Free Solo with Terry du Bose

I saw a great documentary recently about a young guy who climbs giant rock formations without ropes. Why would anyone take such risks?

Having done a fair amount of rock climbing in Colorado during college, I watched ‘Free Solo’ with sweaty palms while hanging onto my seat and Cathy closely.

The film of Alex Honnold’s ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park two years ago takes you behind the first successful solo of this magnificent 3,000-foot+ granite wall. This National Geographic production answersed, for me, the questions of why try this impossible feat.

I’m not a big movie fan, preferring reading and setting my own pace in experiencing information. You’re at the mercy of directors, but readers control how closely we experience what’s essential in texts.

I needed a break so took sound advice to go to the Moxie, our local non-for-profit indie theater. This autumn has been a rush after a road trip to New England and Montreal.

Lucy du Bose wrote in late October that Terry was dying. Then on Facebook he was gone by Halloween. So many people wrote in. I knew he had been struggling. We had kept in touch after meeting in Lubbock in 2005.

“I went through a six-week round of chemo,” Terry said in email in early September. “Seems like a problem with my bone marrow, not producing enough mature blood cells.   I have another meeting with the hematologic oncologist this week.    We’ll see how it goes.  Will have my third bone marrow biopsy.”

Can you sense that Terry was a realist, a scientist and a fighter?         He had a long career as director of the division of medical sonography at the University of Arkansas. He was proud to have developed a degree program in diagnostic sonography.  We met when we both presented at a conference at the archive on the Vietnam War at Texas Tech University.

Terry confronted a small group of American veterans, known as ‘Swiftboaters’ who attacked Navy Lt. John Kerry’s military record during his presidential run. Let’s just say it was a heated exchange of broadsides from all participants.

Earlier Terry had been an anti-war activist as part of Vietnam Veterans Against the War in Texas. I had been active in the same group in Missouri.

We bonded at that conference in Lubbock. We met several times over the years, mainly in Austin, and kept in touch.

We’re both war babies, born in ’44. Neither of us wanted to lead protests, but we felt we had seen enough crazy, questionable stuff in Vietnam we couldn’t just forget.

Several thousand vets became active in VVAW, the first time veterans of a conflict actively protested a war. Many found other ways to protest what they had experienced. Most tried to just get back to some normal peacetime life. Why a relative few of us vets were protesters is sort of a mystery. Why not just chill out and have a beer?

In the same way, you may have to see ‘Free Solo’ to try to understand why a young man would climb a sheer rock face without any protection. Lucy du Bose is a modern dancer; I think she might understand the power of moving one’s body with sure precision to climb a cliff in the face of death.

You may have had to be in Vietnam to understand why veterans would oppose their own government and leaders.

It wasn’t easy. They infiltrated our group with agitators and spies.  They ignored us or called us traitors.

Still we persisted. We threw away our medals. We protested Agent Orange and related immoral weapons. Now Vietnam is supposed to be America’s good buddy in disputes with China in the South China Sea.

Was it all a dream? Did thousands of Americans plus allies and millions of Vietnamese die for no discernable reason?

History may give us a better picture in coming decades about these geopolitical and ethical mysteries. But there is no doubt Terry du Bose inspired many to do something to help others. He scaled a monumental mountain.

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