21 Months, 24 Days ISBN# 9781499745542, by Richard Udden takes the reader from his enlistment hoping to avoid becoming a grunt as an inexperienced eighteen year-old kid, to an articulate curious soldier with unbounded energy learning on the run. Expecting an easy two years working in a trade, he was assigned infantry and sent to Vietnam to fight in a jungle he accurately describes in such detail the reader is with him experiencing the toughest life imaginable. Most every chapter contains photographs that show details he writes passionately about.
Because of his certificate in Machine Shop Technology, he hoped the Army would use that skill to assign him away from infantry, instead they made him a grunt. After advanced Infantry in Alabama they sent him to NCO school in Anniston, Alabama delaying his entry to Vietnam by five months! From Oakland Army Base in California, he boarded an airplane for Vietnam where he landed a day later. Assigned to A Company, First Cav Division, he looked around and felt he had “dropped down through a rabbit hole, to where there was no escape.” He would be stuck here for a year at nearby Bien Hoa Air Force Airbase.
Standing guard was grueling as he had to do seven days a week at night, where trip flares were in place in case VC approached. Once they tripped a wire connected to one, the whole sky would light up. If there were others approaching he could send up a parachute flare to illuminate a larger area. Barbed wire weaved through the area to prevent crawling or running through. Many weapons existed to handle any size of force including claymore mines, machine guns and calling in jet aircraft.
His loneliness grew as he kept sending letters home but had not received any in return though he knew they were writing. Much later he was able to receive their mail and gifts. Soon he was transferred to Fire Support Base called “Buttons”, twenty miles from Cambodian Border, with A Company known as “Ace High” where he received his own M16 rifle, helmet, and joined his fighting group of many experienced veterans. He was in awe of their appearance and proud to be a part of such a unit. Immediately he earned a nickname “Boston Bean” and became emotionally attached.
His first combat assault was when Ace High moved by helicopter into the jungle for about two weeks where they would resupply soldiers in the field. Flying over a jungle with six Hueys at two thousand feet at one-hundred-twenty knots they moved in, landed, and dug a large hole to sleep near and store their machine guns, ammo, and equipment. Leeches, bees, and termites attacked where they hadn’t sprayed insect repellent. This was living hell. In two weeks they were back having completed that mission.
March 1970 Udden states Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia and extension of the war, was to not to allow North Vietnam to take over South Vietnam because that would make us “look helpless and lose face in the world.” Many contend though, by extending the war, Nixon’s solution cost three million more Vietnamese and more than 20, 000 Americans.
Soon Udden was transferred to Firebase Candy for guard duty seven miles from the Cambodian border. He was informed the VC used Cambodia for rest, food, ammunition, and relaxation just as our troops used the VIP center. But artillery constantly bombarded the area “to soften up the VC and NVA soldiers just over the Cambodian border.” The noise bothered him so much he wanted a transfer to door gunner on a Huey. Soon they moved out of Candy to find action near the Cambodian border.
Udden was selected for Combat Leadership Training and even spoke with his family using a ham radio link that picked up his sagging spirits like “standing on the moon.” Rainy season was far more annoying than the heat of the sun.
Everyone liked Steve from California who was married just before Vietnam meaning he was not to do combat. Their Colonel was replaced by another whom the men despised for his annoying new orders that exposed them to more danger. Udden later saw a VC up close while foolishly reading a book on patrol. Both dropped to the ground. He felt vulnerable and angry at himself.
In his first real firefight a few days later while in the jungle in single file, VC machine gun fire hit the group. Dave was shot in the stomach and a Huey took him away. Udden changed that day. It hurt him personally and he felt the need for revenge of his military family. He recalled Biblical support for eye for an eye retaliation in the Old Testament. Three more men were killed shortly afterwards. When a howitzer sent a shell into their midst three more were hurt badly. He received a promotion to Specialist 4 and made Fire Team leader. A few months later Udden was promoted to sergeant.
While walking on patrol someone tripped a wire tied to a grenade in an artillery shell throwing him in the air with shrapnel in a thigh while Steve went down. No Medivac could reach there nor could volunteers despite hours trying. Steve’s death deeply affected Udden.
After his Army life he married, had two children, and is a retired Control Systems Engineer. He attended a reunion with many of his war pals, visited Steve’s family, and honored the dead at the Vietnam Wall. His life stands as a tribute to many who served in our most controversial war.
BIO: Dan graduated Annapolis, navigated a Navy jet, was carrier qualified, and earned NAO wings in Florida, and then a ship to Vietnam. He resigned, turned peace activist, joined VVAW, and became a civil rights lawyer for Cesar Chavez's UFW, the ACLU, and private civil rights practice. His memoir, All the Difference, describes his change from a pawn in the military to a crusader for justice. http://www.danielclavery.com (Author website)
(Redcat is located on the third parking floor of the Disney Center in Los Angeles)
Dear friends: I have been invited to participate in the collective reading of Palabras Ajenas [The Words of Others], of León Ferrari,at REDCAT at the Disney Center in Los Angeles after they interviewed me. They sought activists in the LA area in a letter sent to Vietnam Vets Against War (VVAW) that I have been a member of since 1968 and volunteer to respond to letters to them asking for interviews with members. I will read the words taken down in history of LBJ collected by these remarkable people. The group of readers will comprise, apart from some VVAW members, art professors, journalists, artists, students, and activists from Los Angeles community as well.
(Another view of the Disney Center)
They thanked me for sending my bio that revealed my civil rights background as a lawyer for 34 years after leaving the Navy. Human and civil rights were also at the center of Ferrari's career, a position that got accentuated when the military government murdered his son during the dictatorship in Argentina.
(Christ on a jet bomber artistic rendition [Westerns and Christian Civilization (1065) by Leon Ferrari)
Published in 1967, Palabras Ajenas [The Words of Others] was a direct response to news and images of the Vietnam War and the violent expansion of Western culture during the years of the Cold War. It was composed from quotations of the Bible, speeches from the President Lyndon Johnson, Pope Paul VI, and Nazi leaders, as well as reports from the Vietnam War taken from various newspapers and news outlets.
(Author of Palabras Ajenas (Words of Others) 1967)
This project is curated and directed by Ruth Estévez, Miguel López and Agustín Díez Fischer, and Carmen Amengual as Associate researcher. The script of this reading has been translated into English by Antena (Jen Hofer with Tupac Cruz and Román Luján) after two years of work, looking into the original sources, and it has been adapted for the reading by Jose Antonio Sánchez, a Spanish scholar that has been writing extensively about political theater and Juan Ernesto Díaz, from Mapa Teatro (Mexico).
PALABRAS AJENAS/THE WORDS OF OTHERS Performance/Public Reading Author: León Ferrari Directors and curators: Agustín Diez Fischer, Ruth Estévez and Miguel López Script adaptation: José Antonio Sánchez Sound design: Juan Ernesto Díaz Research Associate: Carmen Amengual Staging: Juan Ernesto Díaz, José Antonio Sánchez and Ruth Estévez. Translation: Antena, published in 1967, is a literary collage composed by the Argentine artist León Ferrari as an extensive dialogue between real and fictional characters. President Lyndon Johnson, Hitler, Pope Paul VI, and God, among others, enter into conversation through quotations selected by the artist from history books, literature, the Bible, newspapers and magazines.
By means of a cut-and-paste exercise, the artist correlates the atrocities of the Vietnam War, the horrors of Nazism, and the representations of redemption and punishment in Christian doctrine. The piece was composed during the Vietnam War, at a moment when the Cold War was used as a justification for the intervention in foreign countries by the American military, and the establishment of the cruelest dictatorships in Latin America, with the support of the CIA. The news from Vietnam, and specially the photographic documentation of torture on the field, mobilized the artist who began collecting and combining a huge amount of clippings. The result is an enormous oratorium conceived to be read in public. Through it, Ferrari raises his voice against the war using the words of others.
(Artistic rendition by Leon Ferrari)
(Many Cal Arts Students participate in The World of Others)
The Words of Others is not a theater piece written to be represented, but a conceptual art piece, consisting of words to be transformed into voices, but not into characters. Even if it might resemble documentary theater or certain political theater from the sixties, it doesn’t require a theatrical treatment, but only the consideration of a political art. Consequently, the participants are invited to read focusing on the rhythms and the words editing rather than on the identity of the characters, even when some of them are very well known: Hitler, Johnson, Goebbels, Christ, Paul VI or God. The intention is not to construct a character, nor even to propose a fixed identity. Therefore, different speakers will read the same characters along the performance. The group of speakers/readers will consist, approximately, of thirty people. Distributed in successive shifts of eight to sixteen speakers at a time, they will give voice, along approximately eight hours, to the words of almost two hundred characters, both real or figured. In order to make the task of the speakers as easy as possible, we are preparing a very detailed script that will allow minimizing the time of rehearsal: in some cases, just one session previous to the performance will be enough. The goal of the rehearsal will be to explain the rhythm, tone and position codes used in the script, to make clear the identity of the voices, and to clarify some contents and intentions of the author, when necessary. The reading will be supported by a soundtrack, which will create some atmospheres. Providing tones or rhythmic keys, the soundtrack will reinforce the critical intention of the text, bringing the historical words to the present and helping to identify the voices. In some cases, a historical recording will be used instead of the live voice: for instance, Pope's Paul VI speech at the UN assembly in 1965. Since that speech was pronounced in French, we will project English subtitles. The same will happen in other specific moments in which the text will be read in original Spanish. The speakers will sit around ten tables (two to four speakers per table), distributed all over the space: one/two table(s) for the Press (max. 4 voices), two for the Historian, the historical Press and the Bible (including God, Christ and St. John), one for L. Johnson and A. Hitler, one for the Pope, Paul VI, one for the Nazis (Goebbels, Göring, Himmler, etc.), one for the US Administration (State Secretaries, advisors, senators, generals, etc.), one for the Priest and the Missal, and one extra table for other different voices. Some voices will be identified through small plastic elements (tiny figures, books, models….);
some others will be identified through projections on the lateral walls (it will be the case of US, Germany and Vietnam Administration members, Generals and Priests). The audience will receive a map of the space, with a brief description of the reading device. They may sit at the tables very close to the speakers, circulate around them or sit down on different chairs distributed all over the room. Eventually, a spectator could read some lines. On the tables we will dispose plenty of documentary material: copies of the original newspapers, magazines or books pages where the words were found, contextual documents, documents of León Ferrari work as well as some other documents that bring the performance to the present: current conflicts, economic neocolonialism, criminalization of migrants, practice and acceptance of torture. Spectators are not expected to stay in the reading for a long time, although they may. In any case, they don’t need to keep their attention on the reading as if they were attending a theater performance; they will instead inhabit the space as long as they consider. Even if the text was conceived by Ferrari as a continuum it is possible to recognize in it different rhythms and intensities.
(Artistic rendition in Spanish by Leon Ferrari)
The last section is without a doubt the most lively: more voices intervene and more speakers will be needed. In order to make easier the preparation and rehearsals, we have divided the script in 8 acts and 43 scenes. Each act lasts around one hour. Scenes will allow a more effective distribution of the rehearsals and will make easier to organize the shifts. This division will not affect the final reading which will be continuous as Ferrari conceived it. This public reading of Palabras Ajenas constitutes a big challenge: it will be the first time that the piece will be read from the beginning to the end, without cutting it. Previous readings, realized by Maler in London and Asquini in Buenos Aires, used shortened versions. Our current political situation offers unfortunate parallelisms with Ferrari’s context during the preparation of Palabras Ajenas. For that reason, we consider that the realization of this piece and the participation in the reading should work not only as a way of recalling the artistic and political work of León Ferrari, paying homage to him as an artist, a citizen and a person, but also as a gesture in defense of culture, democracy and civil rights. Public Reading: September 16th, 2017.
(Artistic rendition by Leon Ferrari)
From 12 to 8 pm. Rehearsal: September 11th. From 10 to 2 pm (TBD) LOCATION: REDCAT THEATER Contact: Ruth Estévez: firstname.lastname@example.org Carmen Amengual: email@example.com Collections of clippings from the 1960´s containing quotes that León Ferrari used in Palabras Ajenas/ The Words of the Others. Courtesy Pablo Ferrari. PALABRAS AJENAS (1967)
Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your book. I jotted down a few things that resonated for me.
My dad was a Beta at University of Cincinnati.
Reef Points! How can we ever forget them!
Rifle range. Who can forget those Marines!
Heinz Lenz was still there for me, too. (I think he died only in the last couple of years?)
Joe Duff. He still coached baseball, but he and I never crossed paths. I made the plebe and varsity sailing teams while I was there (1967-1971), but was not the athlete you were. But those T-tables plebe year were a Godsend! And for the sailing team, it was for BOTH fall and spring sets.
Joe Bellino. I loved watching those games. And Roger Staubach, how lucky you were to be there during his era, too. Roger came and talked at our pep rally in 1967 before the Army/Navy game. (He was trying to make it with the Cowboys at that time.) We won that year and received "carry on" like you did.
Like you, I thoroughly enjoyed being on the "plebe detail" second class year. As luck would have it, the very next summer the Academy decided to put first class in charge of the detail, so I got to do it again!
Pensacola. Great times! I certainly wasn't the "ace of the base," but finished high enough (4 of 30 that week) to choose any pipeline I wanted (helos, jets, or props)---and they were all open that week.
My A-7 primary instructor in T-34's nearly shot me for picking helos, but guys from '68 and '69 were telling us how much fun they were having flying them (while we were still back at the Academy). Plus, I found that whenever I climbed above 5000 feet, I lost the real sensation of flying. I also found that to be true as a second class midshipman flying in the back of an F-4 at Oceana (the "Diamondbacks"). In helos I knew I would spend most of my flying career at 500 feet and below. (In Desert Storm we frequently flew at 10 feet and as fast as that Blackhawk would go!) I never regretted my decision.
Army helo pilot Hugh Thompson. What courage! (I used his example in my first book, Inspiring Leadership: Character and Ethics Matter, now used in the Leadership/Ethics curricula at Villanova and Regent Universities.)
Olongapo! Amazing place. If you closed your eyes, you actually thought the Rolling Stones were playing---or any other big name group for that matter. And those kids diving for pesos! The helo hangout was the Roofadora Club, as I recall.
Our helo squadron aboard the USS Constellation in 1974 made three daily trips ("liberty runs") to Bagio, Manila, and Clark AFB while we were in port at Cubi Point/Subic. We charged a dollar per person (which went to the rec fund). Needless to say, we were the most popular squadron on the ship, especially among the Filipino stewards! LOL.
And last but certainly far from least, your amazing work as a lawyer for the UFW. What a legacy for you! You can be justifiably proud of those years!
Anyway, Dan, thought you should know how much I enjoyed your book. One of these days we'll have to meet for lunch.
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: