A grandfather gives war hell straight up, thanks to his grandson

The latest round of emails traded with my cherished journalism teacher Neal Bandlow brought tears to my eyes.

Coming on 40 years since the guy taught me how to put my five W’s and H together at Morrisville College in the Cherry Valley of upstate New York and I still never know what emotion Bandlow will bring forth from my heart.

Neal Bandlow shares an important point as professor emeritus at the spring 2015 SUNY Morrisville journalism convocation program.

Neal Bandlow shares an important point as professor emeritus at the spring 2015 SUNY Morrisville journalism convocation program.

Yeah, sports, for us to haggle about my Maryland Terps now in the Big Ten against his Michigan State Spartans. Yeah, newspapers, for him to rail against the big daily specifically for the big layoff and a personnel decision that affected his reading habits and us to lament the state of the industry in general. Family, always, to brag on and ask about our wives and kids and now his grands.

Which brought him to point out a letter to the editor that he’d written to his hometown Oneida Daily Dispatch, which they published shortly after Memorial Day.

It’s about war. And it’s quite a letter. Against. Most definitely, against.

Neal Bandlow, the guy who taught me so passionately about career and life and entwining the two as the Vietnam War era ended, didn’t talk about THAT with us back then. As I recall, we all knew the swoop-haired, intensely focused guy a dozen years our senior had been there. But not much more than that.

Let me let Neal explain, as he did to me in his email:

Wrote
it first to 60 (emails) of my family/friends/MSU dudes/my Vietnam buddies and got back a ton of thought-provoking replies. Wrote it from my
heart after my 8 year old grand kid, Evan, whom I adore, suddenly
said to me one day, “Popa Neal, what was war like?” I quickly told him
when he was older I would explain it to him, I went into the next room with
tears rolling down my cheeks, cause I never want him to know the answer.

Then…I wrote the Memorial Day letter to the editor and will stand behind
it “forever and a day!” Oh, FYI, only three people in my life ever heard
the account on the day I was wounded: an uncle and aunt (special people)
and my dad. No one else, even 46 years later it is too emotionally painful to
describe. For just a preview, I tell people when they ask: Check out the
final battle scene in the movie “Platoon!” Then I say no more …

No more needs to be said, my friend.

But later, Neal did, sending another email:

And … even though I have been an anti-Vietnam
activist, etc. since 1969, I am still very proud of the medals awarded to
me — I did my job over there, fighting for the American standing next to
me and hoping that both of us would go home again — not in a body bag!
And recall, old friend, these are issues I never discussed with any of
my students for 20 plus years, until around 1990 or so, then on a very
limited basis too!

This is why I am so damn glad that Neal Bandlow taught me so well about words and deeds and matters of the heart those two years from 1975 to 1977, and shows me still about life and love and what can be put into words all these years later.

Do you have friends and relatives who’ve painfully shared their war thoughts, and if so, how did the telling unfold? Do you have young people in your life that bring out introspection and definitive stances, and if so, please share. Who’s the teacher you remember most in your life, and why?

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36 thoughts on “A grandfather gives war hell straight up, thanks to his grandson

  1. Those who have been there seldom speak of it and when asked, will walk away. Most of my contemporaries who have been to war, were in the middle east. All they will say is that there was too much sand and blood. I have a cousin, Linda, who worked for WHO (world health organization) out of the CDC. She is a doctor who specializes in maternal health care and she spent much time in Afghanistan. Her family (husband and son) were put up in Cyprus, where she visited when she could. She came back with her personality hard and disgusted. She wouldn’t speak of it either except to describe generalities : like the infant death rate in Afghanistan is the highest in the world and, in fact is higher than cave men.

    The horrors seem to be so great that no one wants to remember.

    Interesting post Mark.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My daughter’s fiance is a veteran–deployed 3 times to Iraq and Afghanistan. He still suffers from the experience. He’s told her some things.
    I don’t know if I ever had that special teacher, but I think my girls have, and I suspect my husband has been the special teacher for some of his students.

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  3. What my husband thinks are the funny war stories are far too scary for me, so I refuse to listen to the scary ones. He tells them rarely, and only among other veterans. PTSD is real, and will probably affect the rest of his life.
    Living on a military base for seven years comes with terrible stories, Mark. I’ve seen some things. I’ve heard a lot of atrocious things. I can’t unhear or unsee them, although I wish I could. I wish I could undo so many of them.

    I think it’s fantastic that your teacher was so inspiring to you 🙂
    Special teachers are hard to choose, but I’d say my French teacher, my last sociology prof, and two of my literature teachers directly influenced me with their dynamic styles and deep thoughts.

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  4. Mark I love how you’re still in touch with your teacher and that he still moves you. ❤ Eric Schacter, my grade 5 teacher is my favourite. He brought me out of my shell…gave me wings to fly. Great post my friend. ❤
    Diana xo

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  5. My uncle is very proud of serving and when I once said “Politicians should all be put on an island and they should have to fight it out” he was very offended. I did not mean disrespect to men and women who had fought just the Why do so many have to go to war….just a thought Thankful for all those thst did and do fight to protect us!

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  6. Oh yes, definitely quite touching and you are lucky to have had such a man play an important role in your life. My brother in law served and often shows pictures and makes the kids leave the room. I leave too.

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  7. My uncle, a WWII vet, never wanted to talk about his experience. And I never blamed him for that. Probably would have been better for him if he could have, but not wanting to relive the horror made sense to me.

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  8. I had that same teacher in college as you did Mark. Just a few years after you. I just remember one thing he said about his experience in the jungle after suffering his injury. I still can’t take the picture out of my mind and think of it often so I can’t imagine the “real” pictures that he sees and the pain he feels when he closes his eyes. I love this country but not what our “superpowerness” has us do to others and our own. Ugh!!!

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    • Thanks for coming in and adding your insight to my story about our teacher and friend Neal, Sue. What he and so many solidiers of so many wars have gone through makes me very sad.

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  9. I’ve learned much from the veterans I’ve encountered. Many of whom hated war as well. It’s interesting the different tone each have used to speak their words. Some softly, some loud, some angry, some with hesitation, some with tears, some with horror, some with fondness for the men and women they served with, some with bitterness. None, with joy.

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  10. Both my grandfathers served in WWII and neither of them spoke of their experience. My father was in Vietnam and to this day does not speak about it at all Sometimes I wonder if the mental wounds of war are worse than the physical ones.

    I am fortunate and forever grateful to call myself one of Neal’s students. I have had several college professors and none of them even come close to how good Neal was when I was at Morrisville. When he spoke of his experience, I remember the serious tone in his voice-and realized why my father choses not to talk about it.

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  11. Mark, in my life, the only people who spoke freely of their experiences during war were those who enjoyed those experiences: Those were did not participate directly in any fighting:
    – Those who worked in maintenance or supply roles unlikely to entail risk.
    – Those far from any conflict zones
    – A pilot who thrilled to dropping bombs and raining napalm on Vietnam
    There was one exception:
    – A mercenary–a gentle-seeming gentleman when I knew him–who apparently thrived on a life of violence.
    Others were quiet about their wartime experiences. Most quiet were those with numbers tattooed on them. I have known only two: Neither felt the need or inclination to share.

    I had many, many excellent teachers. They all made a difference. More likely more so for the other students with less damaging home lives, but certainly they enabled the first part of my adult life to be a decent one. One particular teacher enabled me to graduate by physically walking out of her classroom, abandoning her other students, and hunting me down when I was cutting. Her students felt so warmly toward her that we called her “Mom”.

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  12. i’ve never had anyone tell me any personal war stories, but i’m sure many around me had them to tell. i remember my kindergarten teacher the most because she would read to us every day and i really looked forward to that time. i also was really shy and she was very kind about not making me share if i wasn’t comfortable.

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