The Vietnam War changed the United States dramatically. We can see it in today’s politically divided society, our current lack of faith in the government, our changing immigration patterns and, most obviously, in the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.

More surprisingly, perhaps, we can experience it every time we step into a courtroom. Court cases linked to the Vietnam War brought about major changes in U.S. law that still impact us today.

What makes a threat real?

The Vietnam War helped create a new category of unprotected speech: The “true threat.” In 1966, Robert Watts said to a crowd in Washington that “if they ever make me carry a rifle, the first man I want to get in my sights is LBJ.” Watts was promptly arrested for threatening the president. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction, saying that Watts’ speech was “crude political hyperbole,” not a “true threat.”

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Construction workers and police clash during pro-Vietnam War demonstration in New York City, 1970. Photo courtesy of Benedict J. Fernandez.

Unfortunately, Watts v. United States did not explain what a true threat is; just what it isn’t. With threats and harassment everywhere on the internet and in “real life,” true threat doctrine seems primed for clarification in the near future. For now, we have only a vague idea of when threatening words leave the protective umbrella of the First Amendment.

What makes speech ‘speech?’

What happens when “speech” isn’t really speech? In 1966, four protesters burned their draft cards to protest the Vietnam War, breaking a 1965 federal law. They appealed to the Supreme Court, which, in a major victory for “symbolic speech,” declared that the First Amendment protected non-verbal expression, too.

The Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. O’Brien was not a victory for the protesters, however. State legislatures could make laws that limit expression as long as they do not target any particular belief. The Court decided that the law did not target Vietnam protesters, and as a result, the protesters’ convictions were upheld.

Where do student rights begin and end?

If you worked on your high school paper, you’ve probably heard of this one. Building on O’Brien, another Vietnam case guaranteed basic speech rights for public school students. Previously, U.S. schools operated on the principle in loco parentis, meaning “in the place of a parent.” Schools were largely able to make any decision they could justify as being in the best interests of the students.

Much of that changed with Tinker v. Des Moines. In 1965, several students wore black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War. The students were suspended and their families filed suit.

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College students gather in support of President Richard Nixon in 1969. Photo courtesy of AP/WF.

The Supreme Court’s ruling was a mixed bag for students. On one hand, they declared that students do not give up their First Amendment rights “at the schoolhouse gate.” On the other, the school’s constitutional mistake was not limiting students’ rights. It was that they did so only to avoid controversy. Schools can still limit any student speech that interferes with learning.

Still, if this sounds preferable to in loco parentis, you can thank the Vietnam War, the U.S. Supreme Court and a handful of kids.

What makes war ‘war?’

The Supreme Court’s most important decision during the Vietnam War might have been one they chose not to make. Justice William O. Douglas was staunchly anti-war and willing to do something about it from the bench. Douglas wanted to rule the Vietnam War illegal because it was not accompanied by a congressional declaration of war.

Douglas was not the only anti-war member of the Supreme Court. However, several of the Court’s other liberals were strongly anti-Communist. Douglas could never get three additional votes to hear the case, much less four to declare the Vietnam War unconstitutional.

The United States has been fighting undeclared wars since it became a country. Had Douglas’ efforts been successful, the United States would have lost one of its most potent foreign policy tools and every military conflict from Vietnam to the present day may not have happened. There’s too much speculation involved in counterfactual history to spend time on the possibilities here, but it is generally much more difficult to get a war declaration than a financial commitment to deploy troops abroad.

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Marines on patrol near the DMZ in 1966. Photo courtesy of Larry Burrows/Getty Images

This is not a complete list of Vietnam cases, or even important Vietnam cases. The Court’s opinion in Cohen v. California, where a man was arrested for wearing a jacket that said “Screw the Draft,” gave us the expression “one person’s vulgarity is another’s lyric.” New York Times v. United States, the “Pentagon Papers Case,” allowed the media to share classified information that would not cause “direct, immediate, and irreparable damage,” a decision that seems extremely relevant in the age of WikiLeaks.

The Vietnam War impacted the United States far beyond the battlefields and the protests. Watch “The Vietnam War,” a film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, premiering on Sept. 17 to learn more. Check your local PBS station’s schedule for broadcast dates and times, or stream online at PBS.org.

Also, the jacket didn’t exactly say “ ‘Screw’ the Draft,” but maybe you already figured that out.

Jacob Hillesheim

Jacob Hillesheim teaches high school American history and government in Minnesota. He probably would have gone pro if it wasn’t for that bum shoulder. Average DQ Blizzards consumed per month: 2.73.

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You can now text 911 to reach emergency responders in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties. This region is one of the first in California to get the service as it rolls out across the state.

Donny Harris says having this makes him feel a lot safer. He’s been deaf for most of his life. So when his mom fell at her home in Santa Cruz last year, he wasn’t sure how to contact 911.

“So I did have to try to use a phone. I just basically left it off the hook and knew they’d be able to find where we lived,” signed Harris as Megan Kemp interpreted for him.

It was that kind of situation that drove the tri-county area to launch the Text to 911 service. It also helps people who can’t speak well. Or those in remote areas where only texting works.

Dennis Kidd heads up Santa Cruz Regional 911. He says the service will also help when people don’t want to be heard, like in an active shooter situation, domestic violence or this recent call they got.

“They were whispering so low because they didn’t want the person on the other side of the door to hear them that we couldn’t really hear them or understand them. So we asked them to text us,” Kidd said.

When you text to 911, a dispatcher will be on the other end. Vicki Runyon is a dispatcher for Monterey County Emergency Communications. She says initially, texting will be a bit slower than calling.

“Texting, it’s a little bit delayed, it’s not in your ear, you have to read everything,” Runyon said.

Also, location accuracy isn’t always as good as calling. And if you’re roaming or the text can’t get through, it will bounce back with a message saying ‘call 911’. That’s why the motto of this new program is “Call if you can; Text if you can’t”.

Monterey County Emergency Communications is hiring. Call 831-755-5115 or visit www.911jobs@co.monterey.ca.us to apply.

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Seawalls have been the most common response to coastal erosion in California over the last 50 years. And when they break, they are usually repaired. But organizations like the Surfrider Foundation say these little fixes are becoming a big problem in the face of sea level rise.

It’s an August afternoon in Pacific Grove. Isebel Ramis and Eulalia Duran are visiting for the first time from Barcelona, Spain. Wearing sweaters and sandals, they’re getting ready to walk along the city’s recreation trail. It’s along Pacific Grove’s coastal bluff and overlooks the emerald green Pacific Ocean.

“Beautiful. We found beautiful,” says Ramis.

Even on this weekday afternoon, this dirt trail near Lover’s Point is crowded with families, joggers and tourists. A seawall built of rock and mortar protects it from the crashing waves. But in January, the waves were too much for the wall. A storm tore out a large chunk, leaving a gap.

Pacific Grove City Manager Ben Harvey says, “It’s just like a tooth that was removed from the smile.”

He points over a temporary barricade that’s in front of gap. You can see the piece that fell out of the wall. It’s resting below in the water.

“This is a seawall that was built over 80 years ago. This was all done by hand. These rocks were largely hand hewn to fit in this structure in this formation,” says Harvey.

He says fixing the damage is necessary to keep protecting one of the city’s biggest assets.

“We have the trail here, which could fall right into the ocean too. And that would be eliminating that access. That access that we have here, which is right on the edge of the water,” Harvey says.

The California Coastal Commission approved the repair. Surfrider Foundation says that’s becoming a slippery slope. The nonprofit works to protect the ocean and beaches.

“You have all of these little, sort of patches. Like patch jobs that don’t maybe seem like a big deal if they were an isolated event. But when you combine what is happening, we’ve got about 110 miles of the coastline armored at this point,” says Jennifer Savage. She’s the California Policy Manager for the Surfrider Foundation.

That’s about 10 percent of California’s coastline. So the Surfrider Foundation started tracking the number of emergency seawall repair permits the Coastal Commission has granted. They found 93 in the last ten years.  Savage says emergency repairs mean alternatives to hard armoring are not explored.  She calls it the “do now, plan later” culture.

“I think we need to start thinking about it now.  Everything we hear about sea level rise and the effects of climate change are only getting worse the more we know,” says Savage.

UC Santa Cruz Professor Dr. Gary Griggs recently helped update the state’s guidelines on how to deal with sea level rise. The report is called “Rising Seas in California: An Update on Sea-Level Rise Science.” A key finding is that California is already experiencing early impacts, like more frequent coastal flooding and increased coastal erosion.

“We’re going to have to face, sooner or later, the idea that much of California’s development is going to be exposed to higher tides, larger waves, higher water levels,” says Griggs.

I meet him about an hour north of Pacific Grove at Lighthouse Point Park in Santa Cruz. There’s a similar oceanfront trail that we walk along. It’s also protected by a seawall.  This one is called riprap, meaning rocks stacked on the beach.  Dr. Griggs says no matter how they’re constructed, all seawalls have a lifespan.

“They’re all going to break down eventually. I mean maybe they’ll last a century, that’s great. But ultimately the water level is going to get above that,” says Dr. Griggs.

He also says it’s time to start planning for something other than seawalls.

“Call it a number of different things, managed retreat, planned retreat, stepping back gracefully, but that’s not something people do gracefully. If that’s your house, it’s your family house, you want to pass it onto your kids. If it’s your boardwalk or your hotel.  So we have some really tough decisions ahead of us,” Dr. Griggs says.

There are only a few examples of managed retreat so far in California. One is in Ventura, at Surfer’s Point. Some parking spots and a bike trail were moved back. But more and more cities are considering managed retreat, including Pacific Grove.

While the Coastal Commission did approve a permit to repair their seawall, it came with a condition. Come up with a shoreline management plan that addresses sea level rise. City Manager Ben Harvey says they already planned to do that.

“For those people out there that are wondering if sea level rise is real, I can’t think of any other indicator more real than us having to put together a Shoreline Management Plan because we’re experiencing it.  We’re seeing it.  We know we’re going to have more of it.  We have to do something about it,” says Harvey.

For the plan, the shoreline will be categorized into different sections with various recommendations. Those recommendations will range from hard armoring in some places to managed retreat in others. Pacific Grove Mayor Bill Kampe says planning for sea level rise is not easy.

“For some spots, 50 years from now, houses may be lost. And planning for that is very, very difficult. Because nobody wants to volunteer and say okay, let the ocean take my property. Even if it may be well beyond their expected lifetime,” says Kampe.

The Coastal Commission has given the city three years to complete the plan.

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Democratic Congressman Mark Takano of California’s 41st district, which includes Riverside and Moreno Valley, re-affirmed his support for the immigrant and undocumented community at an event last Thursday.

Speaking at a town hall hosted by Inland Empire nonprofit organizations Mi Familia Vota and the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, Takano spoke about his support for DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and his opposition to President Trump.

Takano said: “Most of all, I want you to know that my congressional office is here to help you. We can’t always, especially in these times, do everything to stop the consequences of this administration. But we are friends and we are allies, and we will try to support you in the way that we can.”

Takano referenced a recent study by the Center for American Progress that found that ending the DACA program, which shields young undocumented immigrants from deportation and grants them a work permit, would cost the state of California around 11$ billion.

Rep. Takano was part of an open letter from House Democrats to President Trump in early August, urging the president to oppose litigation from the state of Texas that could challenge DACA.

Most of Thursday’s event involved Takano taking questions from the audience.

Dalila Valdez is a DACA recipient studying Public Policy at UC Riverside. She says she’s worried about what could happen if DACA were to end.

“One of my biggest concerns is how is this going to impact my life, how is this going to impact the work that I do in the community?”

Takano described the legal challenges to DACA currently taking place in Texas courts, and doubted the Trump Administration would take action to defend DACA recipients.

There were some heated moments in the town hall as well. One man, who kept his name anonymous, brought up the recent spike in deportation raids in Riverside and questioned why Latinos should continue to support Democrats.

“Every morning here in Riverside, these are decent mothers and fathers who are being torn away from their children. I guess my question is why should Latinos back up the Democrats? How many thousands of people are going to be deported before something really gets done effectively?”

Takano responded that the Democrats are still the party that is giving the most energy towards protecting undocumented people – but that there’s not much they can get done in Congress while Republicans hold the majority. He also told the story of how an immigration reform bill almost passed in 2013, but was blocked by House Republicans.

The congressman said that change in the immigration system will depend on both public engagements in the issue and getting more Democrats into office in the 2018 midterm elections.

Until then, DREAMers and DACA recipients like Valdez are left wondering what will happen.

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A Purdue researcher says technology may be the key to making the vineyard industry more ecologically — and economically — friendly.

Electrical and computer engineering professor David Ebert and his research team are working on software that calculates the best decisions for farmers based on information such as weather patterns, soil mapping and business trends.

Ebert says the focus is on wineries because winemaking is a more complex process than traditional farming.

“In terms of viticulture, for grape-growing and oenology for wine-making, to understand how the decisions people make during the year not only affect the quantity of what they produce but the quality and the market value of what they’re going after,” Ebert says.

The software is being tested by a few California wineries the researchers have been working with since 2014.

“By knowing what’s going on deep in the soil and what’s available to their plant, they can actually make management decisions in terms of their crop load, and the canopy for photosynthesis, and things like that to really get a more uniform and optimum crop out of what they’re producing,” Ebert says.

Ebert says weather patterns are making agricultural decisions more complex – especially for perennial crop growers like wine-makers.

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(Credit: EWG)

Just because water is legal, doesn’t mean it’s safe. That’s the conclusion from a new report by the Environmental Working Group, a national environmental advocacy organization.

Governments set limits on how much pollution can be in drinking water. But Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst with EWG who worked on the report, says those limits are determined by what’s feasible and affordable for drinking water utilities.

“And there’s a huge gap between what’s legal in drinking water and what might be safe,” Lunder says.

Independent scientists, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the state of California have done research on “a goal, or the ideal amount of contamination in water” irrespective of cost, Lunder says.

The Tap Water Database includes information from nearly 50,000 public water systems in all 50 states. EWG researchers collected data from state and federal agencies for drinking water tests conducted by utilities between 2010-2015. They then compared those results with the “ideal” amount of pollutants acceptable for human health.

Lunder says almost all utilities meet regulatory requirements, but 267 contaminants were found in the tests, including pollutants associated with damage to reproductive health, carcinogens and nitrates, a chemical associated with animal waste, agricultural fertilizers, and urban runoff.

According to the Tap Water Database, EWG found four contaminants above legal limits from multiple Indiana utilities, including nitrate and arsenic, and ten contaminants above limits researchers consider safe, including uranium and hexavalent chromium (made infamous by the Julia Robert’s film Erin Brockovich).

According to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, which oversees drinking water utilities, 76 utilities in Indiana had permit violations between 2010-2015. Spokesman Barry Sneed says in a statement that “IDEM staff is extremely dedicated to ensuring all Hoosiers have safe and adequate drinking water.”

“IDEM’s Office of Water Quality, Drinking Water Branch (DWB), carries out the requirements of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) which is designed to ensure that Public Water Supplies (PWS) deliver quality water to Hoosier homes and businesses that is safe to drink,” says Sneed.  

And Anthony Swinger, a spokesperson for the Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, which represents consumer interests in utility rate making cases, says in a statement the OUCC is “very concerned any time a safety issue arises with regard to any utility.”

“The most important issue in any rate case is to make sure the utility comes out of the proceeding with the revenue it needs to provide safe and reliable service, but at the most reasonable possible rates….[I]n a water rate case specifically, it’s vital the utility have the necessary funds to ensure that its treatment plants are working properly, that it is purchasing the proper amount of treatment chemicals, and that it is taking the additional steps needed to ensure that it complies with all legal requirements on both the economic and environmental fronts,” Swinger says.

Lunder, the EWG analyst, says the pollutants popping up in Indiana are relatively common across the country, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worrisome.

“None of these are necessarily easy fixes,” says Lunder. “If they were I think we’d see more progress.”

In a statement accompanying the release of the database, EWG called federal drinking water regulations “inadequate” and recommends people worried about the safety of their drinking water buy water filters.

Lunder says for long term progress, people need to lobby public officials to revisit drinking water safety standards.

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The Pentagon is pushing Congress to shut down more military bases. The objective is to save money, just as it was 20 years ago when Fort Ord closed. 

Many lawmakers don’t like the idea because it means cutting jobs in their communities. So Congress has fought base closure for more than a decade.

Military communities like Monterey, have used that time to get ready.

Every year the former Fort Ord looks less and less like an Army base. New housing is going up near a shopping center, and demolition of old buildings on the campus of Cal State Monterey Bay is practically a daily occurrence.

“It used to be very almost sad to see these buildings boarded up that had so much history,” says Fred Meurer, a retired Army Colonel and former Monterey City Manager.

Meurer was also part of the team that got Fort Ord off the base closure list in 1988, but they lost in 1991. Fort Ord formally closed in 1994.

“How did we prepare? Could we have done a better job,” says Meurer.  He had the chance to find out.

The Monterey Bay Area has been the target of nearly every round of Base Realignment and Closure, BRAC. The most recent was 2005 when the Army’s Defense Language Institute and the Naval Postgraduate School were targets. Both are in Monterey.

That year, Meurer crisscrossed the country to attend every regional BRAC hearing where communities defended themselves against closure.

“Basically I would go and I would listen. How are the other communities presenting? What can I learn? What good ideas can we steal from other folks,” he recalls.

He even booked seat on a flight next to the Chairman of the BRAC Commission.  “I think he probably thought I was stalking him,” says Meurer.

It all worked. Both installations were saved. But Meurer says it’s less about last minute hustling and more about being prepared.

“Dealing with Base Closure is not an event. You don’t wake up one morning you’re on the list and then you get to work. Dealing with base closure is doing exactly what the city of Monterey is doing now. It’s just an ongoing effort, part of the DNA of this City,” says Meurer.

Part of the DNA because Monterey City officials say they have a lot to lose. The region has several Department of Defense installations including Camp Roberts and Fort Hunter Ligget in south county.

Collectively it’s a workforce of more than 15,000 and an annual budget of roughly $1.4-billion.  Most of those jobs and dollars are in Monterey.

Last year, the city hosted a symposium about its efforts to protect the region from base closure.   Consultant John Murphy sat on the panel. The city hired him to analyze the region’s strengths and weaknesses.

“Your argument is value. You are never going to make the Monterey Peninsula inexpensive. It’s not possible,” said John Murphy, Principal at Public Private Solutions Group.

But, he told the crowd, just like Washington D.C. Monterey can make the case for its installations.

“It’s no more possible to make the Washington DC area inexpensive, and yet there are things in DC and they stay there because the value of having them overrides the cost of them being there and you have the exact same circumstances here,” said Murphy.

Monterey Assistant City Manager Hans Uslar says after the 2005 BRAC, the City realized decision makers in DC didn’t understand the military missions that happen here. So they started giving tours to anyone who visits the area, from deputy secretaries to members of Congress.

“We need to use every opportunity to promote this location and to promote what is going on in our military installations. And we have been fairly successful in spreading the word,” says Uslar.

More recently the City started marketing the region as the Language Capital of the World. California has more native speakers of more languages than any other state.

It’s argument is simple: Monterey should be home to institutions like Defense Language Institute.

“It is a huge marketplace to recruit native teaching speakers… I believe we are creating a good basis to not overlook California when it comes to language training and potential base closures,” says Uslar.

Even as Congress is pushing back on base closures, he says the City has to make its case.

“Everyone says BRAC will never happen, yet we’ve had five rounds of BRAC. That’s a phenomenon.  So BRAC will be coming and we are preparing for that,” says Uslar.

The latest Pentagon budget calls for a new round of base closures in 2021. It says getting rid of excess infrastructure will save the government $2-billion a year. 

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A new campground is coming to a former Fort Ord firing range.  The California Coastal Commission approved a permit for California State Parks to build the campground in Fort Ord Dunes State Park. 

The park, west of Highway 1, is close to 1,000 acres in size. It stretches along the coast between the cities of Marina and Sand City. Four miles of shoreline, it’s dotted with sand dunes covered in green vegetation and old Army bunkers.

On Wednesday, California Coastal Commissioners toured the park before they voted on whether they’d allow a campground there.  The plans include 45 RV sites, 43 tent sites and 10 hike-in/ bike-in sites.

State Parks has been planning the project for years. The agency hasn’t built a coastal campground of this size since the 1980s. Brent Marshall is the Monterey District Superintendent for State Parks.

“I think it’s so neat that you can watch the sunset over the ocean, you can walk back to your campsite, spend time with your family and then wake up to a sunrise and dolphins in the ocean,” Marshall said.

For decades, the Army used the area for shooting practice. The bunkers built into the dunes stored the lead-based ammunition. Before the state park opened to the public in 2009, the Army cleaned up the land. Tyler Potter, State Park’s lead environmental consultant on the project, said that left about 100 acres safe to host the campground. But only 17 acres will be used. He said the rest of the park is okay for limited use.

“Recreational use, hiking, but again those areas are where the military was actively using it as firing ranges,” Potter told the Coastal Commission.

The issue of lead gave a few California Coastal commissioners pause.  But in the end, the project got unanimous support. 

“This is a historic legacy project for the people of the State of California particularly with regard to our future generations for recreational use and access along the coast,” Coastal Commission Executive Director Jack Ainsworth said.

In addition to the campsites, there will also be a campfire center, restroom facilities, parking, and a new beach access trail. While building on a former Army base did pose challenges, State Parks is embracing the history. Two of the bunkers will be renovated to teach visitors about the area’s past.

The project also includes significant habitat restoration. Like getting rid of the non-native and invasive ice plant that the Army brought in.

The campground will be under construction in 2019. State Parks said $25-million is secured for the funding. 

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For U.S. troops in Vietnam, the “China Beach” surfing spot provided a rare recreational outlet during the war. Some still seek healing from the waves.



Like a lot of American soldiers in Vietnam, Bobbie Lux spent most of his time in the jungle. As an infantryman, he rarely knew exactly where he was fighting.↨

But one day, about halfway through his tour, his commander told him to set down his rifle for a day of R&R.  And for Lux, who grew up surfing in Encinitas, Cal., it’s the one day he likes to remember from an experience he’s often tried to forget.


“They took us to the beach in helicopters,” Lux recalled. “I was pretty excited. I got out there and the surf was mushy, you know, two foot, but they had a stack of boards there. It felt so good.”

He thinks he was at what the Americans called “China Beach,” the most famous surf spot of the Vietnam War. China Beach was actually My Khe beach in the city of Da Nang. It was a rest and relaxation station, next to a large military hospital.

“I know I got to stand up and ride two, three waves,” Lux said. “I had a few buddies that were from the Midwest, and they wanted me to help them try to surf it. It was beautiful and relaxing.”

Lux was at the beach for less than three hours before his unit was sent back to the jungle. He would not surf again until he got back to California. He said he does not talk often about his time in Vietnam.

“War is not good for anybody …. You can survive it, but that’s all you can do,” he said. “And surfing has helped me survive it.”

Troops actually surfed all along Vietnam’s coast. Often, they were isolated surfers who found boards or built their own out of spare parts. Many of them were Californians drafted into the conflict. They were hungry for any taste of life back home.

Lux, 70, is still surfing. Recently, he was out at Del Mar, Cal. with Jim Lischer. A retired lifeguard and lifelong surfer, Lischer does not recall even seeing the ocean when he served in Vietnam. But just after his tour of duty there, he hit the beach in Hawaii, along with two friends who also had just gotten off the plane from Vietnam. They were walking to the beach when a car backfired.

“We all went under a car … instantly went for cover,” Lischer said. “That was right downtown, a block from the beach at Waikiki.”

Lischer said he used the massive Hawaiian waves to wash away the stress of living in a combat zone.

“I took the personal challenge to see how large of a wave I could ride.” he said. “That took my mind off the war zone instantly.”

Over the past two years, the California Surf Museum in Oceanside has been collecting the stories of vets who surfed in Vietnam and those who continue to use surfing as a release. The exhibit “China Beach: Surfers, the Vietnam War, and the Healing Power of Wave-riding” opened in May.

Surfing is part of the mystique of the Vietnam War. It was featured in “Apocalypse Now” and later the acclaimed but short-lived 1980’s TV show “China Beach.” But those references are lost on veterans like Lischer.

“I only learned recently through the California Surf Museum that there was a China Beach at all,” Lischer said. “That’s partially because I avoided going to any Vietnam movies for decades and decades.”

The exhibit has been a chance for vets to open up about the wider experience of a war that many of them barely talked about after they came home.

The day he was surfing with Lux at Del Mar, Lischer ran into one of his former co-workers, Eric Sandy. He found out Sandy had been at China Beach during one of his two tours in the Navy.

The two of them met in 1972 back in California. They worked together for 40 years, but they did not talk very much about their experience in Vietnam.

“Nobody wanted to know about my experience,” Sandy said. “When we came back we weren’t very well accepted. It’s not like we were treated as heroes.”

The exhibit at the California Surf Museum includes a recreation of the surf shack at China Beach. Artifacts from the time include a surfboard fashioned from the parts used to repair swift boats.

Bruce Blandy was in the Navy in 1969, stationed near the border with North Vietnam. He fashioned his own surfboards from supplies used to repair river craft. He also helped put together the California Surf Museum’s exhibit.

“A lot of Vietnam veterans, especially when we came back, we feel a little under appreciated,” Blandy said. “So this is part of the history of Vietnam.”

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Tawny Biggs’ seemingly happy childhood in the northern Los Angeles County suburb of Santa Clarita, Calif., showed no outward sign that she would one day struggle with drug addiction.

As Biggs tells it, she was raised with two siblings “in a very good family” by an assistant fire-chief dad and a stay-at-home mom. Her after-school hours were filled with hockey and soccer.

But paradise was lost sometime during her late teens, when emotional problems, drugs and alcohol turned Biggs into a self-described “nightmare.” One night, when she was amped up on cocaine, her boyfriend gave her a hit of something different to help her sleep: heroin.

Before she even knew what had happened, she was addicted. Six months later, she learned she had contracted hepatitis C from a dirty needle.

Biggs, now 37, finally got sober 14 years ago. Now, she helps others get clean as an admissions coordinator at Action Family Counseling drug and alcohol treatment centers, in her hometown. Based in part on her own arduous experience, she strongly supports a controversial proposal to establish venues where adult intravenous drug users can shoot up with clean needles under medical supervision and get referrals to addiction treatment.

The only injection facility currently operating in North America is in Vancouver, Canada. Australia and several countries in Europe also have such centers.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Biggs. “Right now, in this climate, we have to think out of the box because we’re fighting an uphill battle.”

A bill pending in the state legislature, AB 186, would authorize eight California counties — Alameda, Fresno, Humboldt, Los Angeles, Mendocino, San Francisco, San Joaquin and Santa Cruz — to test so-called “safe injection sites.”

The legislation faces tough opposition. Critics say it essentially endorses the use of illicit drugs. And it is not likely to sit well with the federal government, particularly under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose hard line on drugs is well-known.

Advocates argue, however, that a different approach is needed to stem the rising tide of addiction and related deaths.

Earlier this spring, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors instructed the Department of Public Health to form a task force to make recommendations on the establishment of safe injection venues.

Nationwide, several major cities — including Seattle, Baltimore and Philadelphia — are considering such publicly sanctioned locations as a means to curb escalating heroin drug overdoses and deaths; slow the spread of infectious diseases such as hepatitis C; and help people kick their lethal habits.

Across the United States, an exploding opioid epidemic has sent overdose deaths skyrocketing and policymakers scrambling for solutions. In 2015, opioid overdoses — both from prescription drugs and from more potent and easier-to-obtain street heroin — took the lives of 2,018 Californians and 33,091 Americans, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. (California Healthline is produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent service of the foundation.)

“This is a medical issue, it is a brain disease, and we have to get out of our shell of thinking that these are bad people and … they have to hit bottom and then decide to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps,” said Barbara A. Garcia, director of health at the public health department in San Francisco, where 22,000 residents are known IV drug users. “That’s the pathway to death.”

Safe injection sites would go beyond existing needle exchanges by allowing drug use on the premises. Under the proposed California measure, introduced by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), health care providers stationed at the sites would be armed with the emergency medication naloxone, which is used to help revive people from opioid overdoses.

“What we’re talking about here is essentially a medical facility,” said Christian Burkin, a spokesman for Eggman. “This is an opportunity to take drug abuse off the streets and put it into a safe and sterile environment.”

Opponents of the measure, including many law enforcement organizations, fear such sites would only serve to normalize illicit drug use and harm local neighborhoods.

“It creates a danger for the communities that these safe consumption program sites would be located in,” said Cory Salzillo, legislative director for the California State Sheriffs’ Association. “It doesn’t require anybody to undergo treatment. … It’s just effectively: ‘Here’s a safe place for you where you can come; here’s your needle, your paraphernalia and here you go, shoot up.’”

Even if the state measure were to pass, it might face significant resistance from the federal government, since the drugs that would be injected are illegal under U.S. law, said Stanley Goldman, a criminal law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

“So you’d have to be fairly assured that the federal government was not going to proceed against such operations before people could feel completely comfortable with participating,” Goldman said.

Cary Quashen, president and founder of the Santa Clarita rehabilitation center where Biggs works, said that while he also has some reservations, he’d be likely to support the concept as long as drug users are offered access to recovery services at the centers.

“We got to do something different. People are dying everywhere,” Quashen said. “We lose more people in this country to accidental overdoses than to car crashes and gun violence.”

Burkin noted that the proposed safe injection clinics would be restricted to areas “where they are experiencing a high rate of opioid abuse, including death.”

A 2011 study published in The Lancet found that overdose deaths on the streets surrounding Vancouver’s safe injection site dropped 35 percent in the two years after it opened, compared with the two prior years. In the rest of the city, overdose deaths dropped 9.3 percent during the same period.

Another study showed a 30 percent increase in the use of addiction treatment services associated with the opening of the Vancouver site. Studies also suggest that supervised injection facilities in Australia and Europe have reduced overdoses without an increase of drug injecting or trafficking in their communities.

“We are not supporting what people call ‘shooting galleries,’” said Garcia, the San Francisco public health director. “I don’t believe in allowing people to just sit in a room and shoot drugs with each other — that is not something I’m going to support. What I will support is how do we engage those who are using drugs to help them reduce their harm and get better and go into recovery eventually.”

Another argument in favor of supervised injection sites is financial: Two recent studies showed that a single supervised injection site would save $3.5 million a year on health care costs in San Francisco and $6 million in Baltimore.

Burkin believes that, given a chance, the safe injection pilot programs will prove their worth.

“Someone addicted to opioids who is going to come to a facility like this is someone starting on the first step toward recovery,” he said. “This is not someone who is going to ignore appeals or attempts to get them connected to services.”

Tawny Biggs agrees. If it were not for a work colleague in recovery who introduced her to a 12-step program years ago, she said, she would not have survived.

When her boyfriend gave her that first hit of heroin, she said, it didn’t seem like a big deal.

“I was thinking, ‘I can handle this,’” Biggs recalled. “Then something snapped in my brain and there became no control over needing it. I knew at that point it was either I gave up my son to my mom and shot up dope until I died, or I got some sort of help.”

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.

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Central California Sports Center – Adaptive Sports Summer Programs

September 25 @ 8:00 am - September 27 @ 5:00 pm
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Central California Sports Center – Adaptive Sports Summer Programs

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