Remembering Mac on Veterans’ Day

We are least equipped to express those things we most want to express. I am a writer and have been for nearly forty years, and yet, now that I have something that is desperately important to communicate to you, I know most painfully that I cannot begin to accomplish the task. But I must anyway, and so, knowing in advance that my words will fail, I can only do the best I can, because it’s better than nothing, and trying, knowing that failure is inevitable, is always a better choice than not trying.

A veteran passed away just before election day, and Veteran’s Day, once called “Armistice Day” — a remembrance of the men who fought in World War I (then known as ‘The Great War’ or ‘The World War.’)  And, like those forgotten and vaguely honored dead, Mac McFadden was the veteran of a war no one much talks about anymore. A war, that, had we remembered its lessons, would have prevented us from invading Iraq and Afghanistan, wars that Mac was against.

That sounds political, because Mac was political. He and I met at my first Democratic Party of Lane County meeting in lumber-heavy Harris Hall in late 1995 or early 1996. Mac was running for County Commissioner, and I contributed $25 to his campaign. This is logging country, and Harris Hall never lets you forget that.

He died in his sleep, a multiple cancer survivor. It was not expected.

Sept 2012: Camping on the Oregon Coast slightly over a month before his death.

Found on his computer:

Things You May or May Not Know About Me:
Friday, July 04, 2008, 5:11:54 PM

M) Unusual Activities You’ve Participated In:
1) helping pick up 600 “live” butterfly bombs
2) being tear-gassed and fire-hosed protesting the Vietnam war
3) casting an Electoral College ballot
4) stealing away Bobbie Zimmerman’s girl friend (before he started calling himself “Bob Dylan”)

It was an extraordinary American life, no less extraordinary for not being ballyhooed and splashed across cheapjack journalism outlets to fill more space with mythologizing the mediocre. Mac was not mediocre. His life ranged from the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early ’60s to the jungles of Vietnam. From the Philadelphia mob to Australia, to Kurt Vonnegut and Mark Felt. From Klamath Falls potatoes to the Giants’ Causeway in Ireland.

Mac @ Giants Causeway Ireland 2004

He had just arrived at the Air Force base in Vietnam. Protocol was, everybody manned the perimiter defenses, took guard duty. One green, one experienced, they were dropped off by jeep at the pillbox.

That was the night the VC decided to come through the fences, and suddenly there were spotlights, and star flares and gunfire and he could see them inside the fence.

He fired, he turned to the “experienced” grunt he’d come out with, but he was dead.

He turned around an saw a VC poking his rifle into the back of the pillbox. He shot him. He shot several VC, he never knew how many. It was one long surreal flash. He’d been talking to the guy one minute, and the next minute he was dead. The security forces arrived a timeless time later, probably not long, and the attack was beaten back. He was stuck in a jeep and driven back to the base.

He asked if he could bum a cigarette. The guy gave him one, and suddenly he was shaking so bad that he couldn’t light it.

The guy lit it for him. And said, “Your leg’s all wet, pal.”

He looked and thought maybe he’d pissed himself. He checked it.

It was blood.

He’d been shot.

A quick examination showed that he’d been shot in the ass. He’d never felt it. Adrenaline does some strange things.

The medics arrived, patched it, and ambulanced him on his stomach. They gave him morphine and suddenly he felt very happy and warm. The time after that was a blur for awhile, and then he recuperated and went back on the flight line. He was an aircraft mechanic.

O) Things I always wanted to do, and HAVE:
1) Go to Blarney Castle and kiss the Blarney Stone
2) Watch Ayers Rock turn orange as the sun sets
3) Wade in the water in Tahiti
4) ride a camel through the Australian outback

That is, in essence, the memory that Mac carried with him from his first days in Vietnam. There were many others. Later in life, some, like the Agent Orange that they regularly dusted the mountain opposite the airbase with came back to haunt him in the form of small cell lung cancer.

Later, he was awarded a Silver Star and a Purple Heart for that night the VC came through the fence, in a faceless stateside ceremony.  And yes, he stated as absolute fact that he was spit on and called “baby killer” when he came back to the ‘States, in Oakland, California. He also protested the war in the Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

I say these things not to dramatize or mythologize. These things happened. He told them to me as a friend, and not as a brag or a bray, but because it helped him to talk about it to someone. As we learned, when the “Greatest Generation” started dropping like flies in the ‘Nineties, the vast majority never talk about what they saw in the war. And of those, many never feel that there was anyone they could talk to, even had they wanted to.

Because you can send the boy to Vietnam, but he will come back a man, and that man can leave Vietnam, but he will always be in Vietnam.

Mac in  Los Angeles August 2012, two months prior to his passing

There was a thing that happened that he also told me about. I will not reveal it here, because it’s more important that you don’t know what it was, than that you do.

But that thing haunted his dreams for at least thirty years. He would see the same thing every night.

It is a terrible and awful thing to kill a man, no matter how justified, how kill or be killed that it was.

L) Memorable Life Experiences:
1) surviving cancer
2) surviving Vietnam
3) watching my daughter being born
4) meeting Kurt Vonnegut

And many men today, on Veteran’s Day, carry those same secrets, those involuntary souvenirs of a time spent in a questionable war, no less deadly for its moral uncertainty than the most just and honorable war ever fought.

Mac saw a lot of the ugliest excesses of America in his life, but he believed in America. The idea of America. The promise of America, which was where I met him, in Harris Hall many years later, just after the Senator Bob “The Kissing Bandit” Packwood scandal erupted, and a special election had to be held to fill his seat. Congressman Ron Wyden ended up as the Democratic nominee in that special election, and that was the first campaign Mac and I worked on together. We worked on campaigns together all the way up to the Obama primary campaign in 2008. We manned the Democratic booth at the Lane County Fair; at the State Fair in Salem, where we hauled and gave away ice water for free to thirsty fairgoers in the middle of summer. Traveled to state and district meetings and conventions. As the chair of the Congressional District committee, in 1996, he served as a member of the electoral college, casting our district vote for President Clinton’s reelection.

And we worked together in Lane County for Kerry, the grassroots “community organizing” ad hoc committee that tripled the Gore plurality in Lane County from 2000.

Mac used to perform as MacAdam

As I look around my house, there are innumerable projects that Mac helped me with, from the sliding glass doors from his old kitchen that now open the shop, to the roller on our pocket door that solved a Gordian knot of a problem about taking the old door out to replace the roller that had failed due to mild dry-rot.

As I said, I am inadequate to the words that I’d like to use.

Those are my memories of him. There’s more, but this must be enough.

J) Things I am looking forward to this coming year:
1) Obama’s inauguration next January
2) 5 Year Anniversary of surviving cancer also next January
3) My daughter graduating from college
4) finally getting a round “tuit”

In 2008, Mac and I went down to the Lane County Fairgrounds for the last election. The tradition has been much eroded since vote-by-mail, but the campaigns and the media and the people all congregate in the fairgrounds building that held my artwork this summer. And we saw and met our political friends and foes, the talking heads, the high and the mighty, and the friends and the families.

We knocked off early, and came back to my house, where we fired up the TV set and had a smoke on the back porch,  Mac always with his Pall Mall Reds.

And when we opened the door, MSNBC was calling the election for Senator Barack Obama. And that is a good memory. I’m sure if he’d updated his list from 2008, his 2012 wishes would have been slightly different, but he’d still be looking forward to President Obama’s second inauguration.

F) Four people who e-mail me (regularly):
1) Blues Outback
2) Elizabeth Edwards
3) Mason Williams
4) Hart Williams

But, underneath all of that, Vietnam was always with him, and we did that. It is our responsibility and our reminder to always be careful when we put our sons and daughters  in harm’s way. It should never be for the egos of old men, or the desire of some for glory or payback.

In 1964, Senator Wayne Morse of Eugene, Oregon was one of two votes in the Senate against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (which was used to justify that Vietnam War). Morse was taken out by Republican Bob Packwood in 1968 by 3500 votes, in large part because Packwood ran against Morse’s opposition to that war.

So, it is fitting, in a sense, that Mac passed away in Morse’s home county, having helped elect Senator Wyden — who openly embraces Morse’s legacy of moral courage — as  Packwood’s replacement.

A) Four jobs I have had in my life: (that I probably haven’t mentioned before)
1) bookie
2) stoker on a coal burning freighter
3) short order cook
4) rural mail carrier

And it is a reminder that we put Mac eternally in Vietnam, just as we’ve put a generation eternally in Iraq, and in Afghanistan, and in Korea. If we are to truly honor veterans like Mac, we need to be as vigilant in the warm-up to wars as we invariably become long after it’s too late to do anything about it. We need to speak up when it is unpopular and uncomfortable, and, rather than condemning our nation, we probably need to do what Mac did, and embrace our citizenship, and our right as citizens to participate in the governance of a self-governed land.

Mac’s last download. From this blog.
We shared a sense of humor not
appropriate to talk about here.

And when I drive up by the New Hope Christian College, out on Bailey Hill Road, I see the cross that had occasioned decades of fights after “Stub” Stewart had it erected on Skinner’s Butte in the early ‘Seventies in the middle of the night. And then more squabbling when a vote was held to retroactively call it a “war memorial.” And then more when the cross people lost in the Twelfth Circuit and didn’t have the funds to take it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mac sat on the commission that made the recommendation to move that cross to the campus. And, while he wasn’t there when the fight started. He was there to help see it end.

The infamous Skinner Butte Cross today

Let us remember all the veterans whose lives we have taken responsibility for, even as they took responsibility with their lives for this country, of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Here is the dedication to my ebook, which comes out this month:

Rest in Peace, my friend.

There are few people in my life who I’ve felt that not just my world, but the whole world was just a bit darker with their passing. My roommate Mark Weiss. My mentor, Theodore Sturgeon. My teacher, Andrew da Passano. My dad, Dwayne Nolan Claussen. And Mac, my friend.

click for larger

Thank you for your service.


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9 responses to “Remembering Mac on Veterans’ Day

  1. Dan Tomkinson

    I never met Mac, but now I miss him.

  2. It’s is true that you never get back the same person you send to war. My condolences on your friend’s passing. Mac sounds like a hell of a guy…and like Dan said above, I miss him too.

  3. Thanks….as VietNam guy myself, I wondered why it was always with me, and now I know…’s literature that let’s me know….

  4. sidney18511

    A beautiful tribute to a man who blessed your life and others in so many ways. Thank you for sharing your memories. You have my heartfelt condolences

  5. Wild Bill

    A very touching memorial for your friend, Hart. Now more than ever I’m sorry I moved away from Lane County, I might have been able to work with the two of you on campaigns. You sure brought back some great memories for me. The mere mention of Bailey Hill Road caused an enormous avalanche of visions and thoughts. As I’m sure that while you were writing this post about your dear friend, the same happened to you. You have my condolences too, and since I now know a few things about Mac, I’ll be able to put a personal note in my prayers tonight for him, and you.

  6. courtney

    From ancient times by firelight, to the present day by internet, we have always needed to hear stories of heroes. I was glad to hear this one today, about a hero named Mac.

  7. My dad was also a student of Andrew Da Passano. Pleased to meet you.

  8. corrales

    Hart, it took me weeks to be able to read this since I hung OL with Mac and knew you would write something way beyond what I ever could.
    Thanks, its quite moving what you shared and I Know Mac appreciates
    …since i know he’s sitting right over there reading what You write.

    You did good, you both did good.