Richard F. Novak
The Karmapa’s life was waning. His time had come and he, more than anyone else, was perfectly aware of it. The light of a bunch of candles penetrated the half-darkness of the room, showing glimpses of a beautiful fresco on the wall. It was dedicated to Avalokiteshvara, the most popular Buddhist deity among the Tibetans. Incense, burning as a symbol of purification, gave off an intense aroma which permeated every corner of the wide hall. The Karmapa was lying on his cotton bed, almost in his death throes, with a mala in his hands and a mantra in his mouth. He had the mala—the Tibetan rosary—wrapped around his wrist, and as he passed the beads he recited the tireless mantra of his own creation, the famous Om mani padme hum, barely moving his lips.
The old Buddhist leader awaited the moment of his death with a serene expression. The sunken eyes and faded cheeks were the only signs of the exhaustion of his worldly body. The Karmapa had served his people well. He had spent the first part of his life within the walls of the monastery, being trained in the ritual practices and religious services, learning the holy texts and meditating unceasingly. But the second part he had devoted to preaching the Buddha’s teachings throughout Tibet as well as abroad, both to noble people and rulers and to the poor and disinherited of the land. The death of the old lama would not simply be one more death. The figure of the Karmapa as head of the Kagyu School, one of the most important in Tibetan Buddhism, was venerated by hundreds of thousands of followers due to his indisputable spiritual leadership.
Together with the Karmapa, accompanying him in his final moments, were two other lamas, both with shaven heads and the traditional saffron Buddhist tunic.
One of them, Tsultrim Trungpa, was looking out at the horizon through the window, below which lay the Tsurphu Monastery. It was set in the middle of a narrow valley at nearly fifteen thousand feet, near the town of Gurum and forty miles or so from Lhasa. Surrounded by high snow-capped peaks, it looked almost otherworldly. Tsurphu Gompa was the seat of the Karmapa. This true monastic city was a complex made up of temples, schools and residences, inhabited by almost a thousand Tibetan monks. Tsultrim stared out as far as he could. That morning the gompa was hidden by a thick white fog, a sure indication of the imminent death of the spiritual leader of the Kagyu lineage.
Robert Duncan enlisted in the Army in September of 1962 as a field radio and carrier operator with the military occupation specialty (MOS) of 293. The Army would later change this MOS to 31M. He attended basic training and Signal Corp Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Gordon, Georgia.
Bob completed his basic training and received orders for thirteen months in South Korea. He had absolutely no idea what to expect being assigned to Korea and was completely unaware of the incidents involving the North Koreans in the DMZ. In the early 1960’s, soldiers were typically transported to overseas assignments by boat which was a long, miserable trip that most dreaded. Bob was prepared for this awful trip and was pleasantly surprised when the bus took him to a nearby airfield. He was given a box lunch and loaded on a six propeller cargo plane flown by the Military Air Transport Service (MATS.)
The plane would make stops in Honolulu and then Wake Island where he was treated to an amazing meal in the Wake Island Air Force dining hall. He can’t remember what was better, the food or the plates with silverware. One thing was certain, this meal made every Army soldier on his plane envious of their Air Force brethren.
He finally arrived in South Korea in February 1963 and was assigned to Bravo Company, 304th Signal Battalion. The company was headquartered in Seoul but Bob found himself spending his year on detachment at an Army engineering compound at Uijeongbu which was approximately fifteen miles south of the DMZ. The road he traveled from Seoul to get to Uijeongbu was a gravel, two-lane road that made for a really bumpy ride to his new home. The compound was not far from the I Corp headquarters at Camp Red Cloud. Bob’s unit was at a remote site at the back of the compound known as TV Hill where the Armed Forces Korean Network (AFKN) TV antennas were located – hence the name.
A New Appreciation of John Kennedy
We are creating a culture that is not conducive to good policy or good politics.—President Barack Obama.
A half-century ago, on a cool November evening, an enormous jet landed at an airport near Washington, D.C., and taxied into the harsh glare of klieg lights. A truck with a hydraulic cargo lift mounted on the back sped across the tarmac to an open door at the rear of the plane. In the doorway, several men in dark suits struggled with the weight of an ornate wooden coffin as they carried it onto the lift and set it down at their feet.
Almost immediately, someone threw a switch and the lift began to move down to the tarmac. But after it had gone just a few feet, it stopped and would go no farther, forcing the men in suits to jump down and remove the coffin by hand. They moved quickly, almost frantically, knowing that each moment of delay was an eternity for Jacqueline Kennedy, the bewildered young woman who stood at the edge of the lift, her eyes locked on the coffin.
Sweat beading down from atop my forehead finds a path into my eyes, stinging my vision just as I dismount my black Arabian stallion. I feel alive! Across my back, under my arms, and between my legs, a stream of salty water pours forth, honoring a vigorous July morning ride.
Nothing feels better than pushing my steed and myself to the limit! I woke this morning in good spirits despite Franz-Joseph’s ultimatum. Why did he have to be so harsh? No one wants a European war! I pause for a moment before entering the hall of Potsdamplaz. Once I go in there, the world will come back.
My courtier of servants and advisers, always ready to break my sense of good feeling with the affairs of state, stand impatiently behind that door, anticipating my return. With a false sense of self-confidence and assuredness, I thunder into the hall, looking left and right at the gaggle of staff breathless for my every word.
“Any news?” I ask, not really wanting an affirmative reply.
“Yes, Kaiser, there is news of the Serbian reply to Austria-Hungary’s (A_H) ultimatum,” my foreign affairs adviser calls out from the front of the pack as he hands me a crisp sheet of finely typed letterhead.
With my left hand, I take the paper, slapping the back of his head with my right. We could all use a good laugh! Laughing vigorously, I look around the room. Everyone offers a nervous laugh, attempting not to look at the embarrassed man who handed me the note.
“I’ll look at this in my office. Bring me eggs,” I call out while moving through the mass of people to my private study.
Entering my office, I am delighted to see that everything is in its place.The servants are finally coming around. Show and presentation mean as much as substance.
I look down at the piece of paper before taking a seat behind my mahogany desk. Placing the crisp sheet upon the black blotter, I can’t help but be caught for a moment by the contrast between the darkness of the blotter and the bright paper upon which is written the Serbian reply to Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum. Then, I begin reading:
(Preamble) …[Serbia] cannot be held responsible for manifestations of a private character, such as articles in the press and the peaceable work of societies … [The Serbian government] have been pained and surprised at the statements, according to which, members of the Kingdom of Serbia are supposed to have participated in the preparations of the crime…
A feeling of calm was beginning to descend over the White House. The Civil War had finally come to an end. Although Abraham Lincoln assuredly experienced a keen sense of relief in the knowledge that he no longer had to deal with the horrors of the war, the melancholy that was his constant companion since the death of his son, Willie, had not diminished. He also had to continually bolster his wife Mary’s spirits whenever her thoughts turned to their dearly departed son.
However, all was not downcast within the Executive Mansion. With the winning of the war, Lincoln was now at the pinnacle of his power and popularity with the citizens of the North. There was not only the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, which he deemed his crowning achievement, but also the recent passage of the Thirteenth Amendment outlawing slavery throughout the land. Lincoln was so grateful and relieved that his hard work had led to its adoption, that he had taken the most unusual step of actually signing the amendment, something that was neither required nor customary. He could finally look forward to having the opportunity of being the president of all citizens of the United States.
His focus now turned to the people of the South and the monumental task of Reconstruction. The president wanted to assure the Southerners that he was worthy of their trust and that he intended to put into practice the words he had spoken at his second inauguration. It was his plan to exhibit no malice to the rebellious states and to welcome them back to the Union with charity so as to bind the nation’s wounds and achieve a just and lasting peace.
The conclusion of the war also had a profound effect upon Mary Lincoln. She delighted in the fact that she could finally act as the type of White House hostess she had always envisioned. Now she could arrange for the lavish dinners and levees befitting her position, without fear of continued criticism from the newspapers that she was foolishly spending money on soirées while the boys on the battlefields went without blankets.
But most of all, Abraham and Mary could now look forward to spending their remaining years in peace and tranquility, including making plans for life after the presidency. They often spoke of travelling to California, Europe and the Holy Land and it appeared that they could now actually consider such plans.
However, neither could possibly imagine what lay in store for the president in just a few short days. The nefarious plot being hatched by John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators would be the death knell to the Lincolns’ optimistic and longed-for goals. Now, only divine intervention or an inexplicable presence could alter the course of history and permit Abraham Lincoln to live through his second term.