At 75, Ken Palmrose, who was born and raised in Seaside, is the author of “Out of the Blue: A Young Man’s Journey from the Palms of Vietnam to the Pine Forests of the West.”
Palmrose spoke with the Signal about his life in Seaside, writing and Vietnam.
Q: Tell us about your time in Seaside. Were you raised here?
A: My family has lived in the area since the early 1900s with Palmrose Dairy owned by my Finnish-immigrant grandmother and helped run by my father. My father and his brothers were well known athletes in their youth.
Our family was all over the Seaside/Astoria area. My parents lived in the area until their deaths and I still have one brother, Ernie, in the area. My family, children and grandchildren, have visited Seaside family and friends quite often over the past 50 some years since I left.
I was born and raised in Seaside and graduated from Seaside Union High School in 1963 and then went to Clatsop Community College for an associate’s degree in forestry technology. I went to work for the U.S. Forest Service beginning in Eastern Oregon as a forestry aide, ending up 36 years later as the regional media officer for the U.S. Forest Service southwestern region.
Q: Have you always been a writer?
A: This is from my publisher’s publicity page: “Ken Palmrose, for many years during his Forest Service career, was a writer/editor and later was a contributing editor for an extensive Arizona wildfire story titled ‘The Monster Reared His Ugly Head.’ He has written numerous news and web stories, special feature articles and additionally is an accomplished photographer having traveled to over 25 countries around the world.”
So in one form or another the answer is yes, I have always been interested in writing. I was a writer/editor for six years, lots of forest plan-type documents. I was also a public affairs officer for 20 years.
Q: Did you serve in Vietnam, like the character in your book?
A: I was drafted within five months of starting my new career with the Forest Service and ended up after basic training going to military intelligence school at Fort Holabird, Maryland. Seems like they noticed I received good grades in photogrammetry at Clatsop Community College and I ended up being trained as an imagery interpreter, much of which I already studied.
I was assigned to the 519th MI battalion and we worked in an air-conditioned, secure building near Tan Son Nhut Air Base but were bussed every day from 6 kilometers southeast to our compound, which then was out at the far edge of the furthest reaches of rural Saigon.
We looked for the enemy on photos and infrared imagery and plotted bombing runs, B-52 missions, napalm strikes, you name it and other airstrikes. We also did tactical terrain studies to help our troops on the ground find ways to get safely cross country either on foot or in tracked vehicles.
I watched the air base get hit during the Tet offensive, while a few of us were sent up on the roof of the building for guard duty as the air base perimeter was only a couple hundred meters distant and was under constant attack in all areas. The May offensive — Ho Chi Minh’s birthday — was worse for us as much of the entire areas around our barracks and motor pool were destroyed, but for some reason, they didn’t hit our compound, which was only a few acres in size and held over 1,000 people.
Basically, it was a tale of two tours, seven months before Tet, we could go into Saigon and see the sights, eat and buy local, and seven months after Tet, the war was with us everyday from then on. I arrived in June of 1967 and left in August of 1968, 14 months.
Q: What’s the origin/concept of this book?
A: Originally I wanted to write a screenplay, nonfiction, but I decided I didn’t, at that time, have the patience. So, I started writing a novel based upon a crew of young men from all over the U.S. coming together in one of the most rural forest settings in the West.
As I was about halfway through, I started remembering things about my time in Vietnam and thought, why not fictionalize those as memories in the main character? So I rewrote the whole thing and that’s how it ended up. Fiction based loosely on some real events.
Q: Will you be back in the area in the near future?
A: I plan on being back in Seaside in September, as it is my understanding there is going to be some type of formal ceremony for the Vietnam veterans monument at the Cove.