Monday, May 30, 2011

Mike Baronowski helps me remember those who have died for our country, and find some grit of my own.

Yesterday I caught a broadcast of a show called Hearing Voices about Mike Baronowski, a young marine in Vietnam in 1966—which is also the year I was born. It was a powerful story, told by Mike mostly, from recordings he made while fighting in Vietnam. He would die in battle in 1967.

Mike was both capturing the feel of the war and the situation he was dealing with, as well as using the tapes to stay in touch with his family back home.

I belong to a gym here in Salt Lake City called Ute CrossFit. Today I went in to do the work out—which changes each day. When I saw it, I briefly considered leaving. We were asked to run a mile, do 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 air squats, then run another mile.

For most people this would be a challenge. It certainly was for me. Our instructor, Taylor, encouraged us by saying: “if you feel like cutting corners, or quitting, keep in mind all of the men and women who have served our country and lost their lives fighting for our freedom and our way of life.”

After that, I had to do the full workout.

The clock started and I took off on my run. I used to run a lot, but don’t so much anymore, so sadly even a mile run pushes me. Yet it’s doable and I did it in a somewhat respectable time—which I won’t share (“respectable” being subjective).

Then the real fun began. I broke down the workout into ten rounds of 10 pull-ups, 20 push-ups and 30 air squats. I got a piece of paper so I didn’t lose count.

The truth is I can’t even do one regular pull-up, I use one of those big rubber bands, and with that I can usually do six or seven reps, without stopping--when I’m fresh. There I was, working on my first ten [assisted] pull-ups, which took two sets. It was the same with the push-ups, to make it to 20, even in that first round, I had to break it up with pauses.

I plugged away and I was pushing myself to go as fast as I could, and to simply keep going. My pauses became longer and more frequent, but I had somebody new helping me: the voice of Mike Baronowski, which was fresh in my head from the day before.

From Mike, an American killed in Vietnam: “The terrain is majestic. It's like something out of ‘Heidi.’ The view is magnificent. And just as sinister as it is magnificent. Sinister because this is the perfect terrain, the perfect country for mortar attacks and the VC have made use of it.”

Speaking from the battlefield, Mike inspired me and kept me going even though my body didn't want to. I pressed on.

He recorded in jest: “This is the 35-watt voice of Station MOXE, broadcasting to you from the swamps, jungles, boondocks, and infected salad of Fort McCourt, home of the fighting first platoon of Hungry I Company.”

For me, round six in underway: Ten pushups done, pausing, then struggling with the next ten.

Meanwhile, I thought of Mike back in Vietnam: “Now it's dark and quiet. Everything's been quiet for about 15 minutes now. I was just crouching down in the hole there talking to a hand grenade. I thought it was the microphone, and I realized what I was doing. And the rain is just on time. Now it will rain the rest of the night.”

I am on the beginning of round nine, 10 pull-ups to do, can I do it? I knock out five, pause, then push through the next five. It's not pretty.

I think of this man in Vietnam, seeing beauty, while he is witnessing the hell of war: “There are a billion stars visible tonight. Beautiful. Almost every night it's clear, and now more and more nights aren't clear . . . . It's a beautiful sight--the Milky Way and all the constellations. Of course they're a little bit different because we're on the other side of the planet looking at them from some weird cockeyed angle, I don't know. Hey, I've got some news for you. I made Meritorious Lance Corporal today. How about that?”

Mike was shot and killed by the Viet Cong.

Thank you Mike for your service, your sacrifice. Who knew your words, recorded months after I was born, would inspire me during a tough workout?

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank my instructor Taylor as well, she was there in the room, cheering me, as I groveled along. And her words before we started connected me with Mike.

It’s a funny thing about history. 1966 and the words of an American marine fighting in Vietnam seem like a long time ago. In some ways it is, yet if Mike hadn’t died he could have been someone I had breakfast with today, or saw marching in a parade, or whatever. He would only be about 64. Now that I am 45, that doesn’t even seem so old.

When we think of Mike and all of those who have died, it’s not appropriate to think too much about whether or not their particular war was such a good idea. Such thoughts have their place, in fact they’re extremely important, but not today.

Today we remember.

Listen to the broadcast, including the recordings of Mike Baranowski, here.