Birthing the Anatomical Keypad

It is one thing to be given the green light to explore possibilities. It is quite another thing to take that exploration and boil it into a single quest. No matter how obvious the need, if the solution defies people’s expectations, then the path becomes strewn with obstacles. I was doing sales training on Texas Instruments programmable calculators, and we had been having little success trying to bring programmables to the consumer market in large department stores. People were basically terrified of these devices. One bright associate at TI said that basically what we had to do was “de-terrify” people before they could appreciate programmability and become customers. Panasonic had an advertising slogan back then that was brilliant.

The slogan Panasonic used was “Just slightly ahead of our time.” This was a deterrifying slogan. People knew the technology Panasonic was offering was not so futuristic that they would not understand it or, even worse, look stupid trying to use it. It was many years later that the Business Analyst brought the TI programmable calculator into widespread use, and that was only after most of those customers already owned personal computers. It seems we humans don’t instantly make the connection between what we know, what we need, and what advancement you are proposing. A great deal of the process involves most people digging their heels in, resisting learning anything new. Customer Education then was the major problem with those extremely useful calculators TI was trying to sell.

Fresh off that resounding failure — with business people not knowing why they needed cube roots, and not wanting to admit they did not even know what a cube root was — I accepted the training manager job at the American Heart Association. There I began to see the need for an android CPR simulator. The path of CardioPulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) itself had been long and sketchy since it appeared as a painting in the ancient Egyptian Temple of Medicine and even in I981 was only just becoming respectable in lifesaving circles. The AHA was in Dallas, but Seattle, where I grew up, had created a mass outreach in training ordinary citizens how to respond to a heart attack with CPR, and from that example people everywhere began to understand that they might need CPR someday.

In no way did anyone anywhere know that they needed a simulator to proliferate CPR. Thus, parallel to making a piece of equipment that no one had ever envisioned, I had to make a case for something no one had ever voiced the need for. As a design pathway, I decided I would take all the problems that currently existed with teaching CPR to the millions who ( , according to the Gallup Poll,) said they wanted to learn it in the near future. Then – simple – I would flip each problem into a solution. That would set forth the basic design needs of the simulator. Here were the problems:

  1. Logistics – Whatever organization was teaching CPR had to find and schedule a room that would hold about 20 people for the lecture and hands on approaches. With small classes given at odd intervals, teaching millions of ordinary citizens would take an impossibly long time.
  2. Performance Feedback –Students did not have an easy method of understanding the effect of their performance in decision making and in manual application of CPR.
  3. Message Inconsistency – Whenever CPR was taught, even with one of the several manikins available, the material varied a slight bit, and sometimes a lot, depending on which instructor taught it.
  4. Testing Inconsistency – When testing was done on the students, the evaluation by the testers was highly variable even though they had checklists. Often other instructors, with their varying viewpoints, were the test evaluators.
  5. Performance Recording – Along with inconsistencies in Message and Testing, the records of which students attended when and received which scores becomes an immense record-keeping problem
  6. Instructor Burnout – Possibly the greatest detriment was volunteer instructor burnout. Instructor qualification took some time and dedication, but then the average number of classes each instructor taught was five, before they called it quits.

So this great, wonderful phenomenon of citizen CPR could assure that a capable person would be there the exact minute when a life was ebbing from the body down on a city sidewalk or at a wedding party. However, it was the problems, the obnoxious practicalities, that made CPR in ordinary citizens only a weak possibility. Logistics and continuity would doom its promise. That is why we needed a CPR Learning Simulator. Flight Simulators taught pilots to bring planes in safely. Why couldn’t a CPR simulator teach people to save lives, right at the spot of a heart attack and at the very moment the victim lost consciousness? The rest of a victim’s body could carry on much longer even with the heart stopped, but the brain was key. Many, many victims lost their brain function, forever, before the paramedics could arrive. The father, or uncle, or elder sister, or young girl in the pool — each had about five minutes until their brain began to die for lack of oxygen.

When I finally got my chance, just in time and with limited credibility, I presented the idea to the Emergency Rescue Working Group. The advantages of a CPR Learning System were clear. The vision was mine and with limited funding and 6 months to work on it before the midyear meeting, I got the opportunity to show it. I told them I would prototype the simulator with interactive videotape and be able to give everyone the clear idea that was possible. Notwithstanding the fact that interactive videotape had not been invented, and was thus an obvious design objective as well, here is how the final simulator had to solve the variety of problems we had observed.

  1. Logistics – If the CPR Learning System, based on simulation, could be available 24/7 in a small, dedicated room, vast amounts of scheduling and notification would not be needed, and thus many more students could be taught in a given week. The scale of CPR learners – and thus heart attack survivors – could be scaled upward with one-time investments, IF the equipment were affordable and available.
  2. Performance Feedback – The students should be able to see and feel the effects of their performance on a manikin in real time, and with that instant feedback on their every move, they could rapidly adjust their performance until it was satisfactory.
  3. Message Inconsistency – Although there were adequate textbooks and lesson plans, the variety of emphasis due to individual instructor differences, led at times to poor decision-making by somewhat confused students. A computer-learning program would be the same every time.
  4. Testing Inconsistency – Since CPR was beginning to be required by various paramedics, firefighters, police officers, and hospital workers, the end performance needed to be extremely consistent so that these various emergency workers, and hopefully ordinary citizens, would be compatible between anyone involved when there were seconds to spare in the life of the victim. A computer program based on input could solve this.
  5. Performance Recording – The difficulties in maintaining records, especially when CPR certification was required for various jobs, could mean people’s livelihood, in addition to complicating planning by emergency facilities. Computers are excellent at record keeping, and this presented a way to integrate a standard CPR on a broad scale.
  6. Instructor Burnout – The CPR Learning System could teach the students one on one without an instructor present, and thus the training could be in constant operation 24/7 through many weeks and months if the demand continued.

As it turned out, the interactive videotape for the instructional part could be controlled by an Apple 3 computer, with a special card that accessed individual frames in the way computer editing was conducted in making television programs. Not easy, and not even obvious. But doable. Clearly the straight video education could be presented. Also it could be interactive so that when the student touched the screen with a light pen, he or she could answer questions and if necessary, have remediation – in pictures and demonstrations – brought up immediately.

On the other hand, a truly difficult problem presented itself, the simulation of hands-on CPR with real results, with sensors in a manikin processing input data in nearly real-time, and showing ongoing results instantly on a second computer screen. We first attached a number of different sensors to an existing training manikin, Ruscussie-Annie, and made a display box with various lights for on-off touching and analog gauges for depth and length of compression. That way we could see the signals coming from our variety of sensors in the manikin. Friends and detractors alike came to call this supersensitive manikin the Anatomical Keypad. Then “cutting the cords” and attaching them to the special computer card to read and process them drew our modest cheers for ourselves. It was truly a birthing process of a new kind of training, and a sensitive manikin for CPR was born.

With 35 more years gone by now, the various toys and computer games make this challenge seem somewhat trivial, but at the time it was like playing God. It was truly the “laying on of hands” and we could actually tell, and document what would be happening to a victim, and evaluate a rescuers’ performance before a real victim lay before them.

Because real-time computer-graphic overlays of video pictures was not a reality yet, we needed two screens, one for the didactic instructions and decision-making protocols, and a second screen to show the graphic results of manual input to the manikin. The students would look up from his or her compressions and interact with a light pen on the screen, and be able to see their placement, depth, and timing in exactly the same moment they were performing CPR on the manikin.

When we returned to the 6-month meeting of the Emergency Rescue Working Group, the doctors were both fascinated and reticent. The real time graphics responding to their light pen were clearly impressive, but the doctors had two very serious reservations before we could move on. First, they said, we would need different CPR courses for nurses and cardiologists, of course, in addition to those for civilians and non-medical hospital workers. The first question, different course for different levels of medical knowledge could present death by complexity to the CPR Learning System. I immediately feared an infinite cacophony of levels of medical power impinging, creating a hierarchy of concerns and more separate course than I, or anyone, could put together to the satisfaction of the multitude of interest groups. I did not want to offend, but I answered as simply as I could:

“The victim doesn’t care.” I said. “The victim is unconscious and has only a few minutes to live.”

They seemed to focus on that. “ But one doctor said, “but there are special skills some of us know.”

I knew I could not let this CPR Learning System become an elitist toy. “I think the victim just wants to breathe, and just wants his heart to start pumping. If I am the only one there I will have to know enough to save him.”

Wrinkled eyebrows. How could I say these things not being a doctor?

Look at it this way,” I said. “Johnnie Rutherford won the Indianapolis 500 four straight years. He is probably the best driver in the world and he lives right here in Texas, right over there in Fort Worth. And yet I am really glad that Johnnie Rutherford has to have the same Texas State drivers license that I do, because that means he’ll drive on his side of the road and stop for red lights, just like I will. And in CPR, if I am doing it with anyone, I want to know you are doing the same things I know have to be done, right then, right there, with no second opinions.”

Ok, they agreed, we’ll assume a standard vanilla course will be prepared at first. Whew!

Then secondly, they could not, even with my technical explanation see why we could not just use one screen. I was technically constrained to the two screen approach. The overlays and interleaving that we now take for granted were not possible then, on a small portable computer and a commercially available videodisc player. One screen took the light pen input, and held the pictures, video, and artwork on a videodisc, 54,000 frames to be managed by computer.  On the second screen the computer gave easily understandable computer graphics that represented performance on the manikin.  However, I knew that I needed a better answer, and pulled this one from somewhere.

“If a group of doctors were creating the first human being, someone would say ‘why not just one eye’ or ‘why not just one ear?’ Because our bodies needed to operate in 3 dimensions, and two eyes and two ears let us perceive in stereo.”

True, but two screens?

“Yes, it gives the student a stereo learning experience, a right brain for what they see and a left brain for the data they need.”

Well, they did not run me off for that. And in a few months I got the funding for what would be an early 1980s demonstration that machines and people could work together in learning CPR, something which on the streets, in broad daylight, was most crucial to life and death. There were more obstacles to come, as usual, but this much we knew to be true.

See the early CPR simulator in the World Book Encyclopedia.

Copyright 2017 David Hon – All rights reserved

Requiem for a Thunderboat

History used to be mainly oral. For most of our early centuries, history was passed from generation to generation by memorizing what older people said, along with songs and stories, and then telling it all over again to future generations. Then came writing, and then printing and we didn’t have to remember as much. And then, of course, with the photograph we didn’t have to be as descriptive because, after all, there was the picture. Now more and more we tend to think of life as recordable. If we miss something said on the radio, we know that somewhere in the station files this hour was preserved. And we see so much news footage that it seems impossible that various events could exist not on film or video or in photographs, but only in the minds of people who were there.

But that is way far from true. The camera is usually there for scenes which are predictable, and is only very occasionally present when something truly significant happens, like the Hindenburg Dirigible disaster. Where were the cameras at the sinking of the Titanic, or the Lusitania? Football and baseball games have a predictability to each situation, and a camera can be waiting to catch the scene, but most of our little wars now happen at night, or in unexpected ambushes which defy camera setups. Obviously ceremonies and speeches are often live situations, but most are not too interesting even the first time. That nearly means that if a live subject is caught on film or video, there is by definition a dull predictability about it. Most of the truly arresting pictures were spontaneous occurrences, and most of them are still NOT captured except by fortunate accident.

Body cameras on policemen and surveillance cameras in parking lots are beginning to catch a lot of pertinent action, and in sports the use of instant replay has been sparingly used to resolve controversy. One invention I was touting gave an instantly accessible eight-second rendition of every football play from four different camera angles. It was a referee’s dream, I had supposed, only to be told by the National Football League that the referees didn’t want that much information.

There is occasionally a sight so uncaught and amazing that it becomes a lifetime memory, if you survive it. Seattle was an early sponsor of major hydroplane races, the kind where they go 200 miles per hour and shoot up roostertails behind as they skim and bounce along the surface of water. It was all part of Seafair, a citywide festival with numerous parades celebrating sections of the city. It was, and is, the one-week occasion for archery contests and old car shows and drum-and-bugle-core presentations in torchlight parades. Events were listed in the papers. Everyone had their favorite event, but in the 1950’s the city’s favorite of favorites was the Gold Cup Hydroplane race. Four hundred thousand people lined the shores of Lake Washington, an Indianapolis of water sports in the Pacific Northwest.

This was Seattle, remember, as it existed in the 50s before Microsoft and Amazon, a city dominated by Boeing workers and Teamsters who controlled work at one of the busiest ports in America. It had of course been the home of timber barons and the departure point for Alaska…and the promise of Klondike riches. Lesser known was the heavy influence of communist union organizers, and as a destination for the legendary folk-singer, Woody Guthrie.

A lot of us kids thought of the Gold Cup Unlimited Hydro Race as an exclusive Seattle event, but it was not. There were a few years then – and many years since – when Detroit racing boats took the Gold Cup back there, back East. When it happened, we considered it stolen, and definitely a temporary affair. The boats were bedecked with ads by their major sponsors. Think Miss Pepsi and Miss Detroit. However, our local pride was in those boats sponsored by local concerns like Miss Bardahl (a Seattle auto oils manufacturer,) and the Slo-Mo-Shun boats. Seattle’s Miss Thriftway had the legendary Bill Muncey as its driver. The boats packed in huge aircraft engines behind the driver, and the roar carried through much of the city all week, as the big boats qualified, often with record times over the 2 ½ mile course and speeds in excess of 200 mph..

At the other end of the social scale, our family had a very small boat with a cabin. In 1958 my stepfather managed to buy a space on the log boom that surrounded the unlimited Hydro races. Right up very close we could see the huge, noisy unlimited-class hydroplanes roar through first turn of 20 laps. People snapped photos and had movie cameras going, as the massive boats growled and bounced along the top of the water, throwing up massive rooster tails behind them.

Earlier in the day the Blue Angels had flown in formation overhead, for a world-class air show. When they came low over the course at 500 miles per hour, every boat below rocked and every house on shore shook, and many wine glasses fell off their shelves. Seattle was an airplane town, remember, and the Blue Angels reminded us of the Air Superiority we would have on the battlefield. Three years earlier, in 1955, Boeing was just prototyping the 707 jetliner and in a test-pilot burst of bravado its pilot, Tex Johnson, executed an impromptu barrel roll with the huge airplane right above the crowd of hundreds of thousands on the Seattle shores. But all of this was captured by Boeing footage from a trailing plane. When Johnson was brought on the carpet before the CEO of Boeing and asked to account for himself, he said he was just “selling airplanes.” And they did sell a few 707s as it turned out.

To repeat: All of these spectacular events were on film. All are a history of the human race. What came next was not. It is in my head, and in the head of everyone who was electrified by it but, to my knowledge, not a photo or a piece of film exists of when Miss Thriftway slammed into a Coast Guard patrol boat at way over 100 mph.

So you will have to go by my account, or that of any one else who was there in 1958.        

The day was warm and gorgeous, with 14,000 ft Mt. Rainier towering above all of us at sea level on Lake Washington. Beers and barbeques on the boats had been going for hours and this was the first of three finals heats. Seven unlimited hydroplanes, all powered by the massively noisy aircraft engines, came thundering out from under the Lake Washington bridge to hit the starting line. We were on the end curve of the first turn. We could see Miss Thriftway’s driver, the legendary Bill Muncey, skillfully take his perfectly-timed speed at the starting line and convert it to rising momentum that gained him the inside position on the first turn. Often the boat that could take that position from the start went on to win the Gold Cup.

We were all standing up watching, excited, as the boats swung around that first turn in parallel concentric arcs, beautiful and bewitching in the danger of   boats, their wide front sponsons tripping like light-footed dancers across the small chop of waves,  each boat longer than a truck — going about as fast as humans ever go on the water. The man in the boat next to us had his film camera whirring. I may have had a beer in my teenaged hand. People were cheering as the boats swung in unison and you could hear that shouting through the tumult and churned up waters. Muncey seemed to be veering a little wide, nosing other boats wide as well, all this at well over 100mph…and then Miss Thriftway broke free of its curve and went absolutely straight toward the small boats on the log boom. Its throttle seemed jammed open and its rudder had broken away as the huge hydro cut off the other racers and sped straight toward the edge of the first curve totally out of control and ready to kill 50 people… if it would go on to plow through the surrounding small boats.

And then…it didn’t kill 50 people. It hit only one boat, a small Coast Guard cutter sitting on the edge of the first turn, sitting in the water and then lifted – all its great tonnage – up out of the water as Miss Thriftway knifed into its side. Did Muncey stay with the boat and guide it that way to save all those spectators? We don’t know. We may never know, but when Miss Thriftway’s runaway bow knifed into the metal side, it lifted the whole boat up out of the water. I swear the impact lifted that heavy Coast Guard boat right out of the water and I swear to this day I saw daylight under the both of them. When the big hydroplane had broken away from the pack, coming almost right toward us, the man next to us with his movie camera said, “Holy…” and let his finger off the button, almost dropping the camera in rigid shock.

The two boats, one cloven into the side of the other, settled back down into the water and the Coast Guard boat began to take on water rapidly. One of the sailors below, wormed out the hole in the side before it sank. Refuse and boat parts from the Miss Thriftway were everywhere and we thought surely the driver, Muncey, was dead. Police boats arriving quickly sent divers quickly down to look for him, as the Coast Guard vessel filled with water and its prow began its downward descent. In only a couple of minutes the stern kicked up and it slipped into the deep, but most of the crew had been up top watching and were thrown into the water. One crewman we found later had broken his leg. Bill Muncey was somehow thrown free and was floating over in some waves, with many bones broken inside and out. He was unconscious from the impact with the water.

On the final heat, another boat swerved wide toward our log boom and people from 10 or 12 boats dived off the back of theirs but there was no runaway this time. Every one who had frozen in place and stopped taking pictures as disaster neared in the first heat was now ready for anything, diving off or shooting pictures as the boats bounced through the whole first turn without incident.

YouTube has the 10 Most Spectacular Hydroplane Crashes Ever on collected old newsreels. Over 300,000 Internet viewers have watched these. But unfortunately they have seen nothing. The most important one, in 1958, the most thrilling, most terrible, and most devastating hydroplane crash in that sport’s history, was witnessed live by 100s of thousands on the shores. And because not one good picture was taken, it doesn’t even exist in history. It will only exist…as long as we spectators exist. In some ways that is an oddly comfortable feeling, that the most significant things of all may still be fleeting, and not preservable in stone or film or digits, but only in the souls of those of us who on that day actually felt history.

Copyright 2017 David Hon – All rights reserved

The Market for Hitchhiking

Selling, as many salespersons will tell you, is all about closing a sale on something that a buyer is already inclined to buy. Rarely can even the best salesperson take someone cold off the street and sell them something they have absolutely no need for. Brassieres to football players would be a good example. For that thinking ahead of time, you need marketing. Marketing and Sales are at ends of a scale, as many people in business know

Everyone in every career — and every other relationship — needs to learn a little marketing. Now. Marketing includes identifying what group of people you want to approach with what kind of product, and perhaps where and when as well. In between is actually making, or procuring, that product. Selling takes all of those marketing decisions, which should have identified buyers and the products they want, and closes the sale of the product.

In my days as a hitchhiker, I learned mostly about marketing, and less about selling. The cars are coming quickly and have a few seconds to size you up. Most drivers will pass you by even if you are the most charming, upright, smiling, clean-cut person they have ever seen on the side of the road. That, I have explained elsewhere, is because most people who pick up hitchhikers were once hitchhikers themselves, or had brothers or sons or husbands or others who did so. So there is automatically some kind of relationship in hitchhiking, and that is the first most important rule of marketing: Everyone is not going to want what you are selling.

Once they stop for you, it is almost as you have closed the sale. Very rarely will anyone ask you to step back out of the car once you are in (unless you show them you are carrying a gun). However, beyond that, other good marketing concepts can increase a hitchhiker’s chances immensely. Finding a place on the edge of town where they are still moving slowly is clearly important. The faster they are moving, the less likely they are to put on the brakes.

I once thumbed on fast highway cresting a hill outside Helena, Montana where the national smokejumpers school is. I missed so many rides. Rather than walk a few miles back to slower traffic bordering Helena, I was thinking of going up to the door and volunteering as a smokejumper. These are forest fire fighters who parachute from airplanes into the mountains, to get on a far side of a developing fire. Short of the worst combat, it may be the most tiring and dangerous situation you can be in. (The kindly farmer who finally stopped for me was the first time fate probably saved my life. The second was when I was preparing to go on a Marine night patrol in Vietnam. My ankles cracked as they have all my life, and I was asked politely not to go on any night patrols.)

There are some standard roadside strategies that occasionally work. They say if you are a young man, you should carry a tennis racquet. This obviously signifies you are an upperclass college boy and would not do anyone any harm. If you are a young woman, you don’t have to do anything. You don’t even have to look at them. Women hitchhiking never have to give a thought to marketing, as they present no danger. Sometimes a man and a woman hitchhiking together will have the woman stand on the road until someone stops, and then once she is halfway in the door, she asks the driver if he has room for her boyfriend (now emerging from behind a nearby tree). Clearly a bait and switch.

One variation that worked well in Wyoming was when my little brother, Dan, came to visit. He wasn’t into girls yet and so that weekend I did not hitch to Yellowstone, but rather showed him around Wyoming by thumb. I was 19 and he was 14 and much shorter than me at the time, and it looked for all the world like I was babysitting. We had no trouble getting rides because the image was right. We even got a ride on one of the long haul trucks out in the middle of Wyoming, when these drivers had huge penalties for picking up hitchhikers. But they all must have had a little brother at one time, and at that time – lucky for us – one driver could not resist. Sitting up high above the plains was doubly enjoyable because my little brother was going through a “big trucks” phase where he went to the library and studied all the makes and models and variations in horsepower. This made for a deeply involved conversation between my little brother and the surprised driver, as I fell asleep against the door.

Marketing while hitchhiking provides fairly immediate feedback, as the cars shwish by and both the passengers and the drivers look straight ahead, rigorously, as if they know but don’t want to admit you are there and in need of a ride. Sometimes, I admit, I liked it if they felt guilty. Did they not know what a charming conversationalist I was? Or what a great altruistic impression this would make on their children who were otherwise coloring outside the lines and poking each other all day in the back seat.

There are times, however, when you cannot blame the drivers for not wanting to know you are there. It was the very end of the baseball season in 1961 and Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, both of the New York Yankees, were both nearing Babe Ruth’s home run mark of 60 that had lasted over 30 years. With only five games left in the season, Maris had 58 and Mantle had 57 home runs. Who would break the record of 60 first? And who would be the final winner in this “home run derby” as the sportswriters coined it. When I would get a ride back from Yellowstone and those college kid parties which ended the season, I would always hear the car radio going and would always be updated on the progress of Mantle and Maris in their epic drive to the finish – and most likely a new home run record.

And then suddenly the rides dried up. I was standing outside a mom and pop gas and groceries stop, where it would usually be very easy to get a ride. At least that is what my tried and true marketing savvy told me. But nothing was working. The drivers not only ignored me as they accelerated past, they positively scorned me. A few shook their fingers at me. Mothers made kids in the back roll up their windows and the kids put their noses to the glass as if they’d never seen a hitchhiker. I check the front of my clothing. Had I dripped grease on myself from my latest hamburger? Were my shoes on the wrong feet? I went into the mom and pop gas and grocery stop to sooth my angst with a small bag of Fritos and a coke, and hopefully get the days’ update on Maris and Mantle. But that is not what was on the radio. Instead, there was this urgent message from the National Safety Council:

“Due to the violent axe murder of a travelling family by a hitchhiker near Denver, Colorado, the National Safety Council is warning all motorist on this holiday weekend NOT TO PICK UP HITCHHIKERS!”

Even the mom and pop who ran the gas and groceries store looked at me rather strangely as I bought my Fritos and Coke. I had not, after all, parked a car at the gas pump, or anywhere else they could see. I had a small backpack I carried. I was a little scruffy from a weekend of parties. Mom looked me up and down.

“Where you from?” She asked. Something malevolent in me wanted to say Denver. But I didn’t.

“Working down in Edgerton. Oil exploration.”

“One of those hotshot boys?

“Yes, ma’am.”

Pop came in. “You guys make it up this way on weekend a fair bit.”

“Yeah, they only pay four nights. Saves the stockholders money.”

“Well, you’ve mostly behaved yourselves in Sheridan.” I seemed to be passing my evaluation. An idea bubbled up from my Fritos and Coke.

“Say, it’s going to be tough getting back down to Edgerton, even the 80 miles, by tonight. Do you suppose you have a couple of things that could help me?”

It wasn’t much, so they agreed. I bought three colored grease pencils from them, black, a yellow, and a blue. They gave me an old cardboard box and some heavy duty scissors to cut it up with.

This is the part of marketing about advertising. I had to take what I knew they were hearing on the car radio all weekend as they drove, and make it work in my favor.

Like the girls in high school we all hated, I prettied up my sign by using the blue to outline the yellow letters in the middle of an oval. Mom and Pop both looked a little askance at what they had abetted, but shrugged it off as one of those crazy hotshotters from Edgerton, who usually did no harm.

I went out to the side of the road with my sign, and held it up to the leery passersby. Even if they kept on going, their faces seemed to brighten and some of the kids even looked back out of the back windows and gave me a thumbs-up. The seventh car, with two carpenters on the way to Edgerton, picked me up laughing.

“Like your sign,” said the driver.

“Needed the right advertising,”

“Better keep it,” urged the driver, and motioned me to throw it in the back seat. The sign was about two feet by three feet, and looked something like the Good Housekeeping seal. Except for what it said:

“APPROVED” was the word in the center. And circling around the edges it read: “NATIONAL SAFETY COUNCIL.”

Copyright 2017 David Hon – All rights reserved

Telemetric Rhythm…Heartbeats by Phone

Some things happen on the way to other things. Then you look back and what had been a mere milestone along the way was actually where you should have been going. When I joined the American Heart Association as National Training Manager, people from Texas Instruments where I had been a program manager said it was career suicide. Of course any business person secretly thinks the non-profit world is career suicide. But I was full of the good intentions that hamstring the young, and thought that Texas Instruments did not have a real world platform for the innovative training technologies I had imagined. Or perhaps I rationalized…because here was finally a real position in a real national organization whereas at Texas Instruments you were like a small business having to sell your programs and account for their success. Little did I know: (1) that the Texas Instruments Profit-Loss centers were the best life education I could possibly have and (2) that only if you became instrumental in bringing in money could you call more of the shots.

I’d made several friends in the electrical engineer crowd at Texas Instruments in the early 70s, and even won some national awards for training videos (which at the time were a strange bird) on supervisory skills and ethics in the technical sales area. The obstacle to my career there was that I was not an Electrical Engineer. However, at the American Heart Association, the action was all doctors. A staff member at the AHA had a definite subordinate role to all of medicine, and the initial training challenges which were handed to me were in fundraising, and management of community programs. Most of these had little to do with the basic research which was the main goal of the Heart Association in those times, and thus, though fairly successful, I was definitely a staff member who was shunted out of the mainstream mission.

These were the terribly exciting days of heart medicine, when the heart-lung machine could reproduce 29 body functions and make ready for the first heart transplants. These were the days when angioplasty was developed, a bizarre notion that you could insert a balloon where there was plaque like concrete, and enlarge the balloon and the concrete plaque would harden into a channel for the blood that was stronger than the artery wall itself. What a fantastic concept, laughed at until it became a rock solid reality and bedridden patients were up and out running marathons and swimming channels like new superhumans. And these were also exciting days for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation… or CPR.

CPR was perhaps the craziest of all. Its progression to modern medicine started about the time of Genesis …really. The CPR combination of heart massage and breathing had been developed by Dr. Peter Safar in the early 60s, though the Paris Academy of Sciences recommended mouth-to-mouth resuscitation as early as 1740, (and there are numerous Old Testament references to breathing life into those thought to be dead). Dr. George Crile in the US developed a method of closed chest massage in 1903. There are accounts that Dr. Safar also studied the ancient Egyptian Temple of Medicine, where there are several examples in the wall art of patients being revived with hands on their chest. Even in the sixties there were still many medical skeptics who laughed at breathing carbon dioxide into victims, but then they discovered that even discharged air had 80% oxygen in it. In Seattle emergency Physicians had developed a community program in 1981 for citizens to learn CPR, and they taught that CPR within the first five minutes could prevent the brain death that often comes with saving a heart attack victim, since the oxygen circulated to the brain is the most critical area. Because of the emphasis on citizen training, it was often said that Seattle was “the safest place in the world to have a heart attack.”

I would in time contribute in a fairly large way to CPR, but at first I had to address some major staff training challenges such as fundraising. Other things arose however. I saw that Prestel, the British Post Office had developed a way to send text over the telephone lines to small personal computers which were starting to gain attention, especially the Apple computer which some guys in California had built in a garage. I thought that could be a way to distribute medical information that was much faster than the quarterly journals. Early on our information systems guy who programmed the IBM mainframe for AHA assured me that these small computers in widely distributed system would never go anywhere. Nonetheless, I got one of the Apples and tried to learn to program in BASIC. I made a box appear on the screen, and a few other tricks, but most of the useful programming at that time was done at the intricate machine language level that you either had to be an electrical engineer to master, or have the marathon concentration of a 12th century monk carving intricate cabinet doors for the church.

Along the way I got to talk with a lot of doctors, and studied a little book on Medical Terminology which gave me scads of useful terms and was a bit easier because of my two years of Latin in high school. With those words, at times I could pass for a doctor. Certainly I could parse meanings as they flew at me. One example of the synergetic connections one can make when straddling two worlds was the telemetry project. Because of my interest in CPR, I talked to a lot of paramedics who used it. Pacemakers were one of the prescriptions for heart attacks, but the paramedics said they wished they had something the person could wear at home that would give warning of upcoming problems and could also transmit information to the rescuers while they were on the way.

It so happened that in those Texas Instrument days I had a friend who was working on data compression for sound, which would be essential fitting recordings into small packages for listening and most especially for voice recognition. Electrical engineers held out voice recognition as the Holy Grail, and over and over when they thought they had something which could take dictation, it really couldn’t. But they kept trying, from those year right up to now. If you have used Siri or Cortana you have seen voice recognition at work, and probably have managed to confuse those systems even after they had been worked on and refined over 50 years. The engineers at TI even hired opera singers to record the largest range of data that could be assembled.

The American Heart Association National Center was only a few miles from Texas Instruments, and I still had lunch with the TI guys at times. On one occasion I asked if the voice recognition devices and software they were working on — which always fell so short of complete human voice recognition – could possibly be used to recognize heart rhythms. They said of course, that would be trivial. But why would anyone want to do that?

Why would anyone want to recognize heart rhythms and send the information over a phone line? Why indeed? How about communicating your precise heart rhythms to emergency services when your heart is failing? I went back to work that afternoon, and fortunately there was a conference on Emergency Medicine at the National Center that day. I asked one emergency doctor what they could do with a device which could read heart rhythms and send them over a phone line. Well that doctor wanted to talk immediately with the TI researchers, and sure enough, two years later they had developed the world’s first telemetry system which would be worn by the patient when recovering from a heart attack. It would call the emergency center if the rhythms diverged, and would transmit that information over a phone line for assessment by the emergency teams. I had little further involvement in that project, but it was the sort of thing that gave me several open doors when I later needed them. When various gatekeepers said “Who is this guy?” they were told that I had helped put telemetry together, and also increased fundraising income by 30%. One of those doors got us to the CPR simulator.

I saw that I must Immediately raise the possibility of a training simulator with the Emergency Care Group in charge of standards for CPR. They would meet in a week and I had to get the CPR simulator on the agenda. Many agendas were set by consensus months ahead. But if CPR was not on this meeting agenda it would have to wait, even to be considered, for another year. I had this feeling that millions of heart attack victims could not wait that long to be saved. And who knows what could be another set of priorities when a year goes by?

The Gallup Poll had just found for us that 75% of Americans who had heard of CPR wanted to learn it, to be citizen lifesavers. As a market this was incredible, and one that the ordinary teaching of a class of 10 or 12 could not make a meaningful impact on in 40 years. The case for the simulation trainer was made in serveral ways: (1) The logistics of meeting rooms and scheduling would be obviated if this were not just a simulator, but an entire learning system that kept scores, etc. so that a single administrator could martial 100s through in a week. (2) the consistency of instruction would be immutable, since the varieties of instructors would not be a factor, and (3) the costs of training would not include salaries, rent, or much upkeep since the systems would be electronic, computer based, and thus not subject to ordinary wear and tear.

I absolutely had to get a spot on the meeting, and had to lay all this out – without actually begging — to the doctor, Steve Scheidt of New York Hospital Medical Center, who was the group’s chairman that year. He was difficult to get hold of as he ran resident programs and the emergency room and a hundred busy things an administrator must do. Close call. I didn’t get him until the very last afternoon, before he left from New York to Dallas for the meeting. But he listened intently to my case, and asked me if I really thought it could be done. I said yes, and he said OK he’d squeeze me into 15 minutes on the program. This is the way things seem to happen…as if by magic…when indeed they have been pushed and prodded and developed to a point and redeveloped to touch another direction.

At that meeting, they gave me the go-ahead to develop a prototype simulator, using of all things, interactive videotape.

The only problem, which I did not mention, was that interactive videotape had not yet been invented. I called a group in Oklahoma City who had mentioned they had a card for doing interactive audiotape. That was close enough for a start. People would have to see what I was talking about, even before it was completely operable, so the interactive videotape would take them a good part of the way to the interactive videodisc, which I had only heard about but which immediately dominated my future plans. I felt a little guilty, hanging out this way, and mentioned it to a friend. He said this was not actually lying, that I was merely imitating a future reality. It takes such friends to get you through.

Copyright 2017 David Hon – All rights reserved

The Mountains Don’t Care

Every spring and summer in Seattle someone gets lost in the vast forests of the Cascade Mountains. The Cascades are a short distance from both Seattle and Tacoma within an hour’s drive for hikers. One of the major peaks was Mount St Helens. “Was “ is the operative tense, because Mount St. Helens was an active volcano, and blew its top in 1980 and totally filled the 15 mile long Spirit Lake with boulders and lava and ash. The ash in the air is said to have blackened skies for 300 miles around for weeks. As though a major dam had burst, the vast waters of Spirit Lake sloshed – to use the best verb available for miles of moving water – out to flood surrounding towns with mud, with whole uprooted trees bounding along on the flash flood current. Not a safe place to be. These eruptions are rather special events that happen once in many centuries.

However, if you are a hiker lost in the mountains on any given day, that is your special event, and it is no less dangerous – to you –than Earth’s upheaval. There are hundreds of reasons why people get lost, but only a few possible reactions. Some people — on becoming disoriented — lose other reasoning as well. They go in wrong directions trying to find their way, and worst of all, become so separated from other hikers (and usually it is hikers trying to take a short cut) that they have to stay out overnight with only a daypack or less. Now some of these people are well enough equipped to survive a few days, and often find their way down a river to be found by searchers. Even in a daypack, they will have a few pieces of food and a few item of extra clothing. A small can of tuna fish can keep your body in protein for days. Dry socks – especially wool ones — can serve as mittens as well as cheering up wet feet immensely. Even without a map, a compass can give your meanderings some purpose when the sun is gone for days.

On the other hand, mountain people have a saying: “The Mountains Don’t Care.” Often hikers will be wet from trying to cross a stream or from quick rain showers or from trudging through deep snow. Food is heavy and a lot of hikers carry little or none. The lost person tires easily, often with despair playing a large part. Eventually these elements of cold and hunger and frantic indecision work against the lost person’s chance of survival. Quite a few of them die of exposure, not just freezing to death, but of the slow sapping of energy – and willpower – that comes with unrelenting cold and little provision.

In our day there were few helicopters to pull people out, but other than that it was the same problem; either someone had to find them and get them out, or they would have to find their own way out. They usually had a couple of days at most, which is why the call usually came in the middle of the night, to suburban homes with people sleeping for work or school the next day. The call directed them to a rally point in the city within the hour. It usually said how much gear to bring, including sleeping bags which may have been for the victim’s warmth, or may have been for the searchers staying several nights….depending.

When we arrived in the middle of the night, the scene was eerily similar every time. Usually these lost people had been reported to the county sheriff’s department, and highway patrol cars, and perhaps even an emergency rescue vehicle were gathered at the road and trailhead where the lost hiker had last been seen. Often there were spouses, or parents, or fellow hikers standing around with breaths steaming out. Sometimes they were sitting in cars, police talking on walkie talkies, and everyone with a hot cup of coffee.

And who was it that arrived? Who had been called out in the middle of the night to plunge into the mountains, and find the lost hiker in ten square miles or more of the densest forest in America? If they were lucky, it was Ome Daiber, who had lived in the mountains most of his life and hiked 20 miles with a 60 pound pack as if it was down to the store. Ome Daiber was a legend among Seattle mountaineers, and many of these mountaineers were legends themselves, men (at the time) who had first ascents of the highest Himalayan peaks. Jim Whittaker was the first American to climb Mt. Everest. On K-2, one of the most dangerous peaks in the world, Peter Scheoning saved ten injured people he was roped to when their sled broke free, by diving over the precipice on the other side of the ice ridge falling 30 feet straight down and being slammed against the side…but the rope between them held. These were people who thought Ome Daiber was a legend. And because he was, they would be packed up in the middle of night and joining the Mountain Rescue Team, though in the dark and in the urgency, no one knew who they were, even the sheriff who’d called when the situation looked impossible for his patrolmen.

If you were lucky, you would get one of these mountaineers, and they would climb in where no sane climber would go and get you out alive. Or, on the other hand, you could get me. I was in the Explorer Search and Rescue group formed by some ex-mountaineers who felt young teenaged legs could tromp the woods further and sturdier than most adults, and we could go without sleep longer. It was sort of cool to be called out of our high school class to go on rescues. Usually that only happened to kids who had stolen cars, and frankly our fellow students didn’t know exactly how to treat us. The other students thought us strange indeed.

After all we weren’t football heroes or anything. We were just going out to beat through the woods after some hiker. Most of our days we were running a “grid” which meant 20 of us being about 20 yards apart (and sometimes closer if the growth was denser). The leaders flagged the ends of the grid line as we walked holding that line and seeing all between. Sometimes that “line” would go down the sides steep muddy gullies and sometimes over massive tangles of fallen trees, and sometimes straight up near cliffs. Then the leaders would pivot and the “line” would move back the other direction to cover another 400 yards. No helicopter could accomplish this close a search, and few dogs could pay attention to the “grid” line and ignore all the wonderful, diverse smells of forest animals. Occasionally we would find someone and had to bring them out on a stretcher, which was very hard work in the trailless mountains and we needed about 6-8 people per stretcher just to switch off. The parents and spouses back at the trailhead with the sheriff were usually quite grateful to see the people back that we brought out, before we got them into ambulances to go back to local hospitals, mostly for surveillance if they were lucky and hadn’t been out too long, and sometimes for sprained ankles or the occasional broken bone. There were, of course, the parents who wanted to sue because we carried their daughter six  miles out of the cold mountains in the middle of the night with a broken leg. They were shocked and tormented that we had left their daughter’s cashmere wool scarf somewhere on that dark rainy trail at zero dark thirty. The lawyer they wanted to prosecute the suit laughed at them, as I heard it. Anyway, I was young and could not possibly understand.

Because you could never tell the situation the mountains would put upon a searcher, we took the Mountaineer’s Climbing Course offered in Seattle in 1958. This has since become one of the premier mountain climbing courses in the world, but it was a down home affair then. Except that it was run by some of the more demanding climbers in the world, some of those just described. They did not want anyone on their rope who could not stop them if they fell. I remember to this day being yanked out of my feet by two instructors on my rope, and sailing on my back down a steep snow hill, expected to twist around and make an arrest with my ice axe and my knees and my boot tips. And they jerked me out again, running like horses down the steep snow, doing everything gravity could possibly do to dislodge me again. And they did jerk me backward, two, three times until I hand dug my ice axe head deep into the snow and arched my body and…stopped them. One of these men was Roy Snyder, a Himalayan veteran, and Jim Whittaker who helped found Recreation Equipment Cooperative (now the expansive REI) and who would, in 1963, climb Everest.

I met Jim Whittaker first when he was repeatedly sticking a knife in the wooden timber floor of Recreational Equipment Cooperative. It was a little store above a pawnshop on 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle. He was on duty as the only salesperson. There were very few customers in those days because, as a cooperative, most climbers had placed orders for Whittaker and other Mountainteers representatives to travel to Switzerland and buy the latest alpine climbing equipment such as ice axes, pitons to drive into ice or cracks in rock faces, carabiners to clip and manage ropes and make them into hanging chairs if necessary. There were also lightweight Primus stoves to heat coffee and stew and sometimes melt ice for the only water we could find. I got my ice axe from REC, and my first (and to this day only) pair of hiking/climbing boots. They have lasted this long, and I am the same size. I met Whittaker again 50 years later, at the concourse in Chicago where passengers wait for the late flight to Seattle. We were the only two. I mentioned to him that I had taken his early climbing course and he remembered those days (, but not me, of course).

Much of our equipment was not from Switzerland, of course. A whole lot of it was Army surplus from World War II and Korea. Warm wool pants and shirts, metal canteens, rubberized ponchos that could become makeshift tents. Eating kits and small cooking pans. Sealskin covers for wooden skis used by ski troops, that held in the snow and let your heel come up to walk as in snowshoes. Then you took off the sealskins and, even with no metal edges, could ski down a mountain you just walked up. We did that on a climb of Mount Saint Helens which, was the most heavily crevassed mountain in the US when we climbed it, before it blew its top in 1980. It almost killed us then in 1959. The hard snow froze and our wooden-edged skis wouldn’t hold on the steep slopes and we were cutting steps with ski poles and George Hendrey broke loose and was picking up speed headed toward a deep crevasse and with the pressure of his hands on the prickly ice slowed himself down and stopped just before the crevasse. A trail of blood from his hands streamed 30 yards behind him on the ice.

Another time Mt. Rainier almost killed us when we were carrying the parts for and building a rescue shelter at 11,000 feet on Steamboat Prow.  A 70 mile an hour blizzard came up and all we had for shelter were building materials  and our down sleeping bags. The snow blew through cracks in our makeshift shelter for a full day and buried us shivering. My mother was quite worried at this one. But the blizzard let up and we trudged down home. We had had a few cans of tuna fish and had only shivered away about 8 pounds. But all in all it was fun, and we are proud to this day to have carried up all the materials across Emmons Glacier to make a rescue shelter for climbers of Mt. Rainier. What more could you ask as a teenager than to be alive and glad to be in these glorious mountains?

Who knows why it is we set aside something we love? For me it was several things. At first it was college. Then the military, then moving to Texas. But in honesty, my departure from the mountains came earlier. When I was in college I noticed that some red white and blue nylon backpacks started appearing in stores. No longer did people have to rummage the war surplus stores for clothing. There were plastic canteens and dehydrated meals. All of this meant hiking and to a lesser degree, climbing was beginning to be popular. I am reminded of Yogi Berra saying of a popular night spot: “No one goes there anymore. It’s too popular.” I am odd that way. When the mountains started to be commercialized, something important was lost. I never climbed again, even when I moved back to Seattle in 1983.

But two of my kids got into the Explorer Mountain Rescue. My son Galen started it from his scouting work, and my daughter Deirdre at age 14 wanted to follow along. The Explorer Scouts were exploring letting in girls, and she jumped to it. She’s a mother and a PhD now, but we were never so proud as when she qualified to go on search and rescue. It was the same tough crowd, a generation later, that had dragged me backward down the steep snow slopes, requiring that I be able to stop them pulling their hardest on my rope if I were to be allowed to join them in their mountains. It is a demanding tradition, and my daughter went through an 11 mile compass course in the snowy mountains, sleeping overnight by herself and falling through on a creek crossing in the middle of the night, and emerging the next day, proudly finishing the course like everyone older. The girls in her high school could not understand all this, and once again, a generation later, thought that she was very strange as well. Maybe that is inherited.

Copyright 2017 David Hon – All rights reserved

Adrift in Colombia…Sácalo

It’s hard to say how we discovered Manizales, or it discovered us. Perhaps because it was on the road from Medellin (which was just a lovely spring-like city then and not yet a drug-kingpin headquarters). Anyway, Brenda and I were just beginning our travels, and were thrilled to get our first South American jobs in Manizales. We stayed, and learned as well as taught.

The Centro-Americano was one of the US Information Agency outreaches, basically English language schools that sought to make a good impression on the populace whereas “gringos” (from the US) had not done so well. The Peace Corps was a similar undertaking. Not too many Americans wandered through Manizales, as it was in the mountains and had no touristy attractions. For us, however, it seemed an ideal first stop, and a respite from riding cheap dirty buses over bandit-infested mountain passes with partially eroded roads that had no guardrails. As I remember, some of these mountain passes had a collection box sponsored by one of the Saints. When the bandidos were active in the area, people filed off the buses to drop a few pesos in the “protection box.” At least if the bus was stopped those were a few pesos the bandidos did not get.  But then, perhaps it was easier just to rob the collection box.

Manizales is a city in one of the major coffee-producing regions in the Colombian Andes. It had its major city buildings on the top of a ridge, and the barrios – the poorer sections of town – lay down in the small valley below. The barrios had constant mudslides in the rainy season. In the dry season that made everything coated with dirt and dust. On the other hand, along the top of the ridge was the city where everyone did business, and where the “Ricos”  (rich people) had their in-town houses. Of course most of the Ricos had “fincas” (farms) where they grew coffee.

The administrator of the Centro-Americano, a diplomat named Applegate,  snatched us up when we went by to inquire about this facility. As native speakers we were most welcome there, as people felt we could offer real American English. Only a few of the most snobbish South Americans felt that British English was superior. This feeling was more prevalent in Europe, as I understand it, and probably with good reason. Many of the US troops stationed there could get gigs teaching English, and I heard of one English school in Europe where you could walk past the doors and hear instructors teaching the students to say “had did.”

Of course, our Spanish was very poor and remained so, though it is possible to pick up words and phrases that get you where you want to go. Brenda was more studious and careful in her approach, and thus more consistently correct. On the other hand, I used what few words I had to rattle on with people, and in the process learned somewhat proper Spanish pronunciation by imitation, which made me sound like I knew more than I did. Brenda was teaching bilingual secretarial students, an excellent fit because she had been an executive secretary in Barclay’s Bank in Africa and the Bahamas. This also meant that she gave them essentially British English, which was another gold star. Some of our pillow talk was on which was the correct thing to teach “We usen’t to go to the beach in the winter,” or “We didn’t used to go to the…etc.”

My small advantage here was that I had played soccer in college and now could go out with the Centro Americano team and hold my own. Scoring a couple of goals in the weekly games made for immediate friendships, and those were further cemented by the drinking we did after the games. Aguardiente was a South American anise-tasting liqueur that the players mixed with strawberry soda pop to make a truly awful concoction that led to some truly heartfelt conversations (, my Spanish truly notwithstanding). I taught with the same enthusiasm for English equally poorly at every level. Because of my light brown hair I got the nickname of “Mr. Armarillo” (Mr. Yellow.) There were entry level classes where we largely smiled a lot and pointed at things. And then there were were English conversion classes with doctors and lawyers and other Ricos, sometimes just to take a yearly trip to shop in New York or Miami. Also in those classes there were a few airline pilots, who needed English as the universal tower language. With this group I ordered Time magazines to read, and wrote short one-act plays in intermediate level English, for the class to produce. These one act plays were especially good for learning English, because each person had a role to learn and how his or her words interacted with others. Because they were simple one-act bare stage pieces, these plays eventually became easy-to-use director’s projects for college drama classes, and at one point even took the stage with the Second City in Chicago. Eventually several of these plays were published in a book called Rehearsals for Amageddon and then later as Not Quite Shakespeare, where they now reside on Amazon. This level of intermediate English also, much later in life, put me into contact with an international phenomenon called Globish. Funny how your youthful sins follow you forever.

Making a new home in a foreign city can be at least as foreign as the language. We found a room in the higher section of town, in a building owned by a family who also lived there on the bottom floor. We had first to buy a mattress. A new one was available cheaply in the barrio section of town, and so we bought it there and I carried it on my head up through the streets. Crowds gathered to see this crazy gringo pretending to be Christ with a cross. It was a long way up the hill from the barrios, but I was determined not to set it down. I’m sure there was some betting going on amongst the onlookers.

In that huge house where we had rented a room, one of their teenaged kids had a boom box and incessantly played South American rock (whatever that was) loudly through 24 hours. The landlady was not into giving tenants any hot water in the bathroom and so one of my fondest memories of Manizales was coming back dirty (and a little tipsy) after a Futbol (soccer) game and taking an ice cold shower. However, this landlady was OK in that she saved my life. I was grabbed one week by “La Grippa.” This was an undiagnosed disease that the Colombians were quite familiar with, and my immune system had never seen it before.

My temperature went up to 105 degrees and stayed there. I was in a daze and it seemed like I had formaldehyde in my veins. For a week the landlady came up with pitchers of this mixture of cane sugar, lemon and hot water which she called “Panilla.” After a few days of this high temperature, she told me I should be dead, but she kept pouring “panilla” down me every few hours. This went on for a week until finally the fever broke. Then – and only then – I was visited by some of my students from the English conversation classes, including a couple of doctors who had curiously stayed away until I was well. Perhaps they trusted the landlady’s folk medicine. Or perhaps they just preferred well patients to sick ones.

The Ricos were unlike the Ricos in the States or anywhere I had been. They interacted daily with the “Pobres” (the poor) on a daily basis, but always from a position of superiority. Actually I think it is like this in most of the world and, being from the US middle class, I just hadn’t seen much of that. For instance, I had heard of the student protests in South America, many of who were Marxist and vaguely espoused land reform and other leftist solutions. We in the US in the 60s thought these South Americans really knew how to do it. However, this was not at all the kind of activism I had seen in the US. Here, it was totally different. When students had protests it was usually the university students from rich parents and they used the protest as a social occasion. The girls put on their make up and the latest designer jeans for the occasion, and the boys took showers mid-day and slicked back their hair, all going to the protest to meet each other. The local police were notified of the protest and stood at attention in the town square. The police commander was on a white horse and, I swear, had a sword. The gathering students started shouting things at the police who stood firmly at attention.

Then a student or two would start throwing rocks. This was the signal for the commander to charge forth on his horse, and chase the students down the cobble stone streets. People gathered along the edges of the streets to watch this political entertainment. After chasing the students a few blocks, it looked as though the horse would catch the slowest girls and so, to delay the chase, the commander would motion to someone in the crowd and the police on foot would go in and drag  away some unsuspecting bystander. This allowed the students to escape and run to the private clubs that their parents belonged to, where of course the police – of a lower caste – could not follow. So it was all a show, a ritual between the rich and the poor, a bit of social theater to perk up the constant conversation on the streets.

On a few surprising occasions the theater became reality. One afternoon when the Futbol team was sauntering back after a win — and the necessary imbibement that followed — the streets of Manizales were crowded and a woman in her Land Rover moved through one avenue crowded with pedestrians who lingered in groups. The woman was dressed nicely in an Italian leather coat, and seemed impatient that something had stopped her large vehicle.

“Es un niño” (It’s a boy) was the mumble around as the crowd bunched around the front of the Land Rover. A little boy had been run over and caught up in the front of the large vehicle.

“Sácalo,” said the rich woman very coolly, expecting the crowd to do something. The boy seemed to be alive but tangled in the front suspension. “Sácalo,” she said. “Take it out.” The words could have also meant “Take him out,” but the way she said it definitely conveyed “Take it out,” whatever was this bothersome obstruction under her vehicle. She pulled off one glove and inspected her fingernails while she was waiting. Near the car, looking under it with the other bystanders, the mother was screaming.

Sometimes it is handy to have a Futbol team around. In this case, we all rushed to one side of the Land Rover and about ten of us lifted it up, with a little whimper from the rich lady who was much inconvenienced by the aggressive tilt, luckily held in place by her seat belt. Instantly some brave little man with no fear at all scrambled underneath, and disentangled the little boy from the front axel. He was pulled out limp but breathing. The bystanders hailed a cab and took him to a local hospital. Sweating mightily, the Futbol team lowered the side of the Land Rover back, the exasperated rico lady started the engine again. We stood back as she drove away, as if nothing had ever happened.

When I think of South America, I remember many scenic venues and many lovely people, but I cannot forget the Rico lady in her Land Rover whose command to the frantic bystanders was merely “Sácalo,”get it out, because “it” was interfering with her privileged life by being underneath her car.

Copyright 2017 David Hon – All rights reserved

A Court Martial for Corporal Connelly

The good soldier, Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz, told us that “War is politics by other means” but he should have known better. Politics, in my days and perhaps even in his, was certainly war by another means. In 1968, we witnessed the assassination of two dynamic political leaders in the space of a few months, and the disintegration of a political party at the Democratic convention in Chicago, that summer.

It was hard to know how to be a good soldier in Vietnam. I had fancied myself as a poet during college, and when I was in Quantico, I discovered that a famous poet was working in Washington D.C. as the Poet in Residence at the Library of Congress. James Dickey, who had received the National Book Award for his poetry (and later author of the book Deliverance) had also been a jet fighter pilot during the Korean War. So early the summer of 1968, with my orders for Vietnam in hand, I made an appointment with him at the Library and shared some misgivings. I asked him how, with his grasp of the terror and the beauty and the ironies, he had managed to stay sane in that environment. “Be dependable,” he said. He went on to say how being dependable was all he could hang onto, and all that those around him could expect of him. It seemed too simple. I was looking for profound from the poet. Perhaps I got it after all, and perhaps the great truths are that simple. The question was to become: Dependable to whom?

I arrived in country in time to join the 26th Marines after the first Tet offensive and just after the taking of Hue. We moved south and I was transferred to another regiment in DaNang, in a communications company that handled all the high-level communications for the 1st Marine Division in DaNang. My company commander was a Major Abercrombie. I was executive officer and as it turned out, the only one in town. Abercrombie caught helicopters to high stakes poker games all over Vietnam, and told me that I would be running everything. I should check in with him once a week if he had not returned. I had a feeling that during those weeks away he was stacking up a large amount of winnings.

The Marines in the communications specialty had the highest IQ scores. This resulted in two possible directions in Vietnam. Either they were in supreme danger in the bush, where every radio operator was a prime target, or assigned to a “Comm Center” where messages came in for Generals and other high-ranking staff officers around the clock. The Comm Center was pretty safe, until it wasn’t…if a VC rocket attack from Indian country was anywhere near accurate. There were some days it was safer in the bush.

I was just as happy to be out of the bush, and I began by instituting four 8-hour shifts, three for the segments of the clock and one on call for peak loads of message traffic. Traffic gets very busy during operations where trucks are running into ditches, and the Army is dropping artillery by mistake on the Marines, and shipments of rations arrive at the wrong ports and, somewhat ironically, planeloads of ammunition are unloaded and become planeloads of bodies for the return trip. I ran the communication center in DaNang for those couple of months, and in the course of the day inspected the living areas where the men slept. Connelly was a most interesting Marine. I noted from his books that he and I both read Dostoyevsky, but he read it in the Russian. Turns out, he had a Russian grandmother who raised him.

The communication center had sandbags high around its walls and over the ceiling, because rocket attacks from the Viet Cong were frequent, and the message center is critical to running a war anywhere. The quarters of several Generals and Colonels were nearby, with the comfort of wooden doors in the wood frame that held up canvas walls. The men came in on their shifts and I usually managed to be around at least a short time on each shift. Other times I was in my office or around in briefings. Connelly was especially good with top-secret cryptographic messages, which took careful decoding from a daily book. Occasionally those messages were between Generals on where they would golf on their next R&R, but that was secret information as well.

At the end of August, we rapidly got all the news about the Democratic Convention and its riots in Chicago.  It left an atmosphere of some consternation among the troops who wondered if America was coming apart, and a slightly different attitude of abandonment among the Generals, I think. I was somewhere in the middle. My college friends were rioting back there against many things, but mostly against Vietnam. Certainly I understood, and in some ways even supported them. There in DaNang we all watched from our separate eggshells,  but did not venture many opinions. Except Connelly, who was on the night shift.

The CID people called me in the middle of the night. CID was the Criminal Investigation Division and they were usually out of sight unless something bad was going on. “We’ve got your man Connelly here,” they said. Apparently they had been going through the burn bags from the communication center, which were to be burned in the morning. They had been looking for the mimeograph master for hand lettered signs that around midnight had been stapled to all the Generals’ doors. The sign had a Peace symbol, the round one divided in thirds. Its bold lettering said “What are we fighting for?”As there were few mimeograph machines in this combat zone, the CID did not have far to look.    There were only three Marines on that Comm Center night shift, and Connelly admitted to it.  When I got down to the CID headquarters, they had Connelly in handcuffs. He was looking pretty guilty.

“Sorry sir,” Connelly offered. There wasn’t much I could ask, and not even much I could say. I turned and told the CID people that I would take charge of Connelly and they said no I would not, and that I would be receiving a call from the General, which I assumed was the three star General of the 1st Marine Division, who I had never met and never wanted to meet. “Sorry, Connelly.” I said.

Just as I got back to my sandbagged office, intending to look up this situation in the Uniform Code of Military Justice manual, the phone rang.  It was indeed the General.

“Is Major Abercrombie there?”

“No sir, the Major is at a conference, in Chu Lai I believe. This is his executive officer.”

“Hon,” he was looking at the organization chart, I guessed. ”Well, Hon, I know all about Connelly and his posters and this has to be taken care of immediately. I want him written up on a sedition charges. Now.”

“Yes, sir.” This hit me like walking straight into a half opened door. Gulp. Sedition. And a General court martial for offenses in a combat zone.

“I will call you back early tomorrow morning. I want everything it takes to begin a General court martial immediately.”

“Yes, sir,” I answered. A General court martial in a combat zone could mean a firing squad for Connelly, especially in this tense atmosphere. I could see that the General might even be envisioning a mutiny of confused troops, and he was moving decisively…through me.

“Early in the morning, Hon.”

“Yes, sir.”

The fact was, I kind of liked Connelly and didn’t think this General court martial and maybe a firing squad would do anyone any good. Unlike most opinions  about soldiers among the college crowd, I did believe we were being paid to think, so I opened the Uniform Code of Military Justice manual…and studied. And studied all night. I went through everything that could possibly relate to Connelly’s case and sure enough it looked like sedition. So I had to get the exact wording from the UCMJ manual. As I studied, (and studied,) I realized that if I did not find the right passages for a court martial, the General and his legal staff would certainly do so in the next few days. I had to find something, something that made the situation better, but something legal, and more legal than anything else, something that I had no idea how to find.

And then I read the several definitions of sedition…and glory be…there was only one that applied. “Sedition can be defined as spreading seditious literature amongst one’s peers.” I swear, it was the only one that applied. Maybe the statement is there like that, even to this day. Connelly was not distributing this to any peer. I checked and double-checked the UCMJ for hours, and that was the only true statement. I could not go any further. I fell asleep at the small set of crates that made up my desk.

Early in the morning, the weak little phone rang in my ear. It was the General, as promised. “Ok, Hon, I need to start the court martial today. What have you got for me?”

“Well, sir, Connelly can be written up on sedition charges. But there’s one thing…”

“What’s that?”

“The UCMJ says it has to be spreading seditious literature amongst one’s peers. We’d have to promote him to General.”

I swear, there was a full thirty seconds of silence as the General took this in. Thirty long seconds began to seem as if the wire had been cut.

“General? Sir?”

“I’m here, Hon. Now listen up, you’ve got to do something, anything that can stick.”

“Yes, sir, “ I said, “But it may not make a court martial.”

“Well…well…” He was entirely flustered. “Do something…today.”

“Yes, sir, I will find something.”

He hung up with no further questions and no further directions to me. I assumed he would find some legal personnel to go over this and if he did, that person should come to the same conclusion I did. I was relieved that no one called with a further interpretation, and in the afternoon I wrote Connelly up on a non-judicial punishment for misuse of government property. His penalty — by the book –was one month’s pay and confinement to base (, which in a combat zone was relatively the safest place for him anyway). The CID reluctantly released Connelly to my custody and I chewed him out royally and docked his pay. He never knew the rest of the story.

My belief is that the General saw to it that I was transferred out to a combat unit, and then after that to another bush battalion near the edge of Cambodia. One day I was sitting there eating captured rice with my canned rations, and lo and behold who should report in to my platoon but…Corporal Connelly. The same Corporal Connelly. Sometimes the good news just never stops coming.

Copyright 2017 David Hon – All rights reserved