22 November 2009


My father and his shirtless team sergeant visit the Koreans. Vietnam 1966

A few years ago my father and I sat on my patio after dinner and discussed my job, which was and still is in sales. "I could never sell anything." he told me. He said it in a disparaging way... like sucking the words through his teeth. I knew he had visions of me in a white short sleeve button down with a navy clip on tie calling strangers on the phone and asking them for money. I mean, I have those images of me -- I don't know why he shouldn't.

But I was defensive and replied, "I couldn't sell a golf ball in a pro shop." He shot me an odd look. "Dad, all I really do is solve problems and build relationships." I added, "And I really enjoy the relationship part. Meeting someone, solving their problems and getting to know them. That's what it's about. Selling is nothing compared to the friendships I've built over years. That's why I do it."

My father nodded. "I did the same thing in the army. In Vietnam we built relationships with the people. We taught them to grow strawberries which they then sold to the army. We taught them to make clay roof tiles which later adorned officer's clubs and we helped them farm fish by providing A.I.D. Bulgar wheat as fish feed because no sane person would ever eat it."

Consequently, when the NVA put a regiment on a mountain over looking my father's small Special Force's camp, those same locals told my father what was going on with the NVA. I imagine a lot of lives were saved.

A few years later, my mother told me of a parents -teacher meeting at my first grade class at Ft Bliss. She said that while other children's work sat on their desks for their parents to inspect - - my desk was bare. "He doesn't do the work." the teacher said. "Don't get me wrong. He's just too busy talking to everyone. He loves it here. He's very social and trust me...there are kids who do their work and they don't want to be here."

Oddly enough, I fell into a line of work that's suitable for that six year old. Relationships are everything to me. It's comforting to know they were important for my father as well.

11 November 2009

The Officer & The NCO

The Major is on your left. The NCO is on the right. I worked for both of these men and they came from very different places. The Major was from New York City. Erudite and sophisticated...we both shared very close quarters for a 30 day exercise where he told me drinking stories from his college days and shared his future plans with me - - which didn't include the Army. Jump Pay: $110 a month

The Master Sergeant was from Arkansas. That unlit cigar you see never left his mouth and when added to his accent made him impossible to understand. He was the best jumpmaster I ever had and while every jump scared the shit outta me - - I always felt safe with him. He didn't have stories about college but stories were told about his dark drinking days in Vietnam and Germany which were long past. Jump Pay: $55 a month

The four years I spent in the Army do not qualify me as a veteran. With hindsight, they were some the most formative years of my life thanks to men like these and for that I owe the Army. But I also realize I was lucky and someone was watching out for me. And that's as it should be. After all, it was the family business.