Credit:

    "Good Morning Vietnam," you remember, was a movie about an airman/disc-jockey named Adrian Cronauer. Adrian Cronauer is a real person who is an acquaintance and occassional lunch-date of mine. He does not look like Robin Williams. He looks, by his own description, like Robert Bork.

    Adrian is a lawyer with the Department of Defense whose specialty is working with the governments of North Korea and the Vietnam trying to locate the remains of military personnel who are still listed as "Missing in Action." This is a very worthy effort, and Adrian is a very worthy guy.

    I've never asked Cronauer if he really started his radio show with "Goooooood Morning, Vietnam" as Robin Williams does in the movie, but we will stipulate - for the next four months or so - that he did.

    A former Member of Congress from Minnesota (a Democratic Member of Congress) and current friend and colleague named Gerry Sikorsky suggested the title of these Travelogues in an e-mail.

    Both Cronauer and Sikorsky get full credit for the title. The content - for better or worse - is my responsibility.

    -----

    Chapter 6: Thanksgiving 2003


    Thursday, November 27, 2003

    From Headquarters,
    Division Artillery,
    1st Armored Division

    Thanksgiving 2003

    Thanksgiving is a unique day for Americans. It is a day - perhaps the only day when we look at what we have and are pleased; as opposed to looking for what we are missing and want more.

    Wanting more is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. We generally want more for our families - especially our children; more for our communities and more for our world.

    Open any phone book in any American city or down and look at the number of civic associations and clubs. Multiply that by every city and town and you get some idea of the scale of this "wanting more" business.

    This Thanksgiving is unique for me because, as I might have mentioned to you, I am in Baghdad, Iraq.

    For the past three days I have been in something of a panic because I didn't want to spend Thanksgiving in The Palace cafeteria. I wanted to be out in the field where I could talk to some troops.

    Here's something interesting: Three weeks ago in the cozy confines of Old Town Alexandria Virgina, if asked, I would have thought that Baghdad was pretty far out in the field. 19 days on the ground in Baghdad and I wanted more.

    See what I mean?

    It rained this morning in Baghdad. It poured, really. Although Iraq is part of the great Arabian desert; there is a reason it is in what has been known for about a billion years as the "Fertile Crescent."

    On the other hand it is not like Portland where it rains 417 days a year, either.


    The lyric of the Gordon Lightfoot song ran through my head:

    In the early morning rain, with a dollar in my hand;
    And an aching in my heart, and my pockets full of sand.
    I'm a long way from home, and I miss my loved ones so;
    In the early morning rain, with no place to go.

    The civilians here have the day off; although as I look around at about four in the afternoon, nearly everyone is sitting just about where they always sit because it's not like anyone is going to zip out to Nordstroms and do a little "day-before-the-biggest-shopping-day-of-the-year" shopping.

    The military, however, are in the midst of this pesky war and so they appear to have been at normal duty levels all day.

    Walking into the office this morning at about 7:30, I passed young men and women in uniform going to, or coming from their posts.

    In every single instance, when I said "Good morning and happy Thanksgiving," they responded with a bright "Happy Thanksgiving, sir!"

    Even in the rain.

    In the office a British Colonel who works near me came in and started working. I asked him if there was a British holiday which was the analog of Thanksgiving - not in terms of its timing, but in terms of its meaning.

    Without looking up, and with classic British understatement he said, "Yes. The Fourth of July."

    Even though I did not want to eat there, I went down to the dining hall to see what was what. A mural had been installed, painted by this man:


    Jose Coloan from New York City.

    It was hanging over this:


    which had been designed and installed by Liman Limani who is from Kosovo.

    -----

    I have made the acquaintance here of a Brigadier General named Mark Kimmitt. General Kimmitt is the spokesman for the military operations here in Iraq. His civilian counterpart, Dan Senor, shares the briefing duties on the political and policy side.

    Gen. Kimmitt was going to have lunch with a unit he used to command, the artillery unit of the First Armored Division, and asked me if I'd like to come along. I did and I got dressed in what can only be described as Thanksgiving Chic in a war zone:

    Someone asked me why I was wearing a tie. I said, "I've been invited to someone's house for thanksgiving."

    Out with the First Armored Division (we veterans of 19 days call it the "One-A-D") there was a line over two-hours long for Thanksgiving lunch.


    I've circled the point where the line ends. What you can't see is the line goes around the corner behind me and it's about 45 minutes to get inside from that point.

    One of the things you learn pretty quickly around military people is Generals tend to stifle conversation. So, Gen. Kimmitt and I decided he would go his way and I would go my way and we'd meet back at the VEE-hicle at a time certain.

    By the way. Kimmitt refused to eat ahead of all those soldiers who had been waiting on line. He went inside, got a cup of coffee and chatted with some people.

    He's a good man.

    I wandered around and talked to soldiers.


    like PFC Jennifer Harlow of Louisiana and specialist-4 Pedro Cruz of California.

    And, in a classic buddy army photo:

    Sergeants Pablo Reed (NY) and Donald Melendy (LA); and specialists Jesus Calderon (TX) and Max Hendrick (KS).

    I walked up and down the chow line, chatting with enlisted personnel and officers. I met two doctors, a helicopter pilot, some quartermaster folks, and artillerymen.

    As long as someone wasn't getting something they weren't, they had adapted and were coping.

    Many had been here since May and would be here until the end of April.

    They were waiting to get into the chow hall so they could have their Thanksgiving meal:

    By this time the rain had stopped, but the dust had been replaced by mud. Didn't matter. These were American kids waiting for the quintessential American meal: Thanksgiving dinner.

    This is what the mess hall looked like:

    But that doesn't tell the story. This young woman, with whom I fell instantly in love, tells the story. Generation after generation, we produce young people such as Specialist Kazia Stephen of Richmond, Virginia.

    May the cornucopia of American sacrifice and good will never run out.

    A plate of food and a smile which says - better than I ever could:
                    "Happy Thanksgiving, America."

    Be safe.

    -- END --

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