Finally, Light Shines on Mutiny Quash
By Michael J. Contos
I lied to my platoon to prevent a mutiny from bursting to a head some 40 years ago.
Today, I granted myself forgiveness. I cleansed a wound that never seemed to heal until now.
I served as a First Lieutenant In Vietnam and was relieved of my command of an infantry platoon just two hours before getting orders to appear at a helicopter base port. Taken by surprise, I met the battalion commander who asked me to help avoid a military “disaster” from developing any further. My platoon of some 25 soldiers, grunts, as we liked being called, had refused to board the ships that would fly them into the “field” to patrol and engage the enemy. Most of the men sat on the heliport, reclining on their backpacks, disobeying all orders to climb aboard.
A day earlier, several members of the second squad were medivaced to a hospital after being ambushed by the Vietcong. I had assigned a sergeant with some 10 years experience to lead the squad. Unfortunately, he was “new in-country” and may not have had time to become acclimatized to the situation. In other words, he didn’t know what he was suppose to do in a war zone yet.
Our superior officer blamed me, the man in charge, and for the second time in my young military career, I found myself removed of my command. I was devastated the first time, and view that period as the lowest moment of my life. I felt lower than dirt and less useful than the ground below. At least dirt could be used to grow things and offer a structure to build on, I believed then.
This time, however, my being sacked hurt far less. I knew I had done everything to insure the well being of my platoon, and instill in each member an esprit de corps that carried over into their individual lives. They learned to live for each other, to work as a unit, to place the needs of the platoon over their own.
It came as no shock when I heard they refused to go to the field! It was a mutiny, pure and simple. They protested what they believed was an outrageous act committed against them: the removal of their leader, Lieutenant Michael J Contos, yours truly.
Mutiny quash causes pride, sadness
I had never felt so proud of anything — ever — as I was of their unselfish act of rebellion. For two hours, they put themselves on the line. No, they didn’t expose themselves to a firefight. (That would come later). But, they were willing to face military sanctions, Article 15s and possibly a court-martial for someone they believed truly looked out for their welfare.
I ended up betraying their trust. I tried to convince them to end their hold-out, to give up a fight they could not win. I could not agree with their arguments without showing a contempt and total disrespect for a superior officer, the battalion commander, who would be “passed over,” not promoted because of a low “body count.” He ended up relieving two out of the three young lieutenants in my company. The Vietcong had shot and killed the third remaining junior officer.
I lied to this one young man I had “cross-trained” as a medic and a rifleman. He would fill in should we be unable to get to the regular medic, assigned to the another squad. I remember speaking to him as if it was yesterday. He was from Brooklyn, New York. He reminded me of myself, a lot of spunk for a small guy, along with a bit of a “mouth” and very little respect for authority. “Tell me it isn’t so,” he said; that I wasn’t “let go;” that I would continue to be their “LT.”
Looking him in the eye. I told him what was needed to convince the others to get on the choppers and fly out of base camp. It was a lie. I lost a bit of innocence that day. I lost some integrity; I felt I lost a small part of my soul.
That has haunted me since. Until tonight, after meditating with a group and we focused on healing past moments in our lives. By using this technique, I was able, for the first time, to view this incident not with the eyes of a 21-year-old inexperienced young man, but with the eyes of the “Higher Self.” I knew what I did was right. As a matter of fact, I now know that I had the law to back me up. Criminal Law, which I have learned from 20 years of practice.
You see, the common law, now codified into state statutes as well as in military practice, allows for a defense when a person commits one criminal act to prevent a far more serious act from occurring. For example, you break into a house to rescue someone from a fire. If you had not committed a burglary, the one in the house might have died.
Had I not taken the action I did, my men would have faced punishment under military law and the possibility of dishonorable discharges. I can now say I would have done the same thing, had I to do it all over again. Back then, however, I could not see that through the pain I felt. Nor did I have the wisdom to know the difference between one single principle and how an act of love, compassion and understanding could provide for the good of the many.
By Tranda S. Fischelis
My dad once told me I had an imagination that belonged in the movies. That was when I told him I wanted a tornado to pick up our ranch house in the cornfields of Nebraska, spin it around three times and set it back down again. We were driving home after we had seen the movie, “The Wizard of Oz.” I was almost five years old.
His mistake was telling me he discovered a prehistoric elephant skeleton when the contractor dug the foundation for the house. Dad mounted a weather vane in the shape of an elephant on the roof to commemorate his find. If he found one skeleton, there had to be more. I figured three spins in the wind would give me enough time to see what he and his fellow paleontologists missed. I wanted to see what was underneath the house.
Dad tried to warn me about a tornado’s destructive forces. Once when he was digging fossils inWestern Nebraska, a tornado lifted his tent into the air and blew it away. He ended up face down in the dirt and never saw the tent again. He told me I was stubborn and I was. But so was he.
Dad confessed he didn’t listen to his mother’s advice when he dug a huge hole in the back yard and filled it with water. He wanted a swimming pool, but he got a mud bath instead. Just like Dad, I wanted what I wanted and I wanted it now. He said we lived in tornado alley. So I figured my chances of getting what I wanted were pretty good.
That night and for many nights to come I found the brightest star in the sky and wished, “Star light, star bright, please bring me a tornado tonight.” And every night Dad tried to cancel my wish by saying, “Star light, star bright Tranda really doesn’t mean what she is saying tonight.”
We made our wishes every night for the next three months. By October the tornado season was almost over. I started to lose patience. Maybe I needed to wish just a little bit harder. And so I did.
It was a warm October evening. Dad, Mom and I were eating dinner at the dining room table. My baby sister, who was about a year and one half, was sitting in a high chair near my mother at the end of the table.
Light rain began to fall through the still heavy air. Lightening occasionally ripped through the sky. All of a sudden there was a sharp crash of thunder. My sister laughed and said, “Noise, noise.” Storms really didn’t bother me either. We had so many. And, of course, I was still waiting for the right one.
We finished dinner and cleared the table. Mom put my sister to bed while Dad and I walked out on the front porch. Spot, our black and white dog, came up to Dad and started barking and trembling. The rain was coming down a little harder now.
“I think maybe Spot knows something we don’t, Tranda. What’s wrong boy?” Dad said as he patted spot on the head. “Want to sleep in the garage tonight?” Spot quickly followed Dad down the long porch onto the steps and into the garage.
I took off like a streak of lightening to get ready for bed so there would be time for Dad to read to me. I could hear rain drops beating steadily against the window panes in my bedroom. The lightening danced between the clouds and the ground. And I could hear thunder rumbling in response.
I was ready in a flash. I headed into the living room with my book. “I’m ready to read,” I announced as I sat perched on the edge of the couch. At last I had Dad’s attention. We sat on the couch in the living room. He opened the book and began to read in his professorial tone. He was a professor of geology and paleontology at theUniversityofNebraska. Most of the time his mind lived millions and millions of years ago with fossil mammals, but this night he was at least partially in the present sitting right next to me.
As he continued to read, the wind blew stronger and stronger. At first we ignored the storm. And then suddenly, Dad stood up and went to the front door and looked through the window. Clouds boiled in the sky. He opened the door. The wind screamed out. The trees bent over sideways. Rain came down in sheets. “I think a tornado is coming,” he said quite matter-of-factly as he put his weight against the door to shut it.
Neither of us could see the tornado. I know it was hiding inside of a very dark low hanging cloud. I heard a great roar that sounded like five hundred airplanes taking off. About that time I imagine the tornado broke out from behind the cloud with a giant gust of energy. Out of its trunk came an earsplitting hissing sound. The lower end of the funnel moved forward like a bulldozer. It churned steadily along as it carved a path across the front yard and headed straight for our house.
As Dad darted into the living room to pick me up, Mom appeared in the doorway and said, “Grab Tranda.” She quickly disappeared to protect my sister in the bedroom. Dad swept me off of the couch and into his arms. He took three giant steps across the room as we headed toward the basement, but we didn’t make it. The house exploded. I held onto Dad’s neck for dear life. He grabbed the front door knob for support. I could hear the roof fighting with the wind to stay attached to the sides of the house. But the wind won. It peeled off the roof
Everything around me seemed as weightless as a bunch of helium balloons. Boards from the roof became spears, and branches from decapitated trees turned into missiles in the tornado’s winds. Large pieces of stone from the face of the house went sailing through the sky. At the same time, the wind spun pots and pans and tables and chairs into the cornfields. The cuckoo clock took off from the living room wall and hit Dad’s right shoulder. When I felt the impact, I held onto Dad even tighter.
Suddenly, it was over. There was dead silence and nothing moved. I looked up. The ceiling was gone. I could see the sky. I let go of Dad’s neck, and he put me down. We stood in a flood of rain next to a wash tub I had never seen before. We looked each other up and down to make sure we were all in one piece.
Finally Dad said, “You know, Tranda, we are lucky to be alive.” I didn’t say a word. I wasn’t scared. I didn’t even cry. I was thinking about what had just happened. This wasn’t my tornado. It belonged to someone else. The tornado I wished for was going to lift my house into the air and spin it around three times while I hunted for another prehistoric elephant skeleton.
Dad yelled out to Mom but there was no answer. We headed toward the bedrooms. My hand hugged Dad’s tightly. We started to walk through the living room, but the stone wall hadcollapsed across the floor. The couch where we had been sitting moments before was peeking out from under the fallen wall, flat as a pancake.
When we entered the sun room, nothing had been touched by the tornado’s force. Everything was exactly as we had left it. Dad walked ahead of me down the hall, and we met Mom holding my baby sister. We all hugged, kissed and cried. What a great relief. We were safe, unharmed and all together again.
By Christmas our house was rebuilt stronger and more tornado resistant than ever. Everything pretty much returned to normal except Spot ran away. I guess the tornado was too much for him. And as for me, I didn’t get to see what was under the house. I had to take Dad’s word for it. He found the only prehistoric elephant skeleton there was. Dad told me wishes do not always turn out the way we want them to. What he didn’t say was, “I told you so.” He didn’t have to.
Mom and Dad liked my next wish. I wished for a baby brother, one who would sleep through the night. But then I tagged on a wish for the Easter Bunny to fall into a trap in our back yard so that I could have all of the candy. My imagination couldn’t (or wouldn’t) stop working.
Medusa, Upside Down
When I was five,
I crawled under the bed one day
backside down with my head sticking out part way
in order to get a better look see
peering up your nightgown
seeking out the origin of me.
I could find nothing pink and pure,
a camoflauged route to be sure,
dark and hairy, a snake with wings,
stalactites, snively worms hung down,
I need to be wary, I frown
my imagination pings, Oh my God,
Mom, I’ve seen some scary things!
Beginning an adventure, I bring my home along with me. I always travel slow. I am a wild Sagitarian, expressing the fire in my adventures and love of the unknown. I bring my turtle shell, my home, my bed, my VW bus to satisfy my earth persona. My moon in Taurus keeps me grounded and provides the place where I create. I am an adventurer who loves to go home.