Veterans Day for Just One American Hero

I love marching bands and parades but I don’t go all soppy on Veterans Day remembering our fallen heroes.  That is because Veterans Day is the one day I don’t  think about them.  Sounds odd, doesn’t it?  Instead, it is the day I reserve for a private thanksgiving for what those men and women have given us – our country, safe and whole.  That makes it a second Fourth of July for me, one more day each year on which I feel especially good and very proud.  It’s also the one day of the year I don’t think about one particular hero.

I can’t say why what happened to him affects me so much so many years after our war, but I think about him nearly every day.  He has 364 Veterans Days with me.  When a whiff of diesel from a passing truck gives me an unexpected flashback to the crank and roar of tanks.  When the air on a hot, dusty day sets my teeth on edge like chewing tinfoil and I’m standing there again, beside the guns firing a mission, tasting cordite.  Then I remember him.  We were buddies in war.  We went though officer candidate school together.  Ended up artillerymen in the same piece of Vietnam.  Faced the same hardships, the same risks, the same sniper fire, the same incoming rockets, the same humping the boonies with the grunts calling fire to keep us all alive and to try to win our war.

When I finished my tour in the war zone, I went home, very happy to go home safe and whole.  He stayed on.  He had extended.  But it wasn’t quite the same home I had left.  There were no parades for me and no cheers.  Girls wouldn’t go out with me – and that was very painful when I was young! – because they believed me to be one of those doped-up, village-burning, orphan-making wild men they had heard about from some twisted characters on the grapevine.  That was not a description of me or any other soldier I knew in the war.  It was not a description of this one hero.

There was no good ending to that war.  Too bad.  I don’t care to argue politics here.  I want to tell you about a letter.  It was around Christmastime the year I got back Stateside.  Here, the letter said, written by an adjutant in my old battalion, is some unhappy news.  He was killed last week and we knew you would want to know.

He was killed on a firebase.  In the middle of a hot and dusty day.  Mortar rounds were coming in and he was down deep behind sandbags, trying to stay alive.  A mortar round struck a gun pit and guys were flung across the hardpan and were lying twisted and screaming for help.  He ran out to help them.

No need for me to say what happened.  I came home and he did not.  I have a wife and child and made a satisfying career and he was denied all those things.  Why did he do that, with the shells coming down and his chances very slim of getting across open ground to the wounded?  You know the answer as well as I.  He did it for his buddies.  To save a life, if he could, by risking his own.  Because there is something in the spirit of an American soldier, committed to the defense of his country and family, that he must protect his buddies who are his country and who are his family.  What nobler thing can be said about anyone?

That is why on Veterans Day I cheer the parades and wave the flag and think not about the fallen but about what they did in 1776, and 1865, 1918, 1945 and 1969, to create this country and keep it safe.  Veterans Day is my special day for cheering.  Because on the other 364 days, I think about one special hero, and what he sacrificed for us.

(I repost this article every year for Veterans Day.  Because I must.)

(c) 2011-17 Steven Hardesty


Image:  “Tank from ‘Bravo’ Company, Tanks in support of Third Battalion Seventh Marines, 1st Marine Division, Vietnam 1968” U.S. Department of Defense photo.

As everyone knows…

● There are only two kinds of reader in this world – the brilliant, sensitive, imaginative people who read my books and the dull, insensitive, unimaginative brutes who don’t.

● And here is the latest reading only discriminating readers like you (and me) want:

● First, another classy but tough classic Western, The Bountyhunter, continues the tale of a young and accidental gunfighter searching for a life free of hate and revenge in the chaotic years after the U.S. Civil War.

● Next, a psychological horror story, In the Season of Poison, of a man seduced by the frights of the jungle into believing what he cannot believe.

● If, when you finish this book, you don’t find yourself clapping hands when you come home at night to drive the geckos and lonely spirits up the walls and into the dreamy gloom of the ceiling, then you’re a tougher man or woman than I.

You can order these books from Amazon by clicking the covers.

Next in thrillers…

● With the Harry Seaburn Series of comic crime capers done (7 books, a nice, round number), I’m filling out the series’ backstory with short stories about the one-legged thief Bitter Bob and those kidnappers who never get anything right. Plus a spin-off mystery novel featuring the pacifist-sniper-hippie swampwoman Marjorie (AKA Tang Gramophone Weinstock III) from one of Harry’s wildest heist capers.

● I’ve done a first draft of The Long Run, next in the Dirty Wars Series, featuring a failed helicopter breakout from a Bolivian prison in the high Andes.

● And – by popular demand – I’m working up a sequel to Running in Heels telling the even tougher half of the story of a woman who changes from wimp to hero as she steals back a fortune stolen from her which she accidentally stole from a psychopath.

Just Shoot Me is a gritty and comic retelling of an Agatha Christie mystery in which I believe the master of the genre nailed for murder the wrong (and quite innocent) suspect.  This novel intends to put things right.

Next in war stories…

● I’m halfway through drafting the sardonic comedy of War and the Newby about how young soldiers become old soldiers, if they’re very, very careful. With luck, I’ll have it ready for Christmas gift-giving, if you really want to give your giftees something that bites and won’t let go.

Promises, promises!

● All this, if I use all ten fingers on the keyboard, is set for publication in 2017, along with another installment in the saga of an accidental gunfighter, The Vigilante.

☼ Cheers and thanks for asking!


You haven’t read this kind of war story before…

A helicopter shrieks out of the night sky over Vietnam, crashing in enemy country, and a war-battered artillery scout and a shattered half company of infantrymen shove into murderous Viet Cong Valley to search for survivors at the risk of their own lives.  Each soldier slogs through the jungle adrift in a bizarre and private fantasy that he desperately hopes means survival in this place of death and terror.    Sometimes guns are not enough to keep a soldier alive in combat.  Sometimes it takes a desperate dream.  These men dream.

That is the story of Ghost Soldiers (click-tap!), the opening to a four-novel series about the Vietnam war and what it meant to the young soldiers who had to fight it, what it meant to those they left behind and what it meant to them all standing in the fallout of the war long afterward.  A hard, bitter, violent story leading to unexpected hope.

I wrote these novels with young people in mind — those of age to volunteer to go to war — with the ambition that their reading the awful truth of war, its heroism and misery and remembrance, would guide them in deciding for or against making war.

Sometimes wars have to be fought and this country must go to war for good reasons (December 7, 1941).  Sometimes wars do not have to be fought (Vietnam) and the country and its people, especially the soldiers sent to do the nation’s fighting, must live with their unforgiveable choice.  Young people need to know that.  They need to think about their choice.  They need Davy Crockett’s advice to “be sure you are right, then go ahead.”

That is what these books have to say — listen to Davy.

Backstory to a Classy Classic Western Series

If you know your Wild West history (and who doesn’t?), you’ll see in The Gunfighter some suspicious telltales pointing to the less-than-heroic truth about some fabulous frontier characters and their abrupt and violent intersection with an orphan lad, Ronas, who is so desperate to escape his poor and miserable life he’ll do just about anything.

And anything is what these wild characters teach him to do.

Take Wyatt Earp, for instance.  He wasn’t always the hero at the O.K. Corral portrayed in Cinerama and Technicolor.  He was a Kansas saloon keeper (when saloon-keeping was an upright occupation) and faro dealer (a bit less upright) who stuck on a badge when he wanted to bounty hunt, sometimes for his pal Bat Masterson.

Earp, cold-eyed and pistol-whip-happy, shoves Ronas down the road to becoming the accidental gunfighter of the novel.

Or, worse, take “Dirty Dave” Rudabaugh (who may not really have been as averse to bathing as advertised).  Some of his story, and Wyatt’s grand chase after Rudabaugh, went into making the great monster of this story, the psychopathic killer Lute Butterfield.

Butterfield shatters Ronas’ hopes for a decent life on the frontier but fires in him a hot determination for something even grander.

Scattered through the story are more true bits pulled from the history of the Old West, including the bitter fallout of the Civil War, a buffalo soldier and his deadeye-shot wife, range war and cowboy riot.

Best of all, I’m working on Book 2 in the “Legacy of the Gunfighter” series, a novel called The Outlaw, that takes Ronas’ search for a fresh start in life onto a Mississippi riverboat and the wild search for “Jeff Davis’ gold,” which may or may not be legend but certainly leads to adventure.

Whoa! you say.  What’s this guy know about the West to write about it?

I’m a Westerner.  Lived and worked in the parts of the West I write about.  I know weapons.  Combat veteran.  I know frontier history.  Civil War historian.  When I don’t know something, I ask an old cowboy who lives a few miles up the road.  And I love the freedom in the old stories and the landscape of the West, old and new.

A Hot New Look at the American Civil War

confederate finalJust published, here is a fresh argument about the power of culture in choosing war strategies and leaders and about how that played out in the U.S. Civil War.


If that sounds like dull, academic stuff, then take a look at this gaudy and grim story of how mid-19th century U.S. culture shaped the Confederate rebellion with its dreams, romance, greed and courage and how that rebellion, in turn, led to a Civil War for freedom over the tyranny of slavery to make a fresh hope for America.


PS:  The great header image is a detail from “The American Soldier 1862,” U.S. Army Center for Military History.



Posted in War

Life is a War (Novel)

Some readers ask me how my war novels can describe the wild adventure and heroism of combat yet end without trumpets and flags.  Why so downbeat?  I’ll tell you, but only if you’re a young man or woman eligible to go to war.  You are my audience, not anyone else.

Point.  War is a pisser.  It pisses on you and you can’t piss back in self-defense.  Oh, it may seem a grand heroic adventure.  You may walk away from war dressed in bright ribbons and medals and praise.  But when you are alone in the deepest part of night you will say to yourself, “Goddamn, what have I done?  What did I do to myself?  What did I do to those other people over there?”  You will feel as alone in the night as any human being ever felt because your war is still pissing on you.

If what you did had to be done, you’ll get through the night okay.  You’ll have in you a bitter regret that it had to be done but you’ll come out all right.  If it didn’t have to be done, you’ll feel the most wretched human being on the planet.

How can you tell the difference between those two ifs?  That’s easy…

Point.  There are two kinds of war – good wars and bad wars.  A good war is the war you can’t avoid.  December 7, 1941.  You have to fight back to stay alive and keep your family alive and save your country.  You will do terrible things in this war but you are standing up for what is decent and true.

A bad war is a war of choice.  Your country’s leaders make this war when they think they have run out of alternatives, like diplomacy, politics, threats, bribery or trying to persuade all sides, including your own, to see things with good sense and common decency.  What they really have run out of is honor.  Most of the wars this country fought were wars of choice.  They had no honor.

You know the difference because good wars leave you frightened in the night.  Bad wars poison all your life…

Point.  Vietnam was a bad war.  A very bad war.  Worse because it was a stupid war fought by stupid people on our side – by stupid generals and stupid politicians who lacked the brains and strength of character to break out of old ways of thinking about our wielding power in the world.

What I did in Vietnam poisoned all my life.  I did nothing dishonorable.  I was a good soldier for my country.  But I fought a war that didn’t need to be fought and killed people who should have been allowed to live and tore up someone else’s country for no good reason and left their land sick and ruined when I marched away from it.  I remember all that in the darkest part of every night.

Bet you can guess what I have to say next…

Last Point.  If you are a young man or woman considering going to war or caught up in war or thinking about voting for war, stop.  Stop to think about the difference between a good war and a bad war.  Then decide what you must do.

Your making that decision is what my war novels are all about.  They want to remind you of the good advice offered by Davy Crockett, a man who knew something about war-making, when he said, “Be sure you are right and then go ahead.”

You do the same.  Or you, too, will pay for it in the night.

© 2016 Steven Hardesty

Image:  “Typical VC Tunnel System,” Report on the War in Vietnam (as of 30 June 1968), U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, pt. 2, p. 150.

Posted in War

New in Frightfulness

Too soon or too late, every man and every woman…

must discover that at the borders of every mind are bizarre and terrifying things always ready to fill the empty spaces made by fright and failure.  That is Harry Royhatten’s strange story.

Royhatten, his wife and son arrive in Burma desperate for a fresh start in life but find themselves cast adrift in dream, delusion and terror. Royhatten believes too little in the phantoms that haunt the jungle city of Rangoon. Later, he believes too much and sinks into adultery, arson, murder and the even more horrific.  That is what makes In the Season of Poison.


I Am Not a Tough Guy (but I like to write like one)

Yep, I write hardnosed thrillers and crime caper stories and get a big kick out of them but I am not a tough guy or a Mickey Spillane wannabe, no siree.

It’s true I first learned to shoot when my Dad set up a paper target and put a Colt .22 Woodsman in myRuning-in-Heels-High-Resolution-187x300 hand. I was eight or nine years old. That was great and I wish I still had that gun for all the good memories.

He also taught me to use a shotgun, but just for pheasant hunting, and a .30-30 Winchester which he and I and my brother took into abandoned mountain country to hold off the bears while we fished in a crater lake.

I flunked out of my high school rifle team, though, and don’t feel like talking about it.

But some other folks taught me to fire a Colt .45 semi-automatic pistol and I was pretty decent with it. Something of a natural shot. They also taught me to use an M14 rifle and later an M16 rifle. I won the Sharpshooter badge for each but just had to have an Expert badge on my khakis for something.

So I cheated on my M60 machinegun test. It’s easy to cheat with a machinegun when there’s all that noise around you from everyone else desperately trying to cheat, too. I made Expert.

Which was pretty stupid since I also wanted to become a paratrooper. The life expectancy of a parachuting machinegunner is 30 seconds after he hits the ground. If his gun doesn’t pancake him first. Because the first target of any enemy soldier is the machinegunner.

I got the Expert badge but never went to Jump School. Had a bit of a problem with the top sergeant. My punishment was to be left behind when everyone else went.

But I did better. I got into the artillery. I was a battery executive officer for 105mm howitzers and a forward observer and aerial observer – that’s the guy who hikes out in front of the infantry or flies there first – for the 155mm and 8-inch howitzers and the 175mm cannon. (Oh, baby, can those things tear up a target!)

Tough guys do those kinds of things but I’m not a tough guy. I was pretty damned scared while I was shooting the big guns because there was an enemy out there, a damned good enemy, shooting back at me. There were a couple of times when I thought he was going home from that war alive and I wasn’t.

I don’t suppose Mickey Spillane was ever afraid in a gunfight. Or James Bond or Dirty Harry. They were tough guys. Real tough guys. I wasn’t. That’s why I like to read about them and write stories about guys like them.

Because sometimes it’s fun to imagine yourself a tough guy when you know you’re just an ordinary guy like everyone else.

PS:  If I were a real  tough guy, I’d confess I write romantic comedies under another name and get a lot of fun out of it, but who’s that tough?

© 2016 Steven Hardesty

Meet Harry Seaburn, Thief, Romantic & Run Out of Luck

Yeah, the seven book Harry Seaburn Thriller Series starting with The Feathered Virgin tells the wild and mordantlyHarry Seaburn 02 - Hight Resolution comic story of a thief who is tough, brash, running on empty and wants a good woman, anybody’s good woman, but he tends to shoot people and what good woman would want him?

It’s hard to know where to begin in telling the story of the stories about Harry.  Except to say Harry is a hard-nosed thief and hopeless romantic who has no money despite the Harry Seaburn 03 - Hight Resolutionmillions he manages to steal, no woman to call his own and half the criminal world wants to kill him, for good reason.

He operates around the edges of two great criminal syndicates in Miami that would happily crush him as irritating competition.  He makes money out of crazy, taking on gigsHarry Seaburn 04 - Hight Resolution no other crook would dare.  He believes there’s no real life outside of his personal thief’s paradise in a circus town between the Gulf of Mexico and the Everglades.  And he couldn’t manage to stay alive or survive his mismatched loves without the help of his stripper landlady and a hippie throwback swamp woman.  And a guy named Bitter Bob  (you’ll find out) and a mega supergeek who hates all humans but Harry.

To see what Harry says about all this read, on!

* * *

 The Joy of Crime(writing)

by Harry Seaburn

Harry Seaburn 05 - Hight ResolutionI’ve been told that in the pages of some of the better magazines I have been accused of encouraging criminality by my thrillers making it all seem like great fun. Yeah, well, it is. Great fun, I mean.

Also hard, hard work. I’m like most crooks – a happy, lazy man. I don’t like work, hard or any other kind. I prefer the quiet life with a beautiful, intelligent woman – your woman, perhaps? – than to be out grubbing around for a living. If you call rough work like rescuing maidens from burning yachts and stealing million-dollar paintings from museums floating inHarry Seaburn 06 - Hight Resolution shark-infested seas fun (that’s in The Feathered Virgin), well, you need a shrink more than I.

On the other hand, and at the risk of offending my readers’ well-known sensibilities – of course, if you had any of those you wouldn’t be reading my life story, you’d be wallowing in tea cozy mysteries or over-educated police procedurals. Whoa, back to the point: people read about me because crooks are attractive. We are fun. We let our emotions run away. We feel a compulsion and we compulse.

Harry Seaburn 07b - Hight ResolutionMost of all, we don’t care about consequences. If I want to throw a man down the stairs in a restaurant, I do. Then I sit down to lunch. If I want to make a pass at the prettiest girl within seven leagues when her husband turns away, I do, and take the slapping or the punching if I’m not fast enough to run for it.

People like me do what we want. What can be more appealing than that? We have so much fun being bad you just can’t resist us. Go ahead, read The Feathered Virgin and just try to resist me. Ha!

Life is a Wild and Crazy Thing, eh?

Harry Seaburn’s comic crime caper novel series had just been born – with publication of The Feathered Virgin on Amazon – and the author (me) almost got unborn. Life, as the old Greek said, is a wild and scary thing.

Or maybe just very Dortmunder. (You Donald E. Westlake fans will know what that means.)

I’d just pushed the “publish” button for Amazon and begun preps to follow up immediately with publishing books two and three in the series – The Dimpled Python and The Laughing Camel – when I had this sudden urge to climb a ladder to grab a fresh tube of toothpaste on a high shelf.

Yeah, well, it would’ve happened to John Dortmunder, too. I sort of fell off the ladder and sort of landed in the shower and sort of banged my head against the tile wall and sort of began to bleed.

Splash blood, I mean.

My wife, expert at solving problems I create, wrapped my head in beach towels (we live by the beach so we have lots of them to spare for occasions like this) and called an ambulance.

The ER jabbed me and wrapped me in wires and made me do bizarre arm exercises. Shoved me into a CAT scan machine (not as scary as an MRI, which feels to me like being shoved into my own coffin without the benefit of being dead). And decided I would survive. Or maybe that I wasn’t worth much more of their trouble.

So they stapled six quite pretty metal staples into my head to close up the tear and sent me home. My wife took a photo of my head to show me the staples – they look like some office loony went berserk on my scalp with a desk stapler.

Have to admit, though, I felt instantly better with the staples in. Something like having that “closure” you hear about (hooray for puns!). If they were stapling me and not admitting me, then I was going to be all right.

Further, the ambulance man said he would check Amazon to buy a copy of The Feathered Virgin, so my misadventure was not entirely a waste.

After five hours in the ER and early to bed, I expected to be re-energized today and ready to get back to publishing those next two books. Trouble is, the ER gave me this long list of “Symptoms Indicating Your Concussed Head is About to Explode and You Will Die” and I discovered I have all of them. Except the one that says you have come to realize you are more handsome than George Clooney.  I’ve always thought that.

To fight off those symptoms, I spent the afternoon puttering around in the yard in the fresh air and sunshine. But the sun heated up the staples in my scalp and I had to flee indoors.

Then I recalled from the BBC’s “Doc Martin” series that the Doc revived a man dying from concussion by using a common or garden variety household drill to bore a hole in the skull to relieve the building pressure. I asked my wife to keep our drill handy in case I want any more holes drilled in my head.

She scoffed and went out back to inflame our oak-fired barbecue to cook up fresh fish for dinner with friends this evening. I’m sure their good company will cure all my symptoms. If not, I’m ready with the drill.


© 2015 Steven Hardesty

Finding Brigid O’Shaughnessy (and the Maltese Falcon)

I know a guy who knew Brigid O’Shaughnessy.  His name was Joe Gores.  And she was real.  It’s a great story. 

Brigid, as you know, was the seductive murderess who drove Sam Spade to hunt down The Maltese Falcon  in Dashiell Hammett’s masterpiece of hard-boiled detective fiction.  Hammett had been a Pinkerton agent in San Francisco in the 1920s.  Joe Gores, who died last year, was a repo man in San Francisco.  That’s where this story begins.Way back in the last century, I met Gores, author of the great DKA Files mystery series.  I invited him to my ratty flat in Berkeley for coffee and to talk fiction.  Evening drew on.  Shadow came into the room.  The conversation turned noirish.  He began to tell me about Brigid O’Shaughnessy.

Gores knew Frisco as well as Hammett had known the town, from the street level.  Much of Hammett’s old city was still there when Gores scoured the streets as a repo man.  The Maltese Falcon is a good street guide and Gores knew Hammett had used his own apartment and other of his haunts for scenes in the book.  He went to find Sam Spade’s apartment.  It was for rent.  He moved in.  Ha!

The idea came to him, he said, in Sam Spade’s apartment that maybe he could find the people in the book.  He knew Hammett had used characters from his detective career in his stories.  Why not see if any of those in the Falcon were real and, even at this late year, still lived in the city?

He started with the places where Spade’s partner Archer and the bodyguard Thursby had been shot, the events that open the story, but those leads went nowhere.  He couldn’t find the fat man, either – Caspar Gutman.  I would’ve liked to meet Gutman.  Nor could he find Joel Cairo or the jittery gunsel, Wilmer, with his brace of .45s.  Oh, they may have existed in some form in Hammett’s old case files, but they had not themselves been living people.

That left the fabulous femme fatale, Brigid O’Shaughnessy, the woman who very nearly outsmarted Sam Spade.  To his surprise, Gores came across some evidence that she was real.  One of Hammett’s lovers in the ‘20s.  But who was she really and was she anything like the character in the book?

The more Gores thought about her, the more Brigid got under his skin, as she had gotten under Sam Spade’s.  He had to find her.  He got a lead on an old woman – a very old woman – living in Mexico.

Here is where the story gets great: He went to Mexico.  Knocked on her door.  And there she was – Brigid O’Shaughnessy.  He knew the first moment he saw her.  Oh, she had another name, her real name.  And she was an antique.  But she was still beautiful.  And, Gores told me, a marvelous and relentless liar, a charmer, a schemer, a sexy manipulator.  She was the Brigid of the book in spades (pardon the pun).  All the while he sat in her living room drinking her tea she worked to seduce him, to overpower him with the charm that nearly doomed Sam Spade.  It was automatic with her.  She couldn’t help herself.  Wonderful!

But she hadn’t read the book.  Never heard of it.  Hadn’t seen the 1941 film with Humphrey Bogart as Spade and Mary Astor playing Brigid.  She wasn’t interested in those things.  She was only interested in enthralling and capturing Joe Gores.

There was a marveling wonder in his face as he told me he barely got out of that tea party with his skin.  Barely able to shake off her hypnotic charm.  Yes, there was a Brigid O’Shaughnessy and, yes, she was everything Sam Spade saw in her.

After Joe Gores left to go across the Bay Bridge to the city and home, I sat there in the shadows and thought about the real Brigid O’Shaughnessy and had to wonder, Would I have had Joe Gores’ strength – and Dashiell Hammett’s – to escape her?  Would I want to?

Teaching War to the Kids

The number of university and high school reading lists that include Ghost Soldiers for teaching the Vietnam war and the 1960s got me thinking about the sort of syllabus I’d advise for students if I were a teacher. Then  it hit me – there are plenty of good books and a few good movies about the war but only two I’d recommend, and one isn’t “about” Vietnam at all.

Because ours is an increasingly visual culture for transmitting information between generations, first on my list is Burt Lancaster’s 1978 film Go Tell the Spartans based on the novel Incident at Muc Wa. It’s the only honest Vietnam war movie made. It feels like the war. It looks like the war. And I can’t laugh when the intel officer installs his stoplight graphic over the door to measure the war’s local progress. The ending is sappy, of course, but Americans have a hard time making movies that end tough.

That isn’t true of the second item on my two-item syllabus – James Jones’ The Thin Red Line. Set in the Pacific war, here is a book that describes all wars honestly, a description that fits for Thermopylae, World War II, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Enough said.

I’d almost include on my list Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage but that great story has had too much of its power to surprise and appall readers drained from it by too many generations of unimaginative English teachers.

As an antidote, I’d give students a healthy dose of listening to actor Michael Caine recite in his native Cockney accent Kipling’s great poem about the truer rewards of soldiering, “Tommy”:

“For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ‘Chuck him out, the brute!’

But it’s ‘Saviour of ‘is country’ when the guns begin to shoot…”

If that can’t sting the kids’ grubby little hearts, then they shouldn’t be allowed to vote – or make babies or drive cars or any other thing adults are allowed to do – when they grow up. Because they haven’t the heart, the empathy, the sense of duty needed by citizens who will help decide the future of this country.

It’s also a true thing, and perhaps something only a Vietnam veteran can really appreciate these days, that all the troops coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan to applause from fellow airline passengers and cheers from passersby on the street ought to think about Kipling’s poem. And think that a “hero” from a winning war and a “bum” from a losing war pretty quickly are treated about the same by a fickle American public – forgotten. Chuck ‘im out, the brute!

Oh, yes, I’d add one last item – a piece of music. The Animals’ 1965 rock song “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.” If you’re a Vietnam vet, you know why.

Yep, with this list I’d throw those students in at the deepest end. Let them learn what it means to fight and survive and come home a soldier. And hope they remember what they’ve learned when remembering counts.