Back to the writer’s desk, once again.
Here’s a continuation of my last blog—From The Desk of Randall M. Foster.
I appreciate all the questions that have been asked and I’m looking forward to answering them, but one hasn’t been asked and it’s looming in the background like a ghost. And I know the new world we live in, so if I don’t deal with it now, it will torpedo me and my book in a short period of time. So, I’m going to have to give you a brief history of me, a biography if you will, and take the Bull-by-the-Horns.
The 50’s: I was born in 1951 in Ann Arbor Michigan. By the time I was three years old one of my parents began beating me, along with my younger brother who was just two at the time. We were beaten for just being little boys that were bright, excited about life and exploring our new world.
I’m not talking about spankings. I’m talking about David being tied up with one belt and then having a second used to viciously beat him while I lay on the floor from my beating, unable to move. Afterwards we lived in total terror for the rest of the day; “Children should be seen and not heard.”
This went on until my sister was born. She was a god-send to us; of course, we didn’t know that at the time, but regrettably it had come too late. The dye had been cast and we were both heading toward a twisted growth, like a mountain top tree in those cruel winds. We were wild and sometimes reckless before we started grade school, and at times did things that could have gotten us killed.
I became withdrawn around adults but David was wild with a short fuse, and driven toward violence easily. (In The Creation of Dangerous Violent Criminals Dr. Athens created the term violentization to describes our development without a stumble or miss-step.) One day a teacher was going to hit David with a wooden ruler for his loud and rowdy behavior in her first-grade class. He jumped up on his seat, then on top of the desk and punched her right in the nose. Poor David was committed to Ypsilanti State Hospital for the mentally ill for that episode.
After he was gone, I withdrew into my own world of make-believe, knowing I’d be next if I got out of line. And I missed him, missed him terribly.
While David was in Ypsilanti State for his nine-year incarceration, I was held back twice in grade school. One of my teachers said to my mom, “I don’t understand it. He’s such a bright boy, but I just can’t reach him.”
That was my childhood in the 50’s.
David stayed in that filthy hospital that almost killed him with its lousy care for over nine years. He didn’t even receive a grade school education while there, and had to teach himself everything. Then one day, one of his health care providers told him, “I’m going to tell you something…just between you and I…”
He went on to tell David that he was sure he had been misdiagnosed. That he wasn’t psychotic, but suffered from terrible anxiety from the childhood abuse he had endured as a small boy. And because of the recent changes in the state law, if he went out his window and made it home (which was almost 40 miles away) they wouldn’t take him back.
Dad found him in the dog house the next day, sleeping with one of our dogs; he was fifteen years old. (Note: The U of M’s Children’s Hospital had made the same determination several years before, but he was removed from their care because it made one of my parents angry.)
At the peak of his career David was listed as the fifth best welder in the country. He had one of the strongest welds ever seen and the coast guard in Alaska couldn’t break any of them. He could read blueprints, fabricate anything; but he now lives an old, tired man on top of a hill all by himself, with few friends that I know of, and no one love-one in his life. (I can’t talk to him to confirm anything about his retired life.) – My brother Lance still talks to him on the phone so I have secondhand information.
David is harder-than-hell to get along with, but who can blame him. – And he hates my guts, but I can’t blame him for that either, after the terrible fight we had and the serious injury he received. – I’m no one to talk, believe me. …
The 60’s: In Adrian, Michigan my performance began to leap in the seventh grade because I had finally learned how to read that summer. I started getting good grades and by the eighth grade I had A’s with only one B, and my parents began talking about me going to college at the kitchen table. But I had met a girl in the Pavilion at Devil’s Lake and we were falling in love. And love was totally foreign to me because it didn’t exist in my home, but was wonderful and I needed it. So, I began taking off, hitch-hiking the 15 miles to her home in Onsted without permission to see her that summer. I just had to see Suzie that summer. She was like the sunshine and moonlight and the air that I breathed, and she had such a beautiful smile. …
But our parents laid the law down. I had to get permission from all of them to visit and the no’s stressed me until I broke. In the ninth grade I fell apart and couldn’t perform in class and I became a very angry teenager. I began getting into trouble, first small things but soon they became larger and more pronounced. And then my behavior became dangerous. The probation department agreed with my father that I should go into the Army. They could straighten me out. (Lucky them.)
I did well in my training and well in Germany until I started drinking. I got an article fifteen (a misdemeanors) and then went to Vietnam after losing a stripe in rank for that bad decision. (I also had to pay for a phone booth I half destroyed in town during a separate incident.)
In the ‘Nom’ as we called Vietnam in the Highlands, I did quite well for months. Then our captain went home and was replaced by another who few of us liked. He began making changes and as the tension grew, I started drinking after work in our EM club to relieve the stress. But one night I suffered a blackout and it frightened me, so I looked for something else to use.
I decided to go down to the off-limits village we weren’t (technically) supposed to visit. But HQ turned their heads and allowed us to walk through the hole in the wire at Tower Threethat wasn’t supposed to be there, kept open for EM morale, where I tried my first choice: marijuana. At first it treated me okay, but then I started having paranoia issues so I looked for something else.
The papa and mama-sons were selling what they were calling cocaine in the village in clear, plastic vials the size of your thumb. It only cost five dollars and a friend of mine told me the white powder was cocaine, and non-addictive. (I’d never used drugs before the service so I had no idea what it really was.)
A few weeks later Top, our first sergeant, called the company to a formation and he held one up and said, “Some of you men are using this,” he began. “This is not cocaine, it’s heroin!” He went on to tell us we were addicted if we were using it, because it was over 90 percent pure.
I continued to self-medicate with ill-legal drugs while I was in Vietnam but got my heroin use down to a small amount each day. It kept my anxiety in check and I was able to work and do my job. But then one day my Sargent came to me and said, “The captain said you have E-5 stripes sitting on the corner of his desk, but you have to stop hanging around with your friends before he’ll put them on your sleeve.”
I said, “But sarge, I hang out with them in the bunker after work because they’re funny, and I don’t drink anymore so I don’t go to the club. I had a blackout, sarge.”
He nodded, “I heard.” He paused to smile, “But I’m just relaying the message, Foster.”
We had a good relationship and I got along with Sarge very well, and I worked hard for him. But I didn’t stop hanging with my friends so I knew I wasn’t going to receive that E-5 stripe. So, Sarge gave me a gravy job to make up for not getting that stripe and he covered my ass on my days off. And we didn’t have a bed check and I was working a ten-hour day so one of my days off was Friday (or was it Monday; I can’t remember). But I could go down to the village and stay there for three days if I wished, and have a long weekend. I was in heaven for a while.
This was the early 70’s and our Army and Marines had killed most of the VC’s experienced men during Tet of 68, and then in 69 we killed even more. So, on many of our compounds we had forty-hour work weeks, but our men were still dying in the jungles and hills. – It was like two different worlds in Nom.
Sarge covered me like a tarp. He even loaned me trucks to go see friends at other compounds and I had a blast for a while, but then he went home.
The captain had been offended but didn’t bother me until Sarge left. After he went home trouble began coming my way. I began getting weird inspections and searched, and my new sergeant started making my working life a total hell, first by taking away my gravy job. One thing led to another until I finally caught a low-grade court-martial for eating a joint and not opening my mouth when ordered. (I allowed my temper to get the best of me, and it costs.)
I was busted to a PFC and fined for that court-martial, and something else happened and they sent me to a psychologist. (Though I can’t remember what I did, me seeing that doctor actually helped me almost fifty years later.)
I made it through all the harassment that continued until I was finally close to going home. Then on a bright, sunny morning I was riding in a truck with a friend of mine, going down to Qui Nhon to begin my clearing when we got inside a village. A lambretta pulled out in front of us and slowed us down to ten miles an hour. That was the worst thing that could happen, because now we were a sitting duck. Suddenly lambrettas and motor-bikes filled up the roadway and we couldn’t pass. “Damn, that son-of-a-bitch,” my friend said.
We made it through the village and as we were passing him in our two-and-a-half ton, I got out on the truck’s running board and swung my short-timer’s stick and shook it in the air. (We were at least six feet away from that vehicle, and I never came close to him or his lambretta.) – Damn it all, there was a jeep right behind us.
The lieutenant pulled us over and ordered me out of the truck. He told me that I had hit the driver and I told him, “I did not. We weren’t even close enough for that.” Then he ordered me to give him my short-timer’s stick. I told him I was authorize to have it because I was checking out to go home. He made it a direct order, and I remembered the last time I hadn’t followed a direct order, so I gave it to him. I said, “Now, may I get back in the truck so I can go down to Qui Nhon and check out of this man’s army, sir.”
“Yes, but you’re going to hear about this, as soon as you get back to command.”
My friend was laughing his ass off as we left. I told him, “It’s not funny.” He laughed more. I looked at him, “He was so close to us I didn’t see him.” He just shook his head, and we chuckled together.
So, I was court-martial again, but this time they tried to put me in LBJ with a bad-conduct-discharge.
During the court-martial the second lieutenant began to receive heavy cross examination from the JAG Officer. I was sure the lieutenant hadn’t been there because he wasn’t the officer I’d talked to, near my door. And even though I hadn’t gone around to the rear of the truck to check who else was in it; what he was telling the Captain wasn’t true. I hadn’t done all those things. But I had no idea how I was going to prove it. The cross examination became intense and the young officer began to sweat, then the Captain stopped and stared at him for a long moment; I wanted to smile but didn’t. Then the Captain said, “Specialist Foster, I’d like you to leave the courtroom please.” I got up and left, closed the door and sat down on the bench closest to it. His clerk had been watching at me with a wrinkled brow. “What’s the fuck’s going on?” I shrugged.
“I’m not sure, but I think things are going my way,” I smiled.
After ten or fifteen minutes the lieutenant exited the courtroom door with the reddest face I’d ever seen (he was a red-headed kid, maybe twenty years old). He high stepped it out of the office suite and disappeared. The clerk smiled at me, “He just got caught in a lie,” he told me. “And this captain hates lying in his court.” I smiled from ear to ear. It was becoming a good day.
The captain called me back into his court and was friendly, and explaining that he was finding me not guilty of all but the of two lesser charges. He fined me one hundred and thirty-five dollars and busted me down to a PFC. I said, “But sir, I’m already a PFC.”
“Not according to my paperwork,” he told me. He looked into my eyes and said, “You’re now officially a PFC.” (I thought to myself, a private-fuckin’-citizen. Wonderful.)
I asked for permission to speak and he granted it. I then told him how I was past my ETS date and should have been sent home two weeks prior. And I told him that a few weeks before my arrest, a friend of mine and I had been awakened by two young men that attacked us in our beds, while two sergeants stood in the background watching. They had yelled that Fred had given heroin to a dog, but I couldn’t even imagine that.
I was able to get out of my bed and the fight got heated. I accidentally kicked my foot locker out into the middle of our cubical and jumped up on it and then began hitting them both in the face when they charged. The E7 sergeant ordered them back and they quietly left. And then I told the Captain I was afraid to go back there, because something would happen and I’d either end up in jail again or dead. He said, “Excuse me, private-first-class.” He pushed his chair away, looked at my records again and picked up the phone. After dialing, “Good morning sir.” He lowered his voice and talked for several minutes. After he hung up, he began writing in my file. “PFC Foster, you’re going back to be processed out, and then coming back here before nightfall–to be loaded on a plane for Cam Ranh Bay.” He looked into my eyes, “Good luck, Private-First-Class Foster.” I stood to attention.
“Thank you, sir.” I wanted to salute him but we don’t salute indoors unless we’re carrying a firearm, and brigade had taken mine.
It wouldn’t be until General Schwarzkopf became a one star that things would begin to change in the Army. As soon as he became a division commander, he told all his full-bird colonels that their men’s problems were their responsibility, during work and afterwards. And if a man became mentally ill in his command, he wasn’t driven out of the service with a bad-conduct-discharge like most had been before. Instead, they were put in the hospital and if they were diagnosed mentally ill by the
doctors, they would receive a medical discharge and compensation. (There were a number of powerful people that didn’t like this, but they couldn’t out smart this General.) But I’ve been told that his policies didn’t stick after he retired. Changes come very hard, don’t they?
But how could the Captain have known about the set-up by brigade in June of 1971, all the servicemen and women are asking?
I had volunteered for a seven-man recon squad and began training in the field while my nemesis commanding officer had been on a bereavement leave for over a month. My commanding sergeant of the squad was an E7 Airborne Ranger on his fourth consecutive tour in Vietnam, and he was the only one that could have gotten information to JAG on the sly about the set-up, and he liked me enough to do that. (I loved working for this sergeant in the field, and I knew I had made a mistake going into the MOS I had chosen.) So, I was trained in the field with several experienced soldiers and Sarge, doing recon missions for 173 Brigade until the captain came home and removed me.
On the day of my second court-martial, my driver and I raced back to HQ like the devil was chasing us, and when we got there the first sergeant was furious that I hadn’t been convicted. But the paperwork was ready and he told my driver (loudly), “YOU GET THAT MAN DOWN TO HIS BARRACKS AND HELP HIM PACK.” He went on to tell him that he was taking me back to Qui Nhon to HQ before the sun went down. “Then I want you to find a place to stay for the night, AND DO NOT, AND I SAID, DO NOT TRY TO MAKE IT BACK HERE BECAUSE THE VC WILL KILL YOU AND STEAL MY JEEP.” – He was a very thoughtful man.
On the way back down to Qui Nhon the specialist told me, “I don’t know what you’ve done, but I love you for it. I got a night in Qui Nhon. I’m going to get a girl, and get loaded and get laid. – Yahoo!”
I never got to see Sarge again so I couldn’t thank him for helping me. But Thank You Sarge, from the bottom of my heart.
The rest of 71 until 1979 was all drugs, violence and prison cells for me. And though I haven’t committed a felony since 1975, I have three on my record. (The second one was supposed to be a misdemeanor but I was slick tricked by Anyway County, Michigan.)
But I couldn’t hold-down a job and wondered what the hell was wrong with me, for all those years.
This side-note is interesting: When I was in prison in 1972 for my first felony, President Nixon ordered all service men who were still not fully discharged from their six-year obligation and imprisoned, to have their discharges changed to bad conduct discharges. That way they couldn’t receive any benefits, and have their lives ruined completely. (We called him tricky-dick for a reason.)
JAG stepped in again and stopped it after I wrote them a two-page letter, and I still have an honorable discharge to this day.
After I was released in 1979 for my third offense, I knew I never wanted to go back to prison. But I struggled through the 80’s whenever I suffered stress, and had to medicate myself far too often. Then in 1989 during my third divorce, my wife told me if I didn’t go to the VA Hospital and get help, she was going to ask the court to stop all visitation with our two girls.
I had come home to visit and gotten into a fight, and she had watched me fight for the first time. It had frightened her to death, and she told me that my eyes changed colors and my rage was frightening, and she was sure something was very wrong inside my head.
I was working in North Carolina at the time so I went to the hospital there when I got back. They discovered I was bipolar, so I began taking lithium and eventually received treatment. It was a long, hard road because I’d been sick for so long without treatment that my many bad behaviors were deeply ingrained, but I heal eventually. And though I can’t ever be considered normal in the truest sense of the word because I was helped too late in life, in the 2000’s I became a stable citizen who eventually ended up with a decent job, which I retired from at the age of 67 years old.
Now you know why I have such a dark and ugly history; the big Ghost in the background has been revealed.
Answer to your questions:
1) I started writing in 1972 but regrettably stopped whenever life demanded my full attention, or my illness became overwhelming.
2) There were books before War and Peace, but it kept me sane while I was in the hole for fighting in Michigan’s Jackson State Prison, doing a six-years and eight-months, to ten-year sentence for my third offence. Over the years I’ve gravitated toward books like: A Terrible Glory, then across the spectrum to Economic Hit Man, and then back again to A Land So Strange. And I cannot forget Susan’s book The Age of American Unreason, nor Ghost Soldiers. And on those dark days when I could hear the screaming of my brother and the cracking of that strap, I would hide away in books like: Frankenstein and Tom Sawyer. (And books, movies and music have saved my life, and I wish to thank all the artists that have helped make them possible. All of you: Thank You very much. …)
3) My editor told me I have a noir style. – I said “really?” – I guess it’s fitting, but I believe it comes from a very sad beginning. (And thank you so much Elizabeth Beeton for your patience, kindness and understanding.)
4) I love to write screenplays, and I can hardly wait until I can get back to Two-Gun Jake’s. …
And please, all of you, feel free to ask me more.
Finale: I believe we Americans will continue to have all these terrible problems we’re having today, along with a prison system that keeps growing with its increasing price-tag, until we address the core problem. Yes, the active shooters will continue and the other violent crimes too, until we break the vicious cycle of severe child-abuse in our country. And certain groups of people cannot continue to scream to the heavens about personal responsibility (only) and how each family should take care of themselves, because society is too large and interwoven with the poor to continue that defense. We are going to have to work together to end the causes of our unique American violence. And because too much of it is happening because of severe violence against children and is the reason for many of our problems today, it must be stopped.
Yes, I must admit it won’t end all crime but it will help tremendously. Because it will make many of the employees who are willing to use extreme violence for the crime bosses, no longer available to them. And I’m convinced, that you can take all the guns, then the bats and knives and nothing will change. We will still have terrible violence in our country because too many brutalized people are being transformed into violent criminals every day. …
And I must ask: Where was my police officer in the 50’s? Why didn’t he kick in the door; or why didn’t the Lone Ranger and Tonto come crashing in to save we little boys? I’ve wondered why they hadn’t since then. Why weren’t they there, for two beaten children?
I must shut up now, but I must say I’m hopeful for the future. Oh, damn it all. I would have to throw that in, and talk about the last things that escaped from Pandora’s box: Hope.
Written By: Randall M. Foster
Suffered by: Randall M. and David G. Foster – And anyone that had to live with or near us after we were above the age of six. – And we are very sorry.
Please read me. I have good things to say hidden in my stories . . . too.
With affection: rmf-ink