Everybody’s All American

“While the committee did not uncover evidence that the proposed Hoffa assassination plan ever went beyond its discussion, the committee noted the similarities between the plan discussed by Hoffa in 1962 and the actual events of November 22, 1963. While the committee was aware of the apparent absence of any finalized method or plan during the course of Hoffa’s discussion about assassinating Attorney General Kennedy, he did discuss the possible use of a lone gunman equipped with a rifle with a telescopic sight, the advisability of having the assassination committed somewhere in the South, as well as the potential desirability of having Robert Kennedy shot while riding in a convertible. While the similarities are present, the committee also noted that they were not so unusual as to point ineluctably in a particular direction. President Kennedy himself, in fact, noted that he was vulnerable to rifle fire before his Dallas trip. Nevertheless, references to Hoffa’s discussion about having Kennedy assassinated while riding in a convertible were contained in several Justice Department memoranda received by the Attorney General and FBI Director Hoover in the fall of 1962. Edward Partin told the committee that Hoffa believed that by having Kennedy shot as he rode in a convertible, the origin of the fatal shot or shots would be obscured. The context of Hoffa’s discussion with Partin about an assassination conspiracy further seemed to have been predicated upon the recruitment of an assassin without any identifiable connection to the Teamsters organization or Hoffa himself.”

The U.S. congressional committe on assassinations official JFK Assassination report

“What the fuck you wearin?” Were the first words I remember hearing after returning to Fort Bragg after the first Gulf war. They were uttered by The Sergeant Major, a somewhat squat African American – for lack of a better term but widely used back then – who spoke with an unlit, half smoked cigar held between his acrotypical thick lips. His countenance was relaxing even though his words were not, and his question was a combination of authority used to change a situation and universal human curiuosity when faced with something new or unusual or somehow remarkable.

The Sergeant Major was Sergeant Major Hoggard: responsible for more than 900 paratroopers on one battalion of the President’s quick reaction force, 1st Battallion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, 18th Airborne Corps. He was a Vietnam conflict veteran and former prisoner of war with a chest full of badges that would impress almost anyone, even someone who didn’t know what they all meant: Master Blaster with three mustard seeds, Pathfinder with the history of being “first in, last out,” Air Assault, and one that I didn’t recognize yet and squeeed below the helicopter with angel wings of Air Assault. His right shoulder wore a special forces combat patch, though his left shoulder only had ranger and airborne tabs above the 82nd Airborne’s “AA,” colloquially referred to as the 82nd All Alcoholics but meaning “All Americans,” because when the 82nd Infantry was formed in WWI it was the first time in American history that a military unit had soldiers from all states; hence, All Americans. At the time, people still recalled the civil war and knew that brothers fought brothers partially because all U.S. military units were local, regional groups of armed men that developed loyalty to whichever patch they wore and leader they followed.

After WWI, the 82nd Infantry was disbanded but soon reformed in the midst of WWII, and the All Americans became America’s first “paratroop” unit in 1944. The All Americans gained accolades in WWII that are legendary. A famous poster in international newspapers and magazines at the time – still a poster displayed in practically every airborne leader’s office, including The Sergeant Major’s – epitomized the 82nd soldier of the time. His age was around 26, unlike the age of 19 as in The Sergeant Major’s era, and he was a white male who would have either volunteered for the military or been drafted: either way, he would have had to have volunteered to be Airborne. In that photo, the older, rugged, unshaven man is wearing a trenchcoat covered in snow and looking on the edge of death due to fatigue and too many battles in too many consecutive months. He’s carrying a small bazooka, and the reporter who took his photo was documenting America’s best hope against Europe loosing to HiItlers Nazi Germany and their intimidible Panzer tanks dominance was a few scraggly paratroopers in the 82nd and a scattering of 101st troops and a few others. They had been t combat for years, and on that cold winter a few stood their ground, united yet not – the 555th demonstrated that – yet non of that was relevant at that moment. The largest and fiercest armored ground force the world had ever known was headed for a small weakness in the Allied defenses, and The Battle of the Bulge was about to begin. The cameraman captured the paratrooper’s expression just as he had answered the reporter’s question of “who are you?” And the paratrooper had said, “I am the 82nd, and this is as far as those bastards are going.” Soon after, a company of 82nd paratroopers from the 504th dropped into combat wearing the newly designed Airborne uniform designed with extra large cargo pockets to help carry basic living needs or extra ammo for soldiers jumping behind enemy lines. A captured German officer’s diary exclaimed:

“American paratroopers – devils in baggy pants – are less than 100 meters from my outpost line. I can’t sleep at night; they pop up from nowhere and we never know when or how they will strike next. Seems like the black-hearted devils are everywhere…”

Since then, the 504th has been colloquially known as “The Devils in Baggy Pants” and the 82nd has been called “America’s Guard of Honor,” and at any given moment one of the 82nd’s battalions has been on two-hour recall notice to parachute into any area of the world within 18 hours; the other eight battalions are staggered from DRF-2 to DRF-3 with recalls of 4 and 6 hours to DRF-4 to DRF-7 training phases to being practically on vacation all the time. The inspection process for DRF-1-3 is arduous, and the stakes are real. I had first seen The Sergeant Major on television, albeit briefly, during my high school Christmas vacation in December of 1989, just after the 82nd had parachuted into Panama and taken over the county – along with a group of SEALS and Delta Force soldiers and a surprisingly well coordinated and diverse group of Americans – and international television was showing a group of young and presumably unshaven 82nd soldiers surrounding El Presidente Noriega’s home and, rather than killing him, had surrounded his home with large, stadium quality speakers and had been blaring 1980’s hard rock and heavy metal into his home 24/7, depriving him and his personal guards – the Panamanian equivalent of special operations or secret service – of sleep. Humorously, the paratrooopers, who were around 19 years old on average, had graduated high school around 1986 or 1987, shortly after Van Halen’s eponymous 1985 album, “1985,” and David Lee Roth blaring Van Halen’s world-wide hits, “Jump!” and “Panama.” How could they not? They had just left the cold winter of Fort Bragg North Carolina and missed Christmas to parachute into the hot jungles of Panama under firefight and capture an airport and bring in all other American troops and then still have the energy to surround El President’s palace and, to demonstrate the values we hoped to install on even the fiercest solder, to not kill unless to immediately defend others, like a combination of Sampson and the Good Samaritan, to not kill when blaring Van Halen 24 hours a day over Christmas may do the trick. It may not be as poster-worthy as “This is as far as the bastards are going,” but to millions of teenagers like me, watching bursts of news about the American invasion of Panama and Reagan’s War on Drugs interrupt or normally scheduled broadcasts, the 82nd was the coolest thing we could have ever imagined: kids began wearing Vietnam-era shirts like, “Airborne: Death from above,” and “Kill ‘em all: let God sort ‘em out,” and teachers quoted John Wayne from his famous movie where he wears the maroon beret of the 82nd Airborne in the Battle of the Bulge. And, even better, I’d later learn that when the 1/504th’s Delta Company’s C-130 airplane pilots opened the jump doors a few hundred feet above the jungle, they blared the new top hit of 1989 over the speakers: Gun’s N Roses “Welcome to the Jungle.”

Delta Company wasn’t supposed to jump, and not all did. They were on DRF-4 and under The Sergeant Major’s command of the 1/504th Battalion. But, one of the other battalions had failed readiness inspection and were on the Division Commander’s shit list and then President Bush called them and told them to invade Panama. They did what they were told, but not with the failing Delta Company; in the 82nd, Delta companies are the anti-armor paratroopers, a smaller group than the other companies but much more heavily armed now than in WWII, with the newly released HUMVEE”S to carry and keep on top a choice of TOW-II missle systems (Tube Launched Optically Tracked missiles capable of punching through 38 inches of armored steel 3,750 meters away).50 caliber machine guns with armor piercing rounds (hard steel inside of a softer metal to weaken then penetrate, capable of 1,800 rounds per minute with an effective range of 1,800 meters), and a new weapon for the army, adapted from the navy and merchant marine’s in Vietnam and made famous by the poster of soon to be President Kennedy behind one, MK-19 Grenade Launchers with the new HEDP rounds, High Explosive Deep Penetration (hehehe) rounds, capable of melting through 2 inches of armored steel and then exploding with  enough shrapnel to create a 5 meter kill radius and a 15 meter injury radius. Each HUMVEE was maned by a three-man squad, a commander who controlled the old school radio with only a few click range, meaning each HUMVEE was at times out of range and therefore a force on its on, with the commander instantly became the HMFIC (Highest Mother Fucker in Charge), and carrying an M-203 combination M-16 machine gun and grenade launcher and with a new type of bayonet shared with the marines capable of cutting all kinds of shit. His driver would have an M16 and his gunner would have a Berretta 9mm and whichever weapon they chose to mount; though it was customary to give the driver their 9mm so that he could shoot out of the window with one hand while steering with the other. The Secretary of State and all military leaders had decided that one more platoon of Airborne anti-armor was needed, and The Sergeant Major’s D-Company , 1/504th, passed readiness inspection even though they didn’t have to, because that’s what you did for The Sergeant Major, and of all four platoons with two Humvees each, The First Sergeant of the Delta Dawgs sent Anti-Tank Platoon 4.

Saddam Hussein ordered the largest tank fleet the world has ever known, albeit comprised of mostly outdated Soviet T-54 and T-55 tank, but with a whole lot of them and 500,000 soldiers following, to invade the small country of Kuwait. Eighteen hours later, the 82nd was air-landed by fleets of C-130’s and C-141’s and a few C-5’s; they piled out into 119 degree heat and practically collapsed from fatigue and heat shock, yet somehow they and few Sheridan tanks and Humvee’s drew what President Bush called “The Line in the Sand” and began Desert Storm.

A few months later, a world wide coalition had formed. America had 560,000 soldiers in Saudi Arabia at the border of Kuwait and Iraq; total allied forces surpassed any armed force in history. On January 4th, 1991, a year after returning from Panama and immediately following the largest coalition air bombing since Dresden, AT4 would follow the French forces across the border and begin Desert Storm. A few months later, ??? Airborne Command leader General Stormin’ Normin would be credited for a historically relevant clear strategy and exit plan, and Regan funded technology would be credited as facilitating a decisive victory with minimal loss to American lives; in fact, Desert Storm was the first U.S. military action where we didn’t kill more of ourselves in fratricide or to medical error than ever before, including Panama.

AT4 gained a bit of recognition during the capture and destruction of the Khamisiah Airport. At first, we were told to keep everything intact, including the MIGS and experimental tanks and secured silos, for study by higher up and for immediate use by us: we were to prepare for a parachute jump into Bhagdad to either secure an airport or capture Saddam: details would be given as they unfolded. A few hours of fighting later, the command was given to destroy the airport. The Delta Dawgs created a security perimeter and demolition engineers set explosives everywhere and one of our HuMBEE commanders – they were called tank commanders and HUMEE’s were still very new – coordinated a call for two 15,000 pound bombs, each squeezed into a C-130 and strapped to parachutes and timed to detonate above Khamisiah just as the ground bombs detonated, obliterating everything. For good measure, the Air Force was dropping bunker busters all around us, bombs that penetrated 30 meters of bedrock before detonating or exploding in the general vicinity with enough fire to consume all oxygen in all nearby bunkers, and a couple of modified C-130 Spectare Gunships were rattling rattling guns just in case any survivors escaped their bunkers.

That explosion released Sarin nerve agent, and to this day the Veteran’s Administration Medical System says that 60,000 former soldiers have a series of conditions referred to as “Desert Storm Syndrome.” After decades of research comparing symptoms across different demographics, including civilians, multiple independent research groups would show, statistically, that you were 40x more likely to exhibit Desert Storm Syndrome if you had two criteria: were within 100 miles of Khamisiya and had taken the experimental anti-sarin prophalactic oil, ???? Bromide (ironically). This would be the subject of fierce reactions from parents, voters, and therefore politicians: my testimony about Khamisiya has been the subject of three different congressional committees over the past three decades. At the time, I was in First Squad, AT4, as the newest, youngest soldier in Desert Shield, and had been assigned as a fourth member of First Squad, an ammo bearer and casualty replacement. At first, I was 5’6” tall and 147 pounds. A lot happened quickly. I ended up with a mention in a small award for when two of us captured 14 of Saddam Husein’s Republican Guard in what was described as hand to hand combat initially, but was really just us deep in pitch black bunker protecting Khamisiay. We were running low on ammunition and entered the bunker with two bayonet’s, a 9mm, a .12 gauge shotgun and a few grenades but with night vision goggles, NOD’s, and that was enough to overcome the odds. The Republican Guard HMFIC had a notebook that became useful to higher up, and I was asked to work with higher up’s men. I still don’t know what that meant, but I had also had a 24 shot disposable film camera, one of the few cameras available in Iraq, even with all of our technology back then. After we blew up Khamisiyah, higher up would have a photo I took of the mushroom cloud over Khamisiyah and a few shots of destroyed bunkers and bodies sprawled around unsuccessful anti-aircraft embankments (and I’d explain a few random photos during rare down time, more than one crass photo taken by others rom when I had set the camera down, and a shot of an enormous lizard nicknamed “Achmed the Lizard” that we had nursed back to health and used as a mascot after some assholes intending to be funny had spray pained his back with the V sign we all wore on our roofs to alert the air force to not kill us; in our photo, we had placed Achmed the Lizard near our reflective IR tape that created a 5 meter safe zone from Specter Gunship 20mm automated gatling machine guns. In addition, I would be questioned about several villages we had, under orders, not protected after the war ostensible ended and Saddam’s forces retaliated by massacring, by my estimate at the time, hundreds of men, women, and children while we watched and then that we tried to save as those forces rolled on to the next village.

When we returned to Fort Bragg in May of 1991, almost exactly a year after my high school graduation. I was still confused when The Sergeant Major stopped me walking across the common area, carrying a few letters and care packages that had been held in North Carolina instead of being forwarded to Iraq. Of course, I snapped to attention. It was The Sergeant Major. But I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what the fuck I was wearin,’ and I had been pondering it ever since dawning my old uniform.

“At ease,” he said, and I did the best I could with the packages tucked into one arm cradle. As I relaxed, it dawned on me: my uniforms hadn’t shrunk, I had grown during the war, literally and metaphorically.

Before I deployed to the war, I was given the only desert uniforms they had left, size XL, and no one noticed my gradual growth and I must have not noticed no longer needing to roll up my sleeves, or thought my two uniforms were shrinking in all the funk and filth I had put them through the past four months. Upon our arrival back at Fort Bragg, the division commander had ordered everyone to change back to jungle fatigues, something almost everyone did with joy, like snakes shedding their skins after nine months of accumulated filth on their outer skin. I had just returned from supply, where my old uniforms from basic training and Airborne school had been stored, and I was walking back to D-Company’s barracks and pondering the tight fit when the Seargent Major stopped me.

He looked me up and down. He was slightly shorter than I was and had a pudge like a lot of older men who had once been in phenomenal shape and had built out their stomach muscles. His left shoulder had a Ranger tab and then the Airborne and AA. His right shoulder had the legendary Sky Soldiers: as a veteran of 20 years in various combat situations, he had his choice of combat patches, and if you had to choose why not choose the flaming angel wings of the Sky Soldiers? His chest was a mass of patches that I didn’t recognize yet. I had no patches, because my uniform was still my basic training issue and I had transitioned straight from Airborne school to the 82nd on the front line, the original line in the sand that had crept forward like the Battle of the Bulge but with the 82nd and French leading this time.

“I said, what the fuck you wearin, Private?”

“I grew, Sgt. Major.”

I recognized the confidence in my voice that I had felt for a long time but had not realized until that moment, just like I was realizing that I had grown. I was speaking from a source voice of the slightest big of doubt, worry, anxiety, pride, arrogance, or self-consciousness. It felt good. I smiled subtly, and knew that I was smiling as subtly as the b in subtle.

“You fuckin’ grew?” It wasn’t a question, and he chewed on that for a few moments. His lips moved his unlit, half-smoked cigar from one side of his mouth to the other, and he gnawed at it delicately and deliberately, as if that’s how he always collected his thoughts.

Just then, a cherry lietenant walked by wearing an unblemished and highly starched uniform with bright and shiny unscuffed boots. He had a Ranger tab, like any lietenant assigned to the 82nd other than one or two rare exceptions. He was probably just out of West Point: he didn’t even have an EIB yet. The Sergeant Major and I snapped to attention, with me doing the best I could with my packages craddled by my left arm.

“At ease,” the cherry LT said. He nodded at the Sergeant Major, who salluted and said, “All the way, Sir.” I can’t recall what the LT said; the Seargent Major laughed and said he’d get it squared away and reached into his baggy right pants pocket and fished around a bit and said, “Hey there, Sir; you want a cigar? I got one right here…”

The LT declined and glanced up at my eyes again and made a smug sound and told us to carry on. I could have squashed him like a sand gnat or punted him away like a dung bettle dropping in on my cathole the day after a long firefight; I realized the only reason he didn’t realize that was because the army told him otherwise, and he hadn’t learned how little people care about rank in combat. He may have read about fratricide in Vietnam during a West Point class, but he didn’t have the experience to treat each moment as an opportunity to build allies or fascilitate latent animostity that would surface when people were fatigued or mentally stressed to breaking points and willing to kill whatever they saw as the source of their pain, no matter how they had been trained or what rank was on the collar of their pain.

The cherry walked away and I went back to being at ease and the Seargent Major rested his hands on his hips and went back to looking at my up and down. He was almost a hand width shorter than I was.

“You that mother fucker who speaks Sand Nigga’ and does magic tricks and shit, ain’t ya?” He said that rhetorically, I’m sure. I wouldn’t have known what rhetorically meant back then, but I knew from his tone and body language that he hadn’t asked a question and was thinking out loud. I remained as silent as sniper in Vietnam or my dad after being read his Miranda rights during Reagan’s war on drugs.

The Seargent Major’s lips navigated his cigar back to its original location in the far corner of his mouth and continued seamlessly into a bemused smirk. His head continued and cocked slightly and he said, in a way I interpreted as a question of sorts,

“I heard you pretty good with a knife.”

It was true, and someone had taken a photo of the evidence and it had been circulated around because a cherry had won the battalion’s informal Stretch competition, an old 82nd game that provided shit-taking rights between platoons and companies. It was something we did on breaks in combat to unwind and relax, and it involved hurling our bayonets at each other’s feet in alternating turns. If you stuck within a blade length they moved their foot to that spot and stretched out a bit more: hence, Stretch. The winner was the last one standing. I had had an advantage, despite my disproportionately long feet, in that I had been issued the only bayonet left at HQ, a Vietnam era like The Sergeant Major would have used, meant to stab and pierce armor and ribs and tires, not the more modern and thicker tool that assumed the days of trench warfare and  hand-to-hand combat were over. I had learned to throw knives from a high school buddy and it was easy to adapt to my bayonet, and I won Stretch and was caught on film laughing and having fun in the process.

The part about speaking Sand Nigger was exaggerated. I only knew a few phrases and numbers up to ten that I had learned from Mr. Samuels, an old Jewish magician at the Baton Rouge Magic Club, before I had left for basic training; he had told me Israelis and Arabs are more alike than most people realized, and had demonstrated by teaching me a few phrases in both Hebrew and Arabic. But, in the land of blind men, a one eyed man is HMFIC, and I was frequently called upon to help interrogate prisoners by both the 82nd and the French. And because I was from Louisiana and Uncle Bob had taught me a bit of Cajun French two years before, when I had stayed with him as his hospice care, I was surprised to discover I could somewhat communicate with the French and they were pleased with that and I was a translator of sorts in the first few weeks after the air bombardment and up until the March 4th capture of Khamisiyah, when I had the opportunity to interrogate Saddam’s Republican Guard after a skirmish about the length of a round of high school wrestling. Apparently, I was appreciated by higher up and word had filtered back down and The Sergeant Major probably paraphrased someone by saying I spoke Sand Nigger.

“Yes, I am, Sgt. Major,” I replied with an accidental air of confidence that made the confidence that much more palpable to anyone nearby, including myself.

He took out his cigar and erupt into a brief but joyous laugh and exclaimed, “Holy shit, H’uah! That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout!” He chuckled and looked me in the eye and deliberately moved his right hand towards his pocket as he said,, “Hey, there, H’uah! You want a cigar?”

He imed his words with his actions like an experienced magician directing people to where he wanted them to look. He said, “I got one right here…” as he fished around his pocket. He found one and tried to yank it out but it must have been a big one and was stuck.

He yanked hard a few times and said, “Holy shit, H’uah! That ain’t a cigar, it’s my dick! My big, fat, black dick!” He withdrew his hand then and said, “Ha! Just fuckin’ with ya, H’uah.”

He looked at my name tag, the only patch I had other than US Army and my E2 stripes, and said, “All right, Private Parts. Ha! Just fuckin’ with ya, Partin. Hey, there, H’uah: if RoboTop don’t get you squared away by Monday, you come see me, y’ hear?”

RoboTop was our new Top Sergeant, a nickname for First Sergeant, the top seargeant, and RoboTop was probably the largest, fiercest, and most taciturn human I had ever seen, even after having grown up watching 1980’s pro wrestling on TV. His nickname came from the 80’s eponymous film, Robocop, about an honorable officer turned into an almost invinible cyborg who moved with the same strong precision as RoboTop. I’d soon learn that even he looked up to The Sergeant Major and trusted his judgement, and would prioritize whatever was necessary to square away whatever SGM Hoggard felt was important; as Yoda had said, “Size matters not.”

I cocked my head almost unnoticably and looked down at The Seargent Maor and, though I only say this in hindsight, saw RoboTop looking squarely at the Seargent Major. I said what he would have said.

“Yes, Sgt. Major.”

Hoggard’s lips navigated the cigar stub around his mouth like a magician manuevering a Sharpie around his fingers and looked me up and down again and asked me a few questions about what had happened at Khamisiyah and the villages after. He would have read all the reports from Khamisiyah and seen my name and probably made the connections, but the two months after that were undocumented and only known by word of mouth, and by then I was a nicknamed passed three to five kilometers at a time along antiquated radio systems: Dolly, Feet, Secret Agent (because of my Cajun accent across the radio network and a popular James Bond spy film set in Louisiana where the local sherif kept repeating, in doubt of what he had just learned, “See-cr’et A’gent?”), and, finally, “that mother fucker who just beat Parker at Stretch.” Hobo and I chatted a bit as two fellow combat vets, then we parted ways with an obligatory return to attention before I was dismissed to carry on with whatever the fuck I was doin’.

Back in the barracks, I laid out my letters and packages. There was still nothing from Wendy, but I opened the first package from my dad. It was a box of anti-war newspaper clippings and an the frist letter he had written me in almost a year, since my high school graduation. It was a hand-written note telling me how disappointed in me he was that I had gone to war to burn babies and kill villages.He had always swapped words, calling me Justin instead of Jason and confusing Bobby Kennedy with Johnny Kennedy and things like that. I was used to it. Another package was from The Abrams and Mrs. Abrams’s 5th grade class who had written me weekly with updates on what they were learning and reading about the war, and occassionally sending a few snack bars or a book they thought I’d enjoy. I had a letter Cristi with blank paper and a SASE so I could write back – her addressed changed frequently – and a photo from Leah of her and a few of her fellow dancers at The Gold Club who had, by the grace of God, adopted me like Mrs. Abrams’s 5th grade class and ocassionally sent photos they thought I and AT4 would enjoy; they were all right.

Three weeks later, I flew to Arkansas to see my dad and he didn’t notice that I could look him in the eye for the first time. He shouted and yelled and ranted about burning babie and poked his finger into my chest one too many times. I left him bloody and beaten in the dirt and flew to Baton Rouge, where The Abrams and Cristi and Leah and some of her friends met me and I had the best two weeks of R&R imaginable.

Two years later, in the summer of 1992, I was wearing an 82nd combat patch had a chest full of badges and was certified expert in practically every weapon in NATO armorment, from bayonette to pistol to machine gun to missle, and was serving on small experimental team that The Sergeant Major had thrown together with RoboTop’s input and traveling abroad to work with other experimental unites including the new German teams comprised of East and West Germans for the first time since WWII, possible because of Reagan’s cold war and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. I had developed a reputation for being calm under fire and quickly learning to communicate with foreign forces, and for, in ways I still don’t understand, being very, very good at the new concept of digital communication. The army transitioned from the old school radios to SINCGARS, Single Chanel, Integrated Ground and Airborne Radio Systems that had adapted frequency-shifting technology and was beginning to adapt to satellites and global communications, and I somewhow had begun excelling at new technology and was a trainer of sorts to some early stage adapters in special operations. And because a long-term goal was a unified planatery defense force, we all had to communicate electronically and in person, and by “communicate” we meant not just repeat words but to seek and understand intentions and overlook miscommunications and focus on the situation and what we could do to improve it for everyone, including the humans who may happen to be ignorant and trying to harm us or innocent people at that moment. I had grown a lot more in those two years.

I had a secret clearance and newly elected President Bill Clinton had called upon the 82nd to go to Haiti – my recon team aborted at the last minute and jumped somewhere else in an ill fated mission that put a few of us in the hospital back at Bragg, and that’s when I first heard that the film JFK and Hoffa had been released and that all Americans were clamoring for Clinton to release the top-secret JFK and Martin Luther King Assassination Report, publised shortly after Hoffa disappeared and after almost fifteen years of research and interviews after the 1964 Warren Report had wrongly said that Lee Harvery Oswald acted alone when he shot and killed JFK, and when Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald in the police station two days later Ruby acted alone: in the 1979 JFK Assassination Report, first released by Clinton in 1992, the committee concluded that there were three main suspects: Hoffa, Marcello, and Trafficante. I read the report again and again, and of course all the books that were being published seemingly every day by insiders hoping for a movie deal or conspirasists focued on uncovering the truth. Most seemed to overlook a critical detail that jumped out to me: the massive report began with a 1962 FBI surveillance report overseen by J. Edgar Hoover, a year before Kennedy’s assassination, that elaborated on my grandfather, Edward Grady Partin, and Jimmy R. Hoffa had plotted to kill the president’s brother, US Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, with explosives – which the world already knew from Life magazine and the 1983 film “Blood Feud” – and concluded with their second, back up plan that smelled suspiciuosly like the president’s murder less than ten months later. In the report, they discuss recruiting a sniper and giving him a rifle outfitted with a scope and having him shoot and kill Bobby Kennedy as Bobboy, whom Hoffa always called “Booby,” as Booby drove through a southern town in his convertible. They chose a southern town because of intense and vociferous opions from right wing people who would either help kill a Kennedy or applaud anyone who did. Hoffa was clear that any shooter should not be able to be connected to the Teamtsers. Of course, I knew the tale: Oswald had been trained in Russian linguistics by the US Army before defecting to Russia and then returning to New Orleans with a wife and child, where he visited Cuba and then moved to Dallas and allegedly shot and killed Kennedy with an Italian surplus carabine retrofitted with a scope by a Dallas gunsmith, and then Ruby unequivocably shot and killed Oswald in the Dallas police station as Oswald was being escorted out in handcuffs and showcased on international live television: the world saw it happen on real time, analog televison. The debates had raged sicne then about if Oswald’s shot were possible and whether or not there was more than one shooter and whether there was a conspiracy. Personally, I knew I could have made the shot and therefor even Oswald, though a horrible shot according to his scores in the Marines; even a blind squirel finds a nut now and then. And I knew I could have orchestrated a team hit on anyone, especially in a convertible surrounded by tall buildings like the infamous 6th floor library where Oswald’s rifle was found under a windowsill with three meticolously displayed 6.5mm rounds, just like the fragments in Kennedy had been and how one surprisingly intact round was found at the hospital where they took his body. The coicidences were obvious. What was less obious was that even in 1992 few people knew that Jack Ruby was indebted, or felt indebted, to Hoffa because Ruby had once been a business agent of a Dallas dumptruck business absorbed, probably merciciously, by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Even less obvious, probably because few people recalled the 1968 trial by New Orleans Jim Garrison, and of those even fewer would recall the news reoprts back then that claimed to have photos of Big Daddy and Jack Ruby a month before Kennedy was shot in Dallas and another witness claiming they had seen Big Daddy with Oswald around the same time and had kown Oswald ever since Oswald had trained in the Baton Rouge civil air force by my grandmother’s homes: by the time Garrison wrote his book that would become the film about JFK and the allegged CIA conspiracy to kill John F. Kennedy he had omitted Big Daddy’s part in it, probably because Garrison’s witnesses disappeared and the photo was never found and he decided, perhaps, that as Hoffa’s attorneys would write, my grandfather was a dangerous person. I realized that in 1992 it was likely that I was one of only a few people on Earth to know that my grandfather was behind President Kennedy’s assassination.

I practied the right to remain silent, which is even harder to tempter than the right to free speech and is, to this day, a right I wish more Americans would acknowledge and practice. Nothing would lead me to talk, not even several training courses where I signed waivers for physical and mental consequences of weeks of food and sleep deprevation and experimental interigation methods. To this day, it’s only something I mention to a few friends and laughing and high and my tongue is attached to my thoughts without temperence; that never happened when I was in the military. Sure, we laughed a lot, but as paratroopers on the president’s quick reaction force we were tested for marijuana frequently and randomly, and I never drank alcohol, despite the 82nd’s reputation as All Alcoholics with a parachuting habit.

Almost three years after the Khamisiya, I had won a few more awards and was soldier of this or that and was asked if I wanted another experimental role as an unarmed Peacekeeper in the Middle East with a diplomatic passport that would allow me to walk across the border of Israel and Egypt as a part in the 17 country coalition created by Jimmy Carter in 1979, the MFO. I was told it was because of Storming’ Normin, who only a few people knew was an amateur magician and member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians All American Ring in Fayetteville, North Carolina, I would spend six months with a lot of privileges and practically no accountability other than to pre agreed upon morals and values and codes of conduct that began with: Thou shall not kill; unless, of course, it’s to save any innocent life this time, unlike the villages we saw slaughtered. Of course I said yes, and I became somewhat of a combination of James Bond, Jason Borne, and MacGuyver. Humorously, my nickname was frequently “Dolly,” just as it had been in middle school until I had begun pronouncing my name in the Cajun accent, Pa’tan, instead of like Dolly Parton. And, coincidentally, I was briefly nicknamed “Bigfoot,” just like middle school, after developing flat feet from so much road marching and parachute falls and my fallen arch stretchd my toes into size 14 Wide boots that stood out with my otherwise slightly above average height and weight, which had stabliized at 5’11” and about 205 pounds except for after each bought of training with food and sleep depervation, where I hoovered near the 191 pound weight class. Dolly seemed to persist more, except for a few SEALS and underwater demolition guys who joked that they couldn’t find fins to fit me, but that with my big feet I shouldn’t need them.

After the MFO, I tried out for and earned a spot on the Fort Bragg wrestling team and tried out for the Olympics. I lost gloriously and without ambiguity, beaten by the winner with as much clarity as Jack Ruby unequivocalbly shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. Coincidentallly, his name was Jason. He was the returning post champion at 191 pounds and a proponent of the new mixed martial arts popularized by the first MMA tournament in 1993, when Joyce Gracee dominated the world with his family’s combination of wrestling, judo, karate, kempo, and gumption; years later, I’d see him on Youtube videos and have no doubt that I couldn’t have defeated him no matter how much I trained. Satisfied that I had done my best in all things I tried, I ended my service with no regrets. I left the army early because Martin Luther King’s birthday was a holiday in January of 1994, and I drove 14 horus from Fort Bragg to Baton Rouge and began my first classes in LSU’s newly formed civil and environmental engineering program two days after removing my beret and keeping my only souvenieer, the bayontte I had used in the first Gulf war; unless you count the prototype pair of scuba fins made to fit my big feet.

I graduated LSU in May of 1997, spending exactly as long in college as I had been in the military but not growing nearly as much. I graduated summa cum laude, 7th in class out of 40 or 50 thousand kids, an “ambassador” for LSU reporting to the president of LSU, and co-captain of LSU’s revived wrestling club. On the side, I served as an EMT on Regional Ambulance for night shifts and weekend work at NASCAR events, a medic for LSU sports, a magician at the new floating casino downtown, and, as my greatest honor then and now: assistant wrestling coach to Coach Dale Ketelsen at Belaire High School, home of the Belaire Bengals. I left Louisiana for the final time that year, and wouldn’t grow much again until Wendy died on April 5th, 2019, joking until then end that she had been born WAR and that marrying a Partin WARP’ed her.

By 2019, I’d be an older, limping, balding, shadow of what I had been in 1997, but I learned that I could still grow and that Mrs. Abrams had always been right: forgiveness is for the person forgiving, not the person you forgive, and it’s hard to see the good in WAR until you put in the effort. I can say, without hyperbole, that forgiving Wendy was the most challenging thing I had ever done up until she died and I began trying to summarize our 45 years on Earth together; and I’m unsure if I’ll ever be able to do that as well as she deserves. I had spent a lifetime pondering what it meant to honor your mother and father, especially the mother and father I had been given, and if I could say it quickly I’d tell you; all I can say is that Mrs. Abrams was right, and there’s something about forgiveness that can’t be put into words or told in a concise story, especially a linear one. But, based on my experiences in a half century on Earth, I believe that there’s nothing more useful than putting forth the effort.

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