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Writing About War

April 25, 2022

I met with a couple of guys recently to share ideas about writing.  Each of us have experienced something we called “My War.”  One of us fought in Vietnam, one in Iraq, and I was in the Cold War.  They are very different stories, but we found much common ground.

Aooooga!  Aooooga!  Aoooga!  Klaxon Klaxon Klaxon!  Boots pounded on the pavement as I ran to my waiting KC-135 tanker.  A security policeman with an M-16 at the ready queried me with a code as we approached the jet.  I responded and climbed up the ladder into the right (copilot) seat, strapped in, and put the checklist on my lap, open to Start Engines.  The Aircraft Commander was already strapping in his seat to my left.  I started reading the checklist – Battery Switch – and the AC flipped the switch up and said, On.  Reserve brake pressure – Check.  I opened my side window and gave the signal to our crew chief, standing in front of the #4 engine with a fire extinguisher. Four’s clear.  The Navigator was in his seat right behind me, copying the coded message coming over the radio. Usually the message was Shut Engines Down.  Sometimes the message was Taxi, and as soon as we had all four engines running we would taxi the short distance to the end of the runway and wait for instructions.  No one I knew ever flew off alert.  We didn’t really talk about it.  Between the seats was a red notebook with SECRET on the cover, and it held our flight plan, our map and the point and time we were to meet our bomber.  It even had his call sign.

My war was the Cold War.  It was misguided and unnecessary and an enormous waste of money.  My part in it involved flying a big jet around the world refueling fighters and bombers, but most of my time was spent waiting for the blaring of the klaxon, perhaps announcing execution of the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), colloquially known as World War III.  For a week or two each month I lived in the molehill next to a parking ramp where my airplane sat, loaded beyond safe limits, with fuel for bombers heading for targets on the other side of the world.  We were ready to be airborne in 8 minutes, after which our base, our families, our friends would be obliterated in a brilliant flash.  There, and in trips to other countries, the living conditions were very good.  It wasn’t scary very often, or even uncomfortable.  I was surprised to learn that the war would have an announced start time.  Once on Christmas Eve, we had freezing rain.  Rather than spend the money to de-ice our airplanes, SAC HQ agreed to delay the start of the war by one hour so we could de-ice.   I have parts of this story in my novel Awol 21, the story of an Air Force pilot.

Robert started writing his stories down in 1970.  Night ambush.  Search and destroy.  Living in the dirt.  Death and destruction were everywhere. For many it was terrifying.  He published Out of the Nam hoping that his story will help someone, especially another Vietnam veteran, particularly the guys waiting in line at the VA hospital with stooped postures and sad faces and a myriad of debilitating symptoms and diseases.  He shouts out, startling people walking by the library patio we are sitting on, “You didn’t deserve this!  You didn’t do anything wrong!”

Our other friend’s war was Iraq, a different place, but much the same.  Hot, dirty, violent, frustrating, endless, and often immoral.  He isn’t sure why he is writing just yet, but he knows he is compelled to, and he is a good writer.  I am excited to be in the loop on his story, to provide encouragement, and sometimes criticism.

The truth is important.  Governments lie about wars, making them sound necessary or inevitable.  It was true of the Cold War, it was true of Vietnam, it is even now true of the War on Terror.  The enormous suffering, destruction, death, and financial loss are beyond comprehension to me.  People often assume veterans are in favor of war.  Ask some who have been.



From → Writing Fiction

  1. Connie Fullerton permalink

    On your recommendation I read “Out of the Nam”. Incredible first hand account and very insightful. Looking forward to reading as you journey!!

    • Robert is brilliant. He also has book on Farming in the hill country I will mail to you if you’re interested.

  2. Connie permalink

    Is it historical in context or about present day farming? If historical…I am very interested.

    • His experience, raising hay, cows, cutting and hauling cedar. You may have to remind me to send it to you in late June

  3. Connie permalink

    Will do! Loved your England share… I’ve never been and with Maureen being my “best mate” that’s crazy!

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