The first Wednesday of the month is IWSG (Insecure Writer’s Support Group) started by Alex Cavanaugh. Please visit the IWSG site, and this month’s co-hosts: C. Lee McKenzie, Rachel Pattison, Elizabeth Seckman, Stephanie Farris, Lori MacLaughlin, and Elsie Amata
I am always insecure when I encounter a gifted writer. Today I am happy to interview him: Terry Wilson.
I am pleased and honored today to present my interview with Terry Wilson, a man of wide experience, with a sense of humor, a knack with a pen, and an understanding of conflict, courage and resolution. I ‘met’ him through the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award fora, and always enjoyed his contributions.
I learned that Terry had written a book (at that time) set during the Kent State Massacre: The Blanket Hill Insurgency. Over the next several years he produced another also set during the Vietnam war but looking back to another war: Breaking Liberator’s Shackles . The Vietnam war was the event, as it was going on, and then afterward, that seemed to hang over my generation and form my society afterward.
Terry’s third book, Tarnished Valor, touches upon the Vietnam one more time.
I am happy to present my interview with Terry. Enjoy the excerpts from his books. I have inserted geotargeted links to his books (they will take you to whatever Amazon site you use) as well as links to my reviews. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.
You have done a great many things in your life -combat veteran, writer, devoted husband (you’ve done a lot of other things: what are they?) Which of them did you find the most challenging?
Six were seated around a large round table in Ray’s Place. Because of his shortly cropped hair, Jim stood out from others in the campus town tavern even though he wore civilian clothing. Richard, Linda, Jed, Ruth and Ann all agreed to spend the evening before the start of classes for the Winter Quarter having pizza and beer. It was something Jim had missed doing, in a campus tavern, since he graduated from Ohio State. Having just arrived, the conversation was mostly light and dominated by the upcoming weddings. Ruth was intrigued by the conversation, and Jed acted as though he didn’t notice her interest to everyone’s amusement.
It was revealed to Jim that Linda and Richard had become god parents. This led to Ann starting a more serious conversation.
“Their godson has parents who protest against Vietnam,” Ann said abruptly. “I can’t believe the lying they do to make our being there sound wrong.”
“Like what?” Jim asked.
“Kelly, the kid’s mother, said we intentionally destroy farmer’s crops. She said it has forced whole communities to move to city slums so they won’t starve.”
Jim reached out and grabbed Ann’s hand and said, “She’s not telling a lie. We are, but there’s a legitimate reason for it.”
Ann was shocked as she asked, “What?”
“The country has political divides, and there are large rural areas sympathetic to the North Vietnamese government. Many living in these farming communities are farmers during the day and grab weapons at night… sometimes during the day. They are the Viet Cong.”
Jim had everyone’s attention.
“The Cong have killed and wounded thousands of our soldiers. We target these communities by dropping a chemical on their fields. It’s called Agent Orange. It’s very effective in killing the crops, and without food, the people, rather than starving, move from the area, mostly to cities where slums have sprung up. I feel sorry for the people, but it has probably saved thousands of American lives.”
“There’s no other way?” Ann asked.
“Short of our leaving, I doubt it.”
“So we should leave?” Linda asked.
“No Linda… that’s not what I’m saying. A majority… most of the South Vietnamese people support their government. If we left, they could not stop the country from falling to communist rule. I agree with our being there, and I would hate to see us pull out before we complete our mission. Three men in my platoon died for the cause. I’d hate to see their sacrifice go in vain.”
“Couldn’t we just find the farmers that are the Viet Cong?” Ruth asked. “Why should whole communities have to suffer?”
“Most of what my platoon did was called search and destroy missions. Our job was to find the Cong. We’d search hamlets and farms looking for signs of enemy activity. We’d look for stashes of weapons and ammunition along with tunnels they would conceal themselves in. We were successful in identifying some of the Cong, but we never knew if the next person, be it a man, woman or child would be the next to aim a weapon at one of us.”
“Child?” Ruth exclaimed.
“Yes. Hundreds… maybe thousands of children fight with the Cong. Following the firefight where two of my men died, we surveyed the Cong that were killed. Along with twelve men there were three children probably between ten and twelve years old. All were clutching A.K. Forty-Sevens.”
At that moment one of two coeds who were seated at an adjacent table walked over to Jim and slapped him across his face as she screamed, “BABY KILLER!”
Jim simply looked at her and did not say a word as the bartender raced to the table from behind the bar.
“What’s going on here?” he barked at the coed.
“He’s a baby killer.”
Looking at Jim the bartender asked, “What’s she talking about?”
“She must have overheard part of our conversation. I’ve just returned from Vietnam, and I was…”
“You don’t need to say another word,” the bartender said to Jim. He addressed the coed. “You… young lady… get out of this bar. I don’t need your kind of trouble in here.”
The coed and her friend left without arguing.
The bartender shook Jim’s hand and announced, “Welcome home. This table’s tab is on me.” He lowered his voice and continued, “My brother was killed in the Iron Triangle.”
Jim stood up and embraced the bartender, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
My excitement was intense. I couldn’t wait to see Doug. Since he was inducted into the army, this was only the second time he came home. He had a two week leave the past Christmas holiday.
The drive into and through Cleveland to Hopkins Airport seemed to take forever. Traffic was very slow moving because of road congestion caused by a rare Saturday Cleveland Browns’ game. This was actually my first trip to the airport. At Christmas Doug traveled by bus, and when we dropped him off the day he entered the army, he left on a train from the Terminal Tower station. We could see the tower dominating the skyline as we crept along on the crowded inner-belt of the expressway.
Eventually we arrived about a half hour before the scheduled arrival of Doug’s plane. Emma and I found our way to a gate on Concourse A where Doug’s plane was scheduled to unload. We waited, with a handful of others for a United flight from Washington National Airport. I was surprised that what was referred to as a gate was a second story waiting area with regular doors identified with gate numbers. Between these doors were large expanses of windows through which we could watch the commercial jets as they arrived or departed. It amazed me how aviation had advanced since my days in the Army Air Corp. I watched as a jet taxied to an adjacent gate.
I pointed to the jet as I addressed Emma, “Look at that.”
We watched a motorized enclosed and moveable telescoping ramp that was connected to the building being moved into position at the door of the jet. The passengers were provided direct access into the terminal while protected from outdoor weather conditions.
About a minute later a much smaller aircraft pulled up outside of the window. Rather than a jet, it had a single motor and propeller mounted on each wing. My mind screamed at me. Except for the porthole windows to the passenger cabin, it was the same type of aircraft I flew on during my return trip to the States following my imprisonment. The plane was a DC-3, a commercial version of a C-47 Skytrain, a military cargo plane.
Rather than connecting with a movable walkway, a set of steps was wheeled into position at the cabin door of the plane. I watched in anticipation as passengers exited and descended the stairs to the pavement and walked toward the terminal. It wasn’t long before Doug appeared.
“There he is,” Emma stated. Tears of emotion were trickling from her eyes.
“That’s our son,” I replied. “He really looks sharp.” It wasn’t an exaggeration. The way he wore his uniform was a sight to see. The khaki uniform had what appeared to be razor sharp creases. The pants were neatly tucked into the tops of highly polished black leather boots. Sergeant stripes dominated the short sleeves of his shirt, and a deep-green beret crowned the top of his erectly held head.
Doug disappeared from sight as he entered a door to the terminal building, and I noticed those who exited the plane in front of him started to enter the waiting area through the door labeled with the gate number. I grabbed Emma’s hand and led her toward the door. I felt lumps in my throat, and I was filled with pride when Doug appeared. Emma raced to him and engulfed him with a passionate hug. The smile on Doug’s face was electrifying, and then he leaned over and kissed his mother’s forehead. I wished I would have brought a camera with me to catch the moment.
Once Emma released her hold on our son, Doug extended his hand to me and stated, “Great to see you sir.”
I accepted his firm handshake and responded, “Great to have you home Doug.” I then took my other arm and wrapped it around him in a hug. “You don’t need to call me sir. Dad is fine.”
Doug laughed and stated, “It’s my military training.” He quickly looked around and asked, “Where’s Mary?”
Emma answered, “Someone had to milk the cows. She wanted to be here.” Emma then realized Doug left the plane without any baggage. “Don’t you have luggage?”
“We’ll have to pick it up at the baggage claim area. I was told it will probably be about a half an hour before it’s there.”
“So…” Emma stated. “We have some time to kill,”
“Let’s catch a beer,” I offered. “I saw a small tavern along the concourse on our way in.”
“Sounds like a great plan,” Doug stated.
(My review is HERE.)
I have just arrived in Philadelphia at the Thirtieth Street Station. Following the hassle of getting myself off the train and to the taxi stand in front of the terminal… had to negotiate barriers with my chair… I feel the chill of an early morning wind. I am cold. My field jacket doesn’t have a liner, and I left my sweater with Judy.
I roll my chair to a taxi, and I can see the driver look at me, but he doesn’t seem interested in giving me a ride. I tap on the passenger side window, and he takes his time lowering it.
“I need a ride to Carver High School.”
He stares at me. I have the impression he’s about to refuse me a ride.
“Do you have twenty dollars?”
“You’ll need to pay me up front.”
I take a twenty-dollar bill from my wallet and hand it to his outstretched hand. He gets out of the car and helps me into the back seat and hands me my crutch. He folds my wheelchair and places it in the trunk along with my knapsack. Once he returns to the car and pulls away, he asks, “You’re sure you want to go to Carver this early in the morning? I doubt if it’s open yet.”
“I do.” I decide to take a verbal jab at him for his rudeness. “This is my first time in Philly. In almost every other city taxi drivers collect after reaching the destination. It’s different here.”
“Can’t be too safe. I’ve been burned once by a vagrant, and I’m not about to be burnt again.”
“I’m not a vagrant.”
“Can’t tell that by looking at you.”
I rub my face with the palm of my hand and realize I need a shave. I’m wearing an old Army field jacket and trousers with a dirty knee caused by yesterday’s crawl up the Capitol steps. I’m minus a leg, and I realize I probably look like a vagrant. I haven’t had a shower, so I probably smell like one too.
“Yeah… I probably look pretty bad. I’m from Cleveland and flew to D.C. yesterday. I planned on being back home by now, but my plans changed. I didn’t pack a change of clothing, a razor or toothbrush.”
“Why were you in our nation’s Capital?”
“I joined a large number of other disabled to crawl up the Capitol steps. It was a protest to encourage Congress to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
“I saw that on the news last night. They showed this little girl…”
“Jennifer Keelan. She was amazing. I crawled up just behind her.”
“Watching her choked me up.”
“She’s an amazing kid.”
The traffic is fairly heavy, and I’m amazed to see the flow of vehicles blocked by trucks making deliveries by double parking on the street as they are unloaded. Back in Ohio this would never happen without tickets being issued by the police. What’s even more interesting is how traffic will get by these temporary roadblocks. Cars, where they can, quickly drive over the curbs onto the sidewalks to pass.
We pass areas with large numbers of people wrapped in blankets sleeping on sidewalks. This leads me to comment.
“I’ve never seen so many homeless. Is it like this during the really cold nights?”
“Always. You’ll notice some of them are lying where steam is rising from under them. They have the warmest location on top of manhole covers to the city’s steam pipe tunnels.”
After we pass Temple University, we turn off of a wide boulevard onto a side street, and the driver comments, “Carver High School is just a few blocks ahead. Why are you going there?”
“I’m looking for a good friend I served with in Vietnam. I thought he was killed. After I finished the crawl up the Capitol steps, I visited the Vietnam Memorial. His name wasn’t on the Wall.”
The driver is silent until he stops the car in front of Carver High School. “We’re here. I hope you find your friend.”
“I do too.”
What started you writing at all?
These are fascinating parts of our history. It's a shame most schools stick to the Revolution and the Civil War (or at least they did when I was a student). Thank you for this interview.
What an amazing list of stories. My grandpa was called to duty in WWII, as an electrician, he was asked to go to Ohio (near Kent State) to work on war planes, etc. He would also be quick to point out he served but never saw combat. I always thought it was because he was an awesomely humble guy who respected those who saw combat and didn't give enough credit to his service.
What an interesting interview, especially the part about being at Kent State during that period of turmoil. I like how Terry wants to help younger people understand what the times of their parents and grandparents were like. Thanks for sharing!