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THE VACCINATED AIRMAN

By DAN CAMERON-RODILL

BANGKOK (MCC) - We were waiting for Flight #341 to Bangkok at Kim Po Airport in Seoul. The young guy saw the passengers seated outside Gate #8 and decided to relax on the gleaming floor. Back against the wall, he ignored the TV and cracked open a magazine. He was traveling light, his medium-seized backpack much smaller than my check-in. He dressed light too: tank top and cut away shorts. These helped display a muscular build, strong neck, a barbell look to shoulders, pectorals, biceps, calves, and a small tattoo on the left shoulder. Maybe steroids, maybe not. Hair closely cropped. I took him for U.S. Military. He also appeared quietly intent on giving a good account of himself in the Kingdom of Thailand.

At the announcement, everyone lined up quickly, boarding passes ready. They were about 95% Asian, many with children. As we filed aboard, crew-members bowed or nodded heads, with an old-culture beaming. When I located 23A, by a window, the only adjoining seat was already occupied. It was he, the husky young man in tank top and cutaways, looking ready for Thailand. He got up to let me in.

Neither of us rushed to discuss our minority status, or anything else. Call it a man-thing, inertia, don't tread-on-me syndrome or whatever, but each seemed content to settle into himself, he with his mug, me with a phrase book. I knew it couldn't last.

After takeoff the stewardesses carried silver trays of white hand towels, using bakery pincers to give them out. In town we had lunched on Seoul food, and now dinner was coming. The little towel felt good on the face, nice and warm, with a light lemony scent, and worked well on fingers too. Pores opening, I suddenly terminated silent hour.

"You stationed in Korea?"
"No, I'm in Hawaii."
"Army?"

"Air Force."

There was no resentment at my presuming him military and American. It seemed like we had been chatting all along. He had been to Korea three times, twice on duty with the Air Force, once on R&R. Now he was on R&R again, and looking forward to his first time in Thailand. Made sense to me, who recalled when grunts on R&R would swarm there in droves, while from buses upcountry near Laos, U.S. Fighter jets tore into Vietnam daily.

The young lady poured wine for us. I also requisitioned a can of beer for later use. A page in the airman's magazine was headed, "Smart Answers to Dumb-Ass Questions." He ordered the meat dinner. Having had enough fish and fowl lately, I went vegetarian.

He wasn't sure where he'd go after Bangkok. Maybe upcountry to the highlands, and down south to the beaches.

"I'd like to go for an elephant ride up in Chieng Mai."

Having two weeks R&R, I said, he'd probably have to chose between beach life and the cooler high country, unless he wanted to cut Bangkok short. Spurred by the war boom and the Americans, Bangkok was now a gigantic congestion, huge sprawling construction, endless traffic roaring in the heat. Yet it still has the markets, temples, Buddhism, cuisine and civilities. And kickboxing, with religious overtones. The countryside had changed too, the new development destroying much of the rain forest (and natural guerilla shelter). Thailand was way ahead of today's Communist Vietnam.

"Hear about the Concorde?" he said.
"No."
"Big crash."

"The Concorde?" That did sound like something. "Don't think I ever heard of one crashing."
"It was on CNN."

Stunning, yes. Something weirdly "Titanic" about it.

When the young lady poured me a second wine, I remembered to thank her with "Kamsa hamida!" It got a special smile.

QUESTIONS ABOUT THE "VACCINE"

An announcement advised everyone to buckle up again. Turbulence ahead. Now it was my turn for the provocative. It came right out.

"Have you had the Anthrax shots?'
There was barely a hesitation.
"Yes."
"Any reactions?"
"No."
"How about the others?"

"I know one guy who came down sick from it. Really sick."

We didn't go into symptoms. I had seen once case described in a forum. It was unbelievably sickening, although something a hired "expert" would call "anecdotal."

"Do you think all the brass are taking these shots, the whole series?"

"That's hard to tell. They say they are."

He knew that the military's massive anthrax vaccination program was being suspended for six months, reason given: shortage of vaccine. He hadn't heard the speculation that the true reason was the coming November election. They'd resume the shots when the voters no longer mattered. The triumph of "Slick?" He could believe it, though. He had suspicions about "the Government.

" I didn't push it. After all, he was on R&R. Nothing I said could purge a bloodstream, anyway. Sure, I considered the whole program a national lunacy, and possibly a precursor to injecting all Americans - yes, you, civilians! - to "protect" them from possible "bio-terrorism." I'd vote to ship those responsible to a hollow in Dante's Inferno. The one where Nazi Doctor Mengele resides, with special reservations for New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani who sprays eight million people like roaches while scientists say there are far safer and more intelligent ways to deal with allegedly dangerous mosquitoes. It seems that not all loonies are in straightjackets any more (and not all sheep are in green pastures.)

Granted, I could be prejudiced, like those pilots who resigned in droves rather than submit to these shots, creating a military aviation crisis. I am not an "expert," like those paid by the corporate vaccine profiteer's, not a Washington "player" like Secretary of Defense William Cohen, not a so-called "regulator" who will obediently rubber-stamp danger as long as you take care to label it "national security."

Granted too, the young airman looked strong. Even I could agree that at least 50% of the vaccinated may exhibit no bad reactions, now or later. Maybe none is a genetic time bomb for himself, his progeny and later generations, anymore than all Americans, who are now fed genetically altered and irradiated food which the corporate controllers keep stealthily unlabeled. We can wish good luck to the airman, and to everyone who signed up to serve as armed forces personnel, not as lab rats. Maybe the apprehensions will not prove as well founded as they did with other examples of massive Washington stonewalling, like Agent Orange and Gulf War Syndrome.

Here's a proposition: should we not encourage trust and leadership by example, even in the White House? If in fact, generals, admirals and the secretary of defense are being jabbed, how can we possibly omit the commander-in-chief? Yet another deferral? Are the New York Times, the Washington Post, the anchor dudes, the Drudges, the Newmaxes calling for Presidential injection? Well, MilitaryCorruption.com is! We call on William Jefferson Clinton to begin his shots, the full series, now. On national TV. He missed Vietnam? Well, try this! And let no one call this partisan poker. We leave that game to others. No matter which half of the GoreBush or BushGore corporate investment you prefer or deplore, MilitaryCorruption.com believes that the half getting the White House should also get the needles. Post-election injection, if you will. Full series, with independent observers, just to make sure, in the interests of a more responsible, credible commander-in-chief. Call it leadership.

GETTING THE WORD OUT TO THE TROOPS

We got through the air bumps, had a snooze, and woke to the on-screen trajectory. It showed us well over the Gulf of Siam, nearing the Southeast Asia mainland. The airman didn't need to write down www.MilitaryCorruption.Com to remember it.

"You're right," he said. "You can't forget that."

He asked who was behind it, so I gave him the Vietnam facts. A staff of all Vietnam-vets. Our editor-in-chief nearly killed in the Tet Offensive. The news editor, a Marine NCO, wounded multiple times during the Battle for Hue. One vice president had been a Green Beret before joining UPI in Vietnam. Another, also Army and later a UPI correspondent, had been aboard World Airways President Ed Daly's famous "Last Flight out of Da Nang." These were just the ones I knew about. Even civilian me, had spent years as a war correspondent over there.

"Wow," he said.

I was just flaunting a few facts. Modesty could have a place too. Later.

We banked over Bangkok. One set of lights down there formed a huge rectangle. Park? Palace? Temple grounds?

His face lit up when I mentioned culture in this part of the world.

"I don't mean just the hanky-panky," I said.

He seemed to get it, somewhat. He might have some interesting experiences here. Something else made his face light up too; the mention of Thai food. I said Hawaii must have a lot of Asian goodies, but over here you found the mother lode.

"This has to be one of the best restaurant cities in the world," I said.

"Any recommendations?"

"Just go around and point. If it looks good, it usually is. You can even find a lot along the streets."

I could have mentioned a hotel and restaurant for "serious gastronomes" who are keen to explore the greatness of Thai cuisine at "fairy tale prices," but I didn't think this was the Bangkok he wanted right now. The place belonged to a disciplinarian, a worldly old German professor: no taxi girls! Etc. The airman, after all, was on R&R. he wouldn't want to get too wrapped up in lemon grass, saffron, green and red curries, nightshades, rice congee, salt duck egg, shrimp paste and fermented fish sauces which the professor traced back to ancient Roman cuisine, not to mention grated coconut approaches to fish, prawn, chicken, pork and the quorn vegetarian imitations of same, and don't forget the lime kaffir leaves, coriander, Asian shallots and various chilies that could mingle with the flesh of soft young coconut meat, and who knew what else? For you could still find your chicken fried rice anywhere and, increasingly, even burgers, with or without ketchup.

We had a good landing. Inside the airport terminal we moved briskly through the long corridor and out to Immigration. CNN began showing the film clip of the Concorde's last moments, smoke and flames streaking from an engine. It was after ten, but the airman was eager to get his Bangkok started.

I knew the feeling. First-timer. I knew it all right. As we stood in line, passports ready, I saw it was time. He had all his gear with him, whereas I would have to go downstairs and way over to conveyer belt #6 for the big pack. He took his medium-sized backpack and slung it over one shoulder.

"Have a good one," I said.

"It was good talking to you," he smiled.

There were no vaccination requirements for entry. No one seemed to mind that at all. The Immigration officer stamped him through and he was on his way, down into the warm Bangkok night.


 

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