Monday, November 21, 2005

Remembering what it means to be "thankful"

Dear Reader:

I’m pleased to share with you a guest blog from my client Ron Winter, author of
Masters of the Art, which will soon be shipping from Presidio Press.

Perhaps I’m just emotional from a long weekend (more on that later), but I was genuinely moved by this and am reminded that this Thanksgiving I have a lot to be grateful for and that there are those who are far less fortunate than I am. Though I’m currently out of town, I’m planning to make a blood donation when I return to New York, and hopefully to also register to be a bone marrow donor. Won’t you do the same, in celebration of all we have to be thankful for?

Z
____________________________

Although I frequently lecture and write about the Vietnam War, and my book Masters of the Art is based on my service there, I don’t have a repository of dates locked in my mind that steadily surfaces like a mental file folder reminding me of long ago battles and death.

But on Thanksgiving Day every year I make it a point to stop for a moment and remember one day, and one comrade. On Thanksgiving Day in 1968 I volunteered to fly gunner as helicopters from my squadron, HMM-161, delivered hot turkey dinners to our Marine infantry in outposts and firebases all over northern I Corps. There was little action to speak of that day, and I was not involved in any firefights, so none of the flights were classified as combat missions. Just a long, long day delivering canisters of meat, potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce and even cases of beer, to give the grunts a brief respite from the war.

I held no animosity about spending my entire day in a series of flights under leaden monsoon season skies. I knew what the grunts faced every day of that war and anything we could do to give them even the slightest break was fine by me. But after a day of seeing and smelling all that food, I was truly ready for a meal of my own by the time we returned to the air strip at Quang Tri. But a Thanksgiving dinner was not to be, at least not one prepared in a mess hall.

There had been a dinner. But it was consumed in its entirety by the troops who stayed back on the base that day. Little more than crumbs were left for those who had been flying. I returned to my hooch more than a little dejected, ready to curse out any and all who crossed my path and not at all looking forward to a meal of C-rations.

Enter a new guy, Billy Bazemore, only recently arrived from the states, who like me was a helicopter electrician, and like me was a volunteer helicopter machine gunner. New guys had little to no status in Vietnam, and usually deferred to the veterans on virtually all matters. But seeing the look on my face prompted Billy to question its origin, and then to offer a solution.

Reaching triumphantly under his cot, Billy dragged out a box that had arrived in the mail from home, containing a canned turkey, potatoes, carrots, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. To add to my amazement, I also had received a package, bearing a Sara Lee chocolate cake that had survived the voyage from The World intact.

Billy could have kept his stash secret. He could have squirreled it away and hoarded it for himself. But he has a Marine and believed in the Marine code of sharing the contents of food packages from home. We spread the food out on boxes and proceeded to divvy it up among several other crewmen who also had returned to Quang Tri to discover there would be no dinner for them that day.

In short order, the dismal grayness of a monsoon day was forgotten, and probably for the first time in my life I truly understood the meaning of Thanksgiving.

Billy Bazemore’s life ended a few short months later, in a vicious firefight with the North Vietnamese. I can find the exact date if I want, but I would rather celebrate his life than his death. So this Thanksgiving, as our troops are once again fighting what suddenly is becoming yet another “unpopular” war, I will remember where they are and what they are enduring for those of us back home who will be warm, and secure and well fed because of their sacrifices.

And although I won’t share it with my family and friends because it is just too personal and private, I will find a moment to remember Thanksgiving Day, 1968, Quang Tri, Vietnam, and I’ll raise my glass to toast Billy Bazemore, a new guy who taught a lesson in Marine brotherhood to a veteran.

Ron Winter

2 comments:

AzGhostWriter said...

Ron,

Semper fi! What a wonderful memory to share with us. I too served in the Marines and will celebrate my 30th anniversary this December 31st.

Thanks for taking the time to remember our comrades. I wish you and your family the best during this season of remembrance.

Shadow said...

...as our troops are once again fighting what suddenly is becoming yet another “unpopular” war...

It is the war that is unpopular, not the troops. It was a great mistake back then to confuse the two; a mistake that I do not believe is being repeated now.

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