(Below was my presentation at the Story Salon this evening)
I am 15 in Japan on my first day of school with my brother Chip where Dad was stationed as a Naval Commanding Officer at Yokosuka Naval Base
Every school day at 7:00 A.M., Chip and I walked a mile to an electric train that took us to Kamakura. We caught a larger train to a city called Sushi passing a huge statue of Buddha’s mother, Maya, in Ofuna, the site of one of the most hideous concentration camps. Crowds of Japanese workers, professionals, and students nudged the person in front until the warning bell and then they shoved smiling until each car was stuffed so different than in America where touching seems forbidden. From there we boarded a grey Navy bus to Yokohama High for our first class at 8:15 A.M. The one-hour commute covered thirty miles.
On my first trip, I looked around and, for the first time, realized what a member of a racial minority felt like when surrounded by people with backgrounds alien to mine, whose skin and hair color, eyes, foreheads, differed significantly from my features. I studied the faces of the people called “Japs,” in war movies, often depicted as inferior vicious buck-toothed warriors, a “yellow menace,” the allied forces had fought in World War II. Fanatic fascists who would never surrender, President Truman felt compelled to drop two atomic bombs, decimating them like so many insects.
Upon careful inspection, however, each face had a wide variety of unique characteristics. They had long or short noses, relaxed or tightened mouths, and different hair styles. Many wore hats and long, or short dresses, or silk kimonos of all colors, and black school uniforms with white shirts. Others sported three-piece suits with brief cases and wore glasses of every kind imaginable. The males had their hair slicked straight back, wavy, crew cut, or bald. Their skin pigment varied from dark to light, and every shade in between, some were clean-shaven; others had beards or a mustache.
They did not move like the automatons, or simplistic people portrayed in newsreels I had watched. The Japanese stereotypes portrayed in the movies had propagandized and prejudiced me. The Japanese were actually far more complex and distinctive.
When I attempted to communicate in my broken Japanese, they were responsive in either good or broken English, courteous, and welcoming. They seemed delighted when an American boy showed enough interest in their culture to ask a question in elementary Japanese and were as intelligent, industrious, and, often, as athletic as any American. This awareness helped me learn one of life’s most important lessons: we are all part of one race, the human race. No race, because of any attribute, over which they have no control, stands inferior, or superior, to any other.
Nearby the bronze statue of the Great Buddha majestically rose above stone steps encircled by natural vegetation. A Japanese garden rested behind the immense meditating figure that induced a sense of tranquility from his facial expression, folded hands on his knees, his seated posture, and the ambiance of the surroundings. The adjacent Hachiman Shrine held the Shinto god of war and archery, in an old reddish-orange wood building with a sloping roof.
Located at the top of stone steps on the other side of a park, a long approach formed a tunnel ending at a large vermilion stone entrance with a black lintel known as Torii. For those who follow Shinto, this structure divides the spiritual area within from the profane region beyond. Shaped like two “T”’s their trunks straddled the cherry trees, whose white blossoms spread like dancers on branches. Petal blizzards covered the ground like pink dotted snowflakes mixed with shiny green leaves while gangs of squirrels romped, darted, and danced.
(Chip, Bill, Dan, top left back row at birthday party with Japanese friends from Kamakura 1955)
In another location thousands of bystanders watched a traditional spectacle featuring mounted equestrian archers in black shaggy wigs adorned in hunting costumes of feudal samurai warriors from the Kamakura period (1192-1333). The horsemen shot arrows from quivers slung across their backs as they raced at three targets set up along a straight riding ground eight hundred feet long. The turnip-head arrows made a whistling sound as they flew through the air. The large crowd loudly applauded each time an archer scored a direct hit. They shot, quickly reloaded, and launched arrows in a swift coordinated motion. A few hit all three targets that caused a thunderous roar.
Buddha Smiles in Kamakura
Bronze folded hands and Buddha’s smiling face,
White circular blossoms from cherry trees
Smoothing the wrinkles of the human face.
Blossoms tumbling down and spreading in space,
Beckoning all to seek a world of peace.
Bronze folded hands and Buddha’s smiling face.
Nature’s beauty slowing man’s frenzied pace.
Flying buzzing pollen gathering bees,
Petals like a dancer’s dress of white lace.
Bronze folded hands and Buddha’s smiling face.
Gentle wind blowing waves upon blue seas,
Swallows flying, drifting, gliding in grace.
Archer’s arrows whistling shatter the base.
At warrior’s thunder animals freeze.
Bronze folded hands and Buddha’s smiling face.
White flowers placed at Buddha’s feet in vase.
Peaceful worshipers fall down on their knees,
Seeking enlightenment and state of grace.
Bronze folded hands and Buddha’s smiling face.
(Excerpt modified from my Memoir, All the Difference, for presentation at the Story Salon this evening)
Hi Friends: I will be presenting a story from my memoir, All the Difference, at the Story Salon Wednesday Night September 23 at 7:30 PM 5302 Laural Canyon Drive, Valley Village, along with other outstanding story tellers that I am sure you will enjoy. There is a $5 cover at the door and refreshments are served.See you then!! Dan Lavery
Hello Friends Everywhere: I received this letter below asking for everyone to inform Vietnam Vets about their rights under the Agent Orange Act that are close to expiration. Please call your representatives identified herein to support the proposed two year extension:
We are in desperate need of help. I was wondering if you can arrange an email blast out to VVAW members. The Agent Orange Act of 1991 is set to expire on Set, 30th, 2015. There is a two year extension proposed. The Agent Orange Extension Act of 2015. If this is not passed there will be no more ailments added to the presumptive list for Vietnam Veterans or their children. Here's an article I wrote this morning: You can find it here..... http://covvha.net/agent-orange/, However here is the text of the article. Please let me know you got this.
It's Monday morning and before I go to work, I am sitting here reviewing the progress on H.R. 3423, The Agent Orange Extension Act of 2015. There are only sixteen days left. Since early last week we have made good progress. Last week we had a sponsor, three co-sponsors and five signatures. This morning we have a sponsor, thirteen co-sponsors and at last check 760 signatures on PopVox. Pop Vox is a real time on-line civic engagement platform for citizens to connect with their representatives. Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance uses Pop Vox so we can see the progress being made as it's happening.
Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance would like to ask for the continued action of everyone on behalf of sick Vietnam Veterans and their children whose illnesses are not yet recognized as being related to their Agent Orange exposure. If the Agent Orange Act of 1991 is allowed to expire, there will be no new ailments added to presumptive exposure list. It is set to expire September 30th, 2015.
H.R. 3423 is currently in the hands if the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance & Memorial Affairs. Members of this committee include:
If any of these legislators are your representative or even if they are not, we would ask you to call their office and send them a letter in support of the Agent Orange Extension Act of 2015, IMMEDIATELY! There are only 16 days left. There are many ways to connect to your representatives. If you cannot find a way to connect to yours please email us and we will help you find yours.
Some have the belief that the Toxic Exposure Act (H.R. 1769) will replace the Agent Orange Act of 1991. This is not the Case. The Toxic Exposure Act is for the research of the descendants of Veterans only. It is not for the Vietnam Veteran to gain access to compensation if their ailment is not currently recognized. We can work on both of these platforms simultaneously. However, we cannot let this legislation lapse in hopes of implementing the other. The Agent Orange Act of 1991 has and is the pathway for Vietnam Veterans ailment to become service connected. If this legislation is allowed to end it will be a sad and abrupt end of the line for many Vietnam Veterans and their families.
Act Now Please support H.R. 3423, The Agent Orange Extension Act
Agent Orange Extension Act of 2015
This bill extends for two years the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) presumption of service connection for diseases associated with exposure to certain herbicides, including Agent Orange, with respect to veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975.
The Agent Orange Act of 1991 is amended to extend for two years the authority of the VA to enter into an agreement with the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate the scientific evidence regarding associations between diseases and exposure to dioxin and other chemical compounds in herbicides, including the association between exposure to a herbicide used in U.S. and allied military operations in the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam era and each disease suspected to be associated with such exposure.
Some messages from Friends and families in Support:
I support H.R. 3423 Agent Orange Extension Act of 2015 because a friend of mine and her brother were born with kidney defects that caused her brother to die and her to need a donor kidney to live. Their father was a Vietnam War Veteran who died of cancer as a result of his exposure to Agent Orange while in service to his country. The research needs to continue so that we can fully understand how this chemical will effect future generations. -FL
I support H.R. 3423 Agent Orange Extension Act of 2015 because...my husband died at age 57 from cancer, diabetes, and liver problems. My daughter died at age 15 while doctoring for female issues. My son has diabetes and reproductive problems. - OH
I support H.R. 3423 Agent Orange Extension Act of 2015 because...I am a Nam Vet with renal cell carcinoma. No family history with rcc. I have lost one kidney and have had 4 tumors removed from my spine. VA says it's not A O related. I disagree. MI
I support H.R. 3423 Agent Orange Extension Act of 2015 because both of my parents were exposed to these chemicals while serving overseas. Both of my parents now suffer from a range of ailments at a young age. My mother and I have thyroid issues, and my sister has heart problems. My husband, whose father was a helicopter gunner in Vietnam, was born with the bones fused together in both of his forearms. I believe there is enough information currently available to to prove these issues are related and more than enough information to warrant an extension of this bill to further the research. OR
I support H.R. 3423 Agent Orange Extension Act of 2015 because... My dad has suffered long enough from his exposure to AO in Vietnam and we as his children are learning that the problems we are facing could be caused from his Agent Orange exposure. I am not even 30, non smoker/ drinker, no drug use... but yet have already had cancer. The government sprayed them and betrayed them, it's time to stand up and be heard, they have suffered long enough in silence. -NE
I support H.R. 3423 Agent Orange Extension Act of 2015 because...My dad is a Vietnam veteran. I see his health deteriorating rapidly. Along with myself, my children have the same kinds of joint problems he has. Which by the way has already been linked to his exposure to AO in Nam. Furthermore, my daughter has an extremely rare auto immune disease where her immune system attacks her skin. This disease can lead to full blown lymphoma cancer. Our government dropped the ball on these guys one time already. Please don't do it again. - NC
I support H.R. 3423 Agent Orange Extension Act of 2015 because...I was exposed to AO in 1969. I have a daughter that survived a brain tumor.there was no history of cancer in my family. -NJ
(This is the Story Salon in Valley Village where I presented this true story last night, September 16 along with seven other story tellers to a lively crowd)
I am 16 and the quarterback on a high school football team in Japan
After football practice a week before our family was scheduled to return to America in October 1956, our eight-person carryall broke down a few miles from Yokohama. The engine flooded and the smell of gasoline nauseated me. I had to get outside. Our Japanese driver called the Navy base for a replacement and said, “New van arrive forty-five minute.”
Having been YoHi football team’s quarterback for two years, every teammate formed a habit of following my directions. While standing outside the vehicle and looking around, I leaned in and said, “Come outside now.” They scrambled out. I pointed, “See those tracks running around that hill? If we follow them, they’ll lead to a train station. We can catch one and walk to the Naval Station an hour or sooner than if we wait for a van.”
“Sounds good,” said Tex, a tough first-team tackle.
Everyone nodded in agreement.
“We go to find nearest train, Diajobu des ne?”(OK?) I said to the driver.
“Abunaio!” (Be careful!) “Kiotsketi kudasai.” (Take it easy, please,) the driver said mouth open and wrinkled brow.
Seven athletes aged fifteen to seventeen followed me. We scrambled over rough brush and found a pathway up a slope. In ten minutes we reached two sets of tracks. As we rounded the hill, a narrow tunnel appeared that resembled a black hole.
Night view of railway tunnel
“This looks dangerous,” Tex said. “These trains race through the tunnel with little room for us.”
“Don’t worry. If a train comes on one track we can jump to the other,” I said.
“Yeah that’s right,” our fullback, Ron, said.
Two others nodded in agreement and the rest followed.
Running toward the tunnel, the setting red sun sent a glow behind me. The inside of the tunnel was barely visible. After racing into the tunnel, everyone followed at my heels. We had a foot of clearance on each wall in the dark cavity and two feet between the tracks. Dank darkness quickly enshrouded us. It seemed like we had fallen into a black soup as we slowed to avoid stumbling on the wooden planks now in utter blackness.
When we had advanced a third of the way, I sensed danger. A swift-moving train whizzed around the corner at us. A water droplet fell from the moldy ceiling into my eyes. After brushing it away, the flying mass of steel zoomed toward us. A looming light grew rapidly larger and a roaring rattling rumble followed. “Jump right!” I shouted. The blast of the train drowned out my voice. The train’s light revealed seven moving forms.
The steel thunderbolt’s warning bell changed from a high-pitched sound to a descending tone DING DING DINg DINg DIng Ding ding ding din din as it passed us with a deafening clattering at over ninety miles per hour.
Another booming train streaked at us on the opposing track! A horn howled and screamed as it approached. Its warning bell grew louder. Both trains doubled the blaring racket. My heart pounded; my breath heaved; I almost panicked. The heavy weight of shock choked me. I never should have urged my friends to enter the tunnel. Racing on the right track careful not to trip, we were nearly clobbered by the hurtling train from behind. Finally, the first train passed us with a WHOOSH.
“Jump left!” I screamed.
Could they hear me? The new train’s explosive reverberation was deafening. Its rotating light fluttered over our leaping forms. The unexpected steel blur jolted past at blazing speed and threw a forceful blast of hot muggy air at us. Expecting the worst I gazed back as all jumped in time to avoid disaster. The cars bumped and clattered as the steel wheels clickity–clacked and the wind rushed by our sweating faces.
Breathing an enormous sigh of relief, I was ecstatic from our good fortune. We had cheated death. We raced toward the silver light signaling the other entrance of the tunnel. In a mad dash for the growing sunbeams towards life, panting, sweating, I emerged and faced my friends. Tex and a few others stumbled out after me, exhaustion all over their faces. Sweat ran down their foreheads into their eyes and cheeks. They gasped for breath and stumbled toward me. Tex rushed up with fire in his eyes, “Jesus! What the fuck! Lavery, you almost got us killed!”
“Holy Shit! How did we make it?” Ron said.
“Ah Ah I’m so sorry,” passed emotionally out my mouth with fear written over my face. “I never should have led you guys into that tunnel.” We walked towards the station a few blocks away and huddled. “Hey guys. Please don’t tell anyone about this. Our parents won’t understand,” I said.
Tex and the others gradually agreed. We all shook on it.
On the train back, the tunnel train dodging affected me deeply. It made me appreciate life’s gifts I seemed to have taken for granted. Coming close to death not once, but twice in seconds, made me feel I must live more wisely. My thoughtless actions nearly killed eight young men. The shock of near death awakened a feeling of responsibility. That moment of awareness heightened my senses. I clasped my hands, felt the warmth of each finger intertwined, and breathed deeply. Time seemed to slow to a standstill so glad we were all alive.
The advice of my grandmother Ruthie, came back. Having noticed me rushing around as a teenager full of anxiety, “Slow down, Danny,” she said, “Find the harmony in nature. Life is precious.”