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The Spill

We Need New Legs

Craig Skaggs

Craig Skaggs, who contributed this work and the next, is a retired lobbyist and author of "Deceiving Destiny" a biography of his mother growing up in the mountains of West Virginia during the Great Depression and WWII. He is a Viet Nam veteran. Skaggs has been awarded the honor of "Distinguished West Virginian" by that state's governor. He also received the United Nations Environmental Programme award for his work to end production of chemicals that were destroying the ozone layer. In April he and his wife, Pam, moved to Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Just like most “baby boomers,” my favorite movie is "Forest Gump."  The success of the hero of this movie, which marked the history of our baby boomer times, was Forest's success in an Alabama fishing village on the Gulf of Mexico: Bayou La Batre.  He had come there after a promise to his dying comrade in the Vietnam jungle, Bubba, to work as a shrimper there – the hometown of his deceased friend.  A hurricane destroyed all the other shrimp boats, leaving Forest as the only shrimp harvester.  His fortune was made. 

Well, over the past three years of our RV adventure, Pam and I have visited Bayou La Batre several times, always in hopes of getting some really fresh seafood.  But Katrina decimated the fleet and its fishing grounds.  It was recovering, though.  Even though there are no seafood restaurants in the town, the people were hanging on.  Barely. 

After leaving Tornado, West Virginia, to see the United States, Pam and I now are Alabama folks.  I love that Forest was an Alabama boy.

The big scene in the movie was when Captain Dan, Forest’s legless former Vietnam commander, climbed to the crow’s nest on the boat's mast during the hurricane and challenged God, "Do your worst.  Take me.  Take me!"  Forest and Dan survived, and they thrived because they were the only shrimp boat afloat.

Sometimes, I wonder if the reason Pam and I have ended up down here in Gulf Shores, Alabama, near Bayou La Batre, is because we love the story of Forest Gump and his Vietnam survival.  Interestingly, most of the Vietnamese who fled their homeland after the war came to Bayou La Batre.

Bayou La Batre is a channel stretching off into the distance from the main road with hundreds of shrimp/'fishing boats -- really big boats-- docked, mostly with Vietnamese names: Nguyen Free, Ka Saan Shrimper.  Hundreds of Vietnamese who escaped the 1975 surrender of their country came to Bayou La Batre to ply the only trade they knew:  fishing.

So, we destroyed their country.  And the Vietnamese immigrants and their families came to Bayou La Batre and survived Katrina and Ivan, barely, and were recovering.  Now, our hunger for energy has again shattered the lives of these poor people.  We see them every day on local TV down here, heads bowed under the weight of losing their livelihood, fishing, which is all they’ve ever known.  The fishing grounds for Bayou La Batre are closed, and the shrimp are dead or dying.

I remember the last TV news broadcast from Viet Nam after the surrender.  A TV journalist stood in front of an Exxon station and explained that our need for oil had caused the whole conflict. Ironically, surrounding him were Vietnamese riding their bicycles, in droves.

When, my God, will we ever learn?  Now we have destroyed these poor Vietnamese people once more.  Our drive for the riches of oil seems to be driving them from the earth.

I remember the best line from the movie.  Seeing his Best Man arrive for his wedding, a happy Forest Gump exclaimed:  "Captain Dan, you got new legs!"

We need to learn something from this oil crisis in the Gulf.  We don’t need all this oil.  We need new legs.

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