The Clearing Round

A column written by John Schluep, D.Min. Intended to inform and stimulate thoughtful conversation about returning home from military service.
Your comments, constructive criticsim and thoughtful responses are welcomed.
January 2017
The Clearing Round
Dr. John Schluep

Soldiers follow orders; warriors act in the best interest of the people. (Michael Meade)

Recently I received a forwarded e-mail column of the New York Times from a friend of mine living in Georgia. The article announced Larry Colburn, Who Helped Stop My Lai Massacre, Dies at 67. (New York Times 17 December 2016)

In many presentations I make over the year I mention the My Lai Massacre and how that story was part and partial of the Warriors’ Journey Home Ministry genesis. For many in the audience there is no remembrance of My Lai, even of those who were of age to hear about the account. Some who were serving in Viet Nam reflect, “That went on other times in villages other than My Lai. That was one that was reported.” For the younger folks it doesn’t warrant a place in their history book.

The New York Times article begins, “Larry Colburn, who became an 18-year old American hero when he intervened with two comrades to halt the massacre of unarmed Vietnamese civilians by United States soldiers in 1968, elevating an innocuous hamlet named My Lai into a watchword for the horrors of war, died on Tuesday at his home in Canton, Georgia. He was 67.

The emphasis of the Clearing Round is to speak to the warrior character. CWO Hugh Thompson, Jr. was the helicopter pilot who witnessed American soldiers advancing on unarmed Vietnamese and shooting at retreating women, children, and the elderly. CWO Thompson positioned his helicopter between the advancing American soldiers and the Vietnamese people shielding them from the firing. He confronted the officer in charge, Lt. William Calley but was rebuffed.

CWO Thompson, his Crew Chief Glen Andreotta and door gunner Larry Colburn agreed to protect the fleeing Vietnamese, turning their door guns toward the advancing Americans, and if necessary, opening fire to protect the civilians. They found ten villagers hiding and coaxing them out took them to safety by two Huey gunships. I invite you to read the entire story in the New York Time article.

Here is the point: Hugh Thompson, Glen Andreotta and Larry Colburn were warriors and are examples of the highest ideals which all who serve aspire: To protect the most vulnerable. I don’t know if they would consider themselves “heroes” as I have never met a veteran refer to him/herself as such – but they are good warriors worthy of emulation.

What it is like to go to war

It’s me here...

The boy from the old days, the returning soldier Carrying the rain on my shoulder...

without glory...

it’s me here

Please don’t stay distant and please don’t look at me that way even if I bear a wound on my body

I am whole with an unchanging heart.

(Tran Quang Quy)

Signs of the spirit

Andy Mull

As I have grown in age and in faith I seem to see spiritual signs in my life more frequently than I used to. Considering some of the experiences that I have survived, I attribute this to heightened spiritual perceptiveness rather than a heightened level of intervention.

Recently I was walking the dog at dawn, as is our custom. The day before had been a dark one, both physically and spiritually. My wife Liz had just had spinal surgery, which had been scary for both of us. For several days her recovery at home had seemed to go smoothly. She wore her cervical collar day and night, stayed quiet, and was careful to limit movement of her head and neck. On Halloween, the smooth recovery crashed. She spiked a fever, and suffered with flu-like symptoms. When she was discharged from the hospital, the nurse had briefed us on “the magic number” of how high a fever could get before it became an emergency. She hovered right at the edge of that number. Neither of us desired a trip to the Emergency Room on Halloween night. Around noon we decided that she could try coming out to the kitchen for some of the homemade chicken soup that a friend had sent in. She got through about half of the small bowl that I had warmed for her, and then she announced that she would use the bathroom and then go back to bed. When she finished she stood at the sink to wash her hands while I hovered nearby. I saw that she had not pulled her pajama pants all the way back up, and I stepped behind her to gently tug the waistband up into place. As I was doing this, she suddenly fainted from the fever and collapsed as dead weight into my arms. I was perfectly placed to catch her under her arms and guide her gently to the ground. I had to step out of the bathroom into the hall to do this, for in the small bathroom any other direction would have her impacting the sink, the toilet, the tub, the radiator, or the wall. Any of those options would have been disastrous, with a fused vertebrae in her neck in the earliest stages of healing. I offered to carry her back to bed, but the moment had passed, and she was able to rise to her feet and walk back to bed with my assistance.

The afternoon passed slowly. I did my best to care for her, knowing that I could give better care at home, especially on that night. As the time for the observance of Halloween arrived, our daughter Megan came over to help, so that I could mind the front door without leaving Liz unattended. I am aware of the Celtic origins of our Halloween as Samhain, the time when the veil between our world and the world of the dead was at its thinnest. The ancient Celts dreaded this night, and they would stay awake all night fearing trouble from their dead enemies. This fear is where the practice of wearing costumes on this night originated. I have always perceived a dark edge around the holiday, and Liz and I have always tried to keep the focus on the positive aspects of it. The kids were polite, the costumes ran the gamut from charming to creepy, and I was happy to hand out the store of candy that we had purchased for the occasion. The night seemed to drag on, between checking the fever and checking the front door for ghouls, fairy princesses, and ladybugs. At last, official Halloween was over, and the fever broke soon after. Rain moved in. We changed the clocks and went to bed hoping for the best through the rest of the long night.

The morning dawned clear and beautiful. I headed out with my Shiba Inu “Kit” for his morning walk. We covered the miles at a good pace, and I wondered how long it would be before the hanging skeletons, front yard graveyards, and spider webs would be gone. As we came full circle to our own driveway, I was stunned to see a four-point buck standing on the corner at Lee and Corydon, incongruous in such an urban setting. I have grown up in the neighborhood, and I have seen deer before. Mostly does and fawns, but this felt different. He looked majestic, with the rising sun giving him a golden glow as he looked me in the eyes. I felt a wave of peace and assurance. He took two steps toward me, still holding my gaze. I had a feeling that this storm was over. Others would come, but for now, we were alright. I was reminded of St. Patrick’s Blessing of the elements, known as “The Deer’s Cry”

I arise this day, through the strength of Heaven.
Light of Sun, Radiance of Moon. Splendor of Fire,
Speed of Lightning. Swiftness of Wind, Depth of Sea.
Stability of Earth, Firmness of Rock.

It was a new day. We were moving forward again, and we do not walk alone.