History and Highlights from the Military Writer’s Conference 2017

Recently, the Military Writer’s Society had their annual Book Conference and Awards Banquet in San Antonio, Texas. What is it about a conference that brings you back motivated, energized and ready to write?  Networking!IMG_2475

The MWSA is chocker-block full of fantastic talent.  A group made up of active and retired military, military buffs, historians, writers, poets, and educators. The group spans several generations.  The youngest author?  A lovely, young, military dependent all of age 12, Grace Remey! There were representatives from World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.  Navy, Army, and Air Force.  What a collection of talent in one room.

The program’s theme was World War I this time, but there were presentations not only relating to history, but panel discussions and “how-to”s.  I was lucky enough to serve on a panel discussing Social Media and its impact on book marketing and networking.  Members included MWSA Awards Director, John Cathcart; award winning author Jack Woodville London; historian Dana Tibbetts and was moderated by MWSA board member Valerie Ormond.  Valerie, a retired naval officer is one of AgeView Press’s Valerie Ormond Belle of Steel.IMG_2483

Set at a historic and supposedly haunted hotel, The Menger, the locale was a perfect backdrop for a conference group that loves history.  The Menger sits directly across from the Alamo.  Many famous authors have written at The Menger such as Robert Frost and Oscar Wilde.  One couldn’t help but be inspired, not only by the architecture but the hotel’s grandeur and reputation.

The three day event provided a service program to veterans at San Antonio Medical Center.  “Telling your Story” focused on writing as therapy for PTSD.  Just gives you chills doesn’t it?  While there, a load of books from writers of the MWSA were donated.   One of the most popular talks was given on anthologies, which are collections of stories, either by one author, one subject or multiple authors.  Examples and standards of how to run a writer’s group were also a part of that presentation by Navy pilot Jim Tritten and Pat Walkow from the Corrales Writing Group of New Mexico. IMG_2486

On Saturday, the premier event was the 2017 MWSA Book Awards.  There were approximately 79 books submitted for scrutinization and review.  Many didn’t make the cut. A select few made the lists as finalists.  Awards of gold, silver or bronze medals were awarded based on strict criterion.  One of my books, Eternally at War was awarded the bronze medal in the category of memoir.  Admist this room of excellence, I was humbled. IMG_2502

If you have an interest in the military and writing, this is definitely a group you should check out.  Warm, welcoming, and advisory – they uphold a superior standard of literature.

You survived Vietnam, but what about its aftermath?

Four decades after the Vietnam War, many veterans are still questioning why me? Some still suffer form post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. For many honorable service men and women, it is a condition that just won’t go away.  According to one veteran, “we all came back with some form of PTSD, some were just more affected than others.”

As a trauma nurse, I have seen this over and over in my patients. As a writer, I have heard this over and over from my military colleagues, whether they were in the air or on the ground. This issue was called shell shock in WWII. It was worse after Korea and continued it’s increase post-Vietnam. And now is horrific according the number of cases from our Iraq and Afghanistan vets.  In fact, the type of PTSD being seen in many of our current combat veterans is so bad, it is called moral bankruptcy. Our military are being asked to do and see such horrific things, going against the very fiber of their being for what they know to be just and right, the consequences are catastrophic.

Captain Robert “Gene” Lathrop was a USMC pilot who believes he went to Vietnam with a form of PTSD. He arrived there in 1968, interestingly enough, during the TET offensive. During fifteen months, he flew over 275 missions. While in Vietnam, his squadron VMA-311 flew 54,625 sorties dropping over 9 million tons of bombs. That record will never be broken.

picture of pilot Robert Gene Lathrop

Captain Robert “Gene” Lathrop, USMC

Lathrop returned seemingly unscathed until ten years after the fact. That delay in the onset of PTSD is common in vets. What started as nightmares and cold sweats, quickly progressed to anxiety and hallucinations involving the flames of napalm. Desperate to hold onto his second marriage, he and his wife initially sought counseling. Luckily,  a female psychotherapist up on the latest research broached the touchy subject – she suggested that Gene was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Initially he balked at the thought of treatment. But further conflict with family and an incident as work provocated his admission for in-patient treatment at American Lakes VA center.

During the 1980s, therapist and psychologists were treating the disorder the best way they knew how.  Oftentimes opening up a damn of emotion which release a hurricane of feelings for which the patient was not prepared.  Sessions were intense with profound rage, grief, tears, and sorrow as veterans were encouraged to bring out long repressed memories.  When the emotions became unmanageable, the answer was medication.  Heavy sedatives, anti-psychotics, and anti-anxiety drugs were the fixers. Or so they thought.

Through the love and support of his wife, Gene endured this therapy, its aftermath, and finally experienced an evolved standard of care for those with PTSD. In the research for the completion of his memoir ETERNALLY AT WAR, I came across many veterans who told a similar story. Much of this material came from the Vietnam Center and Archive at Texas Tech University, the largest national repository of oral histories, photography, film and literature that has been converted by the graduate students into digital format such that the memories of those involved in Vietnam, from doughnut dollies to pilots can be preserved.eternally-at-war-ecoversmall

According to Dr. Richard Verrone, previous Director of the Oral History Project, “The archive is invaluable for many reasons but especially for preserving the history of the Vietnam War and, in the process of doing so, honoring those who served.  We tried to make sure our work was thorough, accurate, personal, and beneficial to future researchers. And, of course, our work was a way to honor those people we interviewed. It was incredibly rewarding to me to be able to help veterans with their PTSD issues as we did the interviews, if that was a possibility.  I certainly made the effort to broach the subject if they were willing, and I wanted to get it out there, to remove any layers that were there, to help those who would research in the interviews better understand this terrible condition.  As an instructor here at Texas Tech in the Department of History, I have had in my classes over the years many veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Their PTSD issues mirror almost exactly those in the Vietnam interviews.”

Some veterans had coped by simply forgetting the past and moving on. Even talking about the war, brought heavy emotions back to the surface. Many of those interviewed for my research could not complete the process. Although some veterans find comfort in hanging out with their peers in the form of reunions or gatherings at a local VFW,  Lathrop found comfort in dealing with the aftermath of Vietnam through the written word. His powerful and frank poetry in THE DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN and now his brutally honest memoir are a brilliant window into the atrocities of a controversial war and the survival of its aftermath. He believed that society has a responsibility to care for all veterans when they return to peacetime and aid them to recovery after their sacrifices. “We owe it to the Vietnam generation, it’s an amazing sacrifice that they made. But it’s also the path ahead for the Iraq and Afghanistan generation. We have to do better than we did for Vietnam,” according to Dr. Charles Marmar, Director of The Steven & Alexandra Cohen Veterans Center at NYU Langone Medical Center. AgeView Press agrees and therefore is honored to produce Lathrop’s works.

 

 

The Forgotten Victims: significant others trying to cope with a partner’s PTSD

Almost forty years later, many veterans are still dealing with the aftermath of the Vietnam War in the form of PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder.  In fact, over a quarter of a million Vietnam Veterans have in one form or another (Handwerk, 2015). For their significant others, the caregiver burden is at times overwhelming.  It is the atrocity of war that simply won’t go away.  These caregivers are the forgotten victims.ptsd1

When living with a traumatized veteran, it is often the spouse or significant other that must pick up the yoke in managing the household.  Coping with the emotional outbursts, nightmares, negativity and lack of intimacy of their PTSD afflicted partner takes its toll.  A number of studies revealed that veteran’s PTSD symptoms negatively impact family relationships (Calhoun et al, 2002).  So much so that these negative relationships actually inversely impact and sometimes exacerbate the PTSD.

As therapists explain, therapy, in order for a PTSD affected person to improve, is two-pronged;  establishment of close relationships and the ability to spend time with those also involved in the same type of combat, for example at VFWs or squadron reunions.  When one of these two processes is broken, many times the PTSD only worsens producing compromised relationships, family violence, divorce, sexual problems, aggression, depression, and increased caregiver burden (Mikulincer et al, (1995).

Impaired relationship functioning produces a high rate of separation and divorce in these veterans. In fact, about 38% of Vietnam veteran marriages failed within six months of the veteran’s return from Southeast Asia. Rates of divorce for veterans with PTSD were two times greater than for those veterans without the disorder.  Those with PTSD were three times as likely to divorce two or three times. (Kulka et al, 1990).ptsd2

Many of the impaired relationship aspects involve communication and intimacy. The PTSD veteran simply can’t relate to everyday living. A sense of anxiety exists around intimacy which can lead to sexual dysfunction and decreased couple satisfaction and adjustment.  They simply feel they don’t know each other anymore.

The severity of the veteran’s PTSD symptoms correlated with the severity of physical and verbal aggression family outbursts. One study reported that 92% of veterans with PTSD had committed at least one act of verbal aggression against their partner.  In the same study 42% admitted to at least one act of physical violence.

Because of this data, Veterans Affairs PTSD programs and Vet Centers are now offering groups, couples, and individual programs for families of veterans with PTSD.  This is a huge relief for caregivers and partners who were shell shocked themselves at the behaviors coming from loved ones that just don’t make sense.ptsdvets-with-ptsd

Joy Lathrop, the wife of a USMC pilot who served in Vietnam described guilt and frustration in her inability to manage the outbursts.  Ten years into their marriage, which was a second for both of them, the nightmares began in her spouse.  Then followed his tears and inability to control his emotions.  Friends and family at gatherings complained about the repetitive stories of Vietnam.  Her teenage daughter was embarrassed and began to spend time away from home with friends.  Neighbors complained about his erratic behavior. There were times when she herself thought she was going crazy dealing with it all.

But Joy was determined to not become another divorce statistic. She scoured the library for books and research.  She educated herself about the disorder and how best to overcome its manifestations, which is key to caregiver survival (Johnson, 2002). She sought out couples therapy and support groups. But mostly she tried to remind herself every day that the man she married was still in there.  In her heart, she knew he was still her husband.  It was the PTSD that was to blame.  The verbal assaults and then his own guilt over it was what made him seem so distant and aloof.

Joy, like the others in the studies did what she could to maintain a sense of normalcy with household up-keep, family relationships, and general day to day life.  She found tasks for him to be involved in that capitalized on his strengths, like small projects and planning historical travel.  She was patient with his hours at the typewriter, excising his demons through verse.  She attempted these strategies with little or no expectation for their outcome.  Thus, when something worked, it felt like a success.  She also took time to care for herself to renew her own spirit and will to continue.

Her husband’s book of poems, THE DARK SIDE HEAVEN, recently published by AgeView Press, was the source for him expressing the conflicting emotions of carrying out the missions required during Vietnam.  He found writing so therapeutic that he also penned a memoir, ETERNALLY AT WAR which is due to be published in 2016. In addition, he completed an oral interview with Texas Tech University Vietnam Center and Archive which allowed him to relate his journey.TDSH ecover

Theirs was a success story.  But as the research shows, many others are not. The most important message for families living with a traumatized victim is that they are not alone.  These emotional struggles, although difficult and painful are normal (Price and Stevens, 2010).  Social media now abounds with free support groups.  Just like in the veterans, talking about it helps.  Seeking out support, education, and therapy will help improve family relationships and overall mental health.

“We owe it to the Vietnam generation, it’s an amazing sacrifice that they made,” says Dr. Charles Marmar, Director of The Steven & Alexandra Cohen Veterans Center at the NYU Langone Medical Center. “But it’s also the path ahead for the Iraq and Afghanistan generation, and we have to do better than we did for Vietnam.”

There are several excellent resources:

VA Caregiver Support:  (1-855-260-3274) provides caregiver support those caring for a loved one with PTSD.

National Center for PTSD

Coaching Into Care: A VA program that works with families who become aware that their loved one has traumatic issues post-deployment and finds resources for help. (1-888-823-7458)  CoachingIntoCare@va.gov

Twitter:   @ptsdPLUS  @VA-PTSD_Info  @Help4VetsPTSD

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/#!/PTSD-Support-And-Recovery-275580472648386/?fref=ts

Back from the front:  combat trauma, love, and the family.  Matsakis, A. (2007). Sidran Press, ISBN 188698187.

After the war zone: a practical guide for returning troops and their families. Slone, L. and Friedman, M. (2008). Da Capo Press, ISBN 1600940544.

References:

Calhoun, P., Beckham, J. & Bosworth, H. (2002). Caregiver burden and       psychological distress in partners of Veterans with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 15 (205-212).

Handwerk, B. (2015). Over a Quarter-Million Vietnam War Veterans Still Have PTSD. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/over-quarter-million-vietnam-war-veterans-still-have-ptsd-180955997/?no-ist

Kulka, R., Schlenger, W., Fairbank, J. Hough, R., Jordan, B., Marmar, C. et al. (1990). Trauma and the Vietnam War generation:  report of findings from the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study.  New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Mikulincer, M., Florian, V., & Solomon, Z. (1995). Marital intimacy, family support, and secondary traumatization: a study of wives of veterans with combat stress reaction. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping, 8 (203-213).

Price, J., and Stevens, S. Partners of veterans with PTSD:  research findings. http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/family/partners-of-vets.asp

The Dark Side of Heaven – one Vietnam pilot’s perspective on the atrocities of war

What does it take to erase memories of the atrocities of war? Many a veteran of conflict struggle with this question. Through withdrawal, social faux paux, story telling or even failed self-medication with mind altering substances they attempt to numb the horrific images, sounds, nightmares, panic attacks, moral questioning paranoia and psychoses as survivors of war.  Welcome to the world of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Our Vietnam veterans attempt to cope with this each and every day. They celebrate their successes in reunions and camaraderie, but for some, when they return home and are alone in their private thoughts, the negative thoughts return. Like an incessant, never-ending trauma.

A-4 Skyhawk

Marine A-4 Skyhawk

In 2012, I had the fortuitous luck to come upon a pilot’s manuscript called ETERNALLY AT WAR while researching the Vietnam Center and Archives at Texas Tech University.  From its first pages, I was captivated. Captain Robert “Gene” Lathrop was a Marine pilot for VMA 311 out of Chu Lai. He was writing about the base and USO club I wanted to feature, Chu Lai and was also writing about the air war in Vietnam.  He flew the McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. The plane I wanted to write about. What luck!

Who knew that graduate students had taken scads of oral histories recorded, photographs, manuscripts, and memorabilia and converted them to digital medium for preservation. The Vietnam Center at TTU was a goldmine! How awesome that the intimate details of this controversial war were being preserved! As a Red Raider alum, I had no idea this even existed! Way to go Big Red!!

Using some sleuth techniques, I was able to track down Gene’s address in Washington. After thoroughly devouring his manuscript, I was anxious to speak to him about its content. I reached his wife who informed that sadly, Gene had passed away only months before. I was heartbroken. I explained that I was a writer and what I wished to do with the material. After some thought, she graciously granted me the rights to utilize some of his stories for my historical fiction novel SOLO VIETNAM.

As I was crafting SOLO VIETNAM, I propped Gene’s picture up next to the computer. It was like we were penning it together. I felt honored to be in his world and indeed his presence. SOLO VIETNAM featured many of Gene’s missions which were weaved into my feature character, a Navy pilot with VA 153 off the USS Coral Sea CVA-43 WestPac cruise of 1967-68.  SOLO VIETNAM was awarded the silver medal by the Military Writer’s Association, featured at Tailhook 2014 by the A-4 Skyhawk Association, and won fourth place in the Readers’ Favorite 2014 book awards. Gene would have been so proud.

picture of pilot Robert Gene Lathrop

Captain Robert “Gene” Lathrop

After reviewing the books, his wife asked if I would turn his entire manuscript into a memoir. I was honored and said “YES!!”  During the research for ETERNALLY AT WAR’s production, we discussed including how post-traumatic stress disorder greatly affected many of the veterans returning from Vietnam. She revealed how it had impacted Gene some ten years after his return. How initially, no one knew what it was. Gene’s sister related how many family members and friends would politely smile, yet roll their eyes, tired of his repeated stories. She requested that I cover that in the book, as a message to others. Again, I was humbled to be challenged with the task.

But Gene sent me an internal message from above. He had a better idea. Going back into the archive, I discovered that the graduate students had been very busy beavers indeed. There now were several documents in the archive, including a manuscript of Gene’s poems and an oral transcript. His family was thrilled. It was amazing to hear his voice.

Although I continue to work on ETERNALLY AT WAR, I am pleased to announce that Gene’s other book, a collection of poems written about his experiences flying in Vietnam, the conflict, and the aftermath will be released in time for Christmas 2015!!!!  It is called THE DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN. So make your plans now to reserve a copy of the beautiful collection of prose, photography, and pen and ink drawings depicting the Vietnam conflict and its aftermath to be published by AgeView Press.

pastel portrait of Robert Gene Lathrop

Gene Lathrop, USMC retired pastel painting by Susan Hirst

I feel strongly that Gene is dancing a jig to know that his words will find meaning in the comrades, friends, and families of Vietnam veterans affected by the perils of PTSD. He believed the required acts delegated to servicemen during war inflicted a moral bankruptcy which threatened their psyche and well being upon their return.  Thus provoking PTSD.

Enjoy an excerpt, indeed the title poem from the upcoming release THE DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN.

THE DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN

It’s two in the morning here comes the fire.

They’re still shooting low, but they’ll walk it up higher.

I’m on bearing to target, ten thousand to go.

“Roger, I copy, turning left three five oh.”

Out to the east, orange balls of flame

Are bursting right now, from where we just came

I’m approaching the target, five thousand to go

“Roger, I copy, fifteen knots slow.”

Only three thousand meters, and I’ll be headin’ back

For a shot of French cognac, and some time in the rack.

I feel a big buck and six eggs for free,

I’m clearing the target, heading east to the sea.”

Once clear of the target, I’ll fly just offshore

Heading south to recovery and just watch the war.

I’m totally drained and this planes not the best.

“This is Hellborne, Vice Squad; keep me clear to the nest.”

Look, there is a Spooky, a spittin’ out lead

to the west of Dong Ha, the ground will be red.

There’s a fire near that Base, it’s at three o’clock

“I see it, Vice Squad, it’s that big floating dock.

I’m coming up on the lights of the city of Hue

‘Twas overrun during Tet; taken back during May

That big flash at twelve, is the Jersey at play

“I’ve got her, Vice Squad, her salvo’s away

All those lights off to starboard are at Danang

Where the bomb dumps went up with a helluva bang

Those tracers at one are at little Ho’ An

“Chu Lai’s under fire; we’ll land if we can.”

I get so damned tired, flying three hops a day

I just get numb, that’s all I can say

The base is secure; no more enemy fire

“I’m coming in approach, and takin’ a wire.

There’s flares on final, but I’ve made the decision

 I’ll be going in hook down, without my night vision.

 If Hades was the earth and with firepits in the sky

 The center of Hell would be at Chu Lai.

I’ve got three down & locked, and dropping the hook

 I’ll be takin’ the wire, just like in a book.

The arrest was just perfect, I’m so good it’s a sin.

“What the hell do you mean? You got rockets comin in.”

The rockets are comin like a spew from a fount

But on the Dark Side of Heaven such matters don’t count.

 I’m back in the deck and out of the sky

It’s a hell of a home, but it’s ours at Chu Lai.

Written by Captain Robert “Gene” Lathrop, UMSC during treatment for PTSD on Ward 7A, VAMC American Lake, 1987

 

This Memorial Day – who are you carrying?

In honor of our troops, our veterans, and those who have paid the ultimate price, this Memorial Day post was brought back by popular demand. 

Military memoribiliaAn explosive device goes off. Instantly, your right leg is destroyed and crushed below the knee. Your left leg has gashes and is burned. Part of your left arm is blow away. You are unconscious and laying on the ground. Massive amounts of blood surround your motionless body. Your world goes black.

That was the exact experience of Iraq War Veteran, Jacob Schick, in 2004. A 3rd generation marine of the USMC, he was rescued by a brave medic and air-evac’d out by a Blackhawk helo to a MASH hospital. He heard a mish-mash of voices “Hang in there buddy. We’ve got ya. Don’t die on us.” Nine years, 46 surgeries including a traumatic amputation of your leg and 22 units of blood products later, would you be bitter? Angry? Depressed? Or self-medicating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Many would. However, Jacob is not.

Last year, I interviewed Jacob serving as the Ambassador for Carry The Load. He also works full time at the Center for Brain Health with the University of Texas at Dallas, as part of their Warrior Training Team. I found him to be the antithesis of any victim. He was upbeat, committed, pumped and positive. As a trauma nurse myself, I can appreciate the harrowing horror of a prolonged recovery. Yet, I found none of this in the indomitable spirit of Jacob Schick.

Carry the Load Jacob Schick

Will you CarryTheLoad?

As a veteran of war, Jacob humbly attributes his survival to his military brothers. “My Sergeant used to say to all of us out there, ‘if you wake up in discomfort or pain, thank your lucky stars – you’re alive.’ It’s the military mindset. It’s what makes you survive.”

Jacob was recruited to the Carry the Load cause because of his resilient attitude by co-founders Clint Bruce and Stephen Holly, two Navy Seals. They recognized the positive vigor within Jacob that would be instrumental in their cause to instill enthusiasm and excitement within donors and volunteers. His goals of survival and giving matched those of Carry the Load.

Carry the Load was established in 2011. It was developed as a vehicle for people to come together in patriotism and show their pride and appreciation under the same banner to support those in uniform who serve – police, fire-rescue, and our military. It started with one man carrying a flag on a mission across America. It has grown into a national movement of thousands marching across our nation in patriotism and service. Funds are raised to provide support to five separate established non-profit organizations. Most non-profits spend the majority of their time fund-raising. Carry the Load takes that burden off those organizations.

Amazing stories arise from individuals participating in Carry the Load. Awe-inspiring messages of survival, hope, and patriotism. Participants share appreciation for the strength and courage of those individuals who work every day to make our world a safer place.

Jacob’s message is universal – we must celebrate heroes that sacrifice every day to bring us freedom and a life of comfort.

Help make Memorial Day, Memorial May! Join Dallas Cowboy Roger Staubach – the epitome of an American Patriot, survivor and ambassador Jacob Schick, the founders of CarryTheLoad, and thousands of other veterans, police and fire-rescue first responders. Come out and carry more than you have to. Go just a little bit further. Get away from BBQs and car stalls. Bring your family to Riverchon Park on the Katy Trail in Dallas, TX Sunday May 24th and Monday May 25th 

This Saturday our team, will proudly represent my two sons who fly for the Navy and will march with my son who is in a wheelchair.  Won’t you please help CarryTheLoad?

Are we truly thankful for those who safeguard our freedom everyday?

There won’t be many words in this post.   Just images.   Images of those who sacrifice their time and service to protect our freedom.   Our own United States Military.   This weekend, as you sit around large tables filled with families and your feast.   Stop.  Take a moment.  Say a prayer for our troops, both near and far who guard the sanctity of our nation each and every day.  

For those whom we are truly thankful.

For those whom we are truly thankful.

Operation Red Wings Angel Flight - coming home to rest in peace.

Operation Red Wings Angel Flight – coming home to rest in peace.

Can you help carry the load?

Can you help carry the load?

Giving Hope!

Giving Hope!

Standing up for the next mission.

Standing up for the next mission.

Air evacing victims from the tsunami in the Philipines.

Air evacing victims from the tsunami in the Philipines.

UN humanitarians

Providing for those who have not.

Saving a brother in Afghanistan.

Saving a brother in Afghanistan.

What makes Southwest Airlines rock? Superman-like service that’s what!

Southwest Airlines logoOn a rainy Sunday afternoon in Baltimore, MD, I was desperate to catch my flight back to Dallas.    After all, my showtime as an author over, it was back to reality.   On Monday AM, I was due back at my real job.   The one that paid the aching nursing.

 Honored to have been selected to participate, I had been in DC as a part of an amazing group.    Academy Women, a Women in Military Service leadership group had invited four authors, all book award finalists from the Military Writer’s Society of America.  I was one of them.   What an amazing event it had been.  Young, brilliantly smart women representing the multi-cultural tapestry of America.   Midshipmen, Cadets, Lt. Colonels and Generals.   Students and leaders.   Active duty and retired.   It was a mecca of honor, courage and commitment.

The two day conference, designed to mentor future women leaders of tomorrow was held at the Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.  Hallowed halls depicting the history of women’s service within our U.S. armed forces.  As featured authors, we presented on what motivated us to write about women in service.

I had timed my departure from Arlington down to the tee.   A quick dart up 295 to the Baltimore-Washington parkway and I would be on my way to BWI – and my Southwest Airlines flight back to Dallas Love Field.  Except for one small detail, somehow I missed my turn.   I was on 395 and then Highway 50, being stopped at every red light in roughtown DC!  There wasn’t a chance in heck I was going to make my 5:20 PM departure.   And that was the last series of flights back to Dallas that evening.

To make matters worse, once I got to I-95 into Baltimore, my cell phone died.  I had no way to notify Southwest I was going to miss my flight!  According to the new cancellation policy, I would lose those funds.   For a starving author, that simply wouldn’t do.  This honorary trip has alrea-dy cost me more than $400 bucks.

As I approached the terminal, I had to make a choice.  Return the rental car and surely miss the ten minute notification window or park at departures illegally, run in and try to find an agent.   I chose the second.   Rushing inside the terminal I spotted Southwest gate agent, Darlene F.   She greeted me with calm reserve. “Take a deep breath, with the rainy weather, some of our flights are about ten minutes late.

A smile and a plan - taking care of customers!

A smile and a plan – taking care of customers!

“No, you don’t understand” I protested.  “My plane to Dallas leaves in twelve -minutes.  I am going to miss it and couldn’t notify you.  I can’t afford another ticket!” my voice quivered.  The tears had started up.

“Just breathe.  Consider me Lois Lane.  See Clark Kent over there?” she joked pointing to a grey haired, pleasant gentlemen at check in. “We’re gonna work some magic for you and save the day.  Have you got your reservation?”

I nodded and handed her the copy of the electronic ticket.   –

“You go turn in your rental car, before you get a ticket.  When you come back, just find me.  We’ll have it all worked out for ya.  No need for those tears.”

I smiled then with a huge sense of relief.   Dashing back out the front door of the terminal, I managed to get to my rented VW bug just before the airport cops made it around the circle.   Off to the rental car pavilion some two miles away.  Then, back on the rental car bus to the terminal.   Total time? Fifteen minutes.  It was now just after 5:00 PM.

Running into the terminal, I spotted “Lois.”

“Here comes your problem child” I called out.

“Head over to Kent” she pointed. “He’s gotcha all sorted out.”

“Really?  Wow, you guys are awesome!”

“That’s what cha get when you fly Southwest.  Great customer service”

“Boy, no kidding!  Thank you so much” I exclaimed.

As I made my way to the counter,  My “Clark Kent” who was really gate agent Kent B. gave me a big smile.  “Got cha all taken care of.  We routed you through St. Louis, but you’ll be home before bedtime.  Your flight leaves in twenty minutes”

“Wow, you guys are just awesome.  I can’t tell you enough how great my service has been on Southwest!   Great flight attendants.  Kind, upbeat people at the counters.  It’s been great!”

“Thanks, just doing our jobs.  But it’s nice to hear.”

What surely would have been a missed flight and hassle on another airline, was made doable by people that really care about their customers.    Thanks Southwest – yet again.  I know I have a choice when I fly.  Thanks for reminding me why I love to fly Southwest!

They love to fly and it shows!

They love to fly and it shows!

Boomer Lit Blog Hop Features Solo Vietnam

It’s another Boomer Lit Friday!  What is #Boomerlit you say?    A new boom for us baby boomers and that boom is Boomer LIt.   Books that relate to those of us 50 and beyond.   Great stories about our times.  There are blogs about it.  Goodreads sites.  Facebook pages.   Us Babyboomers are a force to be reckoned with.

As a part of this blog hop, you are invited to a short preview of SOLO VIETNAM.   The sequel to FLYING SOLO.  Now available from AgeView Press or Amazon.

books available from jeanette vaughan flying solo and solo vietnam

Boomer Lit Books Available from Jeanette Vaughan

So here we go, your Boomer Lit Friday blog hop!  Enjoy!

Your personally chosend excerpt from 5 star rated SOLO VIETNAM!

A French cajun aviatrix.  An A-4 Skyhawk pilot.  Vietnam.

Charlene listened as she put out the large shrimp she had boiled up and then chilled for shrimp cocktail.   In true Charlene form, the table was set with china and tall parfait glasses for the shrimp.  She filled each glass with the spicy, red cocktail sauce and arranged the large shrimp all the way around.  Placing each glass over a large Romaine lettuce leaf on the plate.  Hostess with the most-est, Charlene Hebert.

“One night, after getting off at the club, I met this navy pilot,” Nora told her of her encounter.  “He had just finished his cruise in Vietnams and was on leave.  His stories.  What he had seen was horrific,”  Nora said taking a big bite of her shrimp.

“I’ve taken care of some of those Vietnam vets at Touro,” Charlene relayed.

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah.  I had some trouble relating to some of their emotional tales.    My instructors told me it was because they had anxiety disorder.   It really messed some of them up bad.”

“What the heck is that?”

“Some post war thing.  They just can’t cope.  It’s bad.”

“It doesn’t help that people treat them like crap when they come home.   I just don’t understand that.”

“Some of the nurses told me it was like no other war they’d ever heard about.  Whatever’s going on over there sounds pretty wicked.”

Near the end of lunch, Nora told Charlene about her visit to the USO and the job they offered.  Charlene was a bit taken aback.

“You aren’t considering going are you?”   Again, Nora managed to shock her.

“I’m seriously thinking about it, Charlene.   I can’t shake it.   There is just something calling me.  Some force.”

“I just can’t see how you could do it.  Your kids are still at home.  Well, at least three of them.   How would they manage?”

“They are teens.  Doing their own thing.  Nellie is about to retire.    She could move in and watch over them.  It would only be for eighteen months,” Nora explained.

“That over a year!  Oh, Nora.  I dunno.  It’s so far away.  Texas was one thing.  But Vietnam?   Are you going to fly?”

“Heck no.  They don’t allow women to fly into combat zones.    In fact, it’s a big controversy at the moment.   Jackie Cochran is causing all kinds of heck about it.  Women were used in World War II all the time, as transporters and test pilots.  But the service won’t have anything to do with them now.  Which is really hacking off legions of women pilots.”

“Well, then.  As what?”

“Don’t’ laugh, but I’d be managing a USO club.  Basically I’ll be going as a den mother to a bunch of young USO girls.  But at least I’d be going.”

Hope you enjoyed the preview.  Check back each and every Friday for the Boomer Lit blog hop!

Solo Vietnam coming April 2012

Alright readers . . . you have asked for it, salivated over it. . . here is an excerpt of the upcoming release of SOLO VIETNAM, sequel to FLYING SOLO.   Coming in just days!   Release should be around the first week of April 2013.   Please enjoy!   Would love your comments, RTs, reblogs and invitations to your friends.   Already getting great advanced reviews!    Thanks so much for your readership and support.

Chapter 28

∞ Tonkin Gulf ∞

 Steve packed his B-4 bag in silence.  He expected that like the rest of the crew on board the Coral Sea, that he had only a few weeks before they set sail toward home.   He wasn’t the only A-4 pilot being reassigned to the USS Bon Homme Richard.  Because of a fire on the Bonnie Dick back in the fall, they were short of pilots. There were several others scheduled to serve in the Tonkin Gulf until October.  Once on deck to await his COD helo, Steve ran into Pete Watterman, the helo pilot he had met before.

“Lt. Commander,”  Pete saluted.

“Lt.” Steve saluted back.  “At ease.”

“Hey man, how’s it going?”  Pete asked.

“Being relo’d.   To the Bonnie Dick,” Steve replied.

“Yep, I’m taking some of the pilots over now.  COD.”

“Aren’t I included on that manifest?”

“No, man.  You’re orders must have changed again.  Sorry.”

“What?” For a moment, Steve was confused.

Before Pete turned to make his way to his helo he offered, “Hey Lt. Commander Novak.   You’re an alright guy.  Nice to have met another man from Dixie land.  Good luck out there.”

“Same to you,” Steve responded.

About three other pilots and their bags were loaded.   Pete geared up his propellers, kicking up some salty mist. About that time, Steve was approached by Commander Woolcock, the skipper from his squadron.

“Sir,” Steve saluted.

“Sorry to jerk you around, buddy.  But there’s been a change in plans.  You’re to bingo off to Chu Lai, taking one of our scooters for hand-off to VMA-311.    She’s seen her days on the decks of the Coral Sea.   Commander Nelson from Air Ops is fazing her out.”

“Gotcha,” Steve acknowledged.  Chu Lai?  How lucky could he get?

“But that’s not all.  Your recent service bought you some R and R.  After you hand off the plane,  you’ve got three days before you report to the Bon Homme.  Here’s your pay advance.”

Steve was handed an envelope containing the customary $200 given to pilots for spending money during their brief time off.   He couldn’t believe his luck.   Chu Lai, Nora and R and R.  It couldn’t possibly get better.

Often, when the navy felt an A-4 had seen its days on the carrier, they would send the plane to one of the marine VMA stations for repair and refit.   The marines would patch it up, repaint their own VMA call signs and the plane would be used for another hundred missions or so.   Second hand.

After pre-flighting the Skyhawk, Steve was given signal from the LSO to cat.  One last look at the deck of the Coral Sea.  She had been good to him.  As he gained altitude, he saw the lights on the deck become a small line of white, amidst a black sea.

He would be flying under night cover to transport the plane.   Another chance to see the war in action at night, from 10,000 feet.   By now, he knew the coast well.  He could see stars out everywhere on this clear night.

Despite flying over a war zone, it was relaxing in a way, to be flying a plane for delivery instead of a mission.  On shore, he intermittently caught site of flares being dropped.  There were white hot lights of anti-aircraft fire launched skyward.   It was a short flight from the deck of the carrier to Chu Lai, a mere ninety miles.  Before long, he saw the lights at Danang.  The moonlight was shining on the pristine, yellow-white sands of China Beach.

Soon, he visualized the river at Chu Lai.  As he descended, he saw the sampans out in the water.  No attacks for tonight.  He radioed Chu Lai ground and got clearance to land.

“Chu Lai tower, this is Blue Tail NL-317 requesting to land, over.”

“Bingo in, NL-317.  Keep your eye on the meatball.  Clear to ground.”

The runway at Chu Lai was fairly short.  He positioned the plane such that his slope would contact the arresting gear.  Lowering his speed and putting down his landing gear, with a small bump and scrape, Steve touched down at Chu Lai at 1930 hours.

There was no one to meet him on the tarmac.  For a moment, he wasn’t sure where to go.  But then, a marine flight crew approached.  Haggard and cover in dust in grease, they were a site.  One of them radioed for a jeep.   Steve took a moment to take the flight line in.  It was sure a far cry from the organized symmetry of the Coral Sea.    There were bunkers and razor-edged barbed wire everywhere.  It looked like the tarmac as well as the flight line had taken some substantial mortar attacks. Airplane parts, partially burned out made it a metallic graveyard.

A six by six jeep transport pulled up with three other pilots in it.   “Where to, Lt. Commander?” beckoned the driver.

“The USO club.  I hear they’ve got a great singer there,” Steve said.

“Yeah.  Righto.  Tonight’s a Mardi Gras party.   But you’ve only got about twenty minutes to curfew.”

“Then step on it,” Steve chided as he threw his bag in the back.

“Right on, Sir,” the jeep took off and sped toward the beach and the club.  As it neared, Steve could hear the sounds of jazz emanating from inside.  He could hardly contain himself and nearly jumped out of the jeep before it pulled adjacent to the make-shift arched bridge over a trench to the entrance.

Homesick for New Orleans, Nora arranged through her black market connections with Woody, to get the adornments for a Mardi Gras celebration.  Doubloons, beads, and plenty of seafood.   She booked a Vietnamese band that could play some jazz.  One more way to bring a little bit of the U.S. to Vietnam.

They place was packed.   Bar and restaurant were almost standing room only.   GIs were bedecked in vibrant Mardi Gras beads.  Some had on colorful masks.  The distinctive spicy smell of Zartaran’s filled the air from boiled shrimp and “bugs,” a crustacean native to the South China Sea.  Steve traced the sounds of jazz to the porch along the backside.   Sure enough, Nora was crooning out one of her favorites, Moon River.   He stood in the breezeway out of her sight.

She looked amazing, as always.   Radiant smile.  Bright pink lipstick.   Long, sensuous legs and high heels.  Her skirt had to be at least eight inches above her knees.  Damn, she was hot.

The crowd cheered as Nora wrapped up her song.  “Thank you all for coming tonight.  Les bon temp roulles.”  The GIs hooted and hollered.   As she finished replacing the mike in its stand, Steve came up from behind her.

“Say gorgeous, I’d know that voice anywhere,” he whispered in her ear.  Nora felt her knees grow weak hearing his voice.

Whipping around, she exclaimed, “What the heck?  Steve, where the devil did you come from?”

“About a hundred miles north of here.  Just to see my gal,” he couldn’t resist and in front of everyone grabbed her and planted a big kiss on her lips.   Catcalls erupted from every corner of the bar.

Nora was a mass of emotion.  Joy, tears, and pent up libido just  hearing his voice.  Taken aback at first, she quickly recovered.   “I can’t.  Not here.  Let me wrap things up and make sure everyone clears curfew.  Then,” she pulled him close and whispered in her sultry voice, “I’m all yours.”

Directing her cook, dishwasher and one of her girls running the bar, she quickly wrapped things up for the evening.  The books and tabs could wait till the morning.  She thanked everyone for the great job they did.  Within a few minutes, due to curfew, it was just Steve and herself left in the bar.

“What on earth are you doing in Chu Lai?”

“Had to deliver a Skyhawk for refurb to VMA-311.  How’s that for luck?”

“Brilliant,” she said throwing her arms around him.  “I’m just tickled pink you are here.”

“Nice place you got going,” he said referring to the club.

“The girls and I have really worked it over.  It was a dump.  But I’ve learned to make, uh, well, let’s just say connections.”

“That’s the navy way.  Way to go girl,” he could hardly keep his hands off of her.  “I’m about as randy as ever.  But where can we go?”

“I’ve been thinking about that,” she had a gleam in her eye.

“Certainly not to your hooch,”

“Nope.  The girls are there and curfew’s on.  But we might be able to sneak out back under the decks.  There’s a small, unused, elevated tent.  It was the original officer’s mess, near the beach.”

“Sounds great, doll.  Let’s go,” he said taking her hand.   Nora locked the place up and they quietly snuck out down the back steps of the club.  They walked close to the jungle line of trees, so as not to be seen by the sentry guards.  Clearing through some brush, they came to a clearing with the tent.  It was dank, dark, and sandy, but they didn’t care.  They were finally alone.

The flap of the tent barely went down before he had his hands all over her.  The fact that there was dust everywhere and cob webs didn’t bother them. They finally had a secluded, stolen moment alone.  He kissed her passionately, relinquishing the pent up sexual tension between them.  She darted her tongue in around his mouth, long, slow and ardent.

Pulling her close into him, she felt his desire for her.  He was rock hard.  He stopped kissing her for a moment and looked deeply into her eyes.   Without saying a word, he unzipped the back of dress, exposing her shoulders.    He lowered his head and began kissing along her collar bone, starting on her left.

And. . . . you will have to just purchase the upcoming copy to see the rest!!!!!