Before I ever went to a community college, I had to make up several deficits in my learning. I had to take remedial math as well as remedial English. I passed both and was then permitted to take regular classes which include journalism studies and just as important, the school’s extra-curricular activity of working on the college newspaper.
I began as a reporter for The Communitarian. The paper used my by-line on every story I wrote, and by my second year at DCCC, I was named editor. Well, I believe my military training must have kicked in because I started to publish an edition on a weekly basis. You were lucky to have it published once a month until I took over.
The authentic human voice is a thing many writers strive to capture. Few can claim to have succeeded. Contos, however, very much has earned that badge of honor. The text is home to an authentic and powerful narration that still, in its honest humanity, grounds itself in the humble approach to one man’s life and what that life means.
I don’t often cry over books. It’s not that I can’t, it’s just something that very rarely happens.
I have been honored this Veterans Day through a recorded interview about my book on the Vietnam War for a program called “Good Morning Conshy” where I share the broadcast with two companion pet managers for what is known as PACT. Many of the animals had assisted veterans who could no longer care for their pets and needed help for animals they viewed as their children.
We all had contacts with Conshohocken, a small borough just outside of Philadelphia, and learned that the interview would be recorded and made available on U-Tube. Watching it, I noticed how white-faced I look after recovering from a stomach illness. I am glad I wore my “boonie hat” that I had saved from the Vietnam War. It shows one silver bar that was subdued to prevent the enemy from spotting an officer. I wore it only once before and that was at Omega Institute at a five-day meditation retreat for veterans with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.)
One of my favorite jobs was serving as an intern for the Defender Association of Philadelphia. I went to the jails, the courtrooms, and the training rooms to learn how to properly defend persons charged with various crimes. The prison was tough. You never knew if the defendant was telling the truth or not. You simply interviewed him for the basic information and wrote up his story for a trial lawyer to review before speaking to the suspect and going to trial. You never saw the person again and you had no idea how he may have faired.
[Following is an official OnlineBookClub.org review of “Vietnam War Recall”
Like many other young men of the time, author Michael Contos found himself in the military, headed to a turbulent region of the world to protect democracy. After completing Officer Candidate School, Michael was deployed to Vietnam to lead a platoon of infantrymen on missions while evading the formidable Viet Cong forces. Here, he describes the worst day of his life that led to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a debilitating condition that would threaten to consume his life and linger for decades; a day so jarring that he would not talk about, even with his family.
Upon returning home, his experiences in combat haunt him, so he seeks the help of spiritual leaders to help relieve the symptoms of PTSD. The story is told in the first person through flashbacks, introspect, and excerpts from the author’s blog. Through the narration, readers get a glimpse into the personal turmoil that many of our veterans face after combat.
The best part of this book is the intimate and emotional description of PTSD; a young leader, not afforded time to grieve or debrief from his experiences, lives with the nightmares, flashbacks, and anxiety that seem to permeate every facet of his life. These intense feelings are captured clearly by the author. I also love the way the daily humdrum of military life is portrayed, and the descriptions sure bring back memories for this veteran. The cadences, the euphoric feeling when you realize your parachute is perfect, and the anticipation of the return to the United States (DEROS) is very real indeed! A little humor, typical of military camaraderie, is also peppered into the pages of the story; I had to chuckle when I read about some familiar but important advice: never crap alone in the field!
Although the messages are powerful, the book does seem a bit repetitive at times. Other than this, there is nothing negative to say about the story, its purpose and voice are truly a gift to an audience who does not truly understand the realities of war and its crippling effects on our young servicemen, not only the ones who gave their lives but also those who returned bearing unseen scars. I happily give Vietnam Recall: The Best and Worst Days of My Life4 out of 4 stars for these reasons. The book appears professionally edited and is divided into chapters of appropriate length.
I particularly recommend this book to readers who love historical accounts of war and those who seek insight from a primary source about mental illness. Those with family members in the military will appreciate the insightful glimpse into the psyche of those who have chosen to defend our way of life. There is some moderate profanity, along with explicit descriptions of trauma and wartime peril; those sensitive to these topics may not want to read the book. For all others, the book is a penetrating account of one man’s journey towards healing and peace. All who read this story will undoubtedly be moved by the author’s gipping words as he relives the most difficult moments of his life. He speaks for the countless others, who remain silent.
It took me more than 50 years, but I finally published my Vietnam War story and the toll it took on me after leading a combat infantry platoon as a 21-year-old first lieutenant in the US army.
I self-published with the help of editors who wrote the back cover description. They used a mug shot I had taken some ten years ago while attending a PTSD meditation clinic at Omega Institute for veterans and their families. The clinic introduced me to different forms of meditation that allowed me to eventually deal with the trauma and view the war experience in a more benign and compassionate light.
Any veteran that took part in the January 6th insurrection at the US capitol should be stripped of his or her VA benefits and labeled a “traitor.”
There is a disturbing number of current and former military persons identified among those who broke into the capitol to overturn the election. About 20 percent of the nearly 300 arrested, according to NPR. They should no longer receive treatment at VA hospitals, get the GI Bill for attending school or obtain a mortgage loan.
First Lieutenant Victor Lee Ellinger was no loser, Mr. Trump.
He was shot and killed by an enemy sniper during the Vietnam War and I forced marched my platoon to come to his aid only to find out we got to him too late to help.
He was no “sucker,” having enlisted the same year that you miraculously developed bone spurs on one of your feet, getting your fifth deferment to keep you out of the military and any chance of being in harm’s way. It was the same year I was drafted and later commissioned to lead a bunch of other young men into battle.
An American hero has fallen to the Coronavirus and the world may never see the likes of him ever again.
Ninety-eight-year-old George Shenkle, a card-carrying member of the “Greatest Generation” took part in the invasion of Normandy more than 75 years ago, freeing our universe from the evil of the Nazis. He served as a paratrooper with three combat jumps – including both D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge — and got a purple heart in return for the wounds he received after hitting the ground and running into enemy fire and explosions. Continue reading →
Today is Vietnam Veterans Day and the Year of 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of my deployment in the war zone. I was a 21-year-old second lieutenant placed in charge of a platoon of some 25 men, many of them still in their teenage years and drafted like I had been. Continue reading →
I was kicked out of a courtroom when I raised my voice to a judge who seemed to be favoring an assistant district attorney who wanted my client removed from hospice because he hadn’t died soon enough after I got him out of jail. Continue reading →
Writing has opened me to a world above and beyond my five senses and I feel like an HG Wells whenever I revisit the past and recall what life was like when I was fortunate enough to stop the world for a few brief moments and write about something. Continue reading →
The best example of PTSD ever portrayed in a movie was offered by John Goodman in “The Big Lebowski” when the character, a Vietnam veteran, pulls a gun on a fellow bowler and threatens to shoot him for crossing a line and attempting to enter a score in a book. Continue reading →
I wanted the driver who cut me off to crash and burn.
For a brief moment, I thought of praying that he would immediately die for cutting in front of me as I was doing 60-miles-an-hour on the expressway behind a car just five lengths in front of me. I beeped my horn and flashed my high beams at the driver. I relished in the hatred I felt burning inside of me. I loathed him from the bottom of my heart and wanted a bloody accident to befall ‘em. Continue reading →
I’d pretend that I was a soldier on a mission with a rifle in my hands as I made my way through enemy territory. I’d carry a tree limb most of the time and walk through pathways in a jungle we called Fairmount Park. Continue reading →
I wanted to shoot the political sign I saw outside of Philadelphia the other day but ended up feeling sorry for all of us who react violently against the person we demonize on the other side of the aisle. Continue reading →
You’ll never find me here. I learned years ago that I could hide away from you whenever I feel you’re looking too closely at me or expecting me to act a certain way that I really don’t want to act, to speak, or to even think. Continue reading →
One doesn’t have to go on a diet to lose the excess weight of a lifetime of living. All you need do is to lighten your mind, get rid of burdens carried from childhood when the trauma of difficulties and missteps caused you to stumble and lose faith in your God-given direction.
“Lighten up,” is what someone told me once, and that is exactly what I have tried to do after experiencing Holotropic BreathWork and listening to the new “Weight Loss” meditation offered by Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra today. My struggle has ended and from now on, I will be harmony with me, myself and I. Continue reading →
The shaman applied pressure with his fingers and thumbs to the side, back and front of my skull. He told me to let him know if he caused me any pain.
I felt some discomfort, but it wasn’t intolerable and so I said nothing and let him continue the process as I sat in a chair in front of more than a hundred people attending the symposium on “What is Healing? – Archaic Traditions Meet Ways of Experiencing Modern Consciousness Exploration and Psychotherapy.” He was the principal speaker, having taught the participants to dance and sing in two large circles in the room where we had met. Continue reading →
Mental illness scares the shit out of me. The very term conjures up images of some crazed guy with wild, straggly hair and a demon-like smile of malevolence. Steven King kind of comes to mind when I think of someone who might be a little touched in the head. A Stephen King character, that is. Not Stephen King. Continue reading →
“I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, and more desolation. Some of these young men think that war is all glory but let me say . . . war is all hell.”
American Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman
Summer always served as a “new beginning” for me when I was in the army. I got drafted on the Third of June and did my Basic Training in the hot, dry air of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I can’t tell you how many push-ups I did during the two-month training session as the meanest drill sergeant I ever seen brought fire to my poor soul by running me everywhere and cussing me out to force me into fighting shape. Continue reading →
The person who had the biggest impact on my life was my second wife. She had a 157 IQ, but never once acted as if she was better than me. She easily got angry at injustices, and would on occasion lash out against the hypocrisy of politicians, while helping the underprivileged and the rights of women in a male-dominated society. Continue reading →
A Viet Cong sniper was trying to kill me. Some motherfucker hiding in the trees, the bushes, the triple-canopy jungle had just shot at my platoon. I thought he was shooting randomly, despite the debris from the ground, grassland and other tiny bits of rock that struck me from a bullet’s ricochets.
No. he was aiming at no one but me! It’s taken me more than forty years to figure that out. Continue reading →
Well, I told you my first book would soon appear. And it did.
Just as I went on a cruise in a boat up to the new frontier of Alaska.
Francis of Assisi is on sale. It has one error which I found today. It has to do with Esther of the Bible and her relationship with a fellow who was her uncle but was identified by me as as her father. Not bad for a 266-page book, if I do say so myself.
Check it out. It’s called: “Francis of Assisi, A Novel Awakening to Lady Poverty”
Oh yeah. My name doesn’t appear anywhere on the cover. You see, I “discovered” the manuscript which was actually written by the 13th century monk and I arranged for it to be published after it was hidden in an old castle on an island of Greece. It is novel of an historic book. I think you’ll like it!
I expected to try to get through the day today without my morning cup of meditation-offering from Deepak & Oprah. I figured the 21-day journey had ended yesterday, August 31st. Yet today, the American holiday called “Labor Day,” they gave us a gift — an extra day. And boy, did I need it. Continue reading →
Thinking of this same peaceful experience, imagine that feeling of calm becoming deeper and stronger within your soul to the point where nothing happening in the environment could shake it. Describe what that kind of peace would feel like physically, mentally and emotionally. How could this type of peace change your life? — Deepak Chopra 21-Day Meditation Experience (Day 3 — “Feeling Peace”)
Well, it would be hard to imagine my peace in Vietnam being any better than what it was that day. It could have very easily been shattered by gunfire. Worse yet, the peace could have been destroyed with my heart and my soul wounded by something called friendly fire.
That’s what happened during another incident while leading men on a search and destroy mission in what we called the “bush.” I had called in mortar fire on a suspected enemy location, but one of the rounds fell on my squad. Five soldiers were injured and I thank God that none were killed.
Just finished 73,000 words about Francesco, the young man from Assisi who overcame post traumatic stress from battles as well as a year-long imprisonment before being ransomed by his rich mercantile father. Continue reading →
The thought of going to prison never bothered me. I’d survive and flourish behind bars where I’d have more than enough time to reflect and write which I have found is my true love in life.
No, I could kill without worrying about the consequences. It would be my first offense. I am certified as a Vietnam veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and I don’t see any judge or jury putting me to death for the crime.
All of this went through my mind when I was waiting at the train platform and a rather tall, white guy walked in front of me. I was standing near the tracks. I was close enough and in line with others stranding on either side of me that I never thought someone could make their way between me and the tracks. But the man did. He walked around me. He stood directly in front of me. No one else stood that close. I recall thinking how totally inappropriate and rude his actions were.
Dealing with the Vietnam War becomes a little easier each time I write about it. I “desensitize” myself. I now see my actions as separate from the emotions I felt while a young soldier, as well as the feelings of guilt many veterans like me, imposed on ourselves while readjusting to civilian life. It’s helpful when a high school student asks questions and you try to be honest and direct. Continue reading →
While Neil Armstrong was taking a giant leap for all mankind, I had taken a small step toward adulthood one month after the moon landing, and I had no one to thank for it except my brother, who encouraged me to aim for the stars in becoming an officer and a gentleman in the Army of the United States of America. Continue reading →
I didn’t want to go back to Omega Institute this year. Each time I travelled to this land of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, I’d get high from the holistic experience. But then I’d change into an Ichabod Crane feeling chased by the Headless Horseman who’d tell true life stories that caused so much pain I couldn’t hold it inside. Continue reading →
After serving in the Vietnam War I turned my back on anything having to do with the military, and so I was totally surprised years later when requesting my medals, I got one that I still don’t believe I earned. Continue reading →
When I heard the song “Still in Saigon” the other day, I could have sworn a Vietnam veteran had written about his flashbacks and a need to process what was unprocessed as a young man.
Little did I know that the writer never set foot in Southeast Asia, let alone serve in the military. That got me wondering about the performing arts and how someone who never experienced war could capture its long-term effects on those who faced combat. Continue reading →
Tone it down America. You are cutting off your nose to despite your face. The face of the body politic, that is, and we are creating needless hurt for the countrymen we’d like to lead to our mutual goal: the pursuit of happiness. Continue reading →