To Kneel or Stand by Al Sikes

We have been, for several weeks, greeted each morning by news of which athletes at what game refused to stand during the National Anthem. Most recently the Vice President, Mike Pence, decided to make the body’s posture an even more fractious political stance. It was as if he said, “If you disagree with President Trump and me, you should knell.”

Generally, the anthem divide is racial and began with Black Lives Matter protesting police killings of black men. As the initial reason for the protest has morphed, it is hard to know whether the current expressions are driven by heartfelt belief or politics.

In church each Sunday, the spiritual leader leads his or her congregation in both personal and global prayer. This past Sunday the theme of the global prayer was for the families of the Las Vegas shooting victims. The theme of the sermon at Christ Church in Easton, Maryland, was the divine guidance to honor God, not our chosen gods.

The Las Vegas shooting featured a white shooter who had concluded that he was a god and for reasons obscure would kill as many as his weaponry would allow. A man humbled by an understanding of the evil within us and connected with forgiveness and redemption would not have sprayed bullets on concert-goers or anybody else.

The theme of evil within us and opportunity for redemption is the sacred text of the two most important spiritual hymns we sing. And you certainly do not have to attend church to have listened or sung either song. They, at least tonally, are a part of our culture. I suspect after the Star Spangled Banner and America they are the two most familiar songs. The songs: The Battle Hymn of the Republic and Amazing Grace.

The Battle Hymn of the Republic was written by Julia Ward Howe at the outset of the Civil War. She reflected: “I went to bed that night as usual, and slept, according to my wont, quite soundly. I awoke in the gray of the morning twilight; and as I lay waiting for the dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to twine themselves in my mind. Having thought out all the stanzas, I said to myself, ‘I must get up and write these verses down, lest I fall asleep again and forget them.’ So, with a sudden effort, I sprang out of bed and found in the dimness an old stump of a pen which I remembered to have used the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper.”

Howe’s song is woven into our culture. The lyrics of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” appeared in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermons and speeches, most notably in his speech “How Long, Not Long” from the steps of the Alabama State Capitol building on March 25, 1965, after the 3rd Selma March, and in his final sermon “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, delivered in Memphis, Tennessee on the evening of April 3, 1968, the night before his assassination. In fact, the latter sermon, King’s last public words, ends with the initial lyrics of The Battle Hymn of the Republic: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Amazing Grace was written by John Newton. He had been a soldier and then a slave trader and redemptively, a pastor. The first two verses reflect his humility and his understanding of the gift of grace.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Music for many of us, no for most of us, is often our translation key—an emotional expression of what we have come to believe. I stand for our National Anthem, and I do that recognizing that our collective use of weaponry has not always been warranted whether in police shootings or global wars. But, I also understand that for the overwhelming majority of people our anthem is an iconic expression of national unity—“out of many one.”

The President and Vice President look for opportunities to express their faith in Jesus Christ. They should, in His spirit as captured by John Newton, strive for a more graceful presence. It would indeed be a “sweet sound.” A contrary sound suggests exploitation whether by athletes or elected officials.

Historical material sourced from Wikipedia

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Veterans Misperceived by Howard Freedlander

This is a story about a questionable narrative about veterans’ mental health in our modern-day America, told in an unusujal 70-minute musical drama. The impact is powerful. The message is mind-changing.

Jaymes Poling, who spent three tours as part of the elite 82nd Airborne Division, returned to his country having to cope with public perceptions that he and his fellow veterans were damaged goods suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, better known by its ubiquitous acronym, PTSD. He was 17 when he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He retired as a 26-year-old staff sergeant.

Jaynes Poling and Dominick Farinacci

When Poling returned home, seeking help from the Veterans Administration (VA) to adapt to civilian life after serving three separate years as an infantryman in Afghanistan, he immediately received a diagnosis as a victim of PTSD. Medications followed as dispensed by the well-meaning but misdirected VA.

Two fortuitous things happened to Poling: he met a woman in Cleveland and decided to return to school, and he crossed paths with Dominick Farinacci, a world-class trumpeter and music composer. Along the way, Poling decided that PTSD was misapplied in his case. Instead, he had a more positive self-diagnosis: post-traumatic growth.

Collaborating with Farinacci on an autobiographical music drama, Poling realized that veterans not just of his era but throughout history bring special skills to the civilian world. They had learned about leadership, responsibility for themselves and their fellow soldiers and compassion for the men and women with whom they served in combat.

Through the “Modern Warrior Live, which will come to the Avalon in Easton on Saturday, Nov. 18, Farinacci and Poling hope not only to change perceptions about veterans but develop a connection to the civilian world by telling a dramatic story, backed by gripping music. Perhaps, just perhaps, the public will view veterans as having special talents; the “goods” they carry are in their hearts and minds first-rate value and deserve respect.

To better understand the unusual performance, with my admittedly favorable opinion of veterans and the life-threatening experiences they encountered in combat, I spoke with Poling and Farinacci after talking with Richard Marks and Al Sikes–who not only are financial supporters of the Avalon performance but also two gentlemen known as superb volunteers and leaders in the community.

Farinacci said that during his collaboration with Jaymes Poling he saw “the power of music to build bridges, to develop a pathway to empathy, to change perceptions and create a dialogue between the military and civilians.” He repeatedly characterized poling as “authentic.”

During the production of the show, Poling said, “Sometimes the music didn’t feel right. I had to reevaluate times of my life. I had to sort out my feelings. It was not the fault of the music. The artistic musical interactions helped me hone my thoughts.”

As he discussed his life in combat and on civilian turf, Poling said he was careful. “I don’t want to tell stories that don’t belong to me,” he said. While he mentioned the name of a friend and fellow soldier killed in battle, he had checked with the friend’s mother beforehand.

Both Farinacci and Poling agreed that the message of healing and post-traumatic growth had universal implications. It applies to personal tragedy. Poling pointed to people dealing with cancer. “Why assign labels to the survivors? They have issues that provide them with a different filter on life—and a viewpoint that says ‘root for me,’ Poling said.

In summing up his appraisal of “Modern Warrior Live,” Farinacci said, “It was a 100 percent creative development. It stayed true to Jaymes’ story, with magical moments. There is absolutely no substitute for a person who went through it (war), Jaymes allows us to connect to veterans, to find out ‘what did you do?’’ His voice is authentic.”

By the time that the show comes to Easton, it will have played in New York City and Chicago.

Echoing the sentiment expressed by Poling and a videotaped cameo appearance by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Richard Marks said, “The country has to get there, understanding that PTSD is being treated in the wrong way. The show is cathartic and emotional. The veterans are not damaged goods.”

Marks, who served on submarines in the US. Navy, said he learned “the value of dependence on others and a level of camaraderie.” These lessons learned are applicable to civilian life.

A jazz enthusiastic, Al Sikes spoke about Dominic Farinacci’s “lyrical trumpet’ and the emotion it spawns. “You can tell stories with the horn,” he said. He referred to Poling’s powerful narrative.” He too spoke about the retired staff sergeant’s authenticity.

Though he never served in the military. Sikes said he gained a new appreciation for military members after the September 11, 2001 attacks on our American homeland.

I applaud Marks and Sikes for helping to provide the financial support for a music drama intent on changing the image of a military veteran and bridging the gap between combat soldiers and a civilian world drawn to misconceptions about hardened veterans. Memories of combat and death do not vanish; nor are they necessarily personal aspects that should consign veterans to life with a label. While painful at times, heart-wrenching experiences can and do strengthen a person.

Dominick Farinacci and Jaynes Poling have combined their particular skills and experiences into a production embodying creative energy, musical excellence and pure, personal testimony. The result should capture rapt attention and change misconceptions.

Chesapeake Music Presents Modern Warrior Live on Saturday, November 18 at the Avalon starting at 8:00 pm. For more information on tickets please go here.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia. 

Spy Eye: Looking Back at Habitat for Humanity Choptank at Twenty-Five

There was an exceptional and historical moment at the Easton Volunteer Fire Department’s meeting hall last Tuesday evening. A distinguished group of founding board members and volunteers of Habitat for Humanity Choptank gathered for an hour-long forum, moderated by Spy columnist and Habitat volunteer George Merrill, to talk about the organization’s extraordinary twenty-five years in building homes in both Talbot and Dorchester Counties for

This conversation was part of a much larger celebration that Habitat was sponsoring to mark the occasion when hundreds of volunteers and donors met to enjoy barbecue and fellowship to celebrate this extraordinary community achievement.

Founders and volunteers Ed Colaprete, Michelle Friend, Jo Merrill, Larry Neviaser, Phyllis Rambo and Winslow Womack, traded memories and anecdotes about the early years, recounting the challenges and successes of the organization after a quarter of a century of service to the community.

The Talbot Spy was there to share some of those precious memories.

This video is approximately nine minutes in length. For more information about Habitat for Humanity Choptank please go here

No Forwarding Address by George Merrill

In my last column I mentioned having grown interested in writing letters, real letters not email. In part, the idea was born by a book I read about one woman’s discovery in writing letters to people who’ve influenced her life. What she wrote impressed me.

One of the advantages of being an octogenarian is the long view of life that the years provide. I have both the time and the perspective to recall a rich repository of people who have been significant to me. To intentionally think about those people and what they meant to me is not, as you might expect, just going over the same old turf again. There are new discoveries. The recollections reveal new and startling aspects of how I have been influenced by others. Intentionally pondering the meaning of old relationships is filled with meaning and at oftentimes, surprises.

I’m thinking particularly about a recent letter I wrote – the second one I wrote with an intention to communicate gratitude for what she meant for me. I sent the letter to Maureen.

She was a colleague of whom I was always fond, but at the time I hadn’t realized just what it was about Maureen that drew me to her. We worked together thirty-five years ago. She had that ineffable characteristic gentle people possess: an unassuming presence that brings grace to whatever they’re about. In some ways she seemed to be able impute life even to things as inanimate as a small pile of stones.

Maureen had been a nun in a cloistered community. After years of discernment, she discovered she was being called to a new ministry. She received training and served both as a hospital chaplain and a pastoral counselor.

Occasionally she would lead small groups in meditations. She’d craft small objects as aids to the meditations she’d lead. There was one I remember. From one point of view it was wholly unremarkable. My memory of it – were talking some twenty to twenty-five years ago– is admittedly sketchy. My mind’s eye recollects a pile of small stones, placed on a dish. A candle was placed on the mound.  It seemed to me at that moment that the stones became like some ancient monument to a holy site. Some spiritual awakening had occurred and a small mound of stones had been erected to memorialize it. There is no material monument left by Maureen’s meditation except the picture in my mind and while the details are hazy, the feeling of awe, a sense of the holy is not.

As fuzzy as the image remains in my mind, and that I don’t even recall the particular subject of the meditation, the impression remains and the feeling I have about it is undeniable. She had the gift to bring a spiritual awareness to the things to which she gave her attention, significance that, of themselves, they didn’t possess. She didn’t teach the stones to talk. She invited them to communicate a mystical presence by the intentions she invested in them as she assembled them for the meditation rite.

I’ve sometimes thought of specific places like Lourdes or the Mount of Olives as holy places. I’m beginning to believe that by itself a place is not holy – what makes it holy is the time, the place and the people converging on it at a particular instant. All the circumstances at a particular moment conspire to create an experience that transcends time and place to reveal a new reality, as if by being present with open hearts a small window in the firmament of heaven is thrown open, revealing something of the eternity beyond it.

I will not know what Maureen may think of the letter or even if she will see her graces the way I describe them. I’m not sure she will recollect our common history in the same way as I have. I have seen that happen in families eager to share reminiscences only to discover that one may see particular moments very differently from others. Is it then possible that our experiences with each other may not be as significant when we all see the moment in the same way? We all have our town take. Our shared history with each other is indeed mixed. Few of us will ever know the full impact we have had on another. It may remain hidden for years as if under a small mound of stones.

Sending the letter became my way of reconnecting and celebrating what others have meant to me. Beginning to write the letters I find the hardest part. At first I have only a person’s image in my mind’s eye or some associated objects. Soon a feeling follows. It’s hard to put into words. For a while I’ll draw a blank, but soon recollections begin to take shape and the words come to express my gratitude.

There’s a Christian teaching called the ‘communion of saints.’ It’s stated this way: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight . . .” When I was a boy, I imagined that I was surrounded by all my relatives who’d died, gone to heaven and they hovered around me, invisible, rooting for me like Casper the friendly ghost. They were my celestial guardians. My youthful understanding of the communion of saints did not survive my seminary education, intact. One thing changed: I believe that those witnesses compassing about me now include many of the living. And I can send them letters, unlike friendly ghosts or even saints that we assume reside in heaven but never leave forwarding addresses.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Spy Minute: Londonderry Toasts 25th Year Anniversary

It’s always a great moment when a respected community turns 25 years old. That quarter-century mark is one of the best indicators that the organization being celebrated has reached a point of maturity which promises a long healthy life to come, and there is no better example of this than Londonderry on the Tred Avon birthday bash this week.

While Londonderry has always had a sense of rock-solid stability, mainly since has been anchored by a 19th century Gothic Revival manor house, with now over 97 cottages and 26 apartments along the Tred Avon River, it is also true that for the first ten years of its existence, the then revolutionary new retirement community struggled against many odds to keep from closing, including revised partnership agreements, legal entanglements, and more recently, the unchartered waters that came with the Great Recession of 2008.

All of that is now ancient history as Londonderry is currently experiencing a waiting list for future residents, expanding its cottages and adding a large clubhouse this year.

As David Hazen said at the end of his comprehensive history of Londonderry noted, “Londonderry On The Tred Avon, nee The Retirement Community of Easton, Inc., can face the future knowing that it has been a great home for its residents of the past, while looking forward to being an even greater one for those of the future.”

The Spy was there a few nights ago to capture the scene as residents and friends gathered to toast Londonderry and its future.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information about Londonderry on the Tred Avon please go here

 

Easton Business Alliance and For All Seasons Kick Off “No Matter What…You Matter”

On October 6, 2017, from 5 to 8 p.m., For All Seasons will kick off its NO MATTER WHAT . . . YOU MATTER Campaign at the Bartlett Pear at 28 South Harrison Street in Easton. The event will include refreshments and live music provided by the Choptank River Big Band. The event kicks off Mental Health Awareness Week (October 7 – 14, 2017) and the launch of For All Seasons new suicide prevention campaign, NO MATTER WHAT…YOU MATTER. The event is part of the Easton Business Alliance’s First Friday stroll through the local galleries and shops.

The Suicide Prevention Campaign was inspired by the soundtrack of the Tony Award winning Broadway musical, “Dear Evan Hansen.” This past spring, Amy Haines and Richard Marks’ Dock Street Foundation invited 40 representatives from several Talbot County service agencies and educational institutions to board a bus bound for NYC to see Ben Platt and the cast of “Dear Evan Hansen.” Both Haines and Marks had seen the play and felt it would be helpful if shared with our local providers of care. They noted, “We were moved and inspired by the relevance and impact of the show particularly as it incorporated social media’s influence on our society and youth. We appreciate For All Season’s leadership and coordination with all agencies in our community assisting our citizens facing mental and emotional challenges.”

For All Seasons Executive Director Beth Anne Langrell shares that returning from the show she knew that Richard and Amy’s gift could last much more than just one day. She thought it offered an opportunity to reach students and those in the community in the same way that the show reached everyone on the trip that day. It was then that For All Seasons decided to begin a new campaign and start a conversation about suicide prevention.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) every 13 minutes someone dies by suicide. For every suicide, 25 suicide attempts are made. In addition, 1 in 5 Americans live with a mental health condition.

For All Seasons hopes that by discussing the signs and symptoms associated with suicide that it can raise awareness about the issue in our community. Because family and friends are often the first to recognize the warning signs of suicide, they can be critical to helping an individual find treatment with a provider who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions.

For All Seasons wants people to know that If they think a friend or family member is considering suicide, they should reach out and start a conversation. Talking openly about suicidal thoughts and feelings can save a life. The following are three steps to help people begin the conversation:

Ask directly – “Are you having suicidal thoughts?” – Let them know you care.
Stay and Listen – Let them share their thoughts and feelings.
Get help – Connect them with a friend, family member or crisis hotline at 1-888-407-8018.

Langrell adds, “The launch of our campaign, No Matter What . . . You Matter will create an ongoing dialogue with agencies and educators who attended the musical, as well as others who are interested in joining the conversation about this growing issue in our community. The campaign will include dialogue circles, educational outreach and community events. We want people to know that no matter what, they matter.

The Easton Business Alliance is participating by donating a portion of their sales on specific dates during Mental Health Awareness Week toward For All Seasons Suicide Prevention Campaign. The following Easton businesses are donating on the dates listed:

Bon Mojo – Friday, October 13, Chef and Shower – Saturday, October 14, Colonial Jewelers of Easton – Friday, October 13, Easton Bowl – Friday, October 13, Harrison’s Wines and Liquors – Wednesday, October 11, Kiln Born Creations – Sunday, October 8, Krave – Friday, October 13, La De Da – Friday, October 13, Levity – Thursday, October 12, Lizzie Dee – Wednesday, October 11, Marc | Randall – Friday, October 13, Nestled Baby & Child – Friday, October 13, Out of the Fire- Thursday, October 12, Rise Up Coffee – Tuesday, October 10, Trade Whim – Friday, October 13, and Vintage Books and Fine Arts – Friday, October 13.

Additional sponsors include Acme, Ashley Insurance, Bartlett Pear Inn, Choptank River Big Band, Doc’s Downtown Grille, Easton Business , Easton Pizzeria, Hair of the Dog, Laser Letters, QATV, Talbot Mentors, Tidewater Inn, Ed & Beth Anne Langrell, Diane Flagler, Mary Wittemann & David Urbani, and Westphal Jewelers.

For All Seasons provides Trauma Certified Individual, Family and Group Therapy; Crisis and Advocacy Services for Adult, Child & Adolescent Victims of Sexual Assault, Rape & Trauma; Adult, Child & Adolescent Psychiatry; Substance Use Disorder Services (in collaboration with Corsica River Substance Use Disorder Services).

For All Seasons offers individual and group therapy, general, child and adolescent therapy, marriage and couples counseling, grief counseling, school-based mental health therapy, urgent care services, Rape Crisis Response, Rape Crisis Counseling and Support, 24-Hour English and Spanish Hotlines, and education and outreach programming. For further information about For All Seasons, call 410-822-1018. For the 24-Hour Crisis Hotline, call Toll-Free: 800-310-7273.

TAP: Rocky’s Horror Comes to Oxford

To provide some historical context for the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which the Tred Avon Players will be offering this October, the play is almost twice as old as Talley Wilford, the production’s director. The lead, Mike Sousa, who plays Dr. Frank-N-Furter, was born twelve years after the original started in London in 1973. You get the idea.

While one still thinks of Rocky Horror as a very contemporary piece of work, the fact is that it’s been around for almost five decades. That’s both the charm and the challenge when the classic is brought back to the stage year after year.

The exceptional charm comes with a story that has been told thousands of times on screen and in the theatre, and yet not only seems as fresh and humorously shocking as when it debuted but continues to attract new generations to sing along with the mad scientist and his servants.

The challenge comes to any director or actor who wants to take the ionic material and make it their own, and that is what Talley and Mike talk to the Spy about in our latest interview with the Tred Avon Players.

Talley and Mike also talk about how they first encountered Rocky Horror and the indelible imprint it had on their love of theatre and musical comedy.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. 

Performances for the  Rocky Horror Picture Show are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thurs., Fri. & Sat., Oct. 19, 20 & 21, & 2 p.m. Sun., Oct. 22; and 7:30 p.m. Thurs., Fri. & Sat., Oct 26, 27 & 28, and 2 p.m. Sun., Oct. 29.  And A special MIDNIGHT SHOW on Friday Night Oct. 27 Call 410-226-0061 or visit the Tred Avon Players website for more information and ticketing. 

 

Contrarian Thoughts on Conservatism by Al Sikes

Authentic Conservatism is Careful

“Regular order” is a new technical phrase to most people. It is also a pivotal dimension in making law the right way. It simply means that the Congress will handle bills that are proposed with hearings, mark-up (amendment process), and debate in a public forum.In the Obama Administration the Democrats evoked Republican anger by not following “regular order” in passing what has become known as Obamacare. The Republicans, less cohesive, have tried to do the same thing but failed. A key Senator, John McCain, refused to go along and was pilloried by a wide range of so-called conservative pundits. I will miss Senator McCain.Do conservatives prefer disorder or backroom deals guided by lobbyists? A failure to follow regular order is anti-conservative.

Equipping a Small Army

The Wall Street Journal reported that Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter, was not on any law enforcement radar. It is shocking that a person can assemble enough weaponry to start a small war, without a trace, at a time when Amazon, Google and Facebook know the details of our private lives. Conservatives should, by nature, be cautious. Blocking attempts to track gun sales is not conservative. When Paddock’s purchases hit a high-risk tipping point, he should have been on the radar.The second amendment to the US constitution says: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  Paddock was not buying a musket so that he could become a part of a “well regulated militia.”

Tax Cuts and Deficits

The prospective tax cut plans have been dribbling out for the last several months. It is no surprise that the debate is quickly becoming polarized, even though details are in short supply.I happen to believe we are in need of tax reform and applaud reform initiatives. But, reform will not be conservative if it adds to the national debt. And, as noted above, if it is not shaped by a rigorous public process, the American public will be right to believe that the K Street crowd (tax lobbyist hangout) will have subordinated the public by having more influence than its representatives.

Current River

Last week my wife and I returned to my home state to canoe the spring- fed streams that flow through the federal and state forests of south central Missouri. The weather was stunning and the spring flows were undeterred by the drought. The quiet, only interrupted by otters, waterfalls and a variety of ducks and herons was restorative. My advice: don’t fly over Missouri to float the streams of the West. Stop there and then go west. By the way, there are no fires in the Missouri forests.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

 

Out and About (Sort of): Time to Move On by Howard Freedlander

When I think about the 10-part “The Vietnam War” documentary completed last week on the Public Broadcasting System, I feel overwhelmed with emotion. It preoccupied me.

I wrote last week about my reaction to the first five episodes. I won’t rehash my comments. I was transfixed by the history of a war that proved so divisive and disruptive to our roiling country. Ken Burns and Lynn Novick produced a superbly written, studiously well-balanced and beautifully filmed documentary. The experience watching this often unpleasant history lesson was unlike any other in my life.

So, I will describe my emotions, felt, I suspect, by many others:

I felt admiration and empathy for our American soldiers (all-inclusive usage for the sake of this column). They fought bravely. They fought well. They fought amid often ill-advised strategy developed sometimes by politicians. Roughly 58,000 died against a relentless, highly motivated enemy.

As I listened to the voices of John Musgrave, Roger Harris, Tim O’Brien, Matt Harrison, Bill Erhardt, Hal Kushner, Vincent Okamoto, Ron Ferrizzi and many other veterans, I marveled at their candor, their passion and their sorrow. Their comments reflected the violence, the ambivalence and the pain of the ill-fated Vietnam War.

In response to the equally honest and passionate North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers interviewed for this remarkable documentary, I felt a human understanding of their courage, their longing for family and their mixed feelings about a war that divided and damaged their own country. These men and women fought to win and destroy the South Vietnamese and American troops.

Yet soldiers on both sides wondered: was it worth it? Was the end result a proud one?

Through the lens of this documentary, I viewed again the protests. I viewed again the riots in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention and mourned the disorder sowed by the protesters and abetted by the ill-prepared police. In 1968, I despised the objectionable, obnoxious and sometimes destructive behavior of the protesters. Now, I commend their courage, their willingness to rail against a corrupt war. I was disgusted then. I’m more sanguine now–though I still condemn riots that visit destruction upon small businesses and place the police in unenviable positions.

When I learned again, after 50 years, about seasoned veterans taking to the streets to proclaim peace, I walked back my criticism of those who opposed the Vietnam War. These men had felt the sting of buddies killed in action. They had followed stupid orders to rack up body counts. They understood the savagery of war. When some tossed away their medals during a protest at the White House, as portrayed during the documentary, I felt moved by their resistance to the continuation of a war whose purpose they questioned.

As I did when it was reported in the media, I felt repulsed by the My Lai Massacre, which occurred in March 1968. Between 350 and 500 unarmed civilians died in an outburst of inhumanity and moral depravity. Again, as so often happens, I also feel torn. While killing is legal in war, almost second nature, the murder of civilians–who may or may not have harbored the Viet Cong–is wanton human destruction. Anger and frustration over the loss of fellow soldiers can be tough to control; yet indiscriminate killing of noncombatants is intolerable.

I found bothersome but not surprising the continuous lying and deceit by Presidents Lyndon Barnes Johnson and Richard Nixon. Their preoccupation with winning their next elections and avoiding political embarrassment seemingly drove their decision-making. Their concerns about lives lost by their decisions not to unleash strategic bombing or delay peace negotiations were unconscionable.

Lest I seem too forgiving of the North Vietnamese, I learned about the increasingly influential impact of communism on leadership in Hanoi. The more palatable nationalistic actions and philosophy of Ho Ching Minh fell
victims to darker forces. Le Duan, the powerful leader who surpassed Uncle Ho in planning military operations, sent thousands and thousands of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers to their deaths during Tet and a post-Tet offensive.

Unlike Ho Ching Minh, Le Duan harbored no warm feelings about America. He was hell-bent on conquering the South and sending the Americans home to a country also divided by social, political and cultural conflict. I bemoaned too the immorality of our fervent and violent enemy.

The American evacuation of Saigon was ugly and messy, as was the war. We turned our backs on people who trusted us. It was tough to watch our abandonment of former friends. Due to Watergate and his resignation, Nixon could not fulfill his promise to help South Vietnam from being overrun. Then, Congress decided, maybe understandably so, to authorize no more money to South Vietnam. It was heart-wrenching to watch the results of our inaction.

“The Vietnam War” documentary ended on a redemptive note, showing some veterans returning to Vietnam and connecting with former adversaries. The history the 10 episodes so exquisitely purveyed filled me with dread and distress; at the same time, I felt enormous pride in our troops, who persevered on unfamiliar terrain littered with bad decisions: take that hill, give up that hill and then retake it.

The 10th and final episode devoted a segment to the Vietnam Memorial built in 1982 in Washington, DC. It too was racked by controversy over its stark, black granite design. Nothing was easy about this war. Some of the splendid veterans who spoke frequently during the documentary testified to the healing effect of this powerful monument containing the names of 58,000 dead American soldiers.

“The Vietnam War” documentary portrayed a troubled 10-year war fought by our country, gradually riven by socioeconomic and cultural conflict. I feel and believe that some of these rending fissures still remain and haunt our fragile nation, caused ironically by engagement in a civil war in Southwest Asia.

Time to move on–armed with memories of a difficult decade.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

One Remedy: The Chesapeake Bay Herb Society’s Special Garden

“Gardeners, I think, dream bigger than emperors.”
— Mary Cantwell  New York Times journalist

Mary Cantwell might have been thinking of herb gardeners when she talked about dreaming “bigger,” and could well include members of the Chesapeake Bay Herb Society when looking at the results of their thirteen years of hard work at the Pickering Creek Audubon Center.

Formed in 2002 by a small group of enthusiastic herb gardeners who placed a small ad in the Star-Democrat asking for volunteers, the Chesapeake Bay Herb Society’s membership now stands at fifty, with once a month gatherings to discuss the region’s remarkable herbs and their care.

But, as our Spy interview with some of the Herb Society’s founders (Denis Gasper, Spencer Garrett, and Dana McGrath) indicate,  it has always been their beloved herb garden at Pickering that has been the central focus of the organization’s mission and labor of love.

Drawn by the culinary or medicinal purposes that herbs can be used for, the Society has collected an extremely robust variety for the general public to observe and also take home with them. It also welcomes new volunteers to help with the weekly management of the site.

The benefits of both activities can be keenly felt by those that participate, but perhaps the greatest attribute for the CBHS’s garden is that of being a sort of remedy; a place to see, smell and taste some of the world’s wonders in a sanctuary setting that allows all those that enter a chance to “dream bigger.”

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about the Chesapeake Bay Herb Society please go here