McBride At Rest

McBride At Rest

Friday, May 5, 2023

Wargaming the Second Day of Gettysburg

 Today, after a long pause in my blogging,  I'm taking a new blog post away from writing and family to instead post about a tabletop wargame with miniature soldiers.

Yesterday, a friend, who was in one of my junior high classes back in the 70's, when I was young green naive teacher, and I gamed a piece of the battle of Gettysburg.

General Longstreet Michael and General Sickles McBride gamed Sickles Salient with Brigade Fire & Fury rules. We were both near-beginners with the brigade version of the F & F rules. Nonetheless, we blundered along without too many pauses to check the book.

The battle went along historical lines. The initial cannonades had minor impact, causing various batteries of both forces to fire with damaged guns through the whole game. The Union's reserve triple battery in the center of the salient proved a tough nut.
The Yankee infantry were not so tough, the scenario design causing them to go 'worn' after a single lost stand. Those guys knew they were stuck out way too far. So the blue infantry brigades fell back all along the line, eventually losing the wheat field to the Rebs on our last game turn. Six hours to play 5 turns, the first two of which were cannonades only. Like I said, our pace was that of learners, not gamemasters.

The rules do have a nice flow to them and I now realize that Brigade Fire & Fury rules better duplicate the long ribbons of Civil War infantry formations than any other rule sets I've played, including Regimental F & F. That surprised me.

Finally, as the Union commander, it was great fun to launch Vincent's Brigade off Little Round Top and smack Law's Brigade in the flank down in the Valley of Death along Plum Run. Less fun to see several other brigades refuse to hold the line after losing a stand.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable day.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Little Hannah, The Accidental Juror, and Little Round Top

I’ve not posted in almost five months, which must mean my life is in one of those periods of routine events taking over. Not blog-worthy. In my world since the end of May, it’s been a hotter-than-hell summer in Texas, with week after week temperatures over 100°.  Even more importantly to Nita and me, our sixth grandchild, Hannah Mae McBride, was born on August 22 She’s a doll, isn’t she? 

And, the sweet girl's birth interrupted the final wrap-up of my new novel, The Accidental Juror.

TAJ is my tenth novel, each having sprung from a yearlong gestation and a final grateful birthing. TAJ took me into new ground as ‘modern’ historical fiction. It’s a fictitious story of a young woman who is the first woman in her county to be summoned for jury service. Historically, women in Texas were not allowed on juries until an amendment to the state constitution passed in November of 1954, so the first women to sit in jury boxes did so in 1955. This was 35 years after the women’s suffrage movement won women the right to vote in 1920. 

My tale is about Lynn Edwards, a 28-year-old-mother who ‘accidentally’ receives a postcard in the mail calling her to jury duty. I won’t be a spoiler, but Lynn encounters resistance and support from unexpected places. Writing about 1955, when I was six, was great fun and little touchy. The fun part was including houses with no air-conditioning but with attic fans, big black corded telephones, the early days of black-and-white television, big flashy cars with big fins, and young men with ‘Elvis’ hair. The touchy part was addressing our segregated society in a way that was realistic. Deciding on an appropriate crime for the trial was important, and I think, but I’m still not really sure, I came up with one that is serious enough and interesting enough to make a good courtroom story.  All to say, please take a look at The Accidental Juror on Amazon. You can read the first chapter by clicking ‘Look Inside.’ Then you can make me happy by buying a Kindle or a paperback version.

Here's the link to the Amazon page:

You may be one of my friends whose connection is through Civil War reenacting, which I’ve regretfully aged out of, helped along by the years of COVID cancellations of events. While I’m not reenacting any longer, I’m still a Civil War nut, having returned to tabletop wargaming with miniature soldiers. Here’s a pic of my brother and me this summer refighting Hood’s assault of Little Round Top at Gettysburg.

Otherwise, it’s the season of the Longhorns and Cowboys, both of which may have long seasons.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Teaching Kids About an Ugly Past

Yesterday I stepped off an airplane that flew directly from Frankfurt, Germany to Austin, Texas. The plane was packed with both Americans and Germans—two nationalities that share the difficult challenge of how to teach our children about the sins of their grandfathers.

My aim today is not to address how we teach our own children about our national sin of three hundred years of legal American slavery. Suffice to say that those of us, like me, whose ancestors owned slaves most likely have some conflicting emotions buried inside. And I suspect those of us whose ancestors fought in the Confederate army simply to defend their homeland from invaders also sometimes question the roots of the ‘lost cause,' in honor of which so many statues were erected on southern courthouse lawns.

But today is about Germany and World War II.

In Nuremberg, Germany, on the last day of our trip, we visited sites where huge Nazi rallies were held, outdoor venues of immense concrete edifices and vast open space for up to half a million people to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, chanting, singing, experiencing the emotional high of a shared devotion to an inspirational leader, as they became part of a highly-efficient propaganda machine. As a side note, we learned the citizens who attended these enormous rallies had to buy tickets to the events.

The same day, we ended our tour of WWII Nuremberg by sitting in the courtroom where in 1945, just months after the war ended, 21 Nazi leaders were tried for crimes against humanity in an international court with judges from France, England, the United States, and Russia.

As I stared at the box where the defendants had sat during the long trial, I couldn’t help but think that the trial had offered the German people a free-pass to dump their collective guilt onto those 21 men. To those bakers and housewives whose cities had been bombed to rubble, whose sons had died by the hundreds of thousands for the Nazi cause, the 21 men on trial could conveniently assume the burden of Germany’s national sin of the genocide of millions in the gas chambers and the slave labor of millions more. No doubt such scapegoats were welcomed by the ‘uninvolved’ men and women who no longer needed to rationalize, to look the other way, while mass executions surrounded them during the Nazi years.

One of our German tour guides spoke to the challenge of how in 2022 to teach the children of Germany about WWII. Like here in the USA,  public education is a state-level function, rather than a national one, and we were told there are 16 varying approaches to teaching about WWII and the Nazi regime.

She said until the 1970’s, usually the decade from 1935 to 1945 was generally ignored by teachers who were unwilling and unsure how to teach the years of Hitler’s horrific regime. Schools simply left it to parents and grandparents to let their children know or not know the evil realities behind their devastated country.

From the 1980’s until now, she said there was more coverage of the war and Hitler, but not much about the genocide. An aside: Who knows what was taught to East German children under the Soviet era until the Soviet collapse in 1989?

These days, our guide said there is a growing effort to shift the lens away from textbook photos of the Nazis’ mass rallies and giant swastikas, to stories of everyday citizens who simply endured the era. They are trying to take the memorable Nazi ‘optics’ out of the spotlight. Stop letting the ghosts of the Nazi past define the teaching of the Nazi era to the children of today. Quit showing the propaganda photos the Nazi’s themselves created of their lockstep rallies, the mass ‘Seig Heil’ straight-arm salutes, the adoration of a madman. Replace those visuals with other optics—of what exactly, I don’t know.

As a side note, I personally doubt if the shift to sidestep the terrible Nazi scheme to ‘purify’ Europe by murdering millions of civilians will ever include the chilling photos taken by Americans who first came upon the extermination camps, photos and films which were shown in the Nuremberg trial.

What  was hammered home to me in Nuremberg is that we walk a slippery slope when teaching kids about an ugly past. It's hard, damned hard, to be critical of our grandparents. Yet, sometimes the hard truths need to be dredged up if we expect our grandchildren not to go down the same terrible road that our grandparents did. 




Monday, March 7, 2022

Tunnel Hill and Sixty Years


What people like doesn’t change all that much. At least for me. I still love the same woman after fifty-two years. I still wear button-down shirts. And I’ve had the same hobby for sixty years—collecting, painting, and playing tabletop wargames with lead soldiers. Here are two photos of me at the wargame boards in my house, the first one in 1962, the second one in 2022.

The military miniatures haven’t really been cast of lead for a long time now, all the makers having switched to pewter. Our tabletop terrain has vastly improved from chalk-drawn forests on bare plywood, but back then we spent every spare dime on soldiers, not model railroad terrain. My brother and I were poor young teenagers, after all.

Back in the ‘60’s I didn’t care about the history the toy soldiers represented, I just liked to buy them, paint them, and play tabletop games with simple home-grown rules. There was one guy in California named Jack Scruby who sculpted and produced military miniatures for tabletop wargaming. He advertised his catalog in Boys Life magazine, where we discovered him. Now, there are endless choices of companies sculpting and producing highly detailed miniatures of every imaginable historical army from the ancient Egyptians to modern armies, and fantasy figures from Tolkien’s elves and dwarves to post-apocalyptic mutants.

Of late, I’ve taken to playing solo games of specific Civil War battles, with lots of attention paid to replicating the historical terrain and regiments which fought, right down to the correct flags they carried. These photos are of my tabletop today, in the midst of the battle of Tunnel Hill at Chattanooga, Tennessee in November 1863. The tunnel entrance is still there, looking like it did in 1863. It was the challenge to use a paper template of the rock face of the entrance (downloaded from the website of the Fire & Fury game company). Drawing on the methods used in my junior high science fair days, I cut up a cardboard shoebox and shaped the humped tunnel you see in the photo.  

Here's the bigger picture of the game: 

I am perhaps drawn to this particular Civil War battle because I’ve walked the ground a couple of times—it’s now an urban, and neglected, National Park site. And Tunnel Hill is one of the key battles in my first Civil War novel, Whittled Away; And one of the Confederate regiments in the thick of the fighting was the 6th Texas Infantry, which is the historical regiment chosen by our reenacting club for our name, the ‘Alamo Rifles’ since the men who formed one company of the 6th Texas came from San Antonio. The photo is us in a sham battle in Tennessee, not Tunnel Hill, though. But our flag in the photo is the same one they carried at the battle of Tunnel Hill.

To close, here is a meme off the ‘net that reminds me of the heroic defense ongoing in Ukraine this week.
Bless those patriots. May God give them the strength to persevere and stay the course.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

50 Years of Being 'Phil & Nita'

I am 72. Nita is 73. We have not (yet) lived particularly long lives. Looking ahead, we may or may not experience the luxury living through our eighty’s, into our ninety’s. We don’t know if either of us will face the challenge of living with grace and dignity as our abilities to keep doing what we’ve always done, fall away, one at a time. That’s the unknown future.

The wonderful known thing of now, is that today is our 50th wedding anniversary. For more than 2/3 of our lives, Nita and I have been ‘us.’  I’ve said more than a few times that she and I aren’t just married, we’re joined at the hip.

It’s common to hear couples joke about staying married a long time. They mention making it through the ‘rough patches.’  Maybe I’m wearing blinders, or am already senile, but I honestly don’t remember any particularly rough patches in our five decades of marriage. I think that means that if God sometimes shoves two young people at each other, His hands were on our backs in the days when we were barely adults.

Fifty years of marriage has never been a special goal of ours. Neither of our own parent couples reached a golden anniversary, due to the mid-life divorce of my parents and the sudden death of Nita’s father just a few weeks after our wedding. We all know that lives end unexpectedly, and paths chosen early in life, change. We understand that both luck and God’s grace have helped our marriage. We are proud of reaching fifty years together, and rather than having attained a goal, we’re viewing today as a mile marker, a noteworthy stake alongside the road with a gravel pull-out for a little celebration before moving further on down the highway.

Regretfully, the first week of 2022 has already unveiled itself as another frustrating year of on-again-off-gain gatherings. Plans for our golden anniversary reception later today have moved from maskless to masked, from indoors to outdoors. and may wind up as only an intimate family gathering. Our little town is not in a protective bubble. Nearly one in three people in our county are testing positive for the new Covid, and not surprisingly, our circle of friends includes a lot of seniors like us who are shy about exposing themselves to infection. Nonetheless, we’ll toast ourselves with whoever shows up.

And yesterday, bless them both, our two sons each put surprise gifts in front of us. Son Ben carried in a small table he built, the top of which is an old stained-glass window that was salvaged from the demolition of the church where we were hitched. Now that’s a meaningful momento.

After we previewed the Power Point slide show of highlights of our fifty-year marriage that I pulled together for today’s reception, son Todd said, “We’re not done yet. Stay seated.”

He then popped up on the big TV screen an anniversary congratulations speech to us from actor Sean Aston.  Sean, otherwise known as Samwise Gamgee, J.R.R. Tolkien’s character who was the relucant compass who kept Frodo on the hard but truth path.  I first read Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy in 1967, and in 2014 I almost missed the tour bus just so I could drink a pint in the tavern in Oxford, England where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis hung out. The short congratulatory speech to us from the guy who played Sam was touching and cool, and for the second time in the day before our anniversary, I wiped away tears. It struck me for not the first time that Nita’s and my best work lay in our two sons.

So, later today we will celebrate with whoever shows up, and the day after we will begin our second half-century together. Stay tuned.



Wednesday, November 10, 2021

On Writing My First Civil War Novel

 As I’m an avid consumer of historical military fiction (authors like Jeff Shaara, Bernard Cornwell, Gingrich & Forstchen, PJ Nagle, and Harold Coyle), I decided to try writing a Civil War novel. I built the story around the real outfit which our reenacting group uses for our name and which we hold to as our “primary impression.” That’s Company K of the Sixth Texas Infantry, CSA, aka The Alamo Rifles, whose men were recruited around San Antonio, Texas.

This article, however, is not about the Alamo Rifles or the plot of Whittled Away. This article is about the process of writing a first novel. With each new chapter I rediscovered that military historical fiction is a whole different beast than anything I’ve written before.  All the magazine articles and newsletters I’ve written were easy compared to writing a novel.  First of all, the darned book just wouldn’t leave me alone. I’d wake up early in the morning eager to hit the keyboard to get the gist of a new scene recorded, since breakfast and the morning newspaper tend to wipe clean any sleep-inspired ideas. I kept jabbering to my wife about the characters and how to take them down the path the real Civil War put them upon. I took to e-mailing scenes to my sons and brother to gauge their responses. I read whole chapters out loud to my cornered family during holiday gatherings. 

For over three years, I practically lived with one or another of six primary accounts of the war written by soldiers in the regiment or brigade to which my characters belong.  One of the most pleasant surprises was learning how many odd and exciting anecdotes are in those six primary accounts. Honestly, truth is stranger than fiction, so much so that I decided the book needed an “Afterward” to list the memoirs and note that the most unexpected vignettes in the story really did happen.

Then there has been the core question that seems common to writers of historical fiction: Is the historical war storyline mainly a vehicle around which to create human conflicts and the development of fictional characters, or are my fictional characters primarily the vehicle to tell the story of the war for this one regiment? I think I started with the characters being the means to tell the war story of the Sixth Texas, but the characters kept growing and demanding more attention than was my initial plan, so by the end perhaps the human side prevailed over the war itself. But I’m not sure, and each reader will decide that answer for himself.

The fictional characters became my family. My job was to dream them up; name them; put personalities on them; put them in tight spots and get most of them out again, deciding who to kill off and who to keep alive until the end. That was great fun, but not as easy I thought it would be. I learned it’s tough to knock off a good guy. Even more, the main characters had become my kids, and you just don’t “do in” your own kids.  Also, it was much easier to create good guys than real meanies, yet good stories need villains. On the other hand, even good-guy characters need human shortcomings, like we all have.  I confess that my guys are not overly complex and with a few intentional exceptions, are good people, but sometimes the dark side pops up in all of them. I hope.

With the story about three-fourths written, I had an epiphany and decided the book needed a romance. Bear in mind that I’m a big admirer of the novel The Killer Angels and  the movie Gettysburg, which have no female characters, much less a romance thread.  All along I’ve just wanted to tell the war story of the Alamo Rifles, nothing more.  Then the light bulb clicked on to remind me that war is depressing and reading about battle after battle and hardship after hardship is also depressing. Prisoner-of-war camp and then the Atlanta campaign in 1864, which are big parts of the story of the Sixth Texas, may have been long periods of terrible hardship and non-stop fighting, but a book about it needs a distraction every now and then – like a romantic interlude for some lucky soldier. The other thing is that I have never written a romantic scene and wanted to try. Turns out it was great fun, and more importantly, my wife gave it a passing grade. I don’t yet know if the lovey-dovey bird-walk away from the war itself detracts from the essence of the novel, but I hope not, because it’s one of my favorite parts.

Then there are the forbidden words. The unspeakable “N” word, which is the racial slur that continues to plague Mark Twain’s books today. Huck Finn is truly one of the great American classic novels, but it still gets banned from school reading lists and classroom instruction because it includes the “N” word.  I’m not even in Mark Twain’s shadow, but to be authentic in 1860’s dialogue, should I include that “N” word in the everyday conversation of my characters?  What about the other “N” word? The one which is an anatomical reference, not the place where we put priming caps on our muskets. If I use that word in the romance, will the book be deemed too racy for teenage readers? I’m not telling if either of those hot button words fell victim to the delete key. Writing this before the novel is finished, and certainly not fully edited, I don’t even know if any forbidden words will be in the final version. (Author’s Note: The book is now done, and I can’t be coy, both N words are in the book.)

Since war is an ugly business, how many light-hearted experiences should be part of a war novel?  My answer has been enough to flesh out the personalities of the handful of very young men who are my main characters.  Young guys are not known for a lot of serious introspection, they are known for doing stupid things, saying stupid things, taking risks, ribbing each other, and somehow enduring crappy situations. The primary account memoirs and diaries helped here, because those veterans remembered many of the mischievous and light-hearted things they did between the battles and other hardships they endured. Again, I hope my guys reflect that in a realistic way.  

Since my novel is first and last a war story, how many battles should be included?  How often and in how many ways could I take my characters through the horrific experiences of Civil War battle?  Wouldn’t the battle experience be too repetitive and intense to include time after time? Again, a close reading of regimental and brigade histories led me through this challenge. I found that not one of the Sixth Texas’ dozen battles were fought in the same circumstance as any other. In the real war, sometimes the Sixth Texas was attacking, sometimes defending. Sometimes they were in the forward skirmish line, sometimes they were elbow-to-elbow. The terrain varied. Opponents differed. Engaging Yankees armed with Henry repeating rifles led to a very different fight than engaging Yankees armed with old Springfield smoothbores. Fighting US Colored troops brought about different emotions than fighting other white men. The outcome of the battles ran the gamut from great success to utter defeat. It turned out that I could highlight those differences. Moreover, being historical “fiction,” in some battles key characters die, or are captured, or are seriously wounded. In other battles the whole group skates through unscathed. I tried hard to put the same core elements of combat into each battle: Fear, the fog of war, chaos, the nastiness of blood and offal, but I think each battle wound up with a different feel to it.  I hope.

The internet has been a blessing for quick research to identify which Federal divisions and brigades opposed Cleburne’s Division in their engagements. It was then surprisingly easy to find online histories of Union regiments that might well have fought the Sixth Texas. Those internet sources usually included officer’s names, after-action reports, and more cool anecdotes that I could weave into the storyline.

A final challenge was how to use my experiences as a 15-year Civil War reenactor to write a better Civil War novel, without writing a novel that’s obviously written by a reenactor who is eager to display his knowledge of the material culture of Civil War soldiers, or the field craft of Civil War soldiers. It was very tempting to describe the brass buttons on the characters’ uniform jackets, or list the nine steps of loading a musket, or quote the specific orders to move a formation of soldiers about, or tell how to turn a sack of cornmeal into edible food, or how to make a brush shelter that might keep men dry during an overnight thunderstorm. While it’s neat we learn those things in our reenacting hobby, I found it very tempting to overdo them in writing. Nonetheless, I included some Civil War reenacting “trivia” because, after all is said and written, I am a devoted Civil War reenactor, but only a fledgling novelist.   

 The completed first draft was 120,000 words long. I quickly sent a printed copy to my brother, who since our teenage years has guided my choice of books to read, and is an astute Civil War historian. I asked my English teacher-librarian wife to tackle an electronic version. She is an avid reader of novels, but doesn’t know much about the Civil War. I thought this pair of willing “prime-readers” would give me candid, but not too brutal feedback. Waiting for them to read and critique the drafts was like holding my wife’s hand while she delivered each of our sons. I was on pins and needles, time slowed to a crawl, and I was really scared my newborn child would be missing something important. (Turns out both sons were missing hair, balding by thirty, but that came much later.)

Brother and Wife each provided me a fair set of compliments. When talking by phone about the book, Brother laughed a lot at the parts where I hoped readers would at least smile. Wife blessed my main characters as believable and interesting. On the other hand, they both gave me lists of suggestions, chapter by chapter. That stung, but I had asked them for it. I returned to the keyboard, not too sullen, and started patching the fabric that connected the chapters, reluctantly grateful to have guidance from critical eyes of people I trust and respect. I don’t transition very smoothly in real life, and Brother and Wife confirmed my story line needed smoother segues too. It took some work to lessen the gaps between the chapters.  It was harder to reshape a few of the characters. It took some nipping, tucking, and injecting little bits of personality and backstory here and there, but again I concede the prime-readers’ observations helped me improve the believability of the characters. In the months of revisions I also added a few new characters to better paint the whole picture.

Both were too nice to suggest I delete or rewrite whole chapters, for which I’m grateful. Well, that’s not true. Wife did urge me to delete one complete, albeit short, chapter right at the end of the book, a chapter wholly based on a quietly remarkable incident in a diary, but an incident that was not particularly germane to the storyline. Wife said it detracted from the core story at a time when the focus needed to stay tight on the key action. So, I did it. It’s gone.  But it hurt to hit that “delete” button.

Wife was also not shy about suggesting whole paragraphs of “boring history and irrelevant details” bite the dust. She didn’t want to get bogged down in either the minutia of the stuff soldiers carry, or the bigger picture of the war, she wanted the characters to carry the tale. After zapping a whole chapter, paragraphs became easy victims. Her suggestions shortened the story by 2,500 words, and I think it is now a leaner, better, character-driven book.

Did writing the book make me a better reenactor?  I don’t think so, although the ongoing reading and research did make me better appreciate the hardships Civil War soldiers endured for long periods of time during the campaigns. Those guys were tough hombres, no doubt about it.

On the other hand, some of my campaign reenacting experiences did more to enrich my writing than the writing the book did to enrich my reenacting. I recall the immersive event I did in 2007, Bank’s Grand Retreat, where we marched over twenty miles in the deep woods of Louisiana, fought skirmishes every day, camped and ate for four days without modern logistical support, but did do picket duty every night, and never saw more of modern America than a stray plastic bottle or beer can on the trail. We had experiences like filling canteens in creeks (the water purified with iodine pills), cooking in the dark, depending on hardtack crackers for sustenance, packing up in the pre-dawn, hitting the trail early for four days in a row, marching most of the day, then fighting while more tired than I thought possible. Then we did it again the next day for four days.

Those experiences helped me get in the heads of my characters in a way I couldn’t have done before the four days of immersive campaign reenacting. I had to endure discomfort for more than an isolated hour in order for the deprivations, hardship and endless activity to make an impact, to give me just a taste of the real circumstance of Civil War soldiers on campaign – and no one was really shooting at me.

Conversely, the casual reenacting static camp weekends didn’t provide any helpful insights for writing the novel. Those weekends are great fun, they are not the right kind of virtual time travel, and do not provide enough “magic moments,” to help me write realistic scenes about a terrible war that happened 150 years ago.

Hunters shoot different game, athletes play different sports, and authors write different genres. My plunge into military historical fiction was the biggest challenge I’ve had as a writer. I hope the result is something worth reading.


Thursday, September 23, 2021

Two Tales From a Vietnam War Chaplain

 Whoops. Somehow August slid right by without a McBride blog post. Okay, it was hot in Texas in August. Nothing new there.

Moving onto September, the month of the Civil War battle at Antietam where the single bloodiest day in U.S. history occurred, more American deaths at Antietam than on 911 when the terrorists attacked our homeland, more American deaths than on D-Day in WWII. Only the 3,000 deaths at Antietam were inflicted on us by us. Never again, I pray With those somber September thoughts, this post is not mine, but from a friend:

A good friend, Dick Gray, was an army chaplain during Vietnam, serving in a MASH unit. Dick lives in Galveston now and is an active Mason. While he left the ministry after his army chaplaincy, he is about to do (by now has done) a Masonic funeral service for a member of the Galveston Lodge who died of COVID. Our email conversation about that included his sending me the following two stories from his army chaplaincy, one story here in the states shortly before he shipped out, the other shortly after he arrived in Vietnam. I found one story sad, the other chilling, and both compelling. So, he’s letting me post them here.

“In April 1971 while assigned as one of five chaplains in an infantry brigade, my name came to the top of the list on a post-wide Ft. Benning rotating Protestant Chaplains Duty Roster - when a funeral home's request came in for a military chaplain to assist at the funeral of a young Black infantryman killed when he stepped on a land mine after six weeks in Vietnam. I declined a staff car & driver; my then-wife Linda & I drove ourselves about 75 miles to Lafayette, Alabama from Columbus, Georgia.

Before going, though, I met with another brigade chaplain who was Black - to get his input; didn't want to screw things up! Floyd told me that there were three simple rules to follow at a rural, southern Black funeral: 1) Hang loose; 2) Hang loose; 3) Hang loose! Then he gave me about a dozen Bible passages they'd expect to hear, depending on my level of involvement (I had been asked only to help with military honors at graveside). He also said that sometimes at an event like this there would be more than one minister: hers; his; theirs after they married, if different. He said to plan on staying a while!

We got to town well before the 2 p.m. funeral time - and had trouble finding the funeral home. We asked for directions at a Norman Rockwell painting gas station-general store. Old farmers in bibbed overalls playing checkers on an upturned barrel, etc. I was in my dress uniform, crosses on my lapels. 

"Now boy, why would you want to be goin' theya?" I explained the obvious. "I know, boy, but THEYA?" They gave us bogus directions that took us way out of town before we caught on.

Finally got to the funeral home - and, Duh! - this clueless young chaplain - fairly recently from likely the most liberal Methodist seminary in the country - realized it was, of course, a Black funeral home. We met the white infantry captain from Auburn Univ. ROTC who was the Survival Assistance Officer. He took us out to the church - a mile off a paved road deep into a pine forest.

 Wood-framed; white clapboards; some broken windows; Standing room only crowd, Linda counted at about 350 (and we three were the only whites); flowing out the front door; people crowded around and looking into the church from the outside through the open windows. Old upright piano; banged up podium as the pulpit.

 As we walked into the church I saw a large man up front wearing a large badge; a star. My thoughts whirling, I said to myself, "Well, at least they've got a Black Deputy Sheriff" and even said, "Sheriff, it's a pleasure to meet you" as I shook his hand and noticed that the star said, "USHER." He handed me a program - which listed two ministers plus "Military Chaplain - Graveside."

 A bit after 2 p.m. I saw "the Sheriff" waving his arms to motion me to come to the front of the church. I motioned for him to come to the back of the church - which he did; and informed me, "Well, Chaplain suh, nobody else done showed - I guess you'z it." And so it began.

 I stood at the front of the church and looked over the congregation - totally clueless about what to say. I was grateful to be led to say: "I don't see how we can possibly go on this afternoon. I'm white; from the north; from a city; and in the military. You're Black; from the south; in a rural area; and civilians. I don't see any way for us to come together - unless we do so in the name of our common God and Christ and for this man and his family. If we can agree on that, we'll begin."

 There was a very old woman seated in the front pew along the isle right in front of the podium - swishing the flies away with a fan. Turns out she was not "family" but was the "Mother" figure for that congregation. Total silence. You really could hear the flies buzzing. Then she slowly stood; turned to face the congregation; and in a very clear voice announced, "Praise the Lord; we will begin."

I ended up using every one of the Bible passages Floyd had given me. Went on for about 40 totally extemporaneous, podium-pounding minutes - with clapping, and "Yes, Sweet Jesus!" and "Amen!" all over the place. At one point, I looked to the rear of the church (where Linda was standing with the SAO - having refused several offers for seats), and she was in wide-eyed shock.

 Paul Harvey's "The Rest of The Story." - The deceased soldier and gone through Basic Infantry Training at Ft. Dix. On weekend passes he linked up with city guys from New York and went home with them to Brooklyn. Met a local NYC girl. Completed Advanced Infantry Training at Ft. Dix - and married the NYC girl just before he went to Vietnam; where he died 6 weeks later. He had broken up with his hometown Lafayette high-school sweetheart - who went out and married HIS best friend when she learned he'd married the NYC girl. HIS parents were so poor they were brought to the funeral by a friend in an old, very rusty pick-up; they did not own a vehicle of their own. And the brand new NYC wife came in all superiority in a rented black stretch limo - SHE would get the GI life insurance payment. At the funeral (half-open casket since the lower half of him stayed in Nam) the former local girlfriend totally lost it; tried to climb into the casket screaming, "I love you."

 I later learned that a Black staff sergeant accompanied the remains from the Military Mortuary at Dover (Delaware) Air Force Base - and was denied lodging at the only motel in Lafayette. He had to stay at the Holiday Inn 18 miles south in Opalika. Guess the 1964 Civil Rights Act had not reached Lafayette yet!

 I wrote up that blatantly illegal conduct in a report to the Post Chaplain - who took it to Ft. Benning's Commanding General Talbott. Lafayette was beyond the 50-mile-limit range of a post commander's typical authority, so Talbott could not take even the largely symbolic step of placing the motel "off limits" to military personnel. But he was livid! He'd commanded the 1st Infantry Division ("The Big Red One") in Vietnam.

 So Talbott did what he could: he sent scathing letters to the mayor of Lafayette; the owner of the motel; and the editor of the local newspaper –along with copies of the Civil Right Act.

Many years later, when my wife Kate & son Douglas & I were driving home on a Sunday from a trip east to visit son Andrew at the Civil War battlefields where he worked for the National Park Service, I convinced them to detour with me to Lafayette to look for the church. I found what I was certain was the right dirt road - but turned around after quite some distance without finding the church (we were towing a pop-up camper). Went back into town; found a small church (nice, new, brick) on a paved road  - saw the African-American ushers standing out front. Explained what I was looking for and why. One of the ushers said I WAS on the right dirt road - just hadn't gone far enough into the woods; that I was standing at their new church - and he said HE was there that day for that funeral!

 We found the church; fallen-in roof; mold and dirt and branches everywhere. The old podium and even the old upright piano still were there. Most of the windows were broken. Found the soldier's VA gravestone - and one 8' or 9' tall mini-"Washington's Monument"-style gravestone near the road - with dates of birth & death - and simply 'MOTHER' in big letters. We're convinced it was the grave of the matriarch who gave me permission to start in 1971.

 And from when Dick arrived in Vietnam:

 I arrived at my 1st assignment in Vietnam. After in-processing at Long Binh, a C-130 flight north to Cam Ranh Bay. Then a C-123 flight further north to Phu Cat airfield about 25 miles from Qui Nhon on the coast at Binh Dinh Privince (the air field at Qui Nhon was closed due to enemy activity - and Binh Dinh was one province never close to being "pacified" by either the French or the U.S.). Then by 3/4 ton truck the 25 miles from Phu Cat to the HQ at Qui Nhon. 

 The driver explained that I would conduct a funeral immediately upon arriving. Due to "rotation" of chaplains that HQ had been without a protestant chaplain about a week. As soon as we arrived at Qui Nhon I got out my chaplain's field kit (I just dumped my other gear at the chapel) and boarded a chopper to a nearby MAC-V advisor compound in the boonies. They knew I was inbound & had tracked me so they could get me asap.

 About 25 U.S. personnel (advisers to a South Vietnamese regiment) and a few Vietnamese translators were sitting on the ground waiting. I set up my altar on the hood of a Jeep and got under way.

 The dead: a U.S. Army infantry major (married; 4 children); his driver, a U.S. Army corporal (married; no children); and their young, single Vietnamese translator.

 All of whom were killed in an ambush by the Vietnamese the major advised - because he was too aggressive in searching out the VC."