Monday, June 8, 2015

When Writing Takes a Back Seat. Part I

Last week a dear friend and colleague blogged about the wonders of the Internet for easy research, "The World At Your Fingertips".  I agree.  With a good connection, anyone can find just about anything on the Internet as long as one keeps one caveat in mind, “patience, ingenuity, and tenacity required”. Out of the three, patience comes in at #1, followed closely by ingenuity.   

As I said in an earlier blog, my work required research.  I broke it in three parts.  First was the 1960's way of life, dresses, and customs.  Although I have some recollection of the era - I will not reveal how much - I still had to peruse through pages of information.  As my friend mentioned it was all there, easy and accessible, articles, photographs, and trends, at my fingertips.  In fact, my research supported my friend's argument.  In the 1960's I would've spent $$ and time traveling to the sources or spending hours at a library.   Today, I love my computer.

But part two, the Vietnam War, turned out to be a different beast.   Dozens of entries are listed on Google regarding uniforms, weapons, and equipment.  Most of the information pages refer to the recent conflicts in the Middle East.  What applies to today’s strategies, training, and weaponry, did not apply to the 60's.  Matthew Buchanan, of Destiny’s Plan, volunteered to serve in the Army’s Special Forces, the 1967 Green Berets out of Fort Bragg.  My first stumbling block.

In today’s parlance, we use the term Special Forces across the board for any military group that is highly trained and specialized in unconventional techniques. The Navy SEAls, Green Berets and Rangers most certainly fall in that category.  This is quoted from
"The Navy SEAL training program will stress you beyond your limits to make sure you're worthy to serve withe the world's best fighting force.  Be prepared, stayed focused, make mature choices, and understand what you are volunteering for."
From the same website regarding the Green Berets:
"If you want to wear the green beret of the Army Special Forces, be warned, it takes more than the ability to do hundreds of push-ups. To make it in the Special Forces of any branch of the U.S. military, you need intelligence, an outstanding record of prior military service (at least three years), and high motivation - very high."  
Army Rangers:
"Ever wanted to put on the Ranger Tab on your Army uniform? As with any of the Special Operations units in the U.S. military,to become a Ranger takes endurance, stamina, intelligence and mental toughness."

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?  However, the more I searched, the more I realized I couldn't group them under one umbrella because during the Vietnam War era, differences, no matter how small, existed.  The obvious distinction between SEAL's and Green Berets was/is the scope of operations - SEAL's operate underwater - and age - SEAL's were established in 1962.  The much older Green Berets operate on land and with the local inhabitants.

I could not wander about wasting time. The story was related to the Green Berets only.  To do these specialized groups justice, I had to refocus.  I had to read, read, read  books and ask questions, research old fashioned style.  By force, writing took a back seat.   My first real find was Green Berets At War, by Shelby Stanton - military historian, Green Beret, and Vietnam vet, an excellent resource book, with detailed background history, battles, maps, and a plethora of events.

The book opens with the vast presence of the U.S. in the Pacific, circa 1956.  A huge area that covered from the Arctic to the Antarctic, and from California to India.  To meet any needs and respond quickly to possible Sino-Soviet escalating tensions, highly classified Pacific-based Army Special Forces units were being formed. These units were charged with using unconventional warfare.  More or less translated, this meant selecting and training local resisting forces to fight instead of regular U.S. forces = we teach, you fight.

I learned a lot from Stanton's book, not just about procedures and U.S. support of its troops (a future discussion).  But also about lesser known battles and conflicts in Vietnam.  In fact, Stanton's book led me to Lang Vei.  This small, Special Forces camp near the Laos border and the infamous Ho Chi Minh trail, had been overrun by NVA forces.  The tragedy drowned by the lengthy, newsworthy  siege of Khe Sanh in 1968, the nearby Marines base.  Here was a story I could use. I didn't wish to focus on huge battles, like Tet, Hue City, or Tong Le Chong.  In my eyes, Lang Vei had a mystery, less exposure, and yet it was rich with details as I found out.

But, for all its interesting facts and dates, like most resource books, it had a certain dry quality.  I needed more. I needed the warmth and angst of the human factor, the vicissitudes, and the struggle.  How folks at home fared, the thoughts and reactions of the men in distant FOB's (forward operating bases).  Just a quick aside, unless specified fob military, Google will show everything else under the sun, including derogatory terms for Asians (insert confused).

 I returned to Amazon for more reading material.  Of course, there it was, staring at me in the face, The Green Berets, by the late Robin Moore.  The writer who underwent training with Special Forces in Fort Bragg and was later stationed in Vietnam. This is the book that inspired the John Wayne movie I had seen years ago.  With all due respect to the late John Wayne, "The Duke", I found the film a bit hokey and tongue in cheek.

My finger hesitated, before hitting the enter key.

In the end, I figured if the book written by the author of The French Connection turned out to be a total bust, I could afford to lose a few dollars.  Decision made I hit enter.  I could not have been more mistaken!  And lucky!!!!!   I had my treasure.  This particular edition included a chapter edited out of the original publication.  It's one of Moore's favorite chapters, and now it's mine as well.  "Combat Pay" is bittersweet, poignant, and realistic.  Quintessentially human and warm.  I will remember it for as long as I live.  Thank you, Robin Moore.  And so, I put aside my computer and began to read.

More on Moore's real life Green Berets next week.  Writing Takes A Back Seat. Part II 



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