Tuesday, May 1, 2007

After-action Report

We had a book signing for _Crack! and Thump_ this weekend at the Ft. Sam Houston PX in San Antonio. Charlie made the arrangements for a 2-day signing. All I had to do was to show up with a couple boxes of books.

The bookstore is way in the back of the huge, box-like PX, but they set up a table for us and a poster of the book's cover outside the front door, just inside the main entrance of the mall. A large food court opened to our right and concessionaire stands stretched as far as the eye could see to our left. Location, location, location. Our table was the first thing people saw when they entered the mall. Of course, we sold out the first day.

Charlie was in his element. He's had so much ordnance go off near him that his hearing is pretty much gone. But it didn't seem to matter to anyone that he messed up a few names when he signed. It was all about his sacrifice and service to the nation. This was friendly territory, after all.

One very squared-away captain walked up dressed in a desert-camouflaged field uniform. "What's your branch?" asked Charlie.

"Infantry. On my way to Iraq."

"Do you know what crack and thump is?"

"Not really. Snipers?"

Charlie handed him a book. "You need to know this. It could save your life. It saved mine more than once, and survival's the name of the game."

The captain thanked Charlie for his service and walked away with a signed book and Charlie's best wishes.

A lot of folks that day bought books for their dad or granddad or uncle who fought in the war. One widow said she buys a book from every WW2 vet she sees. Her husband flew the Hump in the little-known China-Burma-India Theater. Another woman hugged Charlie and bought a book for her mother, a veteran of the home front. Unlike today, WW2
seemed to touch everyone.

The massive Brooke Army Medical Center is located at Ft. Sam, and a lot of wounded soldiers and family members stopped by. A muscular guy in his thirties hobbled up on crutches.

"What happened?" asked Charlie.

"An IED went off under my vehicle. Snapped my leg and fractured my spine."

"Were you wearing a flak vest?"

"Yes. That's the only reason I'm walking around."

"It probably saved your life," said Charlie. "In my war, about one in five wounded soldiers died. I read where it's only one in twenty or so now."

A harried young woman said her husband, a private first class, was still in the hospital, his heel shattered and his brain swollen from an IED explosion suffered after being in Iraq only a month. She asked Charlie to sign a book for him.

Many who stopped by were students, fresh-faced young men studying to be combat medics in a 16-week course at BAMC. They've been in the Army only a few months and don't make a lot of money. One kid picked up a book and stood reading for several minutes.

"Can I sign that for you?" asked Charlie.

"I can't afford it."

A man wearing a gimme cap with "Vietnam Vet" embroidered on it stepped up and laid money on the table. "Here," he said, "I'll buy it for him," then walked off.

Another student, at most 19 years old, asked if there was anything about medics in the book. He looked like someone you'd want to escort your daughter to the prom.

"Sure there is," I said. "Your predecessors saved Charlie's life more than once." I opened a book and handed it to him. "Here, read this page."

As the soldier read, a sense of youthful wonder spread across his face. He turned the page and kept reading. "Wow, this is really good," he said. "I want to be the guy who gives the morphine and saves lives."

I'm sure he will be a good one. He stopped by later and bought two more books, one for his dad and one to pass around the barracks. I hope he stays safe. A country can never have too many of his kind.

The next morning, I returned home to find a shaky, handwritten letter from an old soldier:

". . .I've read 'Crack and Thump' with much interest. . . .It brought back many memories, as I was with 3rd Bn, 60th Regiment, 9th Division in combat in Europe for all eight campaigns in combat. I recall the area and towns.

"It would be worthwhile if everyone could read and realize the life of a Combat Soldier. God Bless our troops & Capt. Scheffel.


"[his name] S/Sgt
"Former Infantryman 9th Inf Div"

I feel privileged to have helped those who lived through WW2 remember it, and very grateful to give those who know little about war some small idea of the sacrifices made.

It just doesn't get any better.

Barry Basden works hard to record our nation's history by telling the stories of our military veterans. He publishes military history through Camroc Press, LLC.


Ruth D~ said...


This is very touching. The whole scene: from Charlie proud of his acomplishments, and the ones in the service, or wounded in service, to the ones who want to serve.

Brought tears to my eyes just seeing it all in
my mind.

Good work you did, Barry.


C. Peter Chen said...

Crack! and Thump is an excellent book. I read it a few months ago and enjoyed it thoroughly. I wrote a review at this URL:


The Craft of Writing in the Blogosphere


News from the World of Writing