Reliving the horrors of war; The nightmare of Vietnam

One day in March of 2002, my wife and I were casually passing through the local big box bookstore when she saw something interesting in the imagery on the stack of Hamilton Spectator newspapers. Because the papers were folded and stacked this is all we saw spanning the fold:

IMG_0012

My wife asked if that was my dad…I had no idea. After unfolding it it quickly became obvious it was. It was timed to coincide with the release of the movie We Were Soliders, based loosely on the book by Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore (Ret.) and Joseph L. Galloway

In the paper was an article on my father’s experience in war, as well as a few pics I had see an a child. The stories were always a blur because of the complexity and horror of it all. It was the first time I’d seen it documented in a way that also carefully described the difficulty experienced by the storyteller.

It’s not an easy read, nor may it meet your political comfort zone, but as long as I have known my father I’ve always known about the struggles that all veterans experience. There are many glories that await survivors of conflict, on both sides, but the private struggles of those soldiers matter more.

Take careful note of the fact that Canadians did serve in Vietnam. Possibly as many as 40’000 [citation – article author in a sidebar]. They also deserve some recognition from both sides of the border. My father was so affected by this disconnect that he only sought his military pension in the last few years. More on that later.

Hug your veterans, family or not. Hear them and understand them. Hug them again.


Reliving the horrors of war

Ron Bunston sounds as if he’s reading for the part of Willard in Apocalypse Now. The voice is flat, the tone sombre, the admissions startling.

“August 1965 I was on a ship headed for Vietnam, a long trip through time. Going to war as misinformed as generations of soldiers before me, I was Buffy Saint-Marie’s Universal Soldier. The war arrived, friends died or were maimed and I most certainly caused the deaths of others.”

He’s three blocks from the newly dark movie screen at Jackson Square, nursing a Hortons coffee and the afterglow of a hasty smoke.

“The war was bizarre. In Vietnam it was bizarre, in the U.S. it was bizarre and in Canada — the great nation of navel gazers — it was even more bizarre. America did not lose the war in Vietnam. We all lost. The whole planet lost.”

As wiry at 60 as he was as an Airborne/Ranger, Ron Bunston inhabits a face nearly gothic in gravity, drawn and wary yet somehow calm at the core.

“It was hard to leave the military, I was leaving a group of friends that only the sharing of intense experience can bring.”

The nightmare of Vietnam

“Everyone who was honest with themselves had to acknowledge that the brush with death was an experience that had no parallel. No drug can equal the high of coming out of a firefight alive, the parachute drops, the racing across the treetops at top speed in a gunship. The shocks. The deaths.”

The coffee cools and Bunston, the Fonthill native who joined the U.S. Army in 1962, struggles to parse Hollywood’s most recent take on the Vietnam War — Mel Gibson’s When We Were Soldiers, the narrow epic story of the vicious first battle between American troops and North Vietnamese regulars that was the curtain raiser on a decade of war.

The movie, with Gibson seemingly taking cues from John Wayne as unit commander Hal Moore, relies in the early going on a simplistic “defense of freedom” justification for the war. The movie equates the unquestionable valour of the individual soldiers with validity of purpose of those who directed and perpetuated this war.

The second half brackets in on a vicious three-day firefight in the Ia Drang valley of the central highlands. It pitted an elite AirCav (air cavalry) battalion — the cutting edge of American military technology and strategy in 1965 — against three battalions of battle-hardened, highly motivated North Vietnamese determined to deal the Americans the same thrashing they’d dealt the French a decade earlier.

It’s all energy, action, visceral. No politics. Just the primal elements — life and death and the guys on your right and left. Horrific images of napalm-broiled flesh, slo-mos of bodies literally ripped by machine gun fire. War is hell writ large, as if we didn’t already know.

When We Were Soldiers, notwithstanding the critical accolades and a strong box office, is a one-dimensional motion picture, bereft of context, strong on unquestioning patriotism.

In the end, the Americans won — barely — mostly because they were able to call on overwhelming artillery and air support. But not before they came perilously close to being overrun and wiped out. Ironically, the unit involved — the 7th Cavalry — was the same one George Custer led into the Little Bighorn.

The events depicted are the most concentrated and intense action of the larger 34-day Ia Drang Campaign of October/November 1965 when the entire AirCav division was committed to the jungle highlands to engage the North Vietnamese on their own turf.

Bunston spent three weeks on recon patrol in the Ia Drang Valley as a fire team leader. It was their baptism by fire. By the end of the campaign, his 44-man platoon had been reduced to 17 and he was the only survivor of his four-member team.

During the three terrifying days depicted in the movie, Bunston was close enough to monitor 7th Cav radio traffic as their situation in the clearing designated LZ X-Ray became increasingly desperate.

By the time the 7th Cav was able to safely withdraw, 200 Americans had been killed or wounded. Among the dead, Bunston could count 30 men he’d known well, guys he’d trained and chummed with for three years.

A friend wounded at X-Ray told him of “standing up against a tree, stunned by a mortar round, a North Vietnamese officer in front of him with a .45 pistol pointed at his forehead. That’s the last he remembers. When the round went off it skipped off the bridge of his nose and he lost an eye, woke up in the MASH unit back at An Khe. I’m just aghast, I’m just absolutely astounded.”

When Paramount Pictures invited Bunston to a pre-release screening of When We Were Soldiers, Bunston told the studio rep: “Look lady, I saw the original play and it was lousy. Why would I want to see the movie?”

Likewise he has avoided the book that spawned it.

“Couldn’t bring myself to read about the historical details of their deaths.”

In the end, he agreed to go, then left halfway through.

This night, at the behest of a reporter, he’s agreed to give the movie a second chance. The frosty walk from the theatre up King Street’s been mostly silent, perhaps to let the searing images of violence and death recede and reassemble in some kind of pattern.

Witnessing a recreation of this long-ago nightmare — even a Hollywood recreation shot in California — has clearly been a trial. Bunston huddles over his cardboard cup and says in a voice barely audible: “I felt as though I had stopped breathing somewhere in the film. It’s a very gutty thing. It grabs you by the short and curlies. I put my feet on the ground and just breathed deeply to clear my head and get emotions under control.”

Bunston knows of what he speaks. Part of the first AirCav units sent in to kick over the North Vietnamese beehive at Ia Drang, he patrolled in jungle so thick it could take an entire afternoon to advance 100 metres. With green kids fresh out of basic training, he fought firefights against an enemy rarely seen beyond flashes of automatic fire. The Americans were always outnumbered, but the equalizer was artillery which could be called in within metres of a position. “When it comes in over your head you can hear the soft whoosh-whoosh but when it’s coming in really close, you don’t hear it. A couple rounds came in and then we didn’t hear anything.”

A 105-mm shrapnel shell landed right on top of Bunston’s fire team. A 17-year-old from northern Oregon, both legs blown off, died in his arms. Bits of the radio operator, a farmboy from the Midwest, were blown into the mike and stunk for days. Bunston had only a slash on his hand.

At night, the artillery returned to clear the perimeter long enough for choppers to get the dead and wounded out. The rest carried on the patrol.

In another firefight, Bunston’s understrength platoon stumbled right into the back end of an entire battalion of North Vietnamese regulars. In the ensuing free-for-all, Bunston experienced what’s sometimes called the Adrenalin Morph.

“You just slow down, like your actions are in complete slow motion, you feel as though you’re moving faster than the bullets. I’ve got one part of me fighting and another part reacting. I’m within screaming distance of a North Vietnamese machine gun. I’m peppering shots back, he’s got a .50 cal, he’s gonna tear my ass to shreds and I’m screaming at him … ‘You can’t shoot me, I’m a citizen of the Queen!’

“I was just, like … snap.”

In Ia Drang, Bunston would watch six guys from A-Company die.

At a Formica table 37 years later, the still-warm memories meld with the cinematic image like bookends on a recurring nightmare.

“I lived and walked just on the edge of this event. I carried it out of there within me. That the 7th experienced a hell few had to deal with is beyond question. And the film does accurately portray the intensity. They fought the big one. As a powerful story about the boys in that unit, it’s fine, but I’m looking for a bigger answer to ‘why that war?'”

In the end, he says, films like When We Were Soldiers are essentially futile, not so much because of what they show but because of what they don’t.

“We all know how much the Vietnamese have suffered, we all know how much the Americans have suffered — I don’t see any attempt to resolve it. Vietnam was, and is, a scar on the entire fabric of the North American mind. There’s no indication they’ve learned anything from war. In the U.S., they continually refer to the mistakes of Vietnam. They’ll point at everything from journalism to protesters, everything except their own policies.”

The movie carries a jarring element of dj vu, Bunston says.

“The message and themes are the very reason they failed in the first place. It’s like a continuation of the same myth — defending freedom against a dark and sinister force.”

Rather than liberty, he says, it was the interests of big oil and big banks. “It was a war fought for the interests of empire to which we all belong.”

The Ia Drang Campaign cost the Americans 305 dead and the North Vietnamese an estimated 3,561. It was the first act in a 10-year danse macabre that would kill 1.7 million, maim 3 million more and create 13 million refugees.

Bunston spent only six months in Vietnam — skirting the edge of hell, in his phrase — and came away forever branded by the war.

He regards the experience with a mix of grief and regret.

“I am retired from the wars of the planet. There were a lot of years of nightmares.” From a time when Ron Bunston was a soldier … and young.

You can contact James Elliott at jelliott@hamiltonspectator.com or at 905-526-2444.

GRIEF AND REGRET – A Fonthill native and Vietnam War veteran says Hollywood films about the conflict are essentially futile because of what they don’t show.

Credit: The Hamilton Spectator

Abstract (Document Summary)

Photo: Spectator File Photo; In 1965 Fonthill native [Ron Bunston] spent six months in Vietnam fighting for the United States army. He was forever branded by the horrifying experience.; Photo: Scott Gardner, the Hamilton Spectator; Ron Bunston fought for the United States in the Vietnam War. When he watched the movie When We Were Soldiers, ‘it felt as though I had stopped breathing.’; Photo: Scott Gardner, the Hamilton Spectator; Citations from Bunston’s tour of duty when he served as a U.S. Army Ranger.; Photo: Spectator File Photo; Time out from jungle warfare against the North Vietnamese to get a haircut.

Credit: The Hamilton Spectator

[Final Edition]
The Spectator – Hamilton, Ont.
Author: James Elliott
Date: Mar 23, 2002
Start Page: A.01
Section: News
Text Word Count: 1801

Peering into other lives

Enormous wonders are hiding in plain sight. Sometimes they are the world around us, and other times they are people. Vivian Maier was both – she was studiously particular abut her craft, and highly secretive in her practice.

http://vivianmaier.blogspot.com

I see something interesting in her life’s work…it could not have been so excellent if she were to become even a trifle famous, let alone familiar. She was a ghost taking wonderful pictures of people and world around her. A kind of urban combat photographer.

Also, it gives me pause to consider the giants in this world who eschew notoriety. Mny of the subjects interviewed who knew her were oddly put off by the wonderful sew ret life she lead. I wonder if they would have been as put off if she were ordinary and not gifted. How sociopathic of us to *need* attention even when we are wonderfully gifted. There is something huge and beautiful about being great at something and merely being happy to be able to do it.

Take a peek at the material…I can’t imagine the effort it will take to unearth all of her works (consider the mountain of *un*developed film she left behind), but what a gift, and it will keep on giving.

Enjoy!

Lemons, sweet lemons.

DNTO had a great topic today…

What happened when life handed you lemons? [podcast link here]

So many successes are the result of quick hands rescuing things from the fire. Which sounds like this entire spring for me…as half the household fights off pneumonia.

But I digress.

I really feel for the athlete highlighted named Israel, in his tale of continual tribulation and that its important to keep trying, in some cases no matter what, but in some cases it’s also important to know when to let go. I struggled for a few years with a similar scenario. It was the only life choice I’ve made that gave me nightmares…for years.

In 1995-96 I was wrapping up my competitive collegiate career at the University of Arkansas, in one of the most successful track programmes in the history of the NCAA – and one the most prolific programs in all NCAA sport, period.

The team was amazing. We were used to pulling victories from hats all the time. Our presence turned heads in a good way, no matter how silly we were. It was normal for us to be watched; studied even. Our NCAA division 1 team appearances were scrutinized for every possible glitch, tactical change, and team change-up. Meaningless details took on meaning for people. Rumors abounded and we always had to be careful about what we said or did at most times.

We won. A lot.

John McDonnell: The Most Successful Coach in NCAA History

In 1995 I was busy racing, training and prepping for the defense of my 1994 NCAA Indoor Men’s 5000m title. However things were unravelling quickly after a good start to the season. By late February I had missed too many workouts due to a three week long series of sinus infections, colds, and a bout of bursitis on one knee. Training had derailed so badly that I was moved to the 3000m because my fitness was deemed poor enough that I was likely to win too few points in the 5000 should I have competed.  I was the defending champion in the 5k and despite my intentions to compete in 5k I was overruled because I could not prove I was ready. Fair enough. I took the assignment.

But it gets worse. I was knocked into a somersault in the first 70 meters of the race:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HD1DyGbrlQ8

That’s me going down along with the fellow in Orange – the defending 2nd place finisher from the year before. He had been race favorite and was ready to win. He dropped out shortly afterward having dislocated his shoulder in the tumble. I was assuming my role was to tag along and try to stay close to the front. The fall startled the field and the pace lagged and an opportunity emerged. The video tells the rest.

Fast forward to 1996 and a similar situation arises in a different context. 1996 was a key year with the 1996 Olympics going on in Atlanta GA. My plan was to make the team in the 5000m, Competing for Canada. If all went well I’d be a shoo-in.

By Feb, I was in the best shape of my life, ripping out some very fast times that were nearly world-leading in the 3k indoors. A small nodule appeared on my achilles one day and after some discussion I and my physiotherapist decided to “work it smooth” thinking it would dissolved after one or two sessions. Instead it inflamed like a balloon, and I was again missing workout after workout with a comically swollen achilles.

I was able to get it recovered to normal in about 4 weeks, just in time to whip together some good workouts just before heading to the World Cross Country Championships in South Africa in mid March. I was feeling pretty good merely getting to compete again even if I was not ready to run at top form. On that trip, almost the entire team ended up contracting salmonella poisoning, some were so sick they were hospitalized prior to departure from the country. I ended up seemingly ok, but became violently ill upon return to University. I dropped almost 20 pounds in the next week.

Once again, I had to recover to form, finish my NCAA season, and move onto post-collegiate competition chasing that elusive Olmpic ideal.

NCAA Championships went well enough. We did win yet another team title. My teammate and I were significant contributors to the win (1-2 and 2-3 in the 10k and 5k).

NCAA Men’s 10k race

Two things still had to happen for me to make that Olympic team in late June: run a fast 5k (faster than 13:29) and finish top three at the Olympic trials. The former was simply not possibly at that point since fast group races were hard to find and I’d missed my early season chance with the salmonella bout. The latter happened after trying unsuccessfully to run very fast *at* those olympic trials. I was top-three, but the olympic deadline was the event itself at the Olympic trials. To make matters even more insulting a local favourite in a field event was allowed to petition to have his event re-run after the medals were handed out as he missed making standard as well. That opened up an opportunity for a legal challenge for every other competitor. This would factor in later. I walked away from those trials making the statement that I would have Olympic standard by July 7. The Winner of my 5k Olympic trials race sued to get the deadline extended to July 6th when he would try to make standard.

I went on to not only run standard, but I set a Canadian record of 13:22. Seven seconds faster than the standard. I was also returning to form and ready to run faster. I returned to Canada to a flurry of press and legal activity. I ended up not being allowed to compete, despite the American Olympic team coach offering to help find the funding if the COC could not find it. Lot was going on and it was focused on the man-made hurdle that was in front of us.

July 17th. It was two days before the games opening. Then something horrible occurred.

A friend from the U of Arkansas, a retired U of A athlete, and well-loved friend of the team named Dan Gabor was heading to Europe. He was typically travelling to perform tree-ring analysis work for the Geography department, and had gotten a stand-by seat on a trans-Atlantic flight to meet his girlfriend in Paris. It was TWA flight 800. The flight blew up over ocean past Long island. No one survived.

Dan Gabor Memorial gate

At the point of hearing that we was on the flight it was clear that the lemons I was handling were a very sweet variety compared to the kind I thought I had on my hands. I did not mind missing the games at that point. Disappointed yes, but more opportunities and challenges would arise later on, but I still had my legs, my life, and my future. Dan was gone forever and he *enjoyed* his life and everyone around him. People enjoyed him. He was gone to us now. So how to put the so-called lemons into context?

Each problem was in itself nothing different from any of the successes I was enjoying. A down should be no different from an “up”. They are all challenges.

So I eventually retired with as little fanfare as when I got into the sport, and moved onto many other great and interesting things (to me anyway), and got married and had children. Every lemon has been as enjoyable as everything else that wasn’t. And what I learned from that final lesson is that it’s important to make the most of every day you have no matter how good or bad. If you knew it was your last even a bad day would be a blessing.

Peace.

From a post to a thread on copying prior art, copyright, and creativity.

Reacting to the competition and copying them are different things. We learn by doing in most cases, which is copying. We innovate by playing, which is working out new ways to execute what we’ve copied. Without copying we can’t learn anything – knowledge is by definition prior art.

Several posters have cited cases where great leaders have bragged about copying. I regard that as sheer honesty.

No one lives in a vacuum and no one innovates on their own. If you learned a language you are copying. It’s how we develop a baseline for new endeavours. The really interesting innovators try as best as possible to solve real world problems, or to reimagine existing solutions. There is a lot of convergent evolution in this space at times, and we often see different people come up with nearly the same solutions independently. That is a good thing, and indicative of the richness of intellectual curiosity in the community.

Using a climbing analogy – we build invisible mountains out of experience and knowledge. As soon as you stop to admire about the peak you’ve scaled, someone else has passed you using a route you never thought to follow. S

top thinking about your place and start thinking about where you want to go. Someone suggested a track and field analogy. It fits perfectly. The second of space right before the gun goes off is where your thinking is purest.

Pure focus and pure anticipation. Nothing else exists outside of your commitment to act creatively.

Data is the new oil.

Verizon draws fire for monitoring app usage, browsing habits | Politics and Law – CNET News.

“We’re able to view just everything that they do,” Bill Diggins, U.S. chief for the Verizon Wireless marketing initiative, told an industry conference earlier this year. “And that’s really where data is going today. Data is the new oil.

While not new to anyone in the IT Services industry, anyone in touch with IT administration knows just how much we can deduce with advanced real time monitoring tools…it’s a good reminder as to the motivations at play in the open market at the consumer and B2B level. The knowledge of what happens on the network is the first step. Manipulation or redirection of what happens on the network is the business goal for many network owners. (think Netflix vs Comcast, net neutrality, etc…). Those who successfully gain these advantages have major advantages over competitors and anyone looking to bring new services or component services to market (think twitter, vimeo, youtube, pastebin, scribd…any service that allows embedding as a primary or secondary means of presentation).

It’ll be interesting to see what happens with this. This is the first time in my memory an executive in the network services player has openly admitted the value of the data in such simple terms. While this is generally the goal of any private network, it appears that some private network principles are being applied to the open network

But that’s really what is at stake now…data is the new oil.

Resetting User permissions on MacOS X (a proper fix).

I’m saving this here mainly to save myself hours of time later on. I’m not sure why this is buried as the Apple support community is *fully* of references to issues solved by use of this fix.

Want to really Repair Permissions on your Mac? Try this. | TechBlog | a Chron.com blog.

This is a great tip for the power and novice users out there pushing the limits of their software on MacoOS X (typically 10.5-10.7). I’ve been a keen promoter of a great user and system migration tool named “Migration Assistant”. What I haven’t run into for some time have been the numerous permissions issues that can pop up. The problems I’ve run into lately occurred after a clean install of MacOS X when I recently upgrade my desktop instead of replacing it. I did of course clone my system but along came some junk and deprecated user profile permissions. I’ve been upgrading and migrating since MacOS 10.1! Maybe time for a full reinstall? Tough to accomplish when you use the iLife suite with all the linkages and file databases.

I put in more RAM and an SSD for my boot drive, which i think was a better investment that  should carry me for another 2+ years. I also upgraded the CPUs – a tricky move if not done properly (thermal issues abound if you get too greedy and go for something that runs too hot). So far so good though.

And on top of that I have been busy putting together team sharing workflows (DropBox, Google Docs, etc), and just as I’ve settled into using my main desktop as a creative and workflow management hub I start getting repeat CPU freezes and various permissions issues. Indexing has been a hassle, and apps have been unable to save their preferences and/or function normally. Setting permissions manually is not an issue. The relatively complex nested ACLs that are now required in MacOS X Lion were. The system logs tell enough of the story, but linking those logged errors to permissions issues was not so easy. Google is great but crowd-sourced knowledge isn’t always up to snuff.

How to reset though? I’m a fan of standard practice, and wanted to reset to factory specific ACL settings but the built-in permissions check/repair in Disk Utility din’t in fact repair *user* permissions…only system permissions. After much searching I found a solution at the link above – hidden away:

This tool is squirreled away for some reason inside an obscure password reset feature. Here’s how you use it.

 

1. Restart Lion, and before you hear the chime, hold down the Command and R keys.

 

2. You’ll be at the Repair Utilities screen. Click the Utilities item in the Menu Bar, then click Terminal.

 

3. In the Terminal window, type resetpassword and hit Return.

 

4. The password reset utility window launches, but you’re not going to reset the password. Instead, click on icon for your Mac’s hard drive at the top. From the dropdown below it, select the user account where you’re having issues.

 

5. At the bottom of the window, you’ll see an area labeled Reset Home Directory Permissions and ACLs. Click the Reset button there.

 

The reset process takes just a couple of minutes. When it’s done, exit the programs you’ve opened and restart your Mac.

 

 

So there you have it …so far everything actually works again. CPU activity is backing off to normal again, and the startup and login routines aren’t posting obscure errors anymore. Lovely.

Spring training

So I’m back to doing some running. And I always have to make it a challenge. This month marks the 4th time in one year I’ve begun a crash course in training.  Usually a ritual that involves losing half of my toenails to blisters while I break myself in again running fartlek style 10 milers until it stops taking me three to four days recovery in between. Only this time I’m in a group!

Check em out.

The fellow at right used to be a pretty talented high schooler, and he grew up to be a very talented coach and group leader. His baby is Marathon Dynamics, and I encourage anyone looking for a good performance group to check them out.

In the meantime I need to dig up those high school photos and find a decent heart rate monitor so I don’t end up needing a defib.

OCZ Vertex Series SATA II 2.5″ SSD *EOL – OCZ

OCZ Vertex Series SATA II 2.5″ SSD *EOL – OCZ.

Just put one of these in my 2008 era Mac Pro…on a lark to see if I could squeeze some more performance out of what appeared to be a slowing machine, running MacOS 10.7. I’m purposely not spending the extra $$ on the more reliable SSDs as I’d like to see how these perform (or fail) first. Plus I have a Drobo Pro JIC.

First impression of SSD use. Wow.

I saw a massive boost in performance right away. Applications are much snappier, and bootup and restart times are much quicker, as expected. All around worth the $$. A new Mac Pro quote was going to sit around ~3400.00 so I’m going to see if this will delay that by a year or more. Since OS 10.7 allows apps to resume on login the speedier disk reduces the lag I see when waiting for the desktop to fully load.

So far very happy!