Beginning at the Traveling Wall in Austin, Texas, a smaller replica of the National Vietnam Memorial, Richard Pena expresses a somber emotion for those who died in Vietnam seeing a woman's tears. He knew her pain would never cease. Pena was on the last plane out of Vietnam after spending a tour as a medic in Saigon. His photo was taken by a Viet Cong soldier when that final plane left. He recognized himself carrying his law school brief case upon returning with a delegation at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City in 2003. Pena's journal entries while serving from 1972 to 1973 as an Operating Room Specialist are aided by John Hagan, author of nine books and many articles as professor of Sociology and Law, Northwestern University, who comments on the context of Pena's story in history with references.
Author Richard Pena pointing to himself entering the last plane out of Saigon
Pena's parents were proud of their Hispanic heritage and taught him by example. His father won a Silver Star for his service at Iwo Jima. Pena won best all-around high school athlete in San Antonio, Texas. He attended University of Texas at Austin when students burned their draft cards and protested the Vietnam conflict. The My Lai massacre struck raw nerves his senior year. Soon at Kent State National Guardsmen killed four students and wounded more wrenching America. His low lottery number made it certain he would be drafted. He tried to fail his physical but they were taking anyone who breathed then and entered the Army, June 14, 1971 as one of the last drafted.
Pena arrived at the 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon during the North Vietnamese siege of An Loc when they shot down four aircraft and killed nearly all the residents a few months before Nixon's presidential election during an opportunity for peace talks to resolve the conflict. His objections to pressing for peace were politically motivated as Humphrey would have gained substantial support as a peace candidate despite his role with LBJ. Nixon's voice on tape in the oval office showed he proposed nuclear weapons to succeed but Kissinger replied he thought it would be too much. Nixon said, "I don't give a damn" about civilians killed by U.S. bombing USA Today reported February 28, 2002. While peace was possible Nixon refused to press for it and made the South Vietnamese think if he were president they would get a better deal prolonging the war needlessly and causing more than 20,000 more American deaths.
Pena called Vietnamization a catastrophe demonstrated graphically as he arrived. Young ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) troops threw down their weapons and fled with villagers as the North Vietnamese launched an unprecedented invasion. They expected 200 or so casualties but 2000 marched toward a 100 bed hospital 60 miles away. However many were mortared by Communists on Highway 13 and others accidentally killed by our B-52s. The Air Force accidentally missed the Communists and hit a South Vietnamese village! Pena joined a group of fifteen who worked the Operating Room confronted by death who built a strong companionship.
Soon a C-130 aircraft crashed from mechanical failure causing them to expect many casualties. Burn patients were the worst, difficult to look at, tough to treat, and many died. The first soldier's face appeared plastered red, hair and eyebrows burned away, red burns ran the length of his young body. He had a wife and young child.They smeared Sulfamylon cream over him feeling helpless. His coworker said he would soon die. A sergeant arrived with a broken ankle and numerous lacerations. These professionals knew the risks but it is for the young whom Pena felt the most sorry. The lifers have some control but not the draftees. The sergeant wanted to know how many survived but Pena couldn't tell him only three made it. Pena wondered how many were on the plane and learned there were forty five. The government released only the number fourteen. Such lies insulted Pena and the others. It added brainwashing to misinformation.
An allied Cambodian arrived by air in desperate condition and needed a transfusion from someone with B positive blood. Pena readily provided it as the only one with that type. The doctors said he couldn't survive the operation, yet he wouldn't live without one! They amputated his left leg and blood splattered all over the floor. A nineteen year-old soldier was shot in the head and died from his wound. An American asked him for a cigarette but he didn't have one, so he shot him in the back of the head at point blank range with a .38 pistol. A clean-cut man named Holley had a wife he never cheated on but once. He was found the next morning in a lover's embrace as the girl had put ground-up glass in his food, the sixth American that girl killed. Soon we understand how Pena felt an impermanence sweep over him and all his previous concerns seemed small and unimportant. Much later Pena became President of the American Bar Foundation and State Bar of Texas. His practice started as a solo attorney for the common person, without an office using an old beat up car. He felt his experience in Vietnam gave him the courage, willpower and confidence to stand up against injustice and fight for his clients. "It was the road less traveled, but it was my road." Published 2014 by Story Merchant Books, 9601 Wilshire Blvd. # 1202, Beverly Hills, Ca 90210
Bio: VVAW member Daniel C. Lavery graduated Annapolis, navigated a Navy jet, and a ship, turned peace activist and became a civil rights lawyer for Cesar Chavez's UFW. His memoir, All the Difference, describes his experiences:
Review of Greta Marsh’s Frankie and Jonny and Mommy too, by Daniel C. Lavery, Written for VVAW’s “The Veteran”
One kind woman’s determination to adopt a Vietnamese War orphan, make this truly an inspirational story. Written in heartfelt verse, Marsh dramatically presents the struggle of one woman to adopt a Vietnamese orphan surviving at the Govap Orphanage. She hopes to save him from the ravages of the Vietnam conflict, where his parents were victims of the outrageous My Lai Massacre. Greta, a Jewish single parent, with three girls in college, wanted to find an orphan that her thirteen year-old son, Jonny, could help grow up in Long Island N.Y. with a loving family. Frankie was the name Jonny chose for the orphan in honor of his recently deceased grandfather.
Her first obstacle was an unexpected confrontation with discrimination despite her responsible job as a probation officer in Family Court where she worked with troubled children and single parents. The adoption agency sent her a letter stating she was unqualified to adopt because “Every child deserves two parents.” They would, however, permit her to adopt a physically or emotionally disabled child. Outraged, she wrote them: “Who is in greater need of 2 parents, a physically and/or emotionally disabled child or a relatively healthy child? You should be ashamed.” They did not respond.
Religious bigotry struck next when a local friendly Vietnamese Priest told her a child was waiting for her in Vietnam, but the agency told her twice: “We do home studies for Christian families.” She informed the Priest of the prejudice. He paused and then said he could not help. She wrote: “Dear Father, Jesus was a Jew who never left his religion and I do not think he is smiling kindly upon you.”
After many years of struggle Greta’s dream of adoption was fulfilled when she, her grandmother, Aunt, and thirteen year-old son, Jonny, arrived by plane in Vietnam. She finally adopted a five year-old boy baptized “David” who became “David Frank”. The family welcomed him with love. Soon Jonny felt sad for him because he looked scared but Greta ensured that Frankie would be a part of a compassionate family. They dressed him in an adorable suit and found a mixed breed Dachshund Frankie named Suzi for him. He learned soon to ice skate, draw, play piano, and liked to build sand castles on the beach.
Marsh adds a summary of the My Lai Massacre, military problems of rape, sexual harassment, suicide, civilian casualty statistics, Agent Orange, and the extension of the Vietnam War to Laos and Cambodia. The author says she intends the money earned from her book will be used to help wounded vets and their families. Greta Marsh’s wonderful story of how she succeeded in saving the life of a Vietnamese orphan who became integrated into a loving American family shines with the finest sparks of humanity. She reminds us at the end of her inspirational story the Talmud says: “To Save One Life is as if you have Saved the Entire World.”
Published by 1stWorld Publishing, P. O. Box 2211, Fairfield, Iowa 52556 ISBN: 978-1-4218-8663-3 Soft Cover ISBN: 978-1-4218-8664-0 Hard CoverBio: VVAW member Daniel C. Lavery graduated Annapolis, navigated a Navy jet, and a ship, turned peace activist and became a civil rights lawyer for Cesar Chavez's UFW. His memoir, All the Difference, describes his experiences: http://www.amazon.com/All-Difference-Daniel-C-Lavery/dp/1482676532/ website: www.danielclavery.com.
As a high school student at an American High School at Yokohama, Japan, my English teacher required us to explore the world of history of a place and time in the past by reading and reporting on a world class autobiography. After looking at the choices available, I chose the Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini. I brought the book home to discuss it with my naval officer Dad, Annapolis ’32 and Harvard grad school in electronics, and my new step-mother, two master’s degrees in History and Foreign Languages from U. C. Berkeley. She had been a high school principal before she married Dad to allow him to bring his children to Japan. Dad scoffed at the choice and wanted me to study military history. His wife disagreed emphasizing what an extraordinary experience it is to learn of an artist in a foreign country whose experiences are recorded in an autobiography of high repute. When I learned that Cellini was a rascal, wanted for many crimes, and nothing like the heroes other students were reading about, I was excited to learn from this highly regarded non-fiction historical book.
Cellini lived from 3 November 1500 – 13 February 1571, was a goldsmith, sculptor, draftsman, soldier, musician, artist, poet, and autobiographer. Many contend Cellini’s considerable distinction is due more to his autobiography that recorded his life than it is to his extraordinary artistic creations. Those looking for adventure and intrigue will find it here as he was a wanted criminal for many charges. His autobiography began during the Romantic Movement, spoken to a helper where he worked and reads in idiomatic language. It begins with a rendition of Cellini’s episodes and creations in Rome, France, and the Florence of Cosimo de’ Medici. His hyperbole often boasts but preserves a genuine presentation of the place and time in his candid language.
Cellini Salt Cellar
His notable works are too numerous to mention but they include his Cellini Salt Cellar (Salieri), 1543, in gold, enamel, and ivory; A sculpture of Perseus with the head of Medusa, now in Florence; Crafting metals, the most famous of which are "Hercules and the Nemean Lion", in gold raised in relief by hammering on the reverse side, and "Atlas supporting the Sphere", in chased gold.
Perseus with the head of Medussa
Hercules and the Namean Lion
Atlas supporting the sphere
Some of his female models were known mistresses, but he was bi-sexual. He was officially accused of sodomy with one woman and three men according to records. He even wrote of his planned murders in his autobiography before carrying them out. This book transported me into a wholly unknown world four hundred years ago that showed expertise I could never imagine. The value of such graphic descriptions of life in the distant past makes for an awareness that the people were much like me when the same age, but went in directions unique to me at my age thereafter. It was an adventure in making the past come alive in real people and actions that helped me imagine a life I thought I would never emulate. When a naïve teenager, it made me aware of much more than I thought possible in my high school education and frightened me with its frankness. It awakened me to the artistic, erotic, and dangerous world I might soon enter when I matured. I was fascinated by Cellini’s wildness and creativity. This was one of the best examples of how non-fiction can bring the past alive.
Ruthie’s Nature Lesson, by Daniel C. Lavery, an excerpt from All the Difference, Dan read at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena Sunday February 8, 2015 at "IWOSC Reads Its Own" presentation of various authors from 2-4 PM