GARRY ARMSTRONG – WITH LBJ IN VIETNAM

Lyndon Baines Johnson was the 36th President of the United States, from 1963 to 1969. As President, he designed “Great Society” legislation, including civil rights, public broadcasting, Medicare, Medicaid, environmental protection, aid to education and the arts, urban and rural development, and a “War on Poverty”.

Johnson’s civil rights bills banned racial discrimination in public facilities, interstate commerce, the workplace, and housing. It included a voting rights act that guaranteed the right to vote for all U.S. citizens, of all races. Passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 reformed the country’s immigration system, eliminating national origins quotas.

The push to get his legislation through ended Johnson’s political career. He called in every favor, bullied, cajoled, and bargained to get the needed votes. He got it done, but if any politician ever fell on his sword for what he believed was right, LBJ was that guy. Johnson was renowned for his domineering personality and his readiness to do whatever it took to advance his legislative goals.


Location: A campfire in Vietnam near Saigon.

Year: 1967.

1967 and 1968 were very intense years for me. I had jumped directly from college and small time commercial radio, to ABC Network News. The time was right and the opportunity was there, but I was a kid thrust suddenly into the big leagues. My journalistic baptism started with the 6-day war in the Middle East which began on my first day at ABC. My professional life continued with the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, the volatile 1968 Presidential campaigns and a long visit to Vietnam, the first of several.

At headquarters in New York, my assignment was to receive reports from ABC’s field correspondents. I’d speak with them over static-riddled phone lines. Difficult to hear for anyone, harder for me. The daily MACV — or war front reports — were often significantly different from what the Pentagon reported. It was disturbing, worrying. Then, they sent me to Vietnam.

The sights, sounds and smells of Vietnam are still with me, 50 years later.

ABC needed a grunt to help the news team covering President Johnson’s visit to Vietnam. I was it. My job required I not allow myself to be distracted from the work at hand. I was a young reporter still learning the ropes. I had to stay focused on the story and exclude the other harrowing images around me.

LBJ vietnam 1967It was a typical evening, the never-ending noise of artillery in the background. It was what was called “down time.” Dinner around a campfire. GI’s, South Vietnamese soldiers, politicians and news media, all hunkered down for chow. Everything was off the record. Chow was beans and some unknown local meat. Most of us ate the beans. Skipped the meat.

President Johnson or L J as he told us to call him, squatted at the point of the campfire and told some colorful tales about dealing with his pals in the Senate and Congress. The stories were punctuated with smiles and profanities. L J was drinking from a bottle which he passed around. Good stuff.

Halfway through dinner, the beans began to resonate. The smell was pungent! I must’ve had a funny look on my face because L J gave me a withering stare and asked if I had a problem. I remember sounding like a squeaky 16-year-old as I responded “No sir.” L J guffawed and passed the bottle back to me.

Before completing his trip, President Johnson confided to some of us that seeing Vietnam up close confirmed his worst fears. He broadly hinted he was unlikely to seek re-election, given the backlash of Vietnam back home in the States. I thought he sounded like one of my cowboy heroes putting duty above personal gain.

But it wasn’t a movie. It was the real thing. History,

The following day was my final encounter with Lyndon Baines Johnson. There were handshakes, a smile about our campfire evening and L J was again President Lyndon Johnson, one of the truly great American presidents.

WORDPRESS IS ON THE FRITZ AGAIN

“On the Fritz” is a pre World War I (circa 1902), originally meaning “in a bad way” or “in bad condition.” Typically, it is the malfunctioning of an appliance, possibly originating from the German name Fritz, or by onomatopoeia as in imitating the sound of electric sparks jumping.


I think you could call this a transformative experience. Last month and until a week ago, we had the highest view numbers I’ve ever seen in a non-commercial blog and this week, we are barely managing to stay afloat.

I’ve watched stat numbers bounce around over the more than five years I’ve been doing this, but this was a drop like nothing I’ve seen before. I shrugged it off. I didn’t actually know something was broken. I figured it was us — and because I don’t use the new editor, I didn’t bump into the complete dysfunctionality of that software, which apparently isn’t working. At all. What I did discover is that we are 75% lower in views with no sign of a bounce back. A 75% drop is a lot. More than a typical bounce.

So I went to the Reader and saw how many people who usually have active blogs now show vastly reduced views … and apparently, the “like” is broken because there were so few of them. All the ones I’d entered were missing, too.

On this site, the “Like” has been erratic for a while. Personally, my likes and comments have been doing a vanishing act. They look normal when I enter them, but if I go and look — lost in the great virtual beyond. This isn’t the first time this has happened. If you’ve been lurking around WordPress for more than a few years, you’ve seen this happen, get fixed, happen, get fixed to the point where you don’t get excited so much as you get a migraine. Eventually they will fix it, but when? Could be very soon, like … today or tomorrow. Or it could be a month or more.

So if you haven’t heard from me, I’m not ignoring you. Something is broken. Again. Others are finding it difficult to get in touch with the engineers. I haven’t tried yet. This is such a major outage and seems to be affecting many people — thus far mostly American — the staff must have noticed. The engineering staff can’t miss this, can they?

If I don’t start to hear that it’s improving somewhere, I’ll dig in and try to get someone’s attention but generally, I ride these WordPress storms out. After a while, it settles down. If my problems persist when the storm dies away, THEN I get in touch with engineering.  Try not to let it get to you. This stuff can make you crazy, especially when you’ve been working hard and your posts come to nothing because they have “fixed” the software.

I do not mind them fixing the software. I mind them failing to test it to make sure it works before dumping it on their customers. And we really ARE their customers. Apparently, they don’t see it the same way we do.

Let me know if anyone sees an improvement — or actually talks to an engineer and has information!

11-22-63 – ASSASSINATION OF A PRESIDENT

THE END OF INNOCENCE, THE BEGINNING OF THE NIGHTMARE


72-Cemetary-Flag-Autumn-Uxbridge-GA_036

Today is the day. Fifty-four years later. I remember it. Do you?

It’s weird watching the documentaries commemorating events I remember. It’s the Kennedy assassination this month. Just about every station, network and cable, are doing specials on John F. Kennedy. For us, it’s a trip down memory lane. Or nightmare alley.

I was 13 when Kennedy was elected. I watched the inauguration on television, the first of many inaugurations I would watch. It was the greatest inaugural speech. I was naïve enough to believe he wrote it himself. And I was impressed by his hair, the best hair of any President before or since. Especially after 8 years of President Dwight D. Eisenhower who was very bald.

John-F.-Kennedy

In 1963 I turned 16 and started college. Kennedy was shot in November and the world changed. I’m sure every person old enough to know what was going on remembers where they were the day they heard the news. The assassination of John F. Kennedy was a landmark event, a turning point in history, a turning point in our personal histories.

I was in the cafeteria at school. I had a cup of tea in my hand and was about to sit. The public address system in the cafeteria went on. There was a lot of noise, but gradually it grew quiet. A news report. It took a few minutes to recognize what they were saying, to form a context. Someone had shot the President.

A few minutes later, everyone fell silent. Hundreds of undergraduates, sitting, standing. No one moving, no one talking. I stood at the table. Frozen. I never sat. I stood in the same spot for over an hour. Clutching that cup of tea, cooling in my hand. Until the voice on the loudspeaker said “President Kennedy is dead. The President is dead.”

Gradually, everyone drifted away. Subdued or silent. I found my boyfriend and we wandered around for a few hours. We didn’t do anything. Just roamed the campus, dazed. This kind of thing wasn’t supposed to happen, not in the United States. Eventually, when it was dark, I went home. My mother wanted to know where I’d been and I said “Just wandering around.” She didn’t believe me. She should have.

LBJ Sworn In As President

Kennedy was “our” president. He looked good. Young, attractive, different. I hadn’t been old enough to vote for him, but I was old enough to know what was happening. I watched the debates. My friends and I discussed it. It was exciting. My mother kept referring to him as “such a young man.” At thirteen, a 43-year old guy didn’t seem so young. Those were the days, eh?

For the better part of the next week, all the channels on television — there were only seven — 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13 — had wall-to-wall coverage of the funeral. Endless replays of the assassination. The subsequent shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald. The beginning of the conspiracy theories that still swirl around this piece of history, though at this point I don’t care whodunnit 50 years ago. There are a many unsolved crimes in history. Just add this to the long list.

I went to hang out with a friend. We took long walks to get away from the endless, morbid reiteration of the life and death of John F. Kennedy.

Gradually, life returned to normal, whatever that is. Lyndon Baines Johnson was in office. It was all about civil rights and Vietnam. I finished college, got married, wound up in the hospital and had my first near-death experience. There would be a lot more assassinations in the near future. Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X. I never got used to them, but I stopped being shocked. Which is shocking.

The 1960s were not about sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. This was the decade of war, the draft, anti-war protests and civil rights. When flunking out of college meant you were going to Vietnam and maybe you wouldn’t come back. Strange how quickly we forget, replacing history with mythology.

November 22, 1963 was the end of political innocence for everyone, Democrats, Republicans, everyone. An abrupt turning part. The beginning of the road we find ourselves on today.

A president — our president — had been assassinated. Kennedy wasn’t the only U.S. President to be assassinated, but he was the first in modern times. The first TV president. A young, handsome guy. Especially important to my generation, a symbol that the torch really had passed to a new generation. We took that call to arms seriously.

It’s hard for me to look at politics today, see how petty we’ve become. Kennedy’s assassination was an end and a beginning. He was the last President to get a pass on his personal life. The first president to use electronic media to win an election. It was the beginning of a political divide that keeps getting deeper with each passing year.

Politics isn’t about real issues anymore. It’s insinuation, innuendo, and rumor. How narrow-minded and hateful we’ve become. It will pass I suppose. All things do. But when? For more than half a century, we’ve been marching down this ugly road to which I see no end.

SCHOOL DAYS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I went to a wonderful school from first grade through twelfth grade. It was called The Ethical Culture Schools. Grades K-6 were in Manhattan. Grades 7-12 were on a large campus in Riverdale, the Bronx, NY. The campus was tree-lined and beautiful, complete with tennis courts, football and track fields, swimming pool, art studios, full professional theater/auditorium, science labs, a huge library, etc. It was the nicest campus I ever had. My college and law schools were both city schools with no real “campus” to speak of at all.

The schools were progressive and arts oriented. They were geared to producing ethical, caring, involved citizens. Citizens who could think, analyze facts and express ourselves from a very early age. Citizens with a moral core.

Art, music and theater were incorporated into our curriculum. In addition to having separate art, music, theater and dance classes (some optional), we did lots of creative projects that combined many disciplines. For example, In fifth grade, we put on a medieval banquet, complete with costumes, decorations, and music we learned to play on our recorders.

We also had regular full school assemblies where we would perform for each other – all grades participated. I was in the orchestra in fifth and sixth grades playing the clarinet. I did some piano duets with a friend and sang in the chorus. I also read a piece I had written for my sixth grade graduation. Other performances included musical instruments, singing, dance and some dramatic readings.

Ethical Culture lower school building in NYC

In eleventh grade, I helped write and direct a “History of the Cowboy Through His Songs and Ballads”. It was a joint effort with the history, music, art and theater departments. It was a professional level performance. Tom has heard a tape of the show and was blown away that high school students had done everything in putting that show together.

Ethics was also a big deal in our school. From very early on, we talked about current events in our classes. We talked about the basic issues on both sides of the major issues of the day, in terms we could understand at each level. In fifth grade, a high-profile execution was in the news. We all came down on the anti-capital punishment side (did I mention that the school was also very liberal?) We observed a moment of silence at the time the execution was carried out.

Starting in seventh grade, we had weekly Ethics classes. There we discussed things in terms of ethics and morality – analyzing current issues like abortion, prayer in schools, racial discrimination and the Vietnam War. We discussed the morality of some of these issues before they were front page news on a regular basis.

My school was also very rigorous academically. It was dedicated to teaching us how to think for ourselves. How to research and collect data, how to form an opinion and how to document and defend our position. We had to do critical, analytical writing all the time, particularly in English and History classes. In English class, we had to write essays on different aspects of the books we read, from the character development, to the plot to the writing style. In history we had to learn how to do serious research, using multiple sources, in the library (before computers). I had to do formal footnotes and bibliographies from eight grade on.

We were graded on how well we organized our material, how clearly and forcefully we presented and argued our theses, and how well we backed up our conclusions with relevant data. We not only learned how to think but how to write. For this alone, I am eternally grateful to my early education. Because of this, the high school had a reputation for high standards and got a lot of our seniors into top colleges. That was a major selling point for the school.

We were always told that after Fieldston High School, college would be easy. It turned out to be true. In college, you had fewer classes a week. You also only had one paper and a mid-term and final in each class for the entire semester. In Fieldston, you had classes all day, every day. You also had papers, homework assignments, quizzes and tests throughout the week.

I was a very conscientious student and anxious about getting good grades. So I spent a lot of time on my homework. It apparently took me longer than my friends to finish my schoolwork, so I was overwhelmed, exhausted and stressed throughout my time at Fieldston. Most of my fellow classmates, I later found out, were not.

I discovered much later in life, in my late 40’s, that I had ADD as well as other learning disabilities, all of which I passed on to my son. Had I gone to school from the late 1990’s on, I would have had accommodations from the school for my ‘disabilities’ – like note-takers to take class notes for me, un-timed tests and possibly more time on assignments or shortened assignments. As it was, I just struggled.

Beautiful Fieldston High School buildings and quad

I learned during my tenure at the high school, that my father knew and worked with the founder of the Ethical Culture Schools, the revered Felix Adler. We honored him at “Founder’s Day” assemblies every year. I was in awe.

My father finally admitted to me that he never liked the guy and thought he was an idiot. So much for my school spirit!

I know that my school was at the high-end of the education pyramid in this country. So I didn’t expect my kids’ local high school in Easton, Connecticut, however well-regarded, to be on par with my private New York City school from the 50’s and 60’s. I did expect my kids colleges to have assignments and standards at least as rigorous as my high school. I was disappointed. My kids learned to think and to write in spite of, not because of their college educations.

I was lucky to live in a time and a place where I could be stimulated and taught from early childhood on. Maybe the better academic colleges today still train their students to think and to write (my kids did not go to these schools). For the sake of America’s future, I hope at least the colleges, if not the high schools, still do a good job of training thoughtful, citizens, capable of understanding and responding to our complex new world.

NESTING PUPS

Maybe it’s the weather, or maybe there’s just nothing going on. For the first time in quite a while, the weather is nice. Not warm, but not bitterly cold, either.

In this moment, Bonnie and Gibbs are outside, while Duke is asleep on the sofa. No, change that. Duke just decided he needs to go out, too. And Bonnie thinks a brief fit of barking would be good. Probably just to liven things up.

Nesting time, for dogs and humans.

Duke with Gibbs
Gibbs with Duke
Duke
Bonnie

A quiet day in the house. Garry is still sleeping. I’m going to do a little pre-Thanksgiving prep — if I ever detach from the computer. The sun is finally out and I could use another cup of coffee. Meanwhile, the last of the brown leaves from the oak trees are drifting down, like a leafy shower.

SHARING THE WORLD – THUS BEGIN THE HOLIDAYS

Hard to believe Thanksgiving has arrived. I’m still mentally stuck somewhere in October. In fact, I’m still waiting for Autumn to really begin. Everything is happening much too fast this year.

Share Your World – November 20, 2017


If you were having difficulty on an important test and could safely cheat by looking at someone else’s paper, would you do so?

I’m pretty sure I needed help in several tests in high school. Once I was past studying material for which I would never have any need, I also never needed to cheat. Cheating is something you do when you are forced into a testing situation for which you are either unprepared, or for which nothing you could do would prepare you.

I was never going to understand my French teacher’s spoken French. I could read it, but I couldn’t understand a word she said. Later in life, I discovered I understood French a lot better when French people spoke it.

I don’t think I’ve been tested for anything since I left school. I’ve had to study a lot of things, but there was no test. Only having to write a thousand page book on the subject which other people could understand and use. No test required.

What things in nature do you find most beautiful?

That’s an impossible question to answer. I find many things beautiful. Animals, rocks, mountains, water.

The sky and the sun and the dark. In cities and in the wild. The answer to that question is a book, not a few paragraphs.

Complete this sentence: When I travel I love to….

Take pictures and try the food.

About the food, the thing I find the most incomprehensible are travelers who only want to eat food that is exactly the same as the food they ate at home. Looking for the nearest McDonald’s when you are in Japan — or, for that matter, Phoenix — is mind-boggling. Why aren’t they out there tasting all the remarkable new flavors of the new place they are visiting? Isn’t that at least half the reason for traveling?