Ray Westberg and the Reader

VA hospital, Camp Pendleton, MCRD, Iwo Jima, local Marines on Kuwait, San Diego bicyclist war stories, Tarawa, Morse High School, coroner's, personal Vietnam story, Army-Navy Academy

Author receiving Purple Heart from Army General Stillwell. You’re sure your leg is blown off, has to be, one arm doesn’t work your “good” hand...part of your finger missing, grab your face...nothing....
  • Author receiving Purple Heart from Army General Stillwell. You’re sure your leg is blown off, has to be, one arm doesn’t work your “good” hand...part of your finger missing, grab your face...nothing....

Westberg, a Vietnam veteran and a high school wrestling coach from Ellensburg, Washington, was recruited to write for the Reader by editor Judith Moore, who had lived in Ellensburg as a young housewife.

Westberg died from a heart attack in 1997 while teaching his high school English class.

Editor's picks of stories Westberg wrote for the Reader:

  • Temple of the wounded

  • “Another guy, this guy’s a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. And here he’s over in Vietnam, and he was a sergeant, and supposedly he literally went back and forth carrying his men one at a time off this hill where they were surrounded and being shot at by the Vietnamese, and he got shot himself. He did this, comes home and gets the highest award, and then he rolls in here and his diabetes causes him trouble." (May 30, 1991)

Master Sergeant George Spears: "This is the only Marine base in the United States where ship-to-shore operations can be practiced."

Master Sergeant George Spears: "This is the only Marine base in the United States where ship-to-shore operations can be practiced."

  • The Marines are sitting on a few good acres

  • Two miles past Horno and secluded, tucked at the foot of tree-choked gullies spilling precipitously from a scabrous crest, lies San Onofre and headquarters for SOI — the School of Infantry. Rampant building continues to remove all but relic strips of Korea/Vietnam-era housing. Inside a surviving Quonset hut, a skin-headed captain traces his finger along a thin line on a wall-sized map. "Here,” he says, “is where you want to go." (Nov. 8, 1990)
  • MCRD –Hell on Pacific Highway

  • The yellow footprints are gone, except for the final row that still points toward the cubelike addition. Standing on the last set of prints before the padlocked door, I think of the experience, the change, the metamorphosis that began inside. And I think of how it worked: strip away civility, turn into soft clay, mold into efficient killer. I was a boy who wanted to be a Marine, who wanted to go to Vietnam, who wanted to feel what it was like to kill. (June 21, 1990)

Workers prepare newly discovered Japanese remains for cremation. Iwo Jima was the killing ground for 28,000 human beings, including the entire Japanese garrison and 6800 U.S. Marines.

Workers prepare newly discovered Japanese remains for cremation. Iwo Jima was the killing ground for 28,000 human beings, including the entire Japanese garrison and 6800 U.S. Marines.

  • The meaning of Iwo Jima

  • To my right. I spot two unexploded land mines. I take a close look — but don’t touch and move on. Suddenly the tunnel heads down, steeply down, and spirals left There are hand-carved steps, lone ago worn smooth. Losing balance for a second, I reach back — swoosh! My feet fly out. The back of my head smashes against the hard steps. Blackness. My headlamp has gone out. Through the darkness and spin of my head, I hear, tunk, tunk, tunk. My other flashlight is rolling down the stairway. (Sept. 7, 1989)
  • San Diego Marine reservists tell Kuwait stories

  • "It's a shame. We really didn't have a thing in the world against the average Iraqi. They were just stuffed in a real bad place. They had equipment that wasn't as good as ours, they didn't know how to use it as well, they just were in a bad spot. It's hard to imagine the kind of terror they must have experienced. We can't even imagine it." (July 25, 1991)

Moki Martin: "I was goin' south on 75 by Coronado Cays, and I took the off-ramp.  I looked down to shift. When I looked up, I saw this bike rider coming right at me, on the wrong side of the road."

Moki Martin: "I was goin' south on 75 by Coronado Cays, and I took the off-ramp. I looked down to shift. When I looked up, I saw this bike rider coming right at me, on the wrong side of the road."

  • Rebels without an engine

  • Surprisingly, in spite of these gory occurrences (which Gindling considers "breakdowns in trust" between bicyclists and motorists), he maintains that San Diego is a safe place to ride. "Overall, there seems to be an awareness here by people in cars that 'Yes, there are bicycles here, we have to watch out for 'em.' I mean, I've had brushes, but I’ve never been hit." (Nov. 14, 1991)
  • Sanctuary

  • “Morse doesn’t look anything like those kinds of schools; and the area doesn’t either — it looks like a park. People do take care of their homes. For the most part, it’s a nice area. And yet, in the eyes of government statistics, you would call it a low-income kind of situation." (July 30, 1992)
  • Doctors after the fact

  • I point to the picture-plaque of doomed PSA Flight 182 and ask Lodge if he was here for that. “A lot of the job was basically gettin’ the junk and trash off the body so we could get to the body. Or the parts. Lot of it, ’course, just collecting pieces. They were — God — lot o’ pieces all over the place. I had to climb on roofs there to get the pieces they wanted. At first the fire department was helping us with that." (Aug. 11, 1994)
  • Did you fight in the war? "Yeah."

  • Leave tomorrow for Dong Ha, soon the jungle. Need pain pills. Pay a boy a buck to canoe me and Hien across the Perfume River to the Dong Ba Market. Entrance is a jumble of a wooden stairway. Need medicine? Everything you could ever want...stuffed baby crocodiles, air dried monkeys, dead cobras, vipers...is there. (Aug. 31, 1995)

"It was stinkin’ from the time we got on that damn island."

"It was stinkin’ from the time we got on that damn island."

Mikhail M. Zlatkovsky and Robert Burroughs

  • San Diego recruit fought in bloodiest 76 hours of World War II – Tarawa

  • "They assured us that we were going to hit the Japs with the heaviest naval gunfire in the history of the United States; that we were attacking a reinforced island defended by Japanese special landing forces — Japanese Marines. They told us that the Jap commander bragged it would 'take a million men a hundred years' to conquer his island.' Something like that." (Nov. 18, 1993)

Kids wrestle, step on each other’s shoes, crawl out windows.

Kids wrestle, step on each other’s shoes, crawl out windows.

  • An unhampered look at Carlsbad's Army Navy Academy

  • “There are two things we are not, and first is a reform school. Some parents bring their kids here thinking that, but we don’t take ’em; if we know that a boy has been told by a judge, ‘Go to a military school or go to juvenile hall,’ well, he’ll have to find a different military school." (March 6, 1997)
  • I don't ever tell death how not to take me

  • We entered MCRD on that yellow bus. By then it was dark...and see all those drill instructors sitting out there. I'm still not scared about any of this stuff. They get on the bus and start screaming. They're not the same people. The assholes on the bus now are scared little freaks. Some of the macho guys are still trying to be macho, and the DIs are barkin down their faces. "What are you smilin' at, you little pussy piece o' shit?" (Nov. 6, 1997)

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