Tag Archives: Vietnam

Friendships are forever

LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. — Jack and I chowed down a couple of burgers in a diner in this community’s downtown district.

It hit me as we chatted about the old days, mutual friends of ours and the good time we had as kids: these friendships last forever. Maybe in longer … if that’s possible.

I have known Jack since our days together in junior high school at the other end of the Portland metro area. Our lives took different paths after we graduated from Parkrose High School in 1967. Jack enlisted in the Marine Corps and went to Vietnam. The Army drafted me and sent me there, too.

We discovered today that we served in close proximity in ‘Nam for a time.

We returned home, met the girls of our dreams, married them and embarked on radically different careers, unbeknownst to each other. He sold real estate; I ventured into journalism.

Many years would pass before our paths would cross again. They did some time ago. I am delighted they did.

Today, we picked up as if that time gap didn’t exist. It was a wonderful, albeit brief, encounter today at the burger joint.

It just reminds me that friendships — those we create and then nurture — are worth the test of time. Ours has endured through that test.

It has helped validate my decision to venture back to where I came into the world. Yes, it has contributed to a bit of healing.


Pollyanna? No, an idealist

One of the harshest criticisms I have received over many decades offering commentary on issues of the day came from a colleague of mine.

He called me a “Pollyanna.” I cannot remember the specific issue that prompted the dig, but it likely had something to do with the political climate of the time and my wish for a return to a kinder time. I guess my critic/friend didn’t ascribe to the same ideals as I did then … and still do today.

I might invite the Pollyanna brickbat once again by declaring that no matter how desperate the current environment appears, I am going to rely on my faith in the U.S. Constitution … yeah, the same Constitution that Donald Trump said we should suspend.

For starters, the Constitution is far stronger and more durable than the insane rants of a disgraced politician. Moreover, we have been through many crises that rival or even exceed the current tempest brewing over efforts to reject election results, or return Trump to the White House.

We endured two world wars, and in the past 75 years two other wars — in Korea and Vietnam — that tore at our fabric. We went to war in the Middle East, prompting yet another crisis of confidence.

We have endured presidential assassinations dating back to President Lincoln’s murder in 1865, presidential scandals — one of which forced a president to resign — the Great Depression and a Civil War.

What has been the common denominator, the one political structure that survived? The U.S. Constitution. It has held the nation together, albeit while showing plenty of wear and tear around the edges.

It will continue to hold us together. No matter how hard the MAGA cultists/traitors seek to undermine it, the Constitution will endure. So will our democratic republic … and so will the electoral process that is taking its share of heavy hits from those who have declared war on our founding document.

This is not the feel-good wish of a Pollyanna. It is the assertion of an old man, a veteran who went to war for his country and a patriot who remains committed to the glorious idealism that our nation’s founders envisioned.


Vietnam analogy takes shape?

There appears to be a sort of Vietnam analogy possibly taking shape on the battlefields in Ukraine. I can’t quite get my arms completely around it, but I do sense a certain similarity coming into focus.

More than 50 years ago, the United States was engaged in a death struggle with Vietnamese forces over control of South Vietnam. The United States won virtually every military engagement against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army. We did not win the hearts and minds of the people.

So, U.S. and North Vietnamese negotiators ventured to Paris to work out an agreement to end hostilities. The agreement came to pass in January 1973. We pulled our forces out but by April 1975, North Vietnam was able to roll its tanks into Saigon and rename the city after Ho Chi Minh.

Fast forward to the present day.

Russia has invaded Ukraine. The Russians are unable to win over Ukrainians’ hearts and souls. Ukraine is waging a hell of a fight to save their country, much as the Vietnamese did against our forces in the1960s and 1970s. The Russian advance has been stalled. Ukraine is taking back some of the territory it lost in the initial combat.

Now we hear that Russia is beginning to give a little in talks with Ukraine. Might there be an agreement reached that could end this senseless slaughter? Might the Ukrainians be able to declare some form of “victory” against a vastly superior military force?

OK, so the Vietnam-Ukraine analogy isn’t aligned perfectly. I do see enough similarity, though, to suggest that Ukraine might have been able to “win the war” while losing all the “battles” on its way to ending the Russian onslaught.

Let us not forget, either, that the U.S.-led economic sanctions are crippling the Russians to the point of disabling them from continuing the fight.


Time races on

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

I was waiting for the moment to arrive and it did today.

I ventured to the grocery store this morning wearing the ballcap you see in this photo. I like wearing ballcaps anyway and I have a couple of them that tell a tiny portion of my life story. This is one that does.

So … a young grocery store employee in her early 20s passed by and said, “Thank you for your service.” I nodded in her direction and thanked her for the acknowledgment.

Then she said, “You know, my grandpa served in Vietnam, too.”

Well, I was wearing a mask at the time of that exchange so the young woman was unable to see the combination grimace/grin that came across my face when I heard what she said.

Yes, I know I am getting old. It happens to everyone. I am just grateful that I am able to become old enough to receive such a greeting from anyone … even the grandkids of those with whom I served.

A Thanksgiving to remember for the ages

I cherish the memories of many Thanksgiving holidays over the years. I will do so again this year. Our sons, our daughter-in-law and our granddaughter will join us for dinner. We will laugh and enjoy fellowship that only families can enjoy.

However, the most unique Thanksgiving of my life will be in the back of my mind. It occurred 30 years ago today. I was traveling in a faraway land, away from my wife and my sons. As I look back on it, I realize more clearly than ever the symbolism that Thanksgiving had in that time, in that place.

I was traveling through Southeast Asia with a group of editorial writers and editors. We traveled there to examine the issues of the day and to take a firsthand look at the ravages that war had brought to that region. We started our tour in Thailand. Then we flew to Vietnam, which to many of the Vietnam War veterans among our group filled us with another sort of emotion.

Then we flew to Cambodia, which in 1989 was a shattered hulk of a country. The Vietnamese occupiers who invaded the country in 1978 had just vacated. They left behind a nation in ruins brought to it by the horrifying Khmer Rouge regime led by Pol Pot.

We departed Cambodia by bus caravan back to Saigon. It would take us all day to get from Phnom Penh to the city now known officially as Ho Chi Minh City; except that the civilians still call it Saigon.

After a harrowing trip that included crossing the Mekong River on a rickety raft that served as a “ferry,” we arrived in Saigon. We checked in to the Majestic Hotel. Then we went to dinner as a group, tired but ready to enjoy some good chow and each other’s company.

Our Vietnamese hosts knew that it was Thanksgiving Day, a uniquely American holiday. They went out of their way to make us feel “at home.” They served us a wonderful meal in the dining room of roast duck, mashed potatoes, peas and apple pie.

Was it the most scrumptious meal I’ve ever eaten? Not even close. One of my friends among the journalists gathered there called the main course “road kill duck.” But, our hosts’ hearts were clearly geared toward showing us some supreme hospitality. They succeeded far beyond measure.

As I look back on that Thanksgiving dinner three decades later, I realize now how thankful I was at the time — and I am today — at the bounty we enjoy in this country. Furthermore, as I recall the lingering misery we encountered in Cambodia, I am reminded of just how grateful we must remain in this country, where we hope we never experience what those brave and glorious people had to endure.

That dinner gave me a special understanding of what this holiday means to all of us. May we never take what we have for granted.

‘No report’ from Robert Mueller, Mr. POTUS? You’re joking, yes?

Innocent men and women don’t say things such as what came from the president of the United States late this past week.

Donald Trump continues to call Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russians who interfered in our 2016 election “illegal.” He calls the probe a “witch hunt.” He says now that there should be “no Mueller report” issued to the attorney general, let alone released to the public for its review.

Is that what an innocent man would say?

I don’t know what the special counsel has compiled. No one outside Mueller and his team of legal eagles knows what he’s going to submit to Attorney General William Barr. Donald Trump doesn’t know. The AG himself might not yet know.

As for the legality of Mueller’s investigation, I happen to believe — as do most Americans — that Mueller is conducting a perfectly legal and appropriate investigation.

A witch hunt doesn’t produce the indictments, guilty pleas and prison terms that have come from this investigation.

Robert Mueller is as former White House lawyer Ty Cobb described him; he is an “American hero.” He is a dedicated prosecutor, a former FBI director, a man of impeccable standing and reputation. Mueller has worked diligently for presidents of both political parties.

Mueller embodies many of the qualities that Trump lacks. Let’s try a dedication to public service. Or perhaps we can compare Mueller’s combat service in the Marine Corps in Vietnam to the bone spurs that kept young Donald Trump out of the military (allegedly) during the Vietnam War. Let’s also examine the air-tight manner in which his investigation has proceeded, compared to the sieve-like environment that plagues the White House.

Donald Trump doesn’t sound like an innocent man when he continues to rant about Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Let the man finish his task, Mr. President. If the POTUS is innocent, we’re all going to know about it in due course.

1968: The year that changed many lives

If you live long enough you get to go through many seminal moments in your life. I’ve been walking on this Earth for 68-plus years and I have had my share of them.

My marriage to a girl who appeared before me like a vision. The birth of my children. The birth of my granddaughter. Flying over an erupting volcano.

But 1968 produced another one, too, just as it did for many of us in my generation. That was the year I was inducted into the U.S. Army. It occurred 50 years to this day.

I actually can remember much of that day in some detail. It’s one of those events that burns into your memory.

Mom took me to the Army entrance station in downtown Portland, Ore. She bid me so long. I went in, went through a routine physical exam, then took the oath. I made the step forward and was informed by the swearing-in sergeant that we “all had been inducted into the Army.” I would learn later that the Marine Corps also was accepting conscripts; hey, we were at war.

We piled onto buses and rode off in the dark toward Fort Lewis, Wash., where I would spend the next nine weeks learning how to be a soldier.

It was a two-year hitch. I finished basic training in October, then flew directly to Richmond, Va., and then rode a bus to Fort Eustis, Va., where I would train for another 16 weeks learning how to keep OV-1 Mohawk airplanes in the air.

Then it was off to Vietnam and back to Fort Lewis to finish my hitch.

Why mention this? Well, I feel at times in today’s era that not enough young Americans get a chance to experience these kinds life-changing events. I came out of that experience a better person, more grounded and certainly more committed to getting an education.

I won’t advocate for a return to mandatory military conscription. Perhaps some form of public service, though, might do a lot of young folks good. The government created the Peace Corps in 1961 to provide young Americans with a chance to make a positive impact around the world. The Peace Corps is still in existence, but one hardly ever hears of it, unless some young person gets into some form of trouble.

I feel fortunate to have come of age when I did. I feel blessed as well that I survived that most-turbulent time in our nation’s history.

None of us can rewrite our past any more than we can rewrite history. Suffice to say that 1968 was one hell of a year for many Americans. We endured violence in the streets, the murders of two iconic political/religious/civil rights icons and a war that tore at our national soul.

We survived and we are better for having lived through it.

As long as we’re talking about guns …

I understand people’s fascination with firearms. I get that many Americans get a form of “enjoyment” out of shooting them.

What I do not get — nor will I ever understand, more than likely — is the fascination with assault rifles, killing machines that shoot large amounts of ordnance in very little time.

I now will explain why I get the fascination part.

I’ll begin by boasting — just a little — that I have a certain proficiency with firearms. I discovered my rifle proficiency while serving in the U.S. Army. I completed my basic training at Fort Lewis, Wash., in 1968 while toting an M-14 semi-automatic rifle. It used a 20-round magazine full of 7.62-mm rounds and I earned a “sharpshooter” rating with the rifle.

I flew from Fort Lewis to Fort Eustis, Va., for my AIT (advanced individual training). Even though I trained as an OV-1 Mohawk aircraft mechanic, we were issued M-16 rifles, on which we had to qualify. The M-16 was much lighter than the M-14, but it, too, used a 20-round magazine, firing a much smaller caliber round: a .223, barely bigger than the .22-caliber bullet my rifle at home shot. The M-16 is a deadly weapon of war, however. I qualified well on that weapon, too.

I was issued an M-16 when I reported for duty in Vietnam in the spring of 1969 and, thank goodness, I never had to fire it in combat.

But my exposure to those weapons never brought discomfort to me. I felt quite comfortable firing them during training exercises.

Fast-forward to 2003. I was working as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas. I received an invitation to take part in the Amarillo Police Department Citizens Academy. Its aim is to acquaint civilians to myriad aspects of police work. It’s an educational tool that APD uses to give citizens — such as yours truly — a better understanding of the complexities associated with law enforcement.

One aspect of the academy was to spend some time at the firing range. We got to shoot a .38-caliber revolver — a six-shooter; a 9-mm Glock pistol; and an AR-15 rifle (yes, the weapon used in the Parkland, Fla., school massacre on Valentine’s Day).

I am not as familiar with handguns as I am with rifles. But I made a rather startling discovery about myself that day: I’m a pretty good shot with a handgun. I was able to shoot the six-gun well; I was able to handle the more powerful Glock with proficiency; and the AR-15 felt much like the M-16 I was issued in Vietnam.

I came away from the APD Citizens Academy shooting range understanding fully the fascination with shooting weapons at targets.

However, and this interesting, as well, as much “fun” as I had shooting those weapons at the APD range, I didn’t get bitten by the shooting “bug.” I haven’t fired a handgun since that day 15 years ago.

As we continue this national discussion about guns, though, I remain opposed to the idea of allowing the relatively easy purchase of weapons such as the AR-15 that can be used to kill lots of people in no time at all.

They, in effect, are weapons of war, where they and other such weaponry do what they are designed to do. On the streets — or in school classrooms, for crying out loud! — they have no place.

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.

Happy Trails, Part 11

We have been doing some housecleaning around here lately.

Moving day will arrive eventually as we prepare to launch ourselves into a new adventure. Retirement has given us time to do some serious evaluation and re-evaluation of what we possess and what we should keep or discard. Those of you who’ve been through this get my drift.

I have been rifling through my home office desk and I’ve come across three items that — strangely enough — I just cannot discard.

Two of them involve tools of the craft I pursued for nearly 37 years. Old-line journalists will know of what I speak. The newbies out there, well, listen up.

One of them is a pica pole. It’s like a ruler only with a specific newspaper-related purpose.  A pica is a unit of measurement. Six picas equal one inch. The pica pole has inch markings on it, but when you’re working with this device in a newsroom, you rely on the pica measurement.

It tells you how wide to make your photographs, how wide your columns of type will be, how deep the stories will run along a page of type.

Pica poles are relics of the past. To my knowledge, they have no practical use today in this age of desktop publishing.

I actually have two of them, one of which I am certain was issued to me at the first full-time journalism job I had, at the Oregon City (Ore.) Enterprise-Courier. The E-C, as we called it then, also has gone dark. It no longer publishes. The building has been wiped off the slab at its downtown Oregon City site.

My boss at the time told me to “guard this with your life” when he issued it to me back in 1977. I have done as he said.

The second item is a proportion wheel. We used this item to measure the size of pictures we would place on our news pages. You line up the inner wheel measurements with the outer wheel measurements and you determine by how many percentage points you want to expand — or shrink — the original print to make it fit the space you have on the page.

That’s all done electronically now.

The third relic from my former life? That would be a luggage tag I collected on the trip of a lifetime I took in November 1989. It’s a Thai Air tag that went on a piece of luggage from Bangkok to Hanoi — yeah, the city in Vietnam.

I was among a group of editorial writers making a fact-finding trip to Southeast Asia. The National Conference of Editorial Writers arranged for this trip that originated in Thailand, then to Vietnam, then to Cambodia and back to Vietnam.

Once the official NCEW portion of the trip concluded, I was able to travel to Da Nang with two of my colleagues and visit the place where I had served 20 years earlier as a member of the U.S. Army. A life-changer? You bet it was.

I am not sure why I kept the Hanoi bag tag, but I am glad I did.

It is one of those wonderful — if small — reminders of the many great things I was able to see and do pursuing a craft to which I was deeply devoted.

That was then. The here and now beckons my wife and me to places still to be determined. I’ll keep you posted.