“The Vietnam War” Episode Five: “This Is What We Do” (July 1967 – Dec. 1967), Thursday, Sept. 21:

[What follows is a brief summary of Episode Five of the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick Special “The Vietnam War” along with my personal commentaries, songs, and writings about where I was during this period. – Former 1Lt. Richard Morris, A Co. 2nd Bn 5th Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry Division (Airmobile) 1967-68]

Le Duan prepares for his TET offensive

Le Duan and Ho Chi Minh

In 1967, when I first arrived in country, at Ankhe, near Qui Nhon, and  began patrolling with my company and platoon around Bong Son, the war seemed at a stalemate. The U.S. had 200,000 troops in country and had lost 14,624 dead.

 

 

Le Duan urged his weary countrymen to be patient, and developed a new plan–coordinated attacks on more than a hundred cities and outposts across South Vietnam that would lead to a general uprising and the end of the war.

Under Fire at Con Thien

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It would occur on January 31st, the first day of the TET holiday, the Vietnamese New Year. To prepare for it, he would launch a series of attacks on US/ARVN bases near the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone)  and on the western side of the country, to lure American troops away from the cities on the coast.

Con Thien, near the DMZ

The first was Con Thien near the DMZ. A Marine force had crossed into the DMZ with tanks, but were stopped by a bridge that was too narrow. They reversed direction, followed the same route toward base, and were repeatedly ambushed on the way. Then the NVA besieged the base. It was within range of NVA artillery north of the DMZ which was largely immune to counter-battery fire. More than 1400 Marines were killed and nearly 9300 wounded in the fighting in and around Con Thien. NVA losses were put at nearly 7600 killed in action and 168 prisoners of war.

Map of Dak To

To the southwest, near the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the NVA struck the 173rd Airborne base at Dak To. Three companies were ordered to take Hill 875 near the base. Although the hilltop was denuded by B-52 bombs and Agent Orange defoliant, the NVA were safe in bunkers. Two U.S. companies were ambushed on the way up, and the reserve company that stayed at the bottom of the hill was surprised and pinned down. The battle lasted nineteen days. Only twenty-six out of one hundred twenty-six U.S. soldiers made it to the top.

Hill 875 near Dak To

The NVA troops slipped away, the U.S. troops retrieved the bodies of their dead, and abandoned the hill.  Many felt that they accomplished nothing. This operation was reminiscent of a scene in Cologne No. 10 For Men when the company commander orders the platoon leader to bring the NVA bodies they killed in a night ambush down to the bottom of the hill. It also brings to mind my song, “Counting Bodies In The Nam” on my Skytroopers CD.

At home, anti-war demonstrations raged, and Robert McNamara sent LBJ a secret memo saying he should freeze troop levels, halt the bombing, and try to negotiate. LBJ removed him from office and made him president of the World Bank, and replaced him with Clark Clifford.  The Johnson Administration was assuring the American public that victory was in sight, and by this time, there were 20,067 U.S. KIA.

Meanwhile, my company was besieging an NVA battalion in a pile of boulders near Bong Son. I wrote a song about it in 1967. My songs are like a diary of my experiences in Vietnam. View the lyrics of all my songs here. There is also a fictional description of the Rockpile operation in Cologne No. 10 For Men. In it I imagine what it must have been like for the trapped NVA soldiers.

Songs I wrote in Vietnam in 1967. On the left front cover, I am standing in front of the rockpile,  Chanh Giao Cave

4. Chanh Giao Cave
© Richard A. Morris 1967

[(Rockpile Operation): 23 Aug 67 through 3 Sep 67, A Co. 2/5 Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry Div., trapped 74 North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops in a rock pile near Bong Son. Over a 13-day siege, under the able leadership of Captain Clayton Pratt, the company killed 33 NVA soldiers, captured 41, and had one man wounded and none killed. The company received a congratulatory message from MG Tolson, CG, 1st Air Cav Div, Bong Son, RVN, 15 Sept. 1967.]

Chanh Giao Cave,   A pile of boulders where they hid in the day.
Chanh Giao Cave,   Their rocky fortress in the end made them slaves.

We caught them by surprise and laid siege to them at Chanh Giao Cave.
And never did our eyes leave those rat-holes for thirteen days.

Chanh Giao Cave,   They wounded Willie down at Chanh Giao Cave.
But we dropped grenades until their bravest man was deathly afraid.
Then one by one they shouted “Chieu Hoi” and climbed up and out of the cave,
Except the ones that met their father’s fathers down in Chanh Giao Cave.

Keep alert, watch that hole,   There’s more where they come from.
Set right there, day and night till they’re beggin’ for a crumb.
Smell the stench of rotted men wedged in a stony bed.
Brush away them pesky flies; let ‘em know that you ain’t dead.
Time is on our side men.
There are frag wounds in their hide, men.
Hunger’s clawing them inside, men.
There’s one.  “Chieu hoi, chieu hoi, chieu hoi.”

Chanh Giao cave,   The day we left it, it was Chanh Giao grave.
Thirty-three NVA never saw again the bright light of day.
We gave them all the choice to live or die at Chanh Giao Cave.
But only forty-one said they would not end it all at Cahn Giao Cave.
Chanh Giao Cave, Chanh Giao Cave.

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“The Vietnam War,” Episode Four: (Jan. 1966 – June 1967)

Today is the International Day of Peace, Thursday, September 21st,  established in 1981 by a unanimous United Nations resolution. At a time when our President is threatening to nuke North Vietnam, we might consider re-reading Hiroshima by John Hersey to remind us of the devastation nuclear weapons cause. “Most of the city is destroyed and thousands of its inhabitants died. Some of its citizens survive and suffer the debilitating effects of terrible burns and radiation illness.”

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[What follows is a brief summary of Episode Four of the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick Special “The Vietnam War” along with my personal commentaries, songs, and writings about where I was during this period. – Former 1Lt. Richard Morris, A Co. 2nd Bn 5th Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry Division (Airmobile) 1967-68]

In January 1966, I left my graduate studies at Western Reserve University in Cleveland (now Case-Western Reserve) because I decided that I did not want a career doing research and teaching at a college. Knowing that I would likely be drafted if I dropped out (the monthly draft increased from 10,000 to 30,000 in 1966) and wanting to serve as an officer in the military like a favorite uncle had in World War II, I enlisted in the Army to go to Infantry Officer Candidate School at Ft. Benning in Georgia, after taking basic training at Ft. Jackson, SC, and advanced infantry training at Ft. Gordon, GA. Then I volunteered to serve in Vietnam, knowing that’s where they would send me anyway. I met Barbara while I was in OCS in October of 1966, we married in March of 1967, and after two weeks of Jungle School in Panama, I was shipped to Ankhe, Vietnam in June 1967.

Combat Air Assault

In 1966, we had 2344 soldiers killed in Vietnam and a total of 184,300 troops in country. I joined A Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile):  A2/5 as a platoon leader. The man I replaced had had both his legs blown off below the knee (I saw him at a reunion a few years ago and he was walking quite well on his prosthetic legs). The company commander had been killed, and the new commander was said to be a real SOB. Everything had to be done by the book, including establishing a defensive perimeter by digging chest-deep foxholes every night everywhere we went and sleeping holes to get our bodies below the surface of the ground so that mortar shrapnel would miss us. We hated him, but after several months when we received no casualties while killing and capturing many enemy soldiers without committing an atrocity or burning a hooch, we learned to love our commander.

Fullbright Hearings

In the fall of 1966, while I was in OCS, hearing, “What’s the mission of the Infantry?” “To kill!” “I can’t hear you!” “To kill!”  “I still can’t hear you!” “To kill!!”, Senators William Fullbright and Wayne Morse were holding hearings on the war, including some atrocities, and George Kennan, former Ambassador to the Soviet Union and advocate of a policy of containment of Soviet expansion, was saying that we had “illusions of invincibility” in Vietnam. The anti-war movement was gaining steam, although a majority of Americans still supported the war.  In 1966, the war started to affect the middle class–the military was drafting out of college. Protest shifted from moral to self-interest. The Viet Cong were now said to control seventy percent of the country. Cologne No. 10 For Men is about the illusions and delusions of the war.

Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense, Jan. 1961 – Feb. 1968

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara believed that everything could be quantified. Our generals were discussing the “Crossover Point” at which we kill more of them than they can replace from the north. This involved keeping track of enemy KIA (killed in action). It was also useful to count friendly KIA so that we could divide enemy KIA by friendly KIA to determine the kill ratio. Ten to one was a “good” kill ratio and meant we were winning. However, the process tended to motivate our soldiers to kill civilians and count them as enemy KIA. Cologne No. 10 For Men, my Vietnam War satire, is all about counting bodies, and my Skytroopers CD contains a song entitled “Counting Bodies in the Nam . . . to prove that we have won.” Unlike World Wars I and II and Korea, no ground was held in Vietnam. We could take and hold a hamlet during the day, and the VC could take control at night and draft soldiers, get food, and tax the villagers. We could count hamlets as pacified that were really under the control of the VC.

In 1966, we mounted a Search and Destroy Campaign – a forty-two-day offensive – in which we mounted air assaults of hamlets, searched them for VC, weapons, and food caches. If the hamlet was found to be harboring VC, it would be destroyed, which was at odds with the goal of “winning the hearts and minds” of the people.

VC/NVA munitions, weapons, food, and uniforms, and other equipment formerly was supplied by small junks sailing from North Vietnam to the South in the South China Sea, but when a naval blockade ended that route, the VC/NVA began carrying and then trucking gear down the “Ho Chi Minh Trail” along the border between Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia–12,000 miles of unpaved roadway under the canopy of trees. The U.S. bombed it with B-52s leaving large craters in the road. But the North had 230,000 teenagers work to keep the road open–filling in the craters, repairing bridges, etc. The U.S. sprayed Agent Orange on the jungle to expose the road. Still, the trucks rumbled and the shipments went on. Gen. Westmoreland wanted 200,000 more troops to cut the Ho Chi Minh trail. Johnson sent “only” 47,000.

 

North Vietnamese gunners were becoming more proficient in shooting down our bombers. In tens of thousands of sorties, aimed at Hanoi and Haiphong harbor, many bombs hit residential areas, and a hundred airmen were eventually put in the old French prison, tortured until some of them recorded the confessions their captors demanded.

Many of our leaders–military and civilian–were lying about Vietnam, but we had to keep going because we couldn’t let our soldiers die in vain.

Next Episode: Five: “This Is What We Do” (July 1967 – December 1967), Thursday, Sept. 21

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“The Vietnam War,” Episode Three: “The River Styx” (Jan. 1964 – Dec. 1965)


Thursday, September 21st is the International Day of Peace, established in 1981 by a unanimous United Nations resolution.

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[What follows is a brief summary of Episode Three of the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick Special “The Vietnam War” along with my personal commentaries, songs, and writings about where I was during this period. – Former 1Lt. Richard Morris, A Co. 2nd Bn 5th Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry Division (Airmobile) 1967-68]       

In January 1964, I was a junior at Haverford, my Quaker-related college. After graduation, through December 1965, I was in graduate school at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and Vietnam was passing by me as a hazy newsreel in another world. Therefore, this post is more of a summary of Episode Three rather than an intertwining of my own experiences and/or events that may have inspired my writing in Cologne No. 10 For Men.

Movement of USS Maddox in Tonkin Gulf

 

 

I had read about coups by the military in South Vietnam, but I had not heard that Le Duan, not Ho Chi Minh, was now the leading decision maker in North Vietnam. Of course, I was aware of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, because it gave President Johnson a free hand to do whatever was necessary to assist South Vietnam. On August 2, 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox was pursued by three North Vietnamese Navy torpedo boats off the coast of North Vietnam. The Maddox fired three warning shots and the North Vietnamese boats then attacked with torpedoes and machine gun fire. The Maddox responded. One U.S. aircraft was damaged and there were no U.S. casualties. The Maddox was unscathed. Three North Vietnamese torpedo boats were damaged, four sailors killed, and six wounded. There continues to be disagreement as to what happened, but it led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, in which Congress gave President Johnson the authority, without a formal declaration of war by Congress, to do whatever was necessary to assist any member of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty. This included involving conventional armed forces.

Larger North Vietnamese units were moving south, and in response, in March, 1965, a week after President Johnson was inaugurated, he approved Rolling Thunder air strikes in North Vietnam. Formerly, retaliatory raids were permitted; now systematic bombing was approved in hopes of forcing the Vietnamese to negotiate. Johnson also approved three more Marine battalions to go to Da Nang to protect the bomber base. The government of South Vietnam was not consulted on these decisions, just as the American people were not informed when Marines were first sent into direct conflict. This decision has been described as Crossing the River Styx, our  decision to win for South Vietnam” instead of “helping South Vietnam win.

More and more troops for combat: Johnson ordered two more Marine battalions to Vietnam, but these would be for active combat, not just security–the first for combat. In May, 1965, Le Duan sent 5000 troops to the South to destroy the ARVN. Moscow was supplying their weapon systems, and China sent 300,000 troops to North Vietnam to replace NVA troops sent south. U.S. commander General Westmoreland urgently requested more troops. Johnson sent 50,000 more to be followed by an additional 50,000 by the end of 1965. This was also when napalm (jellied gasoline) and Agent Orange defoliant were introduced, napalm to burn enemy strongholds and Agent Orange to remove leaves from jungle trees that hid enemy troops and to destroy rice fields, forcing farmers to move to the cities.

In Vietnam, journalists were free to accompany troops into combat (there was not the press censorship that there was in World War II), and as a consequence, two hundred journalists were killed in Vietnam. One of the most influential stories was CBS Reporter Morley Safer‘s report on Marines burning down houses in the hamlet of Cam Ne. The report resulted in large stateside demonstrations against the war. Journalists were important characters in my novel Cologne No. 10 For Men, gutsy reporters who continually sought sensational stories that would help their stations compete for viewers on the daily news.

LZ X-Ray in Ai Drang Valley, 1965

The remainder of this episode became more personal for me as it was about my 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) a year and a half prior to my arrival in Vietnam. The division was deployed in Vietnam at Ankhe in the Central Highlands near Pleiku. It included 16,000 men and 435 helicopters. Their first major battle was in Ia Drang Valley, at LZ X-ray, on November 14-18, 1965. General Hal Moore led his troops against 3000 NVA troops, seven times the 1st Cavalry troops, which had the support of 18,000 artillery shells, 3,000 rockets, B52 strikes, and napalm. NVA troops attacked four times and left the bodies of more than 600 of their own soldiers. The 1st Cav had 79 KIA (killed in action) and 121 WIA (wounded). After that battle the NVA struck LZ Albany using new tactics–man-to-man combat so close that U.S. artillery, rockets, and air strikes would be useless. This history was made famous in the book We Were Soldiers Once and Young, by Lt. Gen. Harold (Hal) G. Moore (Ret.) and war journalist Joseph L. Galloway.

More troops: There were now twelve VC regiments and nine NVA regiments. Hanoi was escalating, and General Westmoreland was asking for 200,000 more troops.

Next: Episode Four: “Resolve” (January 1966 – June 1967), Wednesday, Sept. 20

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“The Vietnam War,” Episode Two, PBS

John F. Kennedy Inauguration-1961

[What follows is a brief summary of Episode Two of the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick Special “The Vietnam War” along with my personal commentaries, songs, and writings about where I was during this period. – Former 1Lt. Richard Morris, A Co. 2nd Bn 5th Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry Division (Airmobile) 1967-68]

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

[What follows is a brief summary of Episode One of the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick Special “The Vietnam War” along with my personal commentaries, songs, and writings about where I was during this period. – Former 1Lt. Richard Morris, A Co. 2nd Bn 5th Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry Division (Airmobile) 1967-68]

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:

 

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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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