Friday, February 05, 2010

I posted this originally back in October of 2007...

When I'd become familiar with some of the interesting details of my buddy Arthur's life and career. Check it out again.

"Old Soldiers never Die"

They live on in old stories, sometimes tearfully but always passionately remembered, told to wide eyed young pups about the adventures of their youth, when life was lived to its absolute fullest... When abject terror and jubilation were with them at all times, held closely and tightly, like their rifle and their K-Bar.

I was at work Wednesday, sitting around with a few friends, waiting to go to class, when one of my colleagues came in and said he had something to show us. His name is Arthur Trujillo, but he's better known by his students as "Mister T". He's a Government and Business instructor here on Ft. Hood, and he also moonlights as a school board officer here in Killeen, and volunteers in a few other areas. He retired from the army after 20 or so years in 1987. He's been a buddy of mine for years, ever since I started teaching here in 1995.

He's a funny guy, and works tirelessly, probably too much. The common view of him among his colleagues is that he's a great guy, but that he's got too much goin' on to possibly enjoy his life. Too many fingers in too many pies. Well, he obviously needs to keep active, and it's his choice. His wife, Minerva, recently started teaching Spanish here on base. He's tried to get me to go to Chamber of Commerce meetings with him in the past, early on Sunday mornings, but my ass doesn't know how to get up that early on a Sunday and put on a suit. Call me a slacker. Guilty.

Anyway, I've known for years that he was a Vietnam Vet, and that he'd been a Special Forces officer there and a helicopter pilot, involved in all sorts of secret operations, serving several tours from late 1966 to the early 1970s. Every once in a while he comes in and needs to tell us stories, the anniversary of some battle or incident having come by and shaken old memories and passions loose from his heart. It happens from time to time, and we're happy to listen. I always sit there, mesmerized by this old warrior, trying to imagine this old guy in that old setting. Today was one of those days.

There are several Vietnam Vets working here on the Ft. Hood campus, including the Dean. It's one of the things I love about working here. I get to rub shoulders with the guys who've lived much more interesting lives than I have (so far), who have a deep well of wisdom to share with a young guy like me. When Arthur started telling his story, another Vet chimed in. His name is Mike Davies, and he's an Economics teacher and former Army colonel who served in Vietnam in the early 1970s.

Here's an old shot of the three of us, and a few other folks, all sitting in the office at work. That's Mike on the left, without his hair. That's Arthur on the right, with the coffee cup (he's CONSTANTLY drinking the stuff).

They compared notes about where they had served and when, and talked about how it seems like yesterday that all those events were taking place. I ketch them trading memories fairly often. Once I caught them laughing in the teachers lounge, and they told me about going to Thailand on leave from Vietnam and getting a "Blow Bath and a Steam Job". I laughed my ass off when they told me what that was all about.

While they were remembering things yesterday, I jumped in and said that while we'd been stationed at Richards Gebower Air Force Base, in the early 1970s, my dad, then a Colonel, had gone on a two week tour of Asia with other officers. He was working in communications then, in a huge, two or three story windowless, supposedly bomb proof concrete cube with one door going in and out. The tour was looking at communications facilities in Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and finally Vietnam (I was about ten or eleven then).

I told them that while the other guys went to Vietnam, my dad had stayed back in the Philippines and played golf (something about them not having enough room for him on the plane). They laughed at that. Then Mike chimed in that he'd played golf in Vietnam, in Saigon. He said that if you sliced on the 16 hole your ball landed in a mine field. We all laughed again, wondering which local kid probably got the job of picking up those lost balls so that they could sell them back to the golfers.

Arthur took out a folder then, and showed us some clippings from his time in the war. I was amazed to look into the eyes of this young soldier, staring back at me from the pages of the clippings in the folder.

He looks a lot like one of the kids in my AP high school class in Florence. Two of the clippings were from his home town newspaper, the Roswell New Mexico Daily Record. The other was from the Army Times. He said that his home town had been very gung ho about the war back then, and gave him a lot of press while he was over there. I told him, looking at the yellowing clips, that he should scan those clippings into a computer so they could be touched up and preserved. In the end he gave them to me, so I could see what I could do. This gave me the time to go over them in greater detail, and read up on my friend.

The first clipping (below, right) is from the end of his first tour (the first of three, if I have things right). It shows him sitting in the jungle, September of 1967, his radio and maps in hand, his Colt Commando, short barreled M-16 rifle near by.

He's described as a 1st Lt. commanding B company, 1st battalion, 8th infantry, 4th infantry division, serving in Ducco, Central Highlands of South Vietnam. It talks about him having served as a rifle platoon commander, platoon XO, "Recondo" (leading long range reconnaissance patrols), Psychological Warfare officer, and Civil Affairs officer.

He's written notes on the margins of this clipping, talking about being ambushed a few times, crossing a river and walking through a field, and that he'd had bullets cut the ground right in front of him and to his side, kicking up rocks and dust that hit his face. He writes about working with the Montagnairds (Mountain tribesmen working as guerrillas on our side) and setting up a school for their kids in a village on the Cambodian border.

At some point he took Paratrooper training, and then in his second tour, served as an intelligence officer in the command and control detachment in the 5th Special Forces group. As an officer in the Special Operations Group, he did all sorts of stuff he still won't really talk about. He was there for the Tet offensive in early 1968, and ended up giving about 15 to 20 top secret briefings to Gen. Creighton Abrams, who was second-in-command at that time, but who later took command of all the troops in country.

During his third tour, from late 1970 to late 1971, he commanded troop "D", 17th squadron, the 17th Cavalry, flying planes and helicopters and logging about 350 combat flying hours (see picture at upper left). He went into Cambodia in 1971, flying an OH-58 reconnaissance aircraft. He laughs now about things like taking anti-aircraft fire through his cockpit, almost killing him, while he was supporting his men from the air. Looking at these pictures and his notes, I can only wonder what other experiences he's had. I wish he'd put it all down somewhere for the rest of us to read, so that his personal history isn't lost some day.

I'm blown away by all the things I've learned in this simple yellow folder, and want to know more. It occurs to me that having guys like these around is a walking, talking reminder of the real courage that our soldiers display, and how much they really go through in the service of their country. It's often said that we should honor these Vets for the service they gave on the battlefield, but I think it should go deeper than that.

To one degree or another, when the guys and gals head off to war these days, following in the footsteps of men like my buddies Arthur and Mike, they're volunteering to sacrifice not only their lives, or a part of their body. Most of them will end up sacrificing their peace of mind. Their war time experiences will haunt many of them for the rest of their lives. The memories of these things will come back to them at odd times, when they smell something familiar or hear a sudden loud noise. Most of them will hold it together, and they'll manage to bear the trauma, hiding it from the people they love, only dredging up memories in the company of those who served, who are the only ones really able to understand.

They'll move on to build families, and stable, valuable lives in the world. They built this country, and continue to build it. Maybe that's the real sign of courage we should honor. Maybe that steadfast resilience is the real heroism we should celebrate.

Thank God we still have folks like these among us, willing to serve in whatever capacity, putting it all on the line.

Well, it turns out I was wrong... with that post title that is.

My buddy Arthur's been going through some hard times lately. We found out last year that he had cancer. He stopped teaching and started going through a regimen of chemo therapy that took his hair and forced him to give up all the jobs that kept him active in the community.

I haven't seen him in months, but his health and progress have always been a hot topic around the Ft. Hood campus. Every time any number of us got together, the conversation would inevitably shift to "Have you heard anything about Arthur?", and "Have you seen him lately?"

Well, the news came last week that Arthur, who's been continuing his cancer treatment, had suffered a massive heart attack. The word was that he was mostly brain dead and not long for this world.

The rumor spread on the campus earlier this week that he'd passed away Tuesday afternoon, when they'd unplugged him from the respirators. The consensus was, well, that's a hell of a lot better way to go than a long lingering fight with cancer.

It turns out we were a bit premature. The tough old soldier is still hanging on. I found out last night. It's so in keeping with his character. He's still fighting, not letting go... as of this posting.

I guess I just wanted to post this again. Celebrate old Arthur's life again. I'm really gonna miss him, but I'm not gonna believe he's really gone until I see that casket. Some folks are just to tough to die, I guess.

God bless him, and his family. Here's to him. Cheers!

Update: I just found out that my buddy Arthur passed away Friday afternoon. His funeral is Tuesday. I'm gonna try to get out of class that day and go. He'll be sorely missed. What a guy!


Sarge Charlie said...

you caused a tear to appear in my old eye my friend. This is a wonderful post and should be read by the masses.
I only took 5 of my 6 chemo treatments because they thought I could not survive another one. I am on my second round of cancer directly related to Agent Orange.

In any event, this was a wonderful story and it reminded me of my trip to Bangkok.

I tip my hat to your friend, a true hero.

Anonymous said...

Your words are well spoken. I think Art's passing has made me realize that us "Old Soldiers" are not immortal.
Thank you, Jeff.

Mini me

PRH....... said...

From this Vietnam Vet, a big thumbs up for retelling this story Jeff!


Anonymous said...

Yes, thanks for the post and so sorry for your loss. I saw the article in the Sat. Killeen paper. I wonder if he was ever stationed at White Sands in the years I was there. He sure looks familiar to me and he was from Roswell so maybe. Belton Belle

FHB said...

Thanks folks.

Sarge - You take care of yourself! We need to get together some time.

Mini Me - Folks, that's Mike, from the post. Thanks man. I hoped you'd like what I said.

PRH - Thanks man. It means a lot.

Belle - No idea. I can email his wife, or give you her email if you want.

Jerry in Indiana said...

Thanks for the story, FHB. So sorry to hear about your friend. He was certainly a hero.

Rocky Patel Cigars said...

NO,thanks for the post and so sorry for your loss. I saw the article in the Sat.