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#VietnamWar

  • Bobby Kennedy’s Impact: An Excerpt from The Fire Escape Belongs in Brooklyn

    Bobby Kennedy’s Impact: An Excerpt from The Fire Escape Belongs in Brooklyn     

         In March of 1968, Bobby Kennedy announced his candidacy for the presidency. His announcement sparked hope among many youths who faced the military draft, Vietnam War, campus protests, conflict with parents…and other societal issues that prompted raging tension that spread across generations, races, and politics.  Following is a scene from my novel, The Fire Escape Belongs in Brooklyn, where three young people hint at the issues, conflicts, hopes, and fears of that era.

           I drove the Camaro back to Katie's house with Erica riding next to me. From the back seat, Katie ordered the radio turned up to nearly full blast. Janice Joplin was singing about Bobby McGee (“That’s my Family Song!” Katie shouted) and Erica surprised me with a hair-flying Joplin impersonation, changing the lyrics from “Bobby McGee” to “Katie McGee,” so I chimed in with my best Bob Dylan voice.

         "Holy shit! It’s Joplin and Dylan!” Katie said. "What an act you two could put together!"

         When I found myself quickly imagining what it would be like to be in a band and on the road with Erica, I knew my mind was hopelessly working overtime.

         "Do you do any other impressions?" Erica asked.

         "Let’s see… how about Bobby Kennedy?" I asked.

         "Oh, I just love him," Erica said. It was the same simple, sincere tone she had used in talking about the Beatles' song "In My Life."

         I jabbed my right forefinger in the air and said in my best nasal stammer, "I would just like to shay...uh...that if you feel...uh...that way about him, then it's...uh...worth it for me to…uh…try to impersonate him."

         "Not bad, not bad at all!" Katie said. “It’s like RFK is here in the car with us, isn’t it E?”

         Erica made a mock squeal and shouted, “Bobbyyyy!” Then she quickly turned serious and said, "I think Kennedy has character, something that makes you believe in him, and he seems so empathetic to people less fortunate than he is…which is practically everyone, of course.  But my parents sure don't think much of him."

         "Oh, my parents can't stand him either," Katie said. "Dad says, 'Bobby Kennedy's a shanty Irishman born under a shamrock.’ I try to stay out of it myself, but I like what Kennedy says about Vietnam. It's a shitty mess there, I don't know if anyone can really stop what's going on."

         "Or anyone could stop it," Erica said flatly.

         "Maybe, but not soon enough," Katie said. "Not before Brian gets there."

         They exchanged a few more thoughts about their fears and their anger, and I turned off the radio as they spoke so I could listen more closely. When they stopped talking, Katie hummed to herself, Erica looked out at the black New Jersey night, and I drove, thinking about the words of two high school girls—two girls I barely knew, but two girls who clearly had thought about the war, its impact, the politicians leading our country—speaking personally, passionately, and I found myself considering, probably for the first time ever, how anonymous soldiers are to the people who are not fighting, to the people safe and secure in college classrooms, eating at burger joints, driving around in Austin-Healeys, sitting on fire escapes, and how blank the faces are that cross the TV screen—until you see the face of someone you know and love preparing to leave his home and family to go into battle for them and for millions of people he will never know.

     

  • ENLIGHTENED...by "BLINDED BY THE LIGHT"

    ENLIGHTENED...by BLINDED BY THE LIGHT

    By

    Chuck Cascio

         My students were adamant: "You have to listen to this guy, Mr. C.! You love Dylan, so you have to hear this guy!" One young woman waved a cassette tape in my face.

         Me: "Whoever this guy is, he is not Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan is a poet, the voice of the heart and of the conscience."

         Students: "But, Mr. C., you always tell us to try new things! You always say: 'Trying new things broadens your thinking and creativity.' So come on!”

         It was 1973 and I was a young English and Journalism teacher at George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, VA. I loved my students' reactions when I had them analyze lyrics by Dylan and apply them to the socio-political climate of the time, or when I would play a Beach Boys song and ask them something seemingly bizarre like, “Equate their harmonies with the textured flow of a Dickinson poem.” At first, they would look at me confused, skeptical, but gradually they would dig in and they would come up with analogies I never dreamed of. Now, they were convinced, it was my turn to grow.

         So I relented: “Okay, so who is it that you want me to listen to? This ‘Dylan Equivalent?' "

         They did not waste a second. A cassette player appeared, the  tape was snapped in, and the entire class stood in a circle, smiling in anticipation as they awaited my reaction.

         The first sounds I heard from the recording were surprisingly appealing--a couple of engaging guitar riffs, a subtle drumbeat, another guitar floating through, hinting at something different. A few seconds passed and I was interested--not yet hooked, but interested. Then I heard the raspy, almost whispered words…

         "Sandy, the fireworks are hailin' over little Eden tonight

         Forcin' a light into all those stony faces left stranded on this fourth of July..."

    …and just two lines in, I knew I had to hear the rest. I listened intently, while my students nudged one another and some softly sang along with Bruce Springsteen's "Fourth of July, Asbury Park."

         My students did what they knew they could do--they hooked me on Bruce, and over the years I have thought often about that classroom experience (and many others)—and about how much we all have to learn by listening, looking, sharing. 

         That day, and those feelings, rushed back recently when my wife and I went to see the movie Blinded By the Light, which is based on the true story of a young Pakistani man facing the racism of late 1980s England. A friend turns the young man on to Springsteen, and his life is changed by The Boss's lyrics and music. 

         In the movie, Springsteen’s songs contribute to the young man’s development of personal strength. He experiences new insights into society. His thinking is influenced by many of Springsteen's lyrics, including one that especially hits home with him…and me… from the song "The Price You Pay": 

              “Now they'd come so far and they'd waited so long

             Just to end up caught in a dream where everything goes wrong

             Where the dark of night holds back the light of the day

             And you've gotta stand and fight for the price you pay…”

         I won't go into what are, to me, the rather obvious applications those particular lines have to life today. But it makes me think back to the 1970s when the kids I taught were experiencing a continuing era of overt racism, conflict over segregation versus desegregation, worldwide economic turmoil, a foreign war that was not formally termed a “war” by politicians of the time, talks of impeaching the president and more...and I wonder:   

         Exactly how far have we come? 

         Those kids in my classroom found a reality in the songs of Springsteen, and they shared that reality with one another and, fortunately,  with me. But they also heard and shared an element of change and a sense that life is fleeting, that people must determine what is right and what they want to pursue, and that the opportunity for personal or social change always exists…though sometimes with a price.

         Sure, they might metaphorically catch their shirts, as “Fourth of July, Asbury Park” says, on that "tilt-a-whirl down on the south beach drag" that "kept me spinnin'/I didn't think I'd ever get off…" but there is also this bit of hope at the end of the song:

              “…the aurora is rising behind us

             This pier lights our carnival life forever

             Oh, love me tonight and I promise I'll love you forever…”

         None of this is to imply that Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan or some singer-songwriter today has all of the answers to the looming socio-political issues we face or to the vast personal questions today’s youths confront. But the movie Blinded By the Light  emphasizes the importance of capturing the elements of hope and change, grabbing onto them, and not being afraid to “stand and fight for the price you pay.”

         Our natural instinct is to hope that the price we pay is not too high and that what we pay for will have a lasting positive effect for us and for all. As Springsteen warns in his song "Better Days," we shouldn't be "just sittin' around waitin' for my life to begin/While it was all just slippin' away." 

         I don’t know what happened to most of those students I had all those years ago, the ones who felt comfortable enough to have me listen to Springsteen, knowing that I would be captivated by The Boss. I do hope that they are all and that they still enjoy his music, that they also see how his words apply to today’s world, and that they have lived with this simple lyric in mind from Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”:

              “You can’t start a fire without a spark.”

         If you want to rekindle that fire, go see Blinded By the Light. It brings back memories, but more important, it serves as a reminder that art can spark meaningful thought, and that we are all responsible for starting our own fires.

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio. All rights reserved.

  • Free Previews of THE FIRE ESCAPE SERIES

    Summer's gone. Fall's looming. Time to find some moving, thought-provoking books for the months ahead. Allow me to humbly suggest that you do this for FREE:

    TAKE A WALK ON A BROOKLYN FIRE ESCAPE...SEE WHERE IT LEADS!

    With more than 100 5-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads combined, the three books in THE FIRE ESCAPE SERIES will make you laugh, cry, and remember. You can purchase just one book or two or all three: For a limited time, the entire package costs less than $10, including the Indie Award for Excellence Finalist, The Fire Escape Belongs in Brooklyn. To help you decide, here are links to FREE previews of all three books in the series:

    >The Fire Escape Stories, Volume Ihttp://a.co/84dhMFd

    >The Fire Escape Stories, Volume IIhttp://a.co/53BnS1G

    >The Fire Escape Belongs in Brooklyn ( A novel based on The Fire Escape Stories)http://a.co/5hV5Z0G

    Two cousins. One fire escape. Can it save them both? 

     

  • July 4th in DC: Then and Now

    July 4th in DC: Then and Now
    by Marc Cascio

    (Note my son Marc's thoughts on July 4 in DC as he recalls it...and now.--Chuck Cascio)

         I grew up going to the national mall for the 4th of July. It was awesome:

         The Beach Boys played, everyone chilled, some people overindulged, and the culminating event was always an incredible fireworks display. I always had a great time, but I always had this nagging feeling that something was missing, and now I know what it was: TANKS!!!

     

    Tanks roll into our Nation's Capital for the July 4 celebration.     

         Nothing celebrates winning our independence from England in the 1700s like four gigantic tanks to tear up the DC roadways and possibly flatten drunken celebrants! Yes, the Founding Fathers would be thrilled to know that the taxpayers are footing the bill for giant death machines to navigate narrow roadways full of revelers to satiate the desires of a president who has wanted to play with his tanks since he saw the French do it in a celebration back in 2017.

         I mean, who better to model a military celebration after than the French? Rumor has it that most of the citizens there surrendered during the course of the celebration in a Pavlovian response. That won't happen here though! In fact, I don't see any possible way that massive tanks, abundant alcohol, meager roadways that are insufficient for bearing the weight and traction devices of war machines, and a president with a massive ego who is disregarding the wishes of DC representative could result in anything but a covfefe time for all! 

        Happy 4th! And I thought I had it good with the Beach Boys and fireworks!

    copyright: Marc Cascio, all rights reserved.

  • READING AND DISCUSSION GUIDE: The Fire Escape Belongs in Brooklyn

    Reading and Discussion Guide for
    THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN
    By
    Chuck Cascio

    NOTE: If you would like  to discuss any of these items with me, please email me at chuckwrites@yahoo.com.

     
    1) What is the tone established in the Prologue and Chapters 1-3? How does it contribute to the story arc and how does it tie to Volumes I&II?
     
    2) Throughout much of the book, Mike "talks" to Sally-Boy. Do his "conversations" and recollections seem to calm Mike or do they seem to cause an increased sense of despair and desperation?
     
    3) Chapters 8-11 are often referred to as indicative of a turning point in Mike's thinking. If you agree with that position, what are some of the specifics that occur in those chapters that imply a change and is that change a sign of maturation or further frustration or both?
     
    4) Chapters 12-19 immerse readers in several realities that Mike and others of his generation face. Consider Mike's initial reaction to Erica, how his feelings develop, and what elements of his nature seem to be emerging. At the same time, consider what his roommate, Fish, is like and how interactions with Darrell Bingham affect them both and, also, what Bingham seems to represent.
     
    5) Chapter 20 ties together several elements of life during the Vietnam Era upon which much of the book focuses. Of those elements, what emerges as having the greatest impact of that time and which, if any of those elements, still seem prevalent today?
     
    66516041_High_Resolution_Front_Cover_7205575.jpg
     
     
    6) As relationships emerge and develop between Mike and Erica and Fish and Katie, what aspects of their personalities seem to come through most prominently. Which, if any, of those aspects seem positive and which, if any, seem troubling to you?
     
    7) Chapters 31-33 move the reader from a party where the song "Satisfaction" has a real and symbolic role to deeper thinking on Mike's part about where he is headed. What are some of the key scenes (if any) that indicate to you a change in the depth of the characters and what are some of the implications of those changes?
     
    8) As the storyline develops, the role of Professor Staunton emerges as more prominent as does the impact of the Vietnam War. These elements combine to result in decisions that some people might consider heroic and others might consider objectionable. How do you feel about the decisions the characters make both in context of the story and in reality?
     
    9) Chapter 48 focuses on a ferry ride that Mike and Erica take. What do you think of the character development in that chapter? Do you see any foreshadowing of what is to come?
     
    10) Chapters 49-53 are filled with character elements that move the story to various points of dramatic conclusion. What is unexpected? What did you anticipate? How were you affected by the different events that impact the characters?
     
    11) In the Epilogue, do you feel that Mike has resolved his issues with Sally-Boy's disappearance? Do you think that Mike does justice to Sally, or is there more that he should do and, if so, what should it be?
     

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved.

     
  • The Murder of RFK--An excerpt from THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN

    REACTION TO THE MURDER OF BOBBY KENNEDY—
    An excerpt from the novel, THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN
          A small group of weeping campaign workers sat around Professor Staunton in a corner of the campaign office. As Erica and I approached, I could see he cradled something in his hands. His face was flushed and his words slurred; he had been drinking. When he saw us, he held up a Kennedy poster. Red paint had been dripped across Kennedy’s head. At the bottom of the poster, someone had painted the words,  “Compliments of the friends of Jimmy Hoffa.” 
         “There is no end to it,” Professor Staunton said. “There will never be an end to it. We suffer once and then again and again and again. Hatred is in the air we breathe; it is what keeps us alive; it is what kills us all; it is what we worship; it is what we pray to; it is what destroys our soul.” 
         Wakonda, who had been kneeling next to him, stood and held his head in her arms. She said to us, “This is another day of evil, but we must continue to find hope in our souls.” 
         “But please, Wakonda, please help me; tell me what to hope for,” Erica said. 
         Wakonda’s kind, dark eyes focused directly on Erica’s, and then Wakonda reached out, held Erica’s shoulders, and said with soft but fierce commitment, “You can hope for the vision to live even as others die, Erica. You can hope for courage…You can hope for the unborn and the newborn. You can hope for those you love and for those who you will love. And you can hope for yourself; we must all hope for ourselves….” 
         Erica looked at me, full of youth, beauty, and pain, her words measured as if she were trying to keep from unraveling as she said, “Then I will continue to hope...that whatever is happening will all mean something. I can—and will—continue to hope!” She was almost shouting. She used no strange dialect to cover her pain, and she shook hard; I tried to steady her, holding her close as we walked to the car. 
         For the entire drive to her house Erica held her hands over her beautiful face, crying in sporadic, heaving sobs, blurting out in whispers a mantra, a repeated prayer, a confused contrition of sorts: “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry for everything I have done…I must hope…I must do better…I must be better…I am sorry for it all…” And she huddled against the car door, her knees against the backs of the hands that covered the face I could no longer see. 
         I pulled up in front of her house. Erica’s face re¬mained buried in her hands. She continued to strug¬gle for self-control, but then she shook and made one final, high-pitched burst—a sound so deep and for¬eign that I can still hear it clearly, painfully, a sound like exploding glass that sent a shudder through me.
    Copyright: Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.
     
  • UNITED BY THE WALL: A Tribute to Our Fallen Heroes

    UNITED BY THE WALL: A Tribute to Our Fallen Heroes

    In 1992, for the twentieth anniversary of the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington, DC, I had the privilege of working with my friend Jonathan Edwards, the incredibly talented singer/songwriter, on a musical tribute to the Wall and to the soldiers who gave their lives in that war.

    To watch and listen to "United By the Wall"--and to reflect for a couple of minutes on all the true heroes who have given their lives so we may live ours--please click on the following or cut and paste it into your browser:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzQtJr3yrK4   

    To all our veterans: Thank you for your service!

    Copyright Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved.

  • Voices of Concern for Our Imperiled Democracy

    VOICES OF CONCERN FOR OUR IMPERILED DEMOCRACY

    An Introduction by Gerald A. DiGrezio, Colonel, USA, retired

    Below is a letter I signed along with 16 other members of my 1968 Infantry Officer Candidate School at Ft Benning, GA.  While we certainly do not claim that we represent the views of the entire class during this period of extreme political diversity, we are a group of mostly Vietnam Veterans with a very singular concern. The signers come from all political persuasions and areas of this country but are united in our concern for what has transpired during the past four years of this presidency.

    We are in an era of time when each week a discovered situation would bring the demise of an administration, but we have become so shell shocked that it barely causes a ripple in the news cycle.  We are led by a president who is only concerned with his own image and is bereft of any concern for the Constitution and the rule of law.  Just two instances in a very long list are his multiple firings of Inspectors General and the U. S. Attorney in Manhattan.

    The duplicity by the Republicans in Congress and the United States Senate has been palpable.  To watch the demise of a political party that prided itself on  patriotism and support of the Constitution has been mystifying at best and duplicitous at worst.

    While we know that this letter will only be a raindrop in a deluge of national concern, the signers felt compelled to issue it.  After all, we took and oath to defend this country against all enemies “foreign and domestic.”  And while I never expected to say it, the greatest threat to the United States of America is resoundingly domestic.

    ###########

    download.jpg

    VOICES OF CONCERN FOR OUR IMPERILED DEMOCRACY

    We the undersigned are former or retired army officers now in our seventies.  We share a common bond, having graduated from the U.S. Army Officer Candidate School at Ft. Benning, Georgia in 1968.  From there, we served in the military in a variety of capacities, wherever we were needed.  As young men, we were committed to defending America’s values, our freedoms, our democracy, and our Constitution.  Some of us made a career in the military, but most of us went on to have productive careers back home in the civilian world.  As a group, we have diverse political views: Republicans, Democrats, Liberals, and Conservatives.  But we are all concerned Americans.

    In the past few months, our system of government has been increasingly under siege.  Our nation has reached this critical point under the current administration of Donald J. Trump.  Important voices have begun to speak out, led by respected members of the highest military rank.  We would like to join this chorus of alarm.

    Our government structure, with its co-equal branches, is in jeopardy.  Our judicial system is reeling.  The FBI, the CIA and the NSA are being mocked and belittled.  Our Attorney General’s office is overtly politicized.  Our State Department is being decimated. Where are the voices of outrage in Congress? The Senate is virtually mute.

    We are concerned that our country is rapidly spinning toward a Presidency staffed by family members and cronies in which the only prerequisite is blind loyalty.  The United States is withdrawing from the world, enjoying little respect internationally.  This cannot continue.  

    Quoting James Mattis, a Marine Four Star General and former Secretary of Defense:

                     “We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority…We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.”

    We honor the General’s courage, and emphatically call on both chambers of Congress to follow his lead in defending our democracy and our Constitution.  We urge all Americans to consider these ideals as you vote this Fall.

             Signed:                                                                   

    John F. Baxter III (1LT, USA)
    Mark T. Creaven (1LT, USA)
    Larry W. Clark (1LT, USA)
    Colonel Gerald A. DiGrezio, USA, Retired
    Joseph F. Frisz (1LT, USA)
    John A. Guy (1LT, USA)
    Gary J. Goodman (1LT, USA)
    Captain Robert R. Hammeras, USA, Retired
    Daniel R. Mabesoone (1LT, USA)
    A.C. (Budd) Mazurek (1LT, USA)
    John F. McMackin Jr. (1LT, USA)
    Carl A. Ohlson (1LT, USA)
    Charles A. Powell (1LT, USA)
    John B. Slidell (1LT, USA)
    Lt. Colonel Charles R. Stone, USA, Retired
    Lt. Colonel Ralph S. Swingler, USA, Retired
    Wayne P. Yetter (1LT, USA)
     

    Copyright: Gerald A. DiGrezio, all rights reserved.