Friday, June 01, 2007

Superstition Ride - - - Day 3 (morning)

UPDATE: I just got an email from the folks I ordered computer stuff from. It has been shipped. In the meantime with muchos thankos to The God of All Ropers for the use of his machine I am publishing the draft of the ride which was in works before the crash. It should only be a few more days before we are back up and running at the ranch.

I don't know when I finally drifted off to sleep. I woke up right before dawn being nudged by Rosalita who was looking for an oat ration, or some licorice. There was a pennywhistle in my lap. Silas was snoring, that was music enough for the morning. I put out some alfalfa pellets which were roundly ignored then dipped out a measure of oats for each horse. These were greeted with enthusiasm. I took some oats for Silas and I, built the fire back up and began to fry some bacon. Silas woke up as soon as all the work was done and it was safe for him to open his eyes. He thanked me for my efforts and I smiled. I said "I was thinking we could move camp before the sun gets an angle on us. It's feeling like a hot one today." He agreed that this was most likely the prudent course to take and wandered off. I began to pack stuff up and get the saddles ready. Then I brushed the horses down and got the hooves picked and checked, then the blankets, then the saddles. The final saddle was on and cinched, one last check to make sure that the balance was right on Sally's pack rig, by the time that was finished Silas was already on Ban Fai ready to go. We had about a five and a half mile trek ahead of us, mostly easy terrain. Rosalita was ready to move and set out at her favorite gait, the extended walk. It requires only a little more energy than a regular walk but the longer strides in the front, combined with an almost trotting rythym in the back make for a smooth, comfortable pace that literally eats the ground. Sally takes her membership in our little herd seriously. She has been wild and wants no part of that ever again. I know that she will keep in close contact with where ever Rosalita and I are. Silas knows where we're going and he'll probably show up once I've gotten things fixed up nicely. It is a beautiful morning, but I'm glad we got an early start for our move, there will be some serious heat coming down before we are done.

Our destination is a bend by a creek and a cliff face. That will give us some pretty decent shade from the afternoon sun. There is the foundation and crumbled stack of a chimney from a crew barracks. The main attraction for the ranch hands here is a run of easily accessable clay, softened by the running water of the creek. This was their brick factory. There is a brick beehive kiln that is still in pretty decent repair. It will do nicely for our sweat tonight. It has a natural clay floor, packed and hardened by years of use, better than concrete. There are some stands of mesquite and other woods lying around for the picking. The water will be fine to drink after giving a decent boil. There are various greens which promise some good stuff for dinner after we are finished.

I set about unrigging the horses and letting them busy themselves browsing through the various stands of vegetation. This is not something that Rosalita is real hip to, but Sally is a fountain of knowledge that she is happy to follow around and learn from. I check the kiln to make sure that it is still fairly solid. There are some places that are crumbling a bit. They will shore up nicely with some clay spread over them. I busy myself digging a pit for our fire near the creek. I line it with rocks that I push into the clay. I use a blanket to gather up some sand from the creek bed and make an area all around the fire pit that will not provide a place for any sparks to catch. Then I begin gathering wood. I have a pretty decent stack ready for us when Silas comes riding up. He's grinning ear to ear. I figure he's pleased with all the work I've been doing these last few hours. He says "Look what I found."

Behind him are some hikers. They are three young women and a young man. Silas says "They were so lost they weren't even scared by seeing an Indin on a horse out here in the Wild West." I introduce myself and realize that English is a third or fourth language for these folks. Turns out they are German students at ASU who have come up to do some hiking. They got caught up in the sightseeing end of their trip and began to take a series of wrong turns. They are way off where they intended to be. They are thirsty, hot, tired, and hungry. I start passing out water, point them toward the creek where they can cool off and tell them that there's plenty of food all around here, you only have to know what you are looking at.

They drink deeply, and begin to wander over to the cold running water of the creek. I start to break out some food. The man, who I will refer to as "Big Blonde Hans," sees the bacon slab and the jerky and says "I am vegetarian." I tell him that's fine back home, but these are the calories that are available right here and right now, it would be far more sensible to consume them and then return to your preferred diet once starvation has been avoided. I tell him that once I get things going we can go down to the creek and pull some cat-tails for some vegetarian calories. He seems to think that this is a good idea. I get some bacon slices going, along with a pot of water and we go down to the creek bank where Silas is flirting shamelessly with the girls.



Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Some Important Stuff From Andrew Sullivan

There has been a series of postings by Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic where he has produced documents that show the terms "enhanced interrogation" and other euphemisms for torture being coined by the Nazis.

Yep, that's where Bush, Cheney, and Gonzales, with some good high black leather boot action from Dr. (Ilsa the She-Wolf) Rice all took their cues from the anti-insurgency operations of the Germans in Holland, France, and Norway. With only a few differences, like for instance, the Nazis didn't allow waterboarding. It was considered too brutal.

And, by the way, the Nazis who were convicted of things like using stress positions, cold baths, and bog simple beatings were tried, convicted and sentenced, some with death.

The whole article is right here

big tip of the feathered cap to oddjob.


Monday, May 28, 2007

More Light Blogging Ahead

This time it is due to a "catastrophic hard drive failure." I am on it and have ordered the replacement gear. It will take a while for the new setup to be up, running and tested. Until then I am begging some processor time here and there. I should be back up and running as usual soon. I probably won't be any more attentive to regular posting. I'm a lazy git like that.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Memorial Day Thought

This memorial day I am setting aside all thoughts and emotions of politics to remember a very brave, very good young man.

I only knew Timmy for a couple of weeks. In my unit in Viet Nam we had a system where when somebody new came to us we would assign them a "sea daddy" who had been in country a while and would try to head off some of the mistakes a cherry would make in those first few critical days. The new guys were all called "cherry" until they had met one of two criteria. A confirmed kill, or a wound that required leaving the field and then returning. Until that, the name was cherry. Even worse, your name was the name of your sea daddy as "his cherry." My call sign and nickname was "Benny" so Timmy was "Benny's Cherry." To everybody but me. I never called him cherry. There was just something about him that charmed me.

I was a few months into my third tour by that time. The time in country had sort of sneaked up on me. My first tour was due to end right about the time we had started to really turn the tables on the gains the enemy had made in Tet, and quite frankly, I wanted to get some. Revenge, payback, all of that. I didn't want to leave when there was so much ass in the field left to kick. So I shipped over. By the end of my second tour there simply wasn't anywhere else in the world that I felt at home. Some of it was paranoid unhinged, some of it was grandiosity on my part. I felt that my experience, my status as a warrior which allowed me to pull rank on people that had higher pay grades but less field experience was something that I felt I could use to help my guys get home alive. My arrogance in that last year probably cost as many or even more lives than it saved. It is something that I will always wonder about. I was an old salt, a hardened vet and an efficient killer, all at the age of 22. Don't laugh. A 22 year old with almost three years of continuous combat is one of the oldest people you will ever meet.

Timmy was brought in on a supply chopper. I was running through my mental roster thinking who I could assign him with when he started talking to me. He talked about the training he had been through, he talked about his home. He kept talking. He finally paused for a breath and said "You don't talk much do you sir?" I told him I wasn't anybody's "sir" that he could call me "Benny" or anything else. I told him to come with me. We got him situated and I showed him around our little firebase.

Things like that were what was happening the first few days. I found myself both softening and warming to this eager young man. He was trying to head off his own cherry mistakes. When we got our first orders for the field he came to me and asked what he should be packing, if there was a special way it should be packed. Usually a cherry packs everything they have with them and would end up discarding things that might have been appropriate on some later trip because the weight of the excess and the jungle heat would begin to tell on him. I was impressed that Timmy was asking first rather than pretending that he already knew stuff. It showed humility and a desire to perform effectively rather than a desire to look good and impress anyone.

Our first time out in the boonies he did well. As a cherry his instructions were very basic and simple. "Stay close to me. I never want you more than two steps and an arm's reach away. And shut the fuck up." He seemed to grasp some of the more important concepts right away. He saw the hard won wisdom of things like staying off the trails, never walking right out into the open, walking in the filthy water and the muck of a paddy rather than on the dry berm. I was so pleased with his performance that first time out that I gave him permission to speak on the way back. I heard him talking with some of the team who were teasing him about being "Benny's cherry." They were filling him in on how some of them hadn't heard me say six words in a row for months at a time. Barney told him that he must be doing alright because "Benny's letting you live. That's something. He doesn't like anybody. Not even himself."

The night before our next turn in the boonies Timmy was able to use one of the senior NCO's Ham Radio gear to phone his mother back in New Orleans. I walked into the ComShack near the tail end of his call. He insisted that I talk to his mother. I assured her that her son was learning fast and that I was personally taking an interest in seeing that he was able to come home safely.

The next morning we were on a very standard patrol. We were going to make contact with some villagers who were friendly to us that had reported some NVA activity in our area.

Timmy was following all the rules I had taught him. He wasn't on the trails, he was walking carefully through the heavier brush. He stepped on a mine anyway. We all froze and began to carefully crawl to where he was. One leg was completely blown off and he was bleeding badly. I called to him to lie still. He didn't. He was screaming in pain and fear and he was trying frantically to locate his lower leg. He triggered another mine, this time with his torso. That killed him.

We carefully worked our way to his body without setting off any other mines. By that time a chopper with a medical team had landed nearby. All we were able to do was to get his entire body collected. The chopper team guys came and started to put Timmy into a body bag. I told them to stop. They looked at me in annoyance. That was as far as they went with their expression. I guess the look on my face suggested to them that silence was the safest course of action.

I put him into the bag myself. Slowly. Gently. Then, before transferring his torso to the bag, I took my canteen and a scrap of Timmy's field blouse. I washed his face and put his cap on. Then I handed his dog tags to the chopper crew. I told them "Thank you for that moment. Carry on."

I wrote to Timmy's family to tell them how sorry I was that their son had been killed. Later, once I was out and back in the world I stopped in to meet them and invite them to a show that I was playing there.

For a couple of weeks, in a brutal war zone, the presence of one young man made an impact on me that I doubt I have been able to describe. Just by being young and clean he drew me out of a very thick, hard shell that I had formed. By being an innocent he reminded me that there was still some innocence left in the world.

This memorial day I am not celebrating, I don't barbeque and carouse. I remember the kids like Timmy. I'll probably be on the phone with a couple of the guys I served with. We'll lie to each other and say how great things are. At least we know that we're lying. We don't buy our own bullshit anymore. We're all too old for that.