A Life Revisited
"Every day is Christmas"
Remembering My Father—Veterans’ Day
My father enlisted in the US Navy on 12 April 1917 (22 going on 23). The US declared war on Germany on 5 April 1917. He “joined up” a week after war was declared. His service number was 199909. His service record reads:
Brothers Worlds Apart in 1966
Gigged by Cpt. Alexander Haig
Meeting a Classy Lady
I was one of the fortunate survivors—I survived the crash with a broken hip and was being medevaced through channels with the first stop out of Vietnam being Clark AFB [in the Phillipines].
I had been placed in a spica body cast to immobilize the hip, and I relate this story from the perspective of being in that full, rigid, horizontal body cast, completely dependent on others for just about everything. I attempted to recall years later as much of what happened when we arrived at Clark in a short piece I wrote for our class’s 50th Anniversary Year Book, part of which was to collect the Vietnam experiences of our class. I would like to read this excerpt from that piece to you:
After landing at Clark Air Force Base, we were transported to a modern base hospital by a blue air force bus that accommodated our stretchers in the now familiar stack. No sharp memories about all this except the realization and recognition of the signs that we were now out of the battle zone, and everything, including the nurses’ uniforms, were back to normal white. The overall pace and outlook were clearly becoming “stateside” and away from the war zone. I was placed in a transient ward with about twenty other immobilized patients—the usual ten or so beds along each wall with an aisle in the middle.
I had been placed in the first bed along one of the walls. I can remember being visited by a nurse who did the usual check-in patient profile—temperature, pulse, blood pressure. I remember another set of X-rays being taken and added to my manila envelope. This last set was done by a portable X-ray device that was brought to my bed and the X-rays taken right there in the ward.
I was next visited by someone I thought was yet another nurse. This lady wore what appeared to be a nurse’s uniform dress but with an apron. She was pushing a wheeled cart with several metal wash bowls containing warm water. Since I was in the first bed, she started with me and asked if I wanted a bath. We had traveled for what seemed like all day, and I was tired and feeling somewhat travel weary—all this over and above the discomfort I was feeling in that body cast. It had been several days now since I was placed in the cast, and my body and skin beneath the cast were telling me how abnormal this situation really was.
I tried to make light of the situation and told the lady, passing my arm over the body cast, “Whatever is exposed of me, I would be grateful for a bath.”
The exposed parts of me outside the body cast were my head, shoulders, and arms, the two-by-two-inch square cut out on my chest, my left leg below my knee, and my right foot. The lady never hesitated and immediately took a washcloth, dipped it in the warm water, soaped it up, and began to wash the exposed upper part of my body. Even under these extraordinary circumstances, it is somewhat embarrassing and awkward to be washed by a stranger—and a woman. If I wondered what I was going to say or how I was going to feel, the lady put me completely at ease.
She immediately began to ask me questions as she washed me. “What’s your name? Where are you from? Where were you hurt? How were you hurt? Do you have family? Where are they?” Somewhere in the conversation, she mentioned she had noticed my West Point class ring and asked me what class I had been in. She told me her husband was a West Point graduate as well.
As she spoke, a flash thought went through my mind that this lady was the wife of a West Point graduate who went into the air force after graduation (you could select air force as a career choice back then). He must be stationed at Clark Air Force Base, and she was a Gray Lady volunteering her help with the Red Cross at the base hospital.
Then I asked her, “What is your husband’s name? I just might know him. Where is he stationed?”
The next two events happened almost simultaneously. As I asked the last two questions, my eyes glanced over at the little, rectangular metal name tag she had pinned to her apron. It said, “WESTMORELAND.” This incredible recognition was coming over me just as she was saying, “My name is Kitsy Westmoreland and my husband is General Westmoreland. He’s in Vietnam right now, although he was just here for a short visit and left last night.”
As the full recognition hit me, I blurted out, “Mrs. Westmoreland, you do me great honor!”
She replied, never stopping for a second giving me my “bath”, “No, no—you give me great honor.”
The remainder of my bath was spent trying to understand how the wife of the commanding general of US Forces in Vietnam, a four-star general in the US Army, was giving me a bath! In the most unpretentious and straightforward manner, Mrs. Westmoreland explained how she and her two children had tried living in several places while General Westmoreland served in Vietnam, but in these places, and particularly in their last location in Massachusetts, the harassment and ominous phone calls became too much for her, especially as it related to their children. The decision was then made to move the family to the Philippines and to be as close to her husband as she could. He was occasionally able to slip away from Vietnam to visit them, as he did just recently.
After finishing bathing this awe-struck major, Mrs. Westmoreland said she would return and talk to me some more, and then she proceeded to the next bed and asked its occupant whether he would like a bath. And that’s the way it went for the next hour or so before she finished her task and really did return and talk to me again. We talked for a few more minutes about families and West Point, and then she left me.
I had watched Kitsy Westmoreland go from bed to bed around that entire ward, and as best as I could observe, she had given a bath to every one of those twenty or so occupants. This was a mixed, transient ward I later found out. There were no rank or service differences on this ward—just hurting military men, wounded or injured in Vietnam. I remember there being officers and enlisted men—all races—soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen. This was a staging and decision point in the medical evacuation channels out of Vietnam. The seriously ill and wounded would be identified and sent directly home to the United States; the less seriously wounded and injured would be sent to Japan to one of two general hospitals there for treatment and surgery and possible return to Vietnam.
I was told by one of the nurses that Kitsy Westmoreland met this flight every day, and she greeted the wounded and injured coming out of Vietnam just as she did for me—with a warm smile and a bath. For the cynical reader, I want to say that this act was clearly much more than a token or symbolic gesture by the wife of the senior US military officer in Vietnam. This was very hard work that filled a real need providing comfort and relief to immobilized wounded and injured military men coming out of Vietnam. This was the act of a classy lady who matched her feelings and beliefs with actions and example. I doubt that most of the men she bathed and comforted ever knew her name or who she really was.
That ends the excerpt from my little written piece—and my story about Kitsy Westmoreland, a member of our West Point family. This story will not be found in the New York Times or the Washington Post, not in 1966 and not today. This story, however, is very important to me, and I wanted to share it with you because it says everything I want to say to you about Duty, Honor and Country—the motto engraved on the sides of our class rings—and how Kitsy Westmoreland lived it.
40:00 She describes life in the Philippines.40:30: “I worked in air-evac”
46:00 She tells about helping a soldier who said, “I always wondered what generals' wives did when their husbands were overseas.”47:10 “It made me feel more useful.” 52:20 Her best experience as an Army wife: “Being here [West Point].”
55:53 “I would say to the young wives, ‘Go get a job, quick…go get something that you like, to volunteer.'”
NBC Training at Armed Forces Staff College, Iran
A Bazaar in Teheran
I was a US Army Exchange Officer with the British Defence NBC School, Winterbourne Gunner (near Salisbury in Wiltshire, England). The second visit was made almost exactly two years later when I led a US Army mobile training team to Iran for the same purpose. I met many of the same Iranian officials on the second trip as I did on the first trip. I’m sure there was some surprise and even a little confusion for the Iranians, because I made the first visit under British government auspices and the second trip under US auspices. On the first trip, I served as the “token American” on a four-man British team from the Defence NBC School, while on the second trip, I led of a five-man US team. Both trips offered fascinating learning experiences for me, both professionally as a US Army career chemical officer and as an individual learning about the Mideast and Muslim culture.
Toward the end of my two-year tour as an exchange officer with the British Army in England in 1972, a request was made by the Iranian National Defence University (NDU) Combined Team in Teheran (consisting of six 0-6 level officers—three British and three US—representing Army, Navy and Air Force services. This Combined Team was chartered in 1970 to advise the Imperial Iranian Armed Forces on a course curriculum that suited a modern armed force.(Note: Teheran was the spelling the British used, closer to its native pronunciation, so I will use it throughout instead of “Tehran”.) Directors [or Officials] recognized that the course curriculum had no portion covering NBC defense, and the team requested both the US and British governments to provide some assistance. After negotiation, the directors made the decision to send a British team, and the request was sent to the Defence NBC School (DNBCS). After some initial correspondence in March, the formal request came in April 1972. I quote below a portion of the letter from Colonel Pakenham-Walsh, the senior British member on the Combined Team to LTC David Owen at DNBCS. The letter outlined details of the visit, personalities to be encountered, country notes, etc.
The first report of the Team was rejected by His Imperial Majesty, who then changed the terms of reference. Eventually the Team was cleared to rewrite the course, and the first of the new-style courses started in September 1971. The contract period for the Team [had] re-cently been extended from the original two years to four years, so British and American of-ficers are likely to be at the NDU until about September 1974. (From an official letter ex-plaining objectives and history of the partnership)
My Papers for Passing Through Cyprus (below)
Then, back to the airport, more searching of luggage, and another uneventful flight to Teheran. Came in at night (2110, Friday, 2 June, or in Farsi, the date 12 Khordad)—city looked beautiful all lit up. The Concorde was on the hard stand having just flown in from London (Brits were trying to sell one to the Shah).
After the meeting and greeting, we were driven to the Iranian Army Officers Club for accommodation. Saw a wedding party on the drive here—very interesting. All seem to be very tired after the long trip.
3 JuneUp very early—interesting but light breakfast. On to the college (NDU) after another hair-raising ride. (Note: driving in Teheran was a sporting event. No one seemed to pay any attention to traffic lights or signs! Our Iranian military driver drove wherever he wanted on the road, and it seemed his life and military career depended on getting us to our destination as fast as possible.) The traffic is indescribable.
Traffic in Teheran's Ferdowci Square
Back to the Officers’ Club for lunch—very good! Then some work on lesson plans, a nap. In evening, the team was invited to attend the Queen’s Birthday Party at the British Embassy. (Note: This [was hosted at] the same building where the Teheran Conference took place between Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin in 1943—very historic). Enjoyable affair. In the receiving line, things got confused with our team being assumed to be the pilots and crew of the Concorde! I noted two Chinese nationals at the party in their Mao boiler suits. Added note, May 2021:The receiving line was incredibly long and comprised of officials of all rank and position. There was a clear impetus to keep the line moving at a brisk pace. The interaction when it came to the handshake and introductions was very impersonal. Looking at this long line before we started, a member of the team, Tom Potts, turned to the team members and said this was his opportunity to try something he always wanted to do, and he started down the receiving line.
I was behind Tom going through the receiving line, and as Tom greeted each person, he said to them, “You have ketchup on your tie!” I was amazed that not one person in the whole line was phased by Tom’s remark, and each one just smiled, shook Tom’s hand and moved him on to the next person. Toward the end of the line, I thought I might try Tom’s “stunt,” but my courage failed me. However, I did resolve that I might try this myself someday under similar circumstances where I am sure no one is really interested in who I am.
Afterwards, a try to find a place to eat proved very frustrating—no one speaks English! Tom Potts found a place that served caviar (Leon’s). My first real taste of good caviar washed down with iced vodka. Had trouble getting back to the Officers’ Club by taxi and with the guards at the gate of the club.
4 June 1972Another early start (0600) and hair-raising ride to the NDU. Lectures started slowly (0700 to 1230)—usual problems with interpreters, foreign audience, etc. They are a most interesting audience—they hiss, go to sleep, come in late, and at times, can be quite rude, but we are told that this is quite normal.
I called LTC John Longstreet (US Army Chemical Officer assigned to embassy in Teheran) and made arrangements for dinner the next night. This was followed by the morning “break for breakfast,” then we finished up the lectures.
Left with Col. Cleaverly (Air Force, West Point Class of ’46) for his home. Had lunch while a rug appraiser looked over Col. Cleaverly’s latest acquisitions of rugs. Fascinating business which began my interest in the Iranian rug sub-culture. Lovely home, swimming pool, etc.
Then on to Capt. Bob Todd’s home to look at more rugs. He literally had a rug collection—thousands of dollars’ worth. Then on to look at a rug dealers’ shop—Sam and Eliajah’s. Saw some possibilities for me. Then back to the Officers’ Club.
Picked up the others and went shopping at a local department store—fantastic buys in brass, jewelry, chaffing dishes, etc. If only I had more money and room to bring all that I want back! Bought a few things.
Then back to Officers’ Club for official cocktail party for us. We are being treated very well (despite the fact that our personal belongings were looked over while we were away—standard practice for the intelligence agencies of all nations). Other Americans not invited—wonder why? Excellent food and drink—except that we kept drinking after the party. Ended up at the Park Hotel nearby. Good Italian piano player.
Must mention that during the cocktail party, the Shah’s room at the Officers’ Club (which is kept in readiness at all times) was opened for us to see. Saw the clothes he wore during assassination attempt with bullet holes still in them. Gorgeous room with an especially beautiful all-silk rug which covered the entire floor. The furniture and other trappings were all very impressive. My 15th year in the Army today!
5 June 1972Another very early start. I’m really hurting in the sleep department. Left with a very thick head but managed to get through the morning lectures (0700 to 1230). Thought the response was a little better this morning.
The usual hair-raising ride back to the Officers’ Club. Then another three-course, very delicious lunch—thick soup, huge omelet, followed by a steak! Fresh fruit for dessert. Then a quick nap; we have all been very tired.
Up to go to Col. Peckham-Walsh’s house for a swim and tea. Very nice house—very enjoyable. Left the party and took a taxi over to John and Ruth Longstreet’s house for supper. Fabulous house—big courtyard (11 times around made a mile!). House filled with rugs and brass. Fell in love with the Russian samovars Ruth had on display around the house (used to heat water for tea, continuing my interest in the Iranian sub-culture of all things brass and copper).
Two other American couples there—both on their way home. All have thoroughly enjoyed their stay in Iran but thought two years was enough. I think I can understand their feelings. One of the couples had just adopted an Iranian baby girl—big people. Most of the evening we talked brass and rugs. Ruth Longstreet caught my keen interest in Iranian rugs and volunteered to meet me the next day to buy a rug and some brass. Caught ride into town—very tired.
6 June 1972Another early start. I gave my biological warfare class first thing—seemed to go over all right. Then the three-day lecture tour wrap-up, question period, display of equipment, etc. The head general, Lt. Gen. Khanahzi, invited us to his office, where we had coffee and said good-byes.
Then I took off to meet Ruth Longstreet. We went shopping with her kids. Went to the brass store first. It was a sight to have gladdened [my wife] Sue’s heart. A whole shop full of gorgeous brass. I started at the samovars first—the store had a whole wall full of them, many of them Russian made which came in all shapes. (Note: I bought two samovars and later a rug with the kind help of Ruth). Finished the day with an evening buffet supper at Captain Brown’s home (Royal Navy).
7 June 1972Free day. Traveled by escort to see a dam in the north of Teheran. Shopped for rugs with LTC David Owen in the morning. In evening, dinner back at Leon’s—a Russian Jewish restaurant. Had caviar blintzes—very good! Also saw the Shah’s monument in the morning. The slide/movie orientation was interesting—very clever propaganda.
8 June 1972 (Thursday)Departed from the Officers’ Club to the airport for our flight to Beirut at 0810. A hectic time at the Teheran Airport. The Iranians never do anything simply—all must be accompanied by shouting and confusion.
Swiss Air flight—bad landing at Beirut. Gorgeous landscape scenery from the air. Short stay in Beirut. Finally got off after much searching of luggage, etc.
Arrived in Cyprus after short flight. RAF flight delayed until Saturday. (Today Thursday—I was informed by my British colleagues with tongue-in-cheek that all RAF flights to/from Cyprus automatically “break down” for a few days to visit this beautiful island!). Accommodation at the Episcopy Mess, Hqs. NEAF.
9 June 1972 (Friday)David Owen rented a car, and he and Tom Potts really showed me Cyprus. Tom Potts had been stationed in Cyprus when the Brits were trying to negotiate between the Turks and Greeks and was very knowledgeable of the island and its recent history. He said he was present in the room when they drew the infamous “green line” down the middle of the island to separate the Turks and Greeks.
We visited Nicosia, Limosol, Kyrenia, saw the “murder mile” (the Green Line), Greek and Turk quarters, then on to Kyrenia—a delicious lunch at the Harbour House. On to the Mare/Monte Hotel for a delightful swim. Looked at some old monasteries/churches in the area. Traveled the Turk-controlled road. Ended the day with dinner at a Greek restaurant. Had a meze—delicious.
9 June 1972 (Saturday)Flight from Akratiri to Brize Norton on RAF Brittania. Trouble with tire blowing out on take-off. I guess the breakdown for maintenance was a little sloppy, and they missed a worn tire!. Landed OK after having to fly over Brize Norton airfield with wheels down to assess the blown tire.
Delightful homecoming—showing the gifts to Sue and the girls. (Note: I hand-carried the rug which had been cleverly packed suitcase-size by the rug merchant.) Everything arrived OK despite the rough baggage handling. Gained 9 pounds!
(End of diary entries.)