It was 1957 and I was graduating from the eighth grade at Madison Junior High School. In those days I was considered a good student, got good grades and pretty much did what I was told. You might even say I was quite patriotic.

So much so that I received the American Legion School Award: a huge bronze medal citing courage, leadership, honor, service and scholarship. It made me quite proud, at the time. From there I went on to high school where I grew taller and a bit wiser. I began to question things a bit more critically. I no longer accepted the so-called “truths” being ground out in dry textbooks. I started to notice that American history was nothing but one long narrative about one war after another. It seems that the writers of history books valued nothing but war.

I even wrote a short story in 1959 about a young soldier in a Far Eastern country that, years later, I recognized as Vietnam. The story depicted the futility of war.

I graduated from Madison High School and enrolled at the University of Miami.

After only two months in Miami as a pre-med student, I realized that I was not learning anything that I really wanted to know. I had met a few students from Central and South America while attending the university. Their stories of what was going on in their countries did not match what I had learned in my history books. My curiosity was really aroused now. I wanted to learn more about the world. And so began my life lessons.

My first lesson came when I went to the Port of Miami and got a job as a mess boy (cafeteria worker) on a Danish freighter. The crew members were mixed from several countries, Denmark, Norway, Germany, England and Finland. I was raised in Maine having hardly been anywhere. I lived only on home cooking. On this Danish ship I had to learn how to eat many strange foods I had never heard of. Even at home I was known as a fussy eater. It didn’t take too many days of not eating to learn to eat a great variety of new foods. I even learned about World War II from a German sailor who lost much of his family from American bomb runs.

My second ship was from Sweden. It went to Burma (now Myanmar). It was under a Swedish flag, with a Burmese stack (registration). The ship carried war materiel made in America and England to Burma, where it was transferred to North Vietnam through Cambodia. On the previous trip the crew told me the ship carried the same cargo directly to Hanoi, North Vietnam. This was in 1962, while the U.S. had boots on the ground in South Vietnam. Another lesson learned. I was getting less patriotic by the day.

The third trip was on a Norwegian freighter that went from Europe to the States. While sailing around Cuba we were greeted by three U.S. war planes that fired cannon across our bow because we didn’t change course away from Cuba fast enough. This was in November of 1962 (during the Cuban missile crisis). Though I would later learn lessons in the U.S. Navy, I had already learned the United States was not a very friendly nation.

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