accesses since June 10 1997
Wednesday, June 6, 1997
The third Pleiku Pals "field trip" gathering was held in Little Rock, Arkansas, during 16-18 May 1997. We had such a wonderful time last year, and Andy and Maka Andrews are terrific host and hostess. When Andy and Maka invited us back to their home this year, we accepted their invitation without hesitation.
Not only are Andy and Maka wonderful, caring, and comfortable people, but Maka is a great cook, and this year she whipped up some scrumptious Dutch pancakes and other delicious fare. Never had anything quite so good, and along with bacon, potatoes, and all the other breakfast trimmings, we thoroughly stuffed ourselves on Sunday morning. Earl Day probably wanted biscuits and gravy, but he enjoyed Maka's delights as we did.
A few of us arrived in Little Rock on Thursday, and a couple on Friday. Some had to leave on Sunday afternoon, a few of us left Monday morning. Last year nobody arrived til Friday, and we learned this wasn't enough time.
The majority of the group was at the first "field trip" in Little Rock a year ago, so we didn't have to spend much time getting acquainted. Now, it must be clearly understood that our "field trip" gatherings are open to anyone and everyone in the Pleiku Pals, it's just coincidence that pretty much the same group came again this year. Maybe it's kind of a regional thing, as a somewhat different group met at Brenda's and my home in Alamosa, CO, last Fall ( Field Trip 96 )
Earl Day had met some of us in Alamosa last Fall, so the others spent a couple of minutes getting acquainted with Earl. It only takes a few minutes to get to know Earl Day, a peach of a guy as everyone in the Pals knows from having received his caring and thoughtful letters. Mostly, what one needs to know about Earl is that he's pretty uncomplicated, and, he loves "biscuits and gravy." Give Earl biscuits and gravy, and you've got it made. : - )
Friday was a day for re-acquaintance among Andy and Maka, Edd Garrison of Gainesville, Georgia, Ken Kalicki of Joliet, Illinois, Dale Smith of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, George Hochstadter of Pueblo, Colorado, Earl Day of Salt Point, New York, and Doug Bulen (me) of Alamosa, Colorado. Come to think of it, our "field trip" was not a regional thing at all, we just decided we were going to be there, and we were.
That night Andy and Maka took us to the same "catfish and hush puppies" place in Arkansas, maybe anyplace. Boy, is that food good; we went there last year, too. We all ordered "catfish" of course -- even us Yankees -- with sides of "greens" and "deep-fried onions and zucchini." Lots of "hush puppies" (no, these ain't shoes), corn bread, and french fries -- we didn't eat a lot of french fries, they just got in the way of the "real food." We washed this down with a few pitchers of "brew" of course.
Then it was back to "the house," where we watched Earl's video taken during the "Colorado Field Trip" last Fall, during which we went to Angel Fire, the DAV Vietnam Memorial, and Taos, New Mexico. We also watched the video shown at the museum at the Angel Fire memorial, compliments of George, and a few hankies showed themselves. It was a pretty emotional time, but we got through it together, and that's the important thing.
Saturday morning we went to -- ah shucks, I can't remember the name of the place; I could write to Andy and ask, but then he'd remember that I don't remember very well -- the most important thing to know is that this place serves great "biscuits and gravy." Now, a lot of us like biscuits and gravy, but no one likes biscuits and gravy more than does Earl Day. I think Earl Day could live on "biscuits and gravy," which apparently are quite hard to find in upstate New York. Come to think of it, I don't recall "biscuits and gravy" being a overly popular, if at all, item on menus in Minnesota where I come from.
George Hochstadter is the one who did it, told the nice waitress -- she earned her tip, let me tell you -- to bring Earl a little saucer with a tablespoon of "gravy" and a half a "biscuit." Then, we all watched as she brought it to Earl; there's a picture of this in the photo section, and Earl's expression was priceless. We all consumed huge, low-cal, low-fat breakfasts that morning, what with ham, bacon, eggs, lots of biscuits and gravy (as long as we kept Earl away), et al. I ate two shares of grits, too, while everyone else was getting a kick out of this. Here I am, a good ole Minnesota boy chowing down on "them grits" and all the Southerners asking me "How can you eat that stuff?" I'm confused about this, when I was growing up in Minnesota I never heard of "grits," and I learned to eat this stuff during my first Air Force assignment in Warner Robins, Georgia, along with mustard greens, collard greens, turnip greens, et al. I used to tell people, "Heck, in Minnesota we throw away the greens and eat the vegetables, in Georgia they throw away the vegetables and eat the greens." Guess there wouldn't be enough food to go around if we all liked the same thing.
After breakfast we waddled out to the cars -- Earl and I rode with Andy in his new bright red Camaro Z-28, with six speeds this and a little of that, all I know is that I got whiplash every time Andy initiated a start from a stop sign. There were a bunch of cars, and though we got separated -- Andy, Earl, and I started out in front, ended up in back, don't know how that happened -- we rejoined at the Arkansas Vietnam Memorial on the State Capital grounds in Little Rock.
The demeanor of the group changed abruptly and substantively, we were in a "sacred" place that only Vietnam Veterans understand -- I think a lot of spouses understand pretty well, too. We milled-around together and individually, the walls of the memorial had the names of all Arkansas' casualties. The memorial is centered by a masterful rendition of a "Vietnam Foot Soldier," replete with all the gear a soldier carried to the field. Being an Air Force type guy, I was intrigued with the discussion among the "real soldiers" who were there. After considerable discussion, the agreement was that the "memorial" soldier carried gear that was used in Vietnam over many years, and what was familiar to one might look strange to another among us who had carried this stuff through around and through the Central Highlands of the Republic of Vietnam.
Noticing such things as I am apt to do, I reflected to Andy that "The lieutenant governor was present the day this memorial was dedicated, the "governor" was not. Why was this?" Andy's reply was "As I recall the governor was out of the state that day." To which I replied, "This memorial was not dedicated on a moment's notice, General William Westmoreland and other high dignitaries were here, I don't buy the idea that the governor could not arrange his schedule to be present in the state capital city of Arkansas for the dedication of the Arkansas Vietnam Veterans Memorial." The governor of Arkansas "back then" was William Jefferson Clinton.
From the memorial we drove out to Little Rock Air Force Base north of the city, the Army types didn't particularly want to go but they deferred us Air Force types -- Andy, Dale, and me, all three of us career "lifers" as some called us -- and so we went. At the main entrance to the base is a C-130, of and in itself not a big deal, since thousands of this aircraft were built until just a few years ago, the longest continuous production of any aircraft, exceeding even the C-47. The significance of this particular C-130 is that this aircraft was the LAST aircraft out of Saigon before the Fall on April 30, 1975. This aircraft had been turned-over to the Vietnamese (South) Air Force -- VNAF as we knew it then. The C-130 was flown that day by a VNAF crew, and the aircraft was flown to Thailand (I think, Andy will have to refresh me on this.) The significance is that this flight had over 250 people on board, including 30 on the flight deck itself. Anyone having flown on a C-130, a good-sized aircraft, can in no way envision 250 people on board. There are many stories recounted over these years about people running down the runway and jumping on board this C-130 as it taxied away from the terminal at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon -- for novices, by the way, to Vietnam Veterans Saigon will always be "Saigon" and none of this "Ho Chi Minh City" junk. \ : - )
Saturday evening we wanted to take Andy and Maka out to dinner, but Maka said "No, we're staying here," and that was that! If you haven't met Maka Andrews you have missed meeting a wonderful person, a wonderful wife, and a great friend of "us guys." Andy is a nice guy, too, but we're talking about Maka here. Maka fixed a dinner that evening of baked chicken and trimmings -- I don't know what she did to that chicken, but whatever, it was deliciously delectable. By the time we were finished, we had all decided the best food in Little Rock was at "Maka's Place." Maka just smiled, probably thinking "Oh you guys will eat anything." She's probably right, but that food was wonderful, and Maka Andrews surely knows her way around the kitchen. Maka, by the way, is the Administrative Director for a large social services organization in Little Rock.
Lots of conversation took place after dinner until almost midnight. No, we didn't solve any major world problems, didn't really resolve any great issues of "Vietnam" or "politics" et al. We did educate each other on the nuances of "computers," however, mostly learning that Edd Garrison and George Hochstadter have a headstart on the rest of us on this subject. We found on almost any topic that came up that we agreed on some things and ardently disagreed on others. But, it didn't matter, we were glad to be with each other, and that was the only thing that really mattered anyway. I think we had to reel George in a couple of times, he got off on "capital gains cut" or something, and in general we decided that topic didn't hold a lot of interest for us, particularly since we had other things in common. George Hochstadter, a large man not only in size but stature, is a teddy bear in disguise. You cannot love this man, you cannot love anyone. George: \ : - )
We talked a lot about our personal lives, our families, and the things that were joyful and sad to us. Edd Garrison lost a sister in August 1996, then this Winter lost both of his parents in a week's span. We shared these stories and many remembrances, and these stories went around and around through the group. Dale Smith has experienced divorce and a cancerous tumor since we saw him at Andys and Maka's a year ago, and Dale knows that he has support that he could never have imagined before he became involved in the Pleiku Pals. George Hochstadter is experiencing a severe case of osteoporosis, no doubt from the affects of Agent Orange in Vietnam, and it was interesting to watch and listen to the group as this was cussed and discussed. We were all reminded, again, that now the official position of the U.S. Government is: "If you were in Vietnam, you WERE exposed to Agent Orange," and you better get those Prostate exams quickly and regularly.
Oh, we probably all expressed things among that group that Saturday night, none of it secretive per se, but no doubt many closely-held things were said within that close circle of new friends. We even agreed that things we were saying to "other men" fell into the category of "ain't never done this before." It was wonderful, and there's no way for me or any of the others to describe the experience of this or our other "field trip" gatherings.
Sunday was a more relaxed, laid-back day, I think we were pretty well spent from the activities and long Saturday. The best part of the day was Maka's Dutch pancakes, no doubt. It must be lunch time or something, I sure am thinking a lot about those pancakes. Dale Smith had a Sunday flight back to New Hampshire, and George Hochstadter and Ken Kalicki headed back to Chicago; George had flown from Colorado Springs to Chicago to drive down from Chicago to Little Rock with Ken. All weekend Ken kept telling us "I've got $200 for expenses if you want to trade with me," and both Ken and George were saying something about ". . . new meaning to patience." Never did quite figure this out, but I think it had something to do with who was ". . . doing the most talking," and both professed it was the other. : - ) They apparently had an interesting and eventful drive back to Chicago, too, having to do with "car trouble" and where to "stop for dinner."
Later in the afternoon, Andy, Earl, Edd, and I spent some time at the "Greek Festival" in Little Rock, then went to a neat little place and had some terrific barbecue, always good, and I think "Southern barbecue" is a bit better than other. We enjoyed this place, not only for the food, because it was on the edge of the "Yippie" part of Little Rock and those of us who remember could liken it to a "flower children" hangout. I doubt any of us were sure about this, I don't think we ever were "flower children," they in general were not big fans of GIs during that time.
Sunday evening was more quiet, we already missed Dale, Ken, and George, and we realized out special weekend would soon be at end.
Monday morning saw us on our way, I had a flight at 8:45, Edd at 10-something, and Earl after lunch. Andy was "taxi driver" for a day. Andy and I probably have never told Earl this little secret, but we stopped off for "biscuits and gravy" on the way to the airport; it was breakfast time after all. Sorry Earl, well not too sorry. You know, I once said to a sister "I'm sorry," and her reply was "Yes, you surely are!" I learned to be more careful on how I phrased that expression after that. Anyway, the "B & G" was really good.
Truly, it was a great weekend, and I commend a "field trip gathering" to all Pleiku Pals members. One thing for sure, I have formed friendships that will last the rest of my life. These friends are my compatriots and now soul mates. I will add that I also have made lifelong friendships with others in our group, though we have not met and may never do so.
One of our recent topics in the group has been ". . . I would not give up my Vietnam experience . . . " Mind you, there are many Vietnam Veterans who would not repeat any part of their experience for anything. Still, there parts of our experiences that still -- probably always will -- pull and gnaw at us, a strange sort of nostalgia that tugs at us and we don't know why or understand, probably never will. Glynn Kohler, who was in Little Rock last year and could not make it this year because a family illness, wrote recently "Now, for what it would take for my experience to be complete. Without even a shadow of a doubt, I must return to the Central Highlands for my Vietnam experience to be complete." I am not sure what it will take for me or others to "complete" our Vietnam experience. I am sure that those of us who have the privilege to belong and participate in the "Pleiku Pals" will maybe say "Vietnam was worth it because we can be part of this group." This is an awesome statement that only we can understand and appreciate. We tell others about our group, what we do, what we mean to each other, and I sense that some others are somewhat jealous. Yes, we have something that others can not have, BUT, we paid a hell of a price for it.
Well, that's my story about our third "field trip" gathering, held in Little Rock during 16-18 May 1997. Blessings to all of our group and all who might read this story.
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