Category Archives: carl h bloeser

“On behalf of the President of the United States and a grateful nation . . .”

“PROSE”: “the ordinary language people use in speaking or writing.”  – Merriam Webster

 

After years of interrogating and defending witnesses in the criminal courts, detecting patterns and pattern breaks in people’s oral and written speech and in their behaviors is instinctive.
But it’s also instinct to identify other types of patterns. So, while at the Southern Arizona Veterans Cemetery last month, I took time to consider some of the patterns that are visible among the granite niche plates of the veterans who share a columbarium with my dad:
  • Too many of the niche plates are hard to read from just ten feet away;
  • The types of diversity among the names suggests that the ethnic, historical, and linguistic heritage among the veterans who share the columbarium with dad is broad, a reminder that those who fight America’s wars come from far and near;
  • These niche plates and others adjacent to them reveal a near, if not total, absence of any identifier that would draw distinctions among veterans based on race;
  • That the decedent be personally identified with, or perhaps insured by, religion or spirituality appears to be, at the very least, important to the good folks he or she came from;
  • As would be expected, most of these men and women who’ve died in the last few years served this nation’s military as enlisted personnel, rather than as officers;
  • Among these niche plates and others adjacent to them, there is a near, if not total, absence of any markings by which one might distinguish among combat warriors and other military veterans based on whether that veteran was gay, straight, or otherwise;
  • Many of the service men and women on these and other columbaria would have experienced the existential threats that this Nation faced during World War II, while they were still children; others came of age and perhaps served, when the U.S. and its allies fought the Communist scourge on and around the Korean Peninsula and around and above an island just 90 miles from the continental U.S.; during more than ten years of the Vietnam War and in the decades that followed, most, if not all of these veterans time and again saw those who mattered to them most die in whole or in part, regardless of which political party held power in Washington; and like every other person on the planet, each of them woke every day with a promise from the nuclear age: mutually assured destruction if any of us screws up; and
  • Among those niche plates that contain additional remarks in the space below the veteran’s official lifespan, almost all forego terms like “hero” and “warrior” in favor of terms that speak to the human connection that those left behind feel and will continue to feel for the veteran they’ve lost.

 

 

 

charles-photo-lawlibrary-150-x-200Charles Bloeser is a lawyer and the researcher behind the creation of combatresearchandprose.com, a new open-source applied research initiative examining combat and those marked by it. His most recent publication, in August 2018, reports how a cancer-stricken, combat-haunted Vietnam veteran fell between the cracks in a modern jail. It’s an account that, from that warrior’s deathbed, he asked author to share with those best able to keep the same thing from happening to others. STRIFE, at the Department of War Studies, Kings College London, gave him a way to do that.  http://www.strifeblog.org/2018/08/02/henry-a-wounded-soldier-forgotten-by-all-in-an-american-jail-by-all-except-his-brothers-who-fell-beside-him-in-vietnam

Below the Sahel 24 November 1970: Childhood Innocence No More

The following is excerpted from mom’s recently completed manuscript for her historical memoir, Vaccines & Bayonets: Fighting Smallpox in Africa amid Tribalism, Terror and the Cold War.  www.vaccinesandbayonets.com

embassy seal 1.95MUSICAL MINISTERS – AGAIN

Excerpt from November 19, 1970 letter to William Foege, M.D., Director, Smallpox Eradication Program, CDC, Atlanta,

From Carl Bloeser, Operations Officer, Equatorial Guinea

Once again we’re having a week of ‘musical ministers,’ something we’re all getting used to. The Minister of Health has been appointed Minister of Mines and Industries. The Minister of Mines and Industries is the new Minister of Justice, and of course that means that Dr. Rafael Obiang, the Minister of Justice and head of the Juventud, is the new Minister of Health.

I think it would be fair to say that Dr. Obiang would win hands down any contest for Equatorial Guinea’s most sinister man.

He is out of the country now. I doubt I’ll have the chance to see the new Minister before next week….

Certainly in the months to come, we will have to consider the political override to our programming in Equatorial Guinea. I will keep you informed of developments in the monthly activity reports.

* * * 

THE TERROR

November 24, 1970

“Don’t speak. Just listen. Grab the kids and an overnight bag. Be ready in ten minutes.”

 Carl was calling from his office at the American Embassy. My husband could be a bottom-line person if he had to be, but this time his voice sounded different, wooden.

Questions whirled in my brain.

 What’s happening this time? Who’s coming for us? Where are we going?

No opportunity to ask. Not safe to ask. The phone clattered back into its cradle as I ran to get our children and a few essentials.

Minutes later our family and Chargé d’Affaires Al Williams rode in palpable silence through the sultry equatorial afternoon. The pungent smell of moist earth and decomposing undergrowth hung on our clothing and stuck to our skin. My preoccupied stare settled on the

American flag fluttering from the miniature flagstaff of the embassy car, its presence announcing that either the ambassador or the Chargé was in the car. In theory that would give us diplomatic protection. I counted on more than theory.

monster image. 315 x 175

No one spoke until we were safely inside the Embassy Residence and out of earshot of the driver, who we were sure worked for the police.

Answers to my questions came soon enough. We would spend at least this night under the protection of the flag. Dr. Obiang, the new Minister of Health, had let loose his gangs of armed youth against the Portuguese community, and they were slashing their way through the street three blocks away. Their clubs and machetes were demolishing shops and bludgeoning any Portuguese they could get their hands on.

Minutes earlier Carman had phoned the alert to the chancery. She had just left it herself and stumbled into the attacks as she walked the few blocks to the Residence. She escaped harm only because her hairdresser spotted her and rushed from the shop screaming to the mob.

“No es portuguesa! Es americana!”

We learned that farther up the West African coast, the citizens of Portuguese Guinea (later Guinea-Bissau) fighting for independence from Portugal believed they had sighted a submarine off their shores. On the heels of a November 22 Portuguese-led attack on their neighbor, Guinea-Conakry, the sighting triggered a massacre there. So Equatorial Guineans would also go after the Portuguese—a show of solidarity.

Our embassy residence with its spacious entry hall and curving staircase stood on a slight rise a block from the harbor. Across the street sprawled the hacienda-style police station. The juxtaposition was jarring—serenity and hospitality on one side of the street, official torture and murder on the other. But on this night, most of the killing was a few blocks away.

Al telephoned President Macias and told him he had gathered all the Americans at the American Embassy Residence, and that we were under the protection of the United States Government. He expressed confidence in Macias’s ability to make sure no harm would come to us.

It appeared that nothing could ruffle either of the Williams. Carman liked to “let her hair down”—I often pictured her in a hippie commune—but when she needed to observe protocol she did it with flair. Al epitomized the calm and collected diplomat. His stance when in peril: It’s just part of representation.

Now he and Carl periodically cracked the door for an instant to look and listen for any up-to-the-minute sliver of intelligence. They otherwise talked, smoked Cuban cigars, drank the Spanish brandy Fundador and looked for things to laugh about. Gallows humor. One had to distance oneself in order to survive this place.

The Residence had moved from smaller quarters a few weeks earlier. I helped Carman hem new draperies for the massive windows to the accompaniment of her upbeat conversation and laughter.

Charles and Ginger drew pictures and devised paper creations, hopefully not hearing enough conversation to be aware of our situation. (Later I would learn of Charles’s being traumatized by his memory of human screams coming from the police station.)

Just now, he looked over at his dad at the sound of furtive conversation and hollow laughter coming from the far corner of the room.

dad state ID. 250 x 166Al and Carl were discussing the embassy’s Escape and Evasion Plan.

Seriously? This was our E and E plan? We would sneak down the arm of the bay to the Bahia, and swim thirty yards to that tiny button of land that peered above the surface of the water. Al lowered his voice and I strained to hear the hushed exchange. I wondered at the few words I could make out.

…if we…rescue team…

Then I think I heard something about a submarine rescue. Would they really come for us?

Carl leaned forward, his balding head shiny with perspiration. He rubbed a hand across his chin, further muffling his voice.

…don’t like it, Al…kids…sharks…rather try rainforest…

I’d read somebody had invented an inflatable life boat. If only we had one of those.

So here we were, the six permanent Americans on this small island where tropical foliage and black sand beaches camouflaged the struggle for survival under a brutal and xenophobic government.

I felt oddly unafraid, and Al and Carman took their “just part of representation” attitude. But after they concluded that we should all go to bed for what was left of the night, a stealthy disquiet settled beneath my calm exterior. I was thankful for one thing—this was not, at least, one of the few times when Al had to be away and left Carl as acting de facto chargé d’affaires. I’d have hated for him to have to deal with such a touchy situation.

Sleep eluded me that night as the hands of the clock made their rounds. Thoughts picked their way through streets and alleyways of littered memories. I searched. I teased out threads.

Why on earth had Carl agreed to come to this place after reading all those cables? And what did he see when he came and investigated in person?

I knew he couldn’t share all that he learned. But whatever it was, he had said he was needed here. Being needed seemed to override everything else in Carl’s mind. He welcomed tasks that no one else would take on and thrived on accomplishing the impossible. It seemed to be something he could not resist.

In a high-ceilinged guest bedroom Carl’s quiet, regular breathing told me he was sound asleep. I was wide awake.

Can’t get comfortable. Will try not to wake Carl.

The brain that I could not turn off ruminated in a continuous loop. I worried about our UN friends. They were no longer allowed to have contact with embassy people. Where could they find a safe haven tonight?

I turned my pillow over. The cooler surface soothed me. Maybe now I could sleep.

Macias Ngueme coin 1978 president for life, ie. until 1979. 225 x 223But no. President Macias was on his way to slaughtering, imprisoning or driving into exile a third of his people. Amnesty International would attach the nicknames Dachau of Africa and Auschwitz of Africa.

Have to put these dark visions out of my brain. I need to pray. Why can’t I pray?

I slipped out of bed and wandered in silence through the darkened expanse of the Residence. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, I finally fell into a fitful sleep.

Despite the night’s anxiety, neither escape option had to be employed, and in the morning Al deemed it safe for us to return to our own house. We exited the embassy into a sunny day and surface calm. There were no sounds, as yet, coming from the police station across the street. So far as I know, no one ever learned the body count for the night just passed.

 Carl put the crisis behind him and pursued his objective with even greater resolve. At home, we continued with what passed for normal. Carl and I added more pieces to the jigsaw puzzle on our dining room table. Ginger played with her dolls. Charles played in his fortress, barricaded behind its walls.

* * *

SINISTER MINISTER

Two days later, Carl wrote in a follow-up to the November 19th letter to Dr. Foege, that despite repeated requests to meet with the new Minister of Health, he had not yet succeeded. In understated bureaucratic-speak, chilling as I look at it now, he said:

“Dr. Obiang is just not available at present. He seems to be quite occupied at this time with Juventud activities. On Tuesday, November 24, the Juventud was unleashed on the Portuguese community of Fernando Po. It now appears that I may be able to meet with him on Monday, December 7….

“I would suggest that authorized personnel review two classified cables concerning this matter at an early date: [Carl listed two classified cable identifiers.]”

A representative from the International Commission of Jurists would report a few years later that the Juventud was responsible for much of the looting, killing, execution, torture, burning of villages and “informing on anyone.” His report says that they practiced “violence as a line of conduct generally aimed at terrorizing the population.”

The new Minister of Health was efficient.

 

The foregoing is excerpted from mom’s recently completed manuscript of her historical memoir, Vaccines & Bayonets: Fighting Smallpox in Africa amid Tribalism, Terror and the Cold War. vaccinesandbayonets.com

Image attribution: Seal of the United States Embassy, public domain; Mask of death from “Africa’s Greatest Dictators,” Vice.com (July 15, 2010); image of 1978 EG coin featuring Macias Nguema as “President for Life,” public domain.

 

Charles.photo.lawlibrary. 150 x 200About the Kid From the Fortress

Charles Bloeser is a lawyer and the researcher behind the creation of combatresearchandprose.com, a new open-source applied research initiative examining combat and those marked by it. His most recent publication, in August 2018, reports how a cancer-stricken, combat-haunted Vietnam veteran fell between the cracks in a modern jail. It’s an account that, from that warrior’s deathbed, he asked this author to share with those best able to prevent the same thing from happening to others. STRIFE, at the Department of War Studies, Kings College London, gave him a way to do that. http://www.strifeblog.org/2018/08/02/henry-a-wounded-soldier-forgotten-by-all-in-an-american-jail-by-all-except-his-brothers-who-fell-beside-him-in-vietnam

“Honor the noble dead.”

The battle of Verdun was the longest, if not the bloodiest, single battle in World War I. Launched by the German Fifth Army on 21 February 1916, it did not come to an end until the final French counterattack was ended on 19 December 1916. For most of 1916, German and French soldiers fought tooth and nail for a few square miles of terrain around the French fortress city of Verdun, in what was the quintessential “battle of attrition” of World War I. Most units of the French army and many of the German army fought in what was described by both sides as the “hell of Verdun.” Between the battle’s start and the end of August (when the Germans ceased offensive operations), some 281,000 Germans and some 315,000 Frenchmen were killed or wounded. . . .” – Dr. Robert Foley, Dean of Academic Studies/Head of Department at the Defence Studies Department, Joint Services Command and Staff College (JSCSC), the Defence Academy of the UK. Dr. Foley is author of “Verdun: The Killing Field.” 66(9) History Today (September 2016). https://www.historytoday.com/robert-foley/verdun-killing-field

Carl Hugh Bloeser 1939 2014 USA USAF dad

 

A word about the American veteran who penned the following 8-paragraph essay:

Like the combat warrior whose name has been entrusted to me, dad was an Army Veteran. But he also served as a medic in the USAF. And some years before brain cancer came calling, several autumns before my mom accepted the thanks of a grateful nation for dad’s faithful and dedicated service, dad wrote these 8 paragraphs about a return visit he made to soldiers who died in combat in what was to have been the last war. Ever.

The 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month”[i]

by Carl H. Bloeser, M.P.H, M.A.P.A., U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force veteran, 1939-2014

In the history of warfare no greater insanity is recorded than the Battle of Verdun.[ii] Never have so many died or been maimed for such an insignificant piece of land.[iii]

It was on the 11th day of the 11th month sixty nine years after the Armistace that I found myself once again at Verdun. I had traveled there the previous night under a full moon that did its best to illuminate plowed fields and meadows that were covered with a low and concealing fog. The only movement I could see off the road was a tractor slowly plowing in the distance with its lights disappearing and then re-appearing as it moved along the edges of crafted rows. A thousand ghosts had to enjoy the serenity and the tranquility of that night.

Verdun was ahead and it was late. As in earlier years I would look for a room in a loft and one above the [b]ar and a place to eat. The small hotel I chose brought life to the night in a town where death had consumed so many. The chill so common to that part of France in November was broken by the laughter and the talking of a family around a long and ancient table close to where I had chosen to finish my day with a glass of wine and a sandwich.

Early on the eleventh day of the eleventh month I went out to walk the streets. The very best of Europe I have often found in the quiet of early morning. It was cold. I had to wonder how many armies slept and drank and did what armies do in the streets and the shops and the bars and the homes all in sight of the towers of Verdun’s cathedral. The only sounds I heard were the voices of Arabs talking and laughing with each other. I wondered if they were from Algeria or Morocco or from some other place far from home. In that, we both had something in common. The smell of the morning was from the bakery making [croissants.] The day was just beginning . . . the hour of eleven on the eleventh month of the eleventh day sixty nine years later was still off in the distance.

It was time to return to the warmth of the hotel and a hot cup of coffee. As I passed through the hotel door the proprietor didn’t look in my direction. After all, over many years numbers of people must have come and gone through that door at all times, days and seasons. One more wouldn’t warrant his attention. Breakfast appeared to be his morning obsession. As he walked from behind the hotel bar he seemed determined to maneuver the half-smoked and dangling cigarette away from the coffee pot he carried. Morning bread was already on the table along with jams and jellies of various types and colors in petite bowls of clear crystal. Creamy butters with curled ridges adorned the small plates next to each bowl. At each end of the table two white bowls filled with boiled eggs stood in command over his temporary work of art. Silver, plates, cups and cloth napkins were gathered on a small table nearby. Nothing was packaged. What an insult that would have been to this man. Everything was in its proper place. It was time for the morning breakfast concert to begin. Only then did he look up, say good morning and slowly limp from the room.

After breakfast I toted my bag to where the car was parked, opened the door, tossed the bag in the back seat and reached for an open map. I decided that the day would center around visits to towns and villages of the living, monuments to those who had died, and to those places where the dead are buried. I knew from visits long before [that] I wouldn’t have to drive far in any direction.

As I approached my first mark on the map I found an area in which to park. Walking toward the first place to visit I remember looking up at a nearby building. Of many frosted windows one caught my eye. Lace adorned its glass. A small smiling face pressed her nose against the window and smiled to this stranger walking in the cold. I smiled back. Her smile warmed the moment.

The building of the living wasn’t that far from the graves. Close-by a painted sign read “Cimetieaes Militaires Francais.” Buried there were those who died in the “War to end all Wars.” They would never know of that failure nor did they know that their sons and daughters would join them soon in Flanders [F]ields. A late fall leaf had landed on a boundary wire. The frigid wind poked at it to join the dead. A gentle mist fell from the wire as though shedding tears for those buried here. A small bird nearby searched for food – but even it did so in silence. This was indeed a place of the dead. The eleventh hour had come and gone. . . .

Carl H. Bloeser. “The 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month.” Unpublished work. Copyright 2001. Repost 11 November 2018 by Charles LK Bloeser at https://combatresearchandprose.com.

#Verdun #BattleofVerdun #glioblastoma #veteranswrite #WorldWarI #wartoendallwars #carlbloeser #combatstress #combattrauma #PTS #shellshock #KIA #WesternFront

ENDNOTES

[i] Dad died from brain cancer before he could put the finishing touches on this essay. As such, the version of dad’s essay that first appeared on LinkedIn/Pulse contains a parenthetical note that the essay is a “work in progress.” A ninth paragraph that is not necessary to this essay and which doesn’t follow the textual pattern of the 8 paragraphs presented here – has been excluded. The 8 paragraphs presented here are as dad wrote them – except for minor typographic adjustments for clarity and the decision to use common spelling of “croissant.” Because this essay was created after Jan. 1, 1978, copyright protection is asserted on behalf of Carl H. Bloeser from date of creation, i.e., 2001. Endnotes are not part of the original manuscript but have been added to provide further context. Endnotes by Charles Bloeser https://charlesbloeser.com

[ii] Dr. Robert Foley is Dean of Academic Studies/Head of Department at the Defence Studies Department, Joint Services Command and Staff College (JSCSC) at the Defence Academy of the UK. Inter alia, Dr. Foley was awarded the Royal Historical Society’s Gladstone Prize for his work, German Strategy and The Path to Verdun (Cambridge, 2004).

In the preview to a 2012 article about the Battle of Verdun, Dean Foley provides this summary: “The battle of Verdun was the longest, if not the bloodiest, single battle in World War I. Launched by the German Fifth Army on 21 February 1916, it did not come to an end until the final French counterattack was ended on 19 December 1916. For most of 1916, German and French soldiers fought tooth and nail for a few square miles of terrain around the French fortress city of Verdun, in what was the quintessential “battle of attrition” of World War I. Most units of the French army and many of the German army fought in what was described by both sides as the “hell of Verdun.” Between the battle’s start and the end of August (when the Germans ceased offensive operations), some 281,000 Germans and some 315,000 Frenchmen were killed or wounded. The battle ended in obvious defeat for the German army, which led to the replacement of the German chief of the general staff, General Erich Falkenhayn. . . .” Military History: Battle of Verdun | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0021 (published online February 2012); preview accessed Jan. 1, 2018 at: http://oxfordindex.oup.com/view/10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0021# (endnote not original with author of essay)

[iii]Dr. Foley explains that “. . . the British historian A. J. P. Taylor once described the battle of Verdun as “the most senseless episode in a war not distinguished for sense anywhere.Id. (endnote not original with author of essay)

 

Feature Image of Verdun Ossuary accessed 11 November 2018 at http://roadstothegreatwar-ww1.blogspot.com/2013/12/18-december-1916-battle-of-verdun-ends.html (“Right at the heart of the Verdun battlefield is the massive Ossuary. This was inaugurated in 1932, and inside the base of the building are collected the bones recovered from this battlefield – an estimated 130,000 skeletons. Walking around the building one can peer through the small windows to see these grisly reminders of the bloodshed here. Through some of the windows can be seen neatly piled long-bones; through others jumbles and scraps of bones as well as skulls.” http://www.ww1battlefields.co.uk/others/verdun/)

 

A Dare . . .

The featured image from just one alcove of the Douaumont Ossuary at Verdun offers up a sobering challenge. It dares us to see how many fellow human beings, French and German, we can count among the bones. But no matter how many brothers and sons and uncles and fathers and husbands and lovers we can count, the image still isn’t satisfied. Now it demands that we take that number and calculate for each of the fallen our best estimate of how many fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters and sons and daughters and lovers and lost-loves have, in one generation after another spanning the last 100 years, been changed because their loved one didn’t come home. Or . . . if he did, because the man who came home was not the man who went to war. 

 

Charles.photo.lawlibrary. 150 x 200Charles Bloeser is a lawyer and the researcher behind the creation of combatresearchandprose.com, a new open-source applied research initiative examining combat and those marked by it. His most recent publication, in August 2018, reports how a cancer-stricken, combat-haunted Vietnam veteran fell between the cracks in a modern jail. It’s an account that, from that warrior’s deathbed, he asked author to share with those best able to keep the same thing from happening to others. STRIFE, at the Department of War Studies, Kings College London, gave him a way to do that.  

http://www.strifeblog.org/2018/08/02/henry-a-wounded-soldier-forgotten-by-all-in-an-american-jail-by-all-except-his-brothers-who-fell-beside-him-in-vietnam