Friday, August 27, 2004

CB, Pop-Pop & GI Joe

What is it about GI Joe that entices little boys with every fiber of their being? My house is full of them. Barbie-sized ones with full paraphernalia, small action-figure sized ones that fit in the Chinook with the jeep in the hatch, some with parachutes that my boys keep throwing out the second floor bathroom window and the DVDs…with women drawn in Marvel Comic fashion with…well, quite endowed. They want fatigues for back-to-school, camouflage underwear and ‘army boots’. Mason had a mohawk for 3 months because that’s what his favorite Joe had…now he’s ‘bald’ because that’s what his new favorite GI has.

I was marveling at the obsession as I cleaned the playroom earlier...putting each Joe back into his respective vehicle with his respective weapon cache. Is this true of all little boys, or are these the boys that end up enlisting one day? As I hung parachute Joe from his special hook I remembered something I hadn’t thought about in years. When we were young, Justrose and I would sneak into my parent’s bedroom, put on a Bill Cosby record (usually ‘To my Brother Russell Whom I Slept With’) and look through my Dad’s Vietnam photos. This was something I did quite often. I don’t know why, but I was drawn to those pictures. I was also drawn to his medals, which I pinned to his field jacket along with his braids and wore all through high school (ignoring his protests that you would never put these things on a field jacket)…along with his dog tags on a hoop earring-- after Janet Jackson started wearing a key on hers. I lost almost every one…the medals…gone.

Aside… (About the time that Operation Iraqi Freedom started, I started thinking about those medals. How horrible that I had treated something that was earned with sweat and blood in such a careless manner. I was on a mission to recover each and every one. I began a 14 month campaign of calling, emailing, faxing and begging to retrieve what I had lost. In the end I was able to get all but three. Three of the medals had been awarded by the Republic of Vietnam and could not be re-issued by the U.S. Army. I gave them to my Dad for Father’s Day in a black velvet shadow box with his standard-issue Army photograph and one of him and some buddies in the barracks. Of course, I put a poem on the back politely stating that I expected them back upon his demise…)

A fellow blogger stated that we were ‘using’ CB. I thought a lot about that statement today. I know that he meant we were using him to justify our position on the War in Iraq, but that wasn’t it –at least not for me. I was using him for information. His posts were like a daily fix and I always wanted to know more. This is the ultimate test of man –what will you do under fire? What will you do when faced with your own mortality? Do you think only about survival? Your family? Your girl? I have never had my moral fiber truly tested and I am often amazed to see what can emerge under these conditions.

A few days ago in Philly two firemen were killed. They went into a basement where a guy was growing pot plants and because of the heat lamps and bad wiring –it was ripe for a fire. The story that has been released is that one of the firemen got his pack tangled in the electrical cords and couldn’t free himself as his oxygen ran low. He was in the basement with a Captain and a rookie. The Captain told the rookie to follow the hoses out and he stayed there with his man that was trapped…and died there with his man that was trapped.

Is this the root of the GI Joe obsession? Is Joe the embodiment of all those good qualities that enable men to fight for those they have never met, to steel themselves against the things that no one should ever see and to die beside their men?

Army men littering the playroom floor… little girls sneaking to look at the shiny medals from a war they never knew… strangers flocking to the website of a poetic soldier in the heart of Mosul… hundreds crowding into funeral homes to salute two firemen who shouldn’t have died...

Justice and Mason were awed to learn that their Pop-Pop was “an ARMY man before he was a FIREMAN…” (Whispered by Justice in a reverent tone)

We’re not using them –we respect them, we are in awe of them. Most of all we don’t understand them…and we want to –we want to know that we also would rise to the occasion if it was asked of us.

To all the GI Joes that read this blog –thank you for all you have done, all that you would have done…and for the squeals of delight you give my boys when you salute them as you drive by in your massive canvas covered trucks.


92Alpha said...

In his mind, that old firefighter thinks that he still looks like that young soldier. He never thought he was awe-inspiring. He was simply doing what he had to do. Awed and immensely proud is how he feels when he reads his daughter's blog.

justrose said...

92Alpha, I still remember many of your stories, which you told us as we hiked through the icy woods of Valley Green, or when we made you step into muck to capture turtles for us at Nockamixon. Thank you. And thank you, ALa71, for writing such a beautiful tribute . . . those firefighters, and their courage, have been on my mind since that sad day.

91ghost said...

2 to 1 that your boys will enlist (or perhaps, if they don't party much in High School, go to West Point).

exfbonnie said...

This post is very beautiful. And then I teared to know that the first comment I read was that of your father.

~Jen~ said...

OMG. My parents had that Cosby album too! I used to listen to it all the time!!!! Did you ever hear the “Bill Cosby is a very funny fellow...Right" album? That one is my favorite. “Little tiny hairs…growin’ out my FACE!!!!”…and the stuff about Noah and the ark… Gosh I love that man.

I am betting Justice and Mason will enlist too! :)

Your Dad sounds like an amazing fellow. Happy to see you posting here Sir!

Great post, as always Ala71.

leftyjones said...

Great post Ala71.
Although I must admit seeing those pictures of your dad reminds me of being 17 and feeling fairly confident that one day he might just kick my ass.
When you see him, (or he sees this) thank him for being patient with a teenage dope who thought he knew everything.

P.S.- I actually DO know everything but I didn't figure it all out until I turned about 30.

riceburner147 said...

"The belt was 10 feet long, six feet wide.......and had meat hooks in it" Bill Cosby

Tammi said...

Beautiful tribute. And you're right. We are drawn to that mystical quality of confidence. We wonder if we "have what it takes" and admire those that do.

My sister is a firefighter - so I have a bit of an understanding on those hero's also.

You're a very lucky lady. 2 boys that have such wonderful role models.

Thank you for sharing this.

Cigarette Smoking Man from the X-Files said...

There is a huge and diverse pool of motivations that I think most of us had in the military, for doing what we did (and that others are still doing).

In 1982 I was the young, eager, G.I. Joe-playing kid who had reached the ripe old age of 19 and wanted to put my life on the line to stop Soviet aggression wherever it might pop up in the world. Yet I wanted to do it part-time so I joined the Guard instead of active duty, so I could also go to college while being on "stand by" to go to war if it ever became necessary. We got a call-up once, going to Fort Bliss (inappropriately named), Texas, to be ready to go in if needed as reinforcements in the Grenada operation. We didn't get the call though--just got sunburn and severe boredom in the Texas desert. The gung-ho eager warrior kid in me was disappointed, while the Vietnam vets who were in my unit told me to lighten up--it was NOTHING to be disappointed about, and that I should count my blessings we didn't have to go. We picked up our helicopters and flew back home.

Shortly after that I lost interest in military adventure and desired to pursue civilian adventure (largely due to readings of Hunter S. Thompson). I went to Tahiti and got a job at a resort hotel there, and civilian type adventures were had by all. And there was much rejoicing.

Then I had a bit of a disagreement with the French government over my visa status in Tahiti, and the end result was that I had to fly to Hawaii with very little cash in pocket and try to build a new life. Jobs in 1986 in Hawaii were pretty much non-existent unless you had a chauffeur's license and/or were fluent in Japanese, and I started to include military recruiters in my job searches. I ended up joining the Air Force, active duty, almost entirely out of, well, needing a JOB. Employment.

The first eight years I was in the AF, I did see it as a job, and I did work hard. Lots of sweat; lots of long hours; lots of grease (I was a C-130 crew chief); refuels, defuels, changing brakes, all in all, heavy lifting. BUT, no danger. Not combat danger, anyway. (I wouldn't exactly call a spinning turbojet propeller "safe"!) These were peacetime missions--training flights, milk runs, cargo transport to overseas, et al. After a while it just got boring. I wanted more. The old itch for action that I had when I was younger, started to crop back up. So I contacted a friend who had gone on to a Special Ops unit, and had him put in a recommendation for me. I got a transfer to the 8th Special Operations Squadron, 16th Special Operations Wing, at Hurlburt Field, Florida. There, my world completely and utterly changed.

It was like "9 to 5 warfare". We'd leave at o'dark 30, fly out to somewhere in Latin America, push Rangers out the back, and fly back. Or we'd fly out, land on a dirt strip, load up the rangers that had completed their mission, and then fly back. Most missions were uneventful like that at first. Then later on the "Drug War" heated up, and all that I really knew about what was going on was that the Ranger units were having some trouble, with casualties flowing back on return flights, and some units were going to be on longer-term deployments to some forward bases "in country". I got sent to run a FARP (Forward Area Refueling Point) in one of the areas of operation, with some Combat Controllers and two PJs (Para-rescue Jumpers). The only real security we had in the jungle area there was our camouflage netting as concealment, and our M-16s. You don't feel so awfully high and mighty when you know there are only about ten of you in a place where tens of thousands WOULD kill you if they knew where you were. Long story short, there were some skirmishes, some combat kills, some very close calls, and I wanted the hell out of there with every fiber of my being. Any shred or semblance of the young eager warrior punk wanting to go and "kick ass", was gone. I WANTED out of there, but I didn't show any indication of wanting to be replaced at the FARP. I think that was the essence of "doing what you have to do, in spite of the fear". I just concentrated on my refueling jobs when there were those to do, focusing on not shaking as I blocked in the refueling MC-130Es and the rotary-wing crew chiefs blocked in the helicopters needing refueled.

Then there was time spent with the Air Forces of certain Latin American nations, and I'd prefer not to talk about any of that. I'll just say that those experiences changed me even more.

After just short of two years in Special Ops I was ready to go back to "the real Air Force", and found a relatively cushy job in "Manpower and Quality". I could no longer look at even that job as "just a job" though, especially from the experiences I had had, and I did my number-crunching with the full understanding that life or death could hang on whether I got the statistical analysis right. I and two others Manpower Analysts who had come from combat backgrounds started to show up to the office in BDUs instead of AF blues, and when questioned on that by our Colonel we would respond that we were war-fighting in what we did. When we went into the MANPER-B room with its insulation against electronic eavesdropping, and downloaded war plans from the Pentagon, we were fighting future wars. When we number-crunched the plans to translate mission requirements into numbers of positions of the various AFSCs (analogous to MOS in Armyspeak), we were fighting future wars. When we hand-carried our plan requirements to the Personnel officers on base, to identify chaulk positions and shortfalls from personnel records, we were fighting future wars. We took it seriously because we knew that not having enough people to do a job under fire would be just as bad as running out of ammunition or employing disastrous tactics.

So the motivation I had driving me through military years had transformed from youthful desire for action, to just earning a paycheck, back to desire for action, and then from there toward really wanting to make a difference such that the "Band of Brothers" would have a better chance of making it home alive. I didn't want anything to do with "medals". I didn't want to be a "hero". I didn't show up in a combat zone with a video camera to film my exploits to parade in front of people at political conventions years later. And I didn't make up stories about how badly my fellow American service men and women were allegedly behaving out in the field. I didn't inspire our enemies with encouragement and propaganda in their favor. If I ever had an issue with any of the things I saw people do (and I did), I brought them to the attention of my commanders, using the chain of command. I never received an unlawful order from any of them, and so no, I didn't commit any war crimes.

I think the most important thing you can teach those "G.I. Joe" boys right now is that combat action in defense of freedom or our survival as a nation, is the right thing to do; and that combat action to build up some plausible credibility toward doing serious damage to this country later, like Kerry did, would be the wrong thing to do. But then, I think you probably already have that covered. ;)

92Alpha said...

I agree with what you said about doing what you have to do in spite of fear.
Being a combat veteran of VN and now in my 31st year as a firefighter, I have heard men say that they were never afraid. I catagorize these people in either of two ways. They are crazy, or they are liars. I tell new recruits that courage is not the absence of fear; it is the ability to act in spite of one's fear.

92Alpha said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
ALa said...

92Alpha -your comment posted twice -so i took one off for you.

That's a great quote! I'll be sure to steal it...

Smokin6 said...

Semper Fidelis.
You get it.
God Bless.

redleg said...


I just put my father's medals together from WWII. He never got anything but the ribbons when he was discharged in '46. or 1-800-308-0849, they should have the VN Gov't medals

Good luck and great thoughts today. It is and always was about service. I am scared every time I jump (perhaps not as much anymore which is more dangerous in itself), but I still do it. If you are not scared doing something dangerous whatever it is for some very good reasons, you simply should not be doing it. At least, I don't want you there with me. The old adage- never get in a foxhole with anyone braver than you.

redleg said...

And if you can't get the medals through them I can special order them through clothing sales

Medals awarded should be displayed proudly. My fathers with his jump wings are over my fireplace.