Saturday, January 21, 2012

A River Runs Through It: The Enduring Memory of Events Long Past

Bound for Vietnam 1966

The threads of a life experience begin to cling to our memories from our earliest recollections, and continue to be woven into other threads that bind us even closer to an experience until it becomes a highway that some random event, sends your thoughts careening back to recall that earlier moment.  This blog has as a heading, "Bound for Vietnam 1966" with a photo, and the phrase; "..the beginning of a quest to understand our world." The experience of serving in the Vietnam War with all the attendent experiences has led to shaping my life long pursuit to study history and understand how it affects our world. A couple of things entered my life, to send me hurtling back to reflect on my experience in Vietnam and how it affects my world today. One occurred a couple of day ago, and the other, will take place next week. Both are examples of the six degrees of separation that bind us to events in one's past.

Joe Cook and the Cambodian National Baseball Team

Last Thursday evening, I had the pleasure of being invited to view a film about baseball. This was not your average "feel good" film about a bunch of young men playing baseball, but a film that captured a nation in transition as it tries to still recover decades later, from what would in any terms, be a holocaust on a national scale. The viewing was sponsored by Tom and Chris, the founders of the Pepper Project which has as it's mission statement. "... to get the word out about all the treasures that Cambodia has to offer starting with a spice that is highly regarded in many parts of Europe, but that most people have never heard of." In keeping with that pledge, they provided a platform to introduce Rice Field of Dreams a film that follows Joe Cook a Cambodian, who escaped Pol Pot's "Killing Fields" to become a chef in an Alabama Japanese steakhouse. Joe return to Cambodia in 2002, to visit his long lost sister and soon begins a quest to introduce the game of baseball to the youth of Cambodia. The film captures more than just a group of young men as they struggle to overcome the barriers of language and the rules of the game. The film captures little moments like when they queue up to try on the dozens of donated sunglasses and the smiles that those small gifts generated. I don't want to give away the plot, because it is more than watching a group of kids learn the game. Part of what it reveals, is the fault lines between the founder and the imported North American coaches who can't seem to get their minds around how to motivate the team. I would encourage everyone to make it a point to give this film a look when it is released this April. My degrees of separation comes from both the Vietnam War which in part triggered the events that led to this film's subject, and even the filmmaker being in the position to make this film; and my own personal experience with the people of Cambodia.

Maj. Charles R. Soltes Jr.
Dr. Dang and Rob's sons

Turning to the next event, that is also has it's roots in the Vietnam War, is the dedication next Wednesday January 25, 2012 of the Blind Rehabilitation Center at the Long Beach Veterans Hospital in  the name of Maj. Charles Robert Soltes Jr. My connection to Major Soltes comes from being a patient of his wife, Dr. Sally Dang who tirelessly lobbied Congress to name the center after her husband as an honor to their children, and other's who had lost their lives in Iraq. Besides, the personal connection of being one of Dr. Dang's patients, the thread runs, as Norman McLean novel's title "A River Runs Through It." would attest. Major Soltes father, a career officer in the US Army, served in Vietnam as a pilot during the time of my deployment. We never crossed paths other than serving in the same area at the same time, but the comradeship remains indelible between those who served. Dr. Dang's parents, fled the fall of Vietnam and joined the thousands of refugees who made their way to our shores to begin a new life. Dr. Dang, is a product of their hopes and dreams, and in turn chanced to meet Rob at school, fell in love, and began to raise a family. Rob's life was cut short in an IED attack in Iraq in 2004, leaving Sally to carry on, and not only raise their three sons, but in turn, dedicate part of her life to helping wounded soldiers with traumatic eye injuries.
I would invite all who could attend to make time next Wednesday January 25, 2012 at 10AM, to attend the dedication at the Long Beach VA Healthcare Center 5901 E 7th Street, Long Beach CA
The enrichment of people like Davon Ker, the filmmaker of Rice Fields of Dreams, Joe Cook, and Dr. Sally Dang, and the countless others who have risen from the ashes of the destruction visited on Cambodia and Vietnam, add new threads to the fabric of this nation, and will insure that the United States and it's creed that all people are created equal, will endure.

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