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It’s a milestone birthday week for the Peace Corps: The big Six-Zero!

Sixty years since September 22, 1961, when JFK signed the legislation creating the Peace Corps.

I served as a Peace Corps volunteer

Sixty years of memorable events: the first 51 Volunteers arrived in Ghana in the fall of 1961; the Peace Corps expanded rapidly—500 volunteers in nine countries by the end of that year, 15,000 by June of 1966; service extended to 142 countries.

Sixty years—240,000-plus Volunteers!

But today, the Peace Corps lies in suspended animation, a victim of Covid-19. No Volunteers are serving abroad. None. Zero.

In eight days, beginning on March 16, 2020, the Peace Corps brought every Volunteer back home to the U.S.— 6,982 of them. None have gone back—at least not officially.

Despite the hasty (but well-executed) exit, the Peace Corps lives on. There’s staff in the Washington D.C. headquarters. The Biden budget sets aside $410.5 million for Fiscal Year 2022, and the agency says it will send Volunteers to Belize in 2022. But today, no Volunteers are in the field. Nothing’s permanent about a new startup date.

What a loss! Not only to the world, but to a new generation of Americans.

Annie and I spent seven years in the Peace Corps—two as Volunteers in the Philippines; three as the country co-directors of programs in the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, and Tuvalu; and for me, two years in the Washington D.C. headquarters.

A Peace Corps Honeymoon: Two Years in the Philippines

For us, it seems like yesterday when Annie and I stepped from that Philippine Airlines flight onto the tarmac in Tacloban City, Leyte, one bright September day in 1965. We were newly minted Volunteers, six months married—Tacloban would be our home for the next two years.

I arrived in the Philippines a budding young newspaperman—with a journalism degree and a short stint as editor of the Glendale (AZ) News-Herald—and with hopes of someday owning my own small town newspaper. Annie had a BA in English and a year’s experience teaching English at Glendale Union High School. She wasn’t as clear about her long-term goals.

Those two years changed our lives forever—as Peace Corps service has done for thousands of other Volunteers. What an education!

Suddenly we were strangers in a wonderfully “strange” land. After our three months of intense training, we arrived able to carry on a basic conversation in Tagalog—but, alas, they spoke Waray-Waray in Tacloban. Challenge One on Day Two: start all over—learn yet another language.

Ann Marshall and Mrs Villacorte, 1978

Annie with Guillerma Villacorte

My assignment was to instruct my Filipina co-teacher in the latest techniques for teaching English as a second language. My co-teacher, Guillerma Villacorte, had been teaching for twenty years. It was she who taught me how to teach—as well as how to speak Waray-Waray.

We quickly learned that we Americans were too blunt, too single-minded, too rushed to fit easily into Filipino society. And that physically, we looked different from everyone else—we stood out like sore thumbs. People noticed what we did . . . or didn’t do that we should have. We crossed boundaries we couldn’t see and violated taboos we didn’t realize existed.

But we listened, and watched, and learned, and slowly came to realize that the “American way” isn’t the only way or necessarily the best way to live one’s life.

After the Philippines, I went to grad school—no longer in journalism, but to study community organizing and intercultural change.

Ten years later—after hard-fought battles against racism and poverty in the Chicano barrio in my hometown and a PhD in rural development, the Peace Corps called us again.

Adventures Anew: Three Countries in the South Pacific

Carolyn Siota

Carolyn Siota, administrative assistant extraordinaire

This time, as country co-directors of Peace Corps operations in the three strikingly different cultures of the Solomon Islands (Melanesian), Kiribati (Micronesian), and Tuvalu (Polynesian), Annie and I plunged again into new life styles, new languages, new adventures as foreigners in wonderfully different lands. And we realized again—thanks to Carolyn Siota, our incredibly talented administrative assistant—that without local guidance, we’d never accomplish anything overseas.

After three years in the South Pacific, wonder of wonders, I ended up in Peace Corps’ Washington, DC headquarters. Talk about strangers in a strange land! But a fascinating one—Peace Corps/Washington was peopled with remarkable, talented, hardworking colleagues. It was bureaucracy at its best.

Our five Peace Corps staff years reaffirmed those lessons we first learned as Volunteers in Tacloban City: that we Americans were too blunt, too singleminded, too rushed. In the Solomons, we looked different from everyone else—again, we stood out like sore thumbs. Again we crossed boundaries we couldn’t see, and violated taboos we didn’t realize existed.

But again we listened, and learned, and broadened our lives and our outlook.

Solomon Islands village Guadalcanal

A Solomon Islands village on Guadalcanal

Once more we survived the challenge of being immersed in settings where we didn’t know the languages—gesturing, grunting, trying to extract meaning from strange sounds. We traveled to remote villages where meals consisted of fire-roasted sweet potatoes and boiled veggies that looked a bit like collard greens, but served on banana leaves, and eaten with our fingers. We learned to sleep on sharp-edged slatted floors, or two of us in a furrowed single bed.

And most of all, we reaffirmed our joy in travel—especially to out-of-the-way places. Like Plum Pudding Island, where daring Solomon Islanders rescued JFK after the Japanese navy sunk his P-T boat in WWII; to Funafuti, Tuvalu, where Louis Zamperini (the subject of Laura Hillenbrand’s remarkable biography, Unbroken) took off on his fateful flight; to WW II battle sites on Tarawa and Guadalcanal.

Lessons for Life: the Joy of Unique Challenges

Jha deh Village sleeping quarters

Our twin beds in Jah-Deh—both colorful and comfortable

Our Peace Corps experiences served us well on later trips—like dinner in our Quecha-speaking host’s smoky, dim, candle-lit kitchen on Amantani Island in Lake Titicaca; or the night we slept on the floor in the Chin village of Jah-Deh in the mountains of western Myanmar; and the wind-swept, ice-cold room in the hotel under renovation in Sa Pa, Vietnam.

And our lives have been enriched by the folks we’ve met:

  • The Japanese family who took us in because we couldn’t articulate that we weren’t really dirt-poor—they served us dinner in their home, and put us up for the night;
  • The owner of a small hotel in Wasserburg, Germany, who sent a bottle of wine to our room because we were from Las Vegas, and her daughter was in our city that very night celebrating her 21th birthday;
  • The teachers we worked with in Ban Pa Ngio, Thailand, who took us into extraordinary temples, and farm fields, and local markets on their days off.
Ann and new friend in Yangon, Myanmar

Annie makes a friend in Yangon, Myanmar

The Peace Corps imbued us with that irrepressible urge to travel, the desire to mix with people different from us—in language, skin colour, history, education, living conditions . . . The realization that America isn’t the center of the universe . . . A fresh awareness of some of our own biases, values, desires that are strikingly different.

We didn’t accomplish world peace in our seven Peace Corps years—and we didn’t really expect to. But we did plant some seeds, and helped guide a few students and some of our Volunteers into fruitful projects. And we made some lifelong friends.

But most of all, our Peace Corps years reshaped our own lives. They made all of us—Volunteers and staff—citizens of the world, and, we think, better persons.

That’s the real contribution of the Peace Corps. For that alone, let’s hope this 60th anniversary leads us to overcoming Covid-19 and getting Volunteers back into the field.—Terry

Four U.S. Olympics gymnasts, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols, and Aly Raisman, moved me to tears yesterday as I watched the Senate Judiciary Hearing on former team doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual assaults on team members.

I was riveted by their courage and composure as they described Nassar’s unspeakable acts and the FBI’s apparent slow-rolling and apparently doubting response to their allegations.

All the Senators praised the young women for sharing their stories, and some of them asked questions about the FBI investigation into Nassar. As the inquiry moved forward, I held my breath and waited.

Where were the additional questions and answers that would guide establishment of protections for our young athletes?

The questions I hoped for didn’t come, questions like: What steps must we take to prevent these assaults on our young athletes? What changes are needed to ensure our children are safe? For example, why don’t we insist that staff members are never allowed to conduct “exams” or be alone for “coaching” in one-on-one isolated settings—and likewise that any FBI investigation should be respectful of, and not dismissive of, the individuals presenting their concerns.

Senators, while you are straightening out the FBI part of this problem, please also establish protections for our young athletes, to prevent them from being assaulted in the first place, and further diminished by investigators. To do any less fails to address the full magnitude of the problem.

Justice requires more than an after-the-fact investigation and reprimand. Real justice demands that we learn from these women’s experiences and implement reforms that will protect all children from such abuses.—Ann

Some gifts are too special to be used—or, in this case, to be worn. My commemorative Shanksville t-shirt is one of those.

It was a gift from Bud Sigg (the father of my friend Jack), who sent it as a memento of Pennsylvania’s place in the history of the 9-11 attacks.

That day, the passengers on Flight 93—one of four planes hijacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001—deterred the hijackers from their intent to crash the plane into the U.S. Capitol. Instead, they forced it into the ground some 30 miles from Bud’s home in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

I try to imagine whether Bud Sigg, who was going about his life in Johnstown, heard the scream of that Boeing 757 as it nosedived into that Shanksville field. Did he feel the impact?

How did I get into this picture?

My family and the Sigg family were friends because Jack and my brother Ralph were best friends at West Point.

Years later, after Jack died, Bud adopted my brother as a “surrogate son”. Bud corresponded with my brother, and sent him the occasional crisp five-dollar bill for Christmas.

After my brother died in 1987, Bud adopted me as a “surrogate daughter.” Over the years, we exchanged chatty letters and small gifts. From time to time, he sent me mementos, including news clippings extolling Jack’s accomplishments; a lady’s amethyst ring; and Jack’s “A-pin”—the West Point equivalent of a fraternity pin. I sent him souvenirs and stories from our travels, including colorful calendars.

Shanksville Tribute

Shanksville Volunteer Fire Company’s tribute to the Heroes of Flight 93

Bud’s 9-11 gift was a gray t-shirt emblazoned with a huge fire truck, honoring the Shanksville Volunteer Fire Company, Station 627 on the front, and the Heroes of Flight 93 on the back.

Bud invited me into rural Pennsylvania’s special place in history when he sent me that t-shirt.

Eventually, we began to wear it—on the 9-11s that followed. And on days when we wanted that bright spot of color or that reminder of the bold action the passengers of Flight 93 took. And other days, just because . . .

I’m wearing that t-shirt on the 20th anniversary of that horrific day—

  • To salute the volunteers of the Shanksville Fire Company . . .
  • To honor the heroes of Flight 93
  • To commemorate the thousands of people who died on 9-11 . . .
  • To thank those who worked selflessly under life-threatening conditions to rescue or recover the victims in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and the Shanksville field.

And because every time I put it on, it reminds me of Bud Sigg and his only son, my dear friend, Jack.—Ann

You know how some dates remain in your mind forever—the place, the time, the “feel” of an incident? Today marks one of those days—not only for all of us as a nation, but for me personally:

It’s August 28, 1963, Wednesday, late afternoon: I’m driving Red Mountain Pass from Ouray, Colorado, back to Silverton when the summer monsoon hits. My windows fog over. I inch into a rare pull-out at the edge of a cliff, only half a car wide.

I flip on the radio and hear Walter Cronkite’s avuncular voice, “. . . presenting Miss Mahalia Jackson.”

It’s The March on Washington!

Mahalia Jackson sings, “I’ve been ’buked and I’ve been scorned . . .” The crowd roars—two hundred thousand people, Cronkite says. A rabbi speaks. Martin Luther King comes to the podium. Through the static, he cries, “Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells.”

I respond, “And me from the arms of Laura Lee Christensen, a girl who loves me.” The rain stops. I sit there on the edge of that cliff and soak in King’s every word.

King isn’t a stranger to me. His Stride Toward Freedom provided the intellectual basis for my request to be classified a conscientious objector. But I had never heard him speak. He pours similes over metaphors and wraps them in allegories. He knows when to pause, when to repeat, when to shout, when to whisper. He booms, “Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York . . . from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado.”

“The snowcapped Rockies! Wow, he’s calling me! Me, personally!! Here in the snowcapped San Juan Mountains of the Colorado Rockies.”

I drive on to Silverton in euphoria. Martin Luther King has touched me anew. I haven’t done enough for civil rights. I’ve lost my way since I left the Colorado Daily. I’ll make him proud, I vow.—Terry
 —excerpt from Chapter 5, “Alone,” A Rendezvous to Remember

Listen to MLK’s “I have a dream”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3P_s3ChZlRY

And have you ever seen Red Mountain Pass in a rainstorm? Hold your breath (this video is only 38 seconds): https://www.facebook.com/ilike9news/videos/10154183691021077/

Photo: Military supplies on Guam awaiting sorting and shipment, 1944. Photo from souvenir booklet in the Garretson family archives.

We like to play a mental game we call “Where was I when . . .”

Last week the game took us back to August of 1945 when our fathers were off at war: Terry’s dad somewhere near Munich in Germany, and my dad on Guam.

That week, my 3-year-old self and my cousins were romping through the hills of Cloudcroft, New Mexico. Terry, nearly 4, his mother, and a passel of cousins were living with his grandparents in Anacortes, Washington. Great times for pre-school kids; tough times for our parents—dads gone to war; lonely moms raising kids amid the chaos of modest houses not designed for multi-family living.

Last week, the mental game took a picturesque twist when we rediscovered a 20-page booklet of photos published by the Guam Air Depot shortly after the end of the war.

My father, Col. Ralph B. Garretson, Sr., was Chief of the Supply Division at the Guam Air Depot from December 17, 1944 to August 10, 1945. Seventy-six years ago last week, he wound up his service on Guam, soon to depart for Honolulu, then on to Wright Air Force base in Ohio.

My dad wasn’t dodging bullets and bombs on Guam. He was in charge of making sure the “air corps tactical units” on the front lines in the Pacific got the supplies they needed to carry on the war.

When we talk about handling supplies, the accompanying photo tells it all—imagine organizing, keeping track of, and distributing such a mountain of supplies . . . without computers.

He apparently did a bang-up job on Guam: He was awarded an “Award of Legion of Merit” for his work. The commendation says: “For exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services.

Col. Garretson with Gen. Maxwell Taylor

Col. Garretson (left) with Gen. Maxwell Taylor. Photo from Garretson family archives.

“As Chief of the Supply Division, Guam Air Depot, Colonel Garretson, despite inadequate operating equipment and properly trained personnel, organized and performed outstanding service by providing under adverse circumstances supplies for air corps tactical units.

“His outstanding qualities of leadership, perseverance under unusually difficult conditions, zeal to accomplish in the shortest possible time an assignment of tremendous importance to the mission of the Army Air Forces in the Mariana Area, have made him of inestimable value to this command and the tactical organizations it serves.”

That was a long time ago. But not too long to remember and to give thanks. We haven’t forgotten.

More of my memories of my dad at http://terryannmarshall.com/military-man/. –Ann

Yesterday—August 7—marked one of those significant events in American history that slip by without notice: no celebrations, no fireworks, no memorials.

Let’s at least give it a shout out:

Here’s the context: World War II—After Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941), the Japanese were on their way to capturing the entire Pacific, from the Aleutian Islands in the north to New Guinea in the south, including the Gilberts, Marshalls, Marianas, Philippines, and the Solomons. They carved out an airport on Guadalcanal and began bombing raids on Australia.

Jacob Vouza and George Tuck

Jacob Vouza and George Tuck, an American officer, became friends and comrades on Guadalcanal. Photo courtesy of Col. George Tuck.

On August 7, 1942, exactly eight months after the disaster at Pearl Harbor, the US set out to halt Japan’s heretofore unstoppable conquest of the Pacific toward Australia, and begin its long and bloody march to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the end of the Pacific war.

It’s also the day that a little known war hero—Jacob Vouza, a Solomon Islander—earned a spot in our history books.

US Marines landed on Guadalcanal on August 7. For the next six months, they endured hard-fought battles, not only against tenacious Japanese troops, but against tropical monsoons, malaria, dysentery, and yellow fever. They finally expelled the Japanese from Guadalcanal in February 1943.

Vouza with our daughter, Leslie

Vouza with our daughter, Leslie, California village, 1977

Jacob Vouza gained renown as a scout the very day the Marines landed. He rescued an aviator from the USS Wasp who was shot down over Japanese-held territory. Vouza guided the pilot to American lines, where he met the Marines for the first time—and volunteered to work behind the lines for the US and its allies.

Less than two weeks later—on August 20—Vouza was captured by the Japanese. The discovered an American flag tucked into his loincloth, and demanded he reveal the American positions. He refused. They tied him to a tree, bayoneted him, slit his throat, and left him to die.

Vouza chewed away the ropes, then crawled and stumbled miles through the jungle and raging battle to report enemy positions to his company commander. He remained a steadfast friend of America, and after the war, named his tiny village on the Guadalcanal plains “California.”

He was made an honorary Sergeant Major in the U.S. Marine Corps, and was awarded an American Silver Star and Legion of Merit, as well as the British George Medal for gallantry. In 1979, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth.

Vouza died on March 15, 1984, at the age of 92.

It’s never too late to remember the past. Our thanks again to Sir Jacob Vouza, a WWII American hero.

More about Vouza in “By Canoe into My Father’s War” at http://www.yourlanguageguide.com/world-war-2.html

When we were kids, we thought George Washington’s simple statement, “I cannot tell a lie” was the founding mantra for our nation’s leaders. Our leaders did not—and would not—tell lies.

For us, that myth was shattered in May 1960—my senior year of high school—when the Soviet Union shot down an American U-2 reconnaissance plane. President Eisenhower said it was a weather plane flying off-course.

At least Ike admitted the truth—eight days later. Yes, the U-2 was in fact a spy plane.

But then came our college years. And the Vietnam War.

Here’s a day we won’t celebrate, but one we can’t forget: It marks the anniversary of long-ago events—classified for 41 years—that have cast a lingering shadow over our country and over my own life. The details are muddled, but to the best of our understanding from reading summaries of the previously classified reports, here’s what happened:

On August 2, 1964—57 years ago this week—the US destroyer USS Maddox, conducting reconnaissance in the Gulf of Tonkin, off North Vietnam, got into a battle with three North Vietnamese torpedo boats. The result: The Americans sank at least one North Vietnamese torpedo boat and damaged the other two.

On August 4, 1964, an utterly dark night, the Maddox and sister destroyer, the Turner Joy, had another battle with North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin. Or did they? Reports from the ships were muddled. Nevertheless President Johnston interrupted national television before midnight on August 4 to declare it an act of war.

August 7, 1964: In response, Congress quickly passed the “Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.” It gave President Johnson authority to send U.S. troops to Southeast Asia, the beginning of open warfare against North Vietnam.

But WAIT: 41 years later, in 2005, the National Security Agency (NSA) declassified 140 formerly top secret documents. The conclusion of NSA historian Robert J. Hanyok: That second battle, on August 4, 1964, didn’t actually happen. Reports of these battles suggest that these two battles were actually only one battle, with confusion about the dates . . . or that the night of August 4, 1964 was so dark, and that the US seamen were on hair triggers, and that mistaken reading of the sonar all contributed to the Maddox firing at what they thought were “the enemy” in the fog of what, “pre-war”?

At that time, presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, in a hard-fought election campaign, was accusing President Johnson of being “soft on Communism.” The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution gave Johnson authority to “ . . . take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack . . .” a platform Johnson used to demonstrate he was NOT soft on Communism.

And thus, US involvement with South Vietnam escalated from advice and support to direct frontline battle in North and South Vietnam that would go on for nearly a decade.

We never knew there was any doubt about the August 4 “battle”—not for 41 years.

Robert McNamara, President Johnson’s Secretary of Defense, summed it up best: “No president should ever take this nation to war without full public debate in the Congress and/or in the public.”

This admonition holds true today: Presidents, other elected leaders, and we citizens must get the facts before we act—the real facts, not supposition, or lies, or nonsense from “an alternate universe.”

The tragic consequence of that long-ago, hasty declaration of war? More than 58,000 Americans—one of whom was my dear friend Capt. Jack Sigg—and 3 million Vietnamese died. Millions more were wounded.

Photo: The Malecón, Havana’s seaside promenade: Note especially an ocean wave that has just crashed into the seawall, flinging its spume high into the sunset.

Tomorrow is a memorable one: 26 de Julio—National Revolution Day . . . in Cuba!

Yes, Cuba is a hot topic these days—as it has been for the past six decades. We know that. For some folks, just mentioning Che Guevara and Fidel Castro or the US embargo or Guantanamo or even the current street protests in Cuba can start a fight.

Frankly, we’ve got some pretty strong feelings about Cuba and US policy toward Cuba—particularly America’s prison on Guantanamo. But today, we ache for the people of Cuba, so let’s leave aside politics for a day. For us, travel is about people as well as places. And if you are open—and attentive—good people will find you and enrich your life.

To mark this Cuban holiday, we want to introduce you to a charming soul we met one night in Havana.

Here’s the setting . . . Earlier tonight we dined in the rooftop Café Laurent overlooking the city. I had rabbit. Why not? Cuban food is far more than beans and rice, washed down by mojitos.

After a late dinner, we strolled the Malecón, Havana’s famed seawall promenade, all the way to Paseo de Martí, a tree-lined, marble-paved boulevard stretching from la Habana centro (Central Havana) to la Habana Vieja (Old Havana).

It’s nearly midnight. A few stragglers linger in the sidewalk café at Hotel Inglaterra, a 19th Century national landmark fronting central park.

No fiery rhythms echo from raucous cabarets—not a strain of mamba, salsa, timba; not even Guantanamera. Bourbon Street it isn’t! Even Cuba’s classic American cars seem bedded down for the night.

We’re in a section of the city where many of the classical colonial buildings of Old Havana haven’t yet been restored. Dim lights from shuttered buildings in various stages of disintegration and renovation barely penetrate the canopy of darkness. Our footsteps seem an aberration in this otherwise silent neighborhood.

No bright street lights or heavy traffic here, merely an occasional dimly lit window from a building that looks otherwise uninhabited. No throngs of revelers; only an occasional passerby scurrying along to . . . where? Home? Sleep after an exhausting day?

Cuban woman

Our charming midnight companion, illuminating the darkness with her brilliant smile.

Suddenly, from the dark, a female voice floats over us, soft, yet penetrating: “Perhaps you are American?” A black woman clad in pale blue materializes from the darkness.

How did she know we’re American? We don’t ask that question; it’s been obvious to everyone we’ve met here.
Her English is impeccable, with a hint of . . . where? Jamaica?

We stroll together, we three, sharing stories. She teaches French. Yes, she studied in Jamaica and France. She grew up in Cuba, the daughter of an Antiguan.

She’s not free to express herself here, she says matter-of-factly, “No one is.” She wants to move to Antigua, but she can’t leave. “Few of us can,” she says.

She’s not complaining, merely stating her own reality of life in Cuba.

Cuba Colonial buildings

Restoration candidates in Old Havana: Note the bits of light in the center building, whispering of indigents finding shelter from the night in this otherwise deserted building.

Separately, Annie and I wonder what she wants from us. We wait for a pitch. None comes. At a side street, she says, “I must turn off here.” We exchange e-mail addresses, and she goes on her way.

Annie and I continue on. We’re both embarrassed that we assumed she was after something, that she was less than a friendly soul.

That’s it: a brief meeting. A fond memory. We think of her every time we hear of a new crisis in Cuba. And every time we wish her—and her compatriots—well.

She’s not our only memory of Cuba. In fact, come meet other folks who populate fond recollections of Cuba. We’ve included some of our favorite photos. Check them out at: https://terryannmarshall.com/cuba-blog/.

Then, take a break and listen to a rendition of Guantanamera that will both delight you and pull at your heartstrings; it’s at https://youtu.be/blUSVALW_Z4.—Terry

On July Fourth, we celebrated our nation’s independence… and again we let our minds travel back to that day in 1776. We wonder what it must have been like to live in nascent America on July 4, 1776…

Tarawa Atoll

The view from Tarawa atoll: a lot more water in Kiribati than land

It would be another year before a new, hand-sewn 13-star Old Glory would be run up a hand-hewn flagpole. We imagine fife and drums… and remember Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill.

But July also reminds us of how blessed we (Terry and Ann) have been to witness firsthand the waning of empire, and the dawn of national sovereignty—in three widely scattered Pacific nations, more than 200 years after our own country’s independence:

  • Solomon Islands: July 7, 1978
  • Tuvalu (formerly the Ellice Islands): October 1, 1978
  • Kiribati (formerly the Gilbert Islands): July 12, 1979

I Kiribati kids

Gilbertese kids: as curious and irrepressible as kids everywhere

At each independence celebration—in Honiara, in Funafuti, and in Tarawa—we watched Great Britain’s Union Jack descend and fade into history. Free at last, free at last…

None of these countries had to outgun the Redcoats at their own Bunker Hills—though too many islanders, our Solomon Islands friend Jonathan Fifi’i among them, spent too many months in colonial prisons because they dared call for the end to British rule.

In the end, each country negotiated its freedom over tea and crumpets in London. And freedom’s intrepid defenders wore suits and ties, not army uniforms.

Kiribati President Ieremia Tabai

Kiribati’s first president, Ieremia Tabai, with the nation’s Chief Justice (yes, that is a powdered wig the chief justice is wearing)

But inhabitants of these nations did have to fight invaders to preserve their freedom—against the Japanese in World War II.

In the Solomons, they fought alongside their American allies on Bloody Ridge, and on the banks of the Lungga, Matanikau and Tenaru Rivers on Guadalcanal; and at Tulagi, Munda, and Rendova.

And in the Gilberts (now Kiribati) they joined forces with Americans to defend and liberate Makin and Butaritari atolls, and Betio in Tarawa.

So to all our readers: Join us as we celebrate independence this July 12 with our friends in Kiribati.

Another day to remember. They, like us, celebrate with pride the end of foreign domination.

Photo: Celebrating at the Independence Parade

July 7th—Happy Independence Day! What, you say? We missed the day by 72 hours? NOT!

July 7 is the day Solomon Islanders celebrate their own Independence from Great Britain—303 years after the U.S. declared our independence from the same colonial power. What a long shadow the U.K. cast over the globe!

As U.S. Peace Corps Country Co-Directors, our family lived three years on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, including that day in 1978 when the Union Jack came down and the brand new Solomons flag first flew over their Parliament. The Solomons has a special place in our hearts for its tropical beauty and its warm-hearted people.

Carolyn Siota

Carolyn Siota, Best-Ever Admin Officer

We were struck early on by this expression, “saed blong oloketa,” which translates roughly to “that’s how those folks are”—a non-judgmental observation that people are different from one person to another, from one family to another, from one tribe to another, and from one nation to another. Not better or worse, just different. The statement is delivered as a way to explain why people behave differently. And your best response should be, “Hem nao, ia!”—roughly translated as “Yep, that’s right.”

A Peace Corps family

Our Peace Corps Family

We loved living in the Solomons for these reasons, for the adventures we had there (fodder for another time), and for the new addition to our family. Our son Shawn was born in Honiara, Guadalcanal.

So Happy Independence Day, Solomon Islands! We still reserve a part of our hearts for your people, your land, and the special experiences we had when we lived there!—Terry and Ann

In the mid-Sixties, our US cities were burning, with riots in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Newark.

Finally, in July 1967—54 years ago—and amid new riots in Detroit, President Lyndon Johnson issued an executive order appointing the Kerner Commission on Civil Disorders and demanding answers to three basic questions about the riots.

What happened?

Why did it happen?

What can be done to prevent it from happening again and again?

Seven months later, the Kerner Commission issued its report. Its primary conclusion:

“Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”

It added, “What white Americans have never fully understood but what [black Americans] can never forget — is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”

The Kerner Commission nailed the problem: systemic white racism—despite the fact that it focused too narrowly on housing (and its use of the denigrating term “ghetto”).

What we can learn from the Kerner Commission Report

The report gives us insights into how we can confront two of America’s most vexing threats today:

  1. The pervasive existence of systemic racism (brought to the fore by the murder of George Floyd);
  2. The overt movement to overthrow our democracy as exemplified by the insurrection on January 6.

As we did a half-century ago with the Kerner Commission Report, we’ve identified—in the aftermath of Mr. Floyd’s murder—systemic racism as a major issue. Once again, racism is a major topic in the public debate. That’s an essential first step toward attempting to eradicate it.

So far, we’re not so good on combatting the second threat, however.

To deal with the insurrection effectively, we need a modern-day Kerner Commission study—a full-scale, blue-ribbon panel investigation to answer those three questions: What?” “Why?” and “What can be done to prevent it from happening again?”

We’ve all seen video evidence of what happened on January 6—the images haunt us, and words fail to capture the enormity: Appalling. Evil. Criminal. Despicable. Sickening. Heart-wrenching.

Exactly 77 years ago today, on D-Day, nearly 160,000 Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy to turn back the tide of Nazi Germany’s campaign to dominate Europe during World War II.

Yes, today is a day to remember: D-Day, the World War II allied landing on Normandy, France.

A chance encounter in 2010 with a Frenchman and his teenage son smacked Annie and me with a gut understanding of how that day in 1944 lives on, even today. Our encounter was far more powerful than any video we’ve seen, or any textbook we’ve read.

We were strangers, sharing a table at a busy picnic ground at Arches National Park, near Moab, Utah. We chatted. He was from Normandy.

Omaha Beach

“Every year, I take my son to the cemetery at Omaha Beach,” he told us. “We walk among the headstones. I point to the names.

“I tell him, ‘If it weren’t for these men, you wouldn’t be here. Nor would I.’

“We will never forget what America did for us in those days,” he told us.

Drawn to Normandy

His words gnawed at our consciousness. Finally, on a cold, drizzly, windy spring morning several years later, we made it to Normandy.

German Canon

Here, we survey the coastline from Pointe du Hoc. The big 155-mm German cannons that rained death on American troops storming Utah and Omaha beaches below, on that June 6, 1944 day have long-since been removed. The German observation bunker keeps a weary vigil on the outermost edge of the 100-meter-high cliffs, weathered, and stripped of all amenities.

From here, German spotters had a commanding view of both beaches. The bluff is still scarred and pocked with American bomb craters.

Before this, we had learned something of World War II from dear friends around the world. We lived for two years in the Philippines, near the beach where MacArthur waded ashore and honored his pledge, “I Shall Return.” One of my co-teachers survived the infamous Bataan Death March. His stories are seared into memory.

Years later we lived on Guadalcanal, where US Marines halted the Japanese march toward Australia. We’ve hiked on Bloody Ridge, site of one of the fiercest battles. And once we found an unexploded American bomb in the jungle. A small sign identified it: “Danger! Unexploded Bomb!” We gave it wide berth—we had heard of other bombs that had maimed, and even killed some Solomon Islanders.

We also spent many a day in Tarawa, capital of Kiribati and site of a devastating Marine battle in 1943.

Struck Speechless . . .

And, in Hiroshima, we were struck speechless at the shadow-like impressions on building walls of men vaporized by one atomic bomb, Little Boy.

But here at Normandy was a battle that dwarfed any combat site we had ever seen.
Normandy was the largest seaborne invasion in world history. From across the English Channel, the allies sailed 6,939 vessels: 1,213 warships, 4,126 landing craft, 864 merchant ships, and 736 ancillary craft.

Nearly 160,000 troops crossed on D-Day alone, some 875,000 by the end of June. Here at Pointe du Hoc, specially trained rangers scaled the sheer cliffs while under fire, then battled their way through German lines. Of this elite unit of 225 men, 135 died in the assault.

Allied soldiers sprinted, waded, or swam ashore

On sandy Utah and Omaha Beaches, American soldiers had to sprint, wade, or swim ashore through fields of German hedgehogs, log impediments, mine fields, barbed wire, and withering machine-gun fire from bunkers strategically placed to lay down overlapping lines of fire. Allied casualties on the first day alone were estimated at 10,000 men, including 4,414 confirmed dead.

By summer’s end, the Normandy invasion cost the American, British, and Canadian allies 40,000 men. Germany lost 60,000 troops. An estimated 14,000 French civilians died as war swept through their villages and farms.

Here in Normandy, we creep into concrete bunkers and peer out into the Channel as the German defenders must have done in the face of that massive assault. We tread softly through the American Cemetery with its 9,387 graves and the memorial, which lists the 1,557 men missing in action.

cemetery cross

Here and there, a single fresh rose rests against a gravestone. At one, a young man is kneeling. We study myriad exhibits of battle scenes, military hardware, and battle facts in the visitor center museum, and marvel at the logistics required in those pre-computer days to mount such an undertaking.

And in late afternoon, we walk lightly in the sand of Omaha Beach, thankful we’re not lugging 90-pound packs, thankful we’re not being fired upon like fish in a barrel, and thankful for all who planned and executed this massive assault.

I’m a conscientious objector. Ann rejects violence, sees mediation as a better way to resolve conflict. But we know this: We don’t have to disown our own beliefs to honor and respect a soldier’s courage.—Terry

We’ve been fortunate through the years to have lived and worked in several foreign countries—three years in the Solomon Islands and two in the Philippines as a married couple; a year in Italy for Ann as a teenager. One result: a treasure-trove of great memories from those locations.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, a day that reminds us how truly fortunate we’ve been—we’ve always come home from our foreign travels. Many Americans—hundreds of thousands—have not.

Memorial Day always immerses us in two solemn afternoons we spent at American World War II cemeteries abroad—one in Manila; the other in Normandy.

Manila cemetery 1966

Manila’s 152-acre American cemetery is home to 17,184 American graves. Gleaming white markers stretch in precise rows as far as the eye can see. The day we were there, blood-red Poinciana blossoms puddled the grass among the silent rows. In addition, a curving cluster of huge marble tablets lists another 36,286 names of those missing in the Pacific Theatre in World War II.

Normandy’s cemetery is smaller: 9,385 graves; 1,557 names of missing soldiers carved in stone.

Manila missing in action memorials 1966

Both cemeteries plunged us into the past. We walked silently—you don’t chitter-chatter here. We read names carved into gravestones. We wondered about who they were, how they died, the families they never saw again. And we’re thankful that our fathers survived. Sobering places!

Sadly, these cemeteries and monuments memorialize a relatively small portion of the 418,500 Americans who died as combatants in World War II . . . and the 50,000,000-plus men, women, and children of the Allied nations who died in that war.

Writing our memoir (A Rendezvous to Remember) about our early days has been a 3-D roller-coaster ride: breath-taking, but some of the twists and turns left us bruised and aching, like my decision to marry against my parents’ wishes.

Fortunately, the winds of time sand-blasted the rough edges of that disagreement but never erased the deep love within our extended family, and I still have warm memories of my mom cuddling me as she read bedtime stories, serving up fresh-baked bread when I returned from school, and dashing off for another shopping adventure—always sharing jokes, her brown eyes sparkling.

And now, on this Mothers Day, I look at Mom’s photo and long for a good old-fashioned mother-daughter talk. Sadly, our long-ago talks centered too much on “me,” not enough on Mom. I gnash my teeth now at the many questions, large and small, I never thought to ask my mom about herself, like . . .

Dorothy at age 15
  • What were your best memories from high school and college?
  • What are the most important things you learned growing up, and from whom?
  • What were your best accomplishments in your professional life?
  • What were your best memories about former boyfriends?
  • How did you finally decide that Dad was “the one”?
  • What did your folks say when you told them you had married Dad?
  • What did you learn about Dad that you didn’t know when you got married?
  • What was your love life like? (It’s okay. I’m a grownup now.)
  • What are the best adventures you and Dad had together?
  • And, Mom, tell me, how was YOUR day today?

How about you, my website visitors? What questions would YOU want to ask your mom?

What questions have you asked that have yielded the best talks?

—Ann

Challenge for super-athlete-mountaineers: Free Solo Climb of El Capitan, Yosemite National Park. Photo by, and with thanks to, Mike Murphy

 

Ready to dream big? Imagine stepping your full weight into invisible toeholds on a granite face when the nearest horizontal surface is thousands of feet below. Now, reach into imperceptible notches in that same rock face and use them as finger-holds to help you climb the vertical surface of Yosemite Park’s El Capitan, a 3,000-foot-high vertical granite mountain . . . no ropes, no safety net . . . just pure strength, guts, skill, preparation, and dogged persistence.

These were the stock and trade of a super-athlete-mountaineer Alex Honnold”s big dream, as portrayed in the documentary, Free Solo, when he climbed that famous mountain. We watched that film, Annie and I, last week, and we highly recommend it.

No surprise, the ending of the spell-binding Academy Award-winning documentary, Free Solo: Alex Honnold makes it to the top of Yosemite Park’s El Capitan, a 3,000-foot-high vertical granite mountain . . . no ropes, no safety net . . . just pure strength, guts, skill, and dogged persistence. Alex is the only one who’s ever done it.

But I’ll tell you, Annie and I sat there gripping our seats. What if he slips? (He doesn’t. Whew!)

Truly an inspiring feat, the movie took me back 56 years to May Day, 1963.

May 1, 1963: A Day to Remember

Set aside images of Maypoles and dancing maidens; and red flags and marching workers. Hold those thoughts of May Day for a moment, and come meet an old friend of mine: a mountaineer, film maker, and an inspiration.

On this historic day in American mountaineering, James Whittaker became the first American to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

These days, Whittaker gets all the coverage, but the 1963 expedition included 19 Americans—including Barry Corbet; 32 Sherpas; 909 porters, 27 tons of supplies. Six Americans and Sherpa Nawang Gombu made it to the summit: Whittaker, Norman Dyhrenfurth, Barry Bishop, Lute Jerstad, Willi Unsoeld, and Tom Hornbein.

Corbet’s Decision of a Lifetime: I Dream Big, But No, You Go First

Barry Corbet could have, but he didn’t. Barry was climbing with Unsoeld and Hornbein after Barry’s partner Jake Breitenbach died in an icefall lower on the mountain. As the three

Barry Corbet, super-alpinist, shows how to dream big

Barry Corbet, mountain guide, ski instructor, entrepreneur, and film maker

planned the final assault, they realized they had enough oxygen for only two. Barry urged them to go on without him: “You two have been climbing together, you know each other. This is my first Himalayan expedition. I’ll be coming back,” he said.

After Everest, Barry resumed his life as a mountain guide, skiing instructor, and entrepreneur in the Tetons. Then, in 1968, while shooting a ski movie near Aspen, his helicopter crashed and he was left paralyzed. He was 31 years old. He never walked again.

How Did I Meet Barry Corbet? As a Filmmaker

So, how did I know Barry? Come with me to my hometown, Center, Colorado. It’s fall 1971. At Head Start (I’m the director), we have set aside the weekend to build a creative playground for the kids. Scores of parents have given up two days to dig, haul, saw, hammer, and build. We use local materials: a car body, tires, lumber, ropes, sand—no commercial swings or slides or hard plastic forts. A wooden climbing structure arises from the ground. The parents strip the car, pound out rough edges to make it safe for 4-year-olds to “drive”. At lunch and dinner we gorge on homemade tamales and tacos.

A friend from Boulder comes to record us at work—16 mm home movies and dozens of still shots. He recruits a friend of his in Golden, a professional filmmaker, to produce a movie for us. No charge.

A few weeks later, my friend’s friend—Barry Corbet—invites me to his home/studio to view his first cut. He greets me like an old friend. After the preview, he whips up a spaghetti dinner. We drink. We talk—about the movie, about Center, and a bit about his own life. Paralyzed from the waist down, Barry operates the wheelchair like a master. We talk on and on. I stay overnight.

Barry Corbet and New Big Dream: “Most Active Gimp Ever”

Barry Corbet, paraplegic kayaker: dream big

After a helicopter accident, Barry Corbet took up kayaking, co-produced a hundred films, and became editor of NEW MOBILITY, an advocate magazine for people with disabilities.

Barry had lots of tough times, but he didn’t give up. He wanted to become “the most active gimp who ever lived.” He took up kayaking, co-produced a hundred films, and became editor of NEW MOBILITY magazine, an advocate for people with disabilities.

Barry died on December 18, 2004 at age of 68 after a life fully lived.

I never met Jim Whittaker, but I’ve always been inspired by that 1963 expedition. And when I think of May 1, I think of Barry Corbet. His name, too, not to be forgotten.

Alex Honnold: Dare to Dream Big Dreams

Oh, and if your heart can stand it, take a few minutes to get acquainted with Alex Honnold of Free Solo fame: http://www.alexhonnold.com/heaven.

Alex and Barry are men of big dreams, dreams they dared to put their lives on the line for.  I have an affinity for both men because I, too, love the mountains. No, my mountain adventures have never risen to their accomplishments, But I still cling to memory of a breath-taking trip over Black Bear Pass near Silverton, Colorado. Read about it here.—Terry

Sexual Assault Accusation  

May Undo Brett Kavanaugh

Brett Kavanaugh’s suitability for the U.S. Supreme Court demands further investigation.

Based on personal experiences with sexual assault, I encourage a full FBI non-partisan investigation of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Brett Kavanaugh.

Why? I’ve asked myself these questions:

Do I believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford?

Yes. She knew that telling her story would subject her to character attacks and unimaginable misery. Would she have requested an FBI investigation of her own allegations if they were a made-up story? Speaking as a sexual assault survivor, I say absolutely not.

Do I believe Judge Brett Kavanaugh?

sexual assault

Judge Brett Kavanaugh facing sexual assault allegations

So far, No. His behavior and his record undermine his credibility.

  1. Accusations of lying. First, he has been accused of lying to the Senate Judiciary Committee when he denied, under oath, knowledge that Democratic emails he had received at the White House from a Republican staffer had been stolen. Really? Even after one email had the subject line: “Spying”? Please, let’s get to the bottom of this.
  2. Bad “joke” raises questions. At a 2015 Yale Law School Federalist Society meeting–just three years ago, he said, “What happens at Georgetown Prep, stays at Georgetown Prep. That’s been a good thing for all of us.” Really? Tell us more! Not funny from someone accused of attempted rape when he was a student at that school.
  3. A love of binge-drinking. Kavanaugh’s friend and journalist, Mark Judge, has written in his book, Wasted: Tales of a Gen X Drunk, about Kavanaugh and his apparent love of binge-drinking while at Georgetown Prep high school. Did Kavanaugh go to parties and get blackout drunk? Is this true?

We need further investigation of all three items.

Should the U.S. Senate honor her request for an FBI investigation?

Yes, why wouldn’t they want to get to the bottom of it? And both Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford should submit to lie detector tests. Without an FBI investigation and lie detector tests, how can the Senate give him a legitimate stamp of approval? Plus, she could be subjected to a kangaroo court cross-examination on par with the shameful treatment of Anita Hill 27 years ago. Surely, we have learned something in the intervening years.

Should a high school act be considered in his confirmation?

Yes, sexual assault–attempted rape–is a serious crime, no matter when it occurs.

Allegations cannot be dismissed with the “boys will be boys” excuse.

Further, if he did assault her and has lied about it, he has compounded the original crime. If he did it, and has no recall because he was “blackout drunk,” that also should be investigated and considered. Does he get blackout drunk these days?

ALL the questions surrounding Judge Brett Kavanaugh must be put to rest, including, at a minimum:

  • Does he drink alcohol?
  • At what age did he begin?
  • Did he go to the type of parties at Georgetown Prep that Dr. Ford describes?
  • Has he ever been blackout drunk?
  • In high school?
  • How often?
  • How recently?
  • When he said, “What happens at Georgetown stays in Georgetown, what did he mean?” Please provide specific examples.

Bottom line, anyone appointed to a lifetime on our highest court must meet the highest standard.

America Is Better Than This

By Terry Marshall

Images of immigrant kids taken from their mothers and fathers have put us at wit’s end — like so many other Americans.

immigrant kids should stay with moms

What kind of nation takes children, then can’t figure how to give them back?

What kind of nation, as a matter of federal government policy, takes – dare we say kidnaps? – children from their mothers’ arms and ships them around the country . . . then locks up the mothers . . . then, when ordered by our courts, can’t figure out how to get them back together?

How can it be that America treats its neighbors with such callous contempt? Especially those fleeing for their lives to the land whose Statue of Liberty proclaims “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

In a federal court filing in Los Angeles, advocates have documented that detained children are “experiencing enforced hunger, enforced dehydration, and enforced sleeplessness . . . with lights shining all night and guards kicking their feet,” the children say. “They were hungry, after being given what they say were frozen sandwiches and smelly food.” When one mother complained that her child was hungry, a border official asked, “Do you want your child dead – or skinny?”

We can’t fathom this. We can’t find the words to adequately convey our outrage. Nor can we understand how this could happen in America in 2018.

Here’s my worry: Could this be the real America?

I fear the answer is yes. I offer two pieces of evidence with long tentacles.

Immigrants Treated as Less than Human

Bibles – a national security threat

Well-thumbed Bibles not allowed.

I ran across this sobering story by Laura Holson in the New York Times: “What they carried: Items confiscated from migrants in the past decade.”

It features a photo exhibit by Tom Kiefer, who, for 11 years, worked as a janitor at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Center near the Arizona-Mexican border. Kiefer discovered that Border Patrol agents were confiscating, then trashing perfectly good food items from immigrants trying to cross from Mexico – items such as canned tuna that could be used by a local food bank.

Unopened tuna commandeered – to be thrown away

Unopened tuna confiscated – along with immigrant kids

Then he discovered – and began to photograph – hundreds of confiscated items that bore no threat to the U.S., to national security, to anyone. Items such as

  • “Well-thumbed” Bibles
  • Wallets – many with IDs and credit cards
  • Toothbrushes and toothpaste
  • Soap
  • Gloves
  • Contraceptives – condoms and packets of The Pill

Why confiscate these from desperate immigrants, who likely have so little, anyway? Why throw them away?

How's an immigrant to keep clean without a bit of soap?

Keeping clean: A national security threat?

These aren’t a threat. Commandeering these personal items is mean-spirited. It’s a declaration of a belief – by some in our government – that “those people,” those immigrants, are lesser people, or not people at all. Sadly, it seems to be a thread in the fabric of our society

Clearly, this belief is the basis for this administration’s War on Immigrants. But these actions – these confiscations – are not the product of our current president. Kiefer started taking these photos as early as 2003. It’s been going on for at least a decade . . . or more.

Life Is Cheap — For “Those People”

Immigrant kids in same bucket as Vietnamese kids?

Hearts & Minds portrays a “those people” attitude toward people different from us

Ironically, the same week we read the New York Times article, we happened to view Peter Davis’ 1974 Academy Award-winning documentary, Hearts and Minds – a hard-hitting look at the Vietnam War.
 

Hearts and Minds is full of shocking images. But these scenes brought that thread home to us:

Scene 1: A South Vietnamese national cemetery. Soldiers remove a flag-draped coffin from a vehicle, take it to a newly dug grave. From onlookers, we hear moaning and keening – that eerie heart-wrenching wailing that comes from the soul, not the mouth. The camera zooms in on a boy holding a photo of his father, apparently the man in the coffin. He’s beside himself with grief – crying, keening, clutching his father’s photograph. They lower the coffin into the grave. A woman throws herself into the tomb. Onlookers leap in and grapple her out. The keening continues. It breaks our hearts.

Scene 2: The camera cuts to General William Westmoreland: West Point grad; four-star general; commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968; TIME magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 1965; Chief of Staff of the United States Army from 1968 to 1972.

Westmoreland is in civilian clothes. He’s being interviewed about the Vietnam War. He looks squarely at the camera and says, “The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient.”

That was it, wasn’t it? That’s how America viewed the Vietnamese. And that’s how some in America appear to view today’s immigrants, particularly Mexicans and Central Americans, Asians, Africans, Muslims.

Not all of us, of course, but enough of us that it’s clearly a long-standing, permanent strand in our national fabric.

But the Good News Is . . .

 This odious policy has moved tens of thousands of Americans to protest – in the streets, at rallies, in letters, on the air. TV hosts and talking heads and newspaper columnists condemn it daily.

Organizations such as the ACLU have taken the government to court. The State of Washington is providing legal help to immigrants caught up in the dragnet.

One federal judge directed the government to reunite the families posthaste. Another denied a government plan to jail the kids with their families.

Congressmen and women have gone to Texas to bring the issue to the fore. Dozens of groups and organizations are working to help the kids and their families in a plethora of ways. A few churches have offered sanctuary.

The people have risen. That is a great sign – that’s the real America.

On Memorial Day, we pause to reflect on how fortunate we’ve been through the years to have lived and worked in several foreign countries – three years in the Solomon Islands and two in the Philippines as a married couple; a year in Italy for Ann as a teenager. One result: a treasure-trove of great memories of those locations.

Manila American Cemetery: 17,184 Americans buried here

Each year, Memorial Day reminds us how truly fortunate we’ve been – we’ve always come home from our foreign travel. Many Americans have not – hundreds of thousands of them died overseas in American wars, including the eldest son of President Teddy Roosevelt.

Today, on this Memorial Day, we think back on two solemn afternoons we spent at American World War II cemeteries abroad – one in Manila; the other in Normandy.

Missing in Action honored in Manila: 36,286 Americans lost are remembered here

Manila’s 152-acre American cemetery is home to 17,184 American graves. Gleaming white markers stretch in precise rows as far as the eye can see. The day we were there, blood-red Poinciana blossoms puddled the grass among the silent rows. In addition, a curving cluster of 20-foot high marble tablets lists another 36,286 names of those missing in the Pacific Theatre in World War II.

Normandy American Cemetery: 9,385 Americans buried here

Normandy’s cemetery is smaller: 9,385 graves; 1,557 names of missing soldiers carved in stone.

Both cemeteries plunged us into the past. We walked silently – visitors don’t chitter chatter in these sacred spots. We read the names carved into the gravestones. We wondered about who they were, how they died, how their families coped when they didn’t come home. And again we were thankful that our fathers survived their wars. Sobering places, these cemeteries!

On this Memorial Day, we sadly note that these cemeteries and monuments memorialize a relatively small portion of the 418,500 Americans who died as combatants in World War II . . . and the 50,000,000-plus men, women, and children of the Allied nations who died in that war. Yes . . . FIFTY MILLION!

Please Meet 2 US Army Vets Who Weren’t Americans

Also, as we pause on Memorial Day, we remind ourselves that not all American Army veterans were in fact Americans. Let us introduce you to two vets we had the honor of knowing: Sir Jacob Vouza, a Solomon Islander, and Teofilo Ripalda, a Filipino:

Sir Jacob Vouza: Tied to a tree, stabbed, left to die

Solomon Islander and U.S. Army scout Jacob Vouza with U.S. Army Col. George Tuck

Jacob Vouza’s peaceful life on tropical Guadalcanal in the remote Solomon Islands was upended in 1942 when the Japanese captured the island in their march across the Pacific toward Australia. When the U.S. Marines landed on Guadalcanal in August 1942, Vouza, a retired policeman, joined them as a scout. On “a mission too far,” the Japanese surrounded and captured him. When he refused to divulge information on U.S. Marine forces, his captors tied him to a tree, bayoneted him, slit his throat, and left him to die. Vouza chewed through the ropes, then crawled and stumbled miles through the jungle and raging battle to report enemy positions to his company commander.

He was made an honorary Sergeant Major in the U.S. Marine Corps, awarded an American Silver Star and Legion of Merit, and the British George Medal for gallantry. In 1979 he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth. After the war, Vouza named his tiny village on the Guadalcanal plains “California.” The photo is of Vouza with Col. George Tuck, taken on Guadalcanal, 1943.

Thirty-five years later, Vouza befriended us, and we him, when we were co-directors of the U.S. Peace Corps program in the Solomon Islands. You can read a bit more about Vouza in Terry’s essay, “By Canoe into My Father’s War”. Vouza is also the subject of two books: VOUZA by Hector MacQuarrie (Macmillan 1948), and WHERE THE SUN STOOD STILL: The Untold Story of Sir Jacob Vouza and the Guadalcanal Campaign (Toucan 1992)

Teofilo Ripalda survived Bataan Death March

Imagine a 65-mile forced march of 76,000 captured soldiers – 12,000 Americans and 64,000 Filipinos – through a sweltering jungle to be dispatched to wretched prisoner-of-war camps in the Philippines, China, and Japan.

Teofilo Ripalda endured 65-mile 5-day Bataan Death March

Our friend Teofilo Ripalda was one of those Filipinos who endured that march – World War II’s infamous Bataan Death March. For those who may not recall, after the April 9, 1942 Japanese rout of U.S. and Philippine forces, the captives were starved, beaten, shot, beheaded, or simply left to die during that 5-day march.

Some 23 years later, Terry and Teofilo became friends as fellow teachers at the Leyte Institute of Technology, Tacloban City, Philippines, where Terry worked as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer. Besides working together on the “Faculty-Employee Club,” the school’s teacher-staff union, they chatted daily over morning merienda (coffee break), where, over time, Teofilo gradually told of the horrific details of the death march.

Fortunately, both Sir Jacob Vouza and Teofilo Ripalda survived World War II and lived long, productive lives. But what a price they paid for their – and our – freedom!

Memorial Day is a day to honor men and women like Jacob and Teofilo, as well as for those Americans who died in service to our country.

By Ann Marshall

I had my own enchanted moment a couple of weeks ago, during a community performance of favorites from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s music. At the first strains of “Some Enchanted Evening,” I sneaked my hand into Terry’s and fell in love all over again.

I’ve been humming that and other tunes throughout the days since – like the haunting “Bali H’ai” and the zany “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy” — corny as what, Kansas in August? Yes! The songs are from the hit stage play and movie, South Pacific, a tale of two wartime romances.

For me, the music evokes memories of enchanted evenings, graceful palms, and sand between my toes from years we’ve spent on beaches in Hawaii, the Philippines, and the Solomon Islands. I would return to any of those places in a heartbeat.

 

Two Love Stories, Two Responses

South Pacific is more complicated than an enchanted evening on a balmy south sea beach, however. It’s the story of two couples coming to grips with ingrained prejudices – cross-cultural and racial – that threaten to derail their love. An American lieutenant is so in love with a Polynesian woman he wants to stay on Bail H’ai after the war is over. By contrast, the young nurse from Arkansas is in love with a Frenchman – until she finds out he has children by a Polynesian mother. Nurse Nellie drops her Frenchman like a burnt croissant. Enchanted evening derailed.

The lieutenant lashes out at the cultural barriers to the lovers, as he complains in song that prejudice is “taught” from a very young age:

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed into your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught

Happily Ever After – or Heartbreak?

From our years in the South Pacific, Terry and I also know something about cross-cultural and interracial romances. We knew Peace Corps Volunteers and other expats who overcame such barriers to love. Like any other romance, some married and thrived. Some didn’t.

Cross-cultural romance was a controversial idea in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. Even today, I look around and ask: Who taught this new generation to be afraid, and to hate? To shoot first and ask questions later? To exclude people of color? To engage in name-calling and bullying? To hunker down in racist groups? To fear and hate people who don’t look like us or talk like us.

I admit, parts of South Pacific are quaintly dated, but it’s a powerful story about an issue that’s as relevant today as it was more than half a century ago — and a film worth seeing, both for the music and the message. Bali Ha’i calls, folks. Take a few minutes to listen to some of the music.

by Ann Marshall

As I grew up, I thought women’s equality was an “of-course-we-are-fact”, not an “issue.” My mother had had a professional life for 10 years before she married Dad. She worked for U.S. Senator Dennis Chavez until she was 30, splitting her time between Santa Fe and Washington, D.C. She was smart, confident, and capable.

Mom and Dad brought me up expecting to obtain a college degree and believing I could do whatever I set my mind to. In the ferment at the University of Colorado, the nascent movement for women’s equality seemed a natural progression to me and my gal pals, not an anomaly.

How little I knew!

I can’t come in? Why not?

In 1962, prompted by Eleanor Roosevelt, President Kennedy established the Commission on the Status of Women. First task: Figure where women’s equality stood in American society.

Now, 56 years later, I’m astonished at how many things I was not expected nor even allowed to do in 1962:

  • Women in America were excluded from serving on juries, an exclusion the Supreme Court unanimously upheld so as not to interfere with women’s functions as wives, homemakers, and mothers.
  • Women were excluded from high-level federal jobs, even when uniquely qualified.
  • Women were denied credit and mortgages unless they had a male cosigner.
  • Women were not allowed to teach in public schools if they became pregnant, and some school systems refused teaching jobs to married women.
  • Airline stewardesses were forced to resign when they got married or reached the age of 31.
  • Women rarely received tenured professorships, jobs in educational administration, or admission to law, business, engineering, architectural, or medical schools — on the grounds they would use up a seat that should be filled by a man.
  • Katharine Hebburn — considered daring for wearing slacks

    Women earned 58 cents on the dollar that men earned for the same work.

  • Fewer than 1 percent of judges were women.
  • Unless you were Katherine Hepburn, whose decision to wear trousers in public was daring, it was unthinkable that you would wear slacks, except in the privacy of your own home.

Surprising? Yes, indeed. Read this and so much more in Judith Nies’ THE GIRL I LEFT BEHIND.

Learn from Past; Celebrate Progress

And remember: The battle for women’s equality is not over. We still have work to do, as evidenced by a newer cause for foment: The #MeToo” Movement. See one of my recent blogs on this topic.

Meanwhile, let’s celebrate what progress we’ve made toward women’s equality. As Loretta Lynn reminds us, we HAVE “come a long way, Baby” — and enjoy her music at the same time.

They’re calling this girl Jane Doe. That’s not her name. She’s from Central America, so let’s call her Juanita. She’s 17. She came to the U.S. illegally. By herself. The feds caught her, and imprisoned her in a federally-funded “shelter” for refugee children somewhere in Texas.

Margaret Sanger on self-determination

So here’s Juanita’s situation: She doesn’t speak English. She’s by herself. She’s pregnant. She’s been arrested and taken to that “shelter.” At 17.

She’s alone. No family. No friends. She realizes this truth: “I’m not ready to be a parent.” She has no one to confide in . . . except the people who are holding her captive. So this gutsy girl decides her best option is to get an abortion.

She tells her captors that. No way, they say. She manages to get in touch with the ACLU. They take her case. The judge rules in her favor: She has the legal right to get an abortion.  But her captors – the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement – defy the judge’s ruling. They first take her to a doctor who tries to convince her to carry the pregnancy to term, then to a “Crisis Pregnancy Center,” a religiously affiliated anti-abortion clinic where they, too, try to talk her out of it. The head of the refugee agency, E. Scott Lloyd – a strict anti-abortionist – flies out from Washington and tries to browbeat a teenager who realized that she wasn’t yet capable of being a good mother into giving birth against her will. He uses the power of his office to hold her captive, knowing that with each passing day, time would be against her.

My decision is between me and God . . .

Juanita doesn’t buckle. As she puts it, “I made my decision and that is between me and God.”

The ACLU elevates the case to the appeals court in Washington, D.C. That court tells the federal district court in Texas to issue an order requiring the Trump Administration to stop blocking Juanita, and permit her to go ahead.

In the end, Juanita gets her abortion. Her lawyer reports that she’s doing fine.

This girl is tough. Remember, she’s only 17. And alone! And in a foreign land! How many of us are strong enough to stick to our guns under such immense pressure?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Victory in Court: An Update on “Juanita Doe”

In a related class action suit at the end of March, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington upholds the ACLU’s case, rules the government’s action unconstitutional, and allows the class action suit to continue on behalf of any other pregnant immigrant held in federal custody.

Judge Chutkan rules that “ORR’s (Office of Refugee Resettlement) absolute veto nullifies a UC’s (unaccompanied child) right to make her own reproductive choices. ORR’s policies and practices infringe on female UC’s constitutional rights by effectively prohibiting them from ‘making the ultimate decision’ on whether or not to continue their pregnancy prior to viability — a quintessential undue burden.”

But the battle goes on: ORR’s director – E. Scott Lloyd, a political appointee – still has his job.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Abortion is no snap decision

For me, Juanita’s case strikes a raw nerve. Fifty-four years ago – 1964 – my girlfriend and I faced that same decision. We debated our options. We agonized. We kicked ourselves for our unbridled lust. We couldn’t sleep. We had nightmares and wild visions. We confided in close friends, weighed their advice. Like Juanita, we knew we weren’t ready to be parents. So, we decided to get an abortion. This was no snap judgment. The decision was gut-wrenching. Worse, we had to decide quickly. As my girlfriend so wryly observed, “This problem isn’t going to get any smaller.”

Abortion was against our upbringing and our religions. And, in 1964, it was illegal. There were no abortion clinics. We found a willing physician, but we had no idea how capable he was. What if he injured her? Or killed her? Women died from illegal abortions; we’d heard that. We worried ourselves sick, but we went ahead. We survived. And we knew we had made the right choice.

But we were 22 years old at the time. Imagine deciding that at 17. By yourself. In a foreign country. Juanita’s case infuriates me. I try to imagine how I would have reacted if some bureaucrat had had the power – and the gall – to force my girlfriend carry her pregnancy to term.

Separating Church and State

Equally galling in Juanita Doe’s case, E. Scott Lloyd tried to use the power of his office and his agency to impose his own religious code on Miss Juanita Doe. How dare he try to rip from this young woman – and dozens of others in his agency’s clutches – the right to control her own body!

Not only that, Lloyd continues to use his office to force his beliefs on other girls. He’s done it again: this time with a girl who was raped and who said she would rather kill herself than carry her pregnancy to term. Last week, the ACLU filed another suit against Lloyd and his use of the federal agency to enforce his personal religious beliefs on vulnerable girls.

This is government and religious intolerance run amuck. And unfortunately, we don’t know how many other minors may have fallen victim to this man’s religious crusade – the agency doesn’t announce them. The ACLU has had to ferret them out one at a time.

Thankfully, we have the federal appeals court – and the ACLU – to protect our civil rights.

For more details on this case, see https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/scott-lloyd-blocked-abortion-memo_us_5a3c1f45e4b06d1621b30381— Terry

So who is E. Scott Lloyd?

 Since March 2017, E. Scott Lloyd has been director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, an agency in the federal government’s Office of Health and Human Services. That office is in charge of detained unaccompanied refugee minors.

Mr. Scott has no experience in managing an office, let alone an agency that has some 5,000 minors under its care. He has no experience in resettlement, or any training in medical care or counseling. What he does have is a history of anti-abortion and anti-contraceptive advocacy.

His professional background: a law degree from Catholic University of America; work as an attorney for Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal and service organization; and work for LegalWorks Apostolate, a group that provides legal representation and counsel “while remaining faithful to Church teaching.”

Learn more about Mr. Scott at

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2017/10/26/the-trump-official-who-tried-to-stop-a-detained-immigrant-from-getting-an-abortion/?utm_term=.3f188075a44b

Sexual offense. Reports are infecting the airwaves, the print media, and cyberspace like the plague: Every week, one or two or more new cases. No man seems immune. In recent history, we’ve witnessed the drip-drip-drip of revelations first about Clarence Thomas, a Supreme Court nominee, then justice . . . and later, Bill Clinton, the President of the United States, for goodness sake . . . more recently, Bill Cosby, America’s favorite latter-day dad crawled out of a notorious past . . . and eventually we were truly stunned to overhear then-Candidate Donald Trump brag about his sexploits and his “right” to grab women by the pu**y. These men have all gotten away with it – so far – with minor smirches on their reputations.

Harvey Weinstein and sexual offense?

A critical mass stood together

But then? Harvey Weinstein opened the floodgates once a critical mass of women – victims of his sexual offenses – stood together and brought down an icon in the film business, a man who wielded great power over their careers. His own company fired him.

More women stood strong, and more well-known men fell: Actor Kevin Spacey; Screen Writer and Director James Toback; Actor Ben Affleck; ABC News Political Director Mark Halperin; NPR Editor Michael Oreskes; Louis C.K.; Charlie Rose; Matt Lauer; and Al Franken and Garrison Keillor, even! In addition, Roy Moore, former Alabama Supreme Court Justice, and in late 2017, an unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Senate, has been accused of hustling teenage girls when he was in his 30s, subjecting them to his brand of unwanted attentions.

Too many men to keep track of. Too many sexual offenses to wrap our heads around. Where do we go from here? Some men, and yes, some women, may be scratching their heads at a big change in the social order. They may be cringing at their own behavior of years gone by, and hoping that what they did in the past won’t destroy their future.

Where do we draw the line on sexual offense?

They may worry about lesser sexual offenses, like repeated “accidental” touching, or leering, or raunchy jokes, maybe even sloppy stolen kisses – behavior that probably isn’t illegal but it demeans and humiliates women, and is just plain disgusting. Others may even wonder about innocent hugs of congratulations over a grand accomplishment.

Moving in for a kiss

How about a smooch, Baby?

Some men may be asking, Where do we draw the line? Am I supposed to wear a scarlet letter on my shirt for life? Do I have to atone for a minor sexual offense committed years ago, when we operated under different mores? If I acknowledge sexual offense, am I inviting lawsuits and un-employability?

The answers? It all depends. Different victims and different offenses should call for different solutions.

Let’s put ourselves in “Ready” mode to respond to future unwanted attentions. Start by visualizing a past aggression or a current uneasiness with a business associate. Define and articulate for yourself the line in the sand a man should not cross. Is it dirty jokes, suggestive behavior, touching, or something else? What would you say to someone who crossed the line with you? What do you want from the offender to make things right?

If you need to, write your thoughts down, practice them with a sympathetic friend, then pop them in your toolkit. You are now ready and armed.

I’m thinking back on a case of my own, when Dr. James Edwards, President of the Medical University of South Carolina, wound up a meeting on nuclear waste with me by using a handshake to yank me to him and jab his tongue in my mouth. Here’s what I would say to Jim Edwards – if he were still alive (he’s not).

Message to the Ghost of Jim Edwards – and to MUSC

  1. Where to draw the line? French-kissing a woman in a professional meeting is never, ever okay. It is a sexual assault. If your mother didn’t teach you that, it’s only because she didn’t think you would do something so stupid, offensive, and disgusting.
  2. Am I labeled for life? Not necessarily. People change. You must apologize – genuinely – and demonstrate that you have changed.
  3. Do I have to atone for that one little kiss? Yes, definitely.
  4. How? As I told you in my 1995 letter, I want an apology from you – a sincere one, in which you take responsibility for what you did – plus a commitment that you will not foist yourself on other women in the future.
Haunted by past deeds

Apologize! . . .APOLOGIZE!

And now, because you have waited so long to come clean, I want you to make a public, heartfelt apology, one that doesn’t make excuses or try to justify your behavior, to all the women against whom you have committed a sexual offense, plus I want a public commitment that you will not prey on any more women. Ever again.

More importantly, I want an apology from the MUSC Board of Directors that accepts its own responsibility for enabling your offensive behavior to continue while you worked for them, for ignoring my letter – and for your enabling behavior – for at least 23 years.

Further, I want the University to undertake a program to rein in sexual predators, both on the faculty and staff and among the student body.

Yes, the University should apologize for and rein in its predators. It, too, is culpable. It needs to recognize how pervasive sexual harassment is in our society, and embrace its role in stopping it.

Onward – Toward Peace and Reconciliation!

These steps would bring me peace and reconciliation – yes, reconciliation. I would be happy to throw this memory in the trash heap, satisfied that steps are being taken to protect future potential victims. This plague will never end until we create a major, sustained peace and reconciliation movement, rooted in and spreading from the workplaces of our most infamous predators.


Visit my previous blog, “Et Tu, Brute? Our Sexual Misconduct Conundrum” at https://terryannmarshall.com/uncensored/et-tu-brute-sexu…onduct-conundrum/

Sexual conduct? "No!" the mother lion roared.Sexual misconduct? Say it’s not so! When U.S. Sen. Al Franken and then Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor were outed for sexual misconduct in November 2017 by new accusers, my inner lioness roared, “No! It can’t be!” I wanted to race into the fray, snatch them out of danger. Me. The Zero Tolerance woman, the “Kick’em in the nuts” gal.

“These men are different!” I wanted to shout. “And these are ‘lesser’ offenses. And where’s our good old American due process? And . . .” In short, it was bound to happen: Someone I hold in high regard would get caught up in the sexual misconduct feeding frenzy of #MeToo. It pulled me up short. Should everyone be judged by the same standards – or are criminal, immoral, and raunchy really different from one another? How do we judge?

Garrison KeillorBut I didn’t know whether these men were actually different, not for a fact. In addition, I hadn’t objected to the summary dismissals of the many accused men who had preceded them. My discomfort around these new accusations grew after The Washington Post revealed an organization that tried to run a sting operation by planting a fake story about Roy Moore that could then be used to embarrass the newspaper.

So, how can we tell what’s true and right and what’s not? Or what’s criminal and what’s “merely” immoral, or in bad taste, or just plain stupid? And where does raunchy fit? Should we establish different standards for different types of sexual misconduct?

Roy MooreBut if we hesitate, if we wait for the slow grind of justice, does that leave the predators free to prey on other women? Shouldn’t we hold our public officials and our media to a higher standard? Shouldn’t we work quickly to protect young girls from child molesters? What if the sexual misconduct was a one-off . . . or happened decades ago? My head spins with questions.

Judging Sexual Misconduct: Balancing Protection and Fairness

In the end, I conclude, not all sexual misconduct offenses are equal. Nor should we apply the same remedies to all who commit them. Still, we need to act quickly: We must interrupt their predatory behavior.

But nowadays, my more cautious self has ginned up what I think of as an “outrage scale” – a set of filters that help me judge whether to be outraged – and how much – as each new set of sexual misconduct allegations comes up.

So these are my preliminary thoughts. Readers are invited to contribute their own ideas – and, if you wish, assign weights according to the seriousness of the offense. For my purposes, these factors give me a way to talk about sexual offense. It would be interesting to see whether we would have generational differences about what amounts to sexual misconduct – though we all would probably agree that it has been around for centuries. Nevertheless, we would probably conclude that mores about what is “normal” have changed over the years. The next section lists a number of factors I would consider in evaluating a case of sexual misconduct – and the perpetrator.

First Cut at a “Sexual Misconduct Outrage Scale”

  • Offensiveness. Was the act illegal, immoral, nasty, bad manners, or just “wrong” enough to make a woman or girl uncomfortable?
  • Injury. Was it physical, verbal, emotional, or financial? Did it involve threats, bullying, sex talk, stalking, or financial loss? Was the victim exposed to pornography, naked body parts, or other lewdness?
  • Numbers of victims. How many victims have come forward with their stories? What pattern emerges over time?
  • Victims’ ages and physical or mental capabilities. Were any victims under-age, elderly, physically or mentally disabled, and if so, how many?
  • Power imbalance. Was the perpetrator an employer, supervisor, boss, client, adviser, law enforcement officer, or in some other position of power over the victim?
  • Location. Did the incident(s) occur in a school, church, office, public park, home, jail?
  • Aggravating circumstances. Did the perpetrator use force, kidnap the victim, make threats against the victim if she/he tells anyone?
  • Perpetrator’s response. Did he deny the accusation(s), destroy evidence, verbally attack, humiliate, or threaten the victim, sue, enter a settlement agreement and require a non-disclosure requirement?
  • Do we need a hypocrisy meter for sexual misconduct?

    Hypocrisy meter

    Hypocrisy. Was the perpetrator in a position of religious or community or medical or legal trust? What has the perpetrator said publicly – in the media, in the locker room, from the pulpit, from an elected office – about his or other people’s sexual misconduct? Has he apologized to the victim, made a real apology that takes responsibility for his actions? What has he done to make things right for the victim and for other people who have trusted him?

  • When did the offense occur? Was it prior to 1950, the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, or more recently? Have social mores around sexual misconduct changed over time? Does it matter? If so, how?

Figured out your Outrage? Now What?

Take a deep breath. It’s time to stop decrying sexual offenders: Let’s confront them. What would you say to your perpetrator? See my answer in my next blog. – Ann Marshall


Watch for my next blog: #MeToo-5:Sexual Offense? Let’s Arm Ourselves

 Check my previous blog: #YouToo? Sexual Assault: What We Must Do

# YouToo. Yes, you: Victims. Friends. Family. Bystanders. Men. Women. Let’s join forces to stop sexual assault. It’s too pervasive to vanquish alone.

It has been 22 years, and I still haven’t let it go, my sexual assault by Dr. James Edwards. See # MeToo-1: Memories Still Haunt, https://terryannmarshall.com/uncensored/metoo-1-memories-still-haunt/.

At the time of the assault, I reported him to two managers in my chain of command, to my employer’s HR director and legal counsel, to my Department of Energy client and to the local DOE person responsible for addressing sexual assault. Did # YouToo?

In addition, I wrote Edwards himself, asked for an apology and a commitment to stop harassing women. More importantly, my employer’s counsel wrote to the Board of Directors of the Medical University of South Carolina, asked for an investigation. The reports, the letters all led to dead ends: No action. Did any of this happen to # YouToo?

Then, I tried a new approach. With the Bob Packwood scandal still in the national rearview mirror, I submitted a query for an article in Newsweek’s “My Turn” column. I waited, watched my in-box. No response.

Then, twenty-some years later, after the Planet Hollywood video, I submitted queries for an op-ed to The New York Times, to The Washington Post, and to The Las Vegas Sun. Once again, no response. Not one.

For the most part, I eventually tried to let it drop. My assailant was too prominent, surrounded by too many protectors. I was spending too much emotional energy on dead end streets. Maybe this happened to # YouToo?

But twenty-plus years later, as I listened to Donald Trump deny the validity of that 2005 Access Hollywood tape; and to Roy Moore spout his overheated self-righteous indignation, memories of that October afternoon in Jim Edwards’ office washed over me like fetid sewer water.

# YouToo: Let’s Stop Sexual Assault Wherever It Rears Its Head

Men, # YouToo: Tell predators real men don't assault women

# YouToo: Say Zero Tolerance

I extend my arms, wrap them around victims, supporters, and everyone who cares — yes, #YouToo. Together, we must stop their behavior, their so-called “locker room talk” with Zero Tolerance: No unwanted touching or kissing. No suggestive commentary on women’s looks. No bragging about sexual exploits, real or phony. Not at work. Not at school or on college campuses. Not at parties. Not in the locker room. Not on broadcast or social media. Not anywhere. Not by our bosses, our co-workers, even among “the guys.” Zero Tolerance. In addition, let’s protect the invisible women, the farm workers, the hotel housekeepers, the culinary staff, the manufacturing line workers. If it stinks like sexual assault, it is not okay. If you see it or hear it, call them out.

Yes, # YouToo! Sexual Assault Is Not a By-stander Sport

To voters, and to boards of directors and CEOs and managers, I say: Zero Tolerance. Look at the patterns. Pay attention to the behavior of trash-talkers – their mouths and their actions – and to complaints about them. Don’t be handcuffed by considering – or ignoring – each accuser separately. When two or three or five or nine women come forward, recognize you may have a predator on your hands, someone not fit to govern or manage. Someone you don’t want in a position of leadership or responsibility or in your workplace. Give him a fair hearing, yes, but listen to the accusers. And don’t let it drag on. If the evidence warrants, tell him, “You’re fired.”

To the wives, girlfriends, mothers, and acquaintances of these men, I say: # YouToo. Zero Tolerance. Shut down their “boy talk.” Don’t laugh at off-color jokes. Don’t hide it to protect the family reputation. Sexual assault is not an embarrassment. It’s a danger, perhaps even to your own family.

To men in the locker room, the workplace, the bar: # YouToo. Establish a Zero Tolerance Zone. Tell these predators that real men don’t assault women, or brag that they do. And I say, Thank you, to men who have already spoken up, like ten-year NBA veteran Marcus Banks, who said, “Having spent my career in and out of locker rooms, it is insulting for Trump to try to bring male athletes to his level of misogyny . . . His statements are admissions of sexual assault and predatory behavior against women, and they should not be glossed over or excused,” (LV Sun, October 14, 2016; http://lasvegassun.com/news/2016/oct/14/at-unlv-or-in-nba-locker-rooms-are-not-a-haven-for/).

But What If You Are a Victim?

And to victims, I say: Be watchful. Don’t be bamboozled by their self-serving attentions, flattery, or tempting promises. You have more to lose than they do. Prepare yourself mentally to make a scene. This is especially important if you are non-violent, like me. Is he assaulting you physically? Scream. Kick. Bite. Punch. Slap. Use your knee where it hurts. Call the police.

Is it a pattern of unwanted behavior? Leud innuendos? Raunchy jokes? Too-close whispers in your ear? Trash-talking? A hand on your shoulder, edging downward? A brush against your thigh, buttocks, or breasts? Or an overt transgression: A blatant proposition? An eagerness to show you porn? Sneaking up, pinning you against the wall or the copy machine? Grabbing your breasts or buttocks? A forced kiss? A hand up your skirt? Exposing himself? Whip out your cell, use it as a camera: Take photos of his exposed parts or his porn. And use it as a recorder: Capture his spoken words – and yours.

# YouToo: Type, write by hand, draw pictures, take photos

# YouToo: Always, ALWAYS capture every detail

And always, ALWAYS document the pattern: Keep a log. Write down every detail as soon as possible after each incident – time, place, specific actions and words. Become a witness: Keep your eyes open for similar harassment of your co-workers. Record them as well.

Yes, # YouToo. Tell others. Join forces with other victims. Support each other. Call it what it is: sexual assault. Publicize their names and faces. The goal: Zero Tolerance.

To Women Who Have Stuck your Necks Out, I Thank # YouToo.

Nowadays, I don’t dwell on Jim Edwards’ assault on me. He died three years ago, and I’ve lived a happy, productive life. But when I see women attacked and dismissed for telling their stories, for speaking truth to lies, I cannot be an impassive bystander. So today, I salute the growing list of women who have dared to tell their stories of sexual assault. What you have done takes tremendous courage and fortitude. Let’s all move forward together.

And let’s all tell our stories to our families, our friends, and the world. Do it here. Do it now. # YouToo. It’s a first step.

Ann Marshall

Next time: “# MeToo-4: Et Tu, Brute? The Sexual Assault Conundrum”

See previous blogs: “#MeToo-2: Why Women Don’t Report” at https://terryannmarshall.com/uncensored/metoo-2-women-dont-report-sexual-assault/, and “#MeToo-1: Memories still haunt. https://terryannmarshall.com/uncensored/metoo-1-memories-still-haunt/

Sexual assault? Yep, # MeToo. My encounter with Dr. James Edwards is not unique. (See Part One of this blog, https://terryannmarshall.com/uncensored/metoo-1-memories-still-haunt). Many of us have been subjected to “lesser” sexual assault, the kinds that leave no physical trace. Often, we are reluctant to come forward, to **out** the perpetrator. Too many others of us have tried, and we have been dismissed and ignored. Read on . . .

Reporting Sexual Assault: Stymied at Every Turn

In my hotel room the evening of Jim Edwards’ sexual assault, I wrote down every detail. In the following weeks, I went on to tell my story to two colleagues, my managers at the next two levels above me, my employer’s HR director, our corporate counsel, my Department of Energy client, and my attorney brother-in-law. Good moves, apparently, all of these. Contemporaneous documentation and reporting, even to my friends, I’ve discovered only recently, can bolster cases where no physical, digital, or eyewitness evidence exists. Everyone I told was incensed. They tried to help. Nothing worked.

I even told my story to Jim Edwards’ niece, who was married to one of my South Carolina colleagues. She, too, was outraged, said her aunt had had to put up with his behavior for years. But, she added, she would do whatever it took to protect her aunt from any public embarrassment. So that was it: No help there.

My employer’s counsel wrote to the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Medical University of South Carolina. No response. We considered legal action but my lawyer’s contacts in the Charleston legal community told him no one had been able to make any charges stick on Edwards, even though his behavior was well known.

In the end, like so many women, I let it drop. Dr. Edwards was too prominent, too connected. And I was spending too much time and emotional energy on dead end streets.

For the all-too-typical woman, the aftermath of sexual assault may be worse. Her assailant may attack her integrity. Vilify her. Threaten, bully, intimidate her. Humiliate and ridicule her. Fire or demote her. The weapons? Denial, innuendo, lies and half-truths, character assassination, lawsuits, subpoenas, blacklists. Wealth or celebrity may enable him to dispatch his minions to dig up and trumpet details of her private life, to drag out legal proceedings, to bleed her dry financially and emotionally as she defends herself against these new assaults. These violations leave their own scars, which flare up when other perpetrators are exposed in the endless news cycle, assaulting more women, bragging about or denying their exploits – or both.

In the past, the perpetrators have mostly gotten away with it. In the she said-he denied dispute, what HE said typically has carried more weight.

Take Heart: Here’s a Ray of Hope

But things are changing! Although Bill Cosby is still walking around free, his victims broke the lock on silence and took him to trial. Then Harvey Weinstein’s victims opened the floodgates after a band of sisters bravely refused to be ignored, and brought down an icon in the film business. His own company fired him. More women stood strong, and more well-known men began to fall.

I laud the courageous women who have gone public with their stories, who have put men everywhere on notice that we will be silent no longer. We need to demonstrate that we mean it – sexual misconduct against others is WRONG, and potentially a CRIME, whether it’s the President of the United States, or a miscreant uncle the family has tried to reform – or ignore – for years.

Ann Marshall

January 3, 2018

Next time: “# MeToo-3. What We Must Do”

See previous blog: “# MeToo-1. Memories Still Haunt, https://terryannmarshall.com/uncensored/metoo-1-memories-still-haunt/.

In the 1960s, # MeToo was unimagined. But when the French doors of Women’s Liberation and the Sexual Revolution cracked open, a number of my pals – guys and gals – skipped joyously into the meadows of unfettered sexual freedom, thanks to The Pill. Not me. I lingered at the doors – not inside, but not outside, either – thinking something wasn’t quite right. I now wonder whether our new “freedom” has contributed somehow to the astonishing rash of accusations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault that seem rampant half a century later. Are we reaping the rewards of medical advances, our achievement of greater equality, and our uninhibited response?

In the era of # MeToo, I now wonder: What is sexual assault? Growing up in the 1960s, my mental image conjured up violence, fists, force, rape. Then we were warned about date rape: Drugs slipped into a drink, with a sick man mounting a woman as if she were his blow-up doll. Fast forward through scandals by the likes of Wilbur Mills, Clarence Thomas, Bob Packwood, and Bill Clinton in the second half of the 20th Century: They seemed like one-offs – not the norm.

But then, in 2014, details of Bill Cosby’s use of rape drugs over the years oozed into public view. Next came Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood video and accusations against him: Slobbery uninvited kisses, a tongue thrust into a woman’s mouth, a hand jabbed up her skirt to her crotch – kiss, grab, bump, and run. No violence. No proof. Just shocking invasion of a woman’s dignity. And indelible memories.

These images have seized my mind the past year – thanks to Trump’s bragging about sexual assaults he had committed because he’s “a star” . . . followed by his non-apologies. . . followed by denial he had ever committed these acts . . . followed by the women who countered his denials, who said # MeToo . . . followed by his attacks on their truths, their integrity, their looks. He suggested they made up their stories for a few minutes of fame.

This I know: Few women, if any, would willingly invite that kind of attention, especially given his threats and boorish behavior.

And now, a year later, he has out-Trumped himself, claiming the Planet Hollywood tape was a forgery.

Little did I realize Trump in 2016 represented a tiny tip of the iceberg of revelations to follow in 2017, with the fall of icons in entertainment, media, and politics, and the rise of the # MeToo movement.

All these salacious stories and the denials have resurrected my own experience with sexual assault, an encounter for which I sought redress for a year before I locked it, 20 years ago, in a cell so deep I thought it would never escape. But it’s back, saying # MeToo, demanding to be told.

MUSC President

Dr. James Edwards

# MeToo: Nothing Sexy about Spent Nuclear Fuel

On October 3, 1995, in Charleston, SC, I met for 75 minutes with Dr. James Edwards, President of the Medical University of South Carolina. He greeted me warmly when I arrived – then planted a wet kiss on my cheek! I stiffened, but chalked it up to Southern culture, and resisted the urge to wipe my cheek off. It seemed rude. Besides, I didn’t want to spread his slobber to my hand. We settled in for a chat on the progress of interviews my team and I had been conducting around the state on the prospect receiving foreign spent nuclear fuel there. I also had my antennae up for other potential business opportunities between the University and my employer, Advanced Sciences, Inc.

Cordial meeting concluded, I rose to leave. He grasped my shoulders, pulled me to him, kissed me on the mouth, and jabbed his tongue between my teeth. I reared back. He tried to do it again. I pulled away. No! Not # MeToo!

Did I scream? Make a scene? Slap his face? No, of course not. I’m a professional, and he was a client. Besides, I was alone with this man in his office. And I’m not a violent person.

As I evaded him, he purred, “You’re an appealing gal.” I dashed into the women’s room, scrubbed my face. Gulped water. Spat it out. Fled.

Dr. Edwards was a prominent American leader. A former South Carolina Governor and former U.S. Secretary of Energy, he was educated. Well-spoken. Informed. And connected.

# MeToo, a 50-something consultant?

Ann Marshall

I was 53 years old, 5’5”, 114 pounds, with untamed Orphan Annie curls. I first met Dr. Edwards when I flew to Charleston to moderate a government meeting on spent nuclear fuel. Afterwards, we chatted briefly about the problem of foreign spent fuel, and he encouraged me to meet with him on my next visit to Charleston. He was at the top of the hierarchy of our client’s organization; I saw it as an invitation to explore further business opportunities for my employer with the University.

Two days after his assault, he called me. “I want to take you out for a drink tonight,” he said. My stomach convulsed. My mind recoiled. I was stunned, suddenly fearful that a “wrong move” might undermine my employer’s contract with the University. I stuttered that I didn’t want a “relationship” with him. “That’s up to you, darlin’,” he said, adding that’s exactly what he wanted. My hand shook. I hung up. Then I double-checked the lock on my hotel room door. I couldn’t sleep that night. And I never returned to Charleston. I still won’t.

Ann Marshall

December 20, 2017

Next time: “# MeToo-2: Why Women Don’t Report”

old photoJose Rizal isn’t an author you run into every day. Nor is his 1891 novel, El Filibusterismo, at the top of today’s best seller lists. But there he was, in sepia grandeur, on this book review site, Bookingly Yours How could I not be intrigued?

The bogger, Jenai, is a Filipina mom (kids aged 6 and 3) who says she enjoys reading “paranormal romance, horror and young adult books.” She read El Filibusterismo and Rizal’s first book, Noli me Tangere, in high school. (Rizal is required reading in the Philippines. He’s a national hero, having been executed by the Spanish for his novels, which excoriate colonialism and sound the cry for independence.)

Penguin Classics published a new English edition of El Filibusterismo in 2011. Good for Penguin! And good for Jenai – the work is a far cry from the paranormal romance, horror, and young adult genres. It’s hard-core revolution artfully articulated; you feel the oppression and suffering imposed by Spain.

I was looking for bloggers to review my own novel, Soda Springs: Love, Sex, and Civil Rights, when I found Bookingly Yours. Jenai’s review of El Filibusterismo sent me on a trip into fond memories:

From college to the Philippines

terry and alma dancing

Terry dancing tinikling between clapping bamboo poles, with Ms. Alma Aletin

After college and a year on a newspaper, I joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Tacloban City, Leyte, Philippines. That experience changed my life. I went as a journalist and came back convinced I would spend my life in international development. I went back to college, got a master’s degree in rural development, then moved into the Mexican-American barrio in my rural Colorado hometown and set out to fight the discrimination and poverty I’d been blind to growing up.

I got some things done, but mostly I got my butt kicked. So I went back to grad school. I spent three years trying to figure out why I hadn’t changed the world. I studied . . . analyzed . . . even made trips home to interview my old enemies so I could understand our battles from their points of view. Then I wrote a three-volume dissertation on how community change happens – or doesn’t happen.

A comprehensive work . . . but something was missing

My work won me a PhD from Cornell University . . . but it didn’t show what poverty and prejudice feel like, or the frustrations in the day-to-day nitty gritty of battling history . . . or all the little “irrelevancies” that get in the way – like family feuds and love affairs and personal quirks and stupidities. So I rethought the whole thing. I invented a town and a set of fictional characters who go well beyond my own experiences.

The result: my novel, Soda Springs: Love, Sex, and Civil Rights. It tells a rollicking coming of age tale that weaves love, sex, and Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1963 Birmingham campaign into the previously untold story of a Mexican-American community’s battle for civil rights. It confronts those topics our mothers told us to steer clear of in polite company: sex… religion… politics… racial conflict.

But more than that, it’s the real story of what happens when you try to change a tiny corner of the world. It shows that fiction really can speak to the truth more accurately than real life.

Soda Springs: stories of colliding cultures

Like all my work, Soda Springs probes a world where men and women of different cultures collide. They struggle with loneliness, misunderstanding, anger, confusion, conflict, hatred, at times violence. They rejoice in insights sparked by cross-cultural friendships. They fall in love, satiate their libidos, suffer from their excesses. At times, they’re comic or silly or embarrassing, and sometimes, infuriating. They let us in on their innermost thoughts – and we agonize as they cope with the pickles they get themselves into.

Their fictional stories entertain, enlighten, and, we hope, give pause for thought. All fiction should do at least that, no?

Thanks, Jenai, for reminding me of what an impact the Philippines has been in my own life. Probably wouldn’t have been a Soda Springs without those two years in Leyte.

The Help — Jackson, Mississippi, Tuesday, June 11, 1963:

In The Help, Kathryn Stockett’s acclaimed novel, this has been a long, tough day for Aibileen, a maid and the book’s primary protagonist. She’s kept late at work. She catches the last bus, but it stops unexpectedly — something’s up, a disturbance ahead. The driver makes the two “colored” passengers get off. It’s after midnight. Aibileen’s frightened. She heads to her friend Minny’s house instead of home. She stumbles in. The radio’s blaring. Minny’s five kids are still up, huddled around the scratchy radio with their mother.

Then comes the horrible news: Medgar Evers, local head of the NAACP had been shot . . . on his front doorstep in sight of his wife, Myrlie and their three kids.

Life Magazine Myrlie Evers sonThey listen on. The announcer says Medgar Evers has died.

Evers’ assassination sparked outrage in Jackson and around the country. Like children being assaulted with police dogs and fire hoses in Birmingham, the photo of Myrlie Evers and their son at her husband’s funeral became an iconic image documenting a long, hot summer of Civil Rights events.

The nation followed Evers’ funeral train from Jackson to Washington D.C. where Medgar was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. President Kennedy invited Myrlie to the White House. She was on the cover of Life Magazine.

Up to this point, The Help is a story of maids in Jackson — the national Civil Rights Movement only briefly alluded to in an occasional passing sentence. But Medgar Evers is a local, and his murder a personal tragedy: Aibileen knows Medgar’s wife Myrlie; they had met in church.

With Medgar’s death, The Help takes on a larger message . . . Aibileen and Minny realize they, too, have a role to play in the greater Civil Rights Movement. It cements their resolve to cooperate with Skeeter to tell the stories of black maids working for white families.


 

Meanwhile, out in rural Colorado, in my novel, Soda Springs: Love, Sex, and Civil Rights, Rick Sanders doesn’t learn of Evers’ murder until Saturday, June 15. It’s a tiny story about the funeral, buried on page 11 of the Denver Post.

Rick doesn’t know Medgar Evers, nor Myrlie , not personally, but he knows of him. He had heard Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy and Fred Shuttlesworth preach in Birmingham, Alabama, over spring break in April. He had met Dr. King face-to-face at 16th Street Baptist Church. He had committed his summer to preaching MLK’s message to his hometown.

The Denver Post article convinces Rick and his buddy, Ginny Sue (soon to be lovers), their plan to lecture on Negro poverty in Ginny’s youth class at United Methodist tomorrow morning is crazy –- way too boring for high school kids. They gin up a better idea: bring Medgar Evers’ murder into Sunday School, vividly and forcefully. They’ll reenact it as a skit. That will get the kids’ attention . . . then they can use it to explore racism and discrimination and civil rights

drama at sunday schoolSunday morning, June 16: Rick and Ginny do their skit -– Rick as Medgar and Ginny as assassin, complete with Ginny’s father’s 30-30! The high school kids go wild. Discussion ensues.

But Soda Springs goes berserk –- a rifle in church? My God! In that instant, Rick’s and Ginny Sue’s summer project suffers blows from which they will never recover. Their lives change; the novel changes course.

Same thing in The Help: when Minny and Aibileen react to Medgar Evers’ death as both personal loss and a blow to the national Civil Rights Movement, they commit themselves to Skeeter’s project. In a way, they succeed: they get their book written, and published; Skeeter takes off for a new career with a publishing house in New York City.

In Jackson, life will never be the same for Minny and Aibileen. Nor will it for Rick and Ginny Sue.

Medgar Evers death continues to reverberate through the decades . . . even in fiction.

I seem to be obsessing over The Help. I can’t help it.

What intrigues me today are these arrows and brickbats (as well as worn-out shoes and busted sinks) that keep getting hurled over the fence at The Help . . . both the novel and the movie.

What puzzles me is why some folks insist on denying the value of women’s stories, whether they be black maids, housewives, or, as in Soda Springs, a potato shed worker and a store clerk.

Some recent examples:

  • One guy says Viola Davis as Aibileen is like Hattie McDaniel as Mammy in Gone with the Wind (1939 Oscar for best supporting actress). Black women today should be beyond taking roles like that, he says; haven’t we progressed in 70 years? (More on this later.)
  • Another says The Help dignifies maids . . . that Blacks should aspire to better stations in life; that we need to promote “better” role models. (What, are maids beneath us? )
  • One says the book denigrates black men . . . but at the same time, he says the book ignores them. (I can’t win on that one!)
  • And the most unkindly cut of all: the author is a white woman . . . how dare she write a story of black maids in Mississippi in the early ‘60s; that this is a story that needs to be written by a black woman. (Maybe so. Let’s hope someone tries her hand at it . . . but it won’t be The Help; it will be a different book. Better? Maybe. Maybe not. )

Let’s be clear: The Help is a story about women. Forget the men –- they’re wallpaper, both the blacks and the whites. Suck it up, men. Our stories lie elsewhere.

If anyone ought to be offended by these characters, though, it ought to be young white Southern wives. In The Help, they’re all beautiful and well-off and as shapely as models. But Hilly is a blatant racist, vindictive and viperous. All her associates and Celia are air-heads. I can’t imagine that author Kathryn Stockett thinks all Southern white women are so vacuous. They’re not; she’s not describing all women, just these women.

But The Help isn’t a women’s lib tract. Nor is it the story of the Civil Rights Movement or an exhaustive treatise of racism and its horrible effects on black Americans. Nor is it a paean to “The Women of Civil Rights”: Rosa Parks or Fanny Lou Hammer or Vivian Malone and Charlayne Hunter (the first black women enrolled and graduated from the Universities of Alabama and Georgia respectively).

Actually, The Help is a story about two black women, Aibileen and Minny, both maids, and a young white woman, Skeeter, who draws them into a book project that unveils the maids’ perspectives on their lives and exposes the racist structure of life in Jackson, Mississippi.

Aibileen and Minny are ordinary, hard-working, long-suffering women who struggle through life working in one of the few positions open to them; they are the working poor. Skeeter is a young women trying to find herself –- not as a white savior come home to lead the blacks to the promised land. Skeeter doesn’t speak for the black maids at all; she pursues a vehicle that allows all three of them to express their own voices.

Unlike the women in the novel Soda Springs: Love, Sex, and Civil Rights –- Lupe Sandoval, Concha Montoya, and even Ginny Bennett –- Aibileen and Minny don’t march forcefully into the movement with trumpets blaring and heads held high.

What they do is demonstrate a quiet resolution that they, too, can take action to further the cause –- merely by telling their stories. Such women were vital to the Civil Rights Movement: Lupe and Concha for Mexican-Americans; Aibileen and Minny for blacks.

None of these women change the world in these novels, but they hint at it. And all of them grow as the result of their efforts. That’s what makes good stories. That’s why we like them so much.

In the end, The Help does turn out to be a Civil Rights story, as is Soda Springs. What do you think . . . do these novels ring true or not?

The Help BookLet’s toast The Help and author Kathryn Stockett’s success. OK . . . now let’s drink to Skeeter, Aibileen, Minny, Celia and the whole cast of the movie for bringing Kathryn’s creations visually to life. As a chaser, let’s down a grand old sherry for all these winners, both on the bookshelves and the big screen. Here’s why:

  • As a movie, The Help pulled in a boatload of trophies from film festivals and critics associations, including Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild, and four Oscar nominations.
  • The movie earned $205 million (as of February 5) on an investment of $25 million. Not a bad return; we’d take those winnings here in Las Vegas.
  • The book has sold more than 5 million copies. It spent 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller’s list. This was Kathryn Stockett’s first novel! What a phenom, the kind of success most of us writers only dream about.

We should all celebrate The Help. Here’s why:

  • It plunges us into a slice of Black life in Jackson, Mississippi, 1962 to early ’64. Those were ugly times for Black Americans . . . especially in the segregated South.
  • It reminds us why we needed the Civil Rights Movement: segregation, exploitation, the daily struggle of Blacks eking out a living in the face of daily denigration and racism.
  • It focuses on women long ignored: maids trying to do their jobs –- not Civil Rights leaders or movement gurus . . . simply decent women trying to survive.
  • It takes an implausible protagonist –- a young white woman, a local, who risks her standing to tell the story of maids in Jackson –- and tells their stories both through her eyes and theirs.
  • By only hinting at the Civil Rights Movement swirling around them, the story focuses the reader (and viewer) on the daily lives of its characters . . . and forces us to draw on –- or develop — our own Civil Rights context for their individual struggles.

Key Civil Rights events took place in the years covered in The Help. They pass by fleetingly in both the book and the movie: the Freedom Riders in 1961; and a host of events in 1963 — the spring Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, Medgar Evers’ murder on June 11, MLK and the March on Washington on Aug. 28, the murder of the four girls at 16th Street Baptist in Birmingham on Sept. 15, JFK’s assassination on Nov. 22.

Kathryn Stockett easily could have wandered down any of those paths. By choosing not to, she has honed a story of people we care about . . . and we get a Civil Rights story previously untold, but cast in a larger context that readers themselves must bring to the story.

Those are some of the reasons I like The Help. But I also have a dark little secret: I’m in love with Kathryn Stockett. We’re kindred souls. She’s white, and she dares not only to write about Blacks, but to write a number of chapters from the viewpoints of Black maids. Whew, how some critics have howled about that!

In my novel, Soda Springs: Love, Sex, and Civil Rights, I write about an even lesser known Civil Rights Movement of the Sixties –- the beginnings of a Mexican-American struggle for justice in Soda Springs, Colorado. I’m white, too, (or Anglo, as we say in Colorado) not Mexican-American. I, too, have chapters written from the viewpoint of Mexican-American characters.

We had no other choice; we tell more rounded stories that way.

Good for you, Kathryn: let the narrow-minded critics rave on.

The Wall CalexicoBefore I built a wall I’d ask to know What I was walling in or walling out.
~ Robert Frost, Mending Wall

Calexico is an afterthought. My wife and I are on our way home to Las Vegas from San Diego and we want to see the Salton Sea from its western shores.

But we got waylaid in Jacumba by The Wall, that great monument to American anti-social engineering that stretches across the desert from San Diego and keeps Mexico on its side of the border.

The Wall in Jacumba’s back yard is the essence of rural. It’s out-of-the way, off in the desert, a rusty scratch in the distance. We wonder, “Do you suppose it’s like this in the city?” We can’t resist. We speed back to I-8, barrel into El Centro, take CA-111 and head for the border. Mexicali here we come!

Calexico. Say it out loud . . . fit your lips around the soft, erotic hiss in the middle, the bookended clicks at beginning and end. Calexico: it exudes intrigue, mystery, romance.

And Mexicali – that’s the Mexican city across the border– equally as romantic. Every time I say it, I hear Gene Autry singing “Mexicali Rose.” I’ve always wanted to meet that girl; she’s gorgeous, I’m sure of it.

Fascinating names, Calexico and Mexicali. So sonorous, so rhythmic, so. . . matched, as if . . . oh, my goodness . . . I just realized they’re not only neighbors, they’re sisters . . . both from the same roots, reverse images of the same portmanteau – California-Mexico all squished together into a single name; on the other side, Mexico-California smushed into one word. Like one town that happens to straddle an international border. Who knew?

Whoa, CA-111 is about to disappear into Mexico. Huge signs warn us. The highway narrows. High fences close in. We’ve been to Tijuana and Juarez, never Mexicali. But we know what lies ahead: humorless border guards, sniffer dogs, endless lines of idling cars, exhaust-saturated air.

We zip left at the last possible moment and find ourselves in downtown Calexico . . . one retail shop after another – clothes and shoes (or rather, ropa and zapatos) in abundance, as if the clothing section of a Mexican mercado had migrated north and taken over a 1950s American downtown. It’s lunch time. We’re hungry. No restaurants in sight.

We drive on and find The Wall two blocks south of the main drag in a quiet, modest residential neighborhood. The Wall looms up on the south side of the street where the sidewalk would normally be. No traffic here — no residential cars at all, moving or parked. Merely two Border Patrol vehicles hugging The Wall, poised for quick pursuit, one a block to the east, the other off in the distance.

Same wall as at Jacumba: vertical shafts of COR-TEN-like steel, 21 feet high . . . but here, plastered over with steel mesh netting. Mexico is totally off-limits; I can’t even poke my pinky through.

We gaze through The Wall. Behind us, Calexico is silent as a ghost town. Before us, a city hums – we are three feet from a busy two-lane street, cars zipping by, folks strolling in a pocket park not a hundred meters away. No one notices us. We’re starving grasshoppers looking in wistfully as the ants play.

But at least we’re safe! After all, 700,000 Mexicans live in Mexicali . . . only 40,000 Americans in Calexico (97% of them of Mexican descent).

Imagine if The Wall weren’t here: that thundering herd would probably storm across the street and take over the town . . . shoot, take over all of America. No doubt they all aspire to.

The good news is this: they can’t get at us. Or we can’t get in. Or out. One of those.

The Wall JacumbaGlory be, I finally saw The Wall: you know, the one that keeps the Mexicans out of America, thus keeping us safe from the cartels and their hit men. Or more to the point, the one that prevents all those shiftless Mexicans from coming here to

  • take our jobs
  • get on welfare
  • overrun our schools
  • make Spanish, not English, our national language
  • and, most insidious of all, drop their newborns on our soil so as their little offspring will grow up with all the rights of every American citizen. (Fie on that 14th Amendment!)

I went to The Wall accidently; I wasn’t out looking for trouble.

My wife and I are on our way home to Las Vegas from San Diego . . . this time via the scenic route: I-8 along the Mexican border to Calexico, up US 86 skirting the Salton Sea, through Joshua Tree National Monument, Twentynine Palms to Amboy, Kelso, and Cima, back to I-15 south of Primm, then home.

We first spot The Wall in the distance off I-8 beyond the road sign to Jacumba: it is a rusty ribbon snaking through the foothills to the south. It looks out of place . . . like some rustic relic from a bygone era — an abandoned length of mining cable perhaps, or an old fire line turned dried-blood brown.

We don’t say a word, my wife and I. We swerve off the freeway and take the back road to Jacumba. The closer we get, the bigger the rusty ribbon gets . . . at first it’s a rust-colored picket fence planted in a dry flood plain, marching off into the foothills. Soon it really is a wall . . . both a vertical scar on the desert and an ugly back yard fence to the hamlet of Jacumba. No doubt every mother in this quiet little town sleeps well at night knowing her kids can’t wander into that no man’s land beyond America.

We pick our way down a rock-strewn hillside, through a derelict farm fence that had lost its barbed wire decades ago, over the railroad tracks, across the dirt road that parallels The Wall, and finally, up to The Wall itself. No one is looking, so I poke my arm through into Mexico. Luckily, no one bites it off.

The Wall’s high: 21 feet. It’s iron, not solid, but vertical slats capped with heavy crossbeams . . . mounted close enough that even a starving coyote couldn’t squeeze through. And deliberately rusted, like some great art piece of COR-TEN steel — “Man’s march to the sea” or “Standing tall and proud” or something.

My wife takes pictures: The WALL, me and The Wall, more Wall. We haven’t been here five minutes when we notice a vehicle in the distance, lights on, small as a Hot Wheels toy, inching toward us. The vehicle grows bigger, coming as slowly as if the driver were pedaling.

Yep, white van, green insignia: United States Border Patrol. There’s no place to hide. We venture up to the van. The uniformed guy inside greets us with “That your car up there?”

Our car is white and it’s parked beside the Jacumba road a quarter mile away, and above us. It stands out against the sapphire sky like Las Vegas neon at night. “Yep. We’re looking at The Wall.”

We chat. He isn’t as friendly as a long-lost friend, but he isn’t mean either. Firm. Serious. Business-like. Focused on doing his job, I guess.

“Be careful, it can be dangerous out here. Smugglers,” he says. “Mean critters.” He doesn’t say anything about men looking for work or pregnant ladies looking to drop their loads.

He doesn’t tell us to leave, just warns us to be alert, then he moseys on down his private road.

The Wall doesn’t move. Or say a word. We take a few more pictures, then work our way back up to the road and on to Jacumba. Last we saw, The Wall is still there, making us safe and secure.

More than half a century after Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, prompting an 11-month boycott that led to integration of that city’s bus system, African Americans and Latinos are still struggling with an unequal transit system.

“Back of the Bus: mass transit, race, and inequality,” an hour-long NPR show by Transportation Nation is a sobering study of how mass transit systems not only isolate and destroy minority communities, but work against low-income people in general. The story looks at mass transit projects in St. Paul, Atlanta, Washington, Denver, and Oakland. Take a look at it:

Continue reading “Mass transit, race, and inequality”

Rape is a nasty word . . . and a despicable act.

But it’s all the news these days . . . what with the allegation that Dominique Strauss-Kahn tried to rape a maid in a fancy New York hotel. (Before this incident, this guy was a big-time hot-shot: head of the International Monetary Fund, and odds-on favorite to be the next president of France.)

The shocking fact is that rape is all too common. Not only that, most rapists get away with it. Look at these figures—from Marianne Mollmann, women’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch (in the Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2011):

  • In the U.S. someone is sexually assaulted every TWO MINUTES.
  • Only an estimated 40 percent of the victims report the assault.
  • Nationally, police arrest a suspect in only half the sexual assault cases filed.
  • After “justice is served,” only an estimated one of 16 rapists spends time in jail.

No wonder Flor Hardwick agonized over what to do in Soda Springs. Report it? Why risk community disgrace . . . only to have the criminal go free?

And no wonder Odell Andrews shrugged her off. Here’s his mocking response:

“Odell laughed. ‘You’re a cocktease, gal. No one rapes a cocktease. I came to the church to help you fix the youth problem. You invited me home. Made coffee. Fed me. Kissed me. One thing led to another. Consensual sex, as they say. Besides, who you gonna tell? . . . Chief Zeigler? He’s got a whore in Mexican town. And who would believe you over the football coach? Especially when there’s been no harm done, nothing broken or bruised. Sorry, gal . . . thanks for that delicious taste of paradise.’”—from Soda Springs: Love, Sex, and Civil Rights

What to do if you or a loved one has been raped?

No easy answer.

We can only be thankful that the New York maid has the courage to stand up to power. And that women like Flor Hardwick will risk reputation to fight for justice.

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