As we read in Parts 1 through Part 5, young Doc Chief had no idea what the hell was going on around him, assuming that because everyone and everything looked so warlike that he was involved in an actual war that, like the wars he had read about, was being planned and executed by people who knew how to do those warlike things.
But, as we've also read, the war was, like many other wars, compounded of good and bad guesses, correct assumptions and mistakes, and the people in charge of it were in many ways unprepared, or poorly trained, or just confused.
And as a result people died, as they tend to do in wars when their leaders are unprepared, or poorly trained, or confused.
Luckily for those of us who survived the first couple of days everyone stopped shooting quickly. But as it happened my outfit remained on Grenada for nearly a month, doing this and that, showing The Flag and supporting what passed for a post-invasion "reconstruction".
I wrote about this in a letter to my parents sent in November, and so the following account in blockquotes is from my younger self, Specialist Doc Chief; where necessary I will add my current observations or comments in normal text.
Now what happened, younger me?
Monday 31 OctoberAnd we never DID have any luck.
We rode in helicopters ("airmobled") north to a soccer field west of the large town on the northeast of the island, Grenville. The move into town was quite bonhomious - smiling and waving. We set up shop on a knob crowned by a weird-looking castle that seemed to be a sort of cistern. That night we went into Grenville and set up checkpoints to sieve out the PRA or Cubans fleeing for their hides.
We found nothing.
The next morning, Tuesday, 1 November...
...a nice lady brought us coffee and biscuits.
We moved up to a home not far from the cistern (which had overflowed during the night and drenched out rucks) which we called the White House, for its general grandeur compared to its neighbors.
Thar night we suffered our first casualty, a kid who shot himself in the leg with his own .45.
That day we did our first valley-hunting, walking up and down the roads, showing the flag and asking for Cubans or weapons caches. No luck."
The bottom line is that the folks in Grenada wanted what most people everywhere want; to be left alone to do what they can to make a living, make a life, and a life for their friends and families.
They hadn't wanted to be kicked around by Gairy's goons. They hadn't wanted to be kicked around by Bishop's, or Cooard's, thugs. They didn't want to be kicked around - not that we did much kicking, really - by Uncle Sammy's minions, either.
The "war" was something that, like most sensible people, they wanted little or no part of. So they didn't want any trouble with, or from, us. We spent the rest of the month doing nothing of military value.
And that was lucky for me, because I was a mess in Grenada.
I had too little raw courage and too much imagination to be a good grunt, and I was too young to have learned the sort of self-discipline and dignity that would have allowed me to control my fear and harness my imagination.
That, and I was too much in love with myself and my own life at 26; I couldn't imagine anything so precious as to be worth risking it.
I may well have been one of the few old soldiers more willing to take risks than I was as a young soldier. But, then, as a young soldier I was only worried about myself; as an old one I had soldiers who needed me to be calm and think clearly to preserve their lives rather than be frightened for my own.
Of the remaining month or so probably the most worthwhile thing I did was work in the little medical clinic in the tiny town of Happy Hill, north of the capital of St. Georges.
Like most people in the world, the people of Happy Hill were very poor, and what little medical care they could find was on the level that most poor people get. Which is to say, poor. They had a doctor that traveled in once every couple of weeks, but most people couldn't afford him.
One of the few good things that Grenadians had to say (to our faces) about the Cubans and their Grenadian clients was that they had brought actual doctors and nurses to everyone, not just the handful of wealthy plantation owners and businessmen in St. Georges.
Nurse Joan was overjoyed to see us.
Nurse Joan - that's her on the left, the slim little woman standing next to the wall in the photo above - had been the sole constant caregiver in the little Happy Hill Clinic. She had provided what she could but knew, as only someone who knows how little she has, what she lacked and how her people suffered from that.
But suddenly the rich Americans were everywhere; medics helping with minor surgery, our physician's assistant, Chief Schrum, providing actual surgery and dispensing medicines that no one in Happy Hill had ever even seen, much less been provided. I think we all liked working in the Happy Hill clinic; the people were hard-working and solid, and we loved Nurse Joan for her goodness and caring.
On the back of the photo above - that she sent along after me after I had left - she wrote "Friends that will never be forgotten."
But as American soldiers always have, everywhere they have visited, one day the big camo-colored truck whined and bellowed up the steep road to Happy Hill and we were gone.
Thirty years later, what did we do, all of those sailors and Marines and soldiers transported to the Spice Island at such expense to slay Grenadians where they ran and to chase the evil Cuban imperialists out?
Certainly we didn't remove the airfield that was such a threat to lilypad Soviet troops throughout the Caribbean. In a twist of fate that I hope amuses the shade of old Mo Bishop and his bullet-riddled pals in their lost grave somewhere near Fort George the old Ranger drop zone is now officially the Maurice Bishop International Airport.
Most Grenadians are still poor.
Most of them still work either as small farmers or as menials in the tourist industry. Capitalism has given Grenada what its given pretty much everyone else; lots of nice things to buy but as often as not - and more often for those of us not born to the purple - a pretty scary chance of not being able to afford to buy them.
It's hard to say that the 1983 invasion did any harm and may well have done some good - in cold, geopolitical terms. But in human terms it did real harm. I did real harm, and all my buddies in the 82nd.
Could Bishop and Cooard done better? Maybe not. But that's not the point; we - Ronnie Reagan, Fast Eddie Trobrough, and I - didn't give them the chance. We decided that we knew better than the people in Grenada. So we went in and took that decision away from them.
As a Grenadian commentor notes, the U.S. rolled back the things that the New Jewel Movement did for the vast majority of the people of Grenada. It's all fine and dandy to have a bunch of Americans come work in you clinic...but it's better to have a real clinic, and a real doctor. And real work, and real rights that don't depend on the bounty of some autocrat.
With the cold light of hindsight its obvious that the events of 1983 had nothing to do with "liberation" or helping anyone, other than helping the Cold Warriors "fight the Commies"
Given the pre-invasion events I suspect that it's also likely that the ramshackle Cooard-Austin "government" might well have fallen within years, or even months, leaving Grenada where it is today more-or-less only without the people dead these thirty years.
A 2012 study of pre- and post-invasion Grenada concludes in part:
"The U.S. attempt to make Grenada a model for modernization did not necessarily fail. But it produced mixed results. The political democracy the U.S. hoped to encourage resulted in ineffective governance. Significant advancements in the island’s infrastructure and social services occurred, but many of these were unsustainable after U.S. aid ended in the early nineties. In part, the Cold War was over. But the U.S. no longer saw Grenada as the model it could have been, and there was little to no foreign investment from American or western businesses. The Grenadian government did not have the budget, nor the expertise, to prolong many of the U.S.-implemented development programs."Sound familiar?
The only positive thing I can think of is from the standpoint of the U.S. Army; the messes we made and the people we killed in ignorance or error forced us to look hard at ourselves.
And there were a LOT of errors. The story about the guy who had to make a credit card call to Fayetteville to get fire support?
It was true.
It wasn't as depicted in what may well be the worst American war movie ever filmed (Heartbreak Ridge, for those of you lucky enough not to have suffered through it...) but rather during the siege of the SEAL team forted up in Government House, where the salty soldiers couldn't contact the FM radios in the orbiting Army helicopters on their Navy UHF sets.
One of the squids called Ft. Bragg, reached the Operations center there with the target coordinates. The TOC relayed the coordinates to the naval task force off Grenada that dispatched a destroyer or frigate to fire the mission.
The goatscrews at Richmond Hill and Calivigny Point, the overall sluggish and pawky performance of the 82nd (the then commander, MG Trobrough - known to some of the more cynical of us as "Fast Eddie" - retired with his two stars. Traditionally command of the 82nd was a ticket-punch for fast-track star warriors; retiring as a major general suggests that his superiors thought that Grenada showed that he and his unit weren't really ready for Prime Time), the failures ranging from poor tactical decision-making to over all grand tactical and operational planning...all of that suggested that serious problems remained within the U.S. Army and the post-Vietnam armed forces.
A scathing review of the internal shortcomings of the Army forces as well as the even worse shortcomings that affected cooperation between the services resulted in the changes that are collectively termed the "Goldwater-Nichols" reforms:
"The 1986 act formally elevated the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to the position of being the president’s top military adviser. It strengthened the authority of the existing regional war-fighting joint commanders over all the troops assigned to them. To improve relations among the branches of the military, it also mandated that any officer aspiring to become a general or admiral must serve at least one tour of joint duty working with another branch of the service."The resulting changes produced the military force that was - until the seemingly-endless deadlocks in Iraq and Afghanistan - widely considered unbeatable, the last remaining superpower of armed forces.
Was young Doc Chief part of a triumph?
No, not unreservedly. Democracy and the "free market" have proceeded to provide Grenada with their usual mixed blessings. Counterfactuals are always chancy, and there are more than enough examples from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to suspect that a communist Grenada might have been poorer but less inequal and "unfair" than the present one.
The armed forces of the United States proved tragically amateurish and poorly prepared even for the shambolic resistance it faced on Grenada, and killed or maimed people that should not have died or lost limbs. The overall political calculation involved in ginning up the invasion seems...poorly thought through, at best. The hard lives of the Grenadians were made harder.
Looking at the long arc of history Hurricane Ivan seems to have been more terrible to Grenada than anything humans - American, Cuban, or Grenadian - devised in the autumn of 1983. But, still...
I think that trying to put Grenada 1983 in perspective I can't help but see it as a lot of sound and fury signifying...if not nothing, then at least not very much.
About 89 people died who wouldn't if Bernie Coaard hadn't been an asshole and Ronnie Reagan hadn't needed to kick some Commie ass.
Another 600 or so suffered injuries great or small.
Some buildings were wrecked, some machines destroyed. A government that was already in the process of self-destructing was overthrown. Some needed changes were made to the U.S. armed services.
In the United States alone 42,584 people died in traffic accidents in 1983.
And young Doc Chief came home having seen just enough of war to know he didn't really want to see any more.
And that's not a very good attitude for a professional soldier.