Category Archives: Military

Veterans Day

Veterans Day (no apostrophe) honors all those who served in the US Military, past and present.

Sometimes people–including some in uniform–make a differentiation between active duty military and reserve members. I am of two minds on this. First, most of the military officers I served with in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait were reserve or national guard. It wasn’t until we began sending individual augmentees that the active duty numbers swelled.

Vice Admiral John Cotton asked if the reserve members who were killed were any less dead than active members. Obviously not.

The other view does have some merit, but not in the way that you might expect. Back in the 1980’s, so the story goes, the status of reservists rose with the Royal Australian Navy. Like most members of the Commonwealth, their Navy uniform has a curl above the stripes indicating an officer’s rank. For years, reserve officers in the Royal Australian Navy had an “R” inside the curl, but when it was proposed that the uniform should be the same for active and reserve. Naturally, there was a lot of discussion.

When asked if the R should be removed for reservists, one reserve officer answered that the R should be retained. This met with approval by the active duty officers, until the officer continued.

“I certainly don’t want people thinking that this is the only way I can earn a living.”

Suicide

At work, we have a number of annual training requirements, most of which are presented as video training sessions. They are unchanged from year to year. Some training sessions I’ve taken almost 40 times. One of those that we must take year after year is suicide prevention. As important as this issue is, when you go through the same presentation year after year, its importance fades into the background.

But in the annual mandatory training presentation there are a few segments that features Kevin Hines. Kevin is—an interesting guy, but not a role model.

Kevin had planned to kill himself by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. However, Kevin promised himself that if anyone–ANYONE–reached out to him in any way, he wouldn’t jump. He walked the bridge for a while, but no one said anything.

Not a damned thing.

He jumped.

He begged God to save him.

He survived.

Kevin’s been in the news lately because one thing that is on his “To Do” list is to get a net installed under the Golden Gate Bridge. That net is soon to be a reality. The mechanical stuff, such as a net, is good, but it’s only part the answer.

Every one of us has a responsibility to others, and we can carry out that responsibility.

The simple question of, “Are you alright?” may make a world of difference.

Much Ado About Nothing – How We Describe Our Hometowns

Back in the stone age, when I was young, we described different parts of town with specific words. In northwest Ohio there was downtown, but no uptown. There was the East Side, the West End and South Toledo. North Toledo was described by the various neighborhoods–Polish, German, Lebanese, etc.

That was simple. In August, Mom would take me downtown to buy school clothes, which, by October, by the way, I’d managed to mangle.

Over time, downtown disappeared, replaced by shopping malls—which also meant that the local stores such as Tiedtke’s and Lamson’s also disappeared.

Oh, there was still a downtown, but it was the haunt of lawyers, bankers, and others who were in a different caste from my family. There was the main branch of the public library, but libraries don’t define an area.

Where I live now, there is a city center with the various city offices and courts, but except for the main branch of the library, that’s it. Unless there is a food truck event, there isn’t a restaurant or even a drive-through, fast-food, franchise place in the “downtown” area.

There are (more or less) seven cities in this area: Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach (in alphabetical order so as not to offend anyone). The area has had various monikers—Hampton Roads, The Historic Triangle,* Tidewater, Virginia Beach (it’s the tourist attraction, after all), but none of them have ever been adequate. We’re still working on it. However, if there are lakes, rivers, the Chesapeake Bay, beaches, and the Atlantic Ocean, there are more pressing issues than deciding on a metropolitan name.

We divide our area into the Peninsula, which includes Hampton and Newport News (along with Williamsburg, Croaker and Norge), the South Side, with the other cities, and various other areas like the Eastern Shore and the Outer Banks just over the line in North Carolina.

 

*Jamestown—the first permanent English settlement, Williamsburg—an early capital of Virginia and arguably a birthplace of American Independence, and Yorktown—the last major battle of the American Revolution, after which British General Lord Cornwallis’s troops surrendered to George Washington.

Commitment

Have you ever read the Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America? Most people don’t recognize that as the actual title of what we call the Declaration of Independence. Written in Philadelphia, approved on 2 July 1776, and published two days later on the fourth of July.

Those who signed the document risked much if they failed. If they were lucky, they would be hanged “until dead.” The practice of hanging, drawing, and quartering was the prescribed punishment for high treason. In this case, the condemned would be hanged, cut down while still (barely) alive, often disemboweled (again, while still alive), then beheaded and their body cut into pieces.

These founding fathers had to work hard to reach common ground since they had agreed that unanimous consent was required so as not to force brother against brother so many vehement arguments led to revisions that the authors vehemently opposed. The issue of slavery was particularly difficult, and striking a phrase prohibiting slavery did, in fact, lead to the war of brother against brother.

While most of the body of the declaration deals with the grievances against King George the third, I believe the most important part is at the end.

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Who among us has that kind of commitment today?

 

D-Day

D-Day. How soon we forget.

To many people, 75 years ago makes something ancient history, but even so, we can–and we need to–learn.

75 years ago kids just out of high school enlisted or were drafted. Basic training turned them into men in a few months. Then these young men faced overwhelming odds landing against withering fire at places with tactical names like Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword Beaches. Others parachuted or crash-landed in gliders behind enemy lines.

Many would never have the chance to be old men, middle aged, or a fathers, or married. Some died for the cause of freedom, but would never live long enough to vote.

2700 British, 946 Canadians, and 6603 Americans claimed territory in France–two and a half feet wide, 8 feet long, and 6 feet deep. Others were never found.

President John F. Kennedy, in his 1961 inaugural speech challenged us–“Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” That generation, now almost gone, did.

Space – The Final Frontier

Gene Kranz–THE Flight Director

I grew up during the early days of the space program. At night, when Echo I–a satellite that was essentially a giant, shiny Mylar balloon–passed overhead, the whole family would go outside. A clear sky, the overflight time from the local newspaper, and we’d watch until we saw that tiny speck of light pass overhead.

The Mercury program gave us America’s first manned space flights when I was in grade school. For each launch, someone would bring a transistor radio–the latest thing–and the whole class would listen. Somewhere during the tail end of the Mercury program and the beginning of the Gemini program, the radio was replaced by a television. While most televisions were large and treated as a piece of furniture, some of my classmates had a smaller television that was (barely) light enough to transport to school. The picture was black and white, but then, most televisions were.

When Apollo 11 landed on the moon, I sat on the couch with my girlfriend and watched, transfixed. Apollo 12 didn’t generate as much interest, but when Apollo 13 suffered a near catastrophic explosion, everybody followed coverage until the astronauts were safely home.

Later, when I lived in Florida, along the Space Coast, I could watch launches–including the space shuttles–from my driveway. One time I drove up to Cape Canaveral to watch a shuttle launch up close. First there was the sight of the liftoff, which was followed by the sonic roar and a pressure wave against my chest that attested to the power of the engines.

But, what I remember most fondly, is the final stage of the countdown as the flight director polled each section to ensure that the mission could be successfully launched .
“Medical?” “Go!”
“Range?” “Go!”
“CapCom?” “Go!”
“Flight?” “Go!”

Each function had to make sure their area of responsibility was ready. Each wanted desperately to add their affirmation–to say yes and to agree to move forward.

Contrast that with today when so many people are so eager to say “No.”

Fair Winds and Following Seas

181204-george-h-w-bush-sully-feature-image

George H. W. Bush’s service dog says goodbye for the final time (N.Y. Times)

I have rarely met high and lofty people, but there have been a few, very few.

During my deployment, which occurred while George W. Bush was President, his father made a trip into theater and shared some impromptu chatter with everyone present in the theater/chapel/auditorium/etc. building. The only specific I remember is that his son, “W,” had switched from jogging to riding a bicycle. He had a habit of, well, trying to be as courteous as possible, succumbing to gravity (i.e., falling down). George senior said that he and Barbara both wished he’d choose a safer physical activity.

After he made his comments from the stage, I saw him outside chatting with a number of the enlisted folks and junior officers (in desert cammies, we all looked pretty much alike). I would have liked to have joined them, but my presence would have distracted from their time with “41,” so I went about my business. He knew where he needed to spend his time and so did I. 

Among those in the Navy, the traditional, final farewell is “Fair winds and following seas.” May the wind fill your sails without threatening your ship and may the tide be favorable to your trip.

Mr. President, you were truly an officer and a gentleman; not perfect, but a very real human being. You are in a better place, with your wife and your daughter, and you deserve to be with the ones you loved.

 

 

John McCain

I rarely meet famous or important people, but I did meet John McCain.

The US Navy had committed to providing Sailors to fill in US Army combat support and combat service support roles in order to free up Soldiers to do what they had been trained for. Sailors are very adaptable–when one is at sea and a barber is needed (or a damage controlman, or a firefighter) there isn’t the opportunity to wait until someone trained and certified arrives. One of the Sailors will learn how to fill the gap, until relieved by someone better qualified. However, a nineteen year old Soldier knows more about ground combat than most Sailors ever will, so the two are not interchangeable.

US Sailors were serving, boots on the ground, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait (alphabetical order). When they returned home, I believed that they deserved to be met at the airport by someone in a US Navy uniform, even if it was just me. Many came back through Thurgood Marshall International Airport in Baltimore, MD, so I made regular trips to that airport.

In 2008, while waiting for a group to return, John McCain happened to be in the area. Apparently someone alerted him to the return of the Sailors, and he, his bus, and everyone on it showed up. This was not a political photo opportunity–John McCain knew all too well what it means to come home from war. He was there to welcome the Sailors, the Soldiers, the Airmen, the Marines, and the Coast Guardsmen home. It s an open, honest, and heartfelt measure.

I have a picture of myself, a fellow officer, who is a wonderful person (but I don’t know if she wishes to be identified) and John McCain. This was after he had graciously greeted the returning service members of all branches as they entered the terminal. In the picture, his expression makes it obvious that he had more important things to do than be photographed with me–and that’s what makes the picture so special. He had greeted the returning American warriors, and even though I was there for them too, it was not about me–it was about them. Now it was time for him to move on to his next task.

I respect that. I respect a man who knows what’s important and especially respect a man whose moral compass is incorruptible. In McCain’s case, he did all this while maintaining a sense of humor. He was rare, which to me qualifies him as a treasure–a National Treasure.

Eternal rest, grant unto John McCain, Oh Lord, and let Your perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen

Interesting Facts

I try to stay out of politics for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that I have a hiatal hernia and gaastro-esophogeal reflux disease. However, from time to time, I come across facts that are just too interesting to keep to myself.

However, beware, for as John Adams said:

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.*

Anne Frank

—–Every western nation seems to be wrestling with the issue of immigration these days. Interestingly, there was a recent discovery by the Anne Frank House and the Holocaust Memorial Museum that Anne Frank’s father had applied–twice–for permission to move his family to the United States, but was turned down due to  “American bureaucracy, war, and time.” ** As everybody is probably aware, Anne Frank spent much of the war hiding in a secret room in the attic, was eventually found, arrested, sent to a Nazi concentration camp, and died only a few weeks before the British Army liberated the camp.

911

—–NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is an organization formed among western nations in 1949 for their mutual protection. Article 5 of the NATO treaty that essentially says that an attack on one member nation would be viewed as an attack on all the NATO members.  Interestingly, Article 5 has only been invoked once, with the other NATO nations coming to the aid of the United States after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.***

 

* Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/john_adams_134175

** https://www.click2houston.com/news/national/anne-franks-family-tried-in-vain-to-flee-to-the-us

*** https://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/13/us/after-attacks-alliance-for-first-time-nato-invokes-joint-defense-pact-with-us.html

 

The Whatth of July

800px-USA_declaration_independence

The Declaration of Independence was adopted on 2 July 1776, which is why John Adams expected the celebrations to take place each year on the second.  Unfortunately, the Founding Fathers were politicians, so the wording wasn’t finalized until the fourth of July. (If it had been the founding mothers, they would probably have been more practical, organized, and less egotistical. I’m sure the Declaration would have been completed much earlier.)

Not everyone who signed the Declaration did so on the fourth of July.  There’s no complete record as exactly who signed when. It’s probably safe to say that John Adams, Ben Franklin, John Hancock, and Thomas Jefferson all signed on that day (Hancock signed first and large–so King George could read it without his glasses).

The last signer was probably Matthew Thornton from New Hampshire, who wasn’t elected and seated in the Continental Congress until November; he asked for and received the privilege of adding his signature at that time, and signed on November 4, 1776.

So, two things:

  1. The Declaration of Independence set us on the path of the most improbable and radical experiment in civilization. The hereditary monarchy thing failed, as did leadership by military conquest. Our experiment is still running with its ups and downs, and will take forever to perfect. However, as Winston Churchill is credited with saying, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
  2. We should never be surprised if politicians do not deliver in a timely manner.

Given the importance of the event, maybe it would be better to celebrate Independence Month!

 

 

 

Memorial Holyday

Memorial-Day

The word holiday was once just a different spelling for holyday, but has come to mean something quite different to many people. That’s unfortunate, because we tend to remember the specific meaning of our holydays; we do not confuse Passover with Christmas or Eid al Fitr. On the other hand, we do confuse holidays.

In the United States of America, today is Memorial Day. I observe Memorial Day, but do not celebrate it, since it is dedicated to those who gave their lives in the defense of our country. Veterans Day, on the other hand, recognizes all who served or are serving in the military.

It is an ancient custom to honor the dead by placing flowers on their grave. After the American Civil War, this practice became an annual ritual and was originally known as Decoration Day. There are a number of people and organizations who have been credited with initiating it from both the Union and Confederacy.

To me, Memorial Day, is when I remember when I was deployed and we lost someone. The theater–which was also used as a chapel–would have the inverted rifle, helmet, boots, and dog tags representing the lost warrior, and too many times it was not just one. The building was packed by men and women in camouflage uniforms; under the seats, the pre-staged boxes of tissue were intermingled with rifles. Friends paid tribute, and no one was too proud to cry.

Military rituals are often misunderstood, but the link provides a good explanation. One misunderstanding is that at a military funeral, the honor guard fires a 21-gun salute. Actually, they fire three volleys, a 21-gun salute is reserved for heads of state.

Except for Memorial Day.

On Memorial Day, those who, as Abraham Lincoln said, “gave the last full measure,” are accorded the same honor as a head of state. On Memorial Day, the fallen are recognized with a 21-gun salute.

XMAS

As a Christian, I hold this time of year as a most special time. December 25th has a one in 365 ¼ chance of being Jesus’ actual day of birth. In the absence of accurate records of births circa 003 BCE, and given the significance of the winter solstice—when each day has more light—the early Christian church may have taken advantage of events and combined celebrations. (Since gospel means, “good news,” it should not be surprising that Christians enjoy celebrating all of the good things in life.)

Some Christians take issue with the idea of Xmas, but, as often happens, a study of history enhances understanding. Xmas is not a way of removing Christ from Christmas, but a connection back to a time closer to his life. The “X” is the first letter of “Christos.” the Greek word for Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many Christians have seen the chi-rho symbol, and because of the prominence of the Greek letter rho—which looks like a “P”, they transpose the first (X) and second (P) letters and miss the fact that Xmas appropriately recognizes the Christ and does not replace his name with a variable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, regardless of your religious viewpoint, celebrate a few days of love. History has examples of wartime enemies, laying down their weapons, exchanging food and drink, singing Christmas Carols and playing football (soccer), for one precious, blessed evening. THAT is powerful.

 

 

My Life in Guitars – Part 5 (We’re not done yet?)

Then there was the ukulele, and it would be unfair to skip over the ukulele. There was a group of wonderful people who set up “Ukes for Troops,” and sent ukuleles to those serving in the desert. Our group of about 1200 received a dozen or so Lanikin ukuleles from them—what a cool move. I confess, I kept one for me, and even though I do not claim to have mastered the ukulele, I still have mine, prominently displayed in the music room.

 

 

Thanks Ukes for Troops!

 

When I got back home, I was still very pumped up about music, and kept an eye on eBay for special deals. One day I found one—a twelve-string guitar that had a starting price of $29.95. No one had bid on it. I watched it, and as the time ran down, I put in a bid. With eBay, it doesn’t automatically jump to your full bid, but whatever it would take to win the item, up to your full bid.

I got it for $29.95 (plus shipping, of course). The seller had taken great pains to point out that it had a ding on the front edge, and when it arrived, after playing it for a few weeks, I went in search a proper luthier who could repair it. (Trivia alert! The term luthier hearkens back to when the most common stringed instrument was the lute.)

A 12 string is to guitars, what a calliope is to organs with an over-the-top sound all its own. Most people like the sound, but don’t grasp the obvious. I saw a Quora question in which the person asked why a 12-string guitar sounds so “jangly.” Was it the type of music people played? The answer pointed out that it sounded jangly because of all those strings.

After Tom Petty died, NPR replayed an interview with him on Fresh Air. Terry Gross asked about the particular and special sound Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers developed; Petty replied that they were inspired by Roger McGuinn from the Byrds and his use of a 12-string. (It’s all those strings, man.)

By the way, if you have a 12 string, never, EVER tune it like normal guitar; back off at least one fret and use a capo as needed. Besides sounding jangly, all those strings put a tremendous amount of tension on the guitar’s neck.

Incidentally, the guitar turned out that the 12-string I had purchased was a “Briarwood,” with the label inside stating “Briarwood by Peavey.” Is it me, or is there a conspiracy? Doesn’t matter—the 12 string has been and remains one of my most favorite guitars. My wife concurs that it’s a great sound.

Travel Guitar

n.

 

My Life in Guitars (Part 3) – the Desert

I’d been quite happy with my Peavey Predator, so although I looked—and occasionally drooled, I didn’t seriously plan to buy another guitar. I became a geo-bachelor in Oakland, California, and had my Peavey, but no amplifier. In my teeny-tiny one room apartment, I could hear my playing well enough to keep my sanity.

Then I got the word that as a reservist, I was being recalled and would soon be in Southeast Asia. Obviously, the military pretty much dictated what would go on the plane, so the word was—mail yourself the survival gear you’d need in a plastic footlocker, with the fiberglass reinforced packing tape in every direction. Contents included books, electronic games, civilian clothes (sometimes referred to as “mufti”), and, in my case, a small ham radio station. If the footlocker was shattered, the tape would keep everything together.

What? No guitar?

No guitar. I did not want my Peavey damaged, and, besides, the military exchange system was there to take our money and send us whatever we desired. I’d just order a new guitar once I got there.

I did.

The order was cancelled.

I placed a second order with AAFES (Army and Air Force Exchange System)—the store for our men in women in uniform who are deployed.

Cancelled again.

I called the AAFES command—I mean, why be a senior officer if you can’t call the military’s retail headquarters? As a civilian I can call Radio Shack headquarters—never mind.

When military are deployed their mail is routed through a system to an FPO (fleet post office) or an APO (Army post office) so that mail to overseas bases is treated—and costs—like it’s within the continental United States. However, AAFES claimed they didn’t ship to APOs or FPOs.

Huh? Isn’t that why the Military Exchange System exists?

I suspect that items like musical instruments are “drop-shipped” from the manufacturer directly to the customer. If the manufacturer was not located in the USA, then it couldn’t be sent as US mail to a US APO/FPO address. (Damn bean counters!)

Fortunately, I realized that the horse was dead, so I should stop whipping it, and went over its head, straight to . . . . . .

eBay!

Peavey Acoustic

I found a nice used acoustic guitar in the “Buy it now” section. I even talked with the seller (if you could dial back to a US base via the military system, you could then use your prepaid WalMart 5 cents-per-minute account to make a prepaid call elsewhere within the US). The seller was a nice guy who told me that he had changed out the bridge from white to black for a customer who changed his mind. Did I want it changed back?

No—just send it to me.

The vendor was either Music 123 or Musicians’ Friend—it doesn’t matter, they’re all part of the Guitar World now. The neat part was that for deployed military (you know, those with the dreaded APO and FPO addresses), these vendors, replaced the shipping cost with “Thank you for your service.” (To this day, they’re still my primary source for anything and everything musical—thanks, folks!)

For my new guitar, oddly enough I had picked a Peavey acoustic (imagine that). It arrived in short order in perfect condition. When I was “home” I tried to practice regularly and I also played at church. St. Augustine said that “He who sings, prays twice.” If you sing at a service at which I’m playing guitar, your prayers are probably worth a hundred-fold. On the other hand, one could always count dealing with my playing as penance.

After Mass one evening, Rubin, a fellow officer, approached me and asked if I wanted to play in a Beatles band. I laughed and pointed out my general (if not total) lack of talent, but Rubin (and I’m spelling his name the way I THINK he spelled it) said, “No problem, it was just for fun.” I thought about it, and figured that at the very least I’d get free guitar lessons out of the deal, so I agreed.

We didn’t get a lot of USO activity at our location, and what little we did always happened when I was on the road. There was a fair amount of excitement when a women’s volleyball team stopped by (so I hear) and Charlie Daniels performed, after which he autographed the guitar of one of the other Beatle band members. He had a black guitar with a mother-of-pearl Statue of Liberty inlay on the fretboard that had been custom made when he was stationed in Korea. Charlie signed it with a bold silver marker of some kind. The final result couldn’t have been more awesome.

But I digress, although I’m digressing about guitars, so it’s okay.

Just before Christmas, after weeks of rehearsing in a warehouse, WE became the USO show and did about 30 minutes of Beatles music for a crowd of fifty or so (after all, there was not much else to do if you weren’t on duty). However, a good time was had by all, and I had my 30 minutes of fame.

Next—a different guitar for an encore presentation.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day isn’t celebrated-it’s observed. Memorial Day—once known as “Decoration Day” dates to just after the Civil War when various groups selected a day to lay flowers on the graves of those who fell in battle. Both North and South began similar traditions; eventually ending up on the last Monday in May. Veterans Day recognizes those who have served; Memorial Day is for those who, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “Gave the last full measure.”

There is a symbol, and on special occasions, a brief ceremony to honor the fallen, and especially those who are missing in action or prisoners of war. It is commonly known as the “White Table” or “Missing Service Member (initially “man”) Table.” The following is read, explaining the significance of each item on the table. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missing_man_table

Table Ceremony Script

Preferably, the table is being set while the script is read.

The table that stands before you is a place of honor. In setting this table, we acknowledge those missing from our celebration today. And we remember them. (ring bell)

The table is small, and set for one — Symbolizing the vulnerability of a lone prisoner against his captors. Remember! (ring bell)

The tablecloth is white — Symbolizing purity of intention in responding to the nation’s call to arms. Remember! (ring bell)

The chair is empty, for they are not here. Remember! (ring bell)

The wine glass is inverted — They cannot toast with us this night. Remember! (ring bell)

The slices of lemon — Reminding us of their bitter suffering. Remember! (ring bell)

The grains of salt — Representing the countless tears of the families. Remember! (ring bell)

The single red rose — Reminding us of loved ones who keep the faith awaiting their return. Remember! (ring bell)

The burning candle and yellow ribbon — Symbolizing everlasting hope of a reunion with the missing. Remember! (ring bell)

Remember! — All who have served alongside them; we who have donned the same proud uniform, being sworn to the same faith and allegiance — We will never forget their sacrifice. Remember! (ring bell)

Remember! — Until the day they return home, or find eternal peace, we will remember. (ring bell).


Memorial Day

Graves at Arlington on Memorial Day.JPG

 

I don’t celebrate Memorial Day.

I do cook out and consider it to be the summer season and I enjoy the three-day weekend, but celebration brings to mind happier events. I do not wish people a “Happy Memorial Day.” Instead I observe Memorial Day as a day of remembrance, when we honor those who gave, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “The last full measure.”

There arguments as to how it started, but even though decorating the graves of fallen warriors is an ancient tradition, it took root in America after the Civil War. The Civil War was devastating not only in terms of bullets, but disease that swept through the armies before, during, and after the battles.

The North credits the Grand Army of the Republic—the veterans of the Union military—for starting it in 1868. They called it “Decoration Day” because of the flowers on the graves; its first observance was on May 30th because that date did not coincide with any significant Civil War battle.

There are others (including the US National Park Service) who claim that it began in Columbus, Georgia in 1866. There it was called “Memorial Day,” although after the North co-opted the idea (and the title), they called it “Confederate Memorial Day.” There was not a specific date throughout the South.

There is one other theory.  In South Carolina, Union soldiers were held in a makeshift prisoner of war camp that was actually a race course.  At least 257 Union soldiers who died in the camp were buried in unmarked graves. In 1865 freedmen—African-Americans who had been slaves—cleaned and landscaped the site and built an enclosure with an arch that said, “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

Regardless of its history, we now celebrate it on the last Monday in May with lots of sales at every retail store, and not enough thought of those who died in while in the service.

For clarity’s sake:

Memorial Day—the last Monday in May—honors service members who died while serving.

Veterans’ Day—November 11th commemorating the Armistice of World War I, which occurred at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month—honors all who served in uniform.

Armed Forces Day—The third Saturday in May—honors those currently serving.

 

 

A Day that Will Live in Infamy

Pearl

That was how Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the United States described December 7, 1941 after the Japanese attacked the military facilities in Hawaii. Pearl Harbor Navy Base received the biggest attack, but Hickam Airfield was also heavily damaged. The Japanese sank eight battleships and destroyed 350 US aircraft, most of them sitting on the ground. By luck or Divine intervention, the US aircraft carriers were at sea undergoing training; if they had been docked at Pearl Harbor, America might not have been able to resist the Japanese advances.

For good or for ill, this day does not live in infamy. Many people today are clueless about today’s significance, or even the fact that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Today Japan and the United States are strong allies. This is, perhaps, the best possible outcome out of any war. The worst outcome is to forget that liberty and security are precious gifts that are constantly at risk.

The opposite of war is not peace; the opposite of war is freedom.

Wise Advice

Lincoln

(I had written this a few days ago, but life got in the way of posting it.)

Speeches, especially speeches by politicians tend to have a powerful opening and a powerful close. The rare speech is powerful throughout; even rarer, it is short..

On this day (19 November) in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln was at the dedication of the military cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In school, many of us had to memorize that speech, but too few of us could appreciate it at such a young age. Sadly, too few adults appreciate it either. I’d like to comment on two sentences in the middle of the speech, which was only two paragraphs. The first is the last sentence of the first paragraph:

The world will little heed, nor long remember, what we say here; but it will not forget what they did here.

Did Lincoln believe this? It’s quite possible given that these were merely a few words he spoke at a cemetery dedication. Maybe he believed that much of what he did went unnoticed, and that is true of all great men. History has a habit of airbrushing PhotoShopping the warts and frailties of its heroes so the person more accurately resembles the marble busts in hallowed halls; others, history relegates to the footnotes.* Hero or not, recognized or not, a great man or a great woman does what they know to be right regardless of the consequences. The truly great tend not to be on the covers of magazines or offered reality television programs. The truly great understand that there are things greater than them, so they stand by their ideals, and stand in the shadows behind them.

As it turns out, the world did heed and remember Lincoln’s address. It also remembers the important choices the man made. When some began to revise history after the Civil War, Robert Todd Lincoln, his son, charged the president’s two secretaries–who handled his communication and sat in on most meetings–to write the factual history before it was forgotten or corrupted.

The second and final paragraph began:

It is for us rather, the living, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work that they have thus far so nobly carried forward.

That was not a charge merely to those close enough to hear President Lincoln’s speech, nor merely those in attendance, or even those alive in 1863. It is meant for all of us; we are all to continue the work of upholding the ideals of a democratic republic; To continue to view all people as deserving respect. We may be a nation of laws, but the laws are intended to provide order for the citizens. Some forget “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed” as stated in the Declaration of Independence.

Surrounded by death, in the middle of a war that had split the Union, certain that he would not survive his time in office, Lincoln’s focus was to focus on the living, including us, and remind us to keep this precious gift alive.

* e.g. Millard Filmore

Ghost Fleet

ghost-fleet-cover

I found another great book, with an interesting story behind it

Peter W. Singer is a strategist and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, was formerly the youngest fellow at the Brookings Institute, along with many other interesting credentials. He founded NeoLuddite (I love the name), a technology advisory firm, and has written a number of books, including Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, and Children at War, which explores the use of children-soldiers. Mr. Singer consults for policy makers on these and other important issues.

However, Mr. Singer believed that such information was not getting the attention it needed, so he decided to team up with another writer and present his ideas via a technothriller a la Tom Clancy. The result is Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War. I downloaded the eBook to my Kindle Tuesday morning. By Wednesday evening, interrupted by a 600+ mile drive and a college campus tour with my son, I had finished the book. Here are a few highlights.

The United States and China are strong trading partners, every bit as strong as Germany and Great Britain in 1910. Relations between China and Russia are tense. From America’s viewpoint, things look fine (and quite familiar) until the Russian cosmonauts lock the American astronaut outside the International Space Station. The Chinese have, by this time, orbited their own space station and have covertly installed weaponry. They destroy key American satellites. We’re suddenly at war, and it’s obvious that the Chinese have seriously studied our past to avoid the mistakes made by others; their attack on Pearl Harbor is much better executed and totally successful. The relationship between Russia and China is not tense, but instead they have formed an alliance to allow China and Russia to recapture their positions of power.

The Chinese have one significant advantage–almost every high tech American weapons platform has Chinese manufactured electronics, either because we allowed it, or in some cases because sub-sub-contractors substituted cheaper Chinese components for those specified. Embedded malware in the components renders most of our weapons unreliable if not totally useless. America no longer has the manufacturing base it did in the Second World War, and what capacity it does have has substantial foreign ownership interested in return on investment, not America’s survival.

Our only option is to drag out the old ships in the West Coast “ghost fleet;” obsolete vessels awaiting sale for scrap and some experimental that didn’t quite work out. Similarly, planes stored in the Air Force’s desert boneyard are pieced together, scavenging from several to get one aircraft reasonably operational. Kind of like the “hillbilly upgrades” soldiers did to Humvees in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s a desperate move, but these has-beens and never-weres all predate the use of Chinese components.

Oh, and you’ll never guess how Wal-Mart figures into the story.

The book is a wonderful mix of scary fact and intriguing fiction with interesting characters. It is truly difficult to put down.

If you liked “The Martian,” you’ll love this.

THE Interview

Today, an interview with a man who needs no introduction. Good evening sir.

Good evening. It’s a pleasure to be here.

The world today is chaotic, yet in other ways, not so much. It was not that long ago—less than a century—when a number of nations were either at war or threatening war.

It has calmed down a bit, but one never knows when some radical leader will appear, appeal to those who have nothing to lose, and create all kinds of mayhem.

As the leader of the world’s only superpower, you have, in many ways, a responsibility to keep some semblance of order in the world.

That’s much easier to say from the chair you’re sitting in than from my chair. It’s a lot of responsibility to commit our blood and treasure to some fracas in a far-off land. Maintaining a military that can accomplish that is expensive and complex. When we station troops in some trouble spot, we still have to keep them supplied with everything from food to weapons. That supply train itself is expensive. People forget that our troops are stationed around the world—Europe, Asia, Africa.

Not to mention the fact that your primary duty is keeping the people back home happy.

The economy is always a major issue with the citizens. Everyone wants protection, good roads, and plenty of fresh water, but no one likes paying for those services through their taxes.

And then there’s politics—a truly demanding and dangerous game.

Dealing with politicians is different than dealing with any other group—they’re all trying to hang onto their power, and line their purse. I swear, there are senators that would stab me in the back, if given half a chance.

Well, let’s hope that they never get such a chance. I know your time is precious and your schedule full, but I do wish to thank you for taking time today.

The pleasure is mine.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s have a round of applause for the most powerful man in the world—Julius Caesar.