Monthly Archives: February 2021

SSGT James Champion: You Are Not Forgotten

In 1968, when I was just fifteen years old, I can still recall with chills that at the end of the news every night, an unending list of names of those lost in Vietnam that day would silently scroll on the television screen.

The scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. It’s still seared in my memory.

On Veteran’s Day, November 11, 1970, a student group based in California called Voices in Vital America (VIVA) launched a POW/MIA bracelet campaign. The intention was to sell the bracelets and use the money to increase public awareness of the thousands of missing U.S. soldiers in Vietnam and never forget them.

Each bracelet was engraved with a soldier’s name and the date of his capture. Between 1970 and 1976, VIVA sold over five million bracelets.

Back in the early 1970s—at least in my circle of friends—we felt it was our civic duty to honor the missing by wearing their bracelets.

In 1971, a friend gave me a bracelet for Christmas in honor of U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant James A. Champion from Houston, Texas, who went missing on April 24, 1971. I vowed to wear my treasured bracelet until James or his remains came home.

According to reports, on April 23, 1971, Private First Class (PFC) James Albert Champion was a rifleman assigned to a six-man radio relay team on a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) inserted into the infamous A Shau Valley. After receiving intense enemy ground fire at their primary landing zone (LZ), the team was moved and inserted near the village of A Luoi.

The LZ was two miles northwest of a river and six miles away from the South Vietnamese/Lao border. This border road was no more than a path cut through the jungle-covered mountains and used by the Communists to transport troops, weapons, and supplies, from North Vietnam into South Vietnam. U.S. forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and supplies from moving south into the war zone.

After disembarking from his helicopter at 1500 hours, Champion’s radio relay team leader was severely wounded by enemy fire. The alternate team leader took command of the patrol, but he was hit by enemy fire and killed. A helicopter trying to rescue the wounded and dead soldiers was shot down, and the 4-man aircrew found themselves on the ground with the LRRP team fighting for their lives. Shortly after that, a second helicopter attempted to rescue the embattled Americans but was also shot down by enemy ground fire.

On April 24, the Americans on the ground were still engaged in vicious combat with the North Vietnamese Army forces.

On April 25, at approximately 1500 hours, PFC Champion, armed with an M-16 rifle and in good shape, left the team’s defensive perimeter next to one of the downed helicopters to look for water, but the Ranger never returned.

One of the helicopter pilots reported he heard shots coming from the direction PFC Champion headed but could not provide any additional information about his fate. A helicopter successfully rescued the survivors and the dead later that day.

Ground and aerial searches were conducted for Champion from April 25 through April 30 without success. On April 30, the formal search was terminated, and James Champion was listed Missing in Action. After the incident, the Army promoted PFC Champion to the rank of Staff Sergeant.

On June 16, 1973, I went with some friends to Shea Stadium, where 152 released war prisoners were honored in a pre-game ceremony before the New York Mets played the San Diego Padres. Staff Sergeant James Champion was sadly not one of them.

I wept as the former POWs marched onto the field as the band played “This Land Is Your Land.” The over 25,000 fans gave them a standing ovation, their fists pumping in the air, roaring and screaming non-stop, “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.,” for well over five minutes.

Many of the fans, the POWs, the Mets, and the Padres were all crying.

In 1976, VIVA closed its doors because Americans wanted to forget about Vietnam.

But I will never forget our soldiers left behind, especially Sergeant James Albert Champion.

As of February 26, 2020, there are still 1,585 Americans missing and unaccounted for in Vietnam—many of them airmen.

Since the Vietnam War ended, our government has received over 21,000 reports about POW/MIA. There is mounting evidence that hundreds of soldiers may still be alive and captive, waiting for their country to save them.

James Champion may be one of them.

Happy Covid Valentine’s Day

It’s my first Valentine’s Day during a pandemic and 49 weeks since I’ve left my house.

My husband left an adorable card on my desk this morning. He’s an awful artist, but his depiction of us as two stick figures hanging out watching TV on our L-shaped couch was sweet. The front of the card said: HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY COVID 2021! Next to his stick-figure self, he wrote “Pete (happy).”

My first thought was: We’ve been stuck in this house 24/7 for 49 weeks, and Pete’s happy?

Which made me happy.

My second thought was: Damn, girl; it took you a long time to figure this love thing out.

The writings by Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Plato recognized the complicated manifestations that love presented. The word “Platonic,” for example, came from Plato’s belief that physical attraction was not a necessary component for love. The philosophy of love, expressed by some of the greatest Greek thinkers, has profoundly influenced how we love, and how relationships are defined.

I recently found one of my journals from 1975. On the inside front cover, I had written nine Greek words under the word “LOVE.”

I don’t remember writing the words, but I was impressed that at 22, I was interested in what the ancient Greeks thought about anything.

And they were numbered from 1-9, which I deduce was my way of ranking them based on their relationship to me or to my life at the time. But I can only surmise.

The words didn’t include definitions, so I looked them up today and tried to connect them to what might have been happening in my 1975 life.

1) Philia

Philia means affection that grows from friendship. Since I can’t get into the mindset of my then 22-year-old self, I’m assuming that because I listed Philia as number one, that maybe I was in love with a friend?

2) Eros

Eros needs no defining. The fact that it was number two on my list made me hopeful that whatever Philia I was feeling was way more than just friendly. Was that why I had placed it so high up on my list of love words?

3) Storge

The Greek definition of Storge is familial love, or the affection one has for a child, parent, or sibling. My life was complicated back then, but regardless of circumstances, my family was everything to me. It was a small nucleus, but the love I had for them was supersized. And yet, I have this hunch that Storge had nothing at all to do with my family.

4) Mania

Mania is defined as obsessive love.  I have no clue as to why this word was on my list. All I can hope is that whatever mania was going on, it was euphoric and not dysphoric. Or maybe I threw it in the mix as a reminder that love is not always healthy.

5) Ludus

Ludus has several meanings, like sport, training, and public games. But the definition that jumped out at me was “affection as a game, and nothing serious.” Perhaps this friend was nothing more than that. Was my friend playing games? Or maybe I was the game player.

6) Agape

Agape is unconditional, transcendent, selfless love, love through action, and the highest form of love. I think I know what I meant by this one, and it saddens me.

7) Pragma

Pragma is longstanding, enduring love. I don’t remember much from 46 years ago, but I can guarantee that back then, I did not yet know how to stand in love. So maybe I was confusing it with pragmatic, i.e., practical, sensible, realistic.

8) Xenia

This Greek word means hospitality or guest friendship between guest and host. It also relates to generosity, courtesy, and trust to those who are far from home. I was far from home, and there’s that friendship word again.

9) Philautia

The Greek philosophers divided “love of self” into positive and negative. Self-obsessed love vs. self-compassion.  Back then, I still hadn’t figured out that I would never truly be loved until I loved myself, so I’m not surprised this was at the bottom of the word pile.

Fast forward from 1975 to Covid 2021.

I’m old and in a pandemic, but I’m happy in love.

Can Trauma Alter DNA?

Before Covid-19 interrupted my life, I learned from a friend in my writing group that trauma could leave a chemical mark on a person’s genes and subsequently affect their offspring.

She further explained that trauma could be passed down to the next generation and possibly beyond, and change their DNA through what’s known as epigenetics.

When I l did my research, I was stunned to learn that genetic trauma can indeed affect and alter DNA—sort of like second-hand smoke.

The alteration or mark isn’t genetic; it’s epigenetic. Although, the mark doesn’t directly damage the gene, and there is no actual mutation.

Who knew DNA could be tweaked or that trauma was catchy?

The bad news is that, yes, trauma can be passed down to offspring due to epigenetic changes in DNA.

But the good news is that positive experiences can also alter those changes. So ever the optimist, I have hope.

Years of therapy taught me that trauma stays with us forever. It leaves an invisible wound that never fully heals.

My trauma caused me to make some God-awful life choices—for decades. But I worked a lifetime to undo and move past those mistakes, and I still struggle every day to push the traumatic memories away.

Trauma has taught me to accept the unhealable but never to forget. It has also served as a solemn reminder that while having family is precious, not all of them are safe to be around.

Studies have shown that childhood trauma increases the risk of drug and alcohol dependency, depression, and poor academic achievement.  Trauma can also cause the brain to get stuck in perpetual survival mode—a short circuit in the brain.

The all-powerful brain.

It can forever connect certain feelings, sights, sounds, smells, taste, and touch with past trauma. And at any time or place, whether happy or sad, every one of those seemingly innocuous sensations can trigger a memory or flashback of the traumatization.

If our experiences can reverberate to our children or our children’s children, the implications and consequences of the effects of trauma are maddingly profound.

In essence, an abuser can cause lifelong trauma not just to his or her target but to countless generations of their descendants.