Today’s somewhat belated (for the reasons outlined in the preceding post) Memorial Day essay is, with only a few minor changes, a reprint of an earlier post that I first published on "Map and Counters" in 2009. At the time I wrote that first essay, I had only recently experienced something of a personal epiphany: one that had imbued me with a powerful urge to honor those who, for one reason or another, are all too often passed over by their countrymen in favor of well-known military leaders and famous heroes. Nothing that has happened since that first post has done anything to change my mind. On the contrary, as time has gone by, I have become increasingly convinced that Memorial Day shouldn’t mainly be about celebrating those who are or were famous, whether gallant heroes or successful generals — their memories will almost always be preserved somewhere, if only in a fading copy of an old history book; instead, I believe that what this day should really be about is honoring the countless ordinary men and women who — although largely uncommemorated except by a cemetary headstone — have served in our armed forces over the centuries and who, when duty required it, gave up the most precious thing that they possessed: their lives. Thus, like last year and the year before, this Memorial Day essay honors two U.S. Marines who fell as a result of enemy action a long time ago in Vietnam; just as importantly, however, it is also a salute to all of those who, through the ages, have made the supreme sacrifice in the service of their country: from the first violent birth pangs of the new American Republic, to the faraway battlefields of the present day. May their sacrifices never be forgotten.

Vietnam War Memorial Wall, Washington, D.C.
In Memory of Marine Cpl. Javier Figueroa, killed in action 1/28/68 in Quang Tri Province, Republic of South Vietnam

In Memory of Marine LCpl. Clement Johnston, Jr., killed in action 4/28/66 in Quang Ngai Province, Republic of South Vietnam

When we honor the memory of those who have, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, already “given the last full measure of their devotion,” let us also take a moment to think about all those men and women who, like my young Marine nephew, presently serve as a bulwark against the medieval fanatics that — in spite of the fact that their original leaders are now mainly dead or in captivity — still plot attacks against the American homeland from half a world away.

A Few Additional Thoughts on This, the First “Summer” Holiday of the Year

Today is “Memorial” Day. It is supposed to be a day of remembrance. And I like to think that there was a time, not that long ago, when most ordinary Americans understood and honored this day and its original purpose. Now, for many, if not the majority of my fellow citizens, I fear that Memorial Day has become little more than an excuse for a three-day holiday weekend, or a backyard barbeque, or even for a “blow-out” electronics sale. I hate to admit it, but I understand how this change could happen: memories are tricky things, and they fade far too quickly. I was unexpectedly reminded of this sad truth, myself, only a few years ago.

During the first week of April a little over two years ago, my wife talked me into visiting the touring reproduction of the Vietnam War Memorial: The Wall. She had already visited the real monument in Arlington, but she knew that — despite the fact that I had served two and a half years in Vietnam — I had not; so she thought that it might be nice for us to finally visit the touring “Wall” display together. I agreed to make the trip, but under protest: I have to admit that I have always had mixed feelings about “war” memorials. Unlike a military cemetery or a former battlefield — I still get a lump in my throat when I see pictures of Arlington or one of the American Cemeteries at Normandy or Lorraine, in France — most of these types of monuments have always struck me as being more like “guilty” afterthoughts than anything else. Too often the statues or marble structures that are erected, usually long after the events that they commemorate, actually seem to say more about their well-intentioned builders than they do about those being memorialized. Nonetheless, valuing my wife’s good opinion, I finally agreed to make the trip; so, on a sunny, windy Saturday morning in 2009, my wife and I drove all the way out to Buckeye, Arizona, to pay a visit to the touring facsimile of the “Wall.”

U.S. WWII Cemetery, Normandy, France.
I don’t know what I expected. But I can honestly say that no sudden, intense wave of emotion washed over me when I saw the reproduction of the monument. Nor do I think that my reaction would have been any different, had I been looking upon the real thing for the first time. I had served in Vietnam from February 1966 to August of 1968, so over four decades separated the “old man” from the young soldier that had gone to Southeast Asia so many years before. Also, I was never a grunt. I spent my time in Vietnam either helping to intercept and analyze, or, alternatively, to process intelligence gathered from enemy communications. In the course of my time in the Republic of Vietnam, my various jobs took me all over that war-ravaged country, but only rarely did I even have to carry my rifle or do any hard slogging. In short, all things considered, I had it pretty good. Of course, that was then, and this is now. The first truly disconcerting fact that I discovered in Buckeye that day was that the young soldier of my dim past could almost have been someone else. But even that wasn’t really the worst of it.

Arlington National Cemetery
As I walked along with my wife of over thirty years beside me, I found myself scanning the “Wall.” Finally, when I reached the area of the monument that covered the period of my own service — for those who have not seen it, the names on the Wall are organized by date — I was stunned to discover that my mind had gone almost completely blank. Despite having spent some thirty months in Southeast Asia, I suddenly discovered that, somewhere in the course of the march of the intervening years, I had forgotten many, if not most, of my old comrades’ names. In a lot of cases, if I could remember a name, I couldn’t match it with a face, or vice versa. This effect was particularly pronounced when it came to the soldiers and marines that I had served with in I Corps (Quang Tri Province) near the DMZ, during my first year in Vietnam. But it spilled over into other situations and locations, as well.

U.S. WWII Cemetery, Lorraine, Normandy, France.
The young men that I had had the odd beer with, or played poker with, or had met on R&R in Bangkok or Malaysia, or Taiwan had all, to varying degrees, disappeared into the mists of a half-remembered, distant past. These men were just regular Americans; not really so much friends, as the typical GIs that you bump into and get to know when you’re in a place long enough. This wasn’t to say that I had forgotten everyone, but only that I had forgotten far too many. And the most troubling thing of all was that I had somehow forgotten the names or the faces of those I knew who had been killed. Now, it is important to note that none of my closest friends had been killed or even wounded. Others that I knew, however, had not been so lucky, and as I walked along the facsimile of the “Wall”, I couldn’t help feeling that these others deserved better. And not just from me, but from the rest of their countrymen, as well. I couldn’t shake the guilty feeling that, somehow, I had let these young men down. And this idea brings me, finally, to the dedication at the beginning of this piece.

Gettysburg National Cemetery, Pennsylvania
In the end, I and the wonderful, helpful people who volunteer with the monument tour all tried our best to identify at least a couple of individuals from a number of young men that I had known who had been killed in various operations from “Davy Crockett” to the “Tet” Offensive. Guilt is a powerful spur, and it had suddenly become strangely important to me that I at least make the effort. The two young marines memorialized at the start of this essay — one forever 18 and the other 22, who died so long ago in Vietnam — may or may not be the men I knew so long ago, I will never be sure. But what I do know is that even if they are not, they still deserve to be honored on Memorial Day by someone, and I am proud for that someone to be me. And having finally visited the “Wall,” I also now know something else: I realize, at last, that if we who served with them do not make the effort to remember those who fell, then who will?

May you, my readers, and those you care about, all have an enjoyable and safe Memorial Day Holiday. And may those who wear our country’s uniform and who daily go into harm’s way, in dangerous, far-off places, also have a safe Memorial Day!
Read On



Here we go again

Since it has been over three weeks since my last post, I thought that I would offer a brief explanation to my regular visitors for my long silence; and no, I didn’t decide to take a break from blogging. Nor have I been on some sort of extended “Memorial Day” vacation. Instead, the reason for my most recent halt is much more mundane, and much more frustrating: somewhere along the line, my computer picked up a virus the only purpose of which seems to be to delete data files from directories! Needless-to-say, this is a big problem for someone like me because I compose almost all of my material off-line; hence, as soon as this unwelcome interloper snuck through my security firewall, it immediately burrowed into my hard drive and sent all of my document and photographic files zipping off to a kind of computer “limbo”.

In any case, to rectify this problem, I have been obliged to buy and install “data retrieval” software, and — with the help of my long-suffering wife — am now in the process of restoring my missing document directories. While these new directories, when completed, will not be identical to my old ones, they should, nonetheless, allow me to resume blogging on a more regular basis in the not too distant future. More importantly, at least from my standpoint, is that the successful retrieval of my Word© document files means that the five or six blog projects that I currently have in the works will not all be lost.

Finally, because this is now the third time, in less than a year, that I have had to deal with this type of pointlessly destructive “cyber assault”, I feel compelled to offer a few of my own thoughts on this pernicious and ever-worsening blight on the internet community. It is a problem that, too often I think, we all tend to leave to the government and to the most likely business targets to solve. Unfortunately, it is an issue that, at one point or another, will actually affect almost all of us to some degree or another. And while it is obvious that a significant component of this problem can be ascribed to genuinely criminal goals, the particular type of assault that I recently experienced was different in that it seemed to be motivated, not by profit, but by pure malice. What I find particularly troubling about all this is that I suspect that those who pursue this obnoxious type of cyber mischief probably perceive their computer handiwork as an intellectual/technical battle between themselves and their main antagonists: the various computer security companies’ software engineers.
May 10, 1933.  Brown Shirts organize book
 burning by university students.
Stated another way: I believe that for those who actually develop much of the malware that now infects virtually every corner of the internet, getting around a particular security barrier is not so much viewed as a crime, as it is a kind of “high-stakes” DUNGEONS & DRAGONS game, in which a successful breach of a Norton or McAfee firewall is analogous to advancing to a “higher” game level. And while I can understand the perverse intellectual appeal that this type of activity might hold for some individuals, I cannot excuse or even sympathize with it. This is not a game, and the attempted destruction of the intellectual property of others — even written content as inconsequential as that which appears on my blog — is neither clever, nor an act of anti-corporate cyber “insurgency”. Instead, I believe that what this behavior really mirrors, more than anything else, is the mindless Nazi-organized book burnings that took place throughout Germany shortly after Hitler came to power in 1933; and thus — in my view, at least — those who indulge in this type of activity are not clever internet “guerillas”, but are really little more than cyber “Brown Shirts”.
Read On



A Special Tribute to America’s Military Mothers, both Past and Present

While I really have little of significance to say about the background of this peculiarly American holiday, its arrival does provide me with the opportunity to post one of my all-time favorite Norman Rockwell illustrations. I confess that I have a special affection for this evocative image because it reminds me of my own experience when I came home, for the first time, from Vietnam on a 30-day leave. I can still remember, like it was yesterday, me still in uniform (having flown in earlier that evening) sitting at the kitchen table with my mother — long after the rest of the family had gone to bed — drinking cup after cup of coffee and talking endlessly about the trivial, everyday events that had colored the lives of my friends and family during the year that I had been deployed half-way around the world.

Home for Thanksgiving,
Nov 24 1945 by Norman Rockwell

Being young, it didn’t occur to me, at the time, that mine was actually my mother’s third war; that she had met and married my father — a Navy corpsman serving in the Pacific — during World War II, and that, with two small children to tend to, she had seen him recalled to active duty during the Korean War. Looking back, I can not remember a single instance in which she complained about the hardships brought about by my father’s service; nor, in my own case, can I recall a single word of recrimination from her when she learned that I would be going back to Southeast Asia at the end of my leave. Only many years later, after my mother had passed away, did I learn from my sister about the constant worry and, even more painful to me now, the dread with which my mother greeted every unexpected knock on the door during the whole of the time that I was overseas.

Nowadays, of course, only a small number of our fellow citizens actually serve in the armed forces and, for that reason, it is easy for most of us to put out of our minds the wives and mothers that those in uniform leave behind when they go into harm’s way. On this Mother's Day, however, I enjoin all of my readers to remember, along with their own mothers, those others who day-by-day wait stoically for their husbands and sons, and now daughters, to come home again. And while other Americans may seldom think of it that way, theirs, quite possibly, is the hardest wartime job of all.
Buy at
"Home for Thanksgiving", November 24,...
Norman Rockwell
16x16 Giclee Print
Buy From
Read On



The Cardboard Wars in Tempe, Arizona (June 6th to 12th) are now only a month away

The “game clock” is rapidly ticking down, and before we know it, one of the most enjoyable and unique wargaming events held in the US will be getting under way in sunny Arizona. On June 6th, the first convention arrivals will begin early festivities at what will be — in my view, at least — one of the very few must-attend adventure gaming conventions of the year: Consimworld Expo 2011. For those who are unfamiliar with the Expo’s past history, this year’s convention is the direct descendant of MonsterGame.Con which, thanks largely both to the vision and the hard work of John Kranz, first opened its doors back in 2001. Eleven years later, CSW Expo is still going strong and is still being hosted by John Kranz and company; and, just as they have in years past, convention attendees will be meeting at the luxurious and conveniently-located Tempe Mission Palms Hotel, in vibrant downtown Tempe, Arizona and close both to Old Town Scottsdale and Phoenix attractions.

For those prospective attendees who are still on the fence about whether this year’s Consimworld Expo will provide them with a chance to actually sit down and play their favorite titles with other like-minded opponents, it is probably worth noting that this June’s gaming at the Tempe Mission Palms will not be restricted only to traditional “map and counters” conflict simulations. On the contrary, dozens and dozens of old and new titles (from CDG, to “block”, to Euro-style) will all be a part of this year’s CSW Expo experience. What this means, from the individual gamer’s standpoint, is that the convention is both large enough and varied enough to offer players a broad menu of both conflict simulations and multi-player social gaming that — new attendees will quickly discover — should suit virtually any visitor’s particular taste in games. Nor, I should add, is the convention aimed strictly at long-time (hard-core) participants in the hobby. Instead, players who make the trek to Arizona this year will find that there are abundant opportunities for the young and not-so-young, and for both inexperienced and seasoned players to enjoy their favorite titles in a matchless gaming environment.

The CSW Expo only comes around once a year; so, if you can possibly find a way to get to Tempe during the second week of June, I strongly recommend that you do so. If you enjoy both congenial company and lots of gaming, I really don’t think that you will be able to avoid having a great time.

To find out more about CSW Expo 2011/MonsterGame.Con XI and its many different game-related activities, or to register online for this year’s convention, visit the website.
Read On