I came to with a start. Had I set the alarm? Reach for the mini-radio/clock and the sidewinder one-bulb to see or hit the ray-did-heoh? Latter.
Buck Sexton holds forth on a Victor Davis Hansen(Hanson?) work A War Like No Other which I had not read, but I had devoured its antecedent near five decades before: History of the Pelopennsian War about fourth grade. Elementary school libraries in those days had few customers and great books – and even The Congressional Record in periodical newsprint. That led from Thucydides on to Herodotus and my homework became a thing of painful negotiations: Fifth grade, my teacher said if I typed book reports on my readings she would consider my homework – all but math and science – waived. I already knew how to type. The Herodotus I labelled fanciful at best. Seven million Persians against 300 Spartans, even if then the pass at Hot Gates was but a hundred-fifty yards wide? C’mon! Really? And Virgil was even worse: Aeneas I could buy, but what went after was tales told fancy. But I never considered Thucydides fiction. Homer? Yes. But my word: the Illiad and later Odyssey filled two full Summers between fifth and sixth grades and further deepened the trench between schoolwork and learning. And then former CIA agent Sexton warmed to his subject. I had come late to Sun Tzu: Marine Brigadier General Sam Griffin, himself a onetime observer with future Commandant Wally Green on the Dieppe Raid by British Commandos (Marines) in the early days of WW II, wrote what I felt was the definitive translation of the venerable Chinese warrior/philosopher’s work on conflict and politics. No wonder Russia and later The Soviet Union suppressed Western access to this book for several hundreds of years! The fiction I encountered through those books furthered my diminishing high school homework output: I was preparing…for what, I knew not. My old junior high school history teacher (8th Grade) Wally Joyner said he kept all his yearbook (notebooks) of students’ aspirations and said – then proved it – he recalled not just mine but my older brother Glenn’s as well…and he retired long after I had graduated high school. In that old composition book I had written: “I want to be a United States Marine; have a war; and, have a beachhead to storm. Thank God I got only the first two of the three wishes – coming out of a helicopter assault craft (CH-46) with a reinforced squad of Marines into a hot landing zone cured me of opposed landings of any kind thereafter. Hell: even opposed dating! But it did not cure my appetite for speculative and historical works involving conflict. Rosemary Sutcliff’s(sp?) Sword at Sunset, fictionally chronicaling Artoros “The Bear” as the last Roman heavy cavalry general in Britain facing the Norse, Picts and Jutes and other invaders with his Companions roughly paralleling Mallory’s Morte d’Arthur; Lawrence Schofield’s(sp? Soider King and others led to Northwest Passage and, oddly, Catch 22, The Wall, Mila 18 and more to ruin further any hopes of academic acclaim. By then, whose hopes were in academic realms no longer trampled.
And that was before ninth grade. When I saw a Junior Year English teacher reading Joseph Heller’s tome – paperback on her classroom desk – with the bookmark less than a third of the way in, I asked in all innocence, snarkily, if this was her first trip into that particular patch? Then, before she could respond: “The goings on in the bombbay was over my head, but one day I expect to understand.”
That, naturally, led to Pat Frank, Neville Shutte and others. On The Beach bored me. What red-blooded child of “Duck And Cover,” whose dad owned his own A3-D thermonuclear U. S. Navy carrier-capable bomber wanted to read about dying alone and lost on an Australian – or was it New Zealand? – shoreline as the rest of the world races to beat those sad sailors’ deaths? Give me tales of River Road. Alas, Babylon! still rings true. I had fantasized it was centered in a fictional confluence of the St. Johns and Wekiva Rivers – but geography was against that notion. No Timucuan River to my knwledge obtained. There was the Little Big and the Big Econlockahatchee just East of Sanford…and upon my second reading of Pat Frank’s legendary work – just a couple of days ago: got it at the Sanford branch of the county library for 10-cents on a paperback sale – there sat one mention of Sanford late in the book. That was the one almost-error in Frank’s Book. As it was being published, my dad was in the process of helping bring the A3-D to Sanford to bring the Navy’s Heavy Attack Wing One into existence as yet another leg in America’s nuclear Deterrence. If Patrick Air Force Base escaped Soviet missiles and bomb because it had no actual threats, and Pine Castle and Orlando were given one each missile, why was Sanford Spared? Perhaps prior research failed to note my then hometown’s stepping up to the plate. Whatever; the omission made the story sing. By the time the A3 reached Sanford just prior to the 1960s era, NAS Sanford, Dynatronics-Dearborne’s next-gen electronics plant halfway between Sanford and Orlando and Orlando Air Force Base (McCoy: now all international air travel to Orlando goes through MCO’s runways), there were three big Soviet H-Bomb-tipped missiles (when they supposedly had but a hundred ICBM’s all totalled, made for a wondrous era. But what struck most was another point that I had missed in my teen reading of the work – and that Buck Sexton brought forward and I found in pages 222-223 of the paperback.
The exposition of the similarities of the United States circa 1958 and the socio-religio political and moral decay of the populace at the end of Pax Romana and Pax Britannica coincided well with the author’s main character’s understanding – through the eyes of a force-to-retirement U.S. Naval Admiral neighbor’s lecture about the moral, political, military and socio-economic decay in America. That seared in my memory, and Sexton’s oblique reference Saturday near 3 a.m. caused some severe oh-dark-thirty note-scribbling.
Seems I have another book to chew, putting the side down, as it were, from my haiku and tanka trivial pursuits. Not trivial, really; just second-place. I have homework to ignore! Oh, happy day!