Sunday, October 26, 2014

Veterans War Project

The Veterans History Project was created by the United States Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 2000. Housed in the Library of Congress American Folklife Center, the project is primarily an oral history of American war veterans.

The personal accounts of the veterans are collected through interviews, preserved by the Library of Congress and made accessible to researchers and the pubic so "future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war." The project includes first hand accounts of American veterans from World War I (it was called the war to end all wars) to the current Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts (evidently we don't call them wars anymore).

I have assigned my students in English class to locate a war veteran and interview him or her for the project. Since these are college freshmen and not journalism majors, I decided to model how the interview should flow. My sweetie is a Vietnam vet and he agreed to be interviewed by me (with the entire class sitting back as witnesses in the darkened background).

He came dressed in his boots, jeans, cowboy shirt and hat, with his silver streaked hair covering his shirt collar. He looked exactly like a semi-retired man from small town Navasota, which is who he is.

We set up the iPad so that it recorded his face and voice as he answered my questions. He told how he joined the Navy to avoid being drafted by the Marines. One of his friends had come back in a body bag after being drafted by the Marines so Ronnie decided he was better off on a aircraft carrier n he Tonkin Gulf than in-country. However, to his surprise, he was sent to a land-based squadron in Da Nang, Vietnam, where he served between 1969 and 1970. His squadron transported cargo and personnel between Da Nang and the carriers. In between that, he maintained the aircraft, working on the aircraft skins, frames, pneumatics, hydraulics, and landing gear.

He remembered and told us about the air base being subjected to nightly sniper, rocket, and mortar attacks. "You could set your watch by the attacks; they started at 1 a.m."

He escaped being killed and doesn't believe he ever came close... well, there was the time that he was with a friend and the buddy was hit  with shrapnel that tore into his chin and neck. The buddy was walking just ahead of Ronnie so there's no doubt the shrapnel would have hit him had he been walking alone. But for the most part, the nightly attacks that intruded in his dreams are probably part of the reason he suffers from PTSD and has trouble sleeping.

He got daily doses of Agent Orange from the vehicles covered with thick dusting of the leaf defoliate that the Seabees brought back to camp from their work in the bush. The wind brought more to camp when the military dumped it over Freedom Hill behind the camp. Ronnie told us there of the times he and his buddies drank beer and watched the attacks on Freedom Hill. "It was like fireworks on the Fourth of July." He didn't realize the contaminated air he was breathing would result in high blood pressure, two heart attacks, and Diabetes II.

Ronnie returned stateside in 1970, and the war protesters were still quite vocal. The protesters targeted returning vets like Ronnie and accosted them in airports calling them baby killers. Some were even spat upon. He says he never killed anyone, man or woman, infant of elder, in Vietnam. But he knows where the name baby killer comes from. He described for us how the Viet Cong would place grenades under the arms of children and send them running from a hut to the American soldiers entering  village. When the children raised their arms to be lifted up, the grenades fell to the ground and exploded, killing or maiming everyone in the vicinity.

He told us that he drank a lot and ran with a wild crowd when he returned. Finally, he said that he got his act together and enrolled in college on the GI Bill, majoring in law enforcement.

When he finished his story, the students, without prompting and to my surprise and his, stood from their chairs and applauded him. Many of them had no idea what Agent Orange was, or that people spat on veterans when they returned from war. They thanked him for telling his story, and they thanked him for his service.

If you would like to listen to some of the veterans' stories from 1914 to the present, go to the website: If you'd like to participate, there is a guidebook to lead you through the process.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

State Fair

My sweetie and I went to Dallas to visit my younger brother and his wife and go to the State Fair. It was the best weekend for all our calendars--unfortunately we didn't check the football schedule. That's right... it was the Red River rumble between University of Texas and Oklahoma  University. The stadium was packed. The overflow of Longhorns and Sooners filled the fairgrounds and kept up with the game by watching big screen TVs strategically placed throughout the place.

We passed up the fried olives, the fried pickles, the fried green tomatoes, and fried ice cream. But we each had a corn dog slathered in yellow mustard with a nutty bar (nut and chocolate covered vanilla ice cream on a stick) for dessert.

We saw a dog show with pups that have appeared on David Letterman and that could fetch Frisbees at almost warp speed before splashing into water. Other dogs ran an obstacle course--the blue dog team against the red dog team. The red dog team won, but maybe not--it seemed scripted. There was a three-legged dog that the barker ( no pun intended--that's the carnival term for the announcer and by this time, the atmosphere had a carnie feel) promised would be around for family photo ops. We moved on to the goat show and watched the judge pick the champion goat. The winner (that is, the owner of the champion goat) was euphoric, while the other contestants put on brave smiles but you could see the disappointment in their eyes.

I loved the quilt exhibits. The grand champion prize went to a quilter who took two years to create her winning quilt. It looked like it was made of Tibetan silk. Beautiful, exotic.

My sister-in-law and I got Deep in the Heart of Texans 2014 Cookbooks with a collection of State Fair prize winning recipes from the 2013 competitions. Recipes include Bacon Spud Hugs; Roasted Corn, Peppers and Jicama Salad; Southern Comfort Buttermilk Fried Chicken; Jalapeno Cheese Bread; and Angel Food Cake with Heath Bar Icing.

If I can get an ambulance on speed dial to take Ronnie and me to the ER, I may cook up that menu for dinner next Sunday.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Goin' to the chapel

"Certain experiences remain within us from the day they occurred throughout the rest of our lives, " writes Nan Phifer in her book Memoirs of the Souls. "They formed us. They might be as small as the over-hearing of a whispered sentence, but we recorded them in our memories, and they became part of who we are."

I went to my second cousin Caroline's wedding to Ben Lauber this weekend in San Antonio. The wedding was absolutely perfect, and I hope there are lots of pictures for Caroline to look over with Ben when they get back from their honeymoon. Personally, I remember having a hard time being present at either of my weddings--they were both really a blur except for a couple of moments, which, yes, now that I think about it, will remain in my memory for the rest of my life.

The Tarski-Lauber wedding had many whispered oohs and ahhs, laughter, hugs, toasts, prayers, and family from all over the country coming together to witness the vows exchanged by these two adorable young adults.

I wonder what moments Caroline will take into her heart. Perhaps she'll laugh over the way niece Olivia (Livi) dropped the rose pedals on the carpet like a responsible flower girl should while her younger sister Charlotte (Charli) followed behind and picked them up... Or maybe she will remember, and hold dear, the way Ben's eyes widened in appreciation as she entered the church in bridal white... Or maybe she will smile whimsically as she recalls what her dad said to her during the traditional father and bride dance...

A wedding day is an important turning point in two people's lives. Sweet Caroline, may your and Ben's marriage be blessed as you grow into the shape of a couple.