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.)
[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.
I complained to USAA, the American veterans car insurance company, when I learned that it was advertising on the Tucker Carlson show. As a subscriber of USAA of more than 50 years, I threatened to seek insurance elsewhere after the Fox News host called the joint chief of staff general “stupid” and followed that up by describing him as a “pig.”
“I do think it is important for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and well-read,” he told the House Armed Services Committee. “I want to understand white rage . . . and I’m white. . . I want to understand it. So what is it that caused thousands of people to assault this (the Capital) and try to overturn the Constitution?”
I salute this military leader, a four star general who is also “airborne infantry,” and can not for the life of me understand how someone who never put on a uniform or faced a single day in combat could say such drivel about such a soldier.
Nor can I understand how USAA could continue spending advertising dollars at the Fox program. I know they want to reach veterans and our families, but the money is also propping up a mouthpiece for white supremacy and anti-democratic conspiracy theories.
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.
As a veteran of several military bases, I would vote to change the names of all the facilities named for generals who fought for the Confederate army during our nation’s Civil War.
I offer such action with a heavy heart because of the link I still have with the facilities that helped to create the soldier I had become and the lessons learned in the US Army. 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 commissioned a Second Lieutenant 50 years ago and looking back I see it as one of the greatest achievements of my life. Also, one of the luckiest ones and I’m so glad to still be around to tell about it.
Yes, by an Act of Congress I was made “An Officer & a Gentleman.” I don’t know where that title came from — Great Britain I guess — but I tried to live up to it’s “ideal” while in the army and when discharged and choosing different career paths in my life. Continue reading →
I would not have gone to college had it not been for the GI Bill which is marking its 75th anniversary on June 22, 2019.
My father, who was born on a small Greek Island, never went beyond sixth grade. My mother, daughter of Hungarian refugees, was the first in her family to graduate from a high school in New Jersey.
And I had barely made it through Dobbin’s Tech, a trade school, having transferred from a Catholic high school after I got caught playing hooky and ordered to go to summer school for religion. No one – including myself — saw college in my lifetime. Continue reading →
Patty Ward, a Specialist 4 with a helicopter gunship, was shot down 50 years ago while flying to the aid of US Army soldiers during the Vietnam War. He was one of four men who died when their helicopter was hit and crashed.
Patty was awarded the Silver Star for bravery in connection with helping to rescue other grunts wounded in another battle. His family in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia received the medal posthumously. Continue reading →
Memorial Day always brings back memories of the Vietnam War and one of the soldiers I served with who I called a friend and a true “comrade-in-arms.” He was Victor Lee Ellinger, a fellow who lived in Staunton, VA. He was shot and killed by an enemy sniper while leading a platoon some 50 miles outside of Saigon. 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 →
It struck me as I slowly made my way from the floor of the plane and stood in the center of the walkway. There were at least 30 other soldiers on the C-140, a military aircraft that was flying over the field where those of us in jump school would soon be taking our first jump. Continue reading →
I didn’t want to go to Vietnam. Who did back in 1968? I was never a gung-ho type of a guy even though I’d go a little berserk when a buddy of mine got attacked by some bully at home or in school. Continue reading →
My mother hit me upside the head when she caught me drinking beer in the Big Moose bar up the street from where we lived.
I was 16 years old at the time and sipping a Ballantine beer with a friend from Dobbins Technical High School. Someone must have ratted me out as my good friend Joe Walsh and I — both young white guys — drank in the African American bar in a section of Philadelphia called Brewerytown. 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 →
Playing is something I do quite well, if I do say so myself. I enjoyed it ever since I was a kid and don’t see how I could truly enjoy my life if I didn’t incorporate some sort of play in my daily living. Continue reading →
My second wife stopped breathing shortly after they placed her in the emergency vehicle en route to a hospital some eight years ago. The day was six-months to date of her first bout with an emergency wagon when she fell in our Conshohocken, PA, home suffering a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
She remained in a coma for more than five days then. This time, however, they were more certain that she would not recover from her latest, unplanned date with Miss Fate. A nurse or a social worker at the Hospital suggested I contact a priest to say the last rites for Wendy. Continue reading →
My son, Nicholas, just didn’t seem to understand how much pain I suffered in Sutcliffe Parkwhen I took him to see fireworks on clear and starry night sky on the Fourth of July some years ago.
At first, I enjoyed the rockets zooming into the air. They were a colorful red, white and blue explosions that took your breath away with gasps of wonder and awe.
Soon however, they took on a menacing demeanor, however, as each blast began to remind me of the Vietnam War and the rounds of mortar fire that fell on me and my platoon some 30 years earlier. 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 →
I experienced something scientists have labeled “Post-Traumatic Growth” twice in my life and some forty years apart. Both led to major changes in my life and a new look at life like I never had imagined it to be. 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 →
Reflections opened a new world of understanding today. Years after a traumatic event, I can look back and see things in a totally different and healing fashion.
I couldn’t do it when the shit was happening. It hurt too much.
Even five or ten years after the trauma, I’d get sweaty palms and a sped up heartbeat when thinking about the worst day of my life. I couldn’t dwell for too long without having to relive the God-awful experience. 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
You wanted more and I couldn’t give it to you. I was seeking love, romance, and someone I could be committed to. You simply saw me as a “one-night stand.” Someone you enjoyed being with for an hour, a night, or just one day in the life of two ships like us meeting briefly on a night at sea. Continue reading →
Musical refrains from Rock & Roll songs helped get me through the Vietnam War. I didn’t know all the lyrics of the songs, only those short parts where I’d stop what I was doing and raise my voice in unison with the lead singer. Continue reading →
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 →
Much of what I know about war was what I learned while playing as a kid. You know, using a stick or a broken branch from a tree, I’d pretend it was a rifle to shoot the bad guys who were out to get me and the rest of the good guys in my old neighborhood. Continue reading →
All of my legal career involved defending someone charged with crimes or offenses against the law. I worked 20 years as a lawyer, trying more than a hundred jury trials, winning more than half of them.
But to be honest, my first taste of arguing the law came not as a defense lawyer, but as a prosecutor, one appointed by some colonel to bring charges against a buck private who broke a law and faced a summary offense for some minor infraction.
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 →
The train ride from home to the hospital was one of the longest trips of my life. I just knew I was going to die. I figured that the surgeon could not remove all the cancer during my operation 10 days earlier, and it finally struck me: I am a cancer victim!
The doctor never called me with the results from the operation in the Veterans Hospital of Philadelphia. I spent five days and four nights there, mostly recuperating from the surgery. When I left, I had hoped to hear from the physician, but she didn’t call. I believed she was afraid to give me the bad news over the phone. Continue reading →
That’s the key to a happy life, you know. Learning to serve others selflessly with no expectation of a reward other than the knowledge you are doing unto others something you’d want them to do . . . unto everyone else.
You may also have experienced this kind of hope, (See https://contoveros.wordpress.com/?p=12505&preview=true) but not thought of it in those terms. Think of a time when you felt sure you were going to attain a lofty goal, even though the path to the goal was not apparent. That is the hope that comes from your being. Describe this feeling of certainty in your journal. – Deepak Chopra 21-Day Meditation Experience (Feeling Hope)
I was a buck private in training as a soldier in Fort Dix, NJ, when I had a vision or what Zen Buddhists call a “satori” or moment of clarity of what I needed to do with my life.
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.
Recall a time when you felt calm and peaceful, even though the circumstances were not peaceful. Write down a description of that event, and describe how you were able to be calm in that situation. What was the source of this peacefulness if it didn’t come from outside? — Deepak Chopra 21-Day Meditation Experience (Day 3 — “Feeling Peace”)
I had led my platoon in Vietnam for several months. We had encountered several fire-fights, but no one was killed or injured, thank God. But, you never knew what the next day would bring and so we were on edge, on the ready so to speak for anything that might have endangered us. 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 →
The damn branch broke my concentration. I had not planned for an overhanging tree limb to block the pathway walking three-quarters of a mile from my home to the train station with my head facing my feet the entire time. But I was ordered by an eye doctor to lean my head all the way toward the ground 50 out of 60 minutes of each hour for seven straight days. Continue reading →
“Warriors have been rewarded for their service or their families have been provided support, since the beginning of organized society. From the veterans of Egypt in the third millennium B.C. through the Crusaders of medieval Europe, to veterans of today, governments have compensated their military personnel or their survivors, for loss of life, wounds, injuries, or length of service in defense of the state. Continue reading →
Is there a noble banker in the world? Only someone in the lending business who sees his calling as a “service for the people,” I believe, could correct past abuses and recommend changes for, and in the best interests of, us “99 percenters.” Continue reading →
When I read the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators were unfocused and without a coherent message, I took a closer look at them in Philadelphia, and disvovered some were disheveled street persons looking for handouts, and one a graduate school political science major spouting Marxist teachings.
They represented only one percent.
The 99 percent of the other protestors were mostly young, highly educated unemployed or underemployed men and women who got tired of the debt-ceiling fiasco and took to the streets to mobilize against the Tea Party followers. 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 →