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Firebase Veghel, July 1971

It is July 3rd, 2018, and I am sitting in my office listening to playlist of songs that take me back in time as I write this. On this date in 1971 D Battery, 2.320th FA, 101st Airborne/Airmobile was on firebase Veghel in South Vietnam just a stone’s throw from the Ashau Valley. We had moved onto Veghel on July 1st and had been told we would be there at most five days. Turned out we spent 4 days there as on the morning of July 5th choppers started arriving at 07:00 to move us to a new firebase called Kim Quy.
When we arrived our captain (I believe it was Captain Jones who would later be tear gassed by his own men because he was a total ass of an officer) had us begin filling sandbags to fortify the position and did not even allow us any sleep over the next several days which combined with shooting a lot of fire missions day and night really wore us down. Combined with that our ammo section Sargent (also named Jones, no din except due to also being a total ass) miss-counted our supply of 105mm ammunition which resulted in our having 1000 rounds too many when July 5th rolled around and we needed to move. In order to not have to take 1000 rounds too many with us we were ordered to shoot up that ammo all night on July 4th. That amounts to about 167 rounds per gun or close to 7000 pounds.
We had men evacuated medically due to coming down with malaria and just overall fatigue. But we persevered and carried on. So on July 5th we moved onto the new firebase which had no prepared accommodations; and then it began to rain. We were struck by a typhoon name Harriet. Over 10 inches of rain were recorded with winds up to 138 mph were recorded at nearby army bases. To us we were sitting on top of a bare hill left to simply weather the proverbial storm. Five out of our six howitzers did not work due to not having been cleaned and maintained due to a week of very heavy shooting. Just about all of our ammo was wet and ruined.
This Fourth of July, as most of the past 47 years I stop and remember what we endured and reflect on the men I served with. We represent history, the past, not the present. But consider that the men and women who make up today’s military carry us with them as we carry them with us. We do what is asked and required of us because it is what is from the heart. Yes, none of us likes what we do, we despise war and want to be home and with loved ones. But our world does not let the warrior rest. We/they stand the eternal vigilance believing in something greater. We know not the reasons for each individual war nor the politics involved. Our oath is to something greater, not the president, not even the constitution but to doing what is right.
I believe Ken Burns missed it completely with his Vietnam series. The majority of men and women involved in the Vietnam War we there to bring a better life for the people of Vietnam, something the North Vietnamese were not interested in. Just like the Japanese and Germans of WWII were seeking to bring the worse to mankind and the free world stood against that so too did the men and women who served in Vietnam. We were not idealists, not anything special but just average young people doing what they were called upon to do.
And we paid the price, both then and now; the memories calling us back to a different and darker time. I believe that when each of us stands before God we will learn the truth of the why, why not, and who will be judged as wrong. Then and only then will healing finally come all the way down into our core and finally the truth will be known.
To the men and women serving today we from the past salute you and stand with you as people of honor. We know how dark the night is while standing guard; we know the loneliness of being halfway around the world in a place we would prefer not to be living in danger. Yet we know the honor you have of wearing a uniform of our nation seeking to make a difference in the lives of others. Thank you.


I Hate War

I can truthfully say that I hate war.  There are no good wars and I would have to ask if there are just ones.  Why am I saying this now during the time of Christmas?  This is a season for Joy and Love at the celebration of the coming Christ Child, so why talk about war.  Yes, Christmas is a time of Love and Joy, of giving and sharing, family and friends.  But at this time war is occurring, people are suffering and dying.  Militaries stand opposite each other seeking the opportunity to defeat the other.  Many will not come home at all and many will come home injured and maimed, physically, mentally and emotionally.  Families will not be together and even though it may be the troops in a faraway land who are threatened with physical harm the families back home suffer as well not knowing whether their loved ones are safe or are in harm’s way.  And all look for hope during their time of despair.

Christmas, 1970, was spent on a firebase in South Vietnam.  There was no joy there because a few hours earlier in setting up for a Christmas Eve cease fire there was a friendly fire incident where 12 of our fellow soldiers died.  Talk about rip the heart out of Christmas that will do it.  For the soldiers involved the exact cause is still unknown but the cause does not matter.  What matters is that 12 of our brothers did not come home to celebrate.  The ultimate gift man can receive is the gift of a Savior, the ultimate ruin is to have blood on your hands.  How, or rather, can they coexist?

Right now it is two weeks until Christmas 2015. Two Thousand and 15 some odd years since the first Christmas occurred, the actual Christmas Day.  We hold so strongly to that event so long ago and pull meaning out of the story even today.  At the same time, at least in America, most everyone is going nuts with shopping, lights, tinsel and general madness.  How much can they spend, how much says I love you, can I have as many lights on my house as the Griswold’s (yes, I watch National Lampoon’s Christmas and laugh).

So Christmas is coming once again and here I am talking about hating war.  Our nation’s fear level is increased about possible terrorist attacks within our nation, disturbing our peace at this time we hold dear.  Halfway around the world the military is fighting actual war and we are having to be prepared for more wars in different places, all combined with fears of possible threats around us.  If people cannot see the tragedy in this then they are blind.  If they cannot hear the cries of the suffering then they are deaf.  If they will not join and say that they also hate war then they are dumb.

I hate war and would choose to not go again to war.  But, if I must I will and if I could go in place of a young person and spare them the pain thus allowing them to know the fullness of life without seeing war I would go in their place.  And on top of it all this Christmas I will worship and rejoice at the greatest gift man has ever received, the Christ Child, born for you and for me.

We Need Only Look

Has anyone ever told you “You need only look?” All around us life itself is screaming out that it is. Life is alive, there is more than the mundane and it is there for us to see it. I am constantly amazed by the work of astronomers and particle physicists. On one hand they are reaching out and seeing life billions of light years away and on the other they strip away the layers that build life like that of an onion, getting ever smaller and finding more wonder.

Astronomers say that the universe is 13 billion lights years across. I would like to go to the very edge and stick my hand through and beyond the boundary to find out what is beyond. Particle physicists say they have found the “God particle” that is the basis for everything. I wonder what they will find when they build a bigger super collider and split that particle, something even smaller I should wonder.

But what about you and me, what can we see if we look around us? One of my favorite books is “The Little Prince” by Antoine De Saint-Exupery (add an apostrophe above the e). It is a whimsical tale for children of all ages (even age 64). He was a French pilot both before WWII and during it, where he died. Another book he wrote is titled “Wind, Sand and Stars” in which he talks about his time as a pilot over the deserts of Africa, the Andes Mountains and the Pyrenees in Europe. This was all during the time flying was in its infancy and was very lonely and dangerous.

The last two and a half pages tell of his traveling by rail on a long journey. At one o’clock in the morning he had the urge to tour the rail cars throughout its length. When he came upon the third class coaches he found them full of Polish workmen being sent home from France back to Poland. The book was first copyrighted in 1939 so this was on the eve of WWII and was a time of great turmoil throughout the land. De Saint-Exupery noted that they all looked like they had lost half of their humanity. He sat down and observed a couple asleep and noticed a child wedged between them. The thought that struck him upon looking closely at this child was that they had the face of a musician, that this child was a Mozart, a life full of beautiful promise. Yet, De Saint-Exupery concluded, this little Mozart will be shaped like the rest by the common stamping machine. He would grow up to love shoddy music and that this Mozart would be condemned.

We need only look and we too shall see this life around us, the lives stamped out by what is accepted as okay, never reaching the highest levels each of us can achieve. At the same time we can go out and see a sunset, the stars at night or any one of hundreds of different things that show forth the wonder of life and all that are good. We need the vision of each end of the spectrum to keep us in balance and that keep us striving to improve our world and all that call it home.

Less than a half page later De Saint-Exupery ends his book with a statement that really struck home with me in several ways. His statement, “Only the Spirit, if it breathes life upon the clay, can create Man.” I love that statement. Yes, we are clay, from the dust we can and from the dust we shall return. It is only when the Spirit breathes upon us that life is truly created. We need only look and we need only bring the life of the Spirit with us to find life.

Flawed Christian

I am a flawed Christian.  There I said and it is off my chest.  In Matthew 5:48 Jesus Himself says “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  I am definitely not what Jesus says I am to be, and I know it all too well.  Surprise, neither are you so don’t try and pretend you aren’t.

This morning I had a revelation and it went like this. Last night I stayed up way too late, my digestive system was rumbling, did not sleep well and the alarm keeps annoying me to get up and go to church.  So I kept hitting snooze until I was just too uncomfortable to stay in bed.  During the time of snoozing my mind was not fully cognizant so deeper thoughts were able to come forth, hence the revelation.  I was thinking about our new priest (I am an Episcopalian) who is a Rev. Dr. and we all know that a PhD means “piled higher and deeper.”  But he is called to be the shepherd of our church, the flock, and we are called to be his sheep.  Then I began reciting Psalm 23, “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He makest (I love King Jimmy) me lie down in green pastures…”  I have been taught that in olden days if a shepherd has a sheep that continues to stray he will actually break the sheep’s legs to get it to lie down and learn not to stray.

It is the shepherd’s job to lead the sheep to green grass and protect them from wolves.  Lord knows the world today is full of wolves.  Over the years, however, I have learned that the priests and preachers, the myriad of teachers, evangelists, and all of the theological types are also just like me, flawed, imperfect.  The problem comes in when they try to act perfect and they preach and teach like they are perfect and that we should be like them and act the part.  It does not work.  We are all flawed and imperfect and we are all dying, some faster than others.

So much of the Christian world today puts on a front and wants to have all the answers to being perfect and doing things right.  If you brush your teeth with Pepsodent your will have white teeth, if you use Dove soap you will have clean and smooth skin.  If you drive some car in some specific color you will be an in person, and so forth and so on.  It does not work.

In the modern Christian church if you pray a certain way you can have an inside line to God and your prayers will be answered the way you want.  If you follow certain teachings then you will be living the “good” Christian life and will be counted as righteous.  And oh yes, if you give so much of your money God will rain down even more money.  It is a guaranteed rate of return.  Furthermore, you should not hurt or feel pain, that is very unChristlike.

When we are born we begin the journey to death and we begin to decay and fall apart.  Yes, at a young age we are still on the uphill but at some point the journey starts going downhill.  Maybe very slowly and maybe the journey is very quick.  Maybe the monster named cancer will strike or any of a number of other unnatural diseases and ailments.  Perhaps an accident, tragedy or your life will be taken in a senseless crime of murder.  That has been happening a lot lately.  Just watch the evening news but don’t try and keep score as it is scary and depressing.

So back to our new Episcopal priest and how he plays into this revelation I had.  What I realized is that Episcopal priests, more than any other minsters or theologians I am aware of know that they are also flawed and imperfect.  And that is of great benefit to them.  They know there are no simple answers, nothing pat to offer.  Instead they can just “be” with their sheep.  They can tend them, love them, and wash their wounds.  That, I think, is what Jesus would do and what He does do.  That is honest ministry and that is what people need to draw them closer to the Lord.

God Himself does not offer us answers except to offer us Himself.  He offered Himself so deeply that He came down from heaven as a man, a man just like you and me (I use the term man in the third person meaning man and woman).  This week we celebrate His coming, God Himself coming, as a newborn babe, totally innocent and helpless, meek and mild, borne of a woman into a harsh world.  Jesus came to be born in a stable; sorry the hotel/motel is full go away, to show us God Himself in all of His glory.  The glory Jesus revealed first came to shepherd’s, men like our new priest, people just doing a job who took the time away to go and behold Him, the Promised One.

Merry Christmas to all.  Blessings in Jesus name.



“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:10

English: Veterans Day poster issued by the U.S...

Today is the day we honor our veterans in the United States. Appropriately, ceremonies with be held in appreciation of the sacrifice that so many have given in the service of our country. These ceremonies will inherently have a melancholy mood at least for me.

As I have written before (Imagine a World without Veterans), veterans are the product of war and threats of war. I recently ran across a quote by Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones in which he asked a series of pertinent questions.

Why are there wars in the world?
Why is there this constant international tension?
What is the matter with the world?
Why war and all the unhappiness and turmoil and discord amongst men?
According to this Beatitude (Matthew 5:10),
there is only one answer to these questions-sin.

Nothing else; just sin.”

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Silent Night, Holy Night

Christmas Picture Two

I read a daily devotional this evening about a family that immigrated to the United States from the Netherlands.  They had three children, all born her, who later married three spouses each from different countries.  Well during at least one Christmas they were all gathered and they sang “Silent Night, Holy Night” each in their own language.  So I am guessing 5 different languages is probably the correct count. The devotional also quotes Luke, chapter 2, where the inspiration comes from.  Luke 2:8-14, “ And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.  And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people;  for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.””  So I wonder what a multitude of angels praising God sounds like? 

As I write this I am listening to different versions of “Silent Night, Holy Night” on YouTube.  So far I have listened to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, some German choir singing in German, Sarah McLaughlin, and Pavarotti singing in Italian, along with Mahelia Jackson.  I am fixing to hear it performed by Johnny Cash with Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis.  Doubt I will listen to Justin Beiber or the Barenaked Ladies though.  Why have they all stopped their careers to do this song?  Don’t they realize they are joining voices with the heavenly host to praise God and to proclaim peace to those in whom He is pleased?  What do those verses in Luke tell us about angels and the proclaiming of the coming of the Lord, of God Himself and what does it proclaim to us?  Just found a rendition done in Persian with worship by Farsi.  It is the most stunning of all the ones I have heard, very holy and lifting me into worship of my Lord and Savior. 

We are each shepherds and we each tend our own flock by night.  Yes, nights are dark and they can be lonely and scary but we are dutiful to continue to keep watch night after night.  This verse in Luke says that angels will come to us in our night and will bring us good news.  The author, Luke, makes sure to tell us that when this angel comes to speak to us we will be frightened but that the angel will minister peace along with wonder at what is happening. 

Notice too that the good news is not what we would expect for the coming of someone to save us.  No white horse, no drawn sword, just coming as a babe, an infant, so totally helpless it would seem.  Not the way I would do it but then I am not in charge.  This verse simply calls me to be a witness to the coming of the Lord, to the love God has for all mankind. 

Am I willing to have my night interrupted by proclamations and worship and multitudes of angels?  Am I willing to go down to the village, to the stable no less, to bear witness of something so incredibly awesome as to defy everything we conceive of for this type of event? 

What is a heavenly host and what do they look like and sound like?  Angels are bad enough but now we have something else and lots of them, all making noise.  If you have served in the military and pulled guard at night in a hostile environment noise is not your friend, you want quiet, you want a silent night.  Yet here comes a multitude making lots of noise proclaiming that a baby has been born.  Maybe if they were proclaiming that the marines have landed and the cavalry is charging that might fly.  But no, nothing like that, just one more little infant that is helpless, more watching for the shepherds. 

Yet this Christmas Eve I for one am in a dark place, a night of sorts, and I am keeping watch over that which I have.  Yet this infant, now the risen Lord, still beckons me to witness His birth this Christmas.  His eyes are still pure, clear, and innocent as only that of an infant can be.  They pierce my soul, my heart, my mind, with such a blaze of light, of hope and mostly of His love.  Love that is for me and desires to be through me, to bring the light and the love to all the world.  He beckons me to lift my voice with the multitude of heavenly host and proclaim the coming of the One promised for forever.  If I add my voice it will then have the noise of a croaking frog joining in saying that indeed peace has come.  Peace has come as an infant, the Lord Himself has come in the form He chooses and it is not just good but it is very good.  Now I can be at peace as I stand watch at night.  Our world is dark, it can be said to be at night, dark and scary.  May an angel pop up by you this Christmas night and proclaim the good news of the birth of Jesus, the Lord, and the Christ and may he bid you to be a witness to the Lord of life.  May you join your voice with the multitude proclaiming glory to God in the Highest. 

Merry Christmas to one and all.  We have a Savior.  We have a Lord who is worthy of singing praises to, of being at peace resting in His arms.