Capturing War

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I grew up during the Vietnam era. This conflict in Southeast Asia officially began in 1959, and officially ended with the Paris Peace Accords in 1973. I was a four-year-old baby when Ike first sent advisers over, and a high school graduate when the boys came home under Nixon.

An opinion has grown among historians that the unpopularity of the Vietnam War came about because of particularly intense television coverage. Some claim that support for this “police action” shifted when the draft expanded to include middle class, college-bound boys. Mothers across the country grew alienated, and distressed by the relentless coverage flickering across all three networks; images of  Vietcong ambushes, exploding fire fights, and mounting body counts, soon drained any support women felt for the war.

I recall in particular doing dishes after dinner watching a little black and white Sony portable on the kitchen counter. It didn’t matter which network I switched to, the same footage blended into a mingled blur . . . jungle, fear, wounds, and an odometer-like graphic, tallying up the day’s body count.

The Vietnam War didn’t come to us through paintings, or photographs, or movie house newsreels. Instead the American public, including this growing girl from Spokane, viewed the unfolding drama as a grim reality program, years before that term was coined. And that little 10 inch window to the war told me, as young and unsophisticated as I was, that this involvement was awful. That war is an awful event.

CBS, in particular, ran special reports highlighting varying aspects of that endless nightmare. News cameras exposed the jarring horror of  surgical personnel–doctors and nurses splattered with blood–and set out with nervous reconnaissance patrols edging through deadly elephant grass, and huddled with desperate Marines battling at a stone wall in the ancient Vietnamese capitol of Hue. All of it awful.

So many years have flown by, and I find this little girl is now officially middle aged. Yet, as I type my graphic recollections from fifty years ago, I know that, at this very moment, young people in battle zones face the exact same hell as the lethal jungles of Vietnam. The human cost of war has not changed–not one bit. And though the American public isn’t quite as riled as 1970, nor as focused, the price of overseas conflicts remain the same for those beautiful young souls now in harms way.

In the spirit of comforting the disturbed, and disturbing the comfortable, I would like to finish this piece by reprinting a poem by WWI soldier and poet, Siegfried Sassoon. With words alone, Sassoon captured the true awful, using no film crew, or photographer, or painter.

Dreamers

By Siegfried Sassoon

Soldiers are citizens of death’s grey land,
Drawing no dividend from time’s to-morrows.
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.
Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win
Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives.
Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin
They think of firelit homes, clean beds and wives.
I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats,
And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,
Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats,
And mocked by hopeless longing to regain
Bank-holidays, and picture shows, and spats,
And going to the office in the train.
Have a safe weekend, and accent the memory in Memorial Day.
Gail Chumbley is the author of the non-fiction memoir, River of January

Capturing War

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I grew up during the Vietnam era. This conflict in Southeast Asia officially began in 1959, and officially ended with the Paris Peace Accords in 1973. I was a four-year-old baby when Ike first sent advisers over, and a high school graduate when the boys came home under Nixon.

An opinion has grown among historians that the unpopularity of the Vietnam War came about because of particularly intense television coverage. Some claim that support for this “police action” shifted when the draft expanded to include middle class, college-bound boys. Mothers across the country grew alienated, and distressed by the relentless coverage flickering across all three networks; images of  Vietcong ambushes, exploding fire fights, and mounting body counts, soon drained any support women felt for the war.

I recall in particular doing dishes after dinner watching a little black and white Sony portable on the kitchen counter. It didn’t matter which network I switched to, the same footage blended into a mingled blur . . . jungle, fear, wounds, and an odometer-like graphic, tallying up the day’s body count.

The Vietnam War didn’t come to us through paintings, or photographs, or movie house newsreels. Instead the American public, including this growing girl from Spokane, viewed the unfolding drama as a grim reality program, years before that term was coined. And that little 10 inch window to the war told me, as young and unsophisticated as I was, that this involvement was awful. That war is an awful event.

CBS, in particular, ran special reports highlighting varying aspects of that endless nightmare. News cameras exposed the jarring horror of  surgical personnel–doctors and nurses splattered with blood–and set out with nervous reconnaissance patrols edging through deadly elephant grass, and huddled with desperate Marines battling at a stone wall in the ancient Vietnamese capitol of Hue. All of it awful.

So many years have flown by, and I find this little girl is now officially middle aged. Yet, as I type my graphic recollections from fifty years ago, I know that, at this very moment, young people in battle zones face the exact same hell as the lethal jungles of Vietnam. The human cost of war has not changed–not one bit. And though the American public isn’t quite as riled as 1970, nor as focused, the price of overseas conflicts remain the same for those beautiful young souls now in harms way.

In the spirit of comforting the disturbed, and disturbing the comfortable, I would like to finish this piece by reprinting a poem by WWI soldier and poet, Siegfried Sassoon. With words alone, Sassoon captured the true awful, using no film crew, or photographer, or painter.

Dreamers

By Siegfried Sassoon

Soldiers are citizens of death’s grey land,
Drawing no dividend from time’s to-morrows.
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.
Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win
Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives.
Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin
They think of firelit homes, clean beds and wives.
I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats,
And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,
Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats,
And mocked by hopeless longing to regain
Bank-holidays, and picture shows, and spats,
And going to the office in the train.
Have a safe weekend, and accent the memory in Memorial Day.
Gail Chumbley is the author of the non-fiction memoir, River of January

Premier Sunday

Ladies and gentleman! Today, October 2, 2016 I proudly present the cover art for book two of River of January.

Please welcome River of January: Figure Eight, available for purchase one month from today, November 2, 2016.

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Huge thanks go out to the talented Brooke Rousseau, and her brilliant mother, Yvonne at Point Rider Publishing.

Perorders available at gailchumbley@gmail.com.

To catch up with book one, River of January is available at www.river-of-january.com or at Amazon.com. Also found on Kindle.

Author Gail Chumbley can be found at gailchumbley@gmail.com or at http://www.river-of-january.com

An American Girl Abroad, 1932

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Read River of January for the story behind the pictures.

Gail Chumbley is the author of River of January, a memoir, also available on Kindle. Watch for the sequel, “River of January: Figure Eight” out in November.

A Story in Three Pictures

Eighty-three years ago.

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Gail Chumbley is the author of River of January, a memoir. Also available on Kindle.

Watch for River of January: Figure Eight in November.

A Wave of Enthusiasm

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A visitor with the “Darkness Derby” trophy

 

Reno is situated in a golden bowl below surrounding mountains that separate Nevada from California. This enormous basin pulsates with life; upscale strip malls, flashy casinos, and relentless traffic following endless suburban growth.

To the north, off the beltway that circles the “Biggest Little City,” sits Stead, Nevada, a locale clearly not enjoying the same affluence as the rest of the area. A boarded up Catholic church, a Title-I elementary school and a Job Corps center secured behind chain link fence indicate that the very poor reside far away from the prosperity to the south.

But at the end of this impoverished section of road, the world changes. Parachutists drift overhead, swatches of white traversing against a deep blue sky. Aircraft of every model and engine sit posed below on the asphalt, row by row, wing to wing. Bi-planes, jets, experimental aircraft, and aerobatic planes all preen in the brilliant sunlight while thrilled attendees weave through, admiring and discussing these miracles of flight. The owners sit back in the shade of the hangars, with friends and family–a diligent eye toward their planes, monitoring the crowds with casual diligence and satisfied pride.

We, my husband and I, watch the action from inside the gift shop in the pits. How the gods of flight placed us among the elite of the Reno Air Races in the pits, is a miracle of another kind. In waves, the select few holding pit passes ebb and flow from our tent. When the Blue Angels trundle down the runway and rise in a deafening boom of delayed sound, the tent empties. When the exhibition comes to a roaring close, and these beauties return to earth, the shop once again fills with customers.

These pilots can’t seem to help themselves from gaping at our table. The oversized trophy Chum won in 1933, perched at the center of our book display, draws these Twenty-first Century flyers over. “Can I get a picture of this?” one man asks. “How much would you take for the trophy?” asks another. “They don’t make them like this anymore,” says another. “You need to take care of this one.”

Conversations soon turn to the race itself, 1933’s “Darkness Derby.” This Depression-era contest required pilots to compete only after dusk, taking off from Glendale California, with verified stops in Albuquerque, Wichita, then concluding at Roosevelt Field, Long Island. The race was organized as part of “Roosevelt Field Days,” and also as publicity for a new Helen Hayes, Clark Gable film titled, “Night Flight.” And if the tarnished old trophy wasn’t enough to catch a patron’s eye, we displayed a framed glossy of Miss Hayes presenting Chum with the same trophy, at the movie’s premier.

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One pilot explains to me that my father-in-law was a bonafide pioneer in aviation. That Monty Chumbley managed to navigate through the night sky and prevail in the derby is noteworthy–considering he had no instruments. I smile because I know that already. And it’s nice that for the first time since publishing “River of January,” I’m with others who understand the profound difficulty and significance of his feat.

Another visitor tells us he edits an aviation magazine out of Ohio, and would like me to submit a piece regarding the “Darkness Derby.” This editor assures us that he will see to it that the race is officially recorded for posterity. My husband and I are very pleased with this assurance, as well. We’d always hoped to get Chum’s accomplishment recognized by fellow aviators and officially recorded.

Happily, Chum isn’t the only recipient of accolades. Equal attention and interest are directed to the female lead in “River.” A lovely girl also named Helen, Helen Thompson, lights up our table with her beauty and glamor, smiling out from a vintage photograph. Her radiance seems to add to Chum’s luster–endorsing the romance of flight in its infancy. I quickly explain that this young lady was no slouch when it came to courage and commitment. Helen Thompson too, took enormous risks in life, performing across three continents in the early 1930’s, eventually meeting her future husband in Rio de Janeiro.

My husband and I stepped into the world of avid flyers, and they understood our efforts in promoting “River of January,” perhaps better than we do. With all the attention and fuss paid to our exhibit, all the books we sold and signed, Chum and Helen’s story is carried on to future generations of adventurers.

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Gail Chumbley is the author of the memoir, River of January. Also available on Kindle. Look for “River of January: Figure Eight” this fall.

 

 

A History Teacher on 911

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I cannot recall the words I used to soothe my juniors on that horrible day. However, the soul-deep pain remains remarkably sharp in my emotional memory.

Vaguely I can see my son, a senior at the same high school, enter my classroom to check on his mom, the American History teacher. Seeing his face, I wanted to go to pieces.

It was later, in the local newspaper, that I discovered not only the words I shared with my students but the transforming pain they endured watching their country attacked.

(For the writer’s privacy I’ve deleted their identity)

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