Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day Tribute
A Sunday in Vietnam

I was trained to be a Photo Lab Specialist and looked forward to developing film for the Army, even in Vietnam. But, when I first arrived in the country and sent to the 199th Infantry Brigade, they informed me that the brigade did not have a photo lab. In training, I had been told that without a lab I would be sent to the front with the “grunts” and required to take pictures as well as fight. I was petrified. I was sent to the Information Office, the newspaper office, you might say. There the Lieutenant in charge reassured me that the job was available. He referred me to the Sargent in charge. The Sargent in charge said there was one problem. Someone else wanted the position too. A photographer, who had been in the field fighting for half a year also wanted the job. The Sargent had to decide who would be assigned the position. He asked us both to go build a bunker outside the building. Being new in the country and army life, I obeyed without question, while the other guy refused and told him off. I got the job which was to collect the negatives from the photographers in the field then have them developed next door at Long Binh before delivering the photos to Saigon to be censored (or not). I would then send them out to UPI and AP to be published in the newspapers in America. I was working in a newspaper office with reporters. A great job on a secure base. One of my extra duties was to travel with the General on Sundays to visit the wounded, from our unit, at the area hospitals. I could learn to like this job, I decided.

Most days were quiet and normal. I received the photos, the reporters wrote their stories and once a week we took a day trip to Saigon and after being censored, visited the USO and ate at a nice restaurant. On weekends we lounged around the pool on our off hours. Sundays I attended the early interdenominational church services just a few buildings down from our newspaper office and traveled with the General. This is a story about the one day I will never forget. April 1, 1970.

April Fools Day. It was a Sunday in Vietnam. I woke up in the bunker that I called home, the same bunker I helped build, which had assured my working here instead of at the front fighting with the “grunts”. Aside from a few April Fool's jokes with my friends, the day seemed to be no different than all other Sundays in Vietnam.

I knew that after the service I would go back to the office, gather my camera and wait for my "Sundays with the General".  Brigadier General William Ross Bond was a decent guy. He wasn't aloof like other Generals I had seen. He made you feel like you were somebody and that you weren't alone in this war. He spoke TO you and not AT you. My job was to just silently take pictures of him with the wounded so they would have a record of his visit and a picture to send home to anxious loved ones. I always had plenty of Polaroid film on hand for these visits. I didn't just silently take pictures with General Bond, though, because he encouraged me to also speak and visit with the men. He felt it was important. So here we were, the General, his aide, and me making rounds in the hospitals visiting and reassuring wounded men. I had been doing this for half a year already and it seemed quite ordinary for me, a Specialist 5, and he, a General, to board his helicopter, gunners on each side of us and fly to the wounded every Sunday. We became friends on those flights. Sometimes we talked about nothing in general, other times about his family or mine. It was like going on a Sunday drive with a friend.

So today would not be any different, I thought. When the call came I met them at the heliport and off we flew. First we visited one soldier who had been badly wounded, displaying stitches from neck to groin. Then another from our unit who had lost a leg. When I first started these visits, I couldn't look the soldiers directly in the eye because I felt guilty that I was in a fairly secure position and they had been living in hell. But now, I was quite at ease visiting and offering a word of prayer. I didn't feel as embarrassed taking a picture of them with their scars and missing body parts.  We had made several visits that day, but then we received a call that there was some fighting further north with several wounded on the ground without a medivac helicopter near. General Bond, without a moments hesitation, decided that we should leave immediately and help rescue those we could. It would be very dangerous.

As the helicopter took off Gen. Bond said, “Drop Blair off at the base, first. We might have some information to send him.” I was grateful. Returning to the office we waited for any information that might come in. We were anxious. Two hours later we got the word that my friend General Bond was dead along with everyone else on his helicopter. Gen. Bond had ordered the pilot to land so they could help rescue wounded soldiers. They were fired upon. General Bond was carrying a private in his arms when he was shot.

Chills ran up and down my spine and I cried. I had lost a great friend that I only briefly got to know on our Sunday afternoon flights. I lost friends that were always on the helicopter with the general and his aide. This thought shook me to my bones knowing that if he had not decided to drop me off first, that I would have been one of the causalities too. Life stood still.

We had a memorial service at the base later that week. I felt so guilty. Why did they die and not me. This was an experience that many soldiers have when their friends have been killed and they were spared, I learned. I was no different.

For several years, I lived with that guilt and silently kept it inside. I had bouts of depression. Gradually, I came to terms with my feelings and was able to talk about the war.

I am a grateful person that my life was spared. My faith helped me weather the storm. I learned to look on the bright side and talk of my Army days as joy and fun. The dark side doesn't seem dark anymore. I know what these soldiers feel when they return home without a friend. I feel the guilt and pain with them when I hear their stories. I am grateful that, but by the grace of God, it wasn't me.

Sometimes I get sad and cry on memorial day for I feel the pain so many have suffered. Thank you Lord, for all men and women in the armed forces who put their lives on the line every day to make America the free country we so love. Thank you for those who died and for their families. Their sacrifice was not in vain. We must never forget.  Never!

Without General Bond's decision to leave me behind I would not have ever met Frances or been married or had Marty. I would not have ever met Marty's Kristi and seen their two wonderful boys. Life would have been so different for my family this memorial weekend. I am a grateful person.

© Nippy Blair 2015. Posts and pictures on this blog cannot be copied, downloaded, printed, or used without the permission of the blog owner, Nippy Blair.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017



 I realize it is not fall, but cool weather seems to still be hanging around here after Easter, so I feel that this remembrance is still appropriate. This is dedicated to Judy Lipscomp Rundell and Jean Robinson Serio, who helped me enjoy my senior year in high school tremendously.

 September, 1961. I was a senior in high school. The weather was cool and crisp. The winds leaving a chill that made me smile. Fall was here. That glorious time of the year where the world seems to come back to life after my long hot summer of back breaking work in the hay fields and painting fences. Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed that work in an odd sort of way, just like I also loved spending hours at the Alexandria Golf and Country club swimming in the big pool – ordering meals at the clubhouse and charging them to my daddy's tab on the days he decided to play golf. Days of freedom that only a teenager can explain.

Unlike the fall season these days, fall in the 1960's was FALL. The leaves actually changed colors before slowly releasing their grip from their security branches, floating effortlessly like feathers, fluttering and gliding coquettishly toward the ground. Reluctant children, rakes in hand, tackled the leaves with begrudged vigor, piling them in great big mounds before leaping joyously into the collection with abandonment. Some piles were burned, leaving a distinct smell of better things to come. There is nothing better than the smell of leaves burning on a fall day. 

 The weather was cool enough in the evenings to wear a light sweater. There was an anticipation in the air that couldn't be explained. Friends gathered for hay rides and bon fires in isolated places where we played Snipe Hunt for those gullible innocents still unaware. Hot dogs and hamburgers and smores were the order of the day. Good friends sat around the fires telling ghost stories, some sneaking off for a quick kiss before joining in singing Kum ba Yah or any of the Peter Paul and Mary songs that were so popular.
My senior year at Bolton High School was 1961/1962. Life was just full of fun and laughter and joy. People renewed friendships as they gathered in small clusters around the school campus catching up on travels and memories.

I was a cheerleader that year and fall had a new meaning to me, especially on Fridays. 

 Since we had cheerleader practice during the last hour of the day instead of gym class, we were free to decorate the goal posts and stands for the big games. On Fridays of home games, we (Sonny Trammel, Max Kees, Billy Thompson and me) left school early hooking up a trailer and driving to the Alexandria Zoo to pick up our black bear mascot, bringing it back to the football field so he could be paraded around the track every time we made a touchdown. If there was to be a sock hop after the first game of the season, then some of us stayed to help the boosters decorate the gym for the dance before rushing home to put on our uniforms so we could lead the crowds and support our team. Usually we had to wear sweaters for that first game because of the cool night air. Since a lot of cheers and yelling were to be the order of the evening, I never forgot my jar full of honey to sip on during the game keeping me from becoming hoarse. Game days were always full of excitement as we gathered in the gym and had pep rallies. Jumping and cheering and flipping across the gym floor. It was intoxicating as we gathered in front of the football players just before the game, hands clasped tightly waiting for them to break the paper banner, before leading them onto the field. If the ground was dry enough, I would do continuous back flips toward the fifty yard line always afraid some player would run me down accidentally. It was chaotic and exciting and dangerous sometimes. But we were teenagers and danger seldom, if ever, was in our vocabulary.

Being a senior, I took a course I had no interest in, in order to fulfill my requirements for graduation.  I took a class under Mrs. Stagg...a secretarial course. My friends Judy Lipscomb and Jean Robinson were also in the class and we had a ball. 

 There were all these new technology machines to learn like typing while using a Dictaphone
 or the Ditto machine with it's purple, messy ink.
 There was nothing like the smell of fresh ditto ink, or purple fingers if one wasen't careful. 

There was also the secretarial spelling and short hand that needed practicing. Mrs. Stagg, who also sponsored the Bruin yearbook, would assign us our work for the day and then leave for the Bruin office only to return just before the bell rang, expecting these seniors or D.E. students - most of the classmates were planning careers in secretarial work – to practice diligently.

I'm not so sure about Judy and Jean, but I just wanted the credit so I could graduate. We did our work never-the-less and passed the course.
.... BUT....... well.....

 Judy, Jean and I formed a club called the Yum-Yum club. 
 The rules were simple: (1) The club would meet only during Mrs. Stagg's class.  (2) It was a closed club and only the three of us could participate. (3)The only dues were to bring a piece of food, a cake or candy or whatever to class to nibble on without getting caught. 

 We were masters at it. Most of the time we just passed out food to the three of us, ignoring everyone else, eating at our desks while we studied or visited. How no one never ratted on us is a mystery to this day. How Mrs. Stagg didn't catch us is a bigger mystery. Toward the end of the year, the three of us even got so bold that, one day, we brought a blanket to class and spread it on the floor and ate some cake that I brought from home. We ate the whole hour sitting around as if we were on a picnic in some field on a Saturday. To this day I do not remember anything about those machines or the shorthand. But I do remember what a wonderful time we had.

The three of us sometimes gathered in the Bruin office, as well. Once we even gave Jean a party there for her 18th birthday. I even remember giving Jean a charm for her bracelet. We were silly seniors and had a lot of fun. Sometimes we'd run down the halls, laughing so hard that we actually almost knocked people over. I'm sure we were rude but we were having too much fun. It was a memorable senior year like it should have been.  Oh, sure, the football games were a lot of fun too and all the friendships we made that year, but to tell the truth, the Yum Yum club was the highlight of my whole senior year. And the best part was that Judy and Jean elected me to be the Club President for the entire year. I couldn't believe that I would be president of such a glorious club.  It was a tremendous honor and I am forever grateful to the two of them for “making my senior year”.

Disclaimer: If Judy and Jean tell you that they were the club president for the whole year then be aware that they are totally and completely wrong! I was the president and even tho they both claim to be it was me that kept the club in order. And yes, don't believe what they wrote in my senior year book about me voting them as club president. They made a mistake. 
Maybe I should erase those comments they wrote in my year book. Nope, couldn't do it. It is part of history. Long live senior classes and classmates that got away with things they shouldn't have their senior year.

© Nippy Blair 2015. Posts and pictures on this blog cannot be copied, downloaded, printed, or used without the permission of the blog owner, Nippy Blair.