Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Better Than That Now by Dave Moyer

image of dave moyerIn a soldier's stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not that I'd become my enemy
In the instant that I preach
My pathway led by confusion boats
Mutiny from stern to bow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now.

--Bob Dylan
My Back Pages
Chapter 1
There is something about a funeral that inevitably sparks in one the need to reflect.

This whole thing started a long time ago. My name is Dan Mason, and nine years ago, I wrote an account of my life entitled Life and Life Only, under the pseudonym Dave Moyer. I took the title for the book from a Bob Dylan song called “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”.

I am now a full professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, in the Educational Policy Studies Department. I have been offered a number of administrative positions at this university and others, but they don’t interest me. I had enough of politics when Arne Duncan became President Obama’s Secretary of Education and asked me to serve on a state commission to develop a nationwide pilot program for reforming teacher compensation. Obama had been a senator in Illinois before he was elected president, and he selected for his Secretary of Education Duncan, the former CEO of the Chicago Public School System. For four years, I fought battles with state and national level politicians, and it wore me out, mostly because none of them listened very well to reason. They understood only money. If you read my first book, you surely should know that politics and I do not mix well.

I had written articles for a variety of professional publications over the years, but it was not until I met my soon-to-be-friend, Mike Denison, who was then the baseball coach at UIC, that I was able to put my thoughts on paper and tell the story that had been gnawing at me for some time. Every time I began to try to come to grips with the story, it overwhelmed me, and as I read back to myself what I had written, I realized it was garbage. Eventually, I learned to write one episode at a time. I understood that I was trying to write my entire vision all at once, and it wasn’t working. I had to be patient and develop one aspect of the story at a time. It was then that my book began to take shape.

On a personal front, I was enjoying a second chance at life. Having accepted my initial position at UIC, I had reconciled with my mother, the steadfast and wonderful Emma, and I had reunited with my daughter, Melinda Sue by birth, but Lindy to me. Then, one night, as I lay awake dreaming (I was born a dreamer—some things you just can’t help), the title Life and Life Only came to me, and I thought I finally had something. But it was the relationship I had formed with Mike that finally put me over the top. It was his story that forced me to examine my own. Though many thought I imagined myself to be the hero of the story, Emma was my hero; Mike, my inspiration; and Lindy, my reason to keep living. It was all very complicated.

Since that time, I have written several short pieces that were picked up by literary magazines, made a variety of appearances at book signings around the country, met the great troubadour, Bob Dylan, and even saw my novel made into a movie. But I never could get my mind sufficiently wrapped around a second novel. I again fell victim to seemingly endless false starts—until now. I returned to my original characters in Life and Life Only for inspiration, and once again, they did not disappoint. What follows might be confused for my story, but I suggest to you, the reader, otherwise. This is not my story, but rather, this is our story: the story of a collective humanity, longing for love and comfort in each other’s presence. This is a story of second chances—may you all be as fortunate as I.

I am fifty-three now. But I was forty when I first met Mike. Though I usually taught only graduate classes, a fluke in the schedule necessitated that I teach an undergraduate course, and I agreed. I had one of Mike’s players in class who was struggling mightily. If his name wasn’t on my class roster, I might not have known he existed, which was, of course, the problem. I called Mike and asked for an appointment to discuss the situation. He recognized my name because I had donated money to the athletic department’s baseball booster organization. We agreed to meet in his office, and shortly into the conversation, he realized that I was no stranger to a ball field. At that point, things took off, and we instantly became terrific friends.

“Really, you were drafted that high!? Wow,” he exclaimed. “I was a wannabe—a scrapper. Just another good player who wasn’t good enough.”

Everything I told him was true. I had been drafted out of high school by the Detroit Tigers in the eighth round, but rather than sign, I elected instead to attend the University of Georgia. I pitched in the Cape Cod League the summer after my sophomore year, but when I arrived at campus the following fall, my shoulder wasn’t right. The doctors said I had a torn labrum. They performed surgery, and I missed my entire junior year. When I came back the next year, I wasn’t the same. Still, after the season, Detroit offered to sign me to a free-agent contract, but when I told Anna Jean, whom I intended to wed a month later, that I had an offer from the Tigers, she informed me that she was pregnant with our daughter, Melinda Sue. My career was over. We moved back up to the Chicago area, eventually settling in Crystal Lake. I secured a job with the help of my dad, a local high school basketball coaching legend, as an English teacher and baseball coach at nearby Huntley High School. Looking back on it, it was a fair trade—my career for Lindy, considering all the comfort and friendship she has provided me over the years—and that would be true even without the latest scheme she and her husband, Tom, concocted on my behalf.

Mike and I tossed down more than a beer or two back in the day. We had a blast, and I suppose baseball was the common denominator of our friendship—that and our tarnished dreams, I guess. Mike, a single man, derived a great deal of enjoyment chasing the opposite sex around the South Loop, or the West Loop—ah hell, Chicago couldn’t hold him. I did not partake in these shenanigans. I could not shake my ex-wife, Anna Jean, who left me several years prior amid a baseless allegation of sexual harassment back in my first year as a high school principal in Huntley. I had hoped that our financial fortunes were finally taking a turn toward solvent and that things between us might improve, but our marriage was a wreck, and this incident provided her with the impetus she needed to leave. Before I could return from the Board meeting at which I was exonerated, Anna Jean was on a plane back to Georgia, with Lindy in tow. I moved back in with my mother in my hometown of Barrington.

At first, I secretly envied Mike, who enjoyed the company of these young Chicago beauties, while I, more times than not, sat in my apartment, reading. But eventually, I learned that our reality was, in fact, one of shared loneliness. Mike had already learned that the subject of Anna Jean was off-limits, but, one night, after about eight or ten too many beers, Mike coughed up that he was a father before he graduated from high school, and that he and his girlfriend had given up their son for adoption. After Mike graduated from high school, he left his home in Appleton, Wisconsin, for a junior college in Mississippi, later graduated from Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, took a graduate assistantship at Eastern Illinois University and a head coaching job at a junior college in Champaign before finally landing the UIC job. This all sounded rather exotic to me compared to my rather routine, if not mundane existence. At first, I saw Mike as a true baseball man, living the life I had always hoped for, but it wasn’t long before I realized that it wasn’t that simple. Mike was as much running away from reality as he was chasing his dreams, and that revelation both scared me and bonded us together, because, in many ways, so was I.

Shorty after that incident, my phone rang. It was Lindy. We made some small talk, and I assumed our conversation was about to end, when something wonderful happened.

“Dad, I got accepted to UIC. I’m going to go to college at UIC.” she said.

I was speechless, and I’m not sure what I said, or even exactly what else she said, except I remember this. She said, “Dad, I am so tired of missing you all the time.”

She said she missed me! I had struggled with my faith for years, but no doubt, Lindy’s arrival was a gift from God, even if she was the spitting image of her mother.

Those four years were magical, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. However, I knew I would be alone again someday soon and, though terribly sad, I embraced the inevitable day when she informed me she was leaving, as my mother had when I’d left our home to take my position at UIC.

In December of her senior year, she burst into my apartment, rapt with joy, and announced, “Dad, I’ve been accepted into the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern!”

I reached out to her, and we raced toward each other, she tripping over the coffee table, and I over the pile of newspapers next to my chair, and in that way literally fell into each other’s arms.

“Oh, Lindy. You’ve worked so hard for this. You deserve this chance, and you’ll do great! Thank God you’ll only be up the road a bit,” I said, knowing that Northwestern’s main campus is located in Evanston, which borders Chicago to the north, while the Medical School is located off Lake Shore Drive on East Chicago Avenue, just north of Navy Pier, and not far from Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile. I then added, “I’ve grown more than a little used to your company!”

It relieved me to learn that I wouldn’t have to let her go just yet. The fact of the matter was that Mike, having experienced a solid run at UIC, had the best year of his coaching career the previous spring behind the right arm of a young man named Tom Bickert. The Flames finished 46-18, losing to North Carolina in the Super Regional that year, and the San Francisco Giants selected Tom as the eighth pick overall in the first round of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. Their combined success led to a $5.7 million signing bonus for him, and propelled Mike to the head coaching position at the University of Tennessee. Phone calls and text messages were no substitute for his company.

Lindy and I sat down on the couch, and I turned down the stereo, as we were being serenaded rather loudly from a bootleg recording of a Dylan concert I had attended on Halloween in 2009 at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. It was on this tour that Dylan’s former guitarist, Charlie Sexton, had rejoined the band, rejuvenating the old man, who’d pranced around on stage like he was thirty-five, not sixty-eight.

I turned the music down to the line, “Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is,” from “Ballad of a Thin Man”, which, on that night in 2009, was the final song before the encore set. Now, a little more than nine years later, there were no more encores. Bob had ceased touring, which, for him, must have been akin to death.

“So tell me about your plans,” I inquired.

Almost before I could finish, she said, “Well, here’s what I think I want to do.” Her intelligence, attractiveness, and confidence manifested themselves at all times in equal measure. “At this point, I’d like to pursue a dual track in the Medical Scientist Training Program. What you do is, after you graduate from medical school, you do two years of residency through the McGaw Medical Center. It’s a consortium of five different hospitals in the area. Instead of doing four years, you do two, and then you take Part One of the United States Medical Licensing Examination. Then you get your PhD—a four-year program. I think I might want Immunology, but I’m not sure yet—and then you come back for your final two years of residency and take Part Two of the exam. Then, I can be a medical researcher at a major institution. If I become a doctor, I can help one patient at a time, which is important, but if I make a big breakthrough, I can help the world! I can be a teacher, too, like you, Dad.”

A tear came to my eye. Was it any wonder she lit me up so three years prior, when she walked back into my life? I hesitated, then replied, “Sounds like a snap.”

Tom and Lindy met at UIC during the spring of their freshman year in college and immediately began dating. They were tight throughout, and it appeared to me that it was a very healthy, respectful, and loving relationship, though because they were so young, I feared the same results for them that I had suffered with Anna Jean.
In February, Tom reported to the Giants spring training site in Scottsdale, Arizona. When he was drafted the previous spring, he was assigned to the Class A Augusta GreenJackets of the South Atlantic League. He pitched so well that they shipped him across the country mid-season to their Advanced A affiliate, the San Jose Giants of the California League. Tom had come off a heavy work load his junior year in college, and in order to protect his arm, the organization shut him down in mid-August when he reached his innings limit for the year.

Refreshed and excited, Tom learned at the end of March that the Giants were assigning him to their Eastern League Affiliate, the Richmond, Virginia, Flying Squirrels. He immediately called Lindy to tell her the news.

“Lindy, I’m going to where the prospects are! I’m going to Double A!”

“Oh, Tom, you’re going to make it; I know you are!”

When she relayed the story to me, it gave me the opportunity to ask her the question I had been wondering since she’d informed me of her acceptance into medical school at Northwestern.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Life and Life Only by Dave Moyer

book cover imageFor all who played and all who loved.

So don't fear if you hear
A foreign sound to your ear
And it's alright, Ma, I can make it . . .
And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They'd probably put my head in a guillotine
But it's alright, Ma, it's life, and life only.

--Bob Dylan
It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

Chapter 1
Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son? . . .
Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son? . . .
And what did you hear, my darling young one? . . .
Oh, who did you meet, my blue-eyed son?. . .
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow . . .
Oh, what'll you do now, my blue-eyed son?. . .

--Bob Dylan
A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

Dan Mason entered the world in 1974, the same year that Bob Dylan reunited with The Band for the first time since their blistering tour of England in 1966. They opened up at the old Chicago Stadium on January 3rd. Tickets for the two-night stand sold out in less than a half-hour. A fortunate twenty-four-year-old, Don Mason, Dan’s father, managed to score tickets. During this seminal tour, Bob regularly performed the song “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, and scowled the lines, “But even the president of the United States/Sometimes must have/To stand naked.” Later that year, President Richard Nixon, embroiled in the Watergate scandal, announced he would resign rather than face impeachment.

Dan was born into the chaos of the 1970-s. In addition to Watergate, America witnessed the Saigon airlift on television—an episode that became the country’s final image of the scar that would not heal. America discovered that free love led to a multitude of divorces. Gas prices rose, and the country endured a brutal recession. The Iran hostage crisis and the subsequent bungled rescue attempt horrified the nation. All of this occurred before Dan could sufficiently color between the lines.

Don and his wife Emma accepted the challenge of starting a life together and raising a family during this turbulent decade. Don met Emma McBride at Northern Illinois University. They bumped into each other in line at the bookstore when they were buying their books for the fall semester of their junior year. She was in line ahead of him, and according to Don’s version of the story, the incident was not an accident. Dan always recalled his father’s hardy laugh whenever he told the story.

“Excuse me,” Don said to her, somewhat abruptly.

“It’s okay. You must be in a hurry,” Emma said.

“Not really, but if you leave the store too quickly, I will be in a hurry to catch up with you. Wait for me. I’ll carry your books back for you—to make up for my indiscretion.”
Don impressed Emma as supremely confident. He possessed humor and charm and had a certain presence about him. Emma was taken by him at their initial encounter, but in one very unique way, they could not have been more opposite. Outwardly gregarious, Don exuded a type of robust fortitude. He retained the south-side Chicago toughness of his ancestors, but on the inside, he was not as comfortable with himself or as confident as he wanted others to think. He wanted to emerge on top in any encounter, and, early in his childhood, basketball became his vehicle to channel this need. Emma, on the other hand, was meek and somewhat shy in social settings. She would often reach for the right word in conversation and feel like she hadn’t expressed herself as she intended. Emma was not na├»ve. In the bookstore encounter, as in most situations, she knew the score. She matched Don equally in street smarts, but Emma possessed a great gift. She did not feel the need to have to continually prove herself. She could keep her composure and let life’s disappointments go before they built up to destroy her. However, on the inside, she was pure and elemental and became the rock and the center around which their family would be built. When she became pregnant with Dan, she took a deep breath and considered the world around her and decided that under no circumstances would she let any of it impact her family. They would not become a casualty of the times. Emma developed a bitter resolve to insulate them from all the utter nonsense that engulfed them. In so doing, though a woman of few faults, she missed many opportunities to let her humanity crack through that thick shell.

A wealthy town, Barrington rests along the old Northwest Highway, Route 14, about thirty-five miles northwest of Chicago. Don’s great-great grandfather had migrated to Chicago, and his offspring had worked in the steel mills, stockyards, and packing houses on the south side—wherever they could find work. His children and grandchildren had gradually moved farther away from the city as their circumstances had improved—a common occurrence in most families—and eventually, Don settled in Barrington with Emma.

Don and Emma graduated from college in 1971. Don got a job as a math teacher and freshman basketball coach at Barrington High School and rented an apartment in town. Don enjoyed a solid high school basketball career. He could shoot but possessed average ball-handling skills. He grew to be exactly six-feet tall. Even back then, he was too slow to guard anybody and too small to play shooting guard in any major program. His heart, desire, and work ethic were not enough to overcome his lack of size, speed, and quickness. Rather than play college basketball at a small school, he went to Northern. From the outset, he intended to become a high school teacher and, eventually, a head basketball coach. Ultimately, he aspired to be a college basketball coach.

Prior to getting married, Don had converted to Catholicism to keep the peace. Emma lived in McHenry with her parents that first year out of school. She worked as a nurse at Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington. McHenry, a blue collar town about twenty-five minutes northwest of the affluent suburb of Barrington, contrasted sharply with the community she would soon call home. Emma’s Catholicism did not prevent her from making excuses to stay with Don in Barrington as often as she could manage, during bad weather or at times when she worked late. Technically, she would join him permanently in June of 1972, following their wedding at St. Patrick’s Church in McHenry.

Dan inherited the confusion and chaos of the times in his very constitution, and he would never quite make sense of it. Dan developed a restless soul and became easily agitated. He felt a deep need to accomplish things to prove to the world it couldn’t conquer him. His parents fueled the fire. They expected success and drove him to it. He developed the belief that he could never let them down. When he had something on his mind, he rarely felt confident sharing it with them, for fear of that look of dismay that either or both often shot his way. Finally, Dan just stopped volunteering information. He didn’t know his parents were doing their best to do what they thought was right, and they didn’t know what the proper parental thing might be any more than they understood how their expectations impacted Dan’s perception of his place in the world. They were shooting in the dark.

While the Mason’s did the best they could to provide a solid foundation for their future lives together, Gerald Ford, who had pardoned Nixon, stood no chance for re-election, and Jimmy Carter, the Governor of Georgia, became president of the United States. The hostage crisis and massive inflation doomed his presidency, and, with the help of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, Ronald Reagan became the country’s fourth president in seven years.

People were scared. Dan was Don and Emma’s beloved oldest son, and they took comfort in his achievements. If Dan excelled, then everything must be all right, despite what the evening news might be telling them.

Throughout all of the unrest, Bob Dylan continued to record and perform. In 1975, Dylan released Blood on the Tracks, containing, among other songs, “Tangled up in Blue”, “Simple Twist of Fate”, and “If You See Her, Say Hello”. In 1976, he released Desire, his first number-one album. In 1979, he released Slow Train Coming, the first of his three religious albums. Dylan won his first Grammy for the album’s opening song, “Gotta Serve Somebody”.

Don and Emma struggled to make ends meet in the pricey suburb. No matter how much Dan noticed his clothes were different from the other kids’, no matter how tight his basketball shoes were, or how raggedy his glove became, Dan never suggested that he wanted different clothes or needed new equipment unless his mom or his dad initiated the conversation. His brother Dylan, three years his junior, had it slightly worse. Though perhaps less common in Barrington than other places, people of that era routinely handed down clothes to their same-sex younger siblings, and Dylan often ran around the neighborhood and attended school in ill-fitted clothing. Emma balanced the checkbook to the penny, scolded Don when he charged items, and had 100 different uses for leftovers. Dan and Dylan never complained. It’s not that they didn’t want to. They learned very early on that complaining did no good. In that day, children were still spanked. Just as the boys had learned to take off their shoes immediately upon entering the house, just as they had learned to put their dirty laundry in the basket before it hit the floor, so too did they learn not to complain about the food that Emma served them.

image of dave moyerDon became the head basketball coach at Barrington High School, and by the time Dan and Dylan would play for him in the late Eighties and early Nineties, the enrollment had topped 2,500 students. An incredibly driven man, Don threw himself into the job, attending clinics and working summer camps all over the place, trying desperately to secure a college coaching position. While Don ran a widely respected and enormously successful program, Emma took on the role of healer—the voice of reason. However, frequently left on her own with Dan and his brother, she often had no choice but to play the “heavy,” while Don, who was not noted for his patience or tolerance, was the “hero.” When Don returned home and stormed through the front door on his white horse, his boys flocked to him. Don, the successful basketball coach and town hero, was their dad!

A classic coach’s kid, Dan grew up in the gym in the winter and in dugouts each summer. His mind was a computer, processing the action and rarely, if ever, missing anything that happened on the floor or on the field. His dad took him to practices and games. When they watched a game on television together, Don explained each and every nuance to his son. It wasn’t long before the roles were reversed and Dan took the lead, correctly interpreting the action that was occurring, causing his dad to remark one time that he would make a great color analyst someday.

Dan entered the third grade at Hough Street Elementary School around the same time that Reagan took office. Dylan had just released Shot of Love, the third of the trilogy of religious albums, containing the masterpiece “Every Grain of Sand”. With Dylan entering kindergarten, Emma returned to work. A couple weeks into the school year, Dan, a teacher’s dream—a fact that did not go unnoticed by the other children—was falsely accused in an incident at school. One afternoon, a custodian found a cigarette butt in a urinal in the bathroom located in the same wing of the building as Dan’s classroom. Passes verified that Dan was indeed one of two students who had used the bathroom that morning, making him a prime suspect. The office secretary called Emma at the hospital, and when she arrived at the school, Dan was called to the office. When Dan entered the office, he saw his mom, dressed in her white nurse’s uniform, sitting in a chair in the corner.

Emma stood about five-feet, six inches tall, with dishwater blonde hair that came down and rested ever so lightly on her shoulders. Her narrow, opaque blue eyes featured pupils that centered slightly closer to the nose than the middle of her cheeks. Emma, usually angelic in her patience, was certainly a rookie at visiting the principal’s office to discuss her children’s behavior. Her discomfort was obvious to Mr. Salvatori, the principal, but not to Dan. She effectively concealed that from him. She had lost her pregnancy weight and looked more like a college nursing student than a mother of two. However, when times demanded it, Emma and her slightly freckled, girlish face were all business, and she transformed herself from nurse to nun. That is the face Dan saw when he entered the room, and it became more typical as the years passed.

Dan immediately grew petrified. He had never been in trouble at school before, but he knew something must be wrong. He had no idea what that might be, but his mom would not be there if everything was okay.

“Mom, why are you here?” a shaking young Dan inquired.

“Dan, sit down,” Mr. Salvatori said.

“Mom, what happened?” Dan asked.

“Listen to Mr. Salvatori, Dan. Sit down. It’ll be okay,” Emma said.

Emma always said, “It’ll be okay.” Dan thought that had to be her favorite phrase.

“Dan, we found this in the bathroom.” Mr. Salvatori held up a cigarette.

“It wasn’t me! I don’t smoke!” Dan said, fighting back tears. Tears would indicate weakness. Dan did not want to appear weak in front of his mother or let on that he was scared.
“Dan, it had to get there somehow. The only other boy who used the bathroom said he didn’t do it. One of you had to do it. Why don’t you just tell me what happened?” Mr. Salvatori asked.

“Because I don’t know what happened!” That was it. Dan couldn’t hold it in any longer, and he began to cry.

Mr. Salvatori continued to ask the same questions in different ways, and Dan continued to deny smoking a cigarette in the bathroom. He condemned smoking, period, managing to expound on the evils of tobacco in the process.

Finally, Emma said, “My son said he didn’t do it. I think we’re done here. I’m taking him home.”

Without official sanction from Mr. Salvatori, Emma got up, put her hand on Dan’s shoulder and said, “Come on, Dan. We’re leaving.”

The next year, Dan had Mrs. Ericks for his fourth grade teacher. The first time Dan asked for a bathroom pass, he discovered that she allowed her class to use the same bathroom he had used the previous year when the incident with the cigarette had occurred. The rules stated that her class should use a different bathroom, but technically, the other one was closer, and, while against school policy, she routinely let her class use it. Mr. Salvatori never did find out how the cigarette butt got into the urinal, but Dan figured out it had to be one of the fourth grade boys from last year who had been responsible. However, that fact could never alter what had happened. Though Dan thought his parents tended to believe him, and while nobody ever proved anything, the element of doubt would always be there. Dan had done nothing wrong but felt he had let them down. It was his teacher who was wrong, but now Dan had to pay the price. Emma had to leave the hospital in her work clothes to come to school when Mr. Salvatori had accused her son of smoking. Her son—also the son of the town’s revered basketball coach and a third grader, no less—had been smoking at school. This had been what everyone said, even though it wasn’t true. Dan had shamed them.

Never again. No matter how much Don and Emma may have believed in their son over the years, Dan developed the mentality that he must constantly prove himself to them. By his successes, through his steadfast commitment to being the best, by out-achieving everyone, Dan alone could prove his worth and thereby assuage his parents’ deepest fears of failure.

As the second child, Don and Emma accepted Dylan for who he was and felt less of a need to drive him. As a result, Dylan developed a much more easy-going personality.
In Dan’s later years, when he needed something to soothe his troubled soul, he found solace listening to music, especially the music of Bob Dylan. In addition to chaos and confusion, Dan had also inherited a love for Dylan’s music when he had entered the world.

About the time of the bathroom incident, it became obvious to everyone in Barrington that Dan could throw the hell out of a baseball. Dan so overpowered his little league brethren that, on most days, they were lucky to hit a decent foul ball off of him. Dan joined a travel team at age ten. His dominance continued, and, as the hitters got better, he mastered a change-up. He had such good control that, even on days when the opposition managed a few hits here and there, they rarely scored any runs off him. As Dan progressed through middle school and high school, the whispers began: Dan Mason was going to be a big league baseball player.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

SEAL WARRIOR by J. Terry Riebling

SEAL Warrior book cover imageIntroduction -
In the decade following WW II the attention of the world was focused on the rebuilding of shattered European cities; Southeast Asia was almost forgotten. For over a decade Vietnam smoldered like a tinder dry forest that had gone too long without rain, constant brush fires threatened to begin the conflagration that would consume the country. The Viet Minh under the command of General Vo Nguyen Giap, a resourceful guerrilla leader, plagued the French occupying forces by employing hit and run tactics that Giap knew would slowly bleed the French dry. The Viet Minh under his command were exceptional guerrilla fighters, they chose where and when they would fight, they never stood their ground or fought a fixed battle. Giap changed his tactics in March of 1954 at Dien Bien Phu.

The Viet Minh surrounded the three French fire bases which could only be re-supplied from the air. The Viet Minh did what the French had thought impossible; they moved their heavy artillery and anti-aircraft guns to the tops of the mountains surrounding the bases. Throughout the months of March, April, and early May the French forces were hammered by artillery, almost continuous small arms fire, and infiltration by sappers. With the airfield destroyed by artillery fire, able to be re-supplied only by parachute, with all supplies running low and increasing numbers of Viet Minh fighters surrounding the base, the French were close to being over run. Commanding officer Colonel Christian de Castries radioed the French HQ in Hanoi: “The Viet Minh are everywhere, the situation is very grave. The combat is confused and goes on all about. I feel the end is approaching, but we will fight to the finish.”

Seven years after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu President John F. Kennedy, an ex United States Navy LTJG, recognized the clear need for an unconventional warfare capability unlike any other in history. President Kennedy authorized the establishment of the SEALs. At 1300 hours on January 1, 1962 Seal Team One was commissioned in the Pacific Fleet and Seal Team Two in the Atlantic Fleet. The history of unconventional warfare had forever changed.
Anxious to serve a President who was one of their own, the Navy moved mountains of paperwork, searched for and found facilities where these new Sea, Air, and Land teams would be based, and, began a SEAL legacy that survives today; ignoring, bending or breaking the rules to accomplish their mission.

The Navy had decided to do what had never been done before, pull highly disciplined volunteers out of a well defined command and control structure where everything went by the book and turn them into geurilla fighters. Before any man could become a SEAL he would have to prove himself, and prove that there was a single four letter word which was not a part of his vocubulary: quit. The teams would be made up of volunteers who had proven their ability to accomplish any mission or die trying;

The Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams. The SEALs may have come late to the dance but we would redefine modern guerrilla warfare.

The small brush fires in Vietnam, fed by communist China, grew into an inferno that could no longer be ignored. To cut the supply lines, stop the communist infiltration of South Vietnam, and sustain the balance of power in Southeast Asia the Seal’s would become the unconventional force that could take the battle to the enemy on their own turf. The Seal’s would not be another means to use the heavy hammer of American military power, they would be small units of extraordinary men who would become the surgeons of unconventional warfare; going anywhere at any time to take on and defeat any enemy.

To learn how to fight a guerilla war the Seal Teams started with a blank slate. Everything from tactics to weapons was new. Unless we had tried it, tested it, proven it, and it worked we didn’t bet our lives on it. There was only one fact that we did bet our lives on. If you were one of us you were one of the best trained and toughest fighting men in history. The backbone of the Seal’s were warriors; and warriors can only be forged in battle.

In Vietnam we learned the warrior’s craft. We took the battle to the enemy in the jungle, the mangrove swamps, the rice paddies, on the rivers, the canals, and underwater. As we learned, fought, and reinvented geurilla war, the men with green faces brought terror to the hearts of the Viet Cong.

Throughout my career as a SEAL I had the privilege to fight beside many good men, but Tom Keith, Master Chief, U.S. Navy Ret., is one of the warriors that made the Seal’s what they became; the most deadly, unconventional group of warriors who have ever existed. Tom was, and remains, an operator, one of the very few men who is only fully alive in the bush, leaping out of perfectly good airplanes that are not on fire, underwater, or under fire. When the shit hits the fan, Tom Keith is the man I want at my back, if not, he’s the man I want sitting next to me at the bar.

Co-Author’s Note –
Our nation was created by men who would have been proud to call Tom Keith their friend. Like Tom, the first Americans who fought for their nation were volunteers; citizen soldiers and sailors, who, when their service was needed, raised their hand, signed their name or scratched their X on an enlistment contract that many couldn’t read, and left behind their homes, shops, fields, and families to march into harm’s way. Most of these volunteers were men, but as we have come to know, women, disguised as men, also fought. War, when we look closely at our history, must be endemic to freedom for we have been unceasingly at war since long before America, as a nation, existed.

When we speak of “peacetime”, what we most often mean is the time between wars which engage us as a nation. When we look outside of this narrow definition, it is difficult or impossible to find even a few weeks of what most would consider “peace”.

It is said that if one loves peace one must constantly prepare for war. It is a fact that the first Americans, the peoples who have been called American Indians for centuries, lived at war. They killed their meat, fought their enemies with the best weapons at hand, sired children, and lived from the land. They were, and many still are, exceptional examples of guerilla warriors. It was from these warriors that the American frontiersmen learned how to fight, and that numerical and technological superiority did not always mean victory. From the beginning Americans have been at war or preparing for it.
As a people, Americans are unique. Ours is the only nation which guarantees that each citizen has the right to be armed, a freedom exercised by over thirty million hunters alone every year.

America has been called “a nation of riflemen” and I can see little room to debate this. In many communities schools close for the opening few days of deer season and twelve year old children carrying high powered rifles sneak into the wilderness to, as the mountain men said, ‘make meat.” It is their intent to kill, eviscerate, and drag home the carcass of a deer, elk, moose, or any animal that will feed their family. Perhaps this is why and how American warriors have become the criteria by which all fighting men and women are measured. We are a tough people, and we have never stopped learning the skills which put food on the family table and allow us to be prepared always for war or peace.

If we are very lucky most of us will live out our lives without facing an enemy in battle. For this, we can offer our thanks to God and to all of the warriors who constantly train for war that we may have peace.

Master Chief Tom Keith, US Navy, SEAL Team 2, retired, is a very rare man in the company of rare men. He embodies the honor, courage, and skill at arms which assures that America will always be free and ready for war. He has survived in circumstances under which most men, myself included, would have failed, and died. He has trained future warriors, and those warriors have trained more warriors.

I have tried to do justice to Tom and to the other SEALs who served with him through three tours of duty in Vietnam. I have done my best to represent accurately those who fought at his side in and out of the SEALs, dates and times when important , weapons used, and a few of the women who played a part in Tom’s life and times. It has been an honor to know Tom, to earn his trust, and to work with him on his first book. I sincerely hope that I have helped to portray the Master Chief as he is, a man of rare skills, immense courage, and patriotism. If there is any failure to tell Tom’s story accurately it is mine.

J. Terry Riebling

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Abduction of Mary Rose by Joan Hall Hovey

The Abduction of Mary Rose Cover ArtTHE ABDUCTION OF MARY ROSE
Chapter One

The teenage girl hurried along the darkening street, head down in a vain attempt to divert attention from herself as she headed for her bus stop, still over a block away. The car behind her was a soft growl in the still, warm air.

It was mid-June, only two weeks till school closed. The air was fragrant with the smell of lilacs that grew here and there along the street. She wore a jean skirt and white cotton shirt, and yet she felt as exposed and vulnerable as if she were naked. She was anticipating the freedom of summer and thinking about spending more time with her new friend Lisa, when she became of aware of the car following her. She had been thinking maybe she and Lisa would swim in the pond edged with the tall reeds, near her house where she sometimes fished with her grandfather. She'd let grandfather meet Lisa. She knew he would like her. It would be impossible not to like Lisa, even though her grandfather didn't quite trust white people.

The growl of the motor grew louder, and she heard the window whisper open on the passenger side, close to her. "Where you goin' in such a hurry, sweet thing?"
She didn't turn around, just kept on her way toward the bus stop, one foot in front of the other, as fast as she could go without running. Music thumped loudly from the car radio, pounding its beat into the night. It was not music she would have listened to, not like the music they'd played on Lisa's tape player tonight, and that she and Lisa had danced to in Lisa's room. Lisa had tried to teach her some new steps; it had been so much fun. They danced to songs by Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross' Mirror, Mirror and a bunch more she couldn't even remember. Lisa had a lot of records.

The music that blasted from the car sounded angry and unpleasant. The car drew up so close to her she could smell the alcohol the men had been drinking, mixed in with the gas fumes.

The car edged even closer to the curb, and the man said something ugly and dirty out the window to her and his words made her face burn, made her feel ashamed as if she had done something wrong though she knew she hadn't. She pretended not to hear, made herself look straight ahead, her eyes riveted on the yellow band around the distant pole that was the bus stop, just up past the graveyard. She kept moving forward, one foot in front of the other, trying not to look scared, and prayed they would go away. Fear made her heart race.

The day was fast fading, the sky a light mauve, only a sprinkling of stars yet. Soon it would be dark. She was always home before dark. Grandfather would be worried. A few more minutes and you'll be at the bus stop, she told herself. Ignore them. But it was impossible to do with the car following so close that the heat from the motor brushed her bare legs, like a monster's breath.

The car crawled along beside her. She moved as far away as she could get, but the pavement was next to none along here and broken. "Hey, sweet thing," the man said. "You trying to get away from us." He laughed.

Despite herself, she turned her head and looked straight into the man's face. He was grinning out at her, showing his square, white teeth, causing her heart to pound even louder than the music. He made her think of the coyotes that sometimes came skulking around grandfather's house at night hunting for small cats and dogs. No. I am wrong. He is not like the coyotes. They are just being coyotes. It is a noble animal. An evil spirit dwells within this beast. One tied with the most fragile of chains. She could feel him straining toward her, teeth bared. She would not have been surprised to see foam coming from his mouth.
Softly, he said, "Hey, Pocahontas, want a ride?"

Feeling as if a hand were at her throat, she darted a look behind her, praying to see someone, anyone, who might help her, but the street was deserted. She'd left the row of wooden houses behind her a good ten minutes ago and was now at River's End Cemetery. There was no sidewalk at all here, just the dirt path, broken curb on her left and the empty field to her right, leading up into the graveyard. If a car comes along, she thought, I'll just run right out into the middle of the road and flag it down. But none did. She visualized herself safely inside the bus and on her way home to Salmon Cove, to her grandfather's small blue house on the reservation. She would tell him all about Lisa, her new best friend from school. Her grandfather would smile at her, and be pleased for her and call her his little Sisup. She fingered the pendant around her neck that he had made for her, a kind of talisman. To keep evil spirits away.

Grandfather didn't always understand the white man's world though, and there would be worry on his weathered face because she was not home yet. But she would make them a pot of tea and they would talk, and he would forget his worry. She was still focused on the bus stop, the utility pole marked by its wide yellow band. With the car so close, the thrum of the motor vibrating through her, the bus stop seemed a mile away. She walked faster, a chill sweeping through her body. She was forced now to walk on the slight incline that led up to the graveyard. Only the ruined curb separated her from her tormentors.

A taxi fled past, but she'd been so intent on getting to the bus stop she'd noticed it too late. It had been going so fast, out of sight already, just pinpoints of taillights in the distance, then nothing.

"Hey, what's your hurry, squawgirl?"

She gave no answer, swallowed, and kept going. When the man did not speak for several minutes, she became even more frightened by his silence than his talk. The boys at school sometimes called her Indian, and other dumb stuff like pretending to be beating on war drums, or doing a rain dance, and though it hurt her feelings and sometimes even made her cry, this was different. The boys thought they were being funny. Not so with this man. She could feel his contempt, even hatred for her, and something else, something that made her mouth and throat dry and her blood race faster. As she continued to put one foot in front of the other on the worn, rocky path edging the graveyard, she was very careful not to stumble and become like the wounded deer under the hungry eye of the wolf, she kept her eyes on the pole with its yellow band. In the darkening sky, a high white moon floated.

Everything in her wanted to break into a run, but a small voice warned her that it would not be a wise thing to do. Anyway, no way could she outrun a car. Why did the bus stop seem so far away? It was like a bad dream, where no matter how fast you run you don't go anywhere, and whatever is behind you ... draws closer and closer.
She shouldn't have stayed so long at Lisa's. But they'd been having such fun, just talking and listening to music, sharing secrets. It was nice to have a best friend, to feel like any other teenager. But you're not like any other teenager. You're an Indian. She should have listened to her grandfather.

The man spoke again. "C'mon, get in, Pocahontas," he said, his tone quiet, chilling her. "We'll have us a little party." He reached a hand out the open window and she shrank from his touch, stumbled, nearly fell, tears blinding her. She heard the driver laugh, a nervous laugh and she knew he was a follower of the other man. There was an exchanged murmur of words she couldn't make out, then, the car angled ever closer to her, wheels scraping the curb, making her jump back.

"Got something for you, sweetheart," the grinning man said. "You'll like it."

More laughter, but only from him now. Adrenaline rushed through her and she started to run, ignoring the warning voice. But it was too late. The car shrieked to a stop and instantly the door flew open and the man burst from the car and grabbed her. She screamed and fought to free herself from the steel arm clamped around her waist, but it was no use. She kicked and clawed at him, but he lifted her off her feet as if she were a rag doll and threw her into the back seat, and scrambled in after her. He shut the door and hit the lock. "Go," he yelled at the driver but the car remained idling. The man looked over his shoulder, started to say something but the man holding her down yelled at him a second time to go, louder, furious, and they took off on squealing tires.

"Please let me out," she begged. "Please…" Her pleas were cut off by a powerful back-hand across the mouth, filling it with the warm, coppery taste of blood.

"Gisoolg, help me," she cried out, calling on the spiritual god of her grandfather, and of his grandfather before him. But no answer came.


Up in the graveyard, an owl screeched as it too swooped down on its night prey. And all fell silent.