18 Jun 98
I met Gunny at New York City's Pennsylvania Station and we caught Amtrak's 8:01 AM Northeast Corridor to Washington DC. During the 3-1/2 hour train ride, Gunny and I discuss issue related items, Operation Just Cause and refining the Mission Statement for Operation: Just Cause. Gunny gives me his novel, "Inherited Obligations," to read.
We arrive at Washington DC's Union Station and hop into a cab that takes us to the Sheraton City Centre Hotel. Gunny checks in; Sheraton has screwed up my reservations so my room won't be ready until after 3PM. We go up to Gunny's room to freshen up.
12:00 Noon - 2PM
We come down to the hotel lobby to meet with several Family Member-Activists. The Alliance Meeting will not be starting till 7PM. We meet with the Milliner family, Sharon Barnett, Jim "Grits" Denton, Korea War Family Members Irene SOMETHING, Bob Dumas, Donna Knox. All in the lobby of the Sheraton.
We meet with Carol Hrdlicka, (Gunny spent a lot of time with Carol), Wilma and Jack Lauffer (Lima Area MIA-POW Organization), Linda Gurganis, Dave Murray, Rick Will, Roger Hall and many other family members and/or activists.
Gunny and I jump in another cab and go down to The Wall to pay our respects. Gunny gets a rubbing of Kim Thomas' father's name. I get Michael Blassie's. We each spend a private moment in front of panels that mean the most to us. Then we walk around the Wall, going our separate ways for a few minutes.
Well, when Gunny and go our separate ways by the Wall, I spot a veteran who seems unsure of himself. He had THE LOOK. Only those who frequent the Wall can understand what I mean by THE LOOK. Almost every veteran has it, the family members have it and many people whose close personal friends name is engraved on the Wall have it too. A kind of trepidatious look. A timid look. Like maybe the name isn't there and Joe is really OK and this has been a bad friggin dream. But then that other LOOK comes upon your face. That look that confirms this ain't no bad friggin dream. It's that nightmarish reality. Anyway, this vet had that look and I just stood next to him for a second and then quietly asked if he was OK. He nodded. I asked if he wanted me to accompany him to his panel. He thanked me but declined. "This is one trip I gotta make myself, brother." I nod my understanding and he disappears down the Wall.
Gunny and I hook up by the flag pole near the Three Man Statue. We then walk the length of The Wall and visit the Nurses Memorial and the Three Man Statue that guards the Wall. We make our way over to the Last Firebase to see if Donna Long is there. She isn't. We purchase some POW/MIA pins and walk on, passing the reflecting pool and the Lincoln Memorial. We stop at a Kiosk just before the Korea War Memorial (which is undergoing expansion).
Along the way Gunny and I are talking about a million things. I tell Gunny about that vet down by the Wall and about other veterans who I have come across in the dead of night down at the Wall. We talk about the issue and what has kept us involved in it over the years.
A lot of folks don't understand how this issue adversely effects your lives. It BECOMES your life. In order to totally understand this issue, you have to spend many, many hours educating yourself and doing the research. The deeper you dig, the more you find. The more you find, the deeper you dig. Then you start vocalizing. Why the hell didn't they do anything?? The more vocal you become, sooner or later you come to the attention of the governments' Dirty Tricks Department.
By that time, most of your non-issue related friends are now your non-issue related acquaintances because they are tired of hearing you preach and you are becoming resentful of their inaction.
You may get audited by the IRS or have the FBI show up cold on your doorstep asking you questions, or asking your neighbors questions. In some cases, like mine, they go to your job in a clear effort to get you fired. You become a bit paranoid in this issue, but there is an old adage that goes something like, "Just because I am paranoid, doesn't mean they ain't watchin!" I was having a telephone conversation with an activist just the other day where I told her to hold on a second, I wanted to get a soda from the fridge. When I came back she asked, "Are you taping me?" and I responded that I was not and the conversation didn't miss a beat. Most people would get offended at having that question asked and then others would have terminated the conversation if they even thought they were being taped. Yet it is as real a part of our world as when you answer your phone and it's a wrong number. While you wouldn't give that a second thought, many of us would dissect who the caller REALLY was.
Give all that up, you ask?!
But then someone walks up to you and recognizes your name and says, "Hey man, thank you. I appreciate the job you are doing," and that gives you that push to stay involved. Or you find something important in a casualty file that the family didn't know or understand. The look on their face sometimes gives you that push to stay involved. Or the newbie that comes in and you see the realization hit them and then the determination to DO something about it crosses their face. You are a bit wiser now, maybe a little cynical too, but that determination from the newbie helps keep us old farts in this issue.
Well we by-pass the Korea War Memorial because we want to get some film and it is hot and humid and we've walked for miles and we want to get some refreshments; so we cross the street to the vendor and get a lemonade and an Italian ice. (Or Washington's version of Italian ice!) We sit on a bench that faces the back of the Korea War Memorial and we talk while gulping our lemonade and eating the ice, relishing the respite from the humidity if only for the moment.
That veteran from the Wall seems to have the same idea as we do, because just as we are a little better than halfway done (in other words we lit up a smoke), here he comes strutting toward the vendor with a more purposeful gait then when I had last seen him. I tap Gunny, nod in the direction of the veteran and tell Gunny who the vet is. The vet gets his refreshments, sees Gunny and I and walks toward the bench we are sitting on. I ask him how he made out and he says, "OK and I want to thank you."
Well we start exchanging names and you see the look of recognition come across his face. He starts smiling like the cat that ate the canary. (Where DID that saying come from, anyway?) He pumps Gunny's hand and says, "Oh man, ya'll just made my day. Hot Dawg." I take pictures of Gunny and the Veteran and the three of us talk for a little while. He's wearing a POW bracelet. David Hrdlicka. We tell him that David's wife is at the hotel we are staying at and we invite him to the Alliance meeting. He says he will come and then we all depart.
We walk over to the Korea War Memorial and we observe their Wall and the statues that eerily appear like a unit on patrol in Korea. We are lost in our own private thoughts for a few moments and then we check out the expansion work. It will be real nice when they finish.
We hop in a cab and go back to the hotel. I check in and then we both go back up to Gunny's room where I pick up my things and head to my own room to unpack and recharge my cell phone. We agree to meet in the hotel bar in a few minutes.
When the elevator doors open in the lobby, Gunny is standing there with Chris Rich, son of Cmdr. Richard Rich who came looking for us. I have known Chris for almost 7 years and have worked on his father's case for several. We go to the bar and have a drink. It's filling up with people who have come for the Alliance meeting.
We are going to get something to eat and we decide to go to this hip-hop place across the street. Chris joins us and we grab a table in the back. Dave Murray and Rick Will have just finished eating but they join us for green and peach tortilla chips. Well, let me correct that. The restaurant serves us green and peach tortilla chips. We mostly look at them.
We are joined by Kim Thomas-Bowles, from Sons and Daughters In Touch. Gunny, Kim and Chris become very animated. There's laughter and hugs going around the table.
It's decided that Chris will bunk with me because he was going to go stay with friends in Maryland but the last train is at 11:30 or 12:00 AM and we are planning a night venture down to the Wall, which will cause him to miss the last train. Who says you need sleep anyway?
We leave the restaurant so that Kim can get to the League of Families meeting and we can get to the Alliance of Families meeting which are conducted at hotels across the street from one another.
Click here to go to the Alliance Meeting