Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day 2012 - The Things I Fought For, and Those I Didn't

Today is Memorial Day and the airwaves are filled with heartfelt and well meant remembrances for those who died fighting for our nation.

Being a capitalist country the remembrances to "honor those who served" also are interspersed with commercials for a plethora of goods related to outdoor activities such as cookouts, camping, beach fun, hiking, food, grills, beverages – adult and otherwise. You know the drill.

I just want to point out that when I was 18 years old and enlisted in the Marines, for the specific purpose of going to Vietnam, most of the things we now mention in our remembrances about those who fought and died were not at the top of my list.

I didn’t fight for barbeque. I didn't fight so I could walk in parades or give speeches. I didn't fight to sit in traffic going and coming to the beach. I didn't fight for summer vacations or second homes to live in for winter ski vacations.

I didn't fight for Ford or Chevy or Plymouth or Oldsmobile. I didn't fight for Mercedes or BMW or Audi either. Nor Honda nor any other form of transportation.

I sure as hell didn't fight for Congress. I didn't even fight so I could wear my war medals. (I counted them yesterday and with the multiple awards, such as 15 Air Medals for flying 300 missions as a helicopter machine gunner, there are more than two dozen. They look nice on the wall and on occasion I refer to them when talking to my children and grandchildren about the sacrifices of military service.)

Being 18 at the time my vision was not as widespread as it is now, but my heart was definitely in the right place. One of the things I worked very hard for was the right to be called Marine, which I did and do consider one of the highest of compliments. I fought to wear the Marine dress blues, because there simply is no better looking uniform. And my Dad taught me that girls like men in uniform.

Unfortunately my Dad fought in WWII, the Big One, when people had a different view of those who served our country. By the time I returned from Vietnam in June 1969 – 43 years ago next month – we were told that wearing our uniforms in public could bring unwanted attention our way.

The truth is I fought for the men alongside me, both those in my Marine helicopter units, HMM-161 and HMM-164, and the infantrymen, reconnaissance Marines and others who stood alongside me in battle. We fought there, so we didn't have to fight here.

We fought so we could have all those things I listed above, plus more, and I fought to earn the respect of my countrymen. I learned afterward that to be respected you have to act respectfully not just once, but for all of your life, and that deeds on distant battlefields may be seen as honorable or dishonorable depending on the political viewpoint.

I learned that others who claimed to be my brothers and comrades sometimes were neither and that sometimes my medals were disdained by those who hadn't earned anything similar. But I also developed the confidence that comes with surviving numerous battles and frankly I don't care if some people don't see military service in the same light as I do. This is America after all and we exist because people are allowed to have different opinions.

My primary message today is to ask that you remember those who didn't come back from battle and those who still are fighting the physical and mental demons that will be with them as long as they live. And please remember those who have died in the years since coming home from their wars – sometimes from residual impacts of their long-ago fighting.

Today I honor my drill instructor from Platoon 214, Parris Island, South Carolina, the late Sgt. Robert F. Starbuck, in addition to those members of HMM-161 who also were Killed in Action. I've listed them exactly as I did in Masters of the Art, with last name followed by first name, rank, service, position they held at the time of their death and a numerical code that represents that last two digits of the year they died, followed by two digits representing the month and the last two for the day of the month.

Akins, Donald--Cpl--USMC--Crew Chief-- 690602
Antonelly, Charles---Cpl--USMC--Maint-- 651106
Barr, Allan--1stLt--USMCR--Co-Pilot--690423
Bazemore, William--LCpl--USMC--Gunner--690422
Belknap, Ronald--Cpl--USMC--Gunner--660808
Benson, Martin--1stLt--USMCR--Co-Pilot--700206
Brandes, Kenneth--Cpl--USMC--Crew Chief--680822
Cheek, Robert--LCpl--USMC--Crew Chief--681017
Chemis, Charles--GySgt--USMC--Crew Chief--651017
Chmura, Michael--Cpl--USMC--Gunner--651017
Creed, Edward--HM3--USN--Corpsman--660625
DeCraene, Alan--1stLt--USMC--Pilot--700216
Doeden, Nicolaus--1stLt--USMCR--Co-Pilot--650606
Ferrazzano, John--Cpl--USMC--Gunner--681017
Foster, Curtis--Pfc--USMC--Crew--650606
Frantz, William--LCpl--USMC--Gunner--681017
Garringer, Jan--Cpl--USMC--Crew--700216
Green, Arthur--LCpl--USMC--Crew--660925
Griffith, Dale--Cpl--USMC--Gunner--690607
Helmstetler, Michael--1stLt--USMCR--Co-Pilot--680619
Henricks, Charles--1stLt--USMC--Pilot--690323
Hertz, Allen--1stLt--USMCR--Co-Pilot--650606
Hesson, Danny--LCpl--USMC--Gunner--691010
Hutton, William--HM2--USNR--Corpsman--690314
Lenz, Thomas--LCpl--USMC--Gunner--690422
McBee, Carl--LCpl--USMC--Crew--650606
McKay, Gerald--1stLt--USMCR--Pilot--650606
McNally, Paul--Capt--USMCR--Pilot--650606
Morin, Donald--LCpl--USMC--Crew Chief--700216
Parker Jr., Vernon--Cpl--USMC--Crew--660925
Powell Jr., Joseph--Capt--USMCR--Pilot--681017
Reiter, Dean--1stLt--USMCR--Co-Pilot--660925
Sampsell, Joel--1stLt--USMCR--Co-Pilot --700216
Scott, Dayne--HM2--USNR--Corpsman--681017
Sharp, Lufkin--Capt--USMCR--Pilot--680619
Stahl, Donald--Sgt--USMC--Crew Chief--660625
Sweet, James--1stLt--USMC--Co-Pilot--681017
Tracy, Gary--Cpl--USMC--Crew--650606
Wiese, Robert--Cpl--USMC--Gunner--700216
Wilson, Frank--Cpl--USMC--Crew Chief—650606

Today I also am posting this column in memory of Lt. Col. Paul W. Niesen; Cpl. Fred Young; SSgt James O'Connor; Cpl. Ronald Charles Adair and all others with whom I served who have since passed away. And thank you especially to the Corpsmen, who fought alongside us, and did their best to save so many Marines, often at the cost of their own lives. It was never pretty; it was often ugly, but it was the price we paid so I could write this tribute today.
Semper Fidelis

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Afghanistan, the New Vietnam; Another Generation of Veterans Shafted

For more than 40 years now I have listened with a certain level of bemusement as people in high and distant places commented on what happened in Vietnam, why we – meaning the military – "lost" and what it is that America's Vietnam veterans "need."

I have watched as the official take on the veteran demographic shifted from "saviors of our country" to poor, disaffected, mentally deranged, deficient individuals who were unalterably diminished due to our service, particularly our Vietnam service. Remember the late '70s and the Walking Time Bomb label?

That the official version of veterans is totally off the mark goes without saying – every legitimate survey shows that we are more stable, more productive, and more capable of dealing with the inconsistencies of humanity that our non-veteran counterparts. We were the best educated generation of veterans ever to go to war, two-thirds of the men who served were volunteers – as opposed to one-third of World War II veterans – and the death rate in combat was not disproportionate toward the poor and minorities, but rather was a mirror image of society as it existed in the 1960s and 1970s.

Decades after the slaughter of millions of Southeast Asians by communist forces in the mid- to late 1970s, there still are many Americans who have no idea of what really caused that debacle – meaning mentally and morally deficient American politicians and bureaucrats.

And unfortunately, now, in 2012, in Afghanistan, where often the only indication we have that a war is in progress is an occasional death notice – officially referred to as the death of a NATO serviceman or woman even when they are Americans – we are on the cusp of creating another generation of Veterans who will be tarred with the same brush.

In Vietnam not only did American forces win every major battle in which we fought, but our South Vietnamese counterparts were successful in defending their country against a vicious and overwhelming invasion by northern communists in 1972 – with the help of our advisers and air power. The communists sent 250,000 troops into South Vietnam and after months of bitter fighting and seesaw battles the final tally was 150,000 communists killed, half of all their artillery and armor destroyed, and the communist's number one national hero Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, who defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu, fired and placed under house arrest where he stayed until 1975.

This isn't just my viewpoint, especially the part about the US winning every major battle. Check this out:

Then with an unprecedented success in South Vietnam's immediate history the American Congress voted to accept the lopsided – in favor of the communists – Paris Peace Accords followed by passage of the Case-Church Resolution which cut off all aid – military, economic and humanitarian - to South Vietnam. Two years later, the north invaded again, and left to fend for itself, running out of ammo and bandages, the south fell.

For the next decade our former allies were imprisoned, tortured, forced out into the South China Sea, and butchered by the millions, while America's Vietnam veterans were labeled by the politicians and media alike as the primary cause for this travesty. Do you know the excuse America's politicians and bureaucrats used to justify the slaughter of millions of people?

They said the government of South Vietnam was corrupt! Yeah, our government said that! Can you believe it?

Know one of the major excuses America's politicians and bureaucrats are using to justify leaving Afghanistan before the job is finished, despite the overwhelming successes of our military? That the government of President Hamid Karzai is corrupt! Yeah, our government is saying that! Can you believe it?

So I guess if he is, then it comes down to a matter of degrees. Is Karzai more corrupt than the Obama Administration and Congress? How do you tell? Is it a matter of raw dollars or a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product?

Meanwhile, Americans are fighting and dying in Afghanistan, sometimes at the hands of the very people we are supposed to be protecting, all because the terrorists are fighting for an extremist form of a religion that calls for them to slay "infidels" wherever and whenever they can. And in the meantime our troops are performing magnificently in the field and are trying to put a sufficient beating on the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other versions of this religious terrorism so they can't reestablish themselves and put another hit on America and other allied countries.

This mind you with unprecedented Rules of Engagement hanging over their heads, and stupid politicians and bureaucrats making up the rules as they go, from back in their cushy offices, in between cocktail parties and urgent appointments with international level hookers – which means they look better and cost a lot more than run-of-the-mill hookers, but nonetheless are hookers.

The media, meanwhile, which frankly is a sad and unfunny joke when it comes to reporting on matters such as this, is saying we might just as well quit Afghanistan anyway because Americans are becoming war weary!

War weary Americans? Just how many Americans have been to Afghanistan to fight against the extremists and terrorists? One percent of the population? That would be more than 3 million people and I doubt that we have sent that many over there to fight.

How many Americans have fought in any war? I'll answer for you. Roughly 7 percent of the population. Excuse me, that's how many veterans there are, but not all veterans actually go to the war zone and engage in combat.

In fact, when you talk about people who took up arms and did the fighting the percent is miniscule compared to the overall veteran population not to mention the overall US population.

So exactly how did way more than 90 percent of the American population get war weary when they didn't leave home, didn't go to a distant land, didn't get shot at, didn't see anyone die, didn't put themselves in danger, and in fact, other than having to think for themselves in an economic recession, weren't inconvenienced in anyway.

War weary Americans?

Probably, but consider how most Americans will feel when we leave Afghanistan with the job unfinished, not because of any failure of our military – just as in Vietnam – but because of feckless politicians and a media that would rather cover internal violence in Syria than the potential resurgence of the terrorist network that attacked us on 9-11?

How weary will most Americans be if, within the next decade, we are hit again by the very same forces that our politicians – and particularly the Obama Administration – said were vanquished and neutralized, never to return? Oh, I bet we'll be weary, but I'll bet that most Americans will want heads to roll if we get nailed by a "dirty" nuclear device or a biological warfare weapon that unleashes diseases than can sicken or kill hundreds of thousands.

Then maybe we'll really be war weary. But then, the only alternative will be to surrender and commit our children's children's children to an eternity of slavery. How weary of that crap do you think our offspring will have to be before someone get's off their dead rear end and does something about it?

Or will the media and another generation of politicians and bureaucrats blame the military again and say it was all their fault? They'll get away with it too, just like they did between the 1960s and now because so few people have actually been to Afghanistan and our military is not allowed to speak out.

I can tell you two things that today's veterans want that are exactly what my generation wanted - Victory and respect. With the first comes the second. Go to every military installation that flies the American flag and tell the people stationed there that the United States is going to unleash the full force of its military power against any enemies anywhere in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and associated countries for one full year or until all terrorists are dead and see what happens.

I bet you'll see a massive surge in volunteers to take part, and the phrase "war weary" will be relegated to the junk pile of populist terminology right alongside "bee's knees" and "Oh you kid!"
Friday, May 25, 2012

We Have Met NATO; And IT is US

About a week ago I heard a news report that said two NATO troops were killed fighting in Afghanistan.

The blurb caught my attention because the American media barely reports on the deaths of Americans fighting in Afghanistan, never mind troops from other countries who are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

As it turned out, the two deaths were American soldiers, but the media, in this case FOX News, called the brave heroes "NATO" troops. Why?

I find this disturbing on many levels. First, I have watched item after item come into my email inbox over the last decade or so, pointing out that there is an ongoing effort in the United Nations to create and enforce worldwide treaties that would gravely restrict the American military and even the rights of American citizens – in our own country and our own homes.

Foremost among these are efforts to pass international gun control treaties that would effectively nullify our 2nd Amendment rights. The Obama Administration's murderous debacle known as Fast and Furious in which our own government undertook an illegal scheme to sell guns to Mexican drug cartels – and planned on "discovering" them at crime scenes in hopes of further restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens in this country – merely reinforces these fears.

Then we have the International Criminal Court treaty that could govern how American troops engaged in combat against our enemies in foreign countries are treated under international law – and in which they could be judged by representatives from the very enemies we are fighting!

The Clinton Administration approved of and signed the ICC treaty but did not submit it to the Senate for ratification. Such a treaty would require a two-thirds vote of the Senate which thus far has not occurred.

The Bush Administration withdrew support for the ICC completely, but the Obama Administration has resurrected it … go figure. In fact according to Wikipedia Obama has voiced his intent to cooperate with the International Court, but so far can't make good on his intentions because he doesn't have enough votes in the Senate to succeed at ratification.

So when I hear an American news outlet refer to American troops as "NATO" troops it concerns me. We already have American soldiers rotting in Army stockades because they have been charged with civilian crimes based on their actions in the heat of battle. That in itself is reprehensible and as far as I can tell is a policy that has no real intent other than to discourage enlistment in the military.

In fact, US Representative Allen West sent an official letter to Obama just this month decrying the release of international terrorist Ali Musa Daqduq, who was instrumental in planning and executing an ambush against American troops in Iraq in 2007.

Daqduq, a citizen of Lebanon, was released by Iraqi authorities even though he was directly implicated in the death of one American officer in the original attack and the further abduction, torture and execution of four more American troops.

Rep. West (R-FL) notes that Obama used the Separation of Forces Agreement negotiated by the Bush Administration as justification for Daqduq's release. However, West also notes that since Daqduq is a citizen of Lebanon he is not affected by the SOFA and easily could have been transferred to Guantanamo Bay or some other suitable American military facility.

Instead, Daqduq, a high-ranking member of the terrorist organization Hezbollah, has been freed by the Iraqis and can now go about the business of planning further attacks on American troops, American allies and even American soil.

In his letter to Obama, Rep. West states that "Your Administration, instead of standing for the Soldiers who perished at the hands of this terrorist handed a senior Hezbollah operative responsible for the gruesome murder of at least five American over to a "so-called" justice system that, with the facts so clearly showing him guilty, set him free.

"As a combat veteran," West added, "I find this incident of the release of Ali Musa Daqduq to be an utter betrayal not only to those who perished at the hands of this terrorist, but to all men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"If terrorists such as Daqduq walk free, then surely men who made mistakes in the fog of war … deserve leniency," West concluded.

And there lies the heart of my concern with the news calling our fighters NATO troops rather than Americans. Last I knew, US forces hammered the hell out of the terrorist network in Afghanistan in 2002 and early 2003. Then they pursued the remnants of Al Qaeda and the Taliban to Iraq where their leadership, including Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was establishing terrorist training camps to continue the war against the US.

In Afghanistan, NATO forces were left to mop-up operations.

Seven years later after American forces emerged victorious in Iraq our troops were forced to return to Afghanistan where the Taliban had re-emerged. Now US troops are again fighting and dying in Afghanistan, not for the Afghans, not for any NATO nations, and not for the International Security Assistance Force.

Yes there are numerous nations assisting us in one form or another and thousands of troops from NATO countries in Afghanistan. But while we are a part of NATO we sure as hell shouldn't be directed by, under the command of, or working under the dictates of NATO.

I am not bashing the Canadians, British, Irish, or any other NATO nations that have troops in Afghanistan essentially in the platoon to battalion strength - Germany, France, and Italy being the major exceptions - doing jobs ranging from direct combat to airport security.

Their support, assistance and bravery is greatly appreciated. But US troops are not there to save Ireland, or Belgium or Canada or Croatia or any other nation except as an incidental consequence of their mission. That mission is to save the US and defeat terrorists, a job that is hard enough on its face but is even harder what with the constraints placed on them by the Obama Administration.

Did you know that when US troops go on search and destroy missions to root out the terrorists they now have to apply for warrants to enter houses where enemy forces may have refuge? Yes they do.

The Obama Administration is fighting a shooting war as if our forces are doing house-to-house searches looking for white-collar criminals. Didn't see that on the news did you? Actually, we rarely hear anything about the fighting in Afghanistan these days.

Maybe our erstwhile correspondents think the new restrictions apply only to "NATO" troops.
Thursday, May 24, 2012

In Salute of Veterans – and Burning the Flag

Today is the first in a series of articles on veterans to commemorate Memorial Day this Monday, May 28.

I chose the subject of flag burning so I could be a messenger of sorts for another special day that follows close on the heels of Memorial Day, that being Flag Day on June 14.

In case you weren't aware or have forgotten, Flag Day commemorates the same day in 1777 when the Second Constitutional Congress adopted the thirteen-stripes-and-thirteen-stars flag. The stars reportedly were put on a blue field, "representing a new constellation" in the night sky. (I wasn't there which is why I said reportedly.)

June 14 was officially named Flag Day by President Woodrow Wilson, and the week in which Flag Day occurs is Flag Week. Americans are encouraged to fly the flag in accordance with standard rules and regulations.

I read an article on Flag Day a couple of years ago in which it was noted that federal buildings are "asked" to fly the American flag on Flag Day. Personally I don't think "asked" should be part of the sentence; "told" is more appropriate.

Last weekend the local American Legion post in my community hosted a visit by National Commander Fang A. Wong, a Vietnam veteran and naturalized citizen who is the first Chinese-American to head that organization. During a question and answer session Commander Wong noted that the Legion at the national level has been lobbying for a ban on burning the American flag as a means of protest.

Commander Wong noted that there is substantial and ongoing support within America's veterans to ban burning the flag as a means of protesting dissatisfaction with the government. Yet, he noted to the surprise of many who gathered to meet him that it is perfectly legal to burn the flag during a street protest, but don't try to burn the flag as part of an appropriate observance without a slew of government approvals, at least in New York City.

Yours Truly presents a copy of Masters of the Art, A Fighting Marine's Memoir of Vietnam to American Legion National Commander and Vietnam Veteran Fang A. Wong

June 14 is not only a national day to recognize our flag and what it stands for, it also is a day during which members of the Legion dispose of unserviceable flags. In accordance with a ceremony – the details of which are contained in Legion publications providing guidance for post operations – Legion members gather flags that are no longer in condition to be flown in public and burn them in a suitable and respectful manner.

But when members of Commander Wong's post wanted to hold a flag disposal ceremony a few years ago they were given a resounding "NO" from New York City officials who said they first had to apply for a permit – or several permits. They veterans did as instructed, but the applications were denied.

In fact, in subsequent years, members of the commander's post were told they had to attend fire training at the city's fire training academy, and were given permission to dispose of the flags using the appropriate ceremony only after completing the prescribed course – but only on the grounds of the training facility!

Since we dispose of unserviceable flags on Flag Day at my post each year, and since the volunteer fire department doesn't give us a hard time like city officials do to the New York City's veterans, we offered to host a delegation from Commander Wong's post on Flag Day this year and any other year they so desire.

They can bring as many unserviceable flags as they can carry and we'll be happy to conduct the appropriate ceremony. We do things differently out in the country I guess.

Can you imagine that? An America-hating protester can walk down the street, dragging the American flag on the ground, and on a whim whip out his matches and set the flag on fire without so much as a "by your leave" and absolutely no interference from local officials.

But when a group of veterans attempts to provide appropriate honor and respect they are told to get a fistful of permits and conduct their ceremony at some obscure corner where the public is not allowed!

Nonetheless it was truly an honor to have a veteran of Commander Wong's stature – and Mrs. Wong - visit us and we had a great turnout for his visit. I was honored to present the national commander with a copy of my book Masters of the Art, as was suggested by our state Legion office, and you could tell by the commentary after he left that the membership was duly impressed.

I hope he takes us up on our offer, if not this year, then certainly in coming years. I'm confidant that any town in Connecticut can show our colleagues a better reception than they get in New York City on Flag Day.

New York. My father lived there after he emigrated from Scotland in the 1920s. He grew up there, and for years I had family living there and we visited several times a year. One summer when I was a teen I saw Mickey Mantle hit and inside-the-park home run there and it was a day I have never forgotten.

Still, New York is … strange.


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