Writers Read Presents Susan Carol McCarthy


Reading and discussing her Cold War-era novel

A Place We Knew Well

Preceded by open mic for original poetry and prose

Date: Tuesday, December 13, from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m.

Location: Fallbrook Library, 124 S Mission, Fallbrook

mccarthy-susan-carolSusan Carol McCarthy is the award-winning author of three works of literary fiction, Lay That Trumpet In Our Hands, True Fires, and A Place We Knew Well, plus the non-fiction Boomers 101: The Definitive Collection.

place-we-knew-well-cover-artIn A Place We Knew Well, McCarthy digs into the sociological affects of the Cuban Missile Crisis on Americans.

On October 19, 1962, The United States and the Soviet Union are at a stand-still and so is the Avery Family. The town of College Park, Florida is buzzing with gossip about the traffic at McCoy Air-force Base and Wes Avery, a World War II veteran and former bomb-dropper, can’t help but assume the worst—the United States is on the brink of catastrophe. In this intimately gripping novel, readers are brought into the 13-day period of panic, fear and uncertainty that was the Cuban Missile Crisis, the emotional repercussions of which were incredible and yet, the impact on the psyches of everyday citizens largely forgotten. With A Place We Knew Well, McCarthy seeks to remind us.

McCarthy’s debut novel has been widely selected by libraries and universities for their One Book, One Community and Freshman Year Read programs, and incorporated into school curricula in twenty-nine states and six countries. Although each of her novels was inspired by true historical events in her home state of Florida—a series of shocking race crimes, notoriously corrupt small-town politics, a week of military-imposed terror—McCarthy is best known for creating muscle-and-blood characters caught at the flashpoint when the larger political becomes intensely personal, and for her original blend of “fact, memory, imagination, and truth with admirable grace” (The Washington Post). Visit her website for more information.

A Place We Knew Well will be available for sale—at a special reduced rate for the holidays—and signing.

For more information, contact Kit-Bacon Gressitt at kbgressitt@gmail.com or 760-522-1064.

 

BBC: Auschwitz 70


“One minute in Auschwitz was like an entire day. A day was like a year. A month, an eternity.” — Roman Kent, Holocaust survivor

Survivors gather at the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz to mark what is now the 71st anniversary of its liberation by the Soviets, in January 1945. This aerial footage shows what it looks like today.

Subscribe to BBC News HERE

 

War Hands


By Karla Cordero

 

GazaUnderFirebeneath
finger nails
a seagull’s moan—
warships fight
beneath
a burning home,
a child’s cry
smolder
beneath
ash & teeth
a warship’s
prayer—
men with
childhood
eyes—
a home,
a child,
lost—
beneath
finger
nails
fight
wars from
childhood’s
eyes

…………………….
About Karla Cordero

KarlaCorderoBorn in the border town of Calexico, California, I started my new life in San Diego, where the weather spoils the living. I’m currently an MFA candidate at San Diego State University and the 2015 recipient of the Loft Literary Spoken Word Immersion Fellowship. I’m the editor of Spit Journal, a review dedicated to poetry and social justice.

My poetry is published or forthcoming in Word Riot, Words Dance Publishing, The Acentos Review, Gutters and Alleyways Anthology and elsewhere. My first chapbook, Grasshoppers Before Gods, will be published in 2015 by Dancing Girl Press. You can follow my passion for performance poetry at Spit Journal.

Artwork credit: Gaza Mental Health Foundation, Artwork by Gaza Children.

 

BOOK REVIEW: Full Measure by T. Jefferson Parker


Reviewed by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Join Parker at Writers Read at the Fallbrook Library, 124 S. Mission Road, on Tues, Sep 23, at 6 p.m., for an early launch of Full Measure. Parker will also be visiting the Encinitas Library at 12:15 p.m. on Sun, Oct 18.

Join Parker at Writers Read at Fallbrook Library, 124 S. Mission Road, on Tues, Sep 23, at 6 p.m., for an early launch of Full Measure.

T. Jefferson Parker, a New York Times bestselling author lauded for his vivid crime thrillers, has written what he calls his first literary novel, Full Measure (St. Martin’s Press, October 7, 2014). The novel is ostensibly the story of Patrick Norris, a young Marine returned from war in Afghanistan to face the struggle of transitioning to civilian life in his hometown, bucolic Fallbrook, Calif. Norris’ ranching parents and much of the community have just suffered devastating losses to a wildfire. Norris’ older bother Ted, a troubled ne’er-do-well, is entangled in a personal battle to gain recognition for doing something right in an unaccepting world. And the town is disturbed by the ramifications of the hit-and-run death of a 10-year-old Latino.

In keeping with Parker’s writing tradition, Full Measure is rich with mysteries: Will Patrick survive the emotional repercussions of war to find peace and love? Who started the wildfire? Will Patrick’s parents be able to salvage their burned avocado ranch? Who hit and killed the jaywalking child on Mission Road? What is the “big important thing” Ted is determined to accomplish?

But in contrast to Parker’s other books, Full Measure’s antagonists are not craven drug lords or sadistic henchmen fighting gory battles along the U.S.-Mexico border. They are the flaws, the contradictions, the hurdles that the characters confront internally. Even the return to Fallbrook of a racist activist is a relatively benign act, given meaning only when Ted engages him in his secret plan. These internal conflicts lend Full Measure abundant tension; the characters are true; the drama, compelling; the climax, shocking and poignant. But none of this is what the book is really about.

JeffParkerMug

NYT bestselling author T. Jefferson Parker

At its heart, Full Measure is about the quest for identity, for self, the desire to be an integral part of something in the place one calls home. Patrick knew who he was and with whom he belonged while he was in Afghanistan, but without the focus of war and the camaraderie of warriors, he flounders from PTSD flashback to flashback, from memory to memory of killed brethren, from his desired future to his father’s expectations. Patrick finds himself lost in what had been the familiar territory of his childhood.

Similarly, his father is desperate to keep his ranch—his identity—alive, to maintain a legacy to be handed off to the next generation and the next.

And then there’s Ted. It is Ted who, despite his psychosis, comes closest to articulating the book’s heartbeat: “I felt damned my whole life. But now my big important thing is half accomplished. I’m almost done. I’ll be remembered for it. And it will make the world better.”

In the course of telling this family’s stories, Parker defines their world, the place they call home, with intimate kindness. Fallbrook is represented in the novel, for the most part, as it is today: a town where eccentrics stand out, unable to blend into an urban throng, where small businesses come and go with the seasons, where social connections are incestuous, where memories of the town’s evacuation during the 2007 wildfires remain fresh. The author peppers the text with mentions of well-known Fallbrook locations, in which the book’s action takes place, and local folks who keep the town on its toes. There’s Las Brisas and Rosa’s and Robertito’s, in perpetual competition for the best tacos. Joe’s Hardware and Happy Jug Liquor and “Vince Ross Village Square.” Café des Artistes and charming host Michael. Los Jilgueros Preserve and Café Primo and the Econo Suites. A local reporter from the “Village View.” That awful intersection on Mission that really needs a traffic light (and final got one after the novel’s completion). Even the Fallbrook Democratic Club receives a nod.

Parker has rendered this ranching and bedroom community with artful craft, incorporating its socio-economic disparity, its survival of the 30-year residency of an internationally notorious racist, and its proximity to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Parker’s Fallbrook is, in his novel and in fact, a community to which wounded warriors struggle to return and thrive, amid diverse people who unite in the face of adversity, whether natural or manmade.

Full Measure is fiction with a true heart, one that beats of the search for self in a town that will be familiar to people across the nation. And there’s one more thing: Full Measure is surely a love letter—from Parker to Fallbrook and those who come home to it.

The public is invited to join T. Jefferson Parker at Writers Read at Fallbrook Library, 124 S. Mission Road, on Tuesday, September 23, at 6 p.m., for an early launch of Full Measure. The novel will be available for sale ($28.07, including tax) and signing. Parker will also be visiting Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego on Thursday, October 9 at 7p.m., and the Encinitas Library at 12:15 p.m. on Sunday, October 18.

Click here to read more about T. Jefferson Parker and Full Measure.

Dreaming of Lemon Trees in the Spring of 2003


By Penny Perry

Shadow of our lemon treeMy lemon tree is dying. I’ve fertilized, pruned, watered too little,
too much. I had wanted my grandson to be able to climb
out of the pool next summer and chug down whole glassfuls
of lemonade just the way his daddy used to.

On TV, Iraqis wave their arms and yell.
Angry people in odd gear. Are there lemon trees in Baghdad?
Grandmothers?

A city in the desert with two rivers and no ocean.
The same latitude as Long Beach, California.
Of course there are lemon trees.
And art museums.
Sand-colored apartment buildings.
Swimming pools.

I picture a grandmother buying dates for her grandson
in an open air market. A man with long arms scoops up the last cabbage
and hurries away in a big car.

Her neighbor buys more fruit than her cloth bag can hold.
Even the grandmother worries the market won’t be here in the morning.
She picks oranges, scans the March sky that brings butterflies.
The warm sun angles down. Palm trees form their twins in shadow
against tall office buildings.

She turns up a side street away from the clatter of taxis, and mini busses,
chews some of her grandson’s dates. She’ll have to hide the sweet fruit
so he won’t eat them all at once. But where? He opens every cupboard
and drawer.

She hurries past the honey-colored apartment. Pre-fab concrete.
Each unit has a balcony and arch-shaped window.
Her friend who lives here says she’s as cozy as a bee.

The grandmother likes her own street better. Split-level houses.
Clean lines. Big windows.
If her cat lets her, she will nap in her cool bedroom before
her grandson comes home from school.
Her cat thinks her thick hair is a nest.

In the shade of Abdel Magid’s lemon tree, she stops stares.
Shiny black two-inch canisters perch in the graying limbs.
Two more glitter in snapdragons below.
Dozens cover other lawns on the street. Abdel shakes his head:
“I had to tell my child not to play in his own yard. Little bombs
from America. They just fell from the sky. Next street over,
Rashid and his sons are dead because the little boy got curious
and bent down to look.”

The grandmother won’t nap this afternoon.
Stepping over the lethal tubes,
she will walk to her grandson’s school.
But first she shades her eyes with her sticky hands
and studies the Baghdad sky.

……………………..

About Penny Perry

A three time Pushcart nominee, twice for poetry and once for fiction, my stories and poems have been widely published in literary magazines. Fiction Daily tagged my short story “Haunting the Alley,” published online in Literary Mama in August 2011. My first collection of poetry, Santa Monica Disposal & Salvage, was published in 2012 by Garden Oak Press. The collection earned praise from Marge Piercy, Steve Kowit, Diane Wakoski, and Maria Gillan. I was the fiction editor for Knot Literary Magazine, a Middle Eastern literary journal. I was also a screenwriting fellow at the American Film Institute, and my movie A Berkeley Christmas aired on PBS. And, I’ve just completed a novel about a school shooting. I write under two names, Penny Perry and Kate Harding.

Photo credit: Abeer AL-Kuwari via a Creative Commons license

NO WAR IN SYRIA


Over breakfast today, my daughter reported one of those dismayingly funny university moments.

Her professor asked how many of the students in the lecture hall know what’s happening in Syria. They produced a lackluster response.

Then the professor asked how many folks know what Miley Cyrus did recently. The general response was, perhaps, to be expected, but nonetheless absurd.

My daughter’s response: “What? Did Miley go to Syria?”

I love my kid. She makes me smile.

On the way home, we enjoyed the icing on our breakfast cake—the following graffiti sprawled across the wall of the Fallbrook Post Office.

I love my town. It’s becoming a little less redneck brick-by-brick.

FallbrookNoWarInSyria

For an overview of what is happening in Syria, peruse these Al Jazeera America articles.

If you want to know what Miley Cyrus did, you’ll have to Google it for yourself.

Love,
K-B

Photo credit: ©2013 Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Meeting Place


By Penny Perry

GeorgianWarVictims

………………..August 2008, the Republic of Georgia………………

Chain link fence, a field,
a narrow, wood bench,
shade from an untrimmed tree.
Sparrows still twittering
this August morning.

Maybe they are grandmothers,
wide white arms
in summer house dresses,
open-toed shoes.

The one on the bench in black,
a babushka on her head.

The other, a red print dress
with English letters.
Maybe, only a moment before
she stood, small purse in hand,
gray curls and dress flapping
in the slight breeze.

Maybe the woman in black smiled,
a story on her lips.

Now, wild ivy in her hair.
The red dress hiked above the knees,
white turnip legs stretched out,
purse near curved fingers.
Blood on her nose and forehead.
Eyes open, as if surprised
by the icy crackle of gunfire.

Her friend sits crying.
Two fresh loaves of bread
on the bench beside her.

. . . . . . . . . .

Learn more about Penny Perry.

Learn more about Women and War.

Learn more about Russia’s invasion of the Republic of Georgia, the “Five Day War.”

Five Day War photo from the AP.

BOOK REVIEW: Caravan of Thieves by David Rich


By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Debut author David Rich is no neophyte in the realm of the thriller: He spent years writing screenplays for film and television, including Renegades and MacGyver. His gift for building suspense, for drawing audience members to the edges of their seats, serves him well in his first novel, Caravan of Thieves, which he will be signing on Camp Pendleton Friday at the new MCX (Marine Corps Exchange), across Vandergrift from the commissary. The public is invited and may enter the base at the Main Gate in Oceanside by showing government-issued identification.

Rich’s plot takes advantage of the U.S. Marine Corps’ involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and the persistent mythology surrounding Saddam Hussein’s purported hidden riches, including lots of U.S. dollars. This is a theme that surfaced previously in the 1999 film Three Kings and repeatedly in the wishful blogosphere.

But Rich adds an intriguing element to the myth: Along with the involvement of members of the U.S. military in the theft of the money, Rich presents a scheme to smuggle it into the United States and squirrel it away for a purpose not readily revealed.

It is an enticing conspiracy theory made all the more entertaining by the satisfaction of watching the corrosive consequences of greed on the greedy, whether they lust for power or money.

And in the thick of it all, Rollie Waters, a smart-mouthed Marine lieutenant with an unusual penchant for questioning authority — particularly for a young Marine Corps officer — must decipher the who, what, where and why of the conspiracy in order to keep himself above ground and out of the hoosegow.

Rollie encounters a cast of questionable characters, military and civilian, whom he spends the bulk of the novel trying to outrun and outsmart, while he figures out if they are conspirators or investigators — or likely to switch roles, given adequate enticement.

Rollie’s father, with whom he is more estranged than connected, adds a dimension of con artistry that challenges their tenuous familial bond and adds to the mystery of the money.

The resulting intrigue is captivating, the action scenes are vivid, and Rich’s dialogue is lean and clever as he encourages the reader to eagerly anticipate the harm that comes to bad guys.

One small weakness in Caravan of Thieves seems to stem from Rich’s background in screenwriting, in that it would have been resolved with visuals: There is an occasional bit of dialogue in which the identities of the speakers are confusing. And those who hope for a gutsy female role, will be disappointed, as Rich’s few female characters are two-dimensional, serving as little more than sexual foil or failed mother. Perhaps this, too, is a remnant of his Hollywood days, where the visual presence of a comely female on screen is often considered adequate character development; but in print, these women are wan.

The greatest challenge of Caravan of Thieves might lie in convincing the book’s inevitable military readership of the actual conspirators’ identities, although for many a grunt, the revelation might prove purely satisfying.

While Caravan of Thieves addresses one stash of money, the hordes of treasure that remain unfound at the book’s end suggest the possibility of a series, and Rollie’s battle between the bad father influence and the good son is likely to continue amidst some rapid-fire action.

Book Signing: Friday, September 21, at 4 p.m.
Location: Camp Pendleton, MCX, Vandergrift
Publisher: Dutton
Price: $25.95
Author website: davidrichbooks.com

Crossposted at the North County Times.

The Wall weeps for many


By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

 

In honor of those who have served, Veterans Day, November 11, 2011

“When I first saw it at the dedication in 1982,” said the veteran of an undeclared war, “I thought it was a nice memorial to all the people who died.

“But now,” and his blue eyes began to glisten faster than he could close them — to the memory of buddies and limbs lost; to the etched names of 58,272 dead warriors; to the clusters of their families, the tourists, the curious and awestruck and angry and guilt-ridden — “now I think there are too many names.”

And he fell as silent and far away as only one can, who has offered up his life and lived while others died.

But still, he and millions of others from around the world make their pilgrimages to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the United States’ Wailing Wall, a monument that has dramatically transcended its original intent. Thirty-six years since President Nixon gave up and we pulled out of Vietnam, they come with the raw emotions of grief and ambiguity and three decades of slowly evolving perspectives. And in their tumultuous wake, they leave things — things personal and symbolic, things spontaneous and enigmatic — the things that have become the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection, tangible reminders of this, and other, wars.

A frayed POW-MIA flag and a bracelet commemorating Pfc. Charles D. Chomel, USMC, declared missing in action June 11, 1967.

M&Ms, the soldier’s unmeltable treat and the wounded’s placebo.

A World War II helmet.

MPCs, the military’s scrip.

World War I unit insignia.

Short timers’ sticks, the mark of a soldier soon headed home.

A Desert Storm Silver Star given from son to fallen father.

They leave the inscrutable symbols — perhaps of camaraderie and love.

Chef Boyardee cheese pizza mix.

A miniature Starship Enterprise.

Bazooka Joe comics.

A McGovern-Shriver ’72 pin.

Stuffed animals.

A bottle of champagne.

A tricked-out Harley-Davidson.

And they leave the letters of loved ones, unresolved survivors, anonymous critics.

“I’m sorry I forgot your flower, so caught up was I in myself and my grief for Caleb. A young man today, he told me he is afraid to come to The Wall. He doesn’t know what to say to a man who’s been to war. I told him to say, ‘Thank you.’”

“Pat, your little girl is a Marine now, just like you.”

“Uttermark and I flipped a coin. … His name is on this monument. I’m alive.”

“It was a brave thing you did. It must have been really scary, but it was wrong for the U.S. to send troops off into such a hellish place.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you for your service, my Father, and for my life. I’ll do the best I can.”

“Micky, you should have zigged instead of zagged. I love you brother. Happy, LRRP.”

And the divorce decree of a soldier resigned to another casualty, “You did everything you could; it just didn’t work out.”

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection is a growing accumulation of artifacts selected by the living, giving recognition to the dead. And even more: It is a reflection of the phenomena, the vast spectrum of experiences, that were, and continue to be for so many, the Vietnam War — any war.

In this 29th anniversary year of The Wall’s dedication, still people come and still they leave the things that might give them — and perhaps the world — some peace. But most poignant and ephemeral of the artifacts they leave, are the tears shed at The Wall — for loved ones killed or still missing, for parents or grandparents never known, for lingering opposition to the war, for denial of a hero’s welcome, for fear of wars to come.

And the tears, beseeching resolution, leave sorrowful salt trails on the black granite wall, only to be rinsed away by the next rain. And then replaced again.

And again.

Love,
K-B

Crossposted at San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.

Photograph of The Wall from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website.

A Literary Salute to Veterans


Featuring authors Sue Diaz and Cmdr. Sheri Snively

November 9, 2011, from Fallbrook’s Writers Read

Café des Artistes
103 S. Main Street, Fallbrook, CA
5:30 Doors open, supper menu available
6:00 Reading begins

In honor of our local veterans, San Diego-based writers Sue Diaz, author of Minefields of the Heart, and retired Navy Quaker Chaplin Cmdr. Sheri Snively, author of Heaven in the Midst of Hell, will read from their books, discuss their careers, and take questions from the audience.

Diaz, an award-winning journalist, will read from Minefields of the Heart: A Mother’s Stories of a Son at War. The book — a tender collection of wartime essays, a mother and son memoir, a letter full of love and compassion — is the result of Diaz’s unexpected march to war when her gentle son, Roman, enlisted in the Army in 2002 and was subsequently deployed to Iraq twice.

Snively’s book, Heaven in the Midst of Hell, was recognized with a forward by U.S. Marine General James N. Mattis, and Publisher’s Weekly wrote this about it: “Both text and photos convey the everyday details of life and death in the war zone: a menorah made of Coke cans, beanie babies piled on the bed of an Iraqi patient, smiling soldiers. Snively doesn’t offer a big-picture overview, but heaven and hell are in these personal details. From the perspective of a medical chaplain, the two sides are ‘life’ and ‘death’ rather than ‘us’ and ‘them.’”

The authors books will be available for sale and signing.

The featured authors will be preceded by open mic for poetry and prose.

For more information, contact Kit-Bacon at kbgressitt@gmail.com or 760-522-1064.

Occupy Encinitas


By Patty Campbell

 

April 5, 1969. San Francisco.

Hrmmmmm. Brrrrrmmmmm. 

I can hear the deep thrum of the bass guitars from the rock group on the sound truck way ahead in the line of march. It resonates in my chest. They’re playing a piece I don’t recognize, with strange minor harmonies like music for the end of the world.

“Who is it?” I ask some people coming the other way.

“The Grateful Dead,” they tell me. 

“Far out!” my friend says. “And we’ve already passed The Byrds and Jefferson Airplane. The best rock groups in San Francisco are part of this demonstration.”

“Everybody’s part of this demonstration,” I say, glancing around at the throng that curb to curb fills the wide street in the Haight-Ashbury district. Many are hippies, with long hair and love beads — a tribe I will soon join. They have been passing us six Los Angeles church ladies as we sit resting on a low wall for what seems like an hour — more and more people carrying signs, and chanting, “Hell no, we won’t go.” Their faces are grave, because we are protesting graves, so many American graves from the senseless Vietnam War.

October 15, 2011. Encinitas, California

But that was forty-three years ago, and today I am on my way to go with my sister Diane and her husband Dave to another protest march for a different painful issue — the recession. Here in this wealthy North County beach town, we are going to show our participation in the Occupy San Diego movement. Will it be like the old days? I hope this will be not just an exercise in nostalgia, but a useful political action.

When I arrive at my sister’s elegant house, she has squares of stiff brown cardboard and a box of felt pens ready. “Let’s make our signs before lunch,” she says. We hunker down on the floor like kindergarteners in art class and discuss the possibilities. “There are so many issues that are part of this mess,” she says. “The banks, election reform, the wars, health care, the corporations and the rich not paying their fair share… But we need to ask for something specific, something that can actually be done.”

“Yes, and we need to say it in three or four words so people passing by can get it in one glance.” Peace is always the central issue. That hasn’t changed since 1969, so I pick up a pen and print “Cut the military budget” in big letters. On the back I write “Out of Iraq and Afghanistan.” I have to think a minute about the spelling of the last word.

“Put a skull on it,” Di suggests. I have a hard time with the shape, but when I add round black eyes it looks pretty good. My sister the financial planner is more subtle; her sign says “Corporate money corrupts Congress.”

“Nice alliteration,” I comment. She starts decorating the “c’s” with triangles that look like teeth. “But where did you hear that we’re not supposed to have sticks for the signs?”

“That’s the way it was with the crowd on the news last night. I guess it’s for safety. And by the way, I read that oil combines with pepper spray to reduce the burn. Do you want to use some face cream?”

“Di, come on. This is Encinitas.”

“Well, I saw a kid get sprayed on television last night.” She’s right; I remember.

“And another thing, did you use sun screen this morning? And did you bring a hat?”

“Yes, yes. Jeepers, you’d think YOU were the big sis.”

We eat a quick lunch of cold chicken and fruit. I am anxious to get going, afraid that we will arrive after the march has departed and we won’t be able to find the others.

“Aren’t we going to wait for Dave?” I ask when she picks up her purse and her sign.

“He’ll come later, after his meeting is over,” she assures me. I ‘m surprised to find that I’m a little uneasy not to have a man with us.

When we arrive at the assembly place — the intersection of Encinitas Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway — we see that the plan is not to march anywhere, but to hold a stable occupation of all four corners. I rejoice to see that there are lots of protestors — maybe 500 — most of them in their forties or fifties, nicely dressed and holding hand-lettered signs. There can be no doubt that this is a grass-roots movement and not sponsored by any outfit rich enough to pay for professional signs. We join the group and begin holding out our slogans to the oncoming traffic. People show each other what they have written and exchange approving words and high fives. Many facets of the causes of the recession are expressed on the signs. The big placard of the tall man next to me says, predictably, “We’re mad as hell and we aren’t going to take it any more!” Another urges “Bail out people, not banks!” My favorite is an adaptation of a commercial “going out of business” sign with “America is” written in at the top, and “Politicians for sale — cheap!” added at the bottom. That is, it’s my favorite until my heart rejoices to spot an older man holding a reproduction of the iconic Mothers for Peace image: a single flower and the words “War is not healthy for children or other living things.” He and I exchange reminiscences of the Old Days, and I tell him I used to have a lapel pin with that image on it.

The crowd keeps on growing, and with it, a feeling of jubilation. The traffic passing four ways at the intersection is an ideal situation for getting our message to the most people in a short time. Cars honk approval as they pass, and we yell encouragement back at them. I am astonished at how many passers-by seem to be with us. They wave and smile and — oh joy! — flash peace signs with two uplifted fingers. In sharp contrast to my former experience in demonstrations — for peace, for civil rights, for women’s equality — there is not one ugly shout, not one mean look. Can it be that the American public, even in this conservative upper-middle-class town, is fed up and ready for action? With the guidance of the protest leaders, we begin to chant joyfully. “We ARE—the ninety-nine percent!” and “WE’VE been sold out! YOU’VE been sold out!” We cross the street with the change of light, holding our placards high; we lean out from the curb to show our messages, and the shouting and honking gets louder and louder. My sober, scientific brother-in-law Dave turns up in the crowd, having as much fun as a kid let out of school.

Then a massive red truck comes down the street and honks with a mighty air horn as he turns the corner. Laughter and cheers greet the driver. The story passes through the crowd: “His mother is standing on that corner, and she called him on her cell phone and told him to get his truck over here.” But then — “The cops have pulled him over! Let’s go protest his arrest!” A group of about a hundred hurries down the block.

“This could get ugly,” I think. I tag along at first to see what will happen, but then decide to watch from across the street like a wise coward. Soon the group straggles back. “What happened?” I ask.

“Aw, they gave the guy a ticket. I’m hoarse from yelling at the cop, but it didn’t do any good,” says a young man. I give thanks that nobody lost control and shouted an obscenity at the police and got themselves arrested. THAT would make a pretty story on the evening news. The media, I had learned, always goes for the most sensational aspect of any story. So where IS the media? The protest has been going on for two hours, and there has been no sign of interest from local TV stations. I notice one young girl taking notes and ask, “Are you the media?”

“Well, not really,” she says modestly. “I’m doing an article for my high school newspaper. Can I interview you?” So I give her my best sound bites. At last, when things are beginning to wind down, an NBC channel 7 truck arrives, and a lone cameraman sets up on one corner with a tripod. I tell him the story about the truck, but he just looks at me with a blank face and tired eyes. Later, I hear that an elderly woman sitting in a chair on the curb has been coming to this corner with protest signs for four years. When I talk with her, I find that she is articulate and informed, and has run for Congress three times, so I go back to the cameraman, point her out to him, and am gratified when he takes his mike over to interview her.

Di and I, although we are exhilarated and still having fun, are getting tired arms from holding up our signs, so we reluctantly decide to leave, but Dave is enjoying himself and elects to stay for a while longer. On the way home I feel cleansed and hopeful, but that evening when we look at the news, although it is heartening to see crowds all over the world supporting the movement, I am discouraged to see that for our little North County protest the camera has caught only one of the four street corners, making the crowd look meager. However, the elderly woman in the chair is given a good fifteen seconds on camera to make our many complex points.

But was anybody listening? Did we make a difference forty-three years ago in race relations, gender equality, ending war? How long is it going to take this time?

. . . . . . . .

Patty Campbell is a former librarian and belly dancer who lives on an avocado ranch in Fallbrook.

Occupy Encinitas photo from The Leucadia Blog.

Interview With Destroyermen Author Taylor Anderson


 

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

 

If you have never read alternate historical fiction, there’s a really good reason to start, and he’s coming to town: Taylor Anderson, the best-selling author of the Destroyermen novels. Anderson is making two stops in San Diego to promote his sixth book in the series, Firestorm — noon Saturday, October 8 at the U.S. Naval Base Exchange, and  2 p.m. Sunday, October 9 at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in Clairemont Mesa.

Why read Anderson’s books? Let’s start with the success of the series. Born of a life-long desire to write and the sudden freedom to do so, Anderson drafted his first manuscript with a blend of enthusiasm, a solid background in history and firearms, and a spoonful of naïveté.

“When I got into this,” Anderson explained, “I’d been an old-time country gunsmith for years. I’d taught history, and done a lot of [historical] movies, but I really didn’t know the first thing about publishing. In my deeply stupid arrogance, I decided to use history, which I’ve always loved. … And I wrote the first book and sent it off. And the next thing I knew, I was being published.

“I did go through an agent, and he’s a great agent,” Anderson continued. “He asked me how I had the guts to send it to him. And I said I didn’t know any better. He said to send him the full manuscript, and he enjoyed it enough to spend some time telling me what to fix, and that was huge. About a month later, about Christmas time, I sent it back to him and the next thing I know, around the middle of January, he had several publishing companies kind of in a bidding war for it. And of course, they decided that it had to be a series, and I agreed entirely. I had too big of a world to explore.”

That world is an alternate Earth on which, as Anderson described, “the KT [asteroid] extinction didn’t take place.” During World War II, an American destroyer and a Japanese battle cruiser pass through a storm and land in the alternate world, launching a series of adventures and battles that engage the Lemurians and Griks, the beings that evolved in lieu of the effects of the mass extinction.

The Destroyermen books have a devoted following in the U.S. Navy, partially because the ship is one of the characters — “in a Starship Enterprise kind of way,” Anderson said, “except it’s a lot less capable and a lot more dilapidated.” Although he has been “assailed by some of the alternate history purists,” he described his series, with a laugh, as “kind of an alternate universe, military history, science fiction fantasy” blend.

Regardless of the books’ popularity with genre fans, the fact that Anderson has a gift for complex plot and dialogue and a fabulous sense of humor makes reading his work a fun and guilt-free pleasure. And then there are his humility and generosity.

“I get a lot of fan mail. Of course, it’s still feels odd for me to get it, but I get a lot of fan mail from former military, naval and active duty — from around the world,” he said. “I’ve gotten contacts from sailors who’ve been deployed. Just recently got one from a guy who said his whole ship was a fan. Our men and women in uniform are just so wonderful, and I get so many contacts from them that it just makes me proud and happy that they enjoy the story. But my hat still fits. I’ve been me so long, my wife has pretty much given up trying to do anything about it. … And it’s gratifying to have so many active and former Navy men, particularly destroyer men, say I hit it on the head. Of course, I appreciate everything they do for us. I’ve dedicated all my books to those who are defending us now or in the past. I feel like I’m giving something back in a sense. … And I get so much stuff from young folks, and that makes me really happy. I keep it this side of PG13, even though it’s for adults.”

Finally, there’s what Anderson said about his mother: “My mother is my first editor. She’s the only person who reads my books before they go out.”

And you have to love an author who loves and respects his mother.

 

What: Taylor Anderson signing Firestorm
Saturday, October 8, 2011: 12 noon: U.S. Naval Base Exchange, San Diego
Sunday, October 9, 2011: 2 p.m.: Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore, 7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
Authors website: www.taylorandersonauthor.com

Crossposted at the North County Times.

The Scent of a Memory


By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

 

I catch a trace of Father’s scent each year. He’s been dead since 1996, which makes his lingering essence kind of magical. I’ve smelled him in Dayton and Houston, in San Diego and Midland and Minneapolis… — and he was not a traveling salesman.

I smell Father just about whenever and wherever I find myself in the midst of a particular group of cane-wielding men and stalwart widows. They are the survivors of the World War II Army Air Corps’ 484th and 461st Bomb Groups. And, now, as I wait in the airport lounge to return from their most recent weekend reunion, a tradition in which I’m one of many second-generation interlopers, I try to hold on to the smell of him, of them.

And I watch a pair of beautiful young men holding hands. I am certain, pretty certain — no, absolutely confident — that, despite any discomfort any of the veterans might feel, they would still go to war to protect these young men’s freedom. At least that’s how I like to think of them.

Because they are special. Because I love them.

Oh, they’re as quick to criticize the nation — and the wildly diverse people in it — as anyone, and from all political persuasions. They flew to protect that right.

484th Bomb Group emblem

But somehow their two-cents’ worth is more valuable than that, these men who flew B-24 Liberators, these pilots and ball gunners, navigators and tail gunners, these engineers and bombardiers, nose gunners and co-pilots, waist gunners and radiomen — and their ground crews.

They offered up their lives for good old-fashioned freedom, not some contemporary convolution of capitalism and petroleum wrapped in a flag. They offered up their lives for an ideal, wisely or naively, but sure of purpose. I’m not sure that ideal has survived. Perhaps it disappeared like so many of the aviators, amid fiery explosions, in the depths of an ocean, beneath desert sands.

But these men survived the war, only to be attacked by time. Time is now their enemy, not as brutal as flak, but just as lethal.

So they tell their stories as best they can, heads nodding to each other’s memories.

Stories of ironic snafus. “I’m glad to see Gordon over there. I didn’t know him, but I saved his life. If I’d known how to use that gun, he would have been dead.”

Stories of flying in formation, seven planes mustered. “The first burst hit us, and two airplanes just kind of went. Another burst hit us, and three more airplanes went. That left two of us. The other one, he was under me. And then there was another burst. It was like when someone takes a flash photo in your face. There was the burst, and when I could see, it was just pieces. He did not float away. — You remember how the tents were? They were in rows and the doors of the tents faced each other. He was the one across from me. — Well, in that instant, all ten guys, gone. This is a memorial. But, but I can’t remember his name.”

Stories of an ornery MP, the one who hassled them every damn time they came into town for R&R — and how he got his comeuppance. “They sent him to the front. I didn’t feel bad for him then, and I don’t feel bad for him now.”

Stories of departed loved ones. “Lost my wife on January the fifth of this year, and the last word she said was, ‘You always told me we would never live forever. I didn’t doubt you, but I didn’t think I’d be the one to go first.’” …

I sit in the airport lounge and I have a Scotch on the rocks to honor them. Not because I’m particularly fond of Scotch, but because I’m fond of them and that’s their drink. I watch the beautiful young men holding hands and hope they’ll never find themselves at war. And I realize in a burst of awareness that we second — and third — generations are not interlopers. We are the receptacles for our veterans’ memories. We are the force that will keep our Liberators alive. We are the bells that will toll for them.

I swirl my drink. Their scents waft around me. I catch a trace of Father.

Love,
K-B

Please join us for a special reading on Wednesday 09 November at 6 p.m. for a Salute to Veterans with Sue Diaz, author of Minefields of the Heart, and Gulf Wars veterans from her writing workshops. The reading also features open mic for poetry and prose. Contact K-B for more information: kbgressitt@gmail.com or 760-522-1064.

Crossposted at San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.

 

I’ll have the summer vacation, please


By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

 

You know that thing we used to have to do at the end of summer, the thing that whopped you upside the head with the brutal inevitability that vacation was over, that tar-bubble popping adventures and rhubarb-sucking loll-abouts were done, done and gone with the finality of a bee between your naked foot and the clover that enticed the insect to its death and you, to your hopping pain? You know, that “What I did for summer vacation” short essay assignment that taunted you from the dusty cool of the blackboard and picked at the mosquito bites oozing down your leg, making them itch all over again — as though defining your youthful joys would pack them away and yank from more distant springtime memories some mythically compliant learning mode?

Yep, that. I really hated that. Yet that’s what I wish I had to do right now. Being over and done with my summer vacation would be far preferable to what I’m actually doing right in the middle of it — studying families and gender and theater and social taboos.

What the hell was I thinking!

Well, what I was thinking was that it would be really cool to cram a cacaload of courses into a five-week intensive session. What I was not thinking about were the emotional repercussions of such an academic extravagance.

I was not thinking about our national descent into the ignominious status of having the highest poverty rates in the Western industrialized world, until I read a chapter from Sharon Hays’ Flat Broke With Children about a punitive welfare system designed to avoid making welfare payments; a system eager to drop families from its rolls and into economic oblivion when mothers are too sick to work or have chronically-ill or disabled family members to care for or they can’t keep jobs in a heartless economy; a system rich in self-righteous moralizing that calls denying aid to the impoverished success.

And now California will add to the rosters of the economically disappeared as mothers and children try to make sense of the 8-percent cut to their welfare-to-work checks, passed by the state legislature in last week’s budget bill. What do you suppose these mothers and children will do to fill the gap between the whopping $700 per month they used to receive and the new rate for a family of three — $640?

Neither was I thinking about the intimate pain of The Laramie Projec, until the play unfolded the linens of the town where Matthew Shepard was beaten and left in the darkness of homophobia to die; or the ambivalence of Matt’s fellow college student who played a gay man in Angels In America, yet mimicked the script of his church and parents that “Homosexuality is wrong”; or the 10-years-later perspective of the same young man, still ambivalent.

And now San Diego has a beating victim of its own, but this victim is homeless and gay, not a middle-class college student and gay. Will anyone write a play about Jason “Cowboy” Huggins, bashed in the head with a rock and not expected to live?

Nor was I thinking about wartime rape, until Lynn Nottage’s Ruined played unrelenting scenes of battling Congolese factions making war between women’s legs — with penises, sticks, gun barrels, bayonets, broken bottles…

And now, despite the United Nations’ 2008 resolution declaring rape a weapon of war, the ruination continues in the Democratic Republic of Congo — and the United States of America, where 3,158 incidents of sexual assault in the military were reported in 2010.

And I think I’ll stop there.

Perhaps the season’s joys can be salvaged. Maybe not. Maybe they shouldn’t be. But I could sure use a little break, a wee respite to suck sun-warmed sour from the neighbor’s purloined rhubarb or pop roadside tar bubbles in the summer’s shimmering heat.

Love,
K-B

Crossposted by the Ocean Beach Rag and San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.

Point, Press, Peace


By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

 

My mother tried to make a sandwich with the TV remote control.

It might seem sadly funny, but there was some context for her pursuit: She was watching a cooking show from her hospital bed. Watching and processing in her own inimitable style, and she just didn’t like the way the celebrity chef was doing it. She didn’t know where she was, but she knew she could do better.

“I need to put the bread on top,” she said with the slurred tongue of a stroke victim, pointing the remote in the television’s general direction.

“Yes, that would be good, but the remote won’t do that for you, Mother.”

She persisted, and my heart shrank into that tidily distant place that allows the practical to reign supreme, as I searched for unemotional words to explain to the hospital staff that Houston, we’ve had a problem; Houston, my mother is leaving us; Houston—

But then it occurred to me how glorious a response Mother’s was. How satisfying it would be to encounter idiocy, point the remote and press a button to fix it. I relished the thought as the chef smeared a heinous concoction on bread made from special grains probably harvested by child laborers in some far-off fascist stronghold.

Someplace like Libya or Saudi Arabia or Yemen, where people donate their lives for the hope of freedom; where women just want to be able to drive themselves to the market, unfettered by male watchdogs; where the innocent are splattered on city walls while power-seekers conduct pissing contests overhead with deadly weapons.

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to just push a button on the remote and fix it all?

Or how about someplace like Uganda or Afghanistan or Colombia, where ignorance and hate might try again to decree death on homosexuals; where girls and women are tortured for trying to learn; where Chiquita swapped lives for bananas.

Hit the button and — zap! — all the bad guys are gone.

Or even someplace like the United States, where people I love are not allowed to marry or to be themselves without institutionalized condemnation; where women’s wombs are purchased with the campaign contributions of ideologues and theocrats; where free speech has descended to profanity; where voters cast their lots for their wallets and politicians run on egos — not ideals.

Zap, zap, zap, zap — all better!

Yes, Mother’s new world seemed a more satisfying — a healthier — place to be. Just point, press and be done with the horror. Except—

“This is frustrating,” she slurred through the neural fog, thrusting the remote at the chef with quixotic determination, pressing random buttons to no avail.

“Here,” I took the remote, “let me help you with that.” I held the thing with both hands, aimed at the bastard chef and fired with rage. “Bull’s eye — got the sucker! He didn’t know how to make a sandwich, anyway. And look: It’s one of your judge shows.”

She relaxed into the pillows, half a whispered smile on her peaceful face.

Love,
K-B

Crossposted at Ocean Beach Rag, The Progressive Post and  San Diego Gay and Lesbian News.

 

WikiLeaks, Assange and the Perils of No Censorship


By Kit-Bacon Gressitt


Oh, ye gods. Enough already of WikiLeaks, or, more specifically, of Julian Assange, the Australian head (in more ways than one) of the organization dedicated to publishing leaked information considered “important news” for the public.

Now, the organization’s aim certainly sounds worthy: “We publish material of ethical, political and historical significance while keeping the identity of our sources anonymous, thus providing a universal way for the revealing of suppressed and censored injustices.”

Yep, suppressed and censored injustices definitely demand exposure. But the recently released secret U.S. diplomatic cables are curiously sparse in the suppressed and censored injustices category. For example, what injustice lies in the revelation that some Arab leaders would be privately delighted if the United States would obliterate Iran’s nuclear capabilities?

The antagonism between Arabs and Persians is old news, hence, not news. They have been at odds since long before any pasty-faced infidel entertained dreams of gushing oil wells while disdaining the volume of sugar in his turbaned host’s tea — along with his host.

Even WikiLeaks’ April release of a much sought after classified video of a 2007 U.S. Army attack on a group of men in New Baghdad, Iraq, including two Reuters journalists, fails the “suppressed and censored injustice” test — not because the video wasn’t a revelation, indeed the attack was devastating in human and political terms, but because WikiLeaks censored the video in its own special way. They bastardized the raw material, careening wildly around Pulitzer and barreling headlong into Machiavelli, editing the original footage, manipulating audio in segments and titling the already anguished footage “Collateral Murder,” thus producing an effective bit of propaganda, not the transparent reportage that is WikiLeak’s declared mission.

And of late, Assange seems less like a champion of “democracy and transparency” and more like a petulant adolescent, spoiled by his notoriety and lacking the leadership qualities that his risky pursuit demands, qualities such as the foresight, patience and sense of responsibility to effectively redact innocent peoples’ names from purloined Afghanistan and Iraq war documents before releasing them, a failure that caused some of his ranks to quit. Or the discernment to withhold those diplomatic cables that, rather than revealing suppressed and censored injustices, serve only to embarrass governments and interfere with diplomatic relations.

Perhaps Assange’s underlying and greatest failure, however, is his apparent inability to keep his ego in check. His news media interviews reflect a man who thinks very highly of himself, devoid of an editor. When challenged recently by a team member, he reportedly replied that he is WikiLeaks’ “heart and soul, its founder, philosopher, spokesperson, original coder, organizer, financier, and all the rest. If you have a problem with me, piss off.” And, he has threatened to release a mass of national and commercial secrets if his operations are shut down.

As much as I wanted to admire Assange, I don’t. His ego has overpowered my affinity for iconoclasts, just as the material he is leaking risks overpowering the good WikiLeaks could do. In the rarefied community of whistleblowers, Assange does not stand out as a dedicated and selfless advocate; he is not the Erin Brockovich of world polluters, the Deep Throat of international government corruption, the Sherron Watkins of global corporate malfeasance. These whistleblowers deserve admiration — and protection — for telling truths the public needed to know.

The public does not need to know the private encounters and analyses of our diplomatic corps, as titillating as some of the information might be.

Richard C. Matheron, a retired foreign service officer, said of the leaked cables:

It’s part of the evaluation of the people you’re dealing with. You have to back up your analysis of a situation by commenting upon the people who are involved in it. I don’t see whether [the released cables] are helpful and of course the worst thing that could happen is there are some sources who are compromised, whose lives might be endangered for cooperating with the U.S. … With modern technology, there is essentially nothing that is so sacrosanct that it can’t be discovered. It’s going to force diplomats to be more circumspect in their evaluations of people.

Just as the world is becoming more circumspect in its evaluation of WikiLeaks. As of Saturday, even PayPal has severed its ties to the organization:

PayPal has permanently restricted the account used by WikiLeaks due to a violation of the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy, which states that our payment service cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity. We’ve notified the account holder of this action.

Interestingly, WikiLeaks topmost fundraising plea at the moment is for contributions to the Julian Assange Defence Fund. My response to that plea is “Piss off.”

Love,
K-B

UPDATE: Since this post, WikiLeaks has removed the request for donations to the Julian Assange Defence Fund from it’s Support page.

©2010 Kit-Bacon Gressitt

BOOK REVIEW: Minefields of the Heart by Sue Diaz


By Kit-Bacon Gressitt


Sometimes, if we are lucky, a gentle voice emerges from the monotonous babble to speak a truth, small or large, obvious or not. And as the political left and right wage mind-numbing word wars over U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, author Sue Diaz’ gentle voice rises above the fray and begs our attention — not with glennbeckian outrage, not with self-righteous bombast, not with armchair general postulating, but with the tender and sorrowfully sane tale she tells in Minefields of the Heart: a Mother’s Stories of a Son at War.

A collection of wartime essays, a mother and son memoir, a letter full of love and compassion, Minefields of the Heart is the result of Diaz’s unexpected march to war when her kind and meandering son, Roman, enlisted in the Army in 2002 and was subsequently deployed to Iraq in 2003. Indeed, despite Diaz’ opposition to the Iraq War, Roman’s deliberate decision to serve put mother and son on an irreversible path that damaged and enlightened them both. It was a path from which Diaz struggled to understand and support her son, as Roman replaced his youth with the mantle of a warrior, set to kill or be killed

As Diaz writes, when a son or daughter, a husband or wife, a brother or sister goes to war, their loved ones go with them.

“Every time an insurgent bomb blows apart a Humvee or a squad on foot patrol, the shock waves from the blast reverberate in small towns like Wheeler, Texas, and big cities like San Diego. A young private takes a bullet; back at home his father’s heart bleeds. A soldier loses a leg; his wife struggles in the days that follow to simply keep putting one foot in front of the other. A sergeant’s eardrum is perforated; his mother hears the explosion in her dreams, time and time again. Truth is, the casualties of war go far beyond the numbers from the Pentagon. Love leaves us no choice. … ‘We are there too, Sergeant Diaz. We are there, too.’”

At times, Diaz presents a disheartening recitation of the slow wearing away of morale of Roman’s unit, a unit caught in the horror of a war crime in the Triangle of Death south of Baghdad. Or she shares Roman’s words sent home electronically:

“I don’t know how many times we’ve been on raids, and we’ll be searching the house. One person pulling security on the men of the house, and one on the women and children. They’ll offer to make us tea, or ask for a picture (if they see a camera), and for a while we chill out in their house and play with the kids. It’s especially weird if we meet with resistance on the way in. I always bring candy in my pockets and bullets in my chamber.”

At other times, her imagination creates a sweet moment following the death of a comrade:

“‘Horton would have wanted you to have these,’ I hear the squad leader say as he hands a box of Marlboros to a private notorious for bumming smokes.”

And at yet others, she recounts the conflicted hope inherent in survival, the homecoming of one soldier, her soldier, shoulder-to-shoulder with the millions of others from wars past:

“‘Roman,’ I breathed.

“‘Mom,’ he answered.

“That was all.

“That was everything.”

Diaz’ book is not a grand or passionate characterization of a controversial war; it is so much more. Minefields of the Heart is wondrous and eloquent in its intimacy, in its simplicity, in the unquestionable stories of a mother and son entwined in a war that will be debated for generations.

Diaz said of Roman in a recent phone call:

“He’s doing well now. He’s in school. … He’s a full time student. He’s married. All things considered — considering the hell he’s been through — he’s doing well. But life is harder because of his experience. … War is a difficult thing, it’s a hellish thing, and it should not be entered into lightly, ever. It affects people not only in combat, but on the home front, the ripple effect. It’s not just a handful of people in a place far away; it really reaches all of us. I hope people will come to have a larger understanding of war’s impact on not just one soldier and his family, but on all of us — as a country. … It was quite something to live through. It was quite something to write about, and, now, I think it’s good to have the book finished and out there.”

Sometimes we are lucky. Because, in the wake of reading the book, the need to hear more of Roman, to hear his mother’s voice just a little more, the need to know that they continue to survive the war, to live and love, serves as the most compelling truth of Diaz’ book: as there is hope for her son, so is there hope for the nation.

Author’s website: www.suediaz.com
Publisher: Potomac Books 2010
Hardcover price: $17.96

Crossposted at the North County Times.

A Beautiful Day to Be in the Air


By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Replica of the 484th BG plaque at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio


In September 1995, they soared into Dayton, Ohio, from all points of the compass: from bucolic calm and frenetic cities, from sedentary retirement and the flush of newfound love. They were seventy or eighty veterans of the World War II Army Air Corps’ 484th Bomb Group, 49th Wing, 15th Air Force. No measly designation for these men, who reunited to pay annual homage to themselves and the war they fought for the world from their homely base at the Torretta Airfield near Cerignola, Italy.

Perhaps a motley crew, yet heroes since their youth, back then, in Dayton, they were in various stages of oldth, some sprightly, some hobbled by age and infirmity; some accompanied by wives, some represented by widows. All were ready to drink to their own and the world’s past, to boogie to the 1940s brass and reed voices of Joe Aceto and His Big Band, to make mirth of their foreshortened futures.

Ostensibly, they gathered to erect a memorial of black granite and brass: an investment in eternity, an edifice more solid than the fickle flesh bestowed them.

But in truth, they came to reclaim the intimacy that war had given them, an intimacy born in dark and frigid tents; in makeshift games of baseball; in pickup quartets of faithful, hopeful song; in the innovation of desperate necessity; in fleeting lust and, sometimes, life. Theirs was the camaraderie of those who have known the brutality, the fearful allure, the graphic imagery of war. An intimacy that peace took from them. Yet, as they reminisced, they began to regain it, recounting common moments that ultimately defined the men they would become after their fifty bombing missions were complete.

Back then, in Dayton, they juxtaposed stories of the war with tales of the day, merging black and white with brilliant color — the unique vision of a generation slowly fading. The last generation to know without question the righteousness of going to war for a just and worthy cause.

They neglected their chicken dinners, too engaged in one another to take time to chew.

The gunner, who fifty years before had served his nation so well, rhapsodized over strange and fantastic conspiracies his government was purportedly perpetrating. And while he was at it, he was certain that the same had gone on during the war, for sure.

Others spoke of Hungarian girls, orphans of the war, who had waved from their pockmarked window ledges to two downed airmen awaiting return to their Italian base.

“Come up,” the girls had said. “Tell us of America.”

On a piano that couldn’t carry a tune and with the meager utensils of a war refugee’s kitchen, the soldiers had found the chords and rhythm of Captain Glenn Miller, the Dorsey brothers, Les Brown. And later, when the more innocent had been plied with his first French kiss, he had stammered to the girl, “We don’t do that where I come from!”

It could have been the war cry of his squadron.

484th Bomb Group insignia

One reunion couple, retired from the short-reined demands of a Lutheran congregation, told of traveling a world the minister had known as his battlefield. On maps once sectioned into quadrants and marked with bomb targets and flak batteries, they plotted routes to beautiful vistas and quaint villages where the scars of war had been covered by the detritus of two more generations.

Some vets spoke of the Italians, who embraced the airmen, loving the romantic heroes as only the Italians could, teaching them their language. They used B-24 Liberators as blackboards, imparting to the bombers — crew and bird alike — the critical phrases of communication: Buon giorno. Good day. Come sta? How are you? Quanto casta? How much? And, most important to the young warriors: Volete venire a passeggio con me? Will you take a walk with me?

Back then, in Dayton, the airmen had pooled their funds — from slight and abundant sources — to send scholarships to the descendants of their Italian hosts, the grandchildren of the Torretta Airfield.

The grateful students wrote, “Our grandfathers remember what you did for them during the war and they are very proud of having known such courageous and generous men. Loyalty, courage, friendship: This is the message we get from you, and we want to continue.”

But back then, in Dayton, the bombardier turned actuary gave the 484th only another eight years or so to reconnect with one another, to share their stories, to recapture their youth, to enjoy the freedoms for which they flew so bravely.

No matter: He was wrong. The 484th’s numbers did dwindle, but they defied his gloomy projection.

Now, it is September 2010, a full fifteen years since Dayton, and seventeen veterans of the World War II Army Air Corps’ 484th Bomb Group, 49th Wing, 15th Air Force, are reunited in Houston, Texas.

Now, too precious to be motley, too extraordinary for their ordinary lives, these heroes have progressed further into their oldth. A few remain sprightly, but most are a bit more hobbled by age; a few more widows represent them; some bear second and third generations. And all are ready to drink to their own and the world’s past, to boogie to the digital sounds of DJ Ben Avery, himself, a Vietnam veteran, who brought home a Purple Heart and appreciation for the comforts of music.

Now, the airmen — having no more memorials to erect, no more plaques to remind the future that they existed — come knowingly to be together, to lend poignant voice to quiet pieces of themselves, to imprint their past on three generations of progeny, to prove they indeed survived the memories that stay with them, that are always with them.

They nibble their dinners and march tentatively into their tales.

A pilot talks of flying in formation and watching the plane barely to the left and below him disintegrate with the crew aboard. Just like that. Even now, sixty-six years later, he remembers the horrible wonder of it.

“I’m a jack of all trades,” says another, “and a master of none. Except flying an airplane. And I can’t do that anymore.”

They are begrudgingly distracted by “Say whats?” by dessert, by politics.

“Obama has ruined the country,” says one.

“Hey, he’s our commander-in-chief!” says another.

Which president has most abused his power, a grandson wonders.

“George W. Bush?” suggests one.

Lunch at Texas A&M

“LBJ,” says another without missing a beat. No matter that Texas is his host.

A gunner tells of a hospital nurse, tending to his wife just a few years ago. A Hungarian child of the war, she asked if he had stories of her battlefield, and she recounted her own — of awaking from a blast to find the woman whose hand she held was dead.

“The poor, helpless soul. Just ten or twelve then,” he says. “I created hell for her. I felt so bad, all I could do was hug her. All I could do was hug her.”

And the conversation curves back toward comfort, to things new and intriguing, to computers and space shuttles, Blackberries and that texting thing young people are doing.

“The iPad, my son got one,” says the engineer. “That’s an interesting device, but, no, I don’t have one.”

Some of them have taken to email. Others don’t bother. Why should they? That’s not the sort of thing that would have kept them alive over Germany or Austria, Hungary or Romania, Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia, France or Italy. It took something more than technology. …

After the final meal, after a last tale or two, after naming those long and newly departed, they commit to one more reunion, at least one more — to again defy the actuary’s projection.

Then they head for home. Embraced in one another’s hearts. Some determinedly on their own. Some in the tow of their offspring. All soaring, nonetheless, all soaring.

And it is a beautiful day to be in the air.

Love,
K-B

©2010 Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Note: This is an update of a column originally published by the San Diego North County Times on September 25, 1995.