The Bronze Star


Some things that you learn in life, you don’t soon forget. Some are things you carry with you for decades, memories that are like an accumulating set of weights, stuff you’d rather forget but can’t. Some stuff is a blessing, some stuff is a curse. Some of it is both.

To name an obvious example, combat is one of those things. I have my own combat recollections, and I’ll never forget them.

But combat, and war, spread beyond the combatants themselves and leave lasting impressions upon friends, relatives, society at large, and curious boys in the woods.

Yes, curious boys at play, forty years after the last shots were fired.

It was a pretty summer day, and one of my best friends came over to hang out in the late eighties. We talked about girls, listened to music, and generally enjoyed our summer break. We really didn’t have anything better to do, so we decided to go back in the forest behind my house and walk around some. A great deal of the forest had once been a massive open-pit coal mine, so there were a number of places to swim and rusty junk to explore. Dangerous? Probably. But you couldn’t keep us away from the woods.

My parents were pretty old-school in the regard that kids should be allowed to play- as long as we did our chores and were home by dinner time. “Helicopter parents” hadn’t been invented yet, and roughhousing, fights, and the occasional dangerous pastime, such as swimming in the old strip-pits were seen as part of growing up.

So into the woods we went, my friend and I. We walked for a while, smoked illicit cigarettes, and eventually came upon an abandoned house whose occupant had died a while back. We knew of the house, of course. It had been the run-down home of a hermit, he had died and no-one had claimed the house, the property, or its contents. We could see from a distance that few windows remained intact, and thieves and vandals had obviously been to work.

For the hell of it, we decided to take a look around. Yeah, it was technically trespassing, but we were on the coal company’s land anyway, so what would it hurt? Egging each other on, we approached the spooky old house. There was trash strewn about, and lots of broken glass as we got closer to the house. The doors had been kicked in long before we got there, we took care not to fall through the rotten boards on the porch as we went through the side, into the kitchen.

It’s hard to describe what a mess the place was. It was bad, stuff was scattered all about in a rotting layer a few feet thick. Doubtless the first thieves had been looking for the hermit’s “stash,” and who knows, maybe they had found it. As we walked through the place we noticed the inordinate amount of old liquor bottles, the hermit had been fond of his cups.

I had seen the guy around a few times before he died, all I knew of him was his nickname and reputation. And now I knew he had drank enough to kill a normal man. And who knew, maybe it had killed him, too. The place was dark, stinky, and spooky. Neither my friend or I talked. We were about to leave when we spotted an old Army trunk in the corner.

That drew my attention. I knew what an Army trunk looked like, of course. There were more veterans in my family then you could shake a stick at, and I was an avid collector of military stuff at the time. I made a beeline towards the trunk, with visions of Lugers and potato-mashers in my head.

(As an aside, such things could still be found at garage sales when I was a boy- they hadn’t really became valuable collectibles yet. Of course, you couldn’t get the grenades legally, but they were out there. When my Grandpa died, he had a whole case. My uncle gave them to the Sheriff for disposal.)

So I was pretty disappointed when I got to the trunk and I saw that it had been ransacked, too. Of course. An estate thief would want those Lugers.

There was paperwork, the remains of an Ike jacket, and some other junk. And then I saw a flash of color amongst all the junk. I reached down in the filth and picked it up.

It was a genuine Bronze Star.

A curious feeling came over me as I looked at the medal, then at my friend. I felt ashamed, and I felt bad for a no-bullshit hero who had died alone amongst the squalor and liquor bottles. No one cared enough about him to have claimed his stuff, or even to show up to sell the property. I left the medal on the trunk and we turned and got out of there.

It felt great to be back in the sunlight, and I never went back to that place again.

I didn’t forget his name, though. Later on, when the internet became a thing, I Google’d him and his story popped right up. Turns out that almost all awards for valor can be found on the internet, there are tons of people who track those things.

With interest, I read his story.

He had led a combat patrol on D-Day, and he bagged a German machine-gun nest. Talking with people who knew him later, I learned that he had fought on until the end of the war, and he was deep in Germany when the war ended. His unit liberated a small concentration camp. He had drank the bitter cup to its dregs. Returning home, he worked in the mine until the bottle got the better of him, and eventually he died, unmourned.

I may be the only person who thinks of him from time to time.

I can’t say for a hundred percent that his combat experiences led to his decline, but I can say from experience that they probably didn’t help.

Decades later, I had medals of my own. And yeah, I had some problems. Drinking seemed to be a pretty good option. It started to get out of control. After awhile, I thought of him and that sunny day in that dreadful house.

And I put away the bottle.

Well, it was a good idea…


Hey all. Remember last week when I said I would like to produce an omnibus of my trilogy? Well, I started moving in that direction and I began a new project file with my publisher.

Today I received an email from them, they will be closing their doors effective 31JAN18.

Oh no. This is bad. I have used those guys for four years now for everything Indie publishing. Were they expensive? Yes. Did they deliver a solid product? Absolutely. I would send them a rough manuscript, they would give me a solid edit with feedback (after the first book I even had a favorite editor), lay out the interior, handle the ISBN stuff, give me a couple of covers to choose from, etc. The whole process with them was user friendly and well-suited to an ex-GI with zero experience with creating and publishing books. My editor was cool, the design team was awesome to work with. All I had to do was pay them, sit back, and wait.

At the end I always had something that I felt proud to put my name on.

Alas, it is no more.

Whoa, back to square one in regard to getting books out there. At least I’ve done it three times, or I’d be seriously discouraged at this point.

Going to have to figure this one out.


A question for my readers


So I’ve been pondering what to do for 2018. For the past four years I’ve been busy with the Valley trilogy, but I’m mostly done with that. There are some pretty cool projects floating around out there, but the time is not yet ripe to publicly discuss them.

One of the things I will probably do, however, is bundle the Valley series into an omnibus  and release it through my publishing company, CreateSpace. A print and e-book version will be out there. I’m thinking the e-book will be 8.99 USD or something.

I don’t know about you all, but I like to buy omnibuses- you get the whole series in one handy package. If it’s any good, a nice thick multi-book will keep you entertained for a while, and the Valley series is some 270,000 words long.

I think an omnibus is a good idea, but there are some problems. I don’t know what to name the omnibus, and I will have to pay to get it organized and released. That’s one of the major drawbacks of being an independent author- you assume all the risks, and everything is on your own dime. Of course, the upside is that you own your work, and you are your own boss. I like being an Indie author, but funds are a bit of an issue right now. Plus there’s the problem of the name.

“The Valley” is the name of my trilogy, but I think it’s an awful name for a sci-fi omnibus. “The Valley” summons up visions of Western novels, and I wish I would have had more marketing experience when I originally named my first book and later the series. Of course, you only get experience by doing things, and it’s too late to go back and rename the series or my first book.

As an aside, I named the series after an Afghan valley that my team, Advisor Team 1.6, fought in. Of course, no-one got the reference but me, and it led to an awful series name. When I wrote “In the Valley,” I figured I’d never sell more than a hundred copies if I was lucky, so I didn’t care.

However, the first book took on a life of its own, and it metastasized into a full blown trilogy with time. So here I sit, pondering the creation of an omnibus with a terrible name, “The Valley.”

I need your help. If you guys can think of a decent name for my omnibus, shoot it to me.

I’m all ears.

Two things


First thing.

So I was cruising around the internet today, and I came across an article about the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Joint Chiefs. It seems he gave quite a public speech- he talked about smashing entrenching tools into the skulls of recalcitrant ISIS fighters. You need to look at this- I’m not making it up. Here’s the link to his FB page with the quote.

And I thought I was the only guy with a thing about E-tools- a simple folding shovel can be very bad news, trust me. For a graphic primer in how one is used, you need read no further than “All’s Quiet on the Western Front (Im Westen Nichts Neues).” The entrenching shovel can be used like a knife, a club, or an axe. Versatile.

Besides smashing skulls, they are also quite handy for any number of mundane field chores. Really, they are an indispensable, time-honored implement.

Nice to see that one of the Army’s senior enlisted soldiers gives recognition to the humble  mini-shovel. I don’t know if I would have mentioned it like that in a public speech, though. I think he even gave it a Twitter handle.

Second thing.

It seems that researchers have found thick sheets of ice on Mars. Check out the article here. Super cool- as we all know, water is as essential to life as entrenching tools, uh, I mean oxygen. For any future missions to Mars, it’s a no-brainer that water will be one of the key resources needed there.

This discovery is pretty exciting- ice sheets 100 meters thick. Plenty of water, all it needs is heated and distilled.

The pieces keep falling together to make this Mars thing a go. I do wonder if the explorers will have entrenching tools along.

They better. Those things can be used for everything.



UPDATE: Musk and crew just successfully punched another rocket up there (8PM 7JAN18 US EST) and recovered the stage.

I don’t know if you all have followed this, but Elon Musk and his merry gang are at it again. Space X is blazing hot right now, they have launched over a dozen payloads into orbit with their Falcon 9 re-usable rocket this past year and they are upping the ante sometime this month with the first-ever launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket with a demonstration payload of a Tesla roadster.

It is Mr. Musk’s stated intent to resume lunar flights and go to Mars. And it’s not happening with pie-in-the-sky distant launch dates (like NASA’s 2069 date to launch an interstellar probe. Really?). No, he wants to head to Mars by 2024- this is a goal to get excited about, real exploration before I reach Social Security age.

And how does he plan on doing it? With a vehicle called the BFR, Big Falcon Rocket, or Big Fucking Rocket, depending on which source you read. For an in-depth exploration of the concept, click here.

For my Australian readers, you may be interested to know that Mr. Musk revealed the concept in September of 2017 at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide. Pretty cool.

Apparently, the production capacity for the BFR is already in development (this is what separates BS from stuff that will probably happen), and funding is coming from the successful payload launches over the past year.

I’m rooting big time for Mr. Musk and his crew. They are making the stuff that other people only talk about happen, and they are doing it with their own money and reputations on the line. This takes real chutzpah.

We get to see the first part of this ambitious process this month (January 2018), with the launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket. If successful, Mr. Musk’s Tesla roadster will be flung on a heliocentric Mars orbit- you can’t make this stuff up.

I’ll be watching. This is too cool.