Why Me? Why Write? Why Now? Why Not?

The Me is Doug Curran…Douglas M Curran…Douglas Metcalf Curran. Douglas is Celtic for “dweller by the dark stream”. Curran in Gaelic means “little spear”. And Metcalf? Scottish for “I met a calf”? Hey I don’t know! I don't have all the answers. I'm still trying to get the questions right. At least I seem to be a spear fisher by some dirty water. Or maybe I'm a Druid. And that Curran thing may not even be as Irish as my Irish American wife, Colleen Fitzsimmons, hoped it was when she married me. Ok, I might be a Viking. It's like this. I was reading this book, The Lion Of Ireland, see, and the author, Morgan Llewellyn, recounts a last battle between Brian Boru and the Viking invader king, to regain Irish dominance again throughout the island and kick the fureners out. The Viking king's name? Olaf Cuaran? Cuaran? Curran? I'm a Viking now, so I am? And a descendent of one of those marauding and murderous pillagers and plunderers? I've never pillaged a thing in my life...well, maybe a book or two from somebody. I'm really just a gentle giant who loves books and music. Ok, I bought a sword recently, but only as a wall decoration to enhance my Irish family history coat of arms! Honest! Viking, Schmiking, so rest my Irish soul! Or my wife will have my old bald Irish head!

November 11, 2009

Veterans' Day ponderings and Vietnam...

Many sobering thoughts today as it marks not only a day of solemn Veteran remembrance, but also a week of military mayhem at Fort Hood(where I happen to have a nephew, Owen Fitzsimmons stationed by the way), all ala Allah Akbar fanatic Nidal Malik Hasan - and the execution last night of former soldier gone crazy, John Allen Muhammed, DC sniper, where I grew up and identified with all the deadly locations seven years ago. Senseless loss of life, perpetrated upon innocent citizens by deranged and to me Satanically evil people.

Forgive my lack of political correctness, but I do believe in the existence of Satan and his demon unembodied hordes, cast out upon this earth from a pre-mortal council where they refused to comply with God's plan of salvation and free agency, rejected the pre-mortal Savior Jehovah and his willingness to die for us, Lucifer wanting to save us all by force and have the glory for himself alone. And so they are here to try and tempt and test our allegiance to the right, instilled in us by the Light of Christ, which we were all given to lead us to truth. These men mentioned above gave in to other evil voices and drowned out that light - and justice will be meted out - but with too many good lives cut short and hearts broken.

It was also the 20th anniversary of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, a major victory over Satan and his attempt for so long to try to control and subjugate many people's freedom with the old Iron Curtain, no longer there, thanks to President Reagan and many others who put the pressure on Gorbechev. But Satan doesn't stop trying to kill people's spirits and agency as well as their bodies in retaliation for not being able to have a physical body himself. I was in Berlin in 1967, part of a BYU show group, visiting bases in Europe. It was something to wake up and look out the train to see armed Commie guards with their German Shepherd dogs, sniffing around my window outside while I was entering the only free zone in East Germany to do a performance for the troops.

But without trying to demean the solemnity of the aforesaid remarks, well meant and intended, let me turn now to a little lighter subject matter, still military-minded. I never served, though in college I did do two tours of duty, those singing tours, one to bases in the Far East and then that one I mentioned to bases in Europe, two different summers while I was finishing my education in English at BYU. What follows is my take on that unique kind of military experience I call "Almost Vietnam"...

"Now that I’m older and 'wiser', I have a lot more questions than answers. Like what happened with me and the military? They never wanted me. Well actually, during the Vietnam War, I was in school and my draft board was loaded with eager boot camp wannabees in Montgomery County, Maryland, so I never got the call. I just stayed in school and took my legal deferments, got a masters degree. But I did serve in another way. And I don’t want to recite yet one more Vietnam story; there have been so many. And mine won’t make the big screen nor be called anything heroic. No, I was never there – but almost. Hey, maybe I can start a new genre of narrative, the “Almost Vietnamers”.

"It was in the Summer of ’65 and a sweltering summer it was where I was going. I was part of a 12-person performing group from BYU in Provo, Utah, selected to entertain troops at US military installations throughout the Orient for three months , kind of a USO type show, but sponsored by the DOD. (But that’s on the QT, FYI, OK?) Vietnam was on our itinerary when we got our initial invitation and travel orders. I especially enjoyed the Bubonic Plague shot we had to have, among the other hypodermic invasions we were subjected to. I would rather have had the Plague frankly, instead of the recovery from that shot – the fever, the stiff and sore arm, the knowledge that I was now carrying a centuries old disease in my body, started by rats.

"But as our departure date got closer, the fighting escalated into the famous Tet Offensive, and Vietnam got cut from the schedule. It was a sad day for us all, of course, but we got over it in about three seconds, still remembering the sting of that one shot we would live to tell our grandkids about. We should have gotten a medal just for taking that shot. But maybe our beautiful girls would have been too distractive to those guys over there anyway. I mean, after all, they did have a war to fight and we didn’t want them to lose an ounce of concentration. And then we guys in the show might have gotten shot just for being too ugly. Glad Bob Hope was around to fill in for us.

"So while we didn’t get to put our faces in the line of fire, our pride in our troops and our gratitude for not being in their foxholes increased everywhere we went on our tour of other Pacific bases. We always encountered men who were either going to or coming from Vietnam, whether it was at a missile base where we were changing clothes in the cafeteria freezers or on a hillside makeshift stage where we swallowed flies and mosquitoes to the tune of “Lida Rose” from Music Man

"For example, we were doing a hospital show at Clark Air Base in the Phillippines about half way through our tour. The audience was a very appreciative group of GIs with cool casts on, dapper head bandages, and some were in very souped-up wheelchairs. Since our show was straight out of Disney, they were totally respectful. No skuzzy skin show here. No barroom cat-calls. One of our girls, Patti Peterson, went on to star in a “spic and span” tv sci-fi, “Land of the Giants”. Two other singers in the show, Sally Flynn and Sandi Jensen, became an integral part of the Lawrence Welk Show for the duration, with squeaky clean bubbles and all. And I joined up with The Lettermen a few years later, a conservative, middle-of-the-road singing group also known as America’s most romantic trio, thanks to a recommendation from Janie Thompson, our show producer, director and pianist - and a BYU legend. I even got to record a #1 hit, "Hurt So Bad" in 1969...which didn't hurt too bad.

"Anyway, after the show, we all visited with individual members of the audience, to shake hands and show them how humble, down to earth, and self-effacing we really were. Then we were invited to come up to the hospital itself and talk to some of the guys who were so wounded, they couldn’t attend. Now Vietnam was getting up close and personal. We were going to talk to the very guys who had just been there, who had almost made the ultimate sacrifice, who had taken the hits and put it all on the line – for me, a student with a draft deferment! But I told you about that already. College was a battle ground enough for me!

"So with this guilt trip firmly in hand, I took Patti with me, as we all split up to walk down the halls and peek in some rooms to see if we could lift any spirits - a daunting task when you don’t have piano accompaniment. One of the rooms we went into had four guys in it, all in beds, with varying degrees of bandages and arm slings and legs raised in those…leg-raiser things. They were pretty beat up. What could we possibly say to them? We felt so puny and inadequate in our efforts to comfort and cheer. “So how’s it going?” Great opener! We could see how it was going! Of course they only had eyes for Patti, so the pressure was off me and she did all the talking.

"After a little more small talk, we both gushed our meager patriotic thanks, knowing we didn’t have the words to cover this kind of encounter. We were speaking for all of America, and we were doing a pretty sorry job of it, stumbling and bumbling and mumbling along. They must have thought so too, because the more we searched for the right words, the more their polite smiles became tight-lipped winces, until they couldn’t stifle their laughter any longer. Patti and I looked at each other, feeling like fast-fizzling failures, wondering how to exit gracefully.

"Finally, one of them relieved our awkwardness with some of his own. 'We appreciate your visit very much,' he half-choked. 'But maybe we ought to clear something up. See the guy with the head bandage? He fell off a truck here on the base while delivering laundry. Those two guys with the arm and leg casts got banged up in a base football game. Me, I got in a fight with a parachute. None of us has been to ‘Nam’ yet.'

"We listened in mute humiliation, and then in slowly mounting frustrated realization. We should have laughed along with them, but we had just bared our souls and left our proverbial guts out on the floor. The best we could do was to back out of the door without another word, heads down with appropriate bowing and groveling, but still leave them with a memorable little ditty that goes kind of like this: A one and a two and a… “Oh say can you see by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly…..” . Their shuffles and grunts and attempts to stand up for the National Anthem was worth it all. It's ok guys, we still love you!"

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Dad. I didn't realize Owen was at Fort Hood. Scary! I sure love America!!