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Interviewing Death

Monday, July 12, 2010

Recently, a friend asked me about my time in Korea.

He is about the same age and was in Korea in the 1960's. So I couldn't have been in the Korean War? Right? And was I letting others think that? Other combat veterans? Disabled American Veterans?

I explained I have never tried to hide the fact that I was in Korea after the conflict, from early 1961 through late 1962. I was a journalist and photographer. That, and nothing more. No combat.

But, I began to examine the guilt I have always felt about that. 

My friend mentioned he never felt that guilt and knew many others who didn't. I think he might have been put off a little bit by my comment.

There are certainly some who do not feel guilt about not participating in actual combat. I apologize for that remark.

I do, however. 

Feel guilt.

And that's part of the baggage I carry around. It's one of the smaller boxes.

Baggage defines us, I think. It is neither good nor bad. It simply is what it is. And , believe me, I certainly have some larger crates dragging behind me. I think we need some of these things, for it delineates our character. Every crack, crevice, wart and smudge.

Now, granted, there is some junk we should be rid of. And only we who carry them know what those are.

My father begrudged his 4F status during WW2. It made him feel left out, in a way. Something less then a man.  He came from a large family with 6 brothers, and a brother-in-law; all who entered the service and fought. But it just wasn't that sense of alienation and the looks from people in town when he walked by (he had a bad heart and "bad teeth"). He also never got a chance to "start up" again after it was all over under the financial cover of the GI Bill. A lot of guys furthered their education and bought houses after the war.

He didn't. He had to do it all on his own. Call it pride or selfishness, but that bothered him a lot.

That has never been my problem. My problem is the hollowness of isolation and the ability to not be able to share experiences with others that have been through more then I will ever know.

I was a journalist. It would have been the thrill of a lifetime to have been able to be there in 'Nam and report what I saw.

To look death in the face and interview him. God. What a rush that would have been!  Even now, after all those years, I secretly yearn to be on the edge of battle and tell others about it through my own eyes. I can't state it any more clearly then that..

But, I was 18. I thought I would never die. And I know others did. Even photographers and reporters. It was pure self-delusion and self-absorption on my part.

And, if I had wanted to, I could have re-upped and asked for a transfer to South East Asia. But I had grown older in those few years. I talked to too many guys who had seen the elephant.

No.  Nothing shot over my head, except an occasional beer bottle from Ed, a drunken, drafted writer from the Chicago-Sun Times.

Boy. Now there was a guy who was pissed!

I wandered into North Korea once. I was lucky. I'm still here.

A lot of guys aren't, and I feel guilty.






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It was 1960 and I was fresh out of high school. I had left rock and roll behind for a while after Dave Guard and the Kingston Trio crept up to whack me with a "Tom Dooley"-stick in 1957. Then came "The Brothers Four", "The Highway Men" and "The New Christie ." and I was hooked. I joined the Army because Uncle Sam promised he would send me to Public Information School to learn journalism, photography and a smattering of radio broadcasting. Hootenany was in the air. I followed my favorites, including the heart-breaking clear voice of Joan Baez to Korea while I wrote for "The Cavalier" and "The Stars and Stripe". I was a correspondent and photographer. Then it was on to New Mexico where I found "Peter, Paul and Mary", early" Bob Dylan" and some scratchy "Jimmy Rodgers"('The Singing Brakeman'). I bought my first guitar while I was producing radio programs for "White Sands Missile Range" and learned a few chords. I recorded a few live concerts, using purloined equipment in Coffee houses through the Southwest. Places like "The Don Quixote" in El Paso, Texas. And I listened to performers, gaining knowledge along the way. When I got out, the 60's and ྂ's came hurtling at me, dressed with songs from new writers and performers. I went to broadcasting and drama school for a season in Boston and began to listen to the likes of Dylan, Tom Rush, Dave Van Ronk, Donovan, Mark Spoelstra, Patrick Skye, Jim Kweskin and Phil Ochs. I traded my $30 red and black Stella for a Gibson and began haunting places like the "Unicorn" plus "Club 47" in Cambridge and numerous clubs in New Hampshire. Then a group called "The Beatles" changed my view on everything. I became lead singer and rhythm guitarist in a band called, "The Notables". I bought a more expensive Gibson and an electric 12 string. We did 'Stone's' covers and 'Lovin' Spoonful'. I plunged into James Brown. A 22 year old white kid doing James Brown. I was nothing if not audacious. I went into commercial radio in a small market station back in NH. I wrote news, sports, rip and read weather off the teletype and interviewed everyone from William Shatner to Eugene McCarthy.and George Gobel. I got another twelve string. I got married. I acquired 4 children, and lost everything in the war. And I stopped playing for awhile. Then I met my passion. The love of my life. We married. We produced 5 children together. I was writing in earnest, after I began a spriritual journey. I started telling stories. Childrens tales, Anansi, Coyote and all the worlds mythical characters were part of a woven tapestry I still am adding to today. A friend gave me a Martin D35. Another gave me a Yamaha acoustic/electric 12 string. A few months back I sort of 'retired'. That's another way of saying I was let go. It was then I received my 'Dana Fligg' long neck banjo and am now writing for a local literary mag. I sold the Martin. I bought a Washburn acoustic/electric. My wife gave me a fire-engine red solid body Epiphone electric. I have five beautiful grandchildren. There is much more to say and much more to sing about, but I am glad to have found this place.

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