Friday, May 25, 2012

Me and My Third of an M-16

Me and My Third of an M-16
Dave Rosso
It was 1966. I was in the Air Force. I knew my draft number would be coming up and decided to join rather than be drafted. So I joined the Air Force to see the world.
I saw San Antonio, Texas, Wichita Falls, Texas and Amarillo, Texas. That was the world I saw in the first two years of my four-year enlistment.
We were fighting in Vietnam and my desire to get out of Texas and my natural curiosity of what was going on in Vietnam prompted me to volunteer. I wanted to see it for myself. And I didn’t get any argument from the Air Force.
To prepare for my tour in that war zone, I was ordered to report to the firing range where I was handed an M-16 rifle, which was deployed for jungle warfare in Vietnam in 1963. This was my introduction to this new weapon: I was shown how to take it apart and put it back together and then was given a cartridge of 20 rounds, which I fired at a target on the firing range. And there I was, an experienced M-16 rifleman.
Then it was off to Vietnam. The plane landed at Ton Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon July 21, 1966. As I stood at the top of the stairs looking down at the tarmac, I saw a flatbed truck loaded with silver caskets. Hello, Vietnam!
I had been assigned to Cam Rahn Bay Air Base north of Saigon. But it took a while before a plane was available for a flight from Ton Son Nhut to Cam Rahn Bay. I lived out of a duffle bag until the plane finally was available for the 185 mile flight to Cam Ranh Bay on July 27.
When I arrived on base, I was greeted by the lieutenant colonel in charge of my squadron, a wiry, red-faced man whose only advice to me that night was, “Beware of the sun.” I said, “Hell, I’m from California, I don’t worry about the sun.” Within a week I had one of the worst sunburns I had ever had and learned something about how the sun hits California and how it hits Southeast Asia.
I was also introduced to the squadron’s protection – a small wooden building that contained racks of M-16 rifles, cartridge belts and steel helmets. Enough for one-third of the personnel in my squadron. I was assigned to a team and instructed that when my team was on duty, if the base alarm sounded, I was to run to the rifle room, gather my rifle, helmet and cartridge belt and head out into the sand to a bunker surrounded by sandbags and await the enemy or the all-clear sound.
The other two-thirds of the squadron stayed in their hutches and hoped we knew what we were doing.
The one time I was on duty when the base alarm sounded, I ran to the building, gathered my M-16, helmet and cartridge with two clips of 20 rounds of ammunition and headed far out across the sand to a bunker. And I waited.
In short time the second lieutenant who worked with me in the base finance office approached my bunker. I looked at him while cradling my weapon. He looked at me.
Then he barked, “Why didn’t you challenge me?”
“Sir, I know who you are. I work with you every day,” I said.
“You are supposed to challenge me and ask for identification,” he insisted.
“Yes, sir,” I said, adding, “Then am I supposed to ask permission to load my weapon?”
He didn’t respond.
I had a loaded weapon once during my year in Vietnam. I was on a flight to an outlying base with a large box loaded with money to pay the troops. I remember being in the terminal with my back against the wall sitting on the box of money with a loaded M-16 in my lap. On the flight to the base, I U.S. Air Force jet flew in front of us firing two rockets at a target on the ground.
I had fear twice during that year. One time a large rat wandered into our squadron as we were hearing reports of bubonic plague. The other time a jet flew across the base almost scraping the roof of our finance office. We dove under our desks. Turns out our base commander had a warped sense of humor. It he who took off in the jet and buzzed the base.
I joined the base choir – the Cam Ranh Choraleers. It was the choir that kept my sanity in check. At Christmas time we sang for Billy Graham when he visited the base and we attended Bob Hope’s show on the nearby Army base. The choir sang for the troops and on Christmas Eve we hopped n trucks and sang for the military police guarding the base at its farthest outposts, then sang for the kitchen crews preparing Christmas dinner.
The Ed Sullivan television crew came to the base and recorded the choir singing in front of fighter jets on the tarmac with the mountains in the background. The segment appeared on the Ed Sullivan Christmas Show. I never saw it.
On Christmas Day we played host to a large group of Vietnamese orphans and then escorted them back to their orphanage. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of those orphans were because of U.S. bombings.
That was Christmas 1966. I had eight more months and then I would say a third of a good bye to my M-16.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Those Football Days

Those Football Days
When I was 10 years old, my father said I should play football. My immediate reaction was, “I’ll get hurt.” Well, I had just been through a very disturbing couple of years.
But, when my father spoke, it became law and I joined the Pop Warner football team. I put on a flimsy leather football helmet, pants with thigh pads in them and shoulder pads that I didn’t think I would ever grow into.
Once in uniform, it was time to get hurt.
I didn’t. I loved it. It was only six-man football, but it had hits and tackles and runs with the ball and cheering parents on the sidelines. And I loved it.
We played other teams and after the games, my father would take us to an ice cream place and treat us to sundaes.
Then I went to military school at Manlius, New York. This was big time. The team had 11 players and the knocks got harder. I played line, even though I didn’t weigh much. I was the skinny one on the line.
But I made tackles and I blocked bigger guys. And I loved it.
I loved it even when I got hurt. During one game, I started by breaking through the opposing line and tackling their quarterback two plays in a row. On the third play, the players on either side of me across the line of scrimmage came up with their elbows into my chin. Everything went black and I went straight up and down flat on my face. I recovered moments later after the coach came onto the field to check on me and escort me off the field.
I played three years at the military school and then my family moved to California where I played for Redwood High School. I played line. I weighed 160 pounds. You don’t stand out when you play line. I remember the girls on Friday asking me if I was going to the game. Yeah, I said, I’ll be there.
I played well, but nothing spectacular. I didn’t need to be spectacular. I wanted to be good and get the job done, learning the plays, knowing when to go and where to go, who to block, how to block.
The next year, my family moved over the hill to San Rafael and I played for the San Rafael Bulldogs.
It was my senior year and I still weighed 160 pounds, despite my hearty eating. On the first day of practice, while in the gym getting ready to go onto the field, one of the players, Randy Petrini, a solid muscle-bound guy, asked me what position I was going out for. I said tackle. He looked at me and said, “Good luck. That’s my position.”
I played tackle.
And then we played Redwood High School. I was new on the team and did not start at the beginning. But during the Redwood game I ran clear across the field to make a flying tackle on one of my former teammates as he was heading for a touchdown. The impact took him off the field and I could hear my coach yelling, “Who was that? Who made that tackle?” I started the next game.
Late into the season during practice I got slammed in my left thigh, contracting a very painful Charlie horse. My mother was there when the doctor said there was no way I would be ready to play in the next game.
I played the next game.
During the season I told my coach, Dick Reed, that for all my football years – this was my eighth – I had always played line and I wanted to try backfield and to carry the ball, make a touchdown.
Coach Reed said not this season, saying I was a fast player and he needed speed on the line. For the rest of the season I played line, but I told Coach Reed, “Next year when I go out for the team at College of Marin, I’m going out for backfield.”
Next year at College of Marin, I signed up for the team and there was my coach. Dick Reed had transferred from San Rafael High School to College of Marin.
I played line. I weighed 165, but they listed me on the program as weighing 185. Trying to scare the 200-pounders lined up across from me.
On the last game of the season, just before the first half ended, I was hit from behind after the whistle had blown, knocked to the ground and suffered a separated shoulder – my third injury in nine years.
But then I was experiencing headaches and migraines and after an examination by my doctor I was told I could play the next season without any problems, or I could get hit in the head and be seriously injured, even to the point of death.
When I went home, my father asked me what I was going to do. I said I was going to play. He said it was my life.
When the new season started, I went onto the field, ran sprints, hit blocking dummies, got a headache and quit, ending nine years of football, the game I was afraid to play, because I might get hurt.

Monday, May 7, 2012

this is a test

getting back on board. Have been quiet for many, many months. Time to start adding new posts. need to change email address and phone and birth date and address and car license and original phone number that started with letters -- GL3-4701. How many people have letters in their phone numbers?

Monday, December 12, 2011

hello to Sabra

I have not visited my Good, the Bad and the Ugly site for a long time and now I see the note from Sabra. If you can read this please contact me at about the Choraleers.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Best Dressed

Another in a series of semi-informational treatises on life in Switzerland.

OK. Did that scare anybody off?!

Last night, Friday, March 23, 2001, I went to a FUNdraiser-auction for American Citizens Abroad. The event was held in the five-star Richemond Hotel in Geneva on an almost balmy night.
I was dressed appropriately – slacks and a short-sleeved sports shirt that almost matched the pants. All of my former wives would have been impressed. Those of you who have work with me would have considered me well-dressed. For those who have never seen me in the work environment, well, I have never subscribed to CQ.
I didn’t know too many people at this event. My friend was volunteering for the auction, so I was left pretty much on my own to mingle, introduce myself and try to blend in. Blend is something I do not do well. I made small talk with folks as white-uniformed waiters worked the room with trays of nibblies. OK, hors-d’oeuvres.
At one point, I found myself facing an elderly woman. At my age, I have to use the word elderly with discretion. She had white hair done up with a black ribbon and was dressed to show off money. She looked at me and said, “Are you an American?” I said, “Yes,” happy that I did not have to utilize my French lessons (Oui, je suis Americain. Je m’appelle Dave Rosso. Je suis journaliste).
“Where are you from,” she demanded.
“Washington, D.C.,” says I.
“Is that how they dress in Washington? Around here you wear a tie.”
“Oh, well, I don’t wear ties.”
“Well, you do here, baby. Look around you. You will never be a success if you don’t know how to dress.”
“I think, the way I dress won’t make much difference at this stage of the game for me,” I said, turning and walking away.
Shortly after that incident, the auction began. To warm up the audience, the MC-auctioneer made a few comments and introduced members of ACA and other organizations, as well as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., who made some remarks.
My friend was introduced and she took the proffered microphone and made brief remarks. Then, to my utter surprise, I was introduced as the veteran United Press International journalist who had taken over as editor of the ACA newsletter. I sat there, in the front row, directly in front of the MC, who was holding the microphone towards – for benefit of those who prefer the Brit spelling) me. I stood up, took the microphone and faced the audience and stumbled out a few words. And there I was. Standing there. In my slacks and short-sleeved sports shirt, sans tie. Never to be a success.
I was very happy when my friend introduced me to a fellow journalist who writes for the International Herald Tribune, who was dressed in jeans, open sports shirt and weather-beaten jacket, note pads, pens and papers sticking out of his pockets. My kind of man!
It’s too bad my French teacher wasn‘t in the audience when I made my impromptu speech. She would have thought, “God, he can’t speak English any better than he speaks French.”
The lessons are coming along. I have actually spoken whole sentences in French. I got a laugh out of my teacher Thursday. The entire class time is conducted in French. So, when I have a question, it has to be asked in French. OY! But I did manage to get out my question in good enough French for her to understand enough to appreciate the humor I had intended. I asked why is it that the word for “problem” is masculine while the word for “solution” is feminine. She said something to the effect of, “But of course.”
Until next time.
PS: OK. A contest. Who can come up with the best parting shot to my fashion critic?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Picking on the Jew

This is from my memoir from my school days at Manlius Military Academy 1956-1959. It was an eye-opener (that started with an eye-shutter)
Picking on the Jew
Interesting about ostracism. When I was a kid at military school I learned by my second year to make friends who then became part of our group. This was a natural boys school trait. There were joiners and outsiders. At that age it came down to personalities and character. A pecking order was quickly established that went beyond cadet rank that was worn on our shoulders.
My father ran the school's publicity, but he pulled no punches for me and I never went to him for special favors. I never made any rank either -- because that's the kind of guy I was.
I got in my share of fights on the hill behind the water tower. Our small group that was formed by me and my best friend consisted of other hell-raisers. None of them ever made any rank either.
Of course, when you have groups, those groups have to have others that are outside the group and, therefore, open to taunts and tricks. And I had a favorite target. Until one day another cadet came up to me and told me to leave him alone and blasted me alongside the head with a right hook that I never saw coming and the warning that he didn't like people picking on Jews.
Besides being physically stunned, I was also mentally stunned. Until that moment, I did not know what a Jew was. I did not know that certain names were Jewish names. Nor did I know that Jews were picked on.
Another cadet named Wertheimer was someone I had a tremendous amount of respect for because as I was a hell-raiser to buck authority, he did it calmly, quietly, cerebrally, and I thought he was so cool. But I never thought he was a cool Jew. He was just a cool guy.
As the right hook shut my eye, it opened my eyes to something I had never been aware of in my pretty sheltered life.
My parents taught me and my siblings that we should not discriminate. But that lesson was directed toward blacks. We were never, ever to use the N word (so I never got to advertise Dick Gregory's book).
Of the 360 cadets at the school, none was black. And that was the case during the three years I was there. I left Mr. Lerner alone, not because he was Jewish, but because I didn't want to get whomped alongside the head again. And I continued to respect Mr. Wertheimer, because he got under the cadet leaders' skin, quietly with his brains and passed with honors. And he always had this confident smug grin on his face.