Trung Thu, Mid-Autumn Festival, October 3, 1964

How beautiful!

The streets were crowded with stalls full of colorful lanterns—small, medium and large. Some had wires to hang from trees. Others had dowels for children to hold. Some of the lanterns were the usual round shapes, most were forms of boats, rabbits, frogs, lobsters or bright orange and yellow carp. Others were magical dragons or unicorns.

Small candles, placed inside, gave the cellophane lanterns a soft glow that illuminated towns and villages in Viet Nam weeks before the official beginning of Trung Thu . In 1963, the mid-autumn festival began on October 3. Every year the date it was different because most Vietnamese holidays were set on the lunar calendar that kept track of the full moon.

I remember seeing special lanterns displays in Hawaii when we lived there in the ‘50s. The Chinese immigrants celebrated the mid-autumn festival with lanterns and moon cakes, the same as the Vietnamese.

There are many legends concerning the holiday, but the one told most often in Viet Nam was about the love of an emperor for his wife. Emperor Minh Hoang brought her to a lake during a full moon on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. The full moon reflected on the onyx black lake was a beautiful setting for romance. When the moon was at its fullest in the cool night sky, Emperor Minh composed a poem in honor of his wife.

I don’t remember seeing any poems for sale in the busy Saigon markets in the weeks leading up to Trung Thu, but there were beautiful boxes of moon cakes for sale. All the cakes were the same round shape, but were filled with different treats. Some had peanuts or seeds of lotus or watermelon. Others had rich duck egg yolks, or raisins. These sticky rice cakes always looked delicious.

What a surprise when I took my first bite. Although it looked and smelled very sweet, my moon cake tasted bland. I was used to sugary American desserts, but Vietnamese cooking was about balance of taste—not too sweet, not too salty.

Trung Thu moon cakes were special. They were sold in colorful paper boxes. If they were presented as special gifts, customers purchased more ornate boxes. I liked the boxes better than the moon cakes.

The mid-autumn festival was considered a celebration for Vietnamese children. The beautiful lighted lanterns were made for children to play with after the sun set much like Fourth of July sparklers. Streets were illuminated with the colorful lights weeks before the official holiday.

On festival night, children gathered with their glowing lanterns, forming a procession that wound its way through the darken streets. In the larger villages or towns, people dressed as unicorns accompanied them, dancing to the music of drums and cymbals.

What a wonderful way to celebrate children and the poetry of the full moon in the autumn sky!

September 23, 1963

Theater Bombing

Fifty-two years ago on September 23, 1963, I sat in the Capital Kinh-Do Theater with 200 Americans to see the Disney cartoon film, The Lady and the Tramp.

We were in one of the two American theaters in Saigon. The Kinh-Do was newly built for the comfort of U.S. military and their dependents living in Viet Nam in 1963. When we first arrived in June, everyone was talking about its grand opening scheduled for the end of the month.

Three months later, the place still had a new and polished look and smell. We enjoyed weekly visits to see what was playing. Mother loved going to the movies. The Kinh-Do not only showed new releases, they also had re-runs of movies we had seen stateside before arriving in Viet Nam.

This was quite a treat since there were no television stations in Viet Nam in 1963. Watching TV wasn’t an option. In Saigon, Americans went to the movies, enjoying air conditioned comfort, movie faire and pretending they were living a normal life back in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

The theater was also familiar with plate glass windows, a theater marquee, and movie poster displays framed in the front of the building. Tickets were sold in the lobby along with food and drink. The only things missing were video games and pinball machines. Video games weren’t invented yet, and pinball machines were at the bowling alley across the street.

At 6:00 p.m. the lobby was full of children and their mothers.

After Mother got the tickets and refreshments, we entered the cool interior. Seats were filling quickly, but we were lucky to find a row that was not yet full. While waiting for the movie to start, I looked around. Children were lined up at the front of the theater to use the bathrooms. Couldn’t get used to seeing that. Every theater I knew had bathrooms in the lobby area, but here they were in the theater itself. The women’s bathroom was to the left of the movie screen, and the men’s on the right.

Because it was embarrassing to watch all the people waiting in line, I decided to check out the wall decorations—two huge wooden fish hanging on the walls. They were simple fish designs like those drawn by the early Christians. Nothing fancy except the mosaic tile inlayed on wood. They weren’t part of a school of fish. They hung alone—one to the left and the other to the right. Both were so large they took up a third of the walls.

Soon the lights went out and the newsreel began, followed by a cartoon. Energy and expectation filled the area. We couldn’t wait for the featured film.

Thirty minutes into the movie, I will never forget the shock of the explosion, the smoke pouring from the center of the screen, and the lights suddenly coming on revealing the stunned audience. No one cried. No one screamed. No hysteria.

A bomb exploded. Viet Cong terrorists had packed a bicycle with plastic explosives before leaning it against the outside wall of the women’s bathroom.

Attacks on movie theaters were uncommon in 1963. People went to the movies to get away from the everyday stress. On September 23, 1963 all that changed for me.

There are no bombs exploding in American theaters today although Americans have the threat of shootings by domestic terrorists in them.

Last week, my husband and I went to see A Walk in the Woods. The ticket taker wanted to check my purse to see if I had a gun.

     Had a gun?

     Why?

I came to the movies to enjoy the adventure of two aging men walking the Appalachian Trail. Why would I bring a gun to the theater?

I ignored the ticket taker’s request and walked on. Just as hysteria didn’t take over in the Capital Kinh-Do Theater bombing over fifty years ago, I refused to let it take over today. I came to see a movie, not to take part in a gun battle with a domestic terrorist.

Masters Degree in Publishing Part 1

I’ve been working on a Masters degree in publishing my narrative nonfiction coming of age memoir. Not a university degree. It’s more of curriculum vitae outlining experiences catalogued to produce a successful book. These are many.

I’ve worked with editors and Beta readers. I’ve watched webinar classes produced by Writer’s Digest, attended conferences and workshops, and given presentations to civic and educational groups. I have had many teachers.

One of them was Dr. Kelly Crager from the Vietnam Oral History Project at Texas Tech. During my interview in May 2010, Dr. Crager asked me a profound question: “Who did I talk to in Vietnam?”

Who was I close to who listened to my fears and answered my questions?

When I was twelve-years old, I had many fears and questions. I answered, “No one.”

“No one?” he asked.

“No one,” I replied.

“You didn’t talk with your parents, teachers, or friends?”

“No,” I said, “no one wanted to hear what I had to say.” Most twelve-year-old girls didn’t question U.S. policy. Twelve-year-old girls want to giggle about boys, do their hair, and go shopping. I wasn’t like those girls, and I had no one to talk with about my fears and concerns.”

That was a depressing realization. Dr. Kelly waited patiently for me to continue.

Suddenly everything clicked in place.

“I talked to Nam,” I said. “He was the 35-year-old Vietnamese servant who ran our household. I talked with Nam as he worked in the kitchen, dusted the living room, or swept the driveway and carport.”

“What did you talk about?”

“I shared my thoughts and adventures with him. I listened to his stories about Vietnamese history during WWII and the collapse of the French colony of Indochina.

I had many more teachers in the pursuit of this Masters Degree in publishing, but he was my first. Without him, I doubt I would have been able to tell my story.

How to Piss Off a Military Brat

The following was published in matadornetwork.com and I have added a few words to Spike’s terrific list.

How to Piss Off a Military Brat—C-M “Spike” Daeley

June 11, 2015

Salute us.

Ha ha, no seriously, you’re definitely the first person ever to think of it. You should totally do stand-up. I mean it! How are you not writing for SNL, RIGHT NOW?!

[Salute the flag. Salute the rank, but never salute a brat. You’ll probably do it incorrectly no matter what you salute. Snap, not slop.]

Mock our Exchange clothes.

The Base Exchange is the epitome of contemporary haute couture, boasting up to THREE WHOLE STYLES at any one time, each one fresher than the last. To criticize is to be exposed to fashion’s eviscerating bite. Don’t be left behind…

[Quality, not quantity. Base Exchange clothing lasts and lasts and lasts. They outlast any fads that civilian stores are offering.]

Speak ill of AAFES “fine” dining.

Growing up on bases abroad, if you wanted pizza, it was Anthony’s Pizza. Fried chicken was Popeye’s. Sandwiches were Robin Hood. All courtesy of your friendly Army and Air Force Exchange Service. As I type this, the nostalgia is overwhelming me and I’m simultaneously craving all three.

Call us anything other than “brats.”

We’re not “military kids,” we’re not “military children” and we definitely aren’t “C.H.A.M.P.S.” (Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel). Despite its less than pc origin, “military brat” has become such a term of endearment that attempts to change it have been met with resistance, outrage and even threats There’s no denying the overwhelming majority of brats are fiercely proud of our heritage and we don’t have any plans to change the nomenclature.

[We earned the name “brats,” and many take personal pride in being identified as “Army brats,” “Navy brats,” “Air Force brats,” “Marine brats,” and “Coast Guard brats.” Don’t disrespect us nor our military branch.]

Say all the services are the same.

That’s like telling a quarterback to score a home run. We all know the Navy is the best.

[I agree with the first sentence, and realize that Spike is suffering from delusions. Army is the best, hands down although my father was stationed at Pearl Harbor with CINCPAC, and two Air Force bases—Atlantic Highlands and Ent.]

Don’t show up to a BBQ.

Take service members from every grilling mecca in the USA. Marinate with recipes learned serving abroad. Season with tax-free booze from the Class 6 and enough commissary goodies to feed an incredibly massive group of people… and you have a BBQ that is not to be missed. When my dad was stationed in San Diego, summer cookouts meant some of the best burgers, hot dogs, ribs and steaks ever. PLUS lumpia, yakitori, my uncle’s mom’s teriyaki wings (if we were lucky), and WATCHING THE BLUE ANGELS! Do YOUR BBQs have air shows?

[There’s nothing like food cooked on a hibachi on a lanai at Schofield Barracks, or BBQ eaten on the shores of Fort Hancock in site of WWII pillboxes that once guarded New York Harbor. It’s not only the food, it’s the atmosphere.]

Imply we aren’t flexible.

Readiness is not something the military takes lightly. When mom or dad get new orders, there’s no debating them. New city? OK! New country? Why not? New school? BRING IT ON! In Okinawa, I remember coming to school on more than one occasion to find out that a friend’s family had flown stateside with less than 48 hours’ notice.

[Flexibility is one of our middle names. Conversations stop when I list the schools I attended in thirteen years which were fifteen in two countries and eight states.]

Disrespect the colors.

Symbols are important and Old Glory represents something people are willing to live and die for. And those people are our parents. It’s that simple.

[Respect the U.S. Flag Code. Please do not display faded or torn flags. Do not display the flag to sell cars, sandwiches, sod, or furniture. Do not lay your food on table cloths that suggest the U.S. flag. And please, please, please do not wear shoes suggesting the American flag.]

Mistreat our veterans

That’s our family right there. Put politics aside and give them the respect they deserve.

[I support respect for veterans, but I refuse to support a political party that only gives veterans lip service while cutting their benefits. I refuse to support a party that puts our soldiers in harm’s way for nothing more than to make millions in government contracts.]

Socialized Medicine Army Style

Military brats know about socialized medicine because for most of us life begins in a military hospital Peterson Army Hospitalunder the care of military doctors and personnel.

I never had a civilian doctor until I married in 1970. I never had a family doctor who treated my childhood illnesses. I had shot records my mother kept safe and available, proof that I had up-to-date inoculations. All medical records were carried from post to post, base to base. SOP Continue reading

Military Brats in Transit

Saigon Pedicab 1963

Saigon Pedicab 1963

 

Military Brats are always waiting for reassignment orders. We are at the mercy of the Defense Department

This creates interesting problems especially with schools. I rarely attended the same school year after year. Teachers never got to know me. Friends were for the moment. Memories made in passing. Continue reading

My life begins…again and again.

Fort Monmouth Front Gate

I’m a military brat and proud of it.

My father was in the Army for 25 years. He enlisted in 1943. I was born at Fort Monmouth, baptized at Fort Meade. I lived at Pearl Harbor and Schofield Barracks on Hawaii. When others read about the scars of war left by the Japanese attack 7 December 1941,  they don’t know my story. The Japanese not only dropped bombs on Pearl Harbor and Hickam Air Field, they dropped them on the Army post north of Honolulu.

When I was living in Schofield Barracks, I knew a boy wandering in the woods who discovered a Japanese bomb dropped in the area. Thinking it was a dud, he picked it up. His hand was blown off. Unfortunately, the bomb was live, waiting eighteen years to explode. Continue reading

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