Introduction


The stories and other writings here are dedicated to you Justine, Alyssa, Payton, Brandon, Kristen, Aiden and Addison (so far). I invite you all in turn to create your own. Story telling is in your blood.


My dad enjoyed telling stories—well-formed, funny, entertaining stories involving his personal experiences mostly.  My mom was our family historian and told about my ancestors, like the ones who fought in the Civil War, the one who signed the Declaration of Independence[1], the ones who were orphaned in their youth and who survived by providing for each other, the ones who built successful businesses when New York City was young.  My grandfather was my first teacher, and sitting in his lap I heard memorable stories about the heroic achievements of the founders of our country.  Growing up I enjoyed listening to them all, and they all helped form my world view. 


This is my effort to follow in that tradition. 


Although you and I live in rapidly changing times, and though many of the personal experiences I recount here happened a half-century ago, long before you entered the scene, still I intend for these stories to illuminate some of the unchanging truths of what it means to be humane, to be courageous, to be flawed and yet perfectly human.


Honest wisdom doesn’t come easy and it doesn’t come early.  I’ve found that as I age I gather more experience and at the same time I gain a deeper understanding of the significance of all my earlier experiences.  You will too.  The trick is to wait for wisdom, but not to wait too long.


You'll find that wisdom is often hidden in plain sight.  Time does march on, and technologies do change the way we go about our daily lives, but the fundamental determinants of our humanity—family, friendship, morality, intelligence, honesty, courage—these never change.  All the elements associated with them, or their lack, form the bedrock of our character and the seat of all our truths.  Some of the deepest elements are shadowy, and that’s where a well-told story can shine a light.


One remarkable thing about a good story is that it’s transcendent—once a reader takes hold of it and owns it, its underlying truths can color and guide one’s perspective throughout future challenges.  A remembered story offers strength in times of deprivation, direction when darkness prevails.  It can comfort the afflicted, multiply joy, divide pain, or it can simply entertain and instruct.  In every case stories are meant to be shared, and so I share mine with you.


It’s important in all of these stories that I point to the values that I prize most: courage (doing the right thing for the right reasons, regardless of personal cost) and benevolence (purposefully working to improve the lives of others).  These are the sources of compassion and decency and excellence that manifest in so many aspects of human fulfillment.  On the other hand if these values are absent, life is sadly barren and meaningless. In your life there will be unanticipated moments of crisis where evasion is not an option—you must choose, and in so choosing prove your worth. Every other moment in your life is simply preparation for your soul's great challenge—even your smallest choices are practice for the biggest ones.


I begin these offerings with Passing On, a poem I wrote several years ago.  I include it simply as evidence that for a long time I’ve been thinking of my passing and what I want to leave behind for you. 


I also want to leave you with Max Ehrmann’s 1927 prose poem Desiderata (literally, things desired).  Throughout my life I’ve found it to be a repository of enduring wisdom, ever more so as my years go by.


Me at 25. See, I had hair... a little.
Memoirs consists mostly of accounts of my time in the military and after, when I was about your age.  Although I was in the Army for only three years, as in any time of intense personal conflict military reality can cram many unique experiences into a very brief span of time.  In those three years—my mid-twenties—I took on many unforeseen and memorable challenges that have taken me a lifetime to process. My Army stories are arranged in somewhat sequential order, from my time at Ft. Lewis as a second lieutenant, to Vietnam as a first lieutenant, and finally back to Ft. Lewis as captain and company commander.


Keep in mind as you read the stories of my time in the military that I was a very, very small cog in an immense machine.  When I arrived in Cam Ranh Bay—at that time the largest logistics facility in the world—to begin my tour of duty, my first impression was that this operation was so huge it must have been out of control.  No band of humans could possibly comprehend the vastness of an enterprise this large.  And that was just considering the amount and variety of matériel that I saw on the docks and in staging lots.


Later, in combat, I experienced the insanity that immensely destructive havoc can create on a larger-than-human scale.  But at the same time I witnessed true heroism first hand.  Everyone who went through that hell was changed profoundly, some small number for the better.


The section at the bottom of My Original Works page, Wild Cards, is a place for odds and ends that I can't seem to classify.  Probably just as well.


My stories and histories are an attempt to bring all the complexities and intersections of a life down to the scale of one.  The point of The Unquestioned Order, Consequences and Why I Don't Own a Gun is that moments of insanity are, in all likelihood, going to occur in any too-complex, too-impersonal or too-violent circumstances.  But life goes on, and for the sake of others, so must we.  The rest of these stories simply recount my experiences with some very competent and likeable people shining through in challenging situations.  Although for the most part my life's path crossed theirs for only a few brief moments, still these people and what they stood for remain alive in me all these years later.


And in that sense the French are certainly correct in their observation:

 

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

 

The more things change, the more they stay the same.


 

Dick Willis

(“G”—it’s both a joke and an honor)



[1] Charles Carroll of Carrollton (which was his full name because there were so many Charles Carrolls in Maryland at the time) is an ancestor of yours. His is the fourth signature under John Hancock’s on the Declaration of Independence. His cousin, Daniel Carroll, also of Maryland, was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 and signed the original document.