Iroquois shedding light on roots of lacrosse

By Daniel Malloy -- The Boston Globe, October 9, 2007

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- The name came later, courtesy of French missionaries, but Native Americans played lacrosse long before white men planted a flag on this continent. Like other tribes, the Iroquois, who lived throughout upstate New York into Canada, played the game to teach young men about life, compete tribe against tribe, and seek a spiritual connection with their creator. And now that their game has become an international phenomenon and a multi-billion dollar business, the Iroquois want it back.

"When everybody was fighting in the rest of the world, there were nations playing [lacrosse] as teams for the purpose of settling arguments," said Chief Oren Lyons of the Onondaga Nation of Iroquois. "We are the grandfathers of this game, there's no doubt about it."

Lyons, 77, was once a world-class goaltender for Syracuse. Now, besides serving as an activist for a slew of Native American causes, he is honorary chairman of Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse, which competes as its own country at international tournaments. At the World Indoor Championships in May, they lost in overtime to Canada in the final, the team's best finish. Lyons spent a recent Saturday here - in the center of the old Iroquois territory - with other Iroquois officials to meet with representatives from Nike and Johns Hopkins University. Their aim is to craft a plan that will make sure every child who picks up a lacrosse stick will know the game wasn't born in Northeast prep schools.

"We want to show our ownership of lacrosse to the world," said Dave Bray, once an All-American midfielder at Cornell, now a board member for the Nationals and the main liaison between the Iroquois and Nike. "It's our game, and now we have the voice to tell the world."

The voice is sporting behemoth Nike, which plans to use its resources to turn the Nationals into a brand, selling their black and gold uniforms everywhere from Iroquois reservations to Japan. Nike, as an avenue to enter the lacrosse business, took an interest in the Iroquois as the game's founders, which major manufacturers like Brine and Warrior Lacrosse hadn't tapped into.

"When you learn about lacrosse and you learn about the other brands, the fact that none of them are embedded within the history of the game seems amiss, and it seems like a natural starting point," said Ziba Cranmer, who helped pilot the Iroquois Nationals initiative at Nike, and is a former lacrosse player herself.

In working with Johns Hopkins, the Iroquois are developing a curriculum to teach lacrosse with a native emphasis at camps, clinics, and schools. Combined, it's an opportunity for the Iroquois to spread their history of the game and generate revenue that will provide top-notch lacrosse equipment and health care to their people, through Nike's involvement with Indian Health Services. A preliminary business plan projected $9 million in revenue - from apparel, ticket sales, and sports camp tuition fees - by 2011, an estimate Bray called conservative.

Still, hurdles remain. Iroquois leaders are developing the business as a co-op (like the Green Bay Packers, a franchise owned entirely by community residents). They aren't playing by normal rules. "My community has to understand in how we want to generate revenue and how we want to share revenue," Bray said. "When you do economic development in native communities, it's a different type of economic development." And to the Iroquois, lacrosse is a different type of game.

A special connection
According to Iroquois belief, lacrosse was passed down from the Creator as a form of entertainment and a lesson about good behavior. Lacrosse fables - including one story in which a dirty player is flung headfirst into a tree by the referee, and is stuck there until he learns his lesson - abound in oral histories. Early descriptions of lacrosse from colonial writers report a variety of styles of lacrosse played throughout the eastern United States and southeastern Canada. Some games had hundreds to a side and occasionally turned violent.

Yet lacrosse traditionally has been known as "the medicine game," as the Iroquois - the blanket term for five tribes that formed a peaceful confederacy before European contact, later adding a sixth - believe it has a healing effect on communities. Special medicine games are organized on occasion, in which men of all ages participate, and are believed to enhance the power of medicines to heal the community. "There is something a little different about lacrosse than football, basketball, or any other thing," Lyons said. "The spirit that is there."

But that spirit is largely absent from the modern game. The first problem is the stick. Boys play with wooden lacrosse sticks now about as often as they shoot hoops with peach baskets. But to the Iroquois, the wooden stick represents a connection with the earth that modern plastic sticks - "Tupperware," as Lyons calls them - do not have. Some Nationals players still play with wooden sticks, though they are on the verge of being banned by the International Lacrosse Federation.

Still, the Nationals' way of playing the game has had an unquestioned influence on lacrosse at the international level. Lyons helped organize the first exhibitions for the Nationals in 1983, including one against his alma mater, Syracuse. "We got killed," Lyons said. "But the guys liked it."

Before long the Iroquois were competing against the US, Canada, Australia, and England, then the four members of the ILF. The Iroquois initially encountered resistance when attempting to become the fifth. "They told us, 'You're not a nation,' " Lyons said. "We said, 'We were a nation long before you were.' " In 1990 the Iroquois were admitted to the ILF, which now boasts 22 nations. They have been instructing opponents about the history and spirit of the game ever since. "There's a certain reverence for the Indian side of it," Lyons said. "They know a little bit vaguely about it, but they want to know more and they are very respectful every time."

Positive reactions
At the 1998 World Outdoor Championship, Iroquois spiritual elder Leon Shenandoah conducted a tobacco burning ceremony on the field before the first game. As the other nations lined up to watch, Shenandoah, speaking in the language of the Iroquois, welcomed the other teams and gave thanks for life's blessings as he dropped tobacco leaves into a small fire, the smoke billowing skyward, lifting the message to the Creator. Since then, the ceremony has become a fixture at every international tournament, and the reaction from the other teams has been overwhelmingly positive.

"They feel like they're more connected to the game now that that know the history," said Gewas Schindler, who has played with the Nationals' men's team since 1994, and is Shenandoah's grandson. "And they were honored to be a part of that blessing and ceremony."

But the meeting in Syracuse exposed internal debate about such ceremonies. In developing a curriculum to teach the world about Iroquois lacrosse, its leaders deliberated where to draw the line on how much of their sacred rituals should be shared.

"I knew going into that discussion that it was coming," Bray said of a topic that brought spirited debate, though never turned contentious. "It's something that we have to address because some stuff is sacred. It's a ritual. The outside community is not going to fully understand some of that stuff."

The issue will be further tackled by a committee of Iroquois elders and spiritual leaders intent on protecting the spirit of the community.

"Indian ceremonies have been usurped and have been stolen. They've been misused," said Lyons, who will have a large influence on what is ultimately shared. "So we protect that part of it, but I think a good deal of it is available."

Lyons said the specific instructions to players in the tobacco burning ceremony will remain internal knowledge, as well as the details of the medicine game. Yet the curriculum's importance lies in spreading the values behind lacrosse. It's not the words that are vital so much as their message.

"This game is important," Bray said. "We look at sport differently, obviously. So how can we share that with other people to understand how we view the sport?"

Home front a key
An important component of that education comes on the home front, making sure all Iroquois children grow up knowing about the history and spirituality of the game. Jim Barnes, a former player on the Nationals' Under-19 team, had little connection with that tradition when growing up on an Iroquois reservation.

"It was just a fun game to play," said Barnes, who now coaches a high school lacrosse team that draws many players from a reservation on the Canadian border. "At the beginning, growing up, you just pick up a stick and you play."

Lyons hopes to counter that trend in this generation. "They don't have to be like Jim," Lyons said. "They should be learning."

In addition to a spiritual connection, the game also serves as a pathway to college, out of reservations where drugs, alcohol, and poverty are recurring problems.

"Our young players are affected by Nike, them sponsoring our team, and they're going to strive to get their grades up," said Schindler, who coaches the U-16 Iroquois team and will play for the Boston Blazers - an indoor expansion team in the National Lacrosse League that will debut in January. "It's a very bright future for our youngsters."

Through teaching and marketing their version of lacrosse, the Iroquois hope to make a brighter future for their game and their people. They hope players like Brett Bucktooth, a star midfielder for the Nationals and the Boston Cannons of Major League Lacrosse, can become role models to spread the message of how lacrosse should be played.

"You play the game with passion and intensity, and also with a good mind," Bucktooth said. "You play with good intentions to play hard and fierce, and to play fairly and cleanly."

Just the way its creators intended.

Historic Lao town braced as low-cost airlines swoop in

By Daniel Malloy - Nikkei Asian Review, March 7, 2016

LUANG PRABANG, Laos -- After years of clawing at the door, low-cost airlines are finally breaking into this scenic temple-strewn town on the Mekong River.

Thai AirAsia begins a new Bangkok to Luang Prabang route in late March, HK Express has said it will add a Hong Kong flight and two more airlines are awaiting approvals for their routes. As a result, Luang Prabang's international air traffic could nearly double by the end of the year, according to CAPA-Centre For Aviation, an advisory and research group.

Amid an ongoing tourist surge, the new flights are being greeted in the once sleepy town with a mixture of excitement and anxiety.

The Unesco World Heritage site has fought to preserve its calm atmosphere, with a nightly curfew and strict curbs on development in the Unesco-protected parts of town. More than 445,000 international visitors came to Luang Prabang in 2015, according to the provincial tourist department, a leap of more than 10% on the previous year.

"Here we always welcome tourism, just [we] have to prepare ourselves -- the facilities and the amenities, we have to welcome them," said Soudaphone Khomthavong, the deputy director in charge of tourism for Luang Prabang province. "This is something we are very concerned about and have to pay attention to."

While many visitors arrive by bus -- there is no train service -- air traffic has been limited into Luang Prabang's small airport.

A runway expansion in 2012 allowed bigger planes in, but with national flag carrier Lao Airlines the dominant airline, only three other international airlines were allowed in to Luang Prabang -- none of them a low-cost carrier. Thai AirAsia's entry, announced with fanfare in February, came after eight years of trying.

It appears to have opened the low-cost floodgates.

HK Express will add a service from Hong Kong later this year. Soudaphone said SilkAir, a regional subsidiary of Singapore Airlines, and Malaysia AirAsia want to break in as well. Officials also are talking about expanding the airport, but Soudaphone said no final decisions have been made.

Big demand

Brendan Sobie, Singapore-based chief analyst for CAPA-Centre For Aviation, said the government is likely to grant entry to all four airlines as it moves to capitalize on Luang Prabang's tourist draw.

"It has been underserved for a long time," Sobie said. "People know about it, but a lot of people haven't necessarily visited because AirAsia doesn't fly there and some people rely on [low-cost carriers] to fly around Asia ... . It has always been kind of a market that had huge potential."

Laos is the second smallest international air market in Southeast Asia, narrowly ahead of the tiny state of Brunei, noted Sobie. Flight growth in Luang Prabang has been relatively flat in the past couple of years, and the capital city Vientiane still has far more traffic.

But with potentially four new airlines and more expected Lao Airlines flights, the number of international seats per week at Luang Prabang International Airport could surpass 20,000 by year-end, up from 11,500 seats now.

Thai AirAsia started its push with promotional fares of 990 baht (a little more than $27) on one-way flights from Luang Prabang to Bangkok's Don Mueang International Airport. Tickets now typically range from $45 to $60 each way for advance bookings, a fraction of the usual fares for full-service carriers. According to a Thai AirAsia spokeswoman, bookings are on target for an 80% load factor on the route.

The changes come as Lao takes on the rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year, and thus steps further into the international spotlight. Opening its skies is for Lao a step towards full integration into the new ASEAN Economic Community, and a chance to bring in more tourist dollars to help meet its big goal of getting off the United Nations' least developed countries list by 2020.

While there is a clamor for more flights, government approvals remain slow for fear of overwhelming the small airport before it can be expanded and of injecting too much supply into the market too quickly. "For now, it seems like they're open, but they're also being quite careful about it," Sobie said of the Lao government.

Among Southeast Asian travel hubs, Laos has long been in the shadow of neighbors such as Thailand and Vietnam. Luang Prabang became a more exclusive destination in part because it is more difficult and expensive to get to.

Tourist industry veterans expect low-cost flights to bring with them more budget travelers, but that is not always the case. Visitors arriving on the new Thai AirAsia flights have booked rooms at the high-end Sofitel and 3 Nagas hotels, according to a reservations manager, an indication that money saved on flights might end up circulating in the local economy.

Vacancies are already low in high season, and new hotels continue to rise to meet fresh demand as word has gotten out around the globe about Luang Prabang's stunning scenery and laid-back charms. Much of the new investment is from China, as Chinese visitors to Luang Prabang overtook Thai as the most common nationality in the first three months of 2016.

Risk to tradition

The bigger concern among longtime residents is not the availability of beds, but the atmosphere.

The old town is already crammed with guest houses, massage parlors, restaurants and shops that replaced longtime homes.

"On one hand, it's a positive thing that those families benefited from a major injection of funds into their households," said Gabriel Kuperman, who runs the annual Luang Prabang film festival and has lived in the town for eight years. "On the other hand, now that there are fewer and fewer Lao families living in the heart of Luang Prabang, a certain amount of charm has been lost."

One of the top tourist draws is the dawn alms giving, when young novice monks in saffron-colored robes walk the streets to accept small gifts of food from pilgrims. The quiet ceremony is a guide book and tour company must-do, and as a result each morning the main road in a portion of the old town is jammed with camera-wielding foreigners capturing the scene.

Signs in six languages asking visitors to "respect the alms giving," implying that the monks need some space, are routinely ignored.

Though large buses are prohibited from the main part of town, tourist vans can be a concern around some of the main temples and the Royal Palace.

The tourism boom is indeed good for the industry's bottom line. But Andrea Vinsonneau, of EXO Travel, worries about "killing the hen that lays the golden egg" if the town's charm disappears. For example, she tries to take tourists to less well-trodden locations to watch an alms giving ceremony and to lead cycling tours instead of moving visitors around in vans.

"There's a point where the government's going to have to step in and Unesco is going to have to step in," Vinsonneau said. "Because otherwise it's just going to become a zoo."

Here are some examples of my work

Daniel Malloy

Medical pot is legal in Georgia, but one family still can’t come home

By Daniel Malloy

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 

Nov. 12, 2015 

Selma broke legal barriers, but economic ones remain

By Daniel Malloy - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 7, 2015

SELMA, Ala. — Swelling with pride at its place in history, this city is in a frenzy as it prepares to host a pair of presidents and tens of thousands more to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement’s bloody climax.

But under the spotlight, Selma’s blight is impossible to miss.

More than 40 percent of the city’s residents live below the poverty line, compared with the national average of 14.5 percent. Selma helped break down legal barriers, paving the way for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but economic ones have been more stubborn.

Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, along with nearly 100 members of Congress, are scheduled to appear Saturday at the Edmund Pettus Bridge for a ceremony.

They will look out over a sleepy downtown. Vacant, boarded-up buildings dot the side streets.

A few blocks away is Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church, where the Bloody Sunday march began. Many of the 600 souls who were met that day with clubs and tear gas from white police and townspeople lived in a federal housing project adjacent to the church.

The tidy red brick church now features a monument to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The George Washington Carver Homes are mostly unchanged.

As Selma native and U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell devoured a quick lunch last month in the Brown Chapel basement, she said the 1950s-era Carver Homes represent what needs to be done.

“Look across the street,” Sewell said. “We need to have a Hope VI project that tears down old Section Eight housing and modernizes it. … The people deserve a better opportunity.”

It’s part of the message Sewell will deliver to her congressional colleagues as they tour civil rights monuments in her district, a pilgrimage led each year by U.S. Rep. John Lewis, an Atlanta Democrat and civil rights leader who suffered a fractured skull leading the Bloody Sunday march.

“Fifty years ago this place was the center of commerce, it was booming,” Lewis said last month as he stood on the Pettus Bridge. “You came here on a Friday afternoon or early evening, on a Saturday to shop from the rural areas or the small towns.”

Then, the “Queen City” of Selma was the commercial center of a thriving agricultural region. The Black Belt has a double meaning, describing the people who live here and its rich soil.

Labor-intensive cotton farming has dwindled, as timber and catfish now are the primary agricultural products. Textile mills are long gone. Craig Air Force Base closed in 1977.

“The jobs are McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Sonic’s, but those jobs are already taken,” said Carolyn Calhoun-Bates, 58, who grew up here and now runs an advocacy program for people with disabilities. “My children took off to Huntsville and Georgia. … There’s nothing in Selma for my children with their education.”

As opportunity dried up, many of those who could leave did and the population dwindled.

James Perkins, who served two terms as the city’s first African-American mayor, says it’s time for the federal government to step in.

Selma could be included in an extension of I-85 that’s now planned to bypass the city. The Department of the Interior could follow through on the promise of a large voting rights museum, rather than the cubbyhole-sized one on Broad Street. The Pentagon could encourage defense contractors to set up shop by the old air base, which still has its substantial runways.

To Perkins, it’s a moral issue.

“I’m convinced that the nation owes Selma,” Perkins said.

“If we consider Iraq as a ground zero in war theater, if this country can spend billions of dollars to rebuild a foreign nation after war,” he said, “why shouldn’t we spend a few million to rebuild a community after its ground zero experiences in this country?”

That’s experiences, plural. Selma was also the scene of one of the Civil War’s final major battles in 1865, after which much of the town was ransacked.

Organizers of this weekend’s jubilee mixed a celebration of Selma’s and the civil rights movement’s strides with reminders of how far they still must travel. Intermingled with a hip-hop concert and a spiffy gala are workshops on mass incarceration and fair housing.

Improved education is an oft-suggested solution. In Selma the school system has resegregated to a striking degree.

While whites make up 18 percent of the population, they make up just 2 percent of the city’s 4,000 public school children, as most white families opted for private schools.

Calhoun-Bates, who serves on the Dallas County School Board, said dropouts are an epidemic, and she fears a lost generation that does not understand the struggles of those who came before. She hopes to use this weekend’s events to help local kids better understand their own city’s story.

“They don’t know John Lewis,” she said. “But they know Common and John Legend.”

Civic leaders hope the attention can lead to more investment. The Black Belt Community Foundation recently handed out $415,000 in grants for programs to guide young minority boys.

“It’s not the most popular job, but because of this movie and all the hoopla, it’s gotten a lot sexier now,” said the foundation’s Daron Harris.

“We’ve really got to figure out how to take this ball and run with it and put some bread on the table for people that need it.”

PEYTON, Colo. — The reason the Olivers are the last of Georgia’s medical marijuana refugees in Colorado resides inside a little white bottle that singes your nostrils when it’s opened.

Seven-year-old Tripp’s medicine carries an overpowering aroma that would not be out of place at a concert or college dorm room because it is a marijuana derivative that can get you high if heated for a period of time. But Tripp does not get high because he takes it at room temperature, swallowing the fragrant olive oil mixture twice a day to forestall the seizures that have plagued him since he was 6 months old.

Georgia this year passed a law to allow possession of cannabidiol, a marijuana derivative that does not cause intoxication, after an emotional, high-profile battle in the Gold Dome. The law allowed more than a dozen Georgia families to move home from Colorado, where recreational and medical marijuana of all kinds is legal.

A state commission is now looking into new legal frontiers, such as how to produce the oil in Georgia so patients don’t have to take it across state lines in possible violation of federal law.

But cannabidiol does not have enough THC to get you stoned. Tripp’s THCA does, raising the possibility of abuse, and a far tougher political lift.

“The fact that we left this precious family still behind is just a gut punch,” said state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, who has led the medical marijuana fight in the Legislature

Peake visited Colorado this week on a fact-finding trip along with top aides to Gov. Nathan Deal and leaders from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

While Peake vowed to push, he did not sound optimistic that the Olivers could come home anytime soon, considering that a major selling point to legalize CBD was that it does not cause a high.

“It’s hard to explain that in the legislative process that: ‘OK guys, we need to have a higher level of THC, but it’s in the form of THCA non-heated, and therefore not psychoactive,’” Peake said. “It’s a hard sell to my colleagues.”

So Tripp and his mother, Laura, remain in a suburb of Colorado Springs, with father Chip traveling out from Commerce when he can get away from the demands of his business. Laura has learned to drive in the snow and Tripp misses the beach, always his favorite.

They have not left Colorado in nearly two years because Tripp cannot be without his medicine and Laura – a scrupulous rule follower – does not want to risk carrying it somewhere where it is illegal.

“We’re the only ones who are being honest,” Laura said, indicating other families have taken THCA home.


Tripp was 6 months old in April 2009, a perfectly normal baby, when his parents found him shaking uncontrollably in his crib.

It took about a year of increasingly terrifying seizures and trips to the emergency room before a doctor in Memphis diagnosed Tripp with a severe form of epilepsy known as Dravet Syndrome. The family started traveling to Memphis every three months for treatment.

Laura became an expert on the disease, traveling to conferences near and far. At a 2012 presentation in Minnesota, a parent of a child with Dravet spoke up.

“What are you doing about marijuana studies?” asked the parent, Jason David, an early advocate for the practice in California.

Laura turned to her mother-in-law: “Did he just say marijuana?” They both started laughing.

“That man is crazy,” Laura recalled thinking at the time. “Who is going to be letting their kids smoke pot to help their seizures?”

She replays the moment now with a tinge of regret.

“If I had spent five minutes talking to that guy, I would have been years beyond where I am now, learning,” Laura said.

She also knows her initial discomfort is shared by so many others in a conservative state like Georgia.

“I’m so straight laced … even saying I’m going to give my son oil, I had a hard time,” Laura Oliver said. “I didn’t want to tell anybody. Because I was like: They’re going to think I’m crazy. I’m giving my child marijuana.”

By late 2013 she had started to hear more about “Charlotte’s Web,” a strain of cannabidiol helping young Charlotte Figi with her seizures. More and more families were moving to Colorado.

The Olivers made the big move in the beginning of 2014. Laura told herself it would be brief, because the Legislature was working on a bill, but it failed in the 2014 session.

So they settled into a rental house in a golf course subdivision outside Colorado Springs, with snow-capped Rockies in the distance.

Because Charlotte’s Web had a long waiting list, Tripp’s medical marijuana doctor, Margaret Gedde, tried out THCA. Almost immediately, it was like a fog had lifted. He was speaking in full, complicated sentences rather than four-word bursts.

Best of all, he was going unprecedented amounts of time without a seizure — four-and-a-half weeks at one point.

By January, Tripp got to the front of the waiting list for Charlotte’s Web, as Georgia took strides toward legalizing it. But when Tripp tried the new medicine, it seemed to make things worse. He was seizing every day. After months of tinkering, Laura is now gradually moving Tripp from CBD back to THCA, which remains contraband at home.

He is doing better, with a little more than a week going by between seizures, but Tripp’s development has been severely hampered by the syndrome. He’s in a special needs class, along with speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy. Though he is 7 years old and 58 pounds, he acts about 2. Lately his favorite word is “No.”

But on a recent trip to the doctor, there was little resistance. Tripp treated a needle and another couple vials of blood with nonchalance as he watched Blue’s Clues. He’s spent so much of his young life being poked and prodded, the pricks have become normal.


More than 1,300 miles away, Georgia leaders are wrestling with how to implement a medical marijuana program. A commission created by this year’s law and headed by Peake is to submit nonbinding recommendations to the governor and the Legislature by the end of the year.

At a recent hearing, GBI Director Vernon Keenan said Georgia should track federal pharmaceutical law if it puts together a medical marijuana regime.

“There’s already standards in place from the Drug Enforcement Administration that regulate pharmacies and gives the elements for restrictions and way to do business,” Keenan said. “It would be my position: Why would we deviate from the DEA regulations already in place?”

Keenan was in a Georgia delegation that toured medical marijuana labs and met with law enforcement leaders in Colorado this week. A GBI spokeswoman declined to comment on the trip, but Deal spokeswoman Jen Talaber said the challenges facing Colorado law enforcement left an impression.

The group heard from Lewis Koski, head of Colorado’s marijuana enforcement division, which is housed in the state’s Department of Revenue. Koski told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he has spoken to state officials from around the country about implementing a new regulatory regime from scratch.

“Without question, this has definitely been a paradigm shift for law enforcement here in the state of Colorado,” Koski said. “From a commercial standpoint, one thing that really changed is how we have companies that are comprehensively regulated and acting transparently out in the marketplace, where in advance of this everything was illegal.”

The way forward for Georgia remains murky, and with the White House set to change hands in little more than a year, federal enforcement is up in the air.

Lawmakers and Deal could choose to stand pat next session and give this year’s law time to be implemented. Peake hopes that is not the case, and said he will bring up “this THCA issue” next year, in the hopes of bringing the Olivers home.

But the Georgia delegation visit to Colorado this week did not include a stop at a tidy home in Peyton, where Tripp was sprawled out on the floor on a recent Monday, thumbing through a case of DVDs, dressed in sleepwear for pajama day at school.

The area caters to a kid like Tripp: In his special needs class of six, three have Dravet Syndrome. Aside from their now-departed Georgia friends, the Olivers have grown close to other medical refugees from around the country and from other nations. The kids play together and have the same quirks, such as heavy interest in trains and looking at themselves in the mirror.

“It’s an automatic sense of community, which is sort of nice and strange – very strange – but it never felt like I was by myself,” Laura said.

But many of their new friends are now back in Georgia. Given Tripp’s bad reaction to CBD, they are sticking with THCA, and that means sticking with Colorado for a while longer.

“The hope is as fast as the country seems to be shifting their view on medical marijuana, they would come around,” Laura said of her fellow Georgians. “So we’ll see.”

70 years after D-Day, there are still stories to tell

By Daniel Malloy - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 8, 2014

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France — It was an awful day to fly.

The rain and haze over Normandy on June 6, 1944, provided little visibility. But Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had said go, so Richard Bailey and Dave Andrews Jr. were piloting bombers headed to blow up enemy railroads. The invasion was on.

Now 91, both men flew across the Atlantic once again last week — Andrews from his home in Atlanta, Bailey from Kennesaw — to celebrate the 70th anniversary of D-Day. They had prime seats behind President Barack Obama, part of a contingent of at least 400 D-Day veterans who made the trip, as firsthand recollections of a turning point for Western civilization are constantly receding.

What the vets share is a compulsion to tell their story and tell it again so the memory remains alive. The tales are rehearsed and concise at some points, rambling in others. Each word matters.

Many Georgians never lived to share their war stories, including a pair buried at Omaha Beach who died in attempts to tend to wounded comrades.

Others remain with true stories as rich as fiction.

Carl Beck, 88, of Atlanta still gets a gleam in his eye when telling of the barn named after him in Normandy, where he and a buddy holed up after parachuting behind enemy lines. But Beck was unable to make the trip this time.

Still more Georgians are too young to have been there but are dedicated to keeping the flame going in their own ways.

Former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, who splits his time between Atlanta and Arlington, Va., runs the federal agency that looks after the American cemetery at Omaha Beach — the site of Friday’s remembrance — and 23 others around the world. Jim Micko of Bonaire re-enacted the D-Day parachute jumps in Normandy this week, with the same planes and uniforms.

Sally and Bruce Bobick of Carrollton are collecting civilians’ memories in Georgia and Normandy.

“There’s just so many damned stories,” Bruce said.

Here are a few: 

The jumper

Beck was only 17 when he arrived at Camp Toccoa in the North Georgia mountains from a small town in Missouri to begin his career as a paratrooper. There were no illusions of what they were getting into. Beck recalled the drill sergeant’s refrain: “What are we here for? Kill! Kill!”

After a stop in Fort Benning in Columbus, where he made training jumps, Beck went to England as part of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment to train and prepare for top-secret Operation Overlord. The invasion was years in the making and preceded by months of tension. Yet Beck and his mates did not give that much thought to the historic import when they settled in for the night drop in the early hours of June 6.

“We didn’t think it was all that big of a deal,” Beck said. “It was just: There’s the sons of bitches. That’s what you’re here for, to kill the sons of bitches.”

The drop was chaotic. Beck was meant to seize the locks at La Barquette on the Douve River. He’s still not sure where he landed, but after linking up with pal Robert Johnson, the two roamed the countryside for a couple of days. Then they happened upon some French people in a field and caught a break — their new friends were hooked in with the French Resistance.

The homeowner, a man Beck recalled was named Robert Marmion, let the men sleep in a hayloft in his barn and snuck them food. The Germans were executing anyone helping Allied troops, so when Marmion led Beck and Johnson down from the loft one day, Beck assumed the worst was finally happening.

Instead, they were led to the nearby town of Baupte. It was June 13, and the Americans had arrived.

Beck and Johnson manned a machine gun post to pin down the Germans and help the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment take the town. “We shot ‘em up pretty good,” Beck said.

On his return trip for the 50th anniversary — he parachuted out of a plane then and for the 60th — Beck made it back to Baupte, where the townspeople dedicated a “tableau” of him at his brief home. They call it Beck’s Barn.

The fallen

There are some 200 Georgians buried among the 9,387 Americans whose graves overlook the cliffs at Omaha Beach. Their life stories are short but no less valiant.

Lt. Col. William Turner from Sparta was known as Billy and boasted a thick Southern drawl. He parachuted behind enemy lines at 1:30 a.m. on D-Day and led a mission to destroy a German strong point to prepare the way for a forthcoming beach landing. On June 7, he was at the head of a force moving further inland, directing artillery fire at German positions.

Turner noticed an injured soldier in a ditch and rushed to his aid. As Turner was calling out instructions, he was killed by a German sniper, a beloved officer dead at 27.

Col. Augustine P. Little Jr. of the Army Corps of Engineers arrived with the first aviation unit to hit Omaha Beach, eight hours after the first landings. The Louisville, Ga., native’s unit won plaudits for reconnaissance and construction of airfields for Allied forces as the group pressed into France.

In August 1944, Little died on the outskirts of Paris when he, too, rushed to the aid of a wounded man and was hit with German machine gun fire. He was 29. 

The storytellers

Bruce Bobick is the retired chairman of the art department at West Georgia College, and he and his wife, Sally, spend much of their time these days at an apartment in Bayeux, not far from the invasion beaches. Along with a friend who is a retired French general, they came up with a project to gather oral histories of the home front experience from civilians in Georgia and Normandy.

Rationing and newsreels made sure Georgia remembered there was a war on. In Normandy, it was German soldiers — and then, the Allies. The Bobicks have uncovered many a gem, including some lingering resentment in Normandy to the American liberators, which stands in contrast to the effusive public displays that have marked this week. Some of the Americans, it appears, were a little too willing to take advantage of farmers’ stocks.

Those battlefield stories are of strong interest to Cleland, who is focused on preserving and enhancing them. The agency Cleland now heads, the American Battle Monuments Commission, runs the Omaha Beach cemetery and 23 others around the world. A refurbished visitors center at Pointe du Hoc — where Army Rangers took out German howitzers at a crucial moment on D-Day — was opened last week, and Cleland is trying to adapt the agency to the digital age.

“You have to get people where they live,” he said. “And now they live on the Internet.”

The pilots

On D-Day, Bailey flew three B-26 missions. The first two did not go so well.

Bailey recalled that they were supposed to bomb the beaches to aid the ground forces, but they could not see well enough and did not want to harm Americans, so they dropped their bombs, mostly harmlessly, a little ways inland.

For the third mission, Bailey’s group was to take out a rail yard. Again, visibility was horrendous, so after a couple of passes at normal altitudes, Bailey guided his plane in at 500 feet off the ground — so low they could feel the heat of the bombs they were dropping — and faced groundfire from German rifles.

But they succeeded, and Bailey’s plane came back with hardly a scratch.

“Those were tough airplanes,” he said.

Andrews’ mission that day, piloting an A-20 aircraft as part of the 416th Bomb Group, took him north of the invasion, near Calais. The French Underground reported that the Germans were moving a Panzer division by rail from there down to Normandy.

“They sent us over to go wipe ‘em out,” Andrews said, “which we did.”

He downplays his own heroism — “I don’t think we did so much” — because as an airman he always had a bed waiting for him if he came home, while the ground forces experienced far worse conditions.

Still, Andrews said, destroying so many tanks “probably helped save a lot of lives.”

As it turned out, the two metro Atlantans did not cross paths Friday at the Omaha Beach ceremony. Their sons happened upon each other in the aftermath because Don Bailey was wearing a hat identifying them as being from Cobb County. At the time, Dave Andrews Jr. was napping in the car — having captured maybe four hours of sleep the night before. But he perked up immediately when asked to talk about D-Day once more.“I like to talk to anybody that’s interested in what went on,” Andrews said, “as best I can.”

Making Amends

War veteran returns to Vietnam to help clean up the mess left behind

By Daniel Malloy - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 29, 2016

CAM LO, Vietnam —The deadly baseball-sized hunk of metal lies in a bamboo stand 15 feet from a house where children play. Another sits in a nearby rice paddy, where farmers tread.

Ba (Three)

Crisply trained professionals in brown uniforms attach dynamite to the two small bombs and triple check the connections. One uses a bullhorn to warn neighbors to keep their distance. The man making the final checks holds the detonator in his hand to make sure no one sets it off from afar.

Hai (Two)

A safe distance away, a dozen Americans raise their cameras. Some fought here. Some protested the war. All are back to witness the lingering effects of what was done in their name.

On this Monday afternoon in April, they are joining a clearance mission for live cluster bombs that still dot the Vietnamese countryside. One 50-meter-by-50-meter square at a time, removal teams are making their way through a sliver of the country near the Demilitarized Zone, in a mission funded by the United States government.

Mot (One)

A muffled boom is accompanied by twin puffs of smoke. Two hazards removed, a pair of lives or limbs saved. A couple visitors exclaim at the noise, but most are quietly captivated.

Casting a tall, lanky shadow, their host hangs toward the back. He thanks the removal team in Vietnamese delivered with a Georgia twang.

He was raised in Thomson, with a spirit forged in Athens, but here in the countryside of Quang Tri province, Chuck Searcy is home.

2 Small-town boy

America’s role as the world’s policeman and civilizer went unquestioned in mid-century Thomson.

Hayes Searcy, Chuck’s father, was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, marched through snow and ice, and returned home wafer-thin and ill. He recovered to start a family and manage the Coca-Cola bottling plant in the small town west of Augusta.

The men in his extended family all had served in the military, so it seemed inevitable that Chuck would too, even though he did not want to join the escalating fight in the jungles of Vietnam.

Chuck was the bookworm, while younger brother Tom was the rebel. Both ended up in the armed forces: Chuck in the Army, Tom in the Navy.

Chuck left home for Athens and the University of Georgia as a music student but felt aimless after a couple of years and dropped out. He picked up local radio news gigs, but with the draft looming, decided to jump back into school.

Too much beer and too little studying made a mess of his grades, weakening his chances for a student deferment. His number was sure to come up.

In October 1966 an Army recruiter convinced Searcy that enlisting would allow him to avoid Vietnam, while getting drafted would not. Eight months after enlisting, Searcy was on a plane bound for Saigon.

“How the hell did I let this happen?” he thought.

3 The fixer

Shortly after removing the pair of bombs, we stop for a potent Vietnamese coffee. Le Thinh Long, a minder assigned by the government to accompany me as I report this story, approaches.

“We have a problem,” Le tells me.

Vietnam’s one-party Communist government is a bureaucratic maze that can feel impenetrable to foreign reporters and other outsiders.

After Searcy agreed to let me join a yearly tour he organizes for the American anti-war group Veterans for Peace, it set off a process of government approvals and hoops that lasted a month and was not settled even after I arrived in Vietnam.

Le sheepishly informs me that I cannot accompany the group for portions of two days in the mountainous A Luoi area. The reasons, passed from unspecified authorities, are vague and conflicting: It’s a border region with Laos. They are having elections.

Agitated, I start to consider alternative travel arrangements and pull Searcy aside to give him the news.

“This is really pissing me off,” Searcy replies. He whips out his cell phone to call Hanoi.

Seated at a table nearby, Suel Jones shakes his head and chuckles. Jones battled North Vietnamese soldiers nearby as a Marine. He returned in 1998, with one name to call when he arrived in Hanoi: Chuck Searcy.

They have collaborated to help victims of Agent Orange, an herbicide used by the U.S. military to defoliate the jungle to deprive the enemy of protective cover. Studies have since linked exposure to an increase in birth defects, cancer and other physical ailments — although the science is not definitive.

In 2001 Searcy launched Project RENEW, which stands for Restoring the Environment and Neutralizing the Effects of War. The organization works with Quang Ti province and international agencies to assist families of victims of wartime chemical exposure and live bombs left behind after the fighting ended. It also educates the community on bomb safety, as well as locates and clears bombs.

Searcy is well known at the highest levels of government as the American who is always accessible and committed to healing decades-old wounds.

“If anyone can solve this, Chuck can,” Jones says of my bureaucratic dust-up.

Three hours later, Chuck walks by my seat on the bus.

“Don’t ask me how, but you can come along.”

4 The war turns

Jan. 30, 1968, was like most other days for Specialist Fifth Class Searcy and his compatriots at Combined Intelligence Center, Vietnam. They left work around 6:30 p.m., observed the yellow warning sign notifying them to be slightly more vigilant of attacks, and had a typical evening: A movie, some beers, perhaps a little marijuana, lounging by the river, and then to bed.

At midnight they woke to sirens. Muttering expletives, they grabbed their guns and mustered for another training exercise, figuring they’d be back in bed soon.

But then a captain rumbled by in a jeep. This is not a practice alert, he called through a bullhorn. Saigon is getting the (expletive) kicked out of it.

The Tet Offensive had begun, one of the largest military campaigns of the war led by the Viet Cong and North Vietnam against South Vietnam, the U.S. and their allies.

Searcy’s job was to process intelligence from the field, and he and many of his fellow intelligence personnel were growing increasingly disillusioned with the war. Tet confirmed it. A friend of Searcy’s died after suffering friendly-fire in the aftermath. American retaliatory strikes flattened the neighborhood around the intelligence center on the outskirts of Saigon.

“Our compound was fully intact,” Searcy said. “But everything in between and around us – it was almost like a lawn mower that gets to the weed line and then it stops. Everything else was destroyed.”

Searcy’s tour wrapped up that June. Anger, bitterness and sadness formed an uneasy cocktail. But he still owed the Army one more year. He was stationed in Germany, where he drove the Autobahn, drank beer and lived among people who – unlike his old friends in Thomson — understood what he was going through as he processed the Vietnam experience. It was a restorative year.

After his discharge Searcy lingered for a while longer in Germany before returning to Athens and enrolling in the University of Georgia with renewed focus and a plan to join the anti-war movement.

5 A motley crew

Heading west from Cam Lo and the bomb detonation site, the bus climbs through mountains, passing some of the bloodiest sites of the Vietnam war on the way to Khe Sanh Combat Base. The trees are newer, the old dense jungles long since eradicated by defoliants.

This is Searcy’s fifth Veterans for Peace tour, bringing people with a wide range of emotions and experience for a two-week voyage through Vietnam.

There’s Aaron Davis, the loquacious Marine and Army veteran from Utah who did not fight here but has memorized the battle history along Route 9 and the strategic reasons behind each disastrous move.

There’s soft-spoken Jackie Hider, a Zen Buddhist street minister in San Francisco. She was drawn to the trip by Searcy’s presentation at a Veterans for Peace National Convention, but seeing photos of the amputees and developmentally disabled Vietnamese, she wondered: “Could I handle this?”

Her approach is tactile, hugging and touching people suffering from birth defects likely connected to their parents’ Agent Orange exposure.

There’s Mark Rudd, a former leader of the Weathermen and one of the best-known radicals of the era, who spent seven years on the run from the FBI. John Koehler, a Marine from Wisconsin who served on an aircraft carrier off the Vietnam coast during the war, tells Rudd one day: “I would have considered you the enemy.”

When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, Koehler battled latent post-traumatic stress from seeing the new war as a repeat of old blunders. He joined Veterans for Peace and now speaks at schools about the horrors of war.

“Every once in a while my first instinct is … you shouldn’t be here. You haven’t earned the right in some crazy kind of a way,” Koehler later says of Rudd. “But then I gotta remember here, too, I think he was on the right side of things.”

At the middle of it all is Searcy, calmly handling mobility problems for his aging passengers, along with complaints about food and accommodations. Any time he tries to enjoy a few pages of a book in a hotel lobby, another interruption and logistical question arrives.

The trip helps fund Project RENEW, with each of the dozen travelers agreeing to put up at least $1,000 to be divvied among the causes they encounter during the expedition.

But it does not make a huge difference to the bottom line, when a new federal bomb clearance grant has pushed the organization’s coffers into the millions. Searcy’s trip director role seems less about money than guiding sympathetic members of the Vietnam generation through a shared catharsis.

A lot of it is hard to process. America left behind searing devastation, but the people remain unfathomably kind.

One home in Cam Lo houses two men born with severe deformities. One cannot walk. The other cannot get out of bed. Via a translator, I ask their mother, Le Thi Mit, who recalled planes spraying Agent Orange on her village, what she thinks of Americans after all she’s been through.

Le looks at the ground and mutters that she does not know. Her husband, Nguyen Van Loc, then turns to Searcy.

“You look like Kennedy,” he says with a smile.

That would be the same President John F. Kennedy who authorized spraying Vietnam with the herbicides that likely ravaged Nguyen’s family and his community.

Nguyen means it as a compliment. He is calling Searcy handsome.

6 Restless activism

Athens in 1970 was not Berkeley, but there was a growing anti-war scene. Searcy kept his head down for a few months, but then he was invited to speak before nearly 1,000 people at a candlelight war protest on the quad. Other veterans introduced themselves afterward, and they formed a small chapter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Chuck Searcy the activist was born, but the persona had its costs. He was interviewed on television speaking out against the war. That didn’t play well in Thomson.

What did they do, turn you into a Communist while you were over there? his father asked.

Father and son did not speak for two years.

Eventually, his father was passing through Athens one day and asked Chuck to coffee. After some small talk, he laid out his purpose: Your mother and I have been talking, and we’ve decided this war is a terrible thing and it’s just wrong and it’s got to stop. We’re going to do what we can. We think you were right and we were wrong, and we’d like you to come home.

“I’ll never forget it," Chuck said, recalling the moment. His father died in 1991.

Searcy was politically active on campus and in the community but never a self-serious liberal stereotype, said close pal Pete McCommons, then the head of the state government section at the university’s Institute of Government. Searcy was gregarious, a natural storyteller, a lover of women and whiskey.

Even though he lived off campus, he was pulled into a fight over campus housing policy because of his involvement in student government. Searcy reluctantly agreed to join a meeting with the university president but was so angered by the president’s dismissive attitude that he agreed to occupy the administration building in protest.

The “Athens Eight,” as they became known, went through a yearlong legal saga on disorderly conduct charges. McCommons was ousted from the UGA faculty as a result.

After Searcy did a stint in Albany working for George McGovern’s ill-fated presidential campaign, he came to McCommons with an idea that in the 1970s actually had some economic merit: Starting a newspaper.

The Athens Observer was born in January 1974 as a voice for the town’s outsiders, and it challenged the university administration.

Searcy pulled long hours plying advertisers and setting type. He took a detour to Washington for a Carter administration job for a couple years, then came back to the Observer, adding a cable television news venture. Searcy ended up selling his stake to McCommons so he could go work for Wyche Fowler’s U.S. Senate campaign.

After helping plot Fowler’s stunning 1986 win, Searcy moved back to Washington to become Fowler’s press secretary, but again did not last long in the capital. He moved to Atlanta to work for the trial lawyers’ association.

Still, Searcy felt a nagging sense of something missing. He started to find it on a 1992 trip to Vietnam. In contrast to his Saigon-centric war tour, Searcy and an Army buddy circumnavigated the country for a month, staying in ratty guest houses and getting the stunning response so many vets get when they return — welcome.

The Vietnamese were dealing with the wreckage of war but did not blame it on Searcy and his fellow foot soldiers. It was impossible to forget, but they could forgive.

Back in Georgia, Searcy knew he wanted to stay involved with the cause, as the U.S. and Vietnam inched toward normalized relations. Searcy was recommended for a Pentagon job to help smooth negotiations between the two countries on Missing in Action soldiers. But the appointment was torpedoed by conservative U.S. Sens. Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond, who pointed to Searcy’s antiwar days in Athens.

As a consolation prize, the Veterans Administration offered to make Searcy its congressional liaison. It would be a six-figure salary for someone who had never had financial security. It was the safe move.

But there was another opportunity from an old friend at Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation: move to Hanoi to manage a federal grant providing prosthetic limbs to Vietnamese blown apart by American bombs.

In 1995, Searcy touched down in Vietnam.

7 Standing out, fitting in

At 6-foot-2 with a shock of white hair, Searcy stands out walking streets of Vietnam. He’s a vegetarian in a land that prizes a steaming bowl of beef pho above most things. But like the locals, he is easygoing and quick with a laugh.

“He’s very Vietnamese,” said Dinh Hoang Linh, who works in the government’s foreign press center and has known Searcy for years.

Ngo Xuan Hien’s first encounter with Searcy came at a friend’s wedding. Ngo knew Searcy by reputation from his work, but he was taken aback when Searcy sang “You Are My Sunshine” for the whole party.

“Chuck is very popular,” said Ngo, who now works for Searcy at Project RENEW. “Everyone knows him … that tall American with a big heart.”

Even as Searcy has grown more critical of the American government, his conservative small-town Georgia upbringing has helped him assimilate. Both cultures value respect.

In 2001, Searcy helped launch Project RENEW as a way to help heal Quang Tri Province. Just south of the Demilitarized Zone dividing North and South Vietnam, the province was a constant battleground and remains full of bombs and Agent Orange victims.

After a life spent bouncing from one job and one place to the next, Searcy found stability at last.

“He warned me when we started the Observer that he wasn’t going to stay anywhere long,” McCommons said. “That’s what’s surprising about his long venture in Vietnam.”

Perhaps it’s because he is tackling a vast problem.

The Vietnamese government estimates more than 100,000 casualties from bombs since the war ended in 1975. Hundreds of thousands of tons of everything from small “bombies” to 500-pound canisters remain beneath the soil. But casualty rates have declined since Project RENEW became involved. In 2004, 35 people were killed and 54 were injured in Quang Tri. Last year the count was three dead and four injured.

Searcy’s team takes every safety precaution and had never had a casualty – until this month. On May 18, Ngo Thien Khiet, a 45-year-old senior technician, was killed in an explosion during a clearance operation. Another operator was injured.

Searcy broke the news in a mass email, writing: “This is the moment I have feared for 15 years.”

8 Still challenging authority

Enmeshed in the fabric of Hanoi now, Searcy has a platform to be an equal opportunity irritant.

For years, the Vietnamese government refused to allow non-governmental organizations to use GPS devices to track down unexploded bombs. Security reasons, they said.

A couple of years ago Searcy was in a meeting of top government officials in Hanoi, the kind of people who are not accustomed to being questioned.

You walk into a showroom of Toyotas in Da Nang, you drive out and there’s a GPS on the dashboard, Searcy told them. You go hit golf balls at the course and there’s GPS in the ball to help you find it. You’re saying you’re treating this as a national security issue?

They laughed with a twinge of embarrassment, Searcy recalls. Soon after, they relented.

He gripes that Vietnamese officials cling to the line that it will take 300 years to remove all the bombs left over from the war. The timeline is far more manageable and the Vietnamese know it, Searcy claims, but they do not want to contradict a higher-up.

Still, Searcy is toughest on his own government. Despite increasing amounts of money and attention to clearing bombs and cleaning up contamination from Agent Orange, the U.S. government is not doing nearly enough, Searcy contends.

He is seeking $6.2 million over five years to train health care workers and create a case management program for Agent Orange victims that the Vietnamese can take over. But he complains that the U.S. government would rather sprinkle the money around to various non-governmental organizations to keep everyone happy than build one large sustainable program to get the job done.

“Sometimes they’re just in la-la land,” Searcy said.

His biting public critiques sometimes irritate Washington. And even the Vietnamese are reluctant to go as far as Searcy does.

At a group meeting with government officials, I ask what they would like to hear or see from President Barack Obama during his scheduled visit this month. Phan Van Hoa, of the Vietnam-America Friendship Association of Da Nang, replies vaguely about forging closer ties.

Then Searcy grabs the microphone.

“I’m a little bit surprised that you’re so general in your response because some of us veterans, we want to demand that Obama and the U.S. do more to help Vietnam deal with war legacies,” he says. “The Vietnamese seem to be more polite than we are. You don’t seem to feel so strongly about this question?”

Phan replies: “Yes, your point of view is a little stronger than us, even from America. Yes, we thank you.”

9 Hope for a solution

The work has its joys. During a visit to a Da Nang victims’ center, a group of disabled children pulls Searcy and the other guests into an impromptu dance party. It is a splendid, goofy moment.

But then we head outside of town, to meet yet more people born with severe birth defects likely stemming from Agent Orange. Another mother cradles another gnarled child. The visitors snap photos and ask for details. It is not the first awkward and heart-rending scene of the trip, and it is far from the last.

Searcy and I walk back down a dirt road toward the bus. I ask if his work sometimes feels like a drop of water in the ocean. He’s been at this for two decades, and how far has he gotten?

His reply rings with optimism. The Vietnamese finally understand the problem and don’t react with blind fear. The U.S. government is finally committing real money.

“I see some closure,” Searcy says.

He has less of a handle on his own future. Now 71, retirement is on Searcy’s mind, but he’s still searching for what that means.

For years he anticipated leisurely days on the wraparound porch of the house he still owns in Athens. But he gets antsy when he lingers there too long, and Athens has changed so much that Hanoi is more like home now. He doesn’t have the money to travel the world as he’d like, and besides, he doesn’t find his work all that strenuous.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans,” Searcy says.

“Well, in my case, life is what happens to you when you got no plan.”