Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Memorial Day 2017: A Story of Two Old Warriors and “The Prayer”

Copyright © Kim Roberts

May 29, 2017 is the American Memorial Day. This is a special time to commemorate the supreme acts of patriotism by fallen soldiers in the battlefield and veterans who died after serving their country. As the season transitions from brilliant spring colors of lush, green grass and dazzling flowers into intensely warm sunrays twirling over the treetops, toasting in the heat of summertime, Memorial Day is here. On this day, I always remember fondly two old warriors who often sat on my flower deck, cracking Dunginess crab legs, and telling war stories all day. They were members of the Great Generation: two WWII warriors who fought for what they believed in and were wounded in the battlefield: my late husband, E. B., and our late best friend, Dr. Andrew G. Jameson whom I call Andy. For their combat services, both were awarded Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster among other medals.
E.B. was a humbled old combat warrior who landed in Normandy, fought the Battle of the Bulge, Battle of Arnhem, and in Vietnam. He passed away nine years before his friend Andy died. At E.B.’s memorial service on November 10, 2005, instead of listing his military accomplishments, medals, and valor, Andy gave a short eulogy in which he recounted a poignant yet eloquent story—a story of an old warrior’s reflective and mellow prayer.

“When E. B. was admitted to the Hospital in August, among his personal belongings which Kim brought home was his wallet. And in a hidden pocket of the wallet, there was a piece of yellowed and torn paper—which must have been folded and refolded many times—on which was typed a prayer. The prayer is anonymous, and there is no indication of its source. But the text of the prayer can be traced back to the seventeenth century, and, in a number of versions under the title “A Meditation.” The words of the prayer are as clear, as honest, and as humane as he who carried it; it is remarkably autobiographical. Where E. B. obtained his version is not known. It is entitled “The Prayer;” and it is addressed to the Lord.

“Now Lord you've known me a long time.
You know me better than I know myself.
You know that each day I am growing older and some day may even be very old. So meanwhile, please keep me from the habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion.
Release me from trying to straighten out everyone's affairs.
Make me thoughtful, but not moody, helpful but not overbearing.
I've a certain amount of knowledge to share, still it would be very nice to have a few friends who, at the end, recognized and forgave the knowledge I lacked.
Keep my tongue free from the recital of endless details.
Seal my lips on my aches and pains: they increase daily and the need to speak of them becomes almost a compulsion.
I ask for grace enough to listen to the retelling of others' afflictions and to be helped to endure them with patience.
I would like to have improved memory, but I'll settle for growing humility and an ability to capitulate when my memory clashes with the memory of others.
Teach me the glorious lesson that on some occasions I may be mistaken.
Keep me reasonably kind; I've never aspired to be a saint……
Saints must be rather difficult to live with…….
Yet on the other hand, an embittered old person is a constant burden.
Please give me the ability to see good in unlikely places and talents in unexpected people.
And give me the grace to tell them so, dear Lord.                                      

The piece of paper in E. B.’s wallet also contained a quote from Henry David Thoreau: “If a man doesn’t keep pace with his companies, it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears however measure or far away.”

The quote, like the prayer, is also remarkably close to E. B.’s own credo. Whereas the prayer is a measure of E. B. the man, the Thoreau quote is a measure of E. B. the soldier. Perhaps the work that can describe E. B. as both man and soldier is the Greek word “kalos” which in its Homeric meaning conveys a sense of quality, of genuine and noble character, of merit and virtue. The usual English translation of the Greek “kalos” as “good” does not adequately convey the deeper moral meaning of that ancient word. E. B. was a “kalos anthropos” and “strategos”: he was a good man and a good soldier.”
In addition to Andy's simplistic and heartfelt eulogy that affected everyone attending the service at the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, historian Kevin Starr also gave a long, profound eulogy. The most memorable description of E. B. was when Starr said, " ... Those of us who were privileged to know E. B., knew him as the quintessential gentleman clubman – affable, polished, giving pleasure to others, and never deliberately causing others pain, a trait that the great John Henry Cardinal Newman discerned as being of the essence of the gentlemanly condition: never deliberately to cause another person pain.... 
This great soldier, tested in battle after battle, had a strongly developed aesthetic sense, evident in his regard for music and his love for the American classics, especially his most beloved Henry David Thoreau.  Again: a paradox.  The great General, the warrior par excellence, finding something powerfully sympathetic in the writings of a Concord, Massachusetts, isolato, a man who went his own way, marching, as he once said, to the beat of a different drummer...."
Both speakers were renown scholars but their styles were so far apart. Yet knowing them well, I rationalized that it was Andy's best way to pay tribute to his best friend and perhaps, someday, when it came to his turn, he would wish to receive the same humble yet meaningful eulogy. Besides being E. B.'s friend, Andy's friendship with me went back over two decades as he was my mentor and dissertation reader.  We would spend hours and days chatting over our diverse philosophical views, debating politics, and discussing our individual writing projects.

But there was a deeper emotional connection between Andy and my husband as they both were in the Battle of Bulge (1944-1945) at the same time even though they did not know each other then. Despite the fact that they were not gladiators, samurais, or Spartacus, they fought for a cause they believed in: to liberate Europe from German occupation and attacks. In the old days, these soldiers would lay their lives on the line within range of enemy weapons. Death or dismemberment was predictably high but that was the only way to fight.

“I discharged my weapon at the sight of several Germans coming out behind the trees. Next thing I knew, I screamed as there was a blast behind me and shrapnel had hit me. My comrade pulled me away and dragged me to other fellow troopers who brought me to the hospital. As the surgeon just finished removing pieces of shrapnel out of my back, stitching me, and putting bandages on, an officer came around with a purple heart and pinned it on my hospital gown. Suddenly, there was a huge explosion. The hospital was bombed. My body was flown from my bed to a corner of the room. This time the blast hit my head so until today, I’ve totally lost hearing in my left ear…,” said Andy. Then he chuckled, “There you have it, another officer came around with another purple heart…”

Both Andy and E. B. often made fun of their battle experience. E. B. would tell everyone over and over, “As for me, nothing like jumping out of an airplane being on fire, loaded with heavy equipment on your back, and during landing, you chute got caught in a tree. Just imagine, dangling from a tree while German guns were pointing at you, hahaha!"

During the Battle of the Bulge where Andy was badly wounded, he was a nineteen-year old combat infantry sergeant. After the war, he used his GI Bill and went back to school, earning a PhD from Sorbonne in Paris and back in the U.S., he earned another PhD in Byzantine History from Harvard and a Masters of Library Science from Simmons College. After teaching at Harvard for twenty years, Andy returned to his hometown in the Bay Area and served as Vice Chancellor at U.C. Berkeley where he oversaw a ROTC program until he retired from academia, Andy never stopped pursuing his intellectual endeavors.  As a distinguished scholar, he lectured and wrote articles prolifically but only for publication within several small, mostly private clubs and circles.
“There is no way to live if life has no purpose and meaning. Projects, especially intellectual projects, keep us from being idle and fading away,” said Andy. So together, we always came up with ideas for new projects. For the love of books, we traveled to New York, London, Rome, etc, to visit the best libraries we could find. At home, Andy would come over frequently and spend all day during each visit to sit on my flower deck and chat with us, sometimes with my friends or relatives. He would talk passionately on a variety of subjects: war, politics, new books, club activities, contemporary news, to name but a few. Usually, if we spent Memorial Day at my house, he and E. B. would recite endless war and battle stories--including geographic details and strategies and tactics. Politically, we had our differences: my husband was far right, Andy far left, and I am independent. But we enjoyed each other’s diverse or even opposite opinions and ideals. Everyone loved to listen to Andy’s stories because of his charming, sometimes humorous, way of delivering them.

Once, on Andy’s behalf, I purchased a bible, the Codex Vaticanus known as Codex B, directly from the Vatican. The precious old bible is written in Greek. But Andy picked up the bible and translated with no difficulty the parts I wanted to know. I joked, “So an old warrior never dies and he never fades away either, huh?”

And Andy answered, “The moment I begin to fade away, don’t keep me alive. I don’t want that.”

Andy passed away on June 5, 2014. At the Memorial Service for him on July 16 at The Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco, one of speakers, Col. Graffiti, stepped up and began his eulogy by saying:

“… There is no better way for me to pay tribute to Dr. Andrew Jameson than to use the same eulogy he gave to his friend, E. B. Roberts, so I will read the text of “The Prayer.”
“Now Lord you've known me a long time.
You know me better than I know myself. You know that each day I am growing older and some day may even be very old…”
As Colonel Graffiti was reading, I thought of an inscription my husband had found during a battle and he cherished it so much that he quoted it again and again over the decades, which says: “You've never lived until you almost die. For those who fight for it, life has the flavor the protected will never know." That inscription describes how E. B. felt about the meaning of his life.

Upon reflection, it took me much indecision in sharing the stories of the man and the soldier. Heroes are great, but it is in the humanity and exceptional humility of the men that their greatness may be savored.  END

P.S.: To listen to Dr. Andrew G. Jameson's Mason Lecture on "Battle of the Bulge" delivered at the National WWII Museum, currently on YouTube, please click:

END   copyright © Kim Roberts 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Vietnam War and Remembrance: (April 30th, 1975--April 30th, 2017)

copyright © Kim Roberts

April 30, 1975—April 30, 20117.  Then and Now. Photos of him the day we met, and of us more than four decades ago when he was alive, then my current picture taken two weeks ago with friends from the Sadec Flower Village in Vietnam. Love and War. Destiny and the magic of life. Over four decades have gone by the window of my life, literally as swiftly as whiffs of fragrance in the whirlwind breeze--from the fresh scent of Spring essence to the intense, spicy, and aromatic Summer heat then transitioned to the soft, intimate touch of flurry Autumn leaves dispersing in the air, and ending it all with a silky, tendered scent of Winter rain drips. Life has been both a curse and a blessing, nonetheless, no regrets. 
Photo taken April 14, 2017, over four decades 
after the end of the Vietnam War on April 30, 1975
We met in April 1968 at a Military Chapel in Dong Tam, Vietnam, one year short of five decades ago, while taking communion. On April 30, 1975, he frantically tried to get me out of Vietnam to no avail. Taking a leap of faith, I planned an escape from Vietnam and succeeded. Months later, I was a tattered refugee in America beginning to build a new life. Survival, Love, and War. And hundreds, if not thousands, of other events in between. Oh, what a life! 
The way he was the day we met one year short of five decades ago
In remembrance of April 30, 1975, a day of peace, I am reprinting a piece I wrote on April 30, 2000, “Peace at Any Price,” which was published in the San Francisco Chronicle. I am reposting it as I hope that this reminder helps the next generations of people from Vietnam and all Americans how precious peace is.  We need to acknowledge the past, appreciate the peaceful present, and move toward the future with our faith in each other and I pray that our government and leaders will do the same. I also hope that the healing process extended over the past four decades has brought back the spirit of Vietnam, the country I love, and the beauty and uniqueness it once manifested itself. May we all remember this day--a day to celebrate LIFE, PEACE, and LOVE.
The way we were when he was alive
Peace at Any Price/Her countrymen who survived the carnage of Vietnam seem to have put the war behind them. Why can't she? 

by Kim N Roberts Published 4:00 am, Sunday, April 30, 2000. The San Francisco Chronicle  ©   (Reposting on April 30, 2017)

When I began writing down memories of my escape from Vietnam, I had no idea it would dredge up so much pain. Often during the three years I've worked on the project, I wake up in the morning weeping.
"What's wrong?" my husband asks.
"It's Vietnam," I say. "I get upset whenever I remember the war."
"Can't you just forget about it?" he asks.
But I can't forget.

I left Vietnam for America after the war -- the war that took away the loved ones I cherished, the war that deprived me of my personal possessions, the war that forced me to flee the country I loved so much. I was 24 years old.
I was one of the lucky ones. For years I felt guilty for having escaped from Vietnam, for surviving. I wished no one would ask me about my national origin. I wished my husband would not tell people where I came from when he introduced me. I wished that others would mistake me for a Korean or Filipino. It took me a long time to realize I was a victim of the Vietnam War -- not the maker of it.
Most Americans -- even the most caring, the most sensitive -- have no idea what it was like to live through the war. For them, it is over, done with, history. I can't look to an American and see understanding in their eyes when I talk about the war. They can't understand why, after 25 years, I cannot forget.
But to my shock, when I turn to my compatriots, I see that the majority of the Vietnamese I know -- many who suffered greater losses than I did -- act as if they have managed to erase the war that tore so many of our lives to shreds.

I went back to Vietnam four years ago, hoping to find a sense of kinship I'd been missing for so many years. My countrymen welcomed me with cheerful, smiling faces as they told me they had forgotten about the war. But have they really?
My 23-year-old relative Tan Tran was born soon after his father, a South Vietnamese army officer, was killed. "I don't know anything about the war," he said. "I am now married and we have a thriving seafood business. Life is good here. So I don't think about war."
"Bring your husband back with you next time you return," the young town chief told me when I went to Sadec, my hometown in the Mekong Delta. He knew that my husband served in Vietnam. "We have forgotten about the war. Americans are our friends now."
My driver, Luu Nguyen, in his mid-40s, asked, "Why didn't you bring your husband? The Vietnamese are happy to see Americans -- no more governmental restriction or resentment, no more hatred and retaliation." While I was talking to Luu, his daughter asked me about Michael Jackson, her American idol.
The Vietnamese have learned to live like Americans, too. At the Hotel Sadec, for $25 a night, I got an air-conditioned room with breakfast and packages of luxury items: toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, shampoo, and soap. I was given postcards, maps and information in English about the local tourist attractions -- including the monument to Ho Chi Minh's father and the Xeo Quyt Canal, a former Viet Cong hideout and fire-base. I later visited the Cu Chi tunnels in Phuoc Long, built by the Viet Cong underneath the military base of the American First Air Cavalry Division.
"Why do the Americans want to remember those bad old days?" asked the tour guide. "They give me my job. I feel like a winner. I make money and I don't have to remember the war."
Vietnam isn't the only place where newfound prosperity seemed to wipe out for others what for me are horrors imprinted forever upon my heart. The Vietnamese I know in California all tell me how they also have forgotten the war.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the war's end. Not long ago, I called my childhood friend, My Nguyen, to ask her about the commemoration plans in San Jose, where she now lives.
"I don't know," she said. "I have forgotten all about it. Since 1989, I have been working 70 hours a week so I can send money home regularly. You should see the videotape my brother made of our new house in Vietnam, built with the money I sent."
One evening at 10 p.m. I called Hang Doan, a sister-in-law in her early 60s who escaped Vietnam with me, to ask for information about our camp in Thailand. Hang and her husband own 15 rental houses. They both work full-time for Sacramento County, and Hang also teaches at night.
"I have almost forgotten these things," Hang said. "I'm too busy to look back. I just got home from my second job. I often have dinner around 10. Sweetie, haven't you forgotten about the war?"
Other Vietnamese tell me the same thing: They have forgotten the war, its aftermath, and the mistakes, heartache, atrocities and misery that came with it. Everyone thinks that making money, a lot of it, is the best remedy.
When I visited the War Crimes Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, I wondered how the Vietnamese could look at the photo display of corpses strewn on the ground, the napalm victims' burned bodies, and the planes spraying clouds of Agent Orange and say they have forgotten the war.
When I saw streets that bear such names as Dien Bien Phu, or Cach Mang Thang Tam (August Revolution), Dong Khoi (Simultaneous Uprising), Nam Ky Khoi Nghia (Southern Revolt), I wondered how my countrymen could walk these avenues and say they've forgotten. Is it only their memories that have died, or have they paid for the act of "forgetting" with a piece of their hearts as well?

Linh Tran, who works for me, brought me the March 19 newspaper showing the Vietnamese protesting in Oakland over the lithograph exhibition of Ho Chi Minh. "These Vietnamese protesters probably don't want to be reminded of the war," she said. "But they show that they still hold on to memories of the past. I personally wish I can forget the war." Linh, in her mid-50s, came to America in 1986. Her husband, a former South Vietnamese soldier, was in a forced labor camp for seven years. She remembers feeding her baby thin rice soup flavored with salt because after the war, there was no milk or sugar, even in the black market.
When her oldest son, Tuan, was drafted to fight in Cambodia in 1979, she peeled off her tin roof and sold the tin piece by piece to pay for his escape. Tuan's boat was pirated four times. He ended up as a refugee in Italy. He is now a manager in an Italian bakery, working 60 hours per week. Linh, her husband and her daughter each work two jobs. "So we can afford the things we lost to the war," she says.

But for me, there isn't enough money in the world to make up for what I lost.
For Americans, the war ended when the fighting stopped 25 years ago. But for the Vietnamese, the end of the conventional war was the beginning of millions of private wars.
I, along with my sister and her family, escaped persecution by the victorious North Vietnamese by fleeing Vietnam in an old leaking fishing boat with a broken-down engine. I still recall the horror I felt one day at the sight of three bright red Khmer Rouge boats surrounding our boat. Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge killed thousands of escapees -- including their own -- but for some reason that day the Khmer Rouge decided not to investigate us, 26 escapees, including children, as our boat ran adrift along the Cambodian shore. It was a miracle that we safely reached Thailand.
I wish I could forget the miserable days in the refugee camps when we were homeless and destitute. At one point, my sister-in-law Hang literally fought the camp attendant for a piece of plastic to hang around our mosquito net to give us some privacy. She lost.
And I can't forget the small fire that destroyed all the personal belongings I brought in a small overnighter and left me with only one burned silver dollar.

In California, I look at my countrymen and divide them into three groups. Some are what I call the "drifters," those too young to know the war or too indifferent to want to know. Some are the "vanquished," those who survived the war bitter, poor, underprivileged and lost. The third group, the "victors," triumphed over the past through personal success -- accumulated wealth, a brilliant career, social status or an education.
But while they seem to have forgotten about the war, their obsession with success tells me otherwise. They work as if they are racing against the ghost of the past -- a ghost that may catch up with them and devour them if they slow down.

© The San Francisco Chronicle

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Human Side Beneath Our Cultural Differences.

Copyright ©Kim Roberts
The women hid their faces when men seemed indifferent
April 6, 2017.  Safaga, Egypt.  The group of Muslim men on the steps of a Mosque I visited that afternoon looked at me indifferently. But a group of 3 Muslim women huddled and covered their faces at my sight. I calmly stood in front of the women until they peeped through their shawls and looked at me with eyes wide open. I bowed and motioned to them that I wanted to sit with them. The woman at the end hesitated then pointed at the space next to her. But then she got up and tried to leave. I shook my head indicating I wanted to sit by her and had a picture taken with her. It took a minute then she dropped her shawl, showed her face and nodded. I sat down. She smiled broadly. The man at the other end turned and smiled. The disabled girl turned away to hide a giggle. The girl in a red shawl peeped through the shawl with an amused stare. After the photo was taken, I asked the older lady if I could see the young girls’ faces. She said something to them. They had their shawls undone and showed me their complete facial appearance. All the men turned and smiled. We all smiled when I complimented how beautiful they were.
I made friends
The day before, I had visited a traditional Muslim mat and basket weaving shop in a village in Salalah, Oman.  The afternoon was hot and the air deadly still. The women in costumes and facemasks quietly stared down on the pieces of straw mats they were weaving. I sat down on the floor and felt the heat sipping through me. No one paid attention to my presence. Within minutes, I observed an unused electric fan at the end of the shop. I stood up and asked the shop operator if he could turn on the fan. He called an interpreter and asked what I said. Then he pulled the fan out and turned it on. The women looked up and at me. That was a needed breeze however faint and gentle.
The Muslim weavers and me
Our cultural differences were particularly obviously when it came to bathrooms for Muslim women and visitors. As if facilities for women were considered dirty or an embarrassment, they were hidden. At the Dubai Museum, yes, a museum that represents the wealthy Dubai, the women facilities were not near the front door. It took me 20 minutes to meander around a long winding, underground maze in dim light to get to the end of the route without enough signs to follow. The maze had no fire escape doors or windows. Whew! I was frightened, not knowing what to think of Dubai after that although I was completely impressed with everything else.
At the Dubai Museum where it took a journey to the ladies bathrooms inside of mace
Then when we went to Muscat, after breakfast and a long ride, everyone knows what our priorities were. At the majestic Sultan Qaboos Mosque, women rushed to find the facilities only to learn that two long, well built and maintained bathroom rows in front and both sides of the mosque were for men only with no bathroom facilities for women. I also discovered that bathrooms for women were kept deep inside and were not accessible to female visitors. Known as an iconoclast, I asked a fellow tour member to escort me and another female to the men’s room. Mission accomplished with no mishap. In fact, the Muslim men appeared amused when we showed up in their forbidden world.
Showing my friends Qaboos Mosque was great but without facilities for women
Undoubtedly, the Muslim men I encountered appeared loving, caring, and protective of their women. But, they neglected to realize that little things can mean a lot.
Showing them some dance moves
Later, I proved that men are men despite our cultural differences. With my friends watching, I danced in public and the Muslim men respectfully turned their heads a little but discreetly snapped a few photos. They appeared amused, shy, and not at all rude or aggressive. Later, as they seemed curious about us, we invited them to join us for a photo.
Without available bathrooms, women had had to line up for two holes on the ground.
The local men joined us for a photo
For me, it’s not enough to travel without observation. It was an interesting learning experience as I observed everything along my way. There will be more impression of other countries and their politics and cultures.

END.    Copyright ©Kim Roberts