Tag Archives: Panhandle PBS

NFL has enough on its plate

As if the National Football League didn’t have enough on its plate with which to contend.

The NFL has just issued an edict ordering its players to stand for the national anthem when it’s played prior to football games.

There is another issue on the NFL’s plate. It’s called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

I got to write about it while working part time for Panhandle PBS. My task in those days was to write blogs pertaining to public service programming. “Frontline” did a landmark special on CTE in 2015 and I was privileged to offer some perspective on it.

Here is what I wrote in September 2015 for Panhandle PBS.

I mention this now because the NFL is back in the news. The topic this time — players who “take a knee” to protest police brutality against African-Americans — is unpleasant. It’s not nearly as grim and grievous as the “other big issue” that plagues the NFL to this day.

CTE is taking lives. The league is trying to do better at protecting these highly paid athletes/entertainers. It’s a full-time job for the NFL. I am wondering how in the world the league is going to focus on players who launch their protests by “taking a knee.”

Quite sure ‘Dust Bowl’ won’t return

One of the things I learned about the Dust Bowl was it was manly caused by human fallibility and ignorance.

I also learned that the Dust Bowl was centered right here on the High Plains of Texas and Oklahoma.

As dry as it has been in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles since this past autumn, I will rely on the knowledge that we have learned how to prevent a recurrence of the hideous tragedy that befell the region in the 1930s.

Ken Burns’ fabulous documentary film, “The Dust Bowl,” which aired on PBS in 2015, reminded us that the event was the worst “manmade ecological disaster” in U.S. history. How did it occur?

Human beings settled on the High Plains and began plowing up natural grassland, turning it into cultivated farm land. Many farmers relied on rainfall to irrigate their crops; they were “dry land farmers.”

They plowed up hundreds of thousands of acres of grassland, which Mother Nature put there to act as protection against wind erosion. The grass held the soil together, preventing it from blowing away in the stiff wind that howls frequently across the High Plains.

Well, then something drastic happened. It stopped raining. The region became gripped by a killer drought. Then the wind blew as it always does. What happened next has become the stuff of legend throughout the High Plains.

The dirt blew in sinister, black clouds across the vast landscape. People breathed in the dirt. They contracted “dust pneumonia.” Many of them died; the most vulnerable were the very old and the very young; obviously, the very sickly also fell victim. Many others who didn’t die vacated their farms and ranches.

Other survivors, though, stayed and powered through the misery.

The nation learned a lot from that terrible time. One of the lessons dealt with tilling the land. Farmers started by letting the grass grow back where Mother Nature intended for it to grow. They improved their tilling techniques to minimize wind erosion.

The rain would return eventually. The High Plains would rebuild. The dust settled.

We’re now gripped by another drought. The U.S. and Texas departments of agriculture consider the region to be in “severe drought” mode.

Here’s a glimmer of hope: No one really believes we are going to experience a chapter-and-verse repeat of what occurred on the High Plains more than eight decades ago. The region’s ignorance about Mother Nature’s way has long gone.

However, we’ve got those damn fires with which we must contend.

Looking more like Dust Bowl

This is what the Dust Bowl looked like?

Dust Bowl, anyone?

What you see here is a picture I snapped this evening looking west from where we are living. The wind is howling. The weather apps on my cell phone and my wife’s cell phone tell us it’ll keep howling through the night and into the next day.

This picture frightens me a bit.

I am not going to equate what we’re seeing here in 2018 to what Texas Panhandle witnessed in the 1930s, when hideously ignorant farming practices coupled with a severe drought created the nation’s worst-ever man-made environmental disaster.

Ken Burns’s documentary, “The Dust Bowl,” told that story in a gripping series that aired on Panhandle PBS a couple years ago. Elderly residents who lived through the Dust Bowl as children recalled watching their siblings and young friends die of “dust pneumonia.” They talked about how they either fled the High Plains or remained to rebuild their lives destroyed by Mother Nature’s merciless wrath.

Are we heading for another catastrophe? No. I don’t intend to suggest such a thing.

The picture I have posted with this blog item, though, intends to illustrate that we are getting a touch — perhaps only a smidgen — of what this region’s ancestors endured during a much darker time.

We all are ready for some rain.

PBS ‘Vietnam War’ episode misses a key element

I remain utterly transfixed by the Ken Burns-Lynn Novick documentary series “The Vietnam War.”

It contains some of the most compelling television I’ve ever witnessed and I am so proud of PBS for its longstanding commitment to this type of educational broadcasting.

Having tossed out that bouquet, I want to offer this barb at what I witnessed tonight.

The series tonight focused on the Tet Offensive, which the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese launched against dozens of South Vietnamese cities on Jan. 31, 1968. “The Vietnam War” rightly points out that Tet likely was the political turning point, the singular event that turned American public opinion solidly against that bloody conflict.

Tet also produced what arguably was the most singularly graphic moment in that war. It was the photo of Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan’s summary execution of a Viet Cong suspect.

Loan was head of South Vietnam’s police department when he found the suspect and shot him dead on a Saigon street. The picture would earn a Pulitzer Prize for Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams. It also would deliver a lifetime of misery for Gen. Loan, who was vilified because reporting of the incident at the time failed to the tell the whole story.

I wish the Burns-Novick documentary would have told us tonight about the media’s role in demonizing Loan.

You see, Loan shot the man dead because the suspect had been part of a VC hit squad that killed a colleague of the general — and his wife and six children. Loan knew about what had happened to his friend and his family. His men arrested the suspect. Loan ordered one of his officers to shoot the suspect; the officer balked.

So, Loan took out his pistol and shot the man in the head.

Nguyen Ngoc Loan had snapped. He proved to be a human being subject to human emotion,

“The Vietnam War” didn’t tell the whole story tonight, nor did it explain why — because of the lack of full reporting in the moment — that picture came to symbolize the absolute horror of war.

However, by golly, I am going to watch the rest of this utterly spell-binding television event.

I am hooked.

Now the ‘Vietnam’ series is getting serious

PBS is taking a couple of days off leading us down the trail of tragedy that was the Vietnam War.

Episode Four aired tonight and I was gripped by a brief segment contained within it. I’ll need a couple of days to catch my breath before the Ken Burns-Lynn Novick documentary special returns Sunday night.

“The Vietnam War” is walking us through the war year by year. Tonight it took us to the end of 1967. In January of the following year, the Tet Offensive erupted — and it changed everything.

Tonight, though, we saw a brief segment of a young Navy aviator being questioned by his captors in Hanoi. The aviator was lying on a bed, telling the world that he loved his wife. He was in great pain, having been injured when he parachuted from his stricken jet fighter into a Hanoi lake.

John McCain III would spend more than five years as a prisoner of war. He would be tortured, beaten to within an inch of his life. He would be put in solitary confinement. He would be offered an early release, but would refuse it because he didn’t want to give the enemy a propaganda tool, given that his father, Adm. John McCain Jr., was a senior Navy officer. Nor did he want to dishonor himself in the presence of his POW brethren. He would be tortured anew for his refusal to be released early.

And, yes … I thought of how the current president of the United States disparaged McCain’s heroic Vietnam War service while he was running for the presidency. Donald John Trump Sr. didn’t serve in the military during that terrible conflict, yet he blurted out that McCain was a “hero only because he was captured; I like people who aren’t captured, OK?”

I am reminded of a brief segment at the 2008 Al Smith Memorial Dinner featured Sens. McCain and Barack Obama, who were in the middle of a tough campaign for the presidency. The event is done in good fun and it raises money for the Roman Catholic Diocese in New York in memory of the late New York Gov. Al Smith.

Near the end of his hilarious comic riff, Sen. Obama took a moment to tell the audience that “few Americans have served their country with the distinction and honor” that John McCain has demonstrated.

The PBS documentary and the segment with Sen. McCain lying on that Hanoi bed was tough to watch. It simply reminded me, though, of what heroism looks like.

Recalling a chance meeting with an architect of tragedy

Watching the PBS documentary series “The Vietnam War” brings to mind a chance meeting I had in late 1995 with one of the villains of that national tragedy … Robert McNamara.

I like telling the story, so I’ll provide it here knowing, of course, that it involves only two people — and one of them is dead.

Morris Communications Corp. had convened a meeting of newspaper editors and publishers in Washington, D.C., to discuss how the group had planned to cover the upcoming 1996 presidential election. I was editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News, so I got to attend the meeting.

One Sunday morning right after we arrived, we had a day off. I took the time to walk from the hotel to Arlington National Cemetery. The morning was quiet. Traffic was light. Streets had few pedestrians.

I waited at a corner for the light to turn green so I could cross. I noticed an elderly gentleman walking toward me from another corner. He was carrying a shopping bag full of groceries.

I looked and then looked more intently at the gentleman. It was Robert McNamara, secretary of defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. He had just published a book, “In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam.”

In the book, McNamara acknowledged that he knew as early as 1963 that the Vietnam War was a lost cause. He also admitted that he kept quiet about what he believed at the time. He continued to advise Presidents Kennedy and Johnson to keep sending young men to die in Vietnam.

I was one of the young men he allowed to go to Vietnam; I got my orders in the spring of 1969 and reported for duty at Marble Mountain, Da Nang, to work on Army surveillance aircraft.

I was filled at the time of the book’s publication with anger that McNamara would have kept those thoughts so damn private, that he wouldn’t have spoken out in real time about what he believed about the future of that tragic conflict.

He approached me on that quite D.C. street that Sunday morning. “Mr. Secretary,” I said, “I want to introduce myself. My name is John Kanelis. I live in Amarillo, Texas and I just want to tell you how pissed off I am at you after learning about what you wrote in that book you just published. I was one of those men you sent to Vietnam.”

McNamara smiled and said, simply, “You are a very observant young man.” I smiled back at him and offered a conciliatory follow-up. “I am glad that you finally came clean,” I said.

He thanked me. We shook hands and he walked away.

I continued on to Arlington National Cemetery and paid my respects to President Kennedy and his brother, Robert Kennedy.

And I felt better for getting those thoughts off my chest.

These heroes did not ‘die in vain’

Americans might be asking themselves once again a question that crops up as the nation examines its history of armed conflict.

The lingering question might present itself as PBS airs its landmark documentary series “The Vietnam War,” by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, which premieres on Sept. 17.

The question focuses on whether the 58,000 Americans whose names are etched on that black stone wall in Washington, D.C., died in vain. Was their sacrifice wasted?

I will not tolerate such a question. I won’t stand for it!

The Vietnam War did not end well for the United States of America. We lost our will because the enemy we were fighting in Vietnam kept up the fight despite the grievous losses they suffered on the battlefield throughout the southern portion of Vietnam.

The war shredded the nation’s emotions. It tore at our collective heart. We didn’t know how to lose. Indeed, the Vietnam War arguably redefined “winning” and “losing” in the minds of many Americans.

To my point about dying in vain …

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall contains the names of men — and a handful of women — who left behind a story. Their loved ones grieved and perhaps are still grieving their unspeakable loss. Did those Americans die in vain? Did they make the supreme sacrifice, pay the ultimate price for no good reason?

These heroes all died in service to their country. We never should measure the loss of brave Americans on faraway battlefields against the rightness or wrongness of the policy that sent them into harm’s way. These warriors did their duty as they were ordered to do. Their patriotism was unquestioned. Nor was their love of country.

I’ve been able to see the war memorial three times. The most recent time was just this past June. I defy anyone to walk along that wall, examine those names etched in the black stone and believe they are memorialized because they died in vain.

I am not going to engage in a debate over whether our enemies in all the wars this country has fought deserve to be honored in this manner. This blog post is about our men and women. It’s about our young service personnel who followed lawful orders.

The PBS special well might ignite this discussion once again. Fine. Let’s bring it to a full boil. I’ll stand forever by the notion that no one young American ever — not ever! — dies in vain when they are serving the nation that orders them into battle.

***

The first five episodes will air nightly on Panhandle PBS from Sunday, Sept. 17, through Thursday, Sept. 21, and the final five episodes will air nightly from Sunday, Sept. 24, through Thursday, Sept. 28. Each episode will premiere at 7 p.m. with a repeat broadcast immediately following the premiere.

Vietnam vets still tend to talk about ‘their’ war

One of the traits one often hears about World War II veterans is that they don’t talk much about their combat experience.

They answered the call after Pearl Harbor; they shipped out to the Pacific Theater or to Europe and went about joining other Allied forces in defeating the forces of tyranny.

They came home after that great conflict, shed their uniforms and cobbled their lives together. They moved on.

The Korean War came a few years later. That one didn’t end with an all-out victory and unconditional surrender of our enemy. Indeed, Korea is still in a “state of war”; they only signed a cease-fire. Korean War veterans became part of what’s been called “the forgotten war.” They aren’t known either to talk much about their years in hell.

Then came Vietnam. The Vietnam War ended in a stinging political “defeat” for the United States. It still hurts. Those who feel the pain the most likely are those who served there. Roughly 3 million Americans suited up for that war. I was among them. I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Vietnam veterans are more likely to talk about their experiences than those who remain from World War II or Korea. It must be a generational thing. It also must be a bit of a hangover of sorts from the crappy treatment many of those young Americans got when they returned home.

Thankfully, that treatment is receding farther into our national memory. Americans woke up to the reality that the young men who participated in that war did so solely out of duty. They were ordered to go. They went. They did their job. They came back.

Perhaps their willingness to talk about it is a function of their search for affirmation that they weren’t the villains that many of their countrymen and women perceived them to be in real time as they were coming home.

I have no particular need to discuss my service during the Vietnam War. My contribution to that effort was so insignificant, I don’t have the need that many Vietnam vets have — even as we all have advanced into “senior citizenhood.”

In one week, PBS is going to premiere the broadcast of a truly landmark television event. “The Vietnam War” will run over 10 days, covering 18 hours of what I am certain will be a riveting documentary on the nation’s most divisive and emotionally crippling conflict.

One of the outcomes of this documentary, assembled by the great documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, should be to spark more national conversation about Vietnam, the war, its aftermath and how we have made the journey from back then to the present day.

***

The first five episodes will air nightly on Panhandle PBS from Sunday, Sept. 17, through Thursday, Sept. 21, and the final five episodes will air nightly from Sunday, Sept. 24, through Thursday, Sept. 28. Each episode will premiere at 7 p.m. with a repeat broadcast immediately following the premiere.

War is hell in all its grisly forms

Army Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman once delivered a speech in 1880 in which he said the following: “Some of you young men think that war is all glamour and glory, but let me tell you, boys, it is all hell!”

It doesn’t get any more stark than that. The picture I included with this blog post illustrates the hell of war. It is pure and it is evil. There need be no further description needed.

In just a few days, PBS is going to begin airing a landmark series on the Vietnam War. It’s produced and directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, who teamed up on a project aimed at helping a nation come to grips with a conflict that tore at our soul. It ripped our hearts out.

Scenes such as the one depicted in the photo played out throughout Vietnam during that war. A photographer, Eddie Adams managed to capture this scene in all its horror.

Adams won a Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for the photo, but he would say later: “The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. What the photograph didn’t say was, ‘What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?'”

The shooter in this picture was Nguyen Ngoc Loan, the head of South Vietnam’s police force. The fellow he shot was a Viet Cong officer. The moment was frozen for posterity. It’s gruesome, but as Adams said, it tells only part of the story.

The VC officer had just led a mission that had captured a colleague of Loan, along with his wife and six children. The VC officer, Nguyen Van Liem, ordered the execution of his prisoners. All of them had their throats cut.

Nguyen Ngoc Loan knew about the mission when he took Liem into custody. He was filled with rage in the moment. The Viet Cong had just launched its Tet Offensive in early 1968 and had brought havoc throughout South Vietnam.

Loan pulled his pistol out and executed his prisoner. As a result, he became the face of war’s cruelty. He became a human metaphor for the terror Americans were feeling at home about what was happening in a faraway land.

Loan would flee the communist victors at the end of the war. He came to the United States. He would die of cancer in 1998 while living in Florida. It’s been said over the years that Loan never recovered fully from the scorn and recrimination he suffered for acting in response to the most hellish circumstance imaginable.

Burns and Novick’s documentary likely will be able to shed some additional perspective on this act of horror, this moment when hell presented itself in a time of war.

***

The first five episodes of “The Vietnam War” will air nightly on Panhandle PBS from Sunday, Sept. 17, through Thursday, Sept. 21, and the final five episodes will air nightly from Sunday, Sept. 24, through Thursday, Sept. 28. Each episode will premiere at 7 p.m. with a repeat broadcast immediately following the premiere.

Vietnam taught us tough, but needed lessons

The Vietnam War remains an open sore, a wound that’s still healing.

A landmark documentary is set to premier on PBS soon. I am anticipating its opening. “The Vietnam War” is a collaborative effort by the acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, who isn’t as well-known as Burns, but likely will be once this series runs its course.

The series well might help us heal from those wounds of a long-ago war. That’s my hope, anyway.

I took part for a brief period in that conflict. I got my orders and reported for duty as an Army aircraft mechanic. I arrived at Marble Mountain, Da Nang, in the spring of 1969. I served my time and came home.

I’ve told you already about the emotional baggage I shed when I was able to return to that place in 1989. A lot of Vietnam vets have done much the same thing. Many of them had damn heavy loads to release; they were combat vets. I was not one of them, but the baggage was real.

The nation learned many valuable lessons about itself during that war and in its immediate aftermath. I want to look briefly at two of those lessons, which I hope the Burns-Novick film will discuss in detail beginning Sept. 17 (on Panhandle PBS).

We learned how to lose a war. The United States didn’t “lose” this conflict in the traditional sense. The enemy didn’t defeat us on the battlefield. Indeed, our armed forces were able to declare victory in virtually every major conflict we entered against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese military.

We inflicted more casualties on them than they did on our side. We captured more of their fighters than they did of ours. We won the fight on the field.

We lost the fight politically. We lacked the stomach to stay in the fight “for the duration.” The Vietnamese were fighting on their turf, fighting for their cities and villages. They were fighting to protect their land.

They had the will to keep fighting. And they did. We lost our will and came home in early 1973. Two years later, left to fend for themselves, the South Vietnamese armed forces were overrun by the North. On April 30, 1975, the shooting stopped.

We didn’t win that fight and it has stuck in our national craw ever since.

I’ve made peace with that fact over the years. I get how it went down. I trust “The Vietnam War” will explain it to those Americans who still wonder: How did we win all those battles but lose the war?

We mistreated our returning warriors. This might be the most shameful aspect of the war, at least in my mind.

I didn’t get spit on. No one called me names. I never once was disrespected outwardly and openly when I wore my uniform while at home upon my return. Too many of my colleagues, though, did receive such mistreatment. It was disgraceful in the extreme.

It is amazing today to listen to left-leaning commentators extol the heroism of our fighting men and women engaged in war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Think about that for a moment. Fifty years ago, those same leftish pundits might excoriate the returning warriors. There might be veiled references to the “atrocities” they committed. They likely would be treated with far less respect and dignity than they are today.

These days, I like wearing my Vietnam vet ball cap when I’m out and about and, yes, I welcome the occasional expressions of “thank your for your service” greetings I get from strangers. That would not have occurred in 1970.

We have turned an important corner in our national upbringing, and it warms my heart to know that we no longer condemn the fighting men and women for doing their duty to their country, just like we did during the Vietnam War.

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have taken on a profoundly important project with this series on that long-ago, but never-forgotten war. It taught us many lessons about ourselves as a nation — and as individual Americans.

Their documentary is a landmark event in every meaningful sense of the term.

***

The first five episodes will air nightly on Panhandle PBS from Sunday, Sept. 17, through Thursday, Sept. 21, and the final five episodes will air nightly from Sunday, Sept. 24, through Thursday, Sept. 28. Each episode will premiere at 7 p.m. with a repeat broadcast immediately following the premiere.