Tuesday, October 17, 2017

1929 blast kills six firefighters, including Guy Clark


This old photograph from the Lucas County Historical Society collection --- six volunteer firefighters and two boys grouped around Guy Clark's tombstone --- has a tragic story to tell, one most likely not remembered by those who walk by his grave in the Chariton Cemetery today.

The firefighters are (from left) Bill Dunshee, Byron Adcock, Ellsworth Johnson, Guy Williby, Bassel Blakesmith and Renus Johnson. The boys are Jerry and Richard Adcock, Byron's sons. The photograph was taken, probably, on Sunday, June 4, 1950, during the Chariton Volunteer Fire Department's annual memorial service at the cemetery.

The firefighters had come to Clark's grave to deliver a wreath from the Scribner, Nebraska, Volunteer Fire Department whose members had remembered their fallen comrade in similar fashion since 1929. In that year, Guy had been killed in what was at the time the greatest disaster to befall Nebraska firefighters --- a full quarter of Scribner's 24-man force dead in one awful night.

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Guy Clark, born Jan. 8, 1890, to James W. and Helen E. (Crall) Clark, had grown up in the Oakley neighborhood northwest of Chariton and was a barber by trade. He had married Lura Fletcher and they became the parents of two sons, Gerald and Bernard.

Until the fall of 1927, Guy had been working at the Lincoln Barber Shop, co-located with the Lincoln Theater on the first floor of the three-story Temple Building on the south side of the square, so-called because the Knights of Pythias club rooms, or "temple," occupied elaborate quarters on the top floor.

During September of 1927, the family relocated to Scribner, Nebraska, today a town of some 850 souls located northwest of Omaha in Dodge County. Guy opened his own shop on Main Street there. A veteran volunteer firefighter in Chariton, one of his first acts in Scribner was to join that city's volunteers, too.

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Nearly everyone in Scribner was in bed and sound asleep when the fire alarm rang through its streets just before 11 p.m. on Thursday, March 7, 1929. Firefighters scrambled out of bed, rushed to the fire station and then headed to the Carl Hollander farmstead, located on the edge of town and consisting of a house and various outbuildings, including a small barn that was ablaze.

A couple of hundred spectators dressed themselves more carefully and headed to the scene either out of curiosity or a desire to be helpful.

Hollander was chairman of the Dodge County Board of Supervisors and what no one else in Scribner knew going into that night was that some time earlier a shipment of 10 cases of dynamite, between 250 and 500 pounds (estimates vary), had arrived and had been stored in the barn that now was burning. The commissioners planned to use the dynamite to break up spring ice jams on the Elkhorn River, which flows through Dodge County.

Hollander was at the home of a neighbor when the fire was discovered and according to some reports he rushed home and attempted to warn the firefighters. One account states that he ran toward them yelling, "Dynamite, be careful, dynamite!" According to another account, he arrived on the scene and reassured the firefighters that the dynamite would not explode because the caps were stored elsewhere --- that the fire would just burn out.

Whatever the case, at 11:18 p.m., a massive white flash illuminated the Nebraska night sky and a blast reportedly heard as far away as Fremont, some 25 miles distant, obliterated the burning barn and nearby buildings, shattered windows across Scribner and sent debris and bodies flying high into the air.

Four firefighters were killed outright --- Guy Clark, age 39; Gus Pittack, 26, assistant postmaster; Fred Felcner, 22, a feed and grain merchant; and Harry Wibbels, 24, an auto mechanic. Two others died after they had been carried from the scene: William F. Strube, 34, a garage owner; and Arthur Schoeneck, 25, a truck driver.

In addition, 40-60 firefighters and bystanders were injured, sustaining burns, injuries related to the concussion and wounds caused by flying debris. A nail reportedly was driven into the heart of one firefighter who survived --- and lived to be 100 with the nail still in place.

Only a hole in the ground remained where the barn once had stood, so a cause for the fire that set off the blast never was determined. An automobile had been parked in the barn when the fire broke out and some speculated that faulty wiring had started a fire that ignited the gas tank, resulting in flames of sufficient intensity to set off the dynamite.

Scribner had a hospital at the time, where the dead, dying and injured were taken. But it was overwhelmed. The town's two physician worked through the night, treating the injured. Beds were carried in from nearby homes. Dr. A.C. Stokes, head of the Omaha chapter of the American Red Cross, arrived before daybreak on Friday with six nurses to help out. Eight other physicians from nearby towns also arrived to help treat the injured before dawn or later on Friday morning.

The dead were taken to the undertaking rooms at the Arthur Furniture Store.

Guy Clark's funeral was held on Saturday afternoon in Scribner, then his remains were placed on board a train for the trip --- with his family --- to Chariton, arriving Saturday night at the C.B.&Q. Depot.

On Sunday afternoon, a second funeral service was held at First Christian Church in Chariton and Clark's body, accompanied by an honor guard of firefighters, was taken to the Chariton Cemetery for interment.

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The mayor of Scribner, and others, blamed Supervisor Hollander for the disaster, charging that he should have made it known in the community that the dynamite was present. No blame ever was formally assigned, however, tempers cooled and Hollander was re-elected to further terms on the board of supervisors.

A city insurance policy paid benefits to the families of the fallen and other kindnesses were shown --- a collection to fund the educations of the children of one of the fallen, for example.

During June of 1935 a seven-foot granite monument in honor of the six fallen firefighters was erected in Scribner's town park and it remains to remind residents of the great disaster. And so long as any of the Scribner firefighters present on that March night in 1929 lived, their comrade buried in the Chariton Cemetery was remembered, too.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Ten days with "The Vietnam War"

You'd think that I'd have something useful to say after investing 10 consecutive evenings --- one episode at a time --- to the Ken Burns-Lynn Novick film, The Vietnam War. It was a learning experience, however; now I've got to go back and watch at least some and maybe all of the episodes again.

Later last week, after the marathon, I watched a panel discussion sponsored by The Asia Society that featured, in addition to Burns and Novick, Thomas Vallely --- a U.S. Marine combat veteran of the war, specialist in modern Vietnam and senior advisor to the film. He acknowledged that, going into the film, he knew very little about the war. Me, too.

Another Asia Society panelist who made frequent appearances in the film, Duong Van Mai Elliott, observed that everyone involved in the war had a story, but that the stories do not necessarily form a comprehensible whole.

A little like the blindfolded men examining an elephant in an attempt to discern its true nature, it all depends on where you're standing. That kind of applies to the film, too.

But the film certainly is a masterpiece in that it pulls into one comprehensible narrative a majority of the elements involved in the war and it certainly is beautifully (at times, horrifyingly) produced. Thoughtful people will disagree, however, about the play given by the film makers to some of those elements; others will argue that elements are missing. It is, however, the best widely accessible launching point we have had until now for further thought, investigation and analysis.

You do have to pick it apart and think for yourself, however. I managed to get so preoccupied with  fussing about the limited examples of brutality committed by U.S. troops during the war that I didn't start until later pulling together elements of the film that clarify the consistent and horrendous brutality of North Vietnamese regimes that consciously facilitated the slaughter of millions as acceptable means toward an end.

Nor had I really thought about the fact that, as Duong Van Mai Elliott stated during The Asia Society discussion, one of the greatest tragedies of the war was how poorly served the people of South Vietnam had been by the supremely corrupt regimes that governed them --- with U.S. support.

But it is a learning experience. I was in Vietnam when the Kent State shootings occurred; it surprised me to find out that, at the time, a majority of Americans thought the shootings were justified --- national guardsmen killing unarmed students.

Then again, I got up this morning to a Facebook exchange between a couple of friends spitting fire at the 13 Ames High School marching band members who left the field Friday night in protest prior to The Star Spangled Banner. Perceived as disrespectful toward the national anthem, the flag, veterans, firefighters, EMTs and America in general, you'd almost think that these gentle ladies, had they been there and appropriately armed, would have shot the little bastards.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Even Baptists can turn from sin and toward the light


I got to thinking Friday night --- while watching a live stream of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus concert in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church, Greenville, South Carolina --- about the sweet Baptist lady here in Chariton who some time ago asked a friend, "What does he (me) have against us?"

The answer is two-fold. It's a collective and not an individual thing; some of my best friends, as they say, have been and still are Baptist. But if you were gay you'd know the answer and wouldn't have to ask the question. 

Two hundred men of the chorus, accompanied by about 50 members of the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, have been on a concert tour of the South during the week now past --- from Mississippi to North Carolina, wrapping up last night in Charlotte. Included was an emotional stop at Brown Chapel AME Church and a walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

But for many, I suspect, that appearance in First Baptist's vast sanctuary filled with a standing-room-only crowd was among the most meaningful because it represented a brief homecoming for those who had been cast out over the years by their churches. 

Other congregations welcomed the musicians along the way: St. Philip's Episcopal and Fondren Presbyterian in Jackson, Mississippi; Baptist Church of the Covenant and Highlands Methodist in Birmingham; and First United Methodist in Charlotte.

But to experience firsthand that evening in Greenville the fact that even Baptists can turn from the sin of the Pharisees and toward the light --- well that must have been stunning.

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The San Francisco chorus, organized during the fall of 1978, performed publicly for the first time that year on Nov. 27 during a candlelight vigil on the steps of San Francisco City Hall following the assassinations of Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. The featured number: Mendelsohn's "Thou, Lord Our Refuge."

Since then, hundreds of gay men's choruses have been organized worldwide --- even in Des Moines --- but San Francisco is the granddaddy.

The chorus originally had planned to kick off its 40th season with an international tour, but after experiencing the poison of the 2016 election cycle decided instead to embark "on a soul-affirming, life-changing journey ... to share SFGMC's mission of community, activism and compassion throughout the South, supporting our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters and promoting acceptance and love through music." 

Shortly after announcing the tour, the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, with a similar mission, asked to join the tour and the groups began joint rehearsals.

The title of the tour, "Lavender Pen," refers to the lavender pen used by Mayor Moscone --- given to him by Milk, to sign a landmark gay civil rights bill during 1977. The Lavender Pen remains a symbol of the fight for equality for all.

Each of the tour musicians paid his or her own way, $2,000 each, and all money collected through ticket sales and freewill offerings was distributed among charities in the host cities. Travel was by bus and the groups made approximately 30 public appearances during the seven-day tour.

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First Baptist of Greenville is, with some 2,100 members, as you might guess, not your typical Baptist church. Organized in 1831, it began to move away from the Southern Baptist Convention as that denomination came increasingly to be dominated by fundamentalists at odds with the traditional Baptist stance of congregational autonomy.

In 1990, First Baptist was a leader among congregations that organized the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and, in 1999, it severed its ties to the Southern Baptist Convention entirely.

After a period of discernment, the congregation in 2014 adopted the following statement defining its relationship with the LGBTQ+ community: “In all facets of the life and ministry of our church, including but not limited to membership, baptism, ordination, marriage, teaching and committee/organizational leadership, First Baptist Greenville will not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

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If you'd like to watch all or part --- or merely skip around to see what's there --- of the Greenville concert, here's the YouTube version. As a church junkie --- who attends for the sheer joy of it all  but without orthodox belief --- and fan of choral music I naturally watched it all again.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Taking the knee, walking off the field ....


I'm proud of the 13 members of Ames High School's marching band who walked off the field last night before "The Star-spangled Banner" to protest racial injustice --- and ended up prominently featured in various media. And of Darius Moore down at Clear Creek-Amana, who continues his practice of kneeling during the anthem as standing teammates lock arms to show support for his right to do so.

The band members had planned to kneel, too, according to a report in this morning's Des Moines Register, but were instructed by an administrator to walk off the field instead. 

The only troubling aspect of the Ames situation is that administrators also apparently told scholars who had planned to wear American-themed attire in the student section to choose another theme. What's fair for one student, it seems likely, should be fair for others, too.

I hope some are remembering the 7-2 1969 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Tinker v Des Moines Independent Community School District that in effect established the right to non-disruptive free speech inside schoolhouse doors.

The only disruption in Iowa involved the ruffled feathers of some Friday night patriots. Apparently a few cursed the Ames students as they walked off the field. How very adult.

Ames High School sophomore Lara Murray said she decided to walk off to highlight inequality in the United States, The Register reported. "How can we be unified if there's racism, sexism and homophobia in our school?" Murray asked. "I had a lot of second thoughts on it, but I thought I was going to regret it more if I didn't do something."

Now you watch. As the days pass, the ruffled feathers crowd is going to suggest that high school students should be seen on the football field gladiator-like to entertain the oldsters, but should otherwise keep silent because, you know, they don't know what they're talking about.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Bingham, Cooper, Levis, Cesar ...

On Saturday, July 19, 1969 --- just a month after family and friends had laid Larry Ray Peterson to rest in Goshen Cemetery --- Sebird M. "Bill" and Marjorie Bingham were notified at their rural Chariton home that son Dennis, a Green Beret, had been killed in combat "on the battlefields of Vietnam."

Details were vague, but military authorities assured the Binghams that they could be proud of their son and that more information about the circumstances of his death would be made available as the weeks passed.

Larry Peterson, a Vietnam veteran who had made it home safely and then died when his helicopter crashed into the sea off California June 13, 1969, while on a military mercy mission, would not be counted among the nation's Vietnam War fatalities because his death did not occur in the war zone.

Specialist 4 Dennis William Bingham, 21, was Lucas County's first and by many accounts only combat-related loss in Vietnam, although two other men with ties to the county would be killed there later, one within months and the other within a year. A third had been among the nation's first Vietnam losses back in 1965.

Dennis, born Nov. 12, 1947, was by contemporary accounts all that parents could have hoped for in a son. He was a 1965 honors graduate of Chariton High School who had gone on to earn, during 1967, an associate degree at Centerville Community College. After a summer of "roughing it" across Europe with a friend, he returned home and enlisted in the U.S. Army.

Dennis had dreamed since junior high, his family said, of becoming a Green Beret and set out to earn that distinction. After training at Fort Gordon, Ga., and winning his paratrooper wings at Fort Benning, he qualified for training at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Training Center. He received that Green Beret in October 1968.

Deployed to Vietnam, Bingham was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne). He arrived in Vietnam on April 22, 1969, and had been in country less than three months when he died.

Dennis's family was told during July that details of the mission he had been engaged in were classified, but that "he had been involved in operations in enemy territory which were to evaluate enemy troops and troop movements" and that he had been based at "Kontum headquarters on the Cambodian border 50 miles north of Saigon." Kon Tum actually is about 260 miles north of Saigon near the borders of both Cambodia and Laos.

Bingham's remains were turned to Chariton approximately 10 days after his death. Funeral services were held July 28 at Beardsley-Fielding Funeral Home and burial followed in the Chariton Cemetery. An honor guard from Fort Leavenworth served as pallbearers and conducted military graveside rites.

In December, Bingham's parents traveled to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. During the intervening months, it had been determined that their son would receive posthumously the Silver Star Medal for heroism in addition to his Purple Heart. Both were presented by the commanding officer of Fort Leonard Wood during that late December visit.

The Binghams also had learned more details about the mission their son had been engaged in and the details of his death. 

On July 17, Specialist 4 Bingham was serving as radio operator during a reconnaissance patrol in Laos. His team, hit by enemy forces after moving about three hours during the morning, moved to locate a landing zone for emergency evacuation. As the weather worsened and the attack continued, Bigham maintained constant radio contact to guide the rescue helicopter in. When a team member was wounded, Bingham rushed to assist him. As the helicopter approached the landing site, he moved into the clearing to direct it --- and was mortally wounded. 

In addition to his parents, Bingham was survived by a brother, Michael; and three sisters, Brenda, Cindy and Cathy.

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U.S. Marine PFC Leonard Dean Cooper's Oct. 18, 1969, death in Vietnam was reported in a front-page Herald-Patriot story on Thursday, Oct. 23, under the headline, "Lucas Soldier is Victim of Vietnam Mine." But it's unlikely that many in Lucas County knew who the young man was. The story identified him as a son of Mr. and Mrs. W. R. Whitis of rural Lucas. Mrs. Whitis, Leona, was his mother; W. R. Whitis, his stepfather.

Cooper, whose father, Robert L. Cooper, had died during 1958, was a native of Mahaska County, born there on June 7, 1946. He had married Susan Mitrisin and became the father of Mary Jo, Susan and Michelle Cooper before their separation. His mother and stepfather had moved to a farm near Lucas after their 1964 marriage and their home was his home of record when he died. Later on, the Whitis family moved on to Missouri.

PFC Cooper had arrived in Vietnam during August of 1969 and had been assigned to Co. D, 7th Engineers, 1st Marine Division. He was an equipment operator and was returning from a road-building detail in Quang Nam Province on Oct. 18 when his Jeep hit an anti-personnel mine, resulting in his death. He came home to Bluff Creek Cemetery near Eddyville for burial beside his father and an infant brother.

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A year later, The Herald-Patriot of July 23. 1970, reported on its front page the death three days earlier, on July 20, of  U.S. Army Sergeant Dennis R. Levis, age 23, assigned to Co. B, 2nd Battalion, 196th Light Infantry Brigade. He was serving at the Kham Duk air strip near Da Nang when  killed during an enemy mortar attack.

A son of Delrein and Gweniverre (Richard) Levis, Dennis was born Aug. 23, 1946, at Chariton and was a 1964 graduate of Seymour High School. He attended Centerville Community College and graduated from Drake University with a degree in business administration. At the time he entered the U.S. Army during October of 1968, he was a civilian employee of the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Command, Warren, Michigan. Ordered to Vietnam during October of 1969, he had three months left to serve there at the time of his death.

In addition to his parents, who were living in Chariton at the time of his death, he was survived by his widow, Linda (Bellomo) Levis of Center Line, Mich., and a sister, Nancy Drake of Chariton. He was brought home to the Allerton Cemetery in Wayne County for burial.

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The Chariton newspapers had not reported U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Richard A. Cesar's Oct. 30, 1965, death in Vietnam, but he is the only one of these young men I still can see clearly in mind's eye  nearly 50 years later.

Born Dec. 21, 1944, at Boone, he came to Russell from Rockford, Ill., at age 15 to live with an aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Harold Kastner, and attended Russell Community School through his junior year. His parents, John T. and Betty Cesar, then moved from Rockford to Corydon and he transferred to Cambria-Corydon High School for his senior year.

Richard was determined to be a U.S. Marine. He signed up Feb. 18, 1963, under a 120-day deferred enlistment plan and entered the active service on June 11, 1963, just a couple of weeks after high school graduation.

By the spring of 1965, Lance Corporal Richard Allen Cesar, a gunner, was on Okinawa and a member of Weapons Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines.

The 9th Marines were among the first into Vietnam that spring, and Richard was among them. On Sept. 1, he received a battlefield promotion to corporal.

Not long after, he was assigned with a few buddies to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, to add combat depth to an inexperienced unit. A few days later, on Oct. 30, 1965, he died on Hill 22 near Da Nang — not yet 21. By that time, his parents had moved back to Rockford and so he came home for burial in Willwood Cemetery there.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Flag-covered caskets

The circumstance of war had been relatively kind to Lucas County by the time 1969 dawned and began to rise on the horizon.

Accelerating warfare in Vietnam during previous years had been reflected in deployment reports for many of its young men in the Chariton newspapers and accounts of wounds incurred --- but the scattered stories of death in combat were limited to neighbors in adjoining counties or to grandsons, nephews and cousins whose homes were elsewhere.

 That would change as conflict escalated in the United States and a new president began to fulfill his campaign promise to withdraw troops from Vietnam.

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Just two months earlier, during late October of 1968, the Herald-Patriot had shared in a front-page story parts of a letter home from a young man from rural Chariton, Petty Officer 3/C Larry Ray Peterson, then serving aboard the supercarrier USS Constellation in the Gulf of Tonkin, off Vietnam.

Peterson, 27, son of Jesse G. and Wilma Peterson, was an aviation electronics technician in Helicopter Combat Support Squadron I. His unit flew guard for the launching and recovery of aircraft from the Constellation as well as making mail visits and personnel transfers to other ships in the area.

In his letter, published on Oct. 24, Peterson gave an account of his role in the rescue of LCDR Wayne Lambertson, 31, of San Diego, pilot of a Phantom F4-B jet that went down immediately after takeoff from the Constellation.

"The plane went over and the pilot couldn't pull it out shortly after being catapulted from the carrier," Peterson wrote. "We were already aloft on airborne guard duty and I yelled at the pilot that we had a plane in the water. We were over them in a minute, spotting the pilot's light, a director's wand, a cone-shaped flashlight for directing planes at night aboard a carrier.

"The motor whaleboat from a destroyer arrived shortly and picked up the radar intercept officer from the plane, but our crew was having difficulty getting Lambertson free of his entangled parachute shrouds.

"I went into the water to help. Usually you can pull a man away from his chute but this time we couldn't do it since they were all tangled around his feet. I asked if he was ok, so that I could move him more freely than I could if he had suffered back injuries in the crash. One man lifted him up and I went to work on the lines, using my knife while I made several dives to completely free him. Time was important because the chute, which can have a terrific pulling effect, was starting to pull him down.

"To make matters worse there was a sea snake in the area but when we got into the water it scurried away a short distance and remained an observer. Finally, the two of us in the water got the lines all cut and he was lifted into the helicopter. We were exhausted but happy."

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By mid-June, 1969, the U.S.S. Constellation had been redeployed and was cruising off the coast of California. Peterson was assigned to a crew based at the Imperial Beach Naval Air Station.

Late Thursday, June 12, Peterson's crew received an emergency call from the Constellation, then 50 miles offshore, reporting that a sailor --- SPO James F. Dean, 47 --- had been injured when blown off its flight deck by a jet blast and needed immediate transport to a naval hospital.

The shore-based crew boarded a UH-2c Seasprite turbo-powered helicopter and flew to the Constellation where they picked up the injured man as well as Capt. Andrew W. Stevenson, 45, chief medical officer of the Constellation; and Wayne Zarling, 45, a civilian technician who had been working aboard the Constellation and needed a ride back to shore.

At 1 a.m. Friday, June 13, nearing home, the helicopter inexplicably crashed into the sea seven miles northwest of Point Loma, killing all aboard. 

A Navy search and rescue crew worked the crash scene for approximately six hours and was able to retrieve the bodies of Peterson and the pilot, Lt. Richard L. Fitzsimmons, 26. Lost at sea were Dean, Stevenson, Zarling and Lt. Leonard E. Goza, 29, the co-pilot.

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The news of Peterson's death was reported under a banner headline in The Chariton Leader of Tuesday, June 17. 

Born Oct. 23, 1941, in Osceola, it was reported, Larry had grown up near Derby and Chariton. He was a 1960 graduate of Chariton High School and also had attended Simpson College and the University of Iowa before enlisting in the Navy during March of 1967. In addition to his parents, he was survived by two daughters, Laurie Lynne and Nicole Rae, and a brother, Glenn.

His remains reached Chariton later that week and funeral services were conducted on Thursday, June 19, at Beardsley-Fielding Funeral Home. Burial followed in the Goshen Cemetery.

Although Larry had served previously in the Vietnam War zone, his death did not occur there and so his name does not appear on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., a circumstance that made him no less a hero to his family and friends in Lucas County.

Larry's death was the first involving a Lucas Countyan during what sometimes is described as the "Vietnam Era." It would not be the last.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Matthew Moul, "Surviving Home" & Lucas County


Matthew and Jillian Moul
Matthew Moul's surname is not a familiar one in Lucas County. But had his grandfather, Mark, not been killed in combat during World War II, the Emmy-award-winning freelance film and television editor and producer most likely would have been known as Matthew Bingaman. And that would have been a different matter.

The news here is that Surviving Home, a new documentary film co-directed and produced by Matthew and Jillian Moul, will have its world premiere Nov. 2-12 during the St. Louis International Film Festival. Here's a description of the film from the Cinema St. Louis web site:

"In honor of Veterans Day, SLIFF offers a free screening of “Surviving Home,” an intimate documentary that follows four veterans over an eight-year period as they rebuild their lives after war. Interwoven with their stories are veterans' voices from across the United States. The film’s principal subjects had vastly different combat experiences and challenges, and they’ve taken equally diverse paths on their difficult journeys to recovery. A World War II vet is part of a generation that stoically resists talking about their experiences. A Vietnam vet becomes a Buddhist monk in an attempt to reconcile his guilt over the people he killed. A severely burned Persian Gulf and Iraq War vet, who lost an arm on his fourth tour of duty, still wishes he could go back into combat. And a female Iraq War vet suffers less from the trauma of war than from the sexual assault she experienced at the hands of her “brothers.” Through perseverance, humor, inner reflection, strength, and a determination to help others, these vets overcome many obstacles, but the road ahead continues to bend in unexpected ways. Their unique paths of healing and discovery shed light on the long-term burdens of war and reveal the miraculous power of the human spirit."

Matthew's grandfather was Lucas County native son Mark D. Bingaman (left), son of Robert and Elsie, husband of Marcella, and father of Robert Lee, not yet a year old when Mark died on March 19, 1945, aboard the U.S.S. Franklin near the Japanese mainland when it was struck by two armor-piercing bombs dropped by a single Japanese bomber. Although the ship survived, barely, 836 members of its crew were killed. Mark, with the others, was buried at sea. A cenotaph in his memory is located in Oxford Cemetery.

In the years that followed, Matt's grandmother remarried and Robert Lee was adopted, assuming the surname "Moul." Matthew, who considers Mason City his hometown, is Robert Lee Moul's son.

Matthew and I became acquainted during 2011 because the Lucas County Historical Society collection includes a photograph, uniform and correspondence related to his grandfather.

You can learn more about the film by going to its web site, which is located here. And here's a brief biography of Matthew from that site:

"Born in 1973 in Dubuque, Iowa, Matthew Moul is a Primetime Emmy-winning editor and producer and makes his directorial debut with Surviving Home. He was co-executive producer and editor of the 2015 documentary series, The Runner-Up, produced by Jonathan and Simon Chinn, which was a critic's pick in the Los Angeles Times. Matt has worked with HBO, Showtime, PBS, and AMC among many other networks over the course of 14 years. He has three Emmy nominations as an editor, and was part of the bilingual team which earned a Peabody Award for KCET's educational series, A Place of Our Own/ Los Ninos en su Casa. He also edited Addicted Twins for Paramount Domestic Television, which won a  Prism Award. He graduated from the University of Southern California with a B.F.A. from the School of Dramatic Arts and was a National Merit Scholar."

Down here in Lucas County, Grandpa Mark would have been proud. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Hard lessons learned --- so far


I'd forgotten a helluva lot and there was a helluva lot I didn't know --- hard lessons learned so far (seven episodes in) from Burns-Novick's The Vietnam War

It's a riveting piece of work and, it seems, only a few people I know watched, are watching or have watched. Too bad. I'm wondering if I'm going to have to watch it again to sort out an overload of information, images and emotions.

My rate is an episode an evening and, while I never have problems getting to sleep, I have awakened a couple of times at 3 a.m., thinking.

I can understand why some would avoid it --- combat veterans carry their own reasons with them and those I respect; for many of us, time is an issue. Those Tweets and Facebook "shares" about trivialities do take effort.

To be a little fairer, however, The Vietnam War experience is not that far away from enrolling in a concentrated training course: years jammed into a few days.

One of the hardest parts of watching is just getting to know some of the young combatants featured --- and then they're killed.

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Episode 8, which I'll watch tonight, covers public revelations about the My Lai massacre, the Cambodian Campaign (1 May-30 June 1970) and Kent State (May 4, 1970), all pivotal events in the anti-war movement.

Much of what I know about My Lai came later. I was closing out in Washington, D.C., home on leave or en route to Vietnam when this news hit the front pages and the evening news. It was not uncommon to avoid news about Vietnam when you knew you'd be there in a few days.

We were too busy to think during the Cambodian Campaign --- and barely aware, in Vietnam, of Kent State. 

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On reason I wish more would watch is the film's useful remainder of what an awful time the 1960s and early 1970s were --- much worse, actually, than many of the tempests in teapots we're currently engaged in fussing about. I'd actually forgotten (or suppressed) a lot of that.

It was fascinating to relive Nixon's ascendancy to the White House. I'd forgotten just how much I disliked that man and the details of the treason he engaged in that, in part, put him there. At least he didn't have Twitter; while he may have been evil, he wasn't an amoral clown elevated to the White House by jackasses.

Monday, October 09, 2017

The good old days back home in Saigon ....


The curious thing about this old 8-by-10-inch glossy, when it finally turned up the other day, is that it made me homesick. As if I could walk through the door at center in the big L-shaped building, into the courtyard, turn left past the administration office, cut through center plantings of tropical vegetation, walk through the door into Analysis and go right to work.

The helicopter from which this image was shot, perhaps in 1968, was hovering over the roof of the Combined Intelligence Center Vietnam (CICV), much larger than the target, the Combined Document Exploitation Center (CDEC). We called the auxiliary building on the right the "snack bar" because it contained, among other things, a big room with attached kitchen where outnumbered GI's joined the Vietnamese military and civilian staff for breakfast (paper-thin omelets and a small baguette of french bread usually; we had no access to a military mess) and occasional meals. 

Two other "combined" intelligence units, all I believe formed along with CDEC and CICV in 1966 and for U.S. personnel under the umbrella of the 525th M.I. Group, were located elsewhere in Saigon --- the Combined Military Interrogation Center (CMIC) and the Combined Material Exploitation Center (CMEC). Back then, I could have driven you to CMIC --- my roommate was an interrogator; but for the life of me can't dredge up a single memory of CMEC.

A bus ran daily, morning and evening, from our quarters in the "old french hotel" some distance to the west just off Plantation Road. But many times it was more practical to hail a motor-powered cyclo and pay your own way. At night or in case of emergencies, jeeps. The route was the same --- turn right just past the German Consulate as you approached Tan Son Nhut onto an even busier street then, just past Third Field Hospital, take a left across a busy "Y" intersection into the unmarked narrow lane that paralleled an unused soccer field, past a small cemetery, then through the gate of our small compound.

You can see the big cemetery that was our neighbor on the other side of the compound to the upper right in the photo. Some said our compound had been built on cleared cemetery ground, which may or may not have been true. But our staff did, upon occasion, burn incense and paper offerings and say a few Buddhist prayers in the courtyard --- just in case. I've forgotten who occupied the barracks in the distance. An MP company perhaps? That seems familiar. MACV, "Pentagon East," as well as Tan Son Nhut, was nearby.

This was an ARVN compound, guarded and administered by ARVN troops. Our fellow CDEC workers, other than a couple of dozen Americans and two South Korean liaison sergeants, all were Vietnamese. In Analysis, the amazing Mr. Suk was in charge although he graciously allowed GI team chiefs to believe they had some authority, too. The Vietnamese civilians who outnumbered us also were our friends. Everyone was in love with the U.S. team secretary, Miss Niehm, in flowing white trousers and au dai.

This little trip down memory lane accompanied Episode Six of the Burns-Novick film, The Vietnam War, covering January-July 1968 and the Tet Offensive, which occurred a year and a half before I landed at CDEC. By that time, those of us who lived and worked in Saigon were operating again inside a bubble, convinced that our home was the safest place in Vietnam, far removed from the realities of life in the field for other GIs. 

The January-July 1968 period, in the United States, also included the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy and accelerating racial and anti-war unrest. I was struck by the story of a black Marine who made it safely out of Vietnam --- barely; then landed at home in Boston only to discover that no cab would stop to carry him on home from the airport because he was black. A highway patrolman finally stepped in to force a ride.

And of course in the case of CDEC, there's no going home again. When Saigon fell, some of our co-workers, including Mr. Suk and Miss Niehm, were evacuated to the United States. Many were not, however, and I have no idea of what became of them. To North Vietnamese eyes, they were collaborators. I've looked on "Google Map" for the site of the CICV-CDEC compound a number of times and think I've found the old soccer field. It may be that the CDEC site is now covered by tennis courts.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Tom Anderson's medals


I've been cataloging for the last couple of weeks items that came to the historical society during the summer now past from the family of Tom Anderson, who died during March at the age of 68.

Tom was a long-time friend of the society who over the years had donated items from his collection of carpentry tools, his U.S. Army Class A greens with ribbons, patches and badges attached and more. 

He had asked that, after his death, the society be given the pick of his tool collection and we chose 25 items, mostly carpentry planes now on display in the Bill Marner Blacksmith Shop. The shadow box in which he had displayed the medals that matched the ribbons on his uniform as well as a formal Army portrait came along a little later.

I decided to label the medals --- and looking at them this morning see that I've messed up. The medal in the lower right corner is the Vietnam Campaign Medal issued by the Republic of Vietnam; the ribbon next to it, the U.S. Vietnam Service Medal. I'll get that corrected next week.

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Tom came to mind last evening while I was watching Episode 5 of the Burns-Novick film, The Vietnam War --- a tough one to sit through because it covers the period July-December 1967 and, graphically, the deadly fighting engaged in by U.S. Marines and U.S. Army units south of the DMZ and in the Central Highlands.

Tom wasn't there then, but 1967 was the year he graduated from Chariton High School (this weekend was the 50th anniversary homecoming for his classmates; I hope they remembered him) and then, age 18, enlisted in the U.S. Army. 

We squeezed a small battered earlier photo out of Tom to accompany his uniform a few years ago and in it, he looks impossibly young. This portrait most likely was taken about 1971-2 after a tour of duty in Vietnam and while he was assigned to USATC Armor at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Still impossibly young. I can't be sure, but it looks as if he may already have had his staff sergeant stripes. He served until 1975.

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I wish I knew more about the stories behind the most consequential of these medals, especially the Bronze Star Medal with "V" device, awarded for heroism in combat. I think it was awarded during April of 1970 while he was serving with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor, in Vietnam. But can't be sure. Perhaps one day we'll track the story down. If I'd had my wits about me, I'd have looked carefully at his decorations when the uniform was brought in and Tom was very much alive --- and asked.

This does bring to mind the importance of veteran stories, even though for various reasons veterans sometimes are reluctant to share them.

If you are related to a veteran who earned medals for heroism or, for that matter, for meritorious service otherwise, some day you'll want to know the stories behind them. So ask. Then write the stories down. If you're a veteran, share your stories or write them down yourself. Please!