Tag Archives: memory

Family History – Vietnam at the End

In 1975 my brother was in Vietnam. A few days ago I found one of my mom’s old photo albums. It is full of pictures of my brother’s family–Tomoko, George, Mari and mom. At the back of the album was a typewritten letter she received from John after he had been evacuated from Saigon. I do not know if she received the letter before or after we knew he was safe:

Sunday 20 [April 20, 1975]

Hi Mom,

It looks as though this will be my last letter from Vietnam. Things are about as tight as they can get and we have orders to pull the plug. Am sure the full-scale evacuation will be under way before this letter reaches you. RVA and VC forces have Saigon surrounded and have been sighted no less than 8 miles from Tan Son Nhut. They have 130mm cannons and artillery pieces which are American made and very accurate up to 17 miles and this is what we are most afraid of besides their SA-7 missiles.

There are however a tremendous contingent of American forces spread throughout the Pacific and SouthEast Asia for our support. Four Aircraft Carriers alone are waiting off Vung Tau. Think Congress would faint if they knew the extent of this military support.

However, our real enemy seems to be the ARVNs. They are trying to keep the mass evacuation as quiet as possible in order to stop panic and to prevent another Da Nang. Intelligence reported 2 weeks ago that the Vietnamese would try and stop and shoot down departing American Planes! The part where most people will have trouble is getting to the pick-up points when the evacuation occurs. Sure would hate to be on the streets then. Don’t have to worry though as will move into Comm Center here on Tan Son Nhut Tomorrow. We will be picked up by helicopter as soon as alll the equipment is destroyed. Expect this to be Wed or so.

Sent my duffle bag full of cloths to Joyce’s yesterday so all I have is my briefcase and flight bag to carry if I can.

Thats about it for awhile mom. Please don’t write any more and will get in touch as soon as I can.

Love John

–Spelling and punctuation copied from John’s original pre-spell/grammar check letter–

He was safely evacuated to a waiting US aircraft carrier on April 25, 1975. As he told the story, on the last helicopter from Tan Son Nhut and as a VC rocket blew up the building as he left it for the helicopter.

English Exercise

Picked up several books at Camelot (used book store) today. Among them was Sue Grafton’s W is for Wasted. Looking at the list of her titles in the Kinsey Millhone series, I was reminded of an exercise I used to assign my seventh graders back in those days when I taught spelling, vocabulary and grammar. (May they never return.)

I’d have the kids write sentences using the words for the week–real imaginative, huh? Some of the sentences had to use two or more of the week’s words. For example: outlaw, evidence, innocent, alibi. Although the outlaw had an ironclad alibi, the evidence showed that she was not innocent and that her accomplice had given perjured testimony.

They could change nouns to adjectives to verbs to adverbs, etc. I also gave them a chance to stump me by “throwing” a bunch of words at me and seeing if I could do it on the fly. I don’t remember ever being stumped, but that could be memory’s ego talking. I do remember stretching things, especially when they’d have me do the whole list, mixed up of course, in a single go.

Well, here goes: The alibi the shapely burglar used was insufficient to save her from becoming a corpse as the deadbeat hodad’s board had evidently hidden a gumshoe of homicidal intent who was bent on blowing away the less than innocent as she passed judgment on the killer whose lawless sense of malice acted as a noose around the neck of the outlaw Pauline who realized that her continued existence was in peril as she was the quarry of the bullet ricocheting off the seawall which in its lack of silence was trespassing the pacific surfline and catching her in the undertow of its vengeance and wasted away her life in the uncaring sand.

Ah, well, the Angels won–on to Chapter 4.

Father

—A friend of mine has just lost her father,

Father

By Ella Wheeler Wilcox
1855 – 1919

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

    He never made a fortune, or a noise
In the world where men are seeking after fame;
But he had a healthy brood of girls and boys
Who loved the very ground on which he trod.
They thought him just a little short of God;
Oh you should have heard the way they said his name –
‘Father.’

There seemed to be a loving little prayer
In their voices, even when they called him ‘Dad.’
Though the man was never heard of anywhere,
As a hero, yet you somehow understood
He was doing well his part and making good;
And you knew it, by the way his children had
Of saying ‘Father.’

He gave them neither eminence nor wealth,
But he gave them blood untainted with a vice,
And the opulence of undiluted health.
He was honest, and unpurchable and kind;
He was clean in heart, and body, and in mind.
So he made them heirs to riches without price –
This father.

He never preached or scolded; and the rod –
Well, he used it as a turning pole in play.
But he showed the tender sympathy of God
To his children in their troubles, and their joys.
He was always chum and comrade with his boys,
And his daughters – oh, you ought to hear them say
‘Father.’

Now I think of all achievements ’tis the least
To perpetuate the species; it is done
By the insect and the serpent, and the beast.
But the man who keeps his body, and his thought,
WORTH bestowing on an offspring love-begot,
Then the highest earthly glory he has won,
When in pride a grown-up daughter or a son
Says ‘That’s Father.’

 

as I lost mine on Christmas Eve, 1972.—

 

A View of History from a Science Fiction Perspective

History

We call the time before the invention of writing pre-historic—history it seems comes from writing.

Writing was first invented around six millennia ago. It appeared in China, India, Egypt and western Asia. People wrote on (in) clay, wax, wooden slats, parchment, papyrus and, eventually, paper and carved in stone. It spread across the civilized world because it was too convenient, important, to not use. Those who could read and write, or commanded those who could, controlled society.

The ability to count, record, plan and allocate allowed (mandated?) the creation of water empires in the valleys of the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates, Indus and Yellow rivers. No longer was a person’s memory and good will a limiting factor in the matter of logistics.

A great deal of our knowledge, or what we believe, of these early civilizations comes from the writings they left behind. However, this knowledge is skewed. It is knowledge dominated by religion, government and the wealthy. Little is really known about the lives of the ordinary people—ninety plus percent of the populations of these societies. And a lot of what we know of the lives of ordinary people is conjecture based on ruins and what was written about them by the upper classes, who seem to quite often despise those who were neither educated nor wealthy—although their societies would have collapsed without the labor of these “lower” classes.

What would our view of these societies be if we had a written record for them as we have for ourselves over the last two centuries?

History Unwritten

Three of history’s seminal figures: Buddha, Socrates and Jesus left no writings behind. What we know of them, or think we know of them, is based on the writings of others. Everything we “know” about these men was filtered at the very start by views, beliefs, biases and experiences of those who wrote the books. We must also take into account what these men hoped to accomplish with their writings.

Assuming that the followers of Buddha, Socrates and Jesus were good people, interested in accuracy, what were their agendas?

Is the Socrates of Plato accurate? Is the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John accurate? Did he really exist, at least as the person shown in our current Bible? Remember, there are early books which, for one reason or another, have not been included in the Bible.

Would what we “know” of these men be different if they wrote about themselves and their beliefs? If there were contemporaneous accounts of Jesus and Buddha would they paint a picture of these men different from that portrayed by their followers—written long after their deaths?

History Destroyed

Libraries, and other storehouses of knowledge (and history), have been destroyed by flood, earthquake, fire and war. The Library of Alexandria, housing tens of thousands books, or scrolls, is one such example. Fire from the Roman civil war, from which Caesar emerged as sole ruler of Rome, destroyed parts if not all of it. Aurelian’s taking of the city while suppressing Queen Zenobia of Palmyra may have damaged it. Following the banning of paganism by Theodosius in 391, more damage and destruction. The Muslim conquest in 642 may have been the end.

However much truth there is in these accounts of the Library’s destruction, it no longer exists. What might our view of the ancient world be today if the treasures it housed were available to us?

Science Fiction and Fantasy History

Much of what happens in science-fiction and fantasy occurs in the future. In each of these stories the author has to breath some life into his (or her) world/universe. Asimov’s Foundation Series, Smith’s Lensmen, Herbert’s Dune, Weber’s Honorverse are just a few examples of created worlds whose history is us. It is after our time when these worlds diverge.

If you are interested in alternate history—our history to a certain point and them bam—there is plenty out there. Change one event, use historical trends and characters and see how the world would have turned out. America loses the Revolutionary War, the South defeats the North, aliens invade during World War II. These and many others are out there waiting to be read (and written). They all demand some type of history.

Even if you create your own universe/world from scratch you still have to give it some history to flesh it out. Very few of us can write a story that has no context.

Which brings me to Jack McDevitt. Many of his stories deal with a humanity that has spread to the stars and been there for millennia. His protagonist is Alex Benedict, an antiquarian. As an individual who deals in old and rare artifacts, Alex must deal with history.

Alex Benedict, and his “sidekick,” Chase Kolpath, hunt down various antiques and sell them for large amounts of money, generating a healthy income. There is danger, of course, as they deal in valuables and secrets. There is murder and attempted murder, but there is none of the large-scale violence and wars associated with much of science fiction. These stories are mysteries.

Alex has a copy of Churchhill’s Their Finest Hour and other valuables. Most of what happens involves history that happened after the twenty-first century. In these instances McDevitt must invent the history, the people, the events and the artifacts. But all of this future history must follow logically from our own history or else the reader will lose his ability to suspend his disbelief.

McDevitt’s ability to weave history and today and its trends into a coherent whole along with non-superhuman characters is half the charm of the stories. The other, of course, is a richly detailed future universe with interesting characters faced with a mystery or two and, occasionally, a crisis.

Today as History

In his newest book, Coming Home, Chapter Twenty-Six (Spoiler Alert), McDevitt gives us a glimpse of what Benedict’s universe has of ours and what they make of it.

  • Most poetry has disappeared but Shelly remains,
  • James Thurber’s name remains, but none of his writings,
  • Only six of Shakespeare’s plays are known, among them The Merry Wives of Windsor,
  • Only seven Hollywood films survive, among them Casablanca and Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein,
  • Dracula was apparently a physician,
  • Superman and Batman got their start in the twenty-fourth century.

If this, or something like it is what survives of our society, what will people make of us? How accurate will their perceptions be?

Is this kind of sampling what we have of our ancient world? Is it as accurate?

Did Ramesses defeat the Hittites at Kadesh or was he forced into retreat? Do we just believe Egyptian propaganda or are the claims of Ramesses accurate?

Were the Egyptian pyramids built by thousands of slaves or by thousands of Egyptian farmers during the seasons their land was flooded by the Nile?

Does Plato tell us of the real Socrates or just a Platonic version of him?

What of the stories of Jesus?

Do we believe that Nero and Caligula were monomanically evil because they were or are they victims of bad publicity, books written by political enemies?

 Family History

For most of my forty years of teaching in junior high I taught History. I told my students that it was the most important subject because it was the only one that told them about their family.

Where are we without our families? We are adrift in the world without an anchor. We are orphans among six billion strangers.

History teaches you about your family—the human race. You are related to everyone else whether you realize it or not. Every stranger you meet is a cousin, maybe a cousin a hundred times, or a thousand times removed, but a cousin nonetheless.

Only by realizing this, and acting on it, will we be able secure our future. No new collapse of society, no new Dark Age, no future interpretations of our lives and civilization without sufficient evidence to either praise or damn us.

As Rodgers and Edwards wrote for Sister Sledge: We Are Family. Let us treat each other as family.

History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity.
Marcus Tullius Cicero

A Memory

Yesterday I received a postcard in the mail from my high school (Class of 1968) and decided to visit the website.

It was a nice looking site and easy to navigate. The cross country team did well at Mt. SAC and the Fall Open House is this next Sunday. Mandatory attendance for all students. But I made a mistake and looked at the Alumni section and looked at the memorials. I found that an old friend had passed away.

Memory

He and I attended the same elementary school. If I remember correctly, his father was an egg farmer/rancher. I learned we were going to high school together on the first day of school when I boarded the bus two blocks from home; he was already on board, living farther away from the school than I. It was a technical high school with the usual academic classes and two and a half hours of shop (I was in Drafting and he was in Machine.)

After he got his driver’s license, I rode to school with him. What a car. He had a black Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396 and could lay rubber in all four gears. It was great fun going to school and we picked up a couple of other guys on the way; I even got to drive it a couple of times.

At the time Arcadia was all, or almost all, white. Our high school it now seems was about a third Mexican/Chicano/Latino (I don’t remember what term was in use all those years ago.). Lo and behold I found out that Izzy was one of them. I had had no idea that he was a member of a different ethnic group. And, I hope that it wouldn’t have mattered had I known. Sunset

I wish now that I hadn’t lost touch with him; he was a nice guy. The world is poorer without him and so am I.

11.15.2012