A symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom
– President Kennedy on the Green Berets, April 11, 1962
Veterans Remembrance Day is a time of reflection, not just on wars won but life-lessons taught by those who served their family and their country. On October 12, 1961, President Kennedy visited Fort Bragg and the US Army Special Warfare Center, home of Army Special Forces. In the course of their meeting, the President asked Brigadier General William P. Yarborough, “How do you like the Green Beret?” General Yarborough replied, “They’re fine, Sir. We’ve wanted them a long time.” Soon after, the president authorized the “Green Beret” as the official headgear for all US Army Special Forces and these Unconventional Warriors were thereafter and ever known as “The Green Berets.”
At that time I was living in Berlin, Germany. “The Wall had just been built during which time my Special Forces father went behind enemy lines and dug tunnels to get the trapped Students attending College in East Berlin back home to their families in West Berlin. He and “The Group” counted Russian tanks and called the numbers into Headquarters in West Berlin. His hands were registered weapons yet he used them to dig tunnels like a ditch digger to fee the oppressed.
So what was it like growing up a Green-Beret Army Brat?
“Always respect life, but especially wild life,” my father said as I held the tiny snake in my hand. It was summer in Berlin, Germany and I was a Brownie at Girl Scout Day Camp in the Grunewald, which translates to Green Woods. Mom was a Scout Mother and dad had popped by to help with the Brownie cook-out for the Girl Scouts. We were all Green Beret Army-brats. I was standing alone when dad came up silently behind me because all my Brownie best-friends had scattered screaming, “Kat’s got a snake!” Snakes were rare in Germany. There was a shy tiny snake in Germany called the Kreuzotter, the Cross Adder (Viper berus) named after the cross on its back. It belonged to the Viper family.
“Can we keep it?” I asked looking up at my father peering down at me.
“You know the rule. It can be our guest for a couple of days. But, then we must respect the fact that it is a wild creature with wild friends, family, and behaviors which are different from pets bred in captivity. So, after a short visit, we must bring it right back here to the exact spot where we found it and let it go because it lives here. And, next time, please call me before you pick up any snakes, okay? The color was starting to return to his face.”
Dad was 10th Special Forces and worked in M.A.S.H. units all over the world.
He knew most snakes by sight, up close and from a distance. The Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) refers to a United States Army medical unit serving as a fully functional hospital which was first established in August 1945, deployed during the Korean War, and continues today in combat areas.
You may remember the Emmy Award Winning TV series M*A*S*H with Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan. Hot Lips was a Super Woman and the epitome of a strong woman living in a man’s world by standing up to the doctors. Her female strength carried over into the dream world in real life in a Diagnostic Dream in the book Dreams That Can Save Your Life, chapter 28.
The story is about a woman named Pali Delevitt who was told by her doctors that she was healthy when she knew something was wrong with her. In her dream MASH nurse, Hot Lips Houlihan told Pali, “You have a tumor in your mouth that needs to come out.”
Hot Lips saved Pali’s life when more testing proved her dream was true.
Dad’s Rule Of Respect was one of the lessons I carried with me throughout my life. Not the part about calling him before I picked up a snake, (I love snakes) but the part about how wild animals are not house pets. Wild creatures are born and bred in the wild making them different, forever. Dad explained it as, “They are guests from another culture that must be respected for their differences and returned to their home after a short visit before they get home-sick. Exchanging cultures with them can be a wonderful learning experience for both of you. However, to them being a pet is being a captive jailed for fun. And, captives express anger in uncivilized and aggressive ways because they are uncivilized. They are wild.”
So, I took the little snake home for the weekend and named it Herman.
Dad showed me how to heat a rock in the oven, and give it a finger-test, “If it burns your finger it will burn Herman,” and put it in the guest cage so Herman could stay warm and happy during his visit.
Herman wrapped himself around the rock and was quite content.
Then I went to the library to look up all the information I could about my guest to be sure I did not insult him and could offer the correct food. Back then Google Search was not even a twinkle in anyone’s eye.
“People and animals usually get hurt when education is missing,” Dad said.
Dad was right. It turned out Herman was not a viper. Herman was not even a snake. (Of curse my dad already knew that.) According to the library, Herman was a legless lizard also known as a glass lizard. My first thought was, isn’t a legless lizard a snake? The research stated it was not. According to current research, serpents do not have eyelids or external ears, while most lizards do. And, many legless lizards actually have tiny vestigial limbs, while most snakes sport no external appendages.
Herman was legless, but he could bat his eyes.
Like most other lizards a legless lizard threatened by a predator can detach its tail — still wriggling — to distract the predator, and then run away. When the tail of a glass lizard breaks off, it often breaks into pieces, appearing to shatter. And, like most small lizards I found that my guest eats insects.
In keeping with his culture, I offered Herman earthworms from the backyard.
When I showed my friend’s mothers Herman’s dinner, they screamed again, so I kept dinner a secret. He ate the worms with relish…the relish from excitement, not from the bottle. During our few days together we learned much about each other’s culture. One lesson was when some people are confronted by a different culture they scream and run away, like Deana’s mother down the hall. So, to help people in my stairwell accept a guest from a different culture, I introduced Herman from a safe distance, told them a bit about his culture, showed them how he did have manners and shared some information about his behaviors like shattering. For some reason, the idea of cleaning up shattered lizard in the hall seemed to calm them down because they made a real effort not to upset Herman. The mothers never embraced Herman, but they did stop screaming.
Three days later I was back at camp. It was time to say good-bye to Herman.
He had to return to his family and friends without me, and I had to return to my family and friend’s mothers without him. All my Brownie friends were with me to say goodbye to Herman the glass lizard.
In conclusion, how did the information from my Green Beret father and this “snake” translate into life-lessons for a healthy future?
- All creatures, human and not, deserve respect.
- Ignorance creates problems because it breeds disrespect by default.
- Experiencing and learning about different cultures and creatures on this amazing planet can be an enlightening and educational experience.
- Wild animals should not be kept as pets unless they are injured and cannot be rehabilitated and released.
And, if you see a snake that winks at you, you are not hallucinating. It is not a snake. It is a glass lizard.
Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (United States) – Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_army_surgical_hospital_(United_States)