–to advise the Army of South Vietnam (ARVN) in guerilla war against the VC guerilla fighters. The object was to win the people’s “hearts and minds” so that they would reject the Communists. The people in the countryside would be moved into fortified “strategic hamlets” that the VC couldn’t infiltrate. But the farmers hated leaving their own hamlets, and increased their support for the VC.

One of five choppers the VC shot down at Ap Bac on 2 January 1963

In January of 1963, while I was engrossed in my studies at Haverford College in Philadelphia, the small-scale battle of Ap Bac was taking place in  Vietnam. It was the first major combat victory by the Viet Cong against regular South Vietnamese and American forces. The VC shot down five U.S. helicopters, turned back five APCs (armed personnel carriers), and killed eighty ARVN troops and three American soldiers. The attack demonstrated to the people in South and North Vietnam that the American army with all its air power and armaments was not invincible. Boosted by this victory, Ho Chi Minh went to China and won its support for arming the North Vietnamese Army. I was more aware of the Cuban Missile Crisis when we discovered that Russia (USSR) had planted nuclear missiles in Cuba. Kennedy put in a naval blockade of Cuba until the missiles were removed. As part of a private agreement, Kennedy removed our nuclear missiles from Turkey.

Ngo Dinh Diem, 1st President of South Vietnam, 1955-1963

With the VC on the rise, Buddhists opposing the Catholic President Diem, and corruption infusing the government, many in the U.S. were uncertain whether we could win the war with Diem in power. Kennedy was uncertain how he could win re-election without showing more progress in the war, even though U.S. troops had been increased from 11,000 to 16,000 in 1963.  He sent a new ambassador to Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Kennedy sent word that he would not oppose or support the overthrow of Diem. A group of generals fought Diem’s forces for eighteen hours on the streets of Saigon, and arrested and murdered Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu.  Eighteen days later, Kennedy was murdered in Dallas.

Tonight: Tuesday, Sept. 19:  Episode Three: “The River Styx” (January 1964 – December 1965),

 

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“The Vietnam War,” Part 1, on PBS

Richard and Barbara – 1967

Last night my wife and I watched the first part of the PBS documentary series, “The Vietnam War,” directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. We married fifty years ago, a few months after we met while I was still in Infantry Officer Candidate School at Ft. Benning, Georgia. A few months later, after a short stint as a Training Officer at Ft. Polk, Louisiana, I shipped out to Ankhe, Vietnam, near Pleiku, where I became an infantry rifle platoon leader with the 1st Cavalry Division. I had enlisted in the Army to go to OCS and volunteered for Vietnam to do my part to help hold back the relentless expansion of International Communism, which had already taken Russia, Eastern Europe, China, and North Korea. I believed in the domino theory, that if IC took Vietnam, the rest of Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, and Malaysia would follow.

I remember reading about when Vietnam was a French colony (French Indochina) with plantations producing rubber, tea, opium and rice alcohol, and about the Japanese conquest in World War II, and the U.S. aiding the Vietnamese at that time to fight the Japanese.

After the war, in spite of Ho Chi Minh’s entreaties to the U.S. to help him lead the country toward independence, Vietnam was split in half, the South administered by the British and the North by the French. Ho Chi Minh declared independence and began the first Indochina war against France.  In the South, the anti-Communist State of Vietnam, led by former Emperor Bảo Đại, was granted independence in 1949. I remember reading about the victory by the Viet Minh army at Dien Bien Phu in the North, and the French agreeing to withdraw from Indochina if Ho agreed that South Vietnam would be independent. Ho agreed, but after the South’s President Diem refused to allow elections on unification of the country (which Ho’s Communists would have won), the Viet Minh began the Second Indochina War, now known as the Vietnam War, which was fought primarily by the U.S. after 1963.

I remember flying into Ankhe in the Central Highlands of Vietnam without a rifle, being rather terrified of what would happen next, and finding a “stateside” base with a library, chapel, and officer and NCO clubs with swimming pools, some of the things I satirized in my novel Cologne No. 10 For Men, which I wrote more than a decade later when I was no longer a war-hawk.

The next part of Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” airs on PBS at 8:00 P.M.

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Who believes in Zombies?

Saturday, October 14.

I do, for one. I’ve seen them. I’ve seen them running toward me, screaming and hollering. I had to run away to save myself.

There’s one now. Look out!

 

 

Look for our booth, too:

 

Event Time Price Details
5K Run/Walk
Time

9:30AM EDT – 11:00AM EDT

Price

$30

Registration ends October 13, 2017 at 12:00pm EDT
One Mile Kids Run/Walk
Time

9:00AM EDT – 9:20AM EDT

Price

$15

Registration ends October 13, 2017 at 12:00pm EDT
1K Family Fun Run/Walk
Time

8:45AM EDT – 8:55AM EDT

Price

$15

Registration ends October 13, 2017 at 12:00pm EDT
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Cav Takes Over Khe Sanh

 

 

Yesterday my wife was going through a box of old papers when she came upon the April 24, 1968 edition of the Cavalair, the 1st Air Cavalry Division newspaper. When she handed it to me, I was instantly plunged into a swirl of memories from nearly half a century ago – flying fearfully in a long chain of Huey helicopters with the doors open down Route 9 west toward Khe Sanh (Operation Pegasus, 31 March 68) near the DMZ to end the siege of 3500 Marines and 2100 Army of Vietnam troops by 20,000 North Vietnamese troops (NVA). The whole 1st Cavalry Division was joining in the attack.

My company – A Co. 2/5 – landed on a hill denuded by Agent Orange with a 30-foot-wide B-52 bomb crater on top. We jumped out, hit the ground,  and raced all over the hilltop with our rifles at the ready, expecting live fire at any time.

Eerily, we found no enemy troops – only some discarded weapons. Where was Charlie? It was as if the NVA troops had seen us coming, dropped their weapons, and ran.

I wrote a song about it, which is on my Skytroopers CD:

Charlie’s Gone, Charlie’s Gone, from Khe Sanh, from Khe Sanh.
When we got there, when we got there,
the Leathernecks were lyin’ in the sun
and a-havin’ fun, a-havin’ fun,
and a-sippin’ a long, cool one.
‘Cause Charlie’s gone.

Charlie’s Gone, Charlie’s Gone, from Khe Sanh, from Khe Sanh.
We’d like to think, we’d like to think, he heard the Cav was comin’ and he run.
But there’s more than that, there’s more than that,
‘Cause the jets are gettin’ deadly with their bombs.

He didn’t even say goodbye.
He didn’t even pack his bags.
He didn’t even say where he was goin’ knowin’
We’d want to pay a visit to him soon.

Charlie’s Gone, Charlie’s Gone, from Khe Sanh, from Khe Sanh.
We’re moppin up, we’re moppin’ up
his weapons by the hundred these days.
But no KIAs, no KIAs and no pris’ners are we gettin’ from the caves
Cause Charlie’s gone.
Adieu.

[I wrote nineteen songs while in Vietnam. I recorded them in 2009 on my  Skytroopers CD, which you can purchase online from CDBaby.  The song above is about Operation Pegasus: “Charlie’s Gone.” You can find all my song lyrics here, along with the Cavalair story about our company’s “Rockpile” operation in Vietnam.]

Meeting no opposition on the hilltop, we presumed that the attack on the Marine base had ended. However, other 1st Cav companies saw days of tough combat. Overall, the division killed more than 1000 enemy, while 19,000 fled. It was a great victory in a war that saw 58,000 American soldiers killed, and a war in which we killed between one and two million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians, and exposed four million soldiers and civilians to agent orange defoliant (a million of whom continue to suffer serious health issues), and denuded millions of acres of forest and crop land resulting in widespread famine.

These are some of the experiences that shaped my first novel, Cologne No. 10 For Men, which is a satire. Kirkus called it A funny and serviceable satire about the gross rationalizations that propel war and peace.” “. . . like Catch-22 or M.A.S.H. . . .carries echoes of Tim O’Brien’s similarly toned The Things They Carried.“— Kirkus Reviews. Writer’s Digest said, “This is truly a superb novel of the Vietnam war, a novel that compares favorably with those earlier “dark humor” war novels such as CATCH-22 and M.A.S.H. The writing crackles with authenticity.” David Willson, Books in Review II, The Vietnam Veterans of America Veteran said, “There aren’t very many funny Vietnam War infantry books. This is one of them. Read it and be amazed.”

You may also be interested in my other Vietnam blog posts:

Fact or Fiction in Vietnam,”

Kill Anything That Moves – The Real American War In Vietnam, by Nick Turse: A One-Sided View of the War,”

Cologne No. 10 For Men – Fact or Fiction

 

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Masjid Morning Wins 2017 Bookvana Award

Bookvana.com announced today that Masjid Morning is the winner in the 2017 Bookvana Awards in the category Fiction: Romance.

“LOS ANGELES  –  Bookvana.com announced the winners and finalists of THE 2017 BOOKVANA AWARDS (BVA) on August 14, 2017. Over 50 winners and finalists were announced in over 30 categories. Awards were presented for titles published in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

“The Bookvana Awards are new specialty book awards honoring books that elevate society, celebrate the human spirit, and cultivate our inner lives.

“Jeffrey Keen, President and CEO of American Book Fest, said this year’s contest yielded hundreds of entries from authors and publishers around the world, which were then narrowed down to the final results.”
 Masjid Morning had previously won a Finalist Award in the Category Fiction: Romance in the 2017 International Book Awards.
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“The Real Threat: Us or Them” – Southern Fried Karma reviews Masjid Morning

I was pleased to see on Facebook last week that Southern Fried Karma Press had placed a review of Masjid Morning and another novel on their blog. It is entitled “The Real Threat: Us or Them? by Emery Duffey | Jul 12, 2017 | Southern Culture, Southern Literature | Healing Lessons on Immigrants from Two Debut Authors. We had met Steve McCondichie, the co-founder of Southern Fried Karma, at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) convention in Washington, D.C. last February.

Duffey writes, “As discussions about immigration dominate and divide the nation, the media and other aspects of society are quick to push their own opinions but slow to empathize with the experience of those caught in the middle — the immigrants themselves. Especially in the South, we tend to amplify our prejudices with the hateful rhetoric of fear that places blame on those outside our norm, the others. What often fails to register within such exchanges are the frightening realities —immigrants and American citizens have become the targets of murderous hate crimes . . . Authors Richard Morris and Sohrab Homi Fracis (Go Home) confront the arduous task of healing our cultural deafness in their debut novels. With a sense of kinship and tradition, Morris of Maryland and Fracis of Florida each offer readers a different take on humanizing immigrants . . . ”

While I’m not a debut author (Masjid Morning is my fourth novel), I agree that people tend to “amplify our prejudices with . . . fear that places blame on those outside our norm . . . ” Unfortunately, as we well know, it’s not just in the South. It’s all over. We’ve had many examples in the Middle Atlantic states, and there have been others throughout the country, fed in part by intemperate discourse in political campaigns.

A glance at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s map of hate groups is sobering. Eleven such groups reside in Maryland, my setting for Masjid Morning. Maryland is often viewed as a Northern state although below the Mason-Dixon Line, but in 1850, in Southern Maryland, the enslaved Black population nearly equalled that of the White population (see Slavery and Freedom on the Middle Ground). The counties are dotted with the mansions of tobacco plantations.

My earlier novel, Well Considered, also set in Maryland, tells of an African American man, whose family moves into a new subdivision built on a former tobacco farm, who investigates why his great-grandfather was lynched by a mob near his home back in 1907. Although the story is fiction, such murders occurred here as late as 1933—that one on Maryland’s Eastern Shore (see On the Courthouse Lawn by Sherrilyn Ifill). The Eastern Shore is also where Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman were enslaved.

Indiana was the center of the major Ku Klux Klan revival in the 1920s, and James Loewen has documented the existence of “Sundown Towns” throughout the United States, where African Americans and/or other minorities had to be out of town by sundown. My novel Canoedling in Cleveland tells of a quest by two teenagers to learn why their town has no African Americans.

Today, immigrants, especially Muslims, are included among the oppressed. Fortunately, we have many groups, churches, and synagogues in Maryland that work to oppose intolerance and hatred, as I’m sure they do in Georgia where Southern Fried Karma is published and across the Deep South. These groups play an important role in defending my Muslim characters in Masjid Morning as their masjid (mosque) grows out of the ground “like a living being” as one reviewer describes.

This morning I read Heather Long’s Wonkblog in the Washington Post about how the Administration plans to cut legal immigration at a time when unemployment is low (4.4%), there is a shortage of workers in many industries (5.7 million job openings), our growth rate is slow due in part to the retirement of so many Baby Boomers and our low birth rate, and patent filings and new business formations are down. Eighty-nine percent of surveyed economists say cutting immigration at this time is a bad idea. I think we need our immigrants. We need our fifteen thousand Pakistani-American physicians and the thousands of other Muslim physicians from other countries. And we need more workers for entry-level lower-wage jobs. We should embrace them.Tempest-Tossed

So, to echo this reviewer, Emery Duffey, “In case y’all missed it, these two #novels by Richard Morris and Sohrab Homi Fracis just might make your list #Fridayreads. Our #bookreview examines the rapt tension created in the plot lines by #immigration and how it affects our culture. Where do we stand as #Southerners?”

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Happy Birthday, Michael

Michael A. Gollin

Author, poet, and intellectual property expert Michael Gollin celebrated his sixtieth birthday last week. Gollin, who wrote the back cover review on my book Well Considered, is author of Driving Innovation: Intellectual Property Strategies for a Dynamic World and Innovation Life Love: Reflections on Living with Mortality. The second book is a compilation of his blog posts over the past few years since he was diagnosed with ALS–about his bucket-list adventures with his family, his thoughts, and humor. These days Michael is wheelchair-bound and communicates by moving his eyes. He is one of the most delightful and courageous people I know, and I am one of the many who love him dearly.

For his birthday, I wrote him the following song:

“A Toast to Michael Gollin”
Words by Richard Morris

1957-2017 (so far) – sixty years old on 6-3-17

(To the tune of “To Life” from Fiddler on the Roof)
A toast to Michael Gollin
To Michael A. Gollin, a toast
He is a Renaissance Man
Never an also-ran…
Drink l’chaim to Mike

To Mike the patent lawyer
For pharmies and biotech firms
A Georgetown Business professor yay
wrote the book on IPA…
Drink l’chaim to Mike

His pro bono work on Intel property led him to many foreign lands
And to found a public interest org to help so many others understand

To Mike, the dad and husband
His legacy lives on and on
Through Jill his beloved wife,
Natasha, Max and Julia…
Drink l’chaim to Mike

To Mike the bold explorer
Hauled his kin to foreign lands
The Galapagos Islands and
Kruger Safari Park…
Drink l’chaim to Mike

And down into the Everglades
And rafting the Canyon Grand
Down the Peruvian Amazon
And up Machu Pichu mountaintop…
Drink l’chaim to Mike

Then he changed into a blogger with poetry and stories for all of us to read
And poured them into Innovation, Life, and Love about Mortality

“Play the cards you’re dealt!” he wrote
And “I am a lucky man”
Remember,“You’re not alone.”
And “We’re not alone” and…
Drink l’chaim to Mike!

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Mixed up in NOLA

Harbor Seafood & Oyster Bar – Kenner, LA

NOLA? What’s that? I was mixed up.  (I finally figured out that it’s New Orleans, Louisiana. Duh.)

We spent last week in NOLA selling my novels in an Exhibit Hall booth at the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly at the New Orleans Convention Center.

Lovebirds

Books sold well. Masjid Morning was the big mover, followed by Well Considered, Canoedling in Cleveland, and Cologne No. 10 For Men.

Dr. Leon Spencer – Dr. Bill Sinkford – Rev. Sofia Betancourt, Remembering Those Who Have Died

I slipped away occasionally to take in convention programs and especially liked the service honoring ministers–new and retiring (several of whom we knew personally), and those who have departed–and a seminar given by ministers in the town where I grew up, the town that was the setting for Canoedling in Cleveland.

Fifty Years Later at Antoine's 2

Fifty Years Later at Antoine’s

Barb and I capped things off by hopping into a cab for the French Quarter on Friday night and having dinner at Antoine’s, fifty years after we ate there while living at Ft. Polk, LA, when I was a newly-wed training officer, prior to shipping out to Vietnam during the war.

Cherries Jubilee at Antoine’s

Antoine’s was divine, with dark paneled walls covered with framed pictures of the many celebrities who have feasted there, and excellent food served by tuxedoed waiters. We shared Oysters Rockefeller and creole gumbo, and I had succulent Petit Filet de Boeuf with red wine sauce and diced fried potatoes with melted butter, and she had Filet De Gulf Poisson (gulf fish) with crawfish sauce. Yes, it was pricey, but memorable.

Harbor Seafood Blackened Catfish with Oyster Sauce

Then on Saturday night, in a hotel near the airport for a morning flight out, we followed the desk clerk’s advice and dined at Harbor Seafood & Oyster Bar. Something about it seemed like a neighborhood place, with benches across the front, usually full of people waiting for tables. Inside, I had blackened catfish smothered with thick creole sauce, and Barb had grilled eggplant with crawfish sauce.
The patrons were as diverse as the food–Hispanic, White, Vietnamese, African American, and origins I couldn’t begin to guess–all drawn together by the delectable mix of Cajun foods and spices. And this food was NOT pricey. What fun.

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Back to the scene of …

Richard and Barbara – 1967

Fifty years ago when I was stationed at Ft. Polk, Louisiana, preparing to leave for Vietnam, my new wife and I spent a “honeymoon” weekend in New Orleans.

Richard and Barbara – 2017

Now we are back, celebrating fifty years and selling my “social justice novels” at the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly annual meeting.

masjid-cover 6-18-14 Canoedling Cover  Cologne No. 10 For Men Cover

“Thought-Provoking!” “Powerful!” “Funny!”

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Bullish Research

In the air

Sorry, stock market fans, this is about a different kind of stock.

Saturday night June 7 we experienced Dave Martin’s Bullride Mania at Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds in Crownsville, Maryland, north of Annapolis. It was a trip.

Thousands gathered to see:

    Horseback Riders

fifty horses and riders in Western regalia gallop into the arena and line up for the national anthem;

National Anthem

a dance contest of kids under six (the audience applauded and roared to crown the champion);

Stick-Pony Race

children racing stick ponies and riding sheep, bronco-style;

Wave to mom

and at last, the bull-riding contest. Riders were lucky to stay on the animals eight seconds when they put all four feet into the air (“the most dangerous eight seconds in sports”). What a hoot. There was more to come, but we had to leave.

And all to research a possible scene–a puzzle-piece–in my next novel.

Ready for roping

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