Incident at Thanh Giang Dong Dao: Chapter 2 – The Lawyer

DECEMBER 1979 UCMJ PRELIMINARY HEARING  FT. LEAVENWORTH, KANSAS BEFORE COLONEL DAN EVANS, UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS, JUDGE ADVOCATE GENERAL CORPS.

Martin sat at the defense table in his Class A uniform. He had his hair cut short. He looked very military. He sat at attention. The tribunal looked sympathetic and concerned. Martin felt bad about this. Like they were sticking up for the wrong man for the right reason.

He felt like a defendant at the Nuremberg trials. He felt like Norman Bates at the end of Psycho. It was a big game, but Martin knew he was guilty. Not in the legal sense, but he was guilty. Personally guilty.

He was glad he wasn’t a Christian. Christians can be forgiven for their sins. Jews could not. No amount of good works could fix it. He would stand before God on the Judgment Day and he would not throw himself at God’s Mercy. He would admit his crimes and he would be cast out and Justice would be done.

The Senior Judge leaned into the microphone and spoke.

“Are you Sergeant Martin Lebensraum, formerly of Headquarters Battery, 1st Aerial Observer Team, 1st of the 235th Rocket Artillery Battalion?”

“Yes sir.”

“Are you currently under contract as a cadet in the Reserve Officer’s Training Program at West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia?”

“Yes sir.”

“I understand you have requested a civilian attorney?”

“Yes sir, I refused JAG.”

“Why Sergeant?”

“I don’t want to involve them in this.”

“You understand I will have to appoint a civilian attorney to represent you?”

“Yes sir, I am sorry for the trouble.”

“You understand you are facing capital charges and specifications that carry the penalty of death if found guilty?”

“I do sir.”

“I am concerned about you son, you need proper representation.”

“I understand sir. I will do my best.”

Martin was escorted from the hearing room by two MPs. Normally the MPs were cocky and rude, but this pair always looked down.

“Come on man, we gotta take you back.”

There was a crowd outside again. It was mostly women, sad, lonely, tired-looking women, with darkened eyes showing the hollow permanent pain of loss. They held up signs saying: “Kansas Gold Star Wives for Justice: Free Lebensraum!” and “Punish the Viet Cong, Not our Heros!”

“We’re with you Sergeant!”

“Keep the faith!”

A vet in a wheelchair shouted to him:

“Don’t let the bastards get you down!”

He looked down at the ground, he has choked up. One of the women stood there mute. She was Chicken’s wife. She had traveled all the way from California.

REDWOOD CITY, CALIFORNIA, JANUARY 1973

The mist was strange. It smelled of fresh Pine. America was so clean and pure. The pine smell was everywhere all the time. He could barely see from one driveway to the next. He walked up the little asphalt road up the mountainside.

The lady was in the front yard. She wore a huge Afro, Angela Davis sunglasses, a tie-dyed shirt and a large wooden peace sign.

“Can I help you?”

“My name is Martin. I was a friend of Lance’s.”

“I got your letter. Come inside. Let me fix you a cup of coffee.”

He had a seat in the kitchen. It was well-kept kind of spartan. The coffee percolator smelled good though.

As she poured him a cup, she spoke without making eye contact.

“Lance was a crazy mother-fu*ker. I knew he was going to die up in that shit. War was the only thing that ever made him truly happy. I knew Lance since High School. He was a crazy, black-Mexican-Irish-Catholic, beatnik, hippie nut-job. I should have never married him. He loved Jesus, He loved the Virgin Mary, He loved weed. He loved the US Air Force and unfortunately he loved me.”

Martin rubbed his eyes.

“If I had it to do over again…”

“Young dumbass, if you had it to do over again? Lance would have found somebody else to drag into his vortex of steaming shit. It could have been anybody son, you just happened to be there. He had more Purple Hearts than Custer at Little Big Horn. He was crazy as bat-shit. The negro was in Korea from 1950 to 53. He never left! He was in Vietnam longer than that! I can’t believe he lasted that long.”

Martin sipped his coffee and smiled.

“Lance was the coolest motherfu*ker who ever lived. He was my hero.”

“Then you are as dumb as he is. By the way, I have a serious question to ask you: Marijuana, do you smoke it? A substance also known as weed, herb, Maryjane, Cannabis Sativa, Roak, you know, an illegal, psycho-active THC-stoked drug, designed by God to dull the pain of being alive in this shit.”

She offered him a schplieef.

They roaked the schmiee together in silence, looking off the back deck of the house down into the green cool woods.

‘He talked about you, wrote about you. He wanted to make sure you got out OK. You need to tell me what happened, I just need to know.’

He told her the whole story as they lay on their backs on the wooden deck, looking straight up through the skylight.

‘I’m a hippie girl you know. I need you to stay here, with me for a while. Let’s just hang out, do things. Go to town, see the ocean, till I can feel normal again. Chicken would want me to try to be happy again. He’s up there right now, he would be happy if everyone he knew would just party.’

‘I can stay for a while. As long as you like.’

FT. LEAVENWORTH, USDB PRE-TRAIL HOLDING CELLS, OLD BUILDING

Martin sat in the cell always the same way. On the bunk, his back up against the wall. Peering at the tiny barred window. He was listening to “Take Five” by the Dave Brubeck Five. The cell door opened.

“Marty, your attorney is here.”

“Thanks Ronald.”

Martin did not turn around or look up. The attorney came around towards him and proffered a hand. Martin did nothing.

“My name is Emmaeus Tennboim…”

“Oh great, did you bring a bagel?”

“Are you some kind of anti-semite?”

“Hell yes, if they are semites like you.”

“What does that mean?”

“I’m from the same tribe, you ass, just the part with balls. I don’t like lawyers. Any stupid ass can go to law school. Ever take a Physics class? Moron.”

“If you’re going to insult me, I’m going to leave.”

“Go ahead you yellow-stripe coward. I want a lawyer who runs from a fight. You’re perfect.”

“Listen, you’re in a lot of trouble here.”

“Oh do tell.”

“This is a capital case.”

“They said so. That’s very interesting. I’ll write it in my diary. Dear Diary, this is a capital case.”

“Do you have a death wish?”

“Ya know things are going so well…”

“OK, listen this is my theory of the case. The Army is trying to make an example of you. The government is trying to make an example of you. They want to look back at Vietnam and say it was just a few bad soldiers who did some bad things. They don’t want to take any responsibility.”

“Wow that’s ingenious. You’re really smart. Did you go to Harvard Law?”

“Yes, actually I did, Law Review.”

“Wow, I’m really dead now.”

QUANG TRI PROVINCE, VIETNAM FEBRUARY 25, 1972.

Headquarters 1st/235th Rocket Artillery Battalion, Forward Observers Tent, Firebase Bravo.

“Martin?”

“Yes sir, how goes it?”

“You are going to be linked up with a forward air controller from the 53rd Air Wing.”

“Roger, Roger, got it, got it, LTC.”

“His name is Tech Sergeant Lance Emmanuel Rodriguez Bohannon.”

“Roger, Roger. When is he coming in sir?”

“He’s floating around here somewhere.”

“Roger sir, got it, got it. Sir, do you want a cigarette?”

“Sure Martin, I ran out of roaks.”

“I have coffee too sir.”

“Excellent.”

“Are you ready to get out in the bush?”

“Roger sir, as long as I have coffee I’ll be OK.”

Martin was seated on the edge of a cot in a dark tent. He and the LTC seemed to be the only ones in there. From the back of the tent came a voice.

“Yes sir, yes sir, haven’t seen you since f&cking Naktong sir! Yes sir, LTC Freighley, aka 2LT Freighley, figured you’d still be around!”

“Chicken! You crazy-ass mother-f&cker!”

The LTC jumped up and hugged the airman.

“Hey this is one of my redleg children make sure you take care of his ass in the shit. He is a good kid. You idiots will be roaming up and down the coast for a few weeks. Pretty much on your own. Lay low.”

The airman grabbed one of Martin’s roaks and lit it up with a 1st Cav Zippo.

“I will call you Blay, that is a good name for you my man. We are going to call in the fury of the birds, Blay and you will know one thing.”

“What’s that Sergeant?”

“Call me chicken, Blay.”

“Don’t mean sheeit. Don’t none of this mean sheeit.”

3rd Brigade (Greywolf) 1st CAVALRY DIVISION HQ BASECAMP, MARCH 1, 1972 VIETNAM

It was ungodly hot and humid. Martin had tried to get used to it, but he never did. He hated sweating. Hated the rash on his neck from his shirt. Martin was an odd one. Always wore the correct field uniform. Always had his Forward Observer equipment array in the right place. Lensatic compass, mapcase, binos, flashlight, colored pencils, grease pencil. Martin stood at the back of the phone line.

Slowly the line snaked forward until he was up at the front. He got the Dover operator. He loved the Dover operators. They were like Angels who connected him to the world. A billion miles away on the Atlantic coast, taking breaks to get all you can eat crab. They were the best.

“Dover Operator”

“Hey what’s up bro’ can I give you a number back in the world.”

“Sure thing baby-bro, I will patch you in. You watch out for yourself in that shit, you hear me?”

“Eat some crab for me baby, eat some crab.”

They dialed him through to his father. He didn’t realize it was about 4AM.

“Hello? Martin is that you?”

“Dad? How are you?”

“I’m good son, how is it all going? I haven’t heard from you for a while. I worry a lot.”

“It’s all going Dad. It’s all going.”

“I miss you son, I’m worried about you. You have to keep your head down and pay attention.”

“I’ll do my best, Dad, I’ll do my best.”

“Son, you don’t sound good. I know something bad happened. I hear it in your voice. Please understand, I’m just worried, I got a real bad feeling the other day. I just sense it. It’s just bad business, bad business. I can’t lose another child, I just can’t do it.”

“Dad, it’s really OK.”

There was a long silence. His dad couldn’t speak.

“Laura’s over here right now, she’s making breakfast for me.”

“Can I speak to her?”

“Hang on.”

“Laura?”

“Hey baby how are you?”

“I’m good. Thanks for keeping an eye on Dad.”

“It’s OK. He’s a good guy. We’re really worried about you. I need you to be careful. I don’t know what to do. I never expected anything like this you know. I’m just a kid, I can’t handle this heavy stuff. I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again.”

“I’ll do my best.”

NAKTONG RIVER, PUSAN PERIMETER, I CORPS ARTILLERY POSITION, 1st CAVALRY DIVISION, SEPTEMBER 1950

The old Artillery Colonel sat under a stand of pine on the crest of a hill overlooking the Naktong river.

“L-T, Freighley, you can be at ease. This is a somewhat shitty situation. But we have a little help. F-84s from the USAF to help us bomb those bastards. We’ve got an Airman Bohannon who has special radios to talk to the birds. You and he are going to a hide spot and you will direct airstrikes on that goddamned counter-battery we are getting from the Reds.”

The airman walked up and sat down next to Colonel Joseph Smith. He reached in front of the Colonel and shook the Lieutenant’s hand.

“I’m Airman Bohannon, but everyone calls me Chicken.”

“I’m LT Freighley, but every calls me Lieutenant.”

The Colonel looked down and shook his head. He liked these kids, but he was worried about them. Worried about all of the young guys. He looked up with a sneer.

“Well now you two assholes are acquainted, I will let you imbeciles know that I was on the Mexican Border, I was in the Great War, I was in WWII so here’s the mission: go to that hill over there, hide out, dig a hole, call in airstrikes on enemy artillery. Don’t get fucking killed. Don’t get fucking captured. Don’t do any stupid shit. Write if you get work.”

SOUTH CHINA SEA, LATE NOVEMBER 1978 – THE BOAT PEOPLE

She was once somebody’s little girl. She had a family. She had a daddy who cuddled her and carried her around even when she got too old. She was the prettiest girl in the village.

Now she was on a boat, amongst strangers, desperate for her life again, not knowing where she was going. The vicious storm was furiously rocking the little boat.

What hope could they have so far out here in the ocean? She sat in her seat and quietly prayed to God to deliver her as she learned in the mission a long time ago, from the 86th Psalm:

Nghe Lạy Chúa, và trả lời tôi,
    vì tôi nghèo và thiếu thốn.
Bảo vệ cuộc sống của tôi, vì tôi trung thành với bạn;
    lưu đầy tớ của bạn những người tin tưởng ở bạn.
Ngài là Thiên Chúa của tôi;
xin thương xót con, lạy Chúa,
    cho tôi gọi cho bạn tất cả các ngày dài.
Mang lại niềm vui cho tôi tớ Chúa, lạy Chúa,
    cho tôi đặt niềm tin vào bạn.
Bạn, Chúa, sẵn tha thứ cho tốt,
    đầy dẫy ân tất cả những người gọi cho bạn.
Nghe lời cầu nguyện của tôi, Chúa;
    lắng nghe tiếng kêu của tôi cho lòng thương xót.
Khi tôi bị nạn, tôi gọi cho bạn,
    bởi vì bạn trả lời tôi.

Hear me, Lord, and answer me,
    for I am poor and needy.
Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;
    save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God;
have mercy on me, Lord,
    for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
    for I put my trust in you.
You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
    abounding in love to all who call to you.
Hear my prayer, Lord;
    listen to my cry for mercy.
When I am in distress, I call to you,
    because you answer me.

There was only one way to stop the storm she truly believed. She had to forgive everyone who had ever done her harm. Really forgive them from the depth of her heart. She believed that hatred and anger inside her made God angry and God made the storm worse. All of her sorrow, all of her anger all of her bitterness could be replaced with love and then she would free wherever she was and whatever she did. So she stood up in the middle of the boat and she prayed like this:

Matthew 6:9-15 Sau khi theo cách này do đó cầu nguyện ngươi: Lạy Cha mà nghệ thuật ở trên trời, Cha được thánh danh Chúa. Vương quốc của Ngài đến, ý Cha thể hiện dưới đất, cũng như trên trời. Cung cấp cho chúng con hôm nay lương thực hằng ngày của chúng tôi. Xin tha tội lỗi của chúng tôi, như chúng con cũng tha kẻ mắc nợ chúng. Và dẫn chúng ta bị cám dỗ, nhưng cứu chúng con cho khỏi sự dữ: Đối với ngươi là vương quốc, và sức mạnh, và sự vinh hiển, cho bao giờ hết. A Men. Vì nếu các ngươi tha thứ cho người ta, Cha trên trời cũng sẽ tha thứ cho bạn: Nhưng nếu anh em tha thứ cho không người ta, không sẽ Cha của bạn tha lỗi cho bạn.

Matthew 6:9-15
After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

The other people in the boat were terrified, but then they were calmed by the words of the pretty young girl. She was shouting the words above the storm. The people on the boat joined hands and their looks of fear turned to silent looks of joy as the storm abated and the sun appeared, and at that very moment she became a minister of the Gospel.

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