Tom Smith shouldn’t be alive. In Vietnam, he was a 1st Cavalry Division helicopter scout pilot. Helicopter pilots, especially scout pilots, flew through the heaviest enemy fire of the war. Cavalry Division scout pilots were hit hardest. Their attrition rates were twenty times that of U.S. Air Force pilots, their survival rate, forty to fifty percent, their life expectancy, three weeks. Tom’s job was to fly at speeds under 30 miles an hour at treetop level locating enemy, usually by drawing their fire.
It took Smith a long time to realize he lives with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition brought on, he shares with me, not so much by horrific combat experience –being shot down multiple times, trees snapping his coptor’s rotors off as it plunged earthward, looking down at gunmen whose bullets ripped through his fuselage — but rather, by living with the daily grind of fear. » Continue Reading.
After skiing into Bushnell Falls that March of ’69, our intention was always to move to the Adirondacks as permanently and as soon as we could. Keene and the high peaks were the grail. Soon, however, my college friend, the actress Ellen Parker, told me that her parents, Joe and Sophie, who had been looking for a place in the Adirondacks to start a restaurant, had bought a local bar along the Sacandaga River in Hadley and might need some help.
Joe Parker was a sculptor and painter, and Sophie, who was French, a chef. I had been to their house in Dobb’s Ferry and been treated to the best food and wine of my college-kid life, in an atmosphere of garlic and red wine and art conversation with a French accent. » Continue Reading.
We’ve all heard of Woodstock at one time or another—that famous (or infamous) concert held in August 1969. It was scheduled at different venues, but the final location was actually in Bethel, New York, about 60 miles from Woodstock. For many who lived through three major homeland assassinations, the Vietnam War, and the racial riots of the turbulent 1960s, Woodstock was an event representing peace, love, and freedom. It’s considered a defining moment of that generation, and a great memory for those who attended (estimated at 400,000). » Continue Reading.
By the end of 1969, more than forty thousand American soldiers had been killed in the war in Vietnam. Despite Richard Nixon’s pledge in 1968 that his election would bring “peace with honor,” and after a year of peace talks in Paris, it was clear that the killing would continue. That’s the background of this editorial that my father, Rob Hall, wrote and published in his Warrensburg-Lake George News in December, 1969. On this Christmas, with wars underway in Iraq and Afghanistan, I thought it might find resonance with Adirondack Almanack readers. Our dream went like this:
It was my first full day in heaven and the day-room orderly told me that the Archangel Michael wanted to see me. I found him behind a golden desk in his office. “The Chief suggested that in view of your long career as a newspaperman you might like to publish a little weekly newspaper for us up here,” he said.
“I suppose it would occupy my time for me,” I said. “What shall we name it? The Heavenly Tidings, perhaps?”
He said any name would do and I remarked that I’d need a staff of two or three. I named several newspapermen I had known who had recently passed over the Great Divide. “Nope,” said the Archangel, looking over the big book on his desk, “they’re not registered HERE.”
“Well,” I said, “could you spare me an angel?”
“I should think so,” said Michael, “but will yours be a good news newspaper or a bad news newspaper?”
“Is there any bad news up here?” I asked.
“Only the tidings of wickedness from down below,” he said, “but we like to keep informed.”
In that case, I said, the Heavenly Tidings would be a mixture of both. “But what about my angel?”
“I can let you have Gabriella,” Michael said. “She’s a sister to Gabriel but as much the opposite as any sibling you’ve ever known. Gabriel is the one with the trumpet which he will blow on Doomsday. But Gabriella is so constituted that she is incapable of bringing anything but good news. If it’s bad news, forget it. She absolutely won’t handle it.”
“How odd,” I commented, and noticed that Michael seemed disposed to continue the conversation. He leaned back in his golden chair and adjusted his wings to the apertures in the backrest.
“It was a long time ago that we first became aware of Gabriella’s hang-up,” he said. “It was about this time of year and we had word from the Chief to keep an eye on the road from Galilee to Bethlehem. I gave Gabriella the assignment and thought no more of it until I came into the observation post and found her in tears.”
“I can’t do it. I can’t do it,” she sobbed. And when I asked her what was the matter, she said:
“Why that poor woman down there, riding that little donkey. And the kind old man with her. They are on their way to Bethlehem to pay their taxes. Not only are their taxes out of this world, there’s no inn that will give them a bed. I just can’t make out my report. Every time I try to write, the tears get in my eyes and I can’t see to write.”
“I told her that it was her duty to report the bad along with the good, but it didn’t seem to matter. She just kept crying like her heart would break.”
I peeked through the observation window and I said, “Look, Gabriella, they’ve got a place in that inn.”
“Yes, but look at the accommodations,” she said. “Just a pile of straw in the barn.”
“Now Gabriella,” I said. “People who love each other can be happy under the most adverse circumstances.”
“But she’s going to have a baby,” said Gabriella. “And there’s not even a midwife around to help. Oh, this is terrible.”
I really couldn’t figure out any way to comfort Gabriella, but I noticed a beautiful bright star moving toward Bethlehem.
“Take a look at the star, Gabriella,” I said. “That surely means something.”
“How beautiful,” said Gabriella, and she smiled through her tears. “And look, it’s stopped right over the barn where those poor people are staying.”
The intercom bell rang for me and I knew it was the Chief.
“It’s come,” the Chief said. “I have a Son. Send down an angel and some heavenly hosts, the ones with the most beautiful voices. This is not an occasion to be minimized.”
I started to ask where, but the star gave me the answer. “Gabriella,” I said, “there’s great, good news, tidings of real joy. Get down to that barn right away, and I’ll send you some help. Are you in good voice?”
“You can bet I am,” said Gabriella, and she laughed joyfully, because she had got the message.
“On your way,” I said and patted her on the back. And with that Gabriella opened her wings and swooped down.
She was the first one there, and I tuned in to hear her song.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill to men.”
Gabriella was happy when she returned to headquarters. “A beautiful baby lying in a manger,” she said. “Oh the good news that I’ll be reporting from now on.”
“And,” said Michael, “that has been her assignment ever since.”
I told Michael I understood, and that Gabriella would be assistant editor in charge of good news. I said I’d try to handle the bad news myself.
“And speaking of bad news,” I said to Michael, “what’s going on with Vietnam?”
“One of these days, that will be a proper assignment for Gabriella,” Michael said, “but not, repeat not, in this week’s issue.”
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