Re: Military Terminology

M Bibby (
Sat, 19 Oct 1996 16:11:00 -0400

Thanks for the many replies from list-members about the STAC designation
in Michael Harper's *Debridement*:

On Thu, 17 Oct 1996, drieux H. wrote:

> If John Henry Louis is a Naval Person,
> then it could well be his Rating
> STA: Sonar Tech Analyst
> C: Chief ( E-7 )

This is suggestive, but it's very clear in the poem that Louis is
Army--and in interviews, Harper has said that he based the character on
Dwight Johnson, who is listed in his Medal of Honor citation as a Specialist
Fifth Class, US Army, Company B, 1st Batallion, 69th Armor, 4th Infantry

It's interesting that the discussion my query has elicited has come up
empty with so many experts in the field and vets weighing in--I think
this confirms my sense that Harper was either mistaken or was making this
acronym up to trope on a famous character in black vernacular stories:
Stagolee, aka Stackolee. *Debridement*'s main character's name, STAC
John Henry Louis combines both two folk heroes: Stackolee, who is often
the "bad man" in folktales, and John Henry, the moral hardworking man.

It's also interesting to note that Harper has said in interviews that
many vets thought he was a vet based on this poem and that they've
commended him for his accuracy. Harper also had a relative who served in

The analogy to the classical trope of the "miles furens" John mentions
would be very apt for this poem as well--especially when read in relation
to the original story about Johnson. Here's a quote from the New York
Times article about Johnson from 1971. One of his friends from the
service recalls the scene at Dak To for the reporter covering Johnson's

"`When the tank blew up Dwight saw the bodies all burned and black, well,
he just sort of cracked up,' said Stan.

"For 30 minutes, armed first with a .45-caliber pistol and then with a
submachine gun, Skip [Johnson] hunted the Vietnamese on the ground,
killing from five to 20 enemy soldiers, nobody knows for sure. When he
ran out of ammunition, he killed one with the stock of the machine gun.

"....`When it was all over,' Stan said, walking up the church steps as
the funeral service got under way, `it took three men and three shots of
morphine to hold Dwight down. He was raving. He tried to kill the
prisoners we had rounded up. They took him away to a hospital in Pleiku
in a straightjacket.'"

[qtd. Kyle Grimes, "The Entropics of Discourse: Michael Harper's
*Debridement* and the Myth of the Hero," *Black American Literature
Forum* 24 (Fall 1990), 421.]

The ruthlessness and rage Johnson expressed parallels not only the
ruthlessness of Louis in *Debridement* but also that of the mythical
figure Stackolee, who is often represented as killing his opponents
without mercy and with utter rage.

Michael Bibby