Female Veterans Part 2

Posted in FSEM100RR on November 29th, 2007 by kokoro

Rhonda Cornum

Rhonda Cornum joined the Army in 1978 and was in the Persian Gulf War. Her grandfather, who was a marine during WWII, influenced her. Though he never really talked about his experiences, she was impressed by the way he carried himself, and she hoped to be similar. It’s interesting to see how the “greatest generation” and the “good war” continued to impact later generations.

Iraqis captured Cornum when her attack helicopter (she was a medical officer) went down. She was injured (gun shot wound to the shoulder, two broken arms, a blown out knee, etc.) and was one of three out of the eight people on the Black Hawk to survive the crash. Cornum was a POW for seven days. Though a woman, the second one captured in the war, she was not treated any differently than the men. She’s still in the Army.

The Persian Gulf War is certainly not my field of expertise (not that I really have any at this point), and, sadly, it’s one of the last wars that comes to my mind when considering American wars. This interview was interesting to look at because of that, and it helped me to think more about the Gulf War. Despite her experiences with the military, or perhaps because of them, Cornum is an extremely optimistic person, and she really enjoys what she does. That’s the best anyone can hope for.

Female Veterans

Posted in FSEM100RR on November 27th, 2007 by kokoro

I like being able to listen to the women speak about their experiences. It provides the listener with a more personal connection to the veteran. You get a sense of the kind of person they are, especially their sense of humor.

Violet Hill Gordon

Violet Hill Gordon was an African American (very interesting!) in the WAAC (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps) during WWII. After the war ended, she stayed on as the WAAC was absorbed into the Army and became the WAC (Women’s Army Corps), which allowed her to make use of the G.I. Bill. When she left the military at the rank of captain, she completed her education and started a career in social work. The military opened up a new field of work that she had never considered, and it also helped to develop her strength of character.

One of Gordon’s comments that I found particularly entertaining was about her friend joining the Navy. “Her reason for selecting the Navy over the Army was that the Navy uniforms were much more chic. She just couldn’t imagine herself in all that kaki.”

Frances M. Liberty

Frances M. Liberty was part of the Army Nurse Corps and served during WWII, the Korean War, and Vietnam War. During WWII nurses were needed very badly, and in comparison to WWI, they were treated with respect, though they didn’t receive offical rank until 1957. Liberty was part of the first wave at Anzio, where the nurses maintained a foxhole aid station and lost several people. She was separated, but not discharged after the war ended, and went to work in a hospital.

During the Korean War she was called back into service, at the rank of captain. Liberty treated the wounded that were sent back home from Korea, before going there herself. When she left, she stayed on active duty as a teacher. Though she characterized herself as a blunt and impolite nurse, she had the night shifts caring for John Foster Dulles, who she played cards with at Walter Reed.

A colonel by Vietnam Liberty went there three times. The first time she was important in starting M.A.S.H. units. The second time she was there as a disciplinarian to some of the nurses having trouble. The last time she was at Cam Ranh Bay, working in a large hospital when it was attacked. Being a nurse since WWII, Liberty commented on the advanced treatments by the time of Vietnam. She mentioned that triage was the most difficult for Americans to learn. She eventually retired, after 28 years in the military. She was glad for the experience her time in the military provided, though she did have trouble volunteering in hospitals afterwards. They wouldn’t accept her because she was too qualified!

The Wages of War

Posted in FSEM100RR on November 19th, 2007 by kokoro

I’m glad to go back and fill in the blanks of the American wars that are often less focused on. Many of them are just as important as the wars we’ve already gone over in class, but I guess just not as interesting to the general public and (I sadly admit) to me for that matter.

On the issue of the Revolutionary War veteran pension, Severo and Milford cover some of the same points as Resch, the idea of a people’s war, public sentiment, and the suffering soldier, without actually naming them. Despite a pension, Revolution and later 1812 veterans don’t end up with much of anything. With a government willing to cheat George Washington out of some money, what do you expect?

In between the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War, the American military was not a respected institution. It was mostly composed of incoming immigrants, Irish and German, who were despised by many native-borns. Quite a few soldiers defected to the Mexican side.

The war against Spain was enthusiastically supported by the American public, one ironic reason being that they believed the Spanish were treating the Cubans inhumanely. However much support they had, more soldiers died from various diseases in camps (not at all thought out very well) at home than they did in combat. America gained the Philippines from Spain at the end of the war. The Filipinos, who had no interest in being controlled once again, rebelled and soon found that the Americans were much crueler than the Spanish. The guerrilla style used by the Filipinos and the racism of American troops led to many instances much like Vietnam’s My Lai.

Veterans of Korea returned to a paranoid, anti-communist American that had to justify not winning the war. Someone had to be blamed, so why not make it the soldiers? It’s not like they’d just been through very much. POWS were actually accused of being communists and were treated as enemies. It seems very much like the treatment of WWII Soviet POWs, being sent to the Gulog once they were freed. I believe this issue is expressed in the book and movie The Manchurain Candidate, where a captured platoon returns home brainwashed by Communists.

Remembering War the American Way

Posted in FSEM100RR on November 15th, 2007 by kokoro

This reading is mostly focused on American memorials of war, from the Revolution to Vietnam (mostly Vietnam), as well as memorials of other countries. I found this part of the conclusion very interesting, especially that German memorials of WWI maintained a view that helped precipitate the next world war.

Veterans of Korea didn’t get much recognition, as they were soldiers of a so-called “forgotten war.” At first, memorials to Korea vets were actually combined with WWII vets, which I found somewhat unfair to both groups. Vietnam, America’s first defeat in a war, was much the opposite of Korea in that it couldn’t be erased from the public’s mind. This led to Vietnam memorials being built relatively quickly in comparison to other wars, as well as a different type of memorial. Memorials of the past emphasized the valor and heroism of war, but those of Vietnam were dedicated to expressing the pain and loss caused by war, as well as a level of equality in the representation of women and minorities.

There was also an issue over the idea of a Smithsonian run military museum. One person proposed something described as a theme park, though I don’t think that was necessarily the correct interpretation. Critics accused that the museum would glorify war. I believe war was already and still is glorified (I remember often playing war when I was younger) and a museum wouldn’t have made a difference. In fact, I think if it was done right it could educate the American public about war and its consequences and make us less inclined to be war-crazed mongrels. I think recreations of battlefields, more extensive than reenactments, could connect us to the past in ways normal museums are sometimes unable to do. I found the exhibit on America’s wars in Washington D.C.’s American History Museum to be one of the best parts of the museum, and I wouldn’t mind if it was expanded on.

“A country without a conscience…”

Posted in FSEM100RR on November 12th, 2007 by kokoro

“… is a country without a soul, and a country without a soul is a country that cannot survive.”

Since I’m a discussion leader this week I’m only bring up a few points. The Wages of War often gets me worked up and angry about the shoddy treatment of veterans, and this is no exception. Severo and Milford portray the victimized veteran well… which is important to keep in mind when considering the book’s bias.

It’s interesting to compare the Vietnam conflict to the Philippine-American War and the war in Iraq, but these comparisons are valid in many ways. American soldiers in an uncertain climate fighting against an enemy that uses guerilla warfare, making it difficult to tell innocent civilians from combatants. I wouldn’t be surprised if a certain level of racism was also part of the reason for the disregard of human life sometimes displayed. This was the case for our “little brown brothers” of the Philippines. How often have we heard about massacres like My Lai committed by Americans during either World War? In Europe we were fighting against white Germans of civilized Western society, people like us. It’s true that thousands of innocent German civilians were bombed during WWII, but it seems to me that it would be less personal and more detached to the soldiers than the murder, rape, and mutilation of innocents. Now, this doesn’t say much about the Japanese, but if the invasion of Japan had happened, I imagine it would have been very similar to the above conflicts.

The Agent Orange issue was simply painful to read. Thousands of perfectly healthy young men go to Vietnam, get exposed to chemicals, and come back with strange problems, including rashes, growths, and cancer, as well as miscarriages and birth defects in their children. But, no, there’s no problem, especially not with the chemicals. When the VA and Department of Defense finally decided to investigate, the people they got to look into it were herbicide advocates! It’s no wonder they said there was nothing potentially unhealthy about Agent Orange or other herbicides. This was, of course, despite the scientific evidence that said, yes, many chemicals are dangerous, especially the dioxin used in Agent Orange. The VA and the government just didn’t want to pay up. Then there was that little matter about terrifying the public about its own chemical exposure, but I think Rachel Carson covered that pretty well already. This claim that it was basically all in the veterans’ heads went on for years, and when the vets were finally paid it wasn’t much and hardly seemed worth all the trouble.

Final of Born on the Fourth of July

Posted in FSEM100RR on November 8th, 2007 by kokoro

After being released from the hospital, Kovic returned home to his family. He was in the town parade, discovering that many of the town’s boys were dead or injured. He didn’t really feel like the hero the speakers called him, and he felt that many had no idea what they were talking about. In trying to deal with his disability and loss of masculinity, he spent the summer in Mexico at a home of others like him. He went to whorehouses often, hoping for someone to love him, to experience feeling again.

Kovic went back home, attended the university, and eventually got an apartment of his own. While practicing leg stretches, as he hoped to walk again with braces, he shattered his thighbone. He spent six months in a VA hospital under unbelievable and completely unacceptable conditions. He was ignored, left in his own filth for days, treated with broken down machines, and sometimes ridiculed. We had read about poor VA hospital conditions, but this is the first first-hand account. It was shocking. Was this supposed to be one of the improved hospitals we read about?

When he was released from the hospital he went back to the university and started to become involved in war protests, which he had previously been cautious about, only being an observer. Kovic began giving speeches at schools and joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War, where he felt comforted and accepted by his fellow veterans. At one non-violent protest he was beaten by the police, including one that had been disguised as a veteran, and held overnight.

After this he retreated to a little house near the beach with an intention to write. He suffered from depression, isolation, nightmares, and had a difficult with people. At one point he had planned to marry a woman with two children, mostly because he didn’t want to be alone for the rest of his life. He attended another protest during Nixon’s acceptance speech, where he managed to get into the Convention Center with a few other wheelchair-bound veterans. He talked to one newsman with a live feed for a moment, and the vets shouted when Nixon began his speech. One man spit on Kovic, calling him a traitor, and they were taken out of the room.

The last chapter of the book covers the bits of information about Kovic’s time in Vietnam that he often referred to throughout the book. The corporal from Georgia, the kids, and the night he was wounded. The corporal was shot by him, his first kill, and he was guilt-ridden. It was nothing like the movies where the good guys only killed the bad guys. He was given an opportunity to redeem himself, he felt, as a scout leader. One mission ended in the Marines shooting up a hut full of children and old men, which was extremely difficult to read. These two events led him to become reckless with his life. He wanted to be wounded and sent home, but not killed. On that fateful night he took dangerous risks, standing out in the open and not backing off as soon as his leg was shot. He was shot through the shoulder and paralyzed, leaving more than half of his body essentially dead. I felt it was very appropriate to end the book like this, with the moments that completely changed his life forever. I think that though the book is rather depressing in many ways, there is a sense of hope. The war may have killed Ron Kovic body in many ways, but it didn’t kill his spirit, though he felt like it had at many times. He turned his disability into words and actions to help stop the war that was harming so many Americans in so many ways.

Part One of Born on the Fourth of July

Posted in FSEM100RR on November 5th, 2007 by kokoro

Ron Kovic was a shy, athletic kid who joined the Marines because he wanted to be a hero. One wonders if he would’ve joined if he hadn’t been raised on John Wayne movies and others like them. He found out pretty quickly that the military wasn’t as glorious as the movies made it out to be though. One might say he would’ve been better off following his other dream of playing with the Yankees…

So far, I definitely like this book very much. Kovic’s style is very realistic: it’s harsh and often painful to read, and I think that was very important for him to get across when he was writing it. You smile or cringe at the childhood stories, some of which are very familiar because we’ve all gone through those kinds of things. Despite the change from first person to third person perspective (which he seems to do a lot), you feel his uncertainty, fear, and determination at the Marine training camp. You experience his degradation and almost insanity while he is in the hospital living (though he wouldn’t call it that) with being paralyzed from the chest down. It’s very powerful reading and a perfect example of the kind of damage war can cause.

The Best Years of Our Lives

Posted in FSEM100RR on November 4th, 2007 by kokoro

I was inclined to like The Best Years of Our Lives from the start, what with it being directed by Willam Wyler, who gave us such gems as Jezebel, Mrs. Miniver, Roman Holiday, and Ben Hur, and also starring Myrna Loy, who I loved since I saw Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House and the various Thin Man movies. The movie swept the 1947 Oscars, winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actor (Fredric March), and more. Harold Russell (Homer), a real veteran with no acting experience who lost his hands in a training accident, won Best Supporting Actor.

I felt that the movie correctly addressed many of problems that WWII veterans faced, as we covered in class. There were quite a few scenes that stuck with me. For instance, despite knowing that Homer would be handless, I was still unprepared when he pulled his hooks (or whatever you’d call them) out of his pockets. As Homer said about his family, they knew about what had happened, but they didn’t quite know what it would look like. I’d say the same went for me.

Then there was the moment when Butch was talking to Homer and said, “Give ’em time, kid; they’ll catch on. You know your folks’ll get used to you, and you’ll get used to them. Then everything’ll settle down nicely. Unless we have another war. Then none of us have to worry because we’ll all be blown to bits the first day. So cheer up, huh?” I think this quote really expresses the uncertainty of the time: the fear that there would be another war, and with the use of atomic weapons it probably would be the War To End All Wars.

I also enjoyed Al’s drunken speech at the Bank dinner and Fred’s walk through the field of discontinued planes. I thought the flashback scene was handled well. Because of the music and the visual cues we knew what was happening to him without it needing to be shown.

The movie has its problems, of course. I mean, what was the point of Al’s son? He hardly showed up or interacted with his father at all, and he wasn’t even at the wedding. Did they forget about him? Then there was the fact that everyone seemed to have a hunky-dory, “all is well” ending, which didn’t happen for a lot of veterans. Really though, that’s what I’ve come to expect (and enjoy) out of most classic Hollywood movies, so it didn’t really bother me. Perhaps one could say that it was a message to veterans that though things may be bad at first, they’ll get better, so hang on. That may be reaching though…