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Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Conundrum of Oakland Politics




By Gregory K. Taylor


When one's house is burning, the first course of action is to extinguish the fire.

Although it has been 35 years since I last suited up for the Oakland Police Department, even so, when it comes to the subject of public safety in the city of Oakland I feel I still possess a certain bona fide expertise. In response to Oakland Post Publisher Paul Cobb's challenge, I will attempt to proffer what I think is the problem (not rocket science), and what solutions exist to bring about a substantive change in the crime rate of Oakland (also not rocket science).

I was born in Berkeley and raised in east Oakland where I attended elementary, junior high, and high school from 1956 to 1969. I have fond memories of an idyllic time when the milkman, in full white regalia, delivered milk to the family doorstep. This was an unremarkable time when I could ride my bike to the store and lay it down, untethered and unlocked, on the sidewalk. Gun violence in my neighborhood was a scene played out on the silver screen at the local theater. Indeed, the ultimate conflict arbiter resided in our fists where the scrapes, bumps, and bruises of a fight would, more often than not, lead to a new friendship. Such was Oakland of the past which is altogether elusive and wanting today

The Oakland Police Department, once the bellwether of policing, has now been reduced to an agency so hamstrung that it can't, with any consistency, carry out many of its designed duties--or get out of its own way. In 1972, at the age of 21, I joined the department which at that time was a bastion of technological prowess that stood head and shoulders above all other California Police Agencies--and that included the famously touted LAPD.

Although they are unexceptional today, in the early 1970s OPD was one of three police agencies in the entire country that had in-vehicle Computers called Digital Computers, AKA, Digicom—Albany, N.Y. and Kansas City, MO., were the other two.  Argus, our helicopter, was so indispensable to the beat officer that exhausting foot chases often turned into a couple of fence hops followed by the capture or surrender of a befuddled suspect. We were always on the cutting edge of technology.  I remember patrolling in a newly minted police vehicle loaded with all the bells and whistles of its time thinking I was piloting a state-of-the-art fighter jet or a NASA space capsule. The array of buttons on the overhead console, paired with a touch-sensitive digital map mounted above the computer, had us all beaming with pride to be part of such a forward-thinking, highly-trained, superbly equipped police organization in all of America. OPD was so respected and well-thought-of that most of the surrounding agencies like Hayward, San Leandro, Alameda, and Fremont paid to put their recruits through Oakland's Academy which ran nonstop three classes at a time.

Now, sadly, and with a bit of embarrassment, I hear reports of the Highway Patrol and the Alameda Co. Sheriff's Office (ACSO) taking calls for service in Oakland. How could this be? In my day, the deepest a CHP officer ventured into Oakland was to find a place to eat off a nearby freeway ramp, and an ACSO officer might occasionally be seen, if one didn't blink, serving a subpoena or an eviction notice. As it is today, the homicide rate was ascending the charts establishing high water marks for the record books; all the same, there was a high clearance and conviction rate to keep pace with the murder rate. The number of sworn personnel, as best I can remember, never exceeded 715--if it ever got that high.

So, where did the train run off the track? How can the department, thus, the city be returned to the previous years of competent and effective crime-fighting when Oakland is in perpetual-fiscal decline? A shrinking tax base caused by fleeing businesses due to persistent crime stifles new development and home ownership. This vicious circle of reciprocating cause and effect can NOT be hidden by a mulligan stew of tax increases, fines, fees, infrastructure neglect, service charges, or grants & subsidies; nor can creative accounting, that would make a wall street derivative broker blush, put off the inevitable collapse (bankruptcy). How long can the city fathers continue to rob Peter to pay Paul before the lights are turned off? Until Oakland's checkbook is brought into balance the fate of Detroit looms large in its future?

Oakland will forever be chasing its tail, while crime, and its perception, remains the reputation of the city. There must be the will, the know-how, and most of all, the persuasive personality to coalesce disparate views into an effective plan of attack to do what must be done. Name one city where crime is an issue and the people are prosperous. You want your tax base and your educated class back in numbers that matter? Only when it is SAFE to return.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Police Officer Position--Ferguson, MO. Blacks Need Not Apply

By Gregory K. Taylor

You can not police a black community with white police officers only. This should be obvious on its face. In fact, if you're going to police a majority black community there should be a majority of black officers assigned this task.

There exists, with rare exception, a different perspective and understanding which a black officer brings to a given situation when it involves black people. Where a white officer might think offensively first, a black officer might think compassionately. Where a white officer might shoot first, a black officer will hold his fire. There is a threshold a black officer might allow a black person to cross, where a white officer won't. 

I've seen the palpable fear and inexplicable reaction of a white officer when I've been pulled over for a traffic violation that I've never seen in a black officer pulling me over. Black people, other than the criminal element, have to be approached in a respectful-courteous manner when pulled over.  To do otherwise, is setting the stage for a confrontation. 

It would be interesting to see the statistics on police officer shootings involving black officers compared with white officers. I know the answer--AND it isn't the black cop shooting a lot of black people. 

If white cops can't relate or don't want to relate or are too scared of the black people they are policing, then they should find a less threatening environment in which to ply their trade, because the day of riding in like an occupying army and riding out just as fast should be over. 

Capt. Ron Johnson of the state Highway Patrol

The Ferguson police should be embarrassed for not having enough black officers to go into the community and relate with the black citizenry.  How do I know it would probably make a difference? JUST LOOK AT THIS black officer (captain in photo) of the Missouri Highway Patrol who was tasked with quelling the situation in Ferguson. He actually looks like a police officer as opposed to a military officer. And, he doesn't look afraid to go mingle with the black citizenry. 

When will these white administrators learn and hire as many black officers as they can get their hands on. We all know why they don't--don't we, and, frankly, I'm tired of it.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

I'm Throwing My Hands Up Too, Not From Fear Of Being Shot, But...

 By Gregory K. Taylor

I'm a little confused here.  Below is the 2010 census reporting the population by race in Ferguson, MO.  How can the Mayor and Police Chief be white?  Is this a case of vote rigging, voter suppression, are most blacks under voting age, or do the blacks in Ferguson consider voting to be a non-participatory event?

If the blacks aren't voting locally, then they deserve the Mayor and Police Chief they get!  When their police department has 53 sworn members and 3 of them are black--who's to blame for this?  When the Mayor is white in a predominantly black city, who's to blame for this?  It's hard for me to get worked up now, because black folks in Ferguson let majority control go to the minority.  I wish I could say that I was astonished, but this movie is a classic from long ago.

Until black folks decide to empower themselves (and I mean educationally) nothing will change.  When one is dealt a lemon, and everyone knows it, but no one really cares, then one has to turn that lemon into lemonade oneself.  From Garvey, to Malcolm, to MLK, to Obama the message has been the same, but the only thing the black youth want to increase is the prison population and the body count of people who look like them.

I'm throwing my hands up too, not from fear of being shot--but from total exasperation about a people who can't collectively figure out how to outsmart their counterpart!  It wouldn't be hard, because the achievement map has been drawn already.  If only we would use it!

Population by Race White    6,206
African American                 14,297
Asian                                     103
American Indian and Alaska Native    80
Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander    4
Other    92
Identified by two or more      421

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Illegal Immigration Has Gotten Out of Hand!


By Gregory K. Taylor

I am an Obama supporter who thinks the President has been dealt a shitty hand by a recalcitrant, do nothing, Republican/Tea Party congress whose mission since his inauguration has been to thwart, interdict, sabotage, and defy any and everything Obama tries to implement. The level of disrespect shown this man is sickening. 

Now, that I've laid out my Obama bona fides, I am just stupefied about what I am witnessing with these unaccompanied children, mainly from central America, making a B(ee) Line to our southern borders with the expectation of entering America in order to benefit from all it has to offer.

I've never been a supporter of illegal immigration, and at the risk of giving aid and comfort to the right wing nut wing--I have to say that THEY ARE RIGHT ON THIS ISSUE! 

A country invites anarchy if it doesn't protect its borders. I have never been able to travel anywhere that I didn't have to produce documentation about who I am and the purpose of my visit. Everyone's quality of life is being affected (negatively) by this unfettered access to our healthcare, educational, and legal system. 

We are all going to regret this in the very near future.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Look Up When Walking the Sidewalks in Taiwan

Gregory K.Taylor                                                

February 17th, 1937, twelve construction workers fell to their deaths while attempting to remove scaffolding from underneath a platform on the Golden Gate Bridge. On the 26th of September, 2001, a 2 1/2-ton plywood-and-steel panel built to protect motorists from Bay Bridge retrofit work collapsed into the eastbound traffic, crushing a pickup truck and killing its driver. April 1st, 2002, cranes and scaffolding at a high-rise building crashed to the ground after an earthquake jolted Taiwan--killing five construction workers. These accidents illustrate the inherent risk in construction work involving large structures. There is usually a price to be paid in human terms for these awe-inspiring improvements

Case in point, approximately ten years ago during one of my visits to Taiwan a corner construction site for a high-rise condominium complex had started to go up. Well, not exactly going up, but more of a dredging and excavation of an area where the foundation was to be poured. This was a plodding methodical churning of mud coupled with a sustained flush of a subterranean sewer until the surface area had clotted resulting in a hardened mass of goo just right for paving. This operation appeared to be taking forever and a day because each time I returned to Taiwan over the next couple of years the construction site seemed to be in the same condition as it was the last time I was there.

Press Johnny on the Spot
Cai Liao Station 采料站
My next trip had a more lengthy in between time--I hadn't been to Taiwan for nearly eight years. This trip revealed a marked improvement in the pace of construction, and for icing on the cake a new subway station had been added right next to the now fully developed high rise building. During these final phases of construction (mainly internal), a metal canopy had been constructed along with a large blue tarp enveloping most of the building's lower floors to protect the pedestrian traffic below from inadvertent falling objects. When in Taiwan I am always mindful when walking by high rise buildings to look up. For whatever reason, I've always been on guard for a falling wrench or hammer or piece of scaffolding or even, God forbid, a falling body. Wincing with regret when I've forgotten to either look up or simply forgetting to use the overhanging roof of a building over a walkway.

There came a day when I was exiting the subway at the new station only to encounter a yellow taped off area and a transit cop directing me to an exit that would be taking me across the street. Hmm...what was this all about? As I made my way up the stairs and onto the street facing directly in front of the high rise building, I could see scaffolding that had fallen to the ground and more scaffolding perilously dangling from the building's edifice. What I always feared had happened. The winds aloft swirled around this building breaking scaffolding loose from its moorings. I suspect the construction crew hadn't anticipated this possible mishap (although I don't understand why they wouldn't) and somewhere someone hadn't securely latched down the scaffolds.

Having seen my fears realized, I think I'll take to wearing a hard hat as I traverse the sidewalks of Taiwan.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Vietnam 2013--Khe Sanh, Part Two

By Gregory K. Taylor

To avoid an international incident, my driver and guide finished their lunch and we resumed our trip. Up to that point, no one had ever said anything negative to me about the American War—the Vietnamese name for the Vietnam War. Ironically, Most want to move on and prosper economically with the aid of the American economy. In fact, one is hard-pressed to find anyone of the war generation willing to discuss the conflict openly without government approval, and those who do request that I not mention their name or reproduce their likeness in print or video.
This inebriated individual appeared to be too young to remember anything about the war other than what he gleaned from history books; so, his reaction to my presence was a bit puzzling. I must have had “I'm an American war veteran” stenciled on my forehead.

American Hardware Captured or Abandoned on Display
The fog and mist began settling on the tarmac as we continued to drive obscuring our vision of the school children, some walking, some riding bicycles, all wearing matching uniforms climbing the elevated slope of the mountain. Such a trek to get an education speaks reverently about the precepts found in the Analects of Confucianism which explains the Asian culture's propensity for higher education. Stunning hues of green, shades of dark, shades of light--everywhere!  Beauty that belies centuries of violent invasions from the Chinese, the French, and the Americans. 
Khe Sanh War Monument

Khe Sanh! We have arrived at the town monument commemorating the battle by the same name etched in NVA filigree. These hieroglyphic pictograms tell the stories of victorious battles against the Americans. Captured American soldiers with raised hands being marched away at gunpoint is one such illustration adorning the monument. To the victor goes the history and the Vietnamese monuments and museums all tell a story of Victory against the "Imperialist Bourgeoisie."

Foggy Road to Khe Sanh Firebase

We first drive ten to fifteen miles in the opposite direction from the Khe Sanh Firebase over to the Lang Vei Special Forces Camp which was a forward observation post in 1968 that was overrun in the February attacks. This attack facilitated the siege of Khe Sanh eliminating a troublesome obstacle for the NVA. We're here! We're here? We've passed it? What? Lang Vei Camp has completely vanished after some 45 years. All that's left is one road with high vegetation on either side and a tank or personnel carrier atop a hill near the entrance. Nothing to see here, so we head back to the war monument and turn left up a foggy road toward Khe Sanh Museum. 

After some early missteps and lost revenue, the Vietnamese government has learned to capitalize on American war nostalgia. So, in its best capitalistic
Inside the Khe Sanh Firebase Museum
practice there is a negligible cover and bathroom charge to enter the grounds and the museum. What one will find in many Vietnam war museums, indoors or outdoors, is a liberal stash of American hardware on display. War equipment from airplanes to helicopters to tanks to munitions that were abandoned, dropped, or captured.

Longer View of the FireBase

Due to the dearth of people today, and a cool mist coupled with light falling rain, and a vast mountainous terrain, it all offers up an eerie quiet with the exception of a distant echo. Sound carries far here, even a whisper. Alas, interrupting this reflective moment is a lone peddler hobbled with a leg injury carrying a tray of American war artifacts--bullets, dog tags, and medals which he insists I buy. No amount of “No Thank you” can deter his singular purpose.  As for my guide and driver, after a few photos, they appear to have abandoned me to my own devices venturing into the museum and then into the taxi, all in an attempt to avoid the elements.

The siege of Khe Sanh is so well documented that I stutter to add anything new. All I can do is walk the area and envisage the scene of exploding ammo dumps, raining (perimeter) B 52 bombs, rockets, mortar fire, and hunkered down Marines. The siege lasted approximately three months and ended in a whimper without the long anticipated NVA ground assault. Historians have concluded the entire siege was a diversionary tactic in order to conceal the North Vietnamese government's real intention—Tet. The importance of Khe Sanh deals more with President Johnson's fear of another Dien Bien Phu disaster and his
President Johnson Obsessing Over Khe Sanh Mock Up
preoccupation, even to the extent of maintaining a mockup model in the White House, with defending it at all costs. This was going to be a last stand battle that America was not going to lose.

After leaving Khe Sanh, I concluded that it was not feasible to head over to Hamburger Hill with the time I had left. I would have to stop in Aluoi and get a special permit and guide from town officials. I suspect the reason for this precaution is the continued danger presented by unexploded ordinance as a result of this tumultuous battle. One would be foolhardy to try and go there alone.

NVA = North Vietnamese Regular Army

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Vietnam 2013--Khe Sanh, Part One

By Gregory K. Taylor

I am headed to Khe Sanh firebase by taxi from the city of Hue to the mountains of Vietnam close to the Laotian border. It is a wet, rainy, and dreary day. My driver is a young student who is moonlighting in order to earn money to defray his costs for college. He has brought a dorm friend with him who claims to know the history of Khe Sanh, at least, according to my driver, better than he. The beauty of this ride is—it's off the meter!

The drive is another epic three and one-half hour trial by fire, and with any luck I hope to, in addition to Khe Sanh, take in its forward base of Lang Vey and perhaps with a bit of wishful thinking Hamburger Hill which is an additional two to three hour drive.

Rock Mountain Firebase
The planned route will start North from Hue on Highway 1 (which runs the length, north and south, of Vietnam), turning west onto Route 9 from Dong Ha, over to Rock Pile Mountain, then curving south to the town of Dakrong, turning west again passing the Dakrong bridge and arriving in the town of Khe Sanh which intersects with Route 9 at a large war monument that defines the main street to Khe Sanh firebase and the Khe Sanh Museum.

War Monument
Rice Paddies, Banana Trees, Bamboo Leaf Hats, Water Buffalo, and Stilted Houses whiz by one after another in what seems to be a seamless panorama of National Geographic wallpaper. Other than the paved highway we are riding on and the overhead transmission lines--time has virtually stood still with little visible 21st century amenities. Modernization has come to Vietnam in peculiar ways, even if a bit anachronistically. Cable TV dishes jutting conspicuously from rooftops of dry-thatched vegetation or the current roofing of metal-corrugated sheeting. To close one's eyes is to conjure images of thick overgrown growth beat into submission by lumbering grunts trying to eke out an area in which to defend and an area from which to attack.

As we get closer and closer to our destination hunger pains are getting the better of my traveling companions. Every mile produces another indecipherable grumble. Unlike the ubiquitous food stands in Taiwan, sorting out a place to eat on the road here is a bit more challenging. Finally, they spot a place to dine and immediately pull over and light from the car. I don't do well at roadside hole-in-the-walls anymore, so I chose to give my stomach nothing rather than something to upset it. 

My guide (foreground) and inebriated customer--left background
Like many of these out of the way diners their customers are generally relegated to a few locals. In this case, two guys--one of which had clearly been drinking too much. Along about five minutes, he noticed me sitting with my two companions and began to yell something in my direction about dropping bombs here while demonstrably pointing to the floor. He repeated this accusation again a little more loudly. My driver and guide cautioned me to ignore him as they ate a little quicker......

Friday, December 13, 2013

Vietnam 2013--Christmas Bombing and Mining Haiphong Harbor


By Gregory K. Taylor

December 18, 1972, after peace talks had broken down President Nixon started a massive bombing campaign over north Vietnam. These bombings came to be known as the Christmas Bombings. They continued until the 29th of December at which time the North Vietnamese agreed to resume negotiations.

Also, in 1972, President Nixon mined Haiphong Harbor and other waterway inlets in order to interdict the flow of supplies from Russia to the North Vietnamese troops who were fighting in the South.

Manhole Bomb Shelters
One of the famous landmarks of Hanoi and touted as the best hotel in the city is the Sofitel Metropole. At the risk of sounding like a shill for this grand hotel, its historical backdrop during the Christmas bombings has become an important symbol in large part due to a Life Magazine front page layout of the manhole bomb shelters running the length of its eastern facade. 

 Jane Fonda took up residence here in June of 1972 during her infamous trip to Hanoi, and Joan Baez traveled with an American peace delegation the same year in December only to find herself trapped during the Christmas bombings. “Where Are You Now, My Son?” was partially recorded by Joan in the hotel bomb shelter during one of the night bombings. The song is played in the Hotel's bomb shelter as a feature of the free tour.

Three and one-half hours (by car) to the east of Hanoi and consisting of thousands of islands jutting out from the Gulf of Tonkin waters is Halong Bay. Its breathtaking beauty will belie its historical struggles. These limestone islets provide a serene ambiance and majesty in which to aimlessly navigate, preferably on an old Chinese styled Junk.
Beautiful Islets Halong Bay

However, as the entrance to Haiphong Harbor located west of Halong Bay, its 1972 mining represented an important pressure-lynchpin in breaking the will of a recalcitrant north at the Paris peace talks. Mindful that the ground fighting took place south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and never in the North--the Americans in conjunction with the South Vietnamese Army fought a war of attrition. Kill as many NVA (North Vietnamese Army) and VC (Viet Cong) until they cry Uncle. In contrast, the NVA invaded the south consistently with personnel and supplies (Via the Ho Chi Minh Trail) and with its Southern Vietnamese Nationals they took the fight to the South with the intention of reuniting the entire country.

The above video depicts this writer's November 2013 trip to the Sofitel Metropole Hotel bomb shelter in Hanoi.  Mirroring Joan Baez's 1972 and 2013 return trip to the same Hotel bomb shelter.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Vietnam--2013, The French Influence


Gregory K. Taylor

Many of the Vietnam veterans who return to Vietnam speak in terms of paying homage to their brethren whose lives, limbs, and sanity were lost in a land of unparalleled beauty. From its coastline beaches to its curvacious mountains to its lateritic red soil to its pock marked landscape all reveal a subtle and not so subtle story of battles yore; but mostly, these vets speak to exorcising demons from a moment in time their psyche has, heretofore, been unable to release.

This writer makes the trek to Vietnam as a tourist of sorts with a history that is inextricably linked to one's youth, fears, and “what ifs,” about a land most baby boomers went through extraordinary efforts to avoid. Accompanying me are images depicted in such Hollywood films as the Deer Hunter, Apocalypse now, Platoon, and Hamburger Hill.

Flying into Hanoi
As the plane hugs the coastline of southern China on a southwest heading for final approach into Hanoi, visions of America's newly minted warriors straining to catch a glimpse out of an airplane window with lumps in their throats at a land shrouded in ancient mystery and death, rummage through this writer's mind. Sadly, for far too many this would be their necropolis.

Female working the Rice Fields

Initial reaction upon arriving in Hanoi was much the same as arriving in China—an environmental disaster of sorts--at least in terms of air quality. Nothing says Vietnam more than ubiquitous rice paddies with stooped over women wearing Bamboo conical hats (non la hat—in Vietnamese) transplanting seedlings with a nearby, loyal as a dog, water buffalo. Nothing says Vietnam more than stilted housing, high mountains, deep ravines and lush vegetation

French Metropole Hotel
The country is trying to attract more investment dollars, but it still has a ways to go to make the stay of foreigners hospitable. The airport is undergoing a facelift, if not, new construction because the current one is as disastrous as the air quality—hardly a welcoming representation of a great city.  Once in the center section of Hanoi the French influence is unmistakable and unavoidable. One hundred years of colonial dominance often leaves its architectural mark of shudders and overhanging roofs. French IndoChina encompassed present day Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. The last Emperor Bao Dai is often credited with changing the name of the country from Annam to Vietnam. Historically, however, many manifestations of the current name were credited to many people. The country actually settled on the name Nam Viet which, to this day, is the current way the United Nations list it. Loosely, Nam means South and Viet means People with the current Chinese name of Yue Nan 越南 meaning “beyond the south” people.

Stilted Housing
After WWII, the French incredibly reasserted themselves into IndoChina. Vanquished and brutally occupied by Nazi Germany, with the imposition of a Vichy puppet government, one would think that the French would've been more sensitive and sympathetic to the needs and aspirations of the Vietnamese people after such a similar experience in Europe. Apparently, old dynasties die hard and memories are fleeting.

Mountainous Lush Vegetation of Vietnam
The French have returned to Vietnam in great numbers and the Americans have not. The defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 hasn't had a lasting demoralizing affect on them. To watch them walk around these grandiose hotels that they once lived a privileged life in it's as though amnesia has set in and they are back in the 19th century. Americans have less of a history to this country and the one they do have is negative. Perhaps, in time, Americans will travel to Vietnam in greater numbers—but I doubt it. 


Greg is Traveling through Vietnam.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Vietnam, 2013

By Gregory K. Taylor

In 1965, I remember talking to a classmate when I was 14 yrs. old about the Vietnam war.  Even then we were speculating about the likelihood of us being drafted into what was then called a police action.  I told him by the time we turn eighteen that war will be over—so not to worry. Well, the years went by and the next thing I knew I was about to graduate from high school and that damn war was still going strong.  I was turning eighteen a few days before my graduation and at that time every eighteen year old, by law, was required to register with his local selective service board. So, If memory serves me right, I fulfilled that obligation by signing up at my local post office.

Basic Training 1970 Ft. Jackson
The war was being fought unfairly by the poor while the rich and upper middle-class kids were seeking and getting student deferments, medical deferments, or fleeing to Canada. I can't emphasize strongly enough as to how important this war had become to the eighteen year old.  From the ever increasing body count dished out on the nightly news, to the student protests, to the wounded soldiers returning home in wheel chairs--it was inescapable.  My oldest sister had brought a returning vet to our home once who was missing both legs and consigned to a wheel chair.  I had never seen a person in such condition. There had become such a hue and cry
about the unfairness of the draft that a lottery system was devised based on every eighteen year old's birthday.

The first drawing of numbers, which I was not eligible, was for those born between 1944 and 1950. The results of that drawing, had I been eligible, would have given my birth date of June 8th the number 366 which represented leap year.  So, I certainly would have never been drafted that year.  The following year of 1970, however, which I was eligible, was for those born in 1951.  I received the number 7 for that drawing which meant I was guaranteed to be drafted.

Tank Hill, Fort Jackson, South Carolina
Not being one to wait for the Sword of Damocles to befall me, I approached my neighbor who had earlier joined the Army National Guard and asked him to take me with him on his next drill date where I would join forthwith. Yes, I had successfully dodged the draft by choosing the lesser of the two evils.  I would do a four month active duty stint called Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and an Advanced Infantry Training (AIT) at Fort Gordon, Georgia. I received the same training as the regular army draftees with the only difference being I knew I was coming home while the majority of the people I trained with would be going to Vietnam.

The last day of our training, we all stood in formation as the Sergeant barked out the orders for our next duty station.  Private So-and-So, Republic of Vietnam, Private Such-and-Such, Republic of Vietnam went the refrain as we stood at attention. One after another ordered to Vietnam while a lucky few heard names like the Presidio in San Francisco, Korea, or a base in Germany.   For the minority of National Guardsmen in the company our orders were preordained, we knew where we were going. Some would jokingly say, "Fort Home."

Although I was only obligated to serve six years in the National Guard, I would stick around for the next nine years. In hindsight, I've often wondered if I made the right decision. A combination of guilt I suppose and a sense that I missed out on something akin to a rite of passage. I find myself asking, how many of the friends I had made during my training are now names etched on a black granite wall in Washington, D.C.? I look at the  faces in many photographs of the guys I lived with for four months wondering if this one is alive or if that one is alive. We were all so young and dumb. The oldest guy in our company was a prior service 26 year old--and we called him grandpa.
 Ft. Gordon, Georgia

So, here it is 2013 and I am considerably older and much more reflective. I have traveled and experienced many things in the world. I have few regrets and continue to enjoy life with the zest and zeal of an eighteen year old.  I will be returning to America soon after spending a year in China and Taiwan. Upon my return to Asia, I will be embarking on my next quest—called Vietnam. Not for the beaches or the Pagodas, not for the culture or the food, not for the landscape or the language, but for the War.  My war, ironically.  I will visit as many of the historical locations that I remember about that war from the iconic photo of the execution by General Nguyen Ngoc Loan of the Vietcong prisoner on a Saigon street, to the Son My Village massacre better known as the My Lai Massacre, to the Hanoi Hilton where American pilots were imprisoned, to Dien Bien Phu where the French suffered a humiliating defeat, to the ancient imperial city of Hue virtually demolished during the Tet offensive, to Khe Sanh where the U.S. Marines were under siege and Hamburger Hill.  Hopefully, I will visit many sites of battlefield lore and take in the ghosts of Vietnam.