12. August 2014 · Comments Off on Schrecklichkeit · Categories: Fun With Islam, Good God, GWOT, History, Iraq, Iraq: The Ugly, Military, War

It’s a German word – it means “frightfulness“ – and it was used, if memory serves and a brief internet search conforms – it was a sort of shorthand for the reprisals exacted by the German Army against civilians during both wars. If not an actual German military field policy in WWI, it had certainly become one by WWII; brutally persecute, torture and execute civilians, and make certain that such horrors became well-known through extensive documentation within the theater of operations, and outside of it. To encourage the others, as the saying goes, but on a grand scale – to make war on a civilian population, once all effective military have departed the area – in hopes of cowing everyone who sees and hears of what brutality has been meted out on the helpless, and especially the helpless.
Was it an explicit policy of the German armies to apply the principle of schrecklichkeit – by that name or another – in the field in those wars?

Whether or not dictated from the highest levels, it did have the desired effect of discouraging armed resistance … at first, anyway. Acts of extreme cruelty against civilians were definitely committed, beginning in Belgium in 1914 – and had a short-term effect in that Belgian resistance to the German juggernaut was, to put it mildly, discouraged with Teutonic efficiency. However, the long-term result was a black mark against Germany, in its conduct of that war which resounded for years and was revived again with the record of Nazi atrocities in the second.

Which brings me to reports of the horrors being committed by the Islamic radicals of ISIS, or ISIL, or whatever they are calling themselves, as they sweep into Mosul and proclaim the establishment of a renewed caliphate. I have not seen much of this reflected in the mainstream media yet – but the worst excesses are seeping out, through minor publications, blogs and social media. Of course, without all those layers of editors and fact-checkers, such excesses could be really happening, or the work of propagandists of varying degrees of sophistication … but for the fact that ISIS/ISIL make no bones about boasting of what they are doing, and sharing the pictorial and video evidence. This link was posted on Samizdata by M. Simon – and if you have a low nausea threshold, don’t go any farther than a couple of pictures. I post the link only so that readers will have an idea of exactly how horrible this situation has become. I await for the inevitable lefty-luvvie comparison to Abu Ghraib, of course.

There are likely two rationales for practicing the 21st century Islamic version of schrecklichkeit in Northern Iraq; the ISIS/ISIL fighters are extreme sadists with the blessings of an ideology which encourages them to do what they enjoy most – torturing and murdering infidels – and bragging about it. And secondly, this demoralizes those unfortunate enough to be in their way, and discourages resistance. For a time, anyway. But schrechlichkeit has a short shelf life, once those whom it is practiced on realize that there is no way out, and only one way to fight back. Eventually, as the Allies discovered in the Pacific in WWII – there comes the understanding that those who have so relished inflicting cruelty on the helpless deserve no mercy at all, and will receive none, once the tables are turned upon them. Surrender is not an option at this point – and in future neither will mercy.
(Cross-posted at Chicagoboyz.net)

Supposedly the red corn poppies that grow all over fields in Europe grow particularly well in soil that has been plowed, dug up, or otherwise extensively disturbed. There were many small fields around the outskirts of Zaragoza, and the little village of Garrapinillos where poppies grew, in some seasons and fields so thickly as to show nothing but red.

Most experts are certain that the association between WWI and blood-red field poppies was established because of the poem by John McCrae, which begins, “In Flanders fields, the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row…” and which became almost immediately popular upon being first published in the second year of the war. Well before the end of the war, the visual of red poppies was inextricably bound to the notion of wartime service and sacrifice in Canada, Britain and the United States. At the end of the war, it was adopted by the American Legion as a symbol of remembrance, Frenchwomen sold silk poppies to raise money for war orphans, and the British Legion adopted the practice of wearing red poppies during the period leading up to Remembrance Day. To this day, the sale of artificial poppies benefits various programs to support veterans and active duty military in England, Canada and the United States.

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of that war, and one of the most eye-catching temporary memorials is an installation at the Tower of London, where the dry moat will be filled with 800,000 ceramic red poppies, spilling down from one of the outer tower windows – one poppy for every Commonwealth casualty over four bitter years of blood and sacrifice. There are only about an eighth of the total installed so far … but the pictures are riveting. The installation – called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red will be finished by Remembrance Day – November 11.

16. June 2014 · Comments Off on Comment Would Be Superfluous · Categories: Ain't That America?, Fun With Islam, GWOT, Iraq: The Bad, Military · Tags: ,

Iraq Embassy Evac

A Ramirez cartoon, lifted from a commenter at Rantburg who posted it in a discussion of the evacuation of the US Embassy in Iraq.

10. June 2014 · Comments Off on Secrets and Open Secrets · Categories: Ain't That America?, Fun With Islam, GWOT, Military, Politics, Rant, sarcasm, War

It has amused me for years, how ordinary civilians, media figures and scriptwriters for movies and TV shows can believe so strongly that the military is one big monolithic secret-keeping machine; something which happens on a base, post, or on the front lines will never, ever see the light of day in the larger world and that the military commands can keep something quiet for years or decades. If it is something tippy-top secret, and know to only a few – well, yes, in that case. But quite often something – a program, a wild idea, a mission—remains unknown largely on account of lack of interest on the part of the larger world or the establishment news media organs. The military is actually far from being the big monolithic secret-keeping machine, once you get away from the deliberately highly-classified, ultra-secret-squirrel stuff.

During George Bush’s second term, the reporter Seymour Hersh was given to go around giving lectures to anti-war audience claiming that all kinds of horrible massacres were being perpetrated by American troops; massively violent stuff on the order of My Lai in the Middle East, involving scores of victims and whole companies of U.S. Army and Marine troops. Bodies stacked up by the bale, according to Mr. Hersh, who was at least careful enough not to commit these incredible tales to print. Mr. Hersh, I think, has the monolithic military secret-keeping meme on the brain. The atrocities which he was alleging to have happened among front-line troops in Iraq just could not have happened, not without a lot of personnel inside of the military family knowing. The truth is that the possibility of keeping something out of general knowledge in the military world expands geometrically with the number of people involved, directly or peripherally. And nothing much happens in the military world stays secret for long; yes, the knowledge of certain matters may not seep out into the ken of the greater public and the news establishment professionals – but that’s because military members are routinely briefed about OPSEC (operations security) and they don’t spill to outsiders, much. Something that may be common knowledge to those inside the family, as it were, may go for years without attracting undue attention or interest on the part of those outside of it.

Mr. Hersh and other fantasists might well have had an easier job in peddling incredible stories of military malfeasance in pre-internet days; it would take months and years for allegations to make the rounds and for those inside the military family to even become aware of them and respond – and then, of course, it was already over. History had been engraved in stone, as it were; set there by being repeated over and over. Any debunking was too late and too little. But the internet and a generation or two of tech-savvy and social media troops have tightened the OODA loop considerably. It took a good few decades for many of the established memes regarding Vietnam veterans – sullen draftees, drug-abusing, unstable, baby-killing losers – to be debunked by researchers like B. G. Burkett, and even now that meme refuses, zombie-like to lay down and die. It twitches now and again, over the last ten years or so, but refreshingly, military members and veterans today are instantly aware and more than willing to swing into social media action to debunk sensational accusations and to unmask fraudulent veterans – or even to speak out when there is a controversy such as Bowe Bergdahl’s status as a POW or as a deserter. Which brings me around to the thing about secrets. Among the milblogs like Blackfive there was no secret about there being something hinky regarding the circumstances of his disappearance from his duty station in Afghanistan. It wasn’t a big thing, but it came up now and again; one of those open secrets among the milblog family and commenters. Very likely, everyone that he served with and under knew that he was a flakey, unmotivated soldier, and after he went under the wire, a deserter as well. But it was one of those open secrets – which, because the Obama administration didn’t care to look before they leaped into a deal, a distraction and a show and tell in the Rose Garden, has now come back to bite – heavily.

Couldn’t happen to nicer people, I would say; except that whatever does happen next, in the wake of freeing five upper-level operators from Guantanamo, will very likely not land on the Obama administration or it’s high-level flunkies. Most likely, it will land on the rest of us, starting with those in the uniformed services.

(Crossposted at Chicagoboyz.net)

26. May 2014 · Comments Off on For Memorial Day · Categories: Ain't That America?, Military, War

American Cemetery at Chateau Thierry (Picture by Sgt, Mom, August, 1985)

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

(from Laurence Binyon’s For the Fallen)

27. March 2014 · Comments Off on Winston Churchill Funeral · Categories: European Disunion, Good God, History, Military, World · Tags:

Found through a comment at Neo-Neocon.
A reminder of what Britain used to be.

20. March 2014 · Comments Off on I Was Always Told … · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, Good God, Military, Rant, sarcasm · Tags: ,

Not to speak ill of the dead. But in the case of Fred Phelps, of the loathsome Westwood Baptist Church (which actually had no connection whatsoever with the formal Baptist church establishment save the name, and that was doubtless a bit of self-serving publicity. I’d lay any amount of money that the regular Baptists would have liked to have paid a pretty penny to make him promise to call his nasty little sect anything but Baptist … where was I? Oh, back to the convoluted sentence…) I could be tempted to make an exception.

God is infinitely merciful, and He is the ultimate judge, so I’ll leave it to Him to decide if Fred Phelps should be eternally deep-fried like a basket of French fries in the everlasting boiling lake of Hell … but I would argue that he richly deserves that fate for several reasons: One – he and his loathsome little sect coldly and deliberately used the pain and grief of other people. This was either to torment them for their own micro-sectarian jollies, as a means of getting in front of the TV cameras – or provoking outraged mourners into laying violent hands upon their disgusting and manipulative persons for the purposes of extorting money out of them by means of a lawsuit. All three reasons are sufficiently loathsome, IMHO, to justify hellfire. This judgment is not mine to make. It was not theirs, either, but this realization didn’t seem to instill any degree of Christian humility in the members of the cult.

Two – their actions noted in the above paragraph certainly did not reflect any credit on the Protestant denominations, or on American Christians, generally. Likely, they served to drive ordinary people away from an understanding of God and his many mansions.

On the other hand, I am told that Fred Phelps was a long-time Democrat party activist. So he can and probably will go on voting. There is life after death, you know.

02. March 2014 · Comments Off on TV Made the Old Way · Categories: AARRRMY TRAINING SIR!!!, Media Matters Not, Military

Left to myself, I don’t think I would have watched Enlisted, but Blondie insisted, saying it was pretty darned funny a show, and had the right ‘feel’ for a comedy about the present-day military. Or at least – the US military as it was a couple of years ago. (What it is becoming as of this very moment, I have no idea.) So, I we watched the first three or four episodes together, and darned if she isn’t right. It’s a funny, rapid-fire comedy about three brothers at an Army post in Florida, which is affectionate, respectful and knowledgeable about military life … something that I swear hasn’t been seen on network television since Gomer Pyle, USMC or No Time for Sergeants, although perhaps Major Dad took some detours through that route.

Blame me for being jaded, as regards television; a couple of years ago I realized that most shows were just the same-old, same-old, served up one more time. Same old doctor-lawyer-cop triad, same old mystery twist I had seen twenty times before, same old cliché characters, dressed up with a few 21st century attire and attitudes…

All in all, Enlisted is well worth watching – and with luck, perhaps it will last more than just one season. There haven’t been any sudden nasty thwacks of conventional political correctness, so far. And we appreciate a nice little grace note at the end of every episode; service pictures of various kin of people having something to do with show production. Who would have thought it – people working on a TV show about the military life actually having a familial connection to the military? Seriously, that alone is worth a mention.

By the way, I am not the least interested in the Academy Awards. Although … I do have a mild academic interest in what is awarded Best Picture (purely for trivial knowledge points in future), and which actress wears the fugliest dress on the red carpet. Other than that – the last picture I went to see in a theater was the latest installation of The Hobbit, and the last before that was the first installation of the Hobbit.

PS – Enlisted does have a Facebook page. Go ahead and like. You know you want to.

Sigh – now that the story of this particularly classless young Army troop has gone all the way around the world, mayhap it’s time for me to weigh in. Look, young Private Torkwad – having to stand at attention at 5 PM, or whenever the official end of the duty day is marked with the lowering of the flag and the sounding of taps – is an established custom on military bases. If caught in the open at those times, stand and render, if in an automobile, pull over and sit at attention. This is the proper procedure, and those who are cognizant of it are pretty well hep to the timing of the day. No, there is no particular shame to neatly time your errands while around and about on post/base to be indoors at 5 sharp; most sharp young troops figure this out within a year or two of going on active duty.

(My daughter figured it out within days of her first overseas at Iwakuni, where the 5 PM retreat involved not just taps, but also playing the US national anthem, the Japanese national anthem, the US Navy anthem and the USMC Hymn. Twenty minutes at least of rigid attention, facing in the direction of the flagpole.) They also figure out that making a flagrant dash for the nearest door at the first notes is obvious, crass, and extremely disrespectful of custom and tradition. Being observed to do so will draw an attitude adjustment session, either impromptu and on the spot by any NCO or officer observing that action, or in your commander/NCOIC’s office later. But going to far as to post pictorial evidence of this on social media goes way beyond all that into unexplored depths of witless self-regard.

See here, Private Torkwad, let me explain it to you in simple terms. When you are in uniform, you are seen as a representative of the military. You are essentially on duty – even if it’s your own Facebook page. Even if you are not formally assigned to the post public affairs office, you still represent the military in the eyes of civilians. Your actions reflect upon the military no less than yourself … and believe me; you have outed yourself as immature, borderline illiterate, extremely self-centered, and appear to take more care of your makeup than your responsibilities as a member of the military. In the pre-social media era, no one would have been aware of this outside your immediate chain of command, and frankly, no one else would have much cared. You would have been reprimanded, and perhaps learned from the experience and gone on to become a stellar young troop and a good example of what the American armed forces can be. Probably just about everyone who ever put on a uniform has done things – reckless, potentially embarrassing and ill-considered things – which by the grace of god, were not a matter of public record.

Console yourself, Private Torkwad, with the knowledge that you are not the only troop ever to screw up. However, now that the matter of your particular screw-up has become of passing interest outside your immediate chain of command, the repercussions will be if not more severe, possibly more personally embarrassing. The internet, dear Private Torkwad, is forever, and everywhere, so do consider this, the next time you post a picture of yourself in uniform to the internet. My own advice to you in this matter is to say no more to anyone (especially in your chain of command) than, “It’s my fault, I screwed up, I’m sorry, and it won’t ever happen again.” Repeat as often as necessary. You’ll be a better troop for it.

09. January 2014 · Comments Off on Musical Interlude – Done With Bonaparte · Categories: European Disunion, History, Military

Always loved Mark Knopfler’s music, with and without Dire Straits. Enjoy

15. December 2013 · Comments Off on Time Passages · Categories: Air Force, Military, Technology

Sgt Celia copyCuriosity led me to look up the history of the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service – from which I parted company about two and a half years before I retired from the military. I found a couple of names I recalled – a guy who was a baby airman when I knew him, now a master-sergeant and instructor at the military broadcaster training school, which amused the hell out of me. Well, someone has to do that – just that I had never seen him as having that potential at all. Frankly, I’m still surprised there still is an Armed Forces Radio and Television, what with the international reach of satellite radio and TV these days. For all of me, the military information mission could be folded up and inserted as needed as public service announcements and segments into regular commercial satellite radio and television programs beamed overseas.

Oh, I had fun for a time with various assignments in my career field, and didn’t bring down any particular discredit on the various outlets I was assigned to, unlike some that I could mention, but the bald truth of it is that it was a dying career field, and moreover, one which had an unenviable reputation for chewing people up and spitting them out. Add in the fact that you were guaranteed to spend long stretches overseas or in remote locations, and any assignments back in CONUS were guaranteed to be very, very short ones … it was only natural that the appeal of working in a in that field would wear thin after a while. I looked around one day, when I had about fifteen years total active federal military service, and realized that every station manager I had ever worked for had cracked up in some spectacular manner, either physically or emotionally. There was the one who tried to commit suicide – twice – the one who barely survived the heart attack and the quadruple bypass which ensued, the one who had to work several outside jobs to keep up with the alimony and child support for all of his ex-wives, a handful who were serious alcoholics, the one who tried to stiff the US government with a false claim on his travel voucher … it went on, and on.

Reflecting on this dismaying tendency, I concluded that it was because of a particular kind of stress inherent in having a management position of the kind that broadcasters did. There was an enormous amount of responsibility, but no hands-on effective control. That, so I was told in several professional development courses that took over the years, was guaranteed to produce a high level of stress. One had to see that certain tasks were performed – there were so many hours of live programming produced by the staff, so many spots and readers, that so many hours of television programming were aired – but the means of ensuring that it all happened were all severely limited. One had to operate within the constraints imposed by the supply chain, the transport chain, the station’s individual technological capabilities, peculiarities of the host nation (some of which – notably Greece – were flat-out insane), the personnel system, plain old human nature, and the fact that most stations were tiny tenant units on a larger base. Throw in the demands of a distant headquarters – whose demands were quite often contradictory when they weren’t nonsensical … a good few years of this would begin to tell on the most able, dedicated NCO.

I didn’t see any of these stressors during my breaks from broadcasting, when I worked in the PA shop, or in the military video production service. I saw excellent managers, high morale, an achievable mission, support from higher HQ and realistic expectations of personnel. I got my very-best performance ratings and service citations during those stretches – which to me merely emphasized the dysfunction in the broadcaster organization. I’d have cross-trained in a heart-beat, if I could have, but the high panjandrums of military broadcasting didn’t allow it; you couldn’t even get out to be a recruiter or a DI, which is usually an all-paid-expenses escape with the blessings of your personnel manager. So, I got out of it the only way possible – by bailing at 20 years and never looking back. So did another NCO that I knew – the finest all around broadcaster, manager and leader that I ever worked with; good at everything, which was rather rare (most people had a strong suit of technical skill, administrative wizardry, or leadership, or a combination of any two) – he didn’t make any higher rank than I did. He went into local politics – he’s a city councilman in Plano, Texas these days. I scribble historical fiction. We both got something out of being military broadcasters for a while, but sometimes I do wonder if any other career field would have done better for us.

10. September 2013 · Comments Off on That Old 1930s Feeling · Categories: Fun and Games, General, General Nonsense, Military, Politics, sarcasm

Hey, boys and girls – lets all join in and support President Obama’s great new project – what about it?

that is apparently unasked by the establishment news outlets … where ARE these oh-so-very principled anti-war celebs? The world waits, y’know.

…the wide wide world of sports is going on here? The IRS trolling for specific information on members of individual American Legion posts, requiring proof of the individual member’s veteran status as a way of pinning local American Legion posts to the wall, for some kind of purpose besides vulgar curiosity … hmm, that’s just what they did to various Tea Party organizations applying for certain exemptions. Asked for terribly specific information … my, who doesn’t think that isn’t going into some enormous database somewhere? Military veterans and retirees, in my humble opinion and experience tend to be rather more to the libertarian-conservative side of the political scale, for a number of reasons, chief of them being that we spent a certain number of years living in a fairly conformist and regimented life …in which most of us (save those initially drafted before the advent of the all-volunteer force) freely volunteered for. But the military experience doesn’t necessarily leave us with a lifetime fondness for living under the watchful eye of a higher authority and having every teeny little jot and tittle of personal lives and conduct scrutinized and counseled over… oh, no, my chickadees. It does not.

Quite often, it inculcates a dislike of all-encompassing chicken-sh*t authority exercised over the minutiae of daily living and a wide streak of defiant independence. Looking back on my service life, I suppose that for me the breaking point came when one of my troops – blessed with living in base housing at a base which shall be unnamed – was called at about mid-morning of an extremely busy work-day by a representative of the base housing office. He had inadvertently left his back door porch light on. Nothing would content the minions who ruled base accommodations but that he drop everything that he was doing, rush home, and turn off the back porch light. Apparently, the housing office felt that a 20-or-so watt bulb burning for another five hours was an insupportable burden. And yes – it is true that the power bill for such did come to the base housing office – but still. I took away from the experience that I would never want to live in base housing, ever. And if I chose to leave a damned 20 watt bulb burning, I would, as long as I was paying for it myself.
The other things that the military experience leaves indelibly imprinted on those who have served is a sense of responsibility, a sense of obligation which runs both ways – what you are obligated to society for, and what, if anything, society owes you – and of possibility. The military veteran’s interpretation of responsibility, obligation and possibility are all, I suspect, anathema to the current administration; I also suspect that their world-view inclines them to believe that getting something changed consists merely of making a great and stinking fuss about that which does not please them – rather like test animals working out the right way to pull the right lever. Eventually the powers that be grumble and randomly or purposefully disgorge a meager pellet of solution.

Veterans are used to getting things done and seeing things through. They are often accustomed to working together in coordinated fashion, able to see the possibilities and to work toward a viable solution, who bring solid experience in real-world planning and coping with unexpected contingencies … well, such people are not much inclined to waste time randomly pulling a lever, but are more interested in direct action … and not playing games of the sort that Thomas Wolfe described as ‘mau-mauing the flack-catchers.’ It must appear to the current administration that organizations formed around veterans – the Legion and the VFW, not to mention any number of smaller and informal groups, or even just groups with a large veteran component, like local Tea Parties, or even the post-WWII Battle of Athens, where a number of veterans coordinated a political response to a viciously corrupt local machine. The DHS appears to consider military veterans as possible potential future terrorist, too – so, one might be forgiven for assuming that this current administration entertains lively fears regarding veterans as a group in opposition, or in at least, potential opposition.

(Crossposted at www.chicagoboyz.net)

27. May 2013 · Comments Off on For Memorial Day · Categories: Ain't That America?, Military, War

Arizona Flag 1971 Flag, over the Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.

31. March 2013 · Comments Off on Fun and Games with the Norks · Categories: Cry Wolf, Fun and Games, Literary Good Stuff, Local, Military, sarcasm, War

Ok, so it looks like North Korea, in the person of Li’l Pudgy Kim has upped their game in the routine and semi-annual national unity game of chicken. (The Norks do this every six months, usually when they want to squeeze some concessions out of the outside world. It’s like an overgrown toddler throwing an international temper tantrum.). Likely, all of his generals (or uncles, even the generals who are not his uncles) have to go along and make the usual noises and poses for the cameras, in spite of the fact that for all their resplendent ribbon-salad displays – they have not fought an all-out, balls-to-the wall war since 1954. Which war was nearly sixty years and three wars ago, as Americans are counting it, which means that their equipment must be getting pretty worn-out as well as their tactical schemes and field practice for using them – outside the boundaries of a pretty tightly-controlled war game which will allow no margin for making the Kim dynasty’s pet soldiers look bad in any way, shape or form.

So, while they might have been able to buy some new stuff on the international black market – which hints that those drug sales by their diplomatic staff must really be paying off, big-time, and they might actually be able to hit what they might be aiming at, on a good day, depending on what they have purchased, and if their vendors didn’t rob them blind, and if the Chinese actually gave them some of the good stuff … still, I remain unworried. Relatively, it must be noted. Alas, while I do believe they can hit Seoul on a good day with their artillery, and kidnap lonely strangers off the beachfront towns in Japan in the wee hours, and possibly come close to hitting Japan with something high-explosive … whacking the continental United States with a ballistic missile is a bit of a chancy prospect. Even trying to smuggle something past the borders in a box-car would probably be a better shot.

But Li’l Pudgy may be just the one maniac to walk it far, far beyond where it can be gracefully walked back. Although this current administration likely will give him every assistance in doing so, being as they seem to be ready to give away the farm every time some international bad-ass gives them a hard look. Still, I’d love to know why the Norks are appearing to target Austin, Texas, as part of their threats to launch missiles in the general direction of the continental United States. Really – Austin? That little patch of blue in an otherwise red state? Holy crapola, Batman, the Leg may be in session this year, but on an Easter break. Was Li’l Pudgy mad at Samsung, or not getting an invite to SXSW this year, or is he just assuming that Austin is the storage site for our vital strategic barbeque reserves. It is good to see that apparently the local humorists are having fun with all this. (See this category on Twitchy.)

And that’s my weekend; half spent in the vegetable garden, seeing how many new varieties of tomato plants that I can sneak in without my daughter noticing, and the other half scribbling and posting on line.

PS- I just put up a new Kindle book of my blog-posts about Texas – The Heart of Texas. Think of it as a set of extended footnotes from my books; The Adelsverein Trilogy, Daughter of Texas, Deep in the Heart, and the latest – The Quivera Trail, which should be ready to roll in November. Assuming that the Norks aren’t really aiming for San Antonio, and this Austin stuff wasn’t a diversion.

17. January 2013 · Comments Off on A Brief Memoir of Guns · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, History, Home Front, Memoir, Military, Old West · Tags: , ,

Oddly enough – guns were not a terribly real presence in the household – or even the neighborhood where I grew up. Dad, and our near friends and neighbors didn’t hunt, and as near as I can recall, none of them were obsessed collectors. I never even saw a firearm, in use on on display – save in the holsters of law enforcement personnel – all the time that I was growing up. The use of firearms of any sort was an issue so far off the table that it wasn’t even in the same room. Oh, my brother JP had cap pistols, and Dad did possess two sidearms – a pistol, which may have been a Luger, and with which he nailed a particularly annoying gopher one evening with a clean shot through the nasty little buggers’ head – and a Navy Colt (actual model unspecified), which was rather more of a relic than a useful firearm. I saw it once and once only.

Dad kept those firearms in some secure place in the house; I do not know where, never wondered and none of us children were never motivated enough to search for them. We just were not that curious about guns, even though the Colt had a story behind it. Mom and Dad had found it secreted away between some rocks on the beach, in a battered old-fashioned leather holster, I think about the time that they were living in Laguna Beach when Dad had just gotten back from a tour of Army service in Korea – or possibly this happened when we were all living in GI-Bill student housing in Santa Barbara. From what Mom had said, some six or eight months before they found it, there had been a robbery of a local gun collector. They didn’t hear about the robbery for months or possibly years afterwards – so, they kept it. I don’t imagine Dad ever attempted to fire it, although being a tidy and logical person, he might have cleaned it up before putting it away.

Being a west-coast suburban sort of person, and since Dad and none of his friends were hunters – guns just were not a presence in real life, save in holsters on the hips of law enforcement personnel. As strange as it may sound to a European, or to someone from an American inner-city sink, it is entirely possible to live for decades without ever seeing anyone but a law enforcement officer carry a weapon, or witness an act of gun violence or the aftermath thereof. Just chalk that up to being a middle-class person with absolutely no inclination to walk on the wild side … of anything. It is possible that any number of my friends and neighbors at the time, or since then, had a side-arm or long gun which they kept quietly in a closet, or in the glove box of their car. Taking it out and waving it about was just not the done thing.

In point of fact – I never even handled a weapon personally until well into my military service; first an M-16, which I had to qualify on sometime in the early 1980s, and then again with a Beretta pistol in the early 1990s, upon being suddenly faced with a TDY to Saudi Arabia, better known as the Magic Kingdom. American military personnel with orders there had to be qualified to handle that sidearm. Fortunately, the orders fell through once the powers who issued them realized that I was not the flight-qualified documentary photog they were looking for.

And then I finished up settling in Texas, and turning to writing historical fiction, in which guns of various sorts do play a part. Again, although Texas is supposed to be the wild, wild, gun-loving west, personal weapons generally they aren’t any more visible here then they were back when I was a kid … although I do believe more of my friends and acquaintances here do have them – mostly as collectors and historical enthusiasts. Again, usually only the law enforcement officers carry openly … unless it is a historical reenactment event, and then it’s katy-bar-the-door. Through the offices of another blogger, I did manage to get a brief course in the use and maintenance of an early Colt revolver, and through the good offices of another friend, we enjoyed an afternoon of black-power shooting on a ranch near Beeville. But all of that – and a bit of ghost-writing about early revolvers is about all that I have ever had to do with guns. I should hate to think that I might need more than this – because it will truly mean that my world has changed, and not for the better.

(Crossposted at my book blog)

14. January 2013 · Comments Off on Monday Miscellany – Mid-January Version · Categories: Domestic, Health and Wellness, Military, Politics, Rant, Veteran's Affairs

Another one of those interesting weeks, where I have been so busy and the headlines so full of various incidents which I might comment upon … that I am actually so spoiled for choice that I can’t make up my mind on which to deal with first.
Like – Jodie Foster coming out as gay. Ok, I am sure there are some cloistered religious under a vow of silence somewhere up a mountain to whom that comes as a surprise. And possibly a few others who might even care.
According to this story, the troops won’t get paid, and the whole US economy will go crash if the GOP doesn’t go along quietly and raise the debt ceiling. Sigh. Always with the ‘gonna close the Washington Monument!’ threat, if the budget for the Park Service is cut. Sigh. That ploy has got a longer beard on it than a seventy-year old Grateful Dead fan. Like President Kardashian gives a rip about the troops anyway, except when he needs his a** hauled to Hawaii on AF-1, or a nice uniformed dial-a-crowd for a photo op and doesn’t want to risk any booing or thrown rotten vegetables.

Sigh – on the the personal stuff; I finally had to make an appointment about the bronchial cough that had me sounding like I was hacking up portions of lung on a regular basis. Brooke Army Medical Center, where I have chosen to be seen since my retirement – on the basis of making it easier not to have to go round and round with a civilian medical provider – has expanded exponentially in the last three or four years. Much of the pocket of land just off IH-35 which once had just the main three-part brick tower, a circular apron of parking lot around and a good few acres of crusty mown meadow, is now entirely filled in with a huge annex, other support buildings and a multi-tier parking garage. I was not looking forward to threading my way through the newly-complicated maze, but now BAMC outpatients will seen on an appointment basis in a lavish new clinic building on Fort Sam itself. I think back on the troop clinic at Yongsan – sick call for the troops in a ratty old Korean-war era barrack building, where pretty much everyone under the rank of E-6 had to come to mass sick-call four times a week and be brutally treated like malingerers by the staff when they did so – and I smile. The cough seems to be better, by the way, under the onslaught of several different prescriptions. The doctor was a sweetie, by the way. Retired AF medico; also unhesitatingly put me on something for high blood pressure. Apparently, that is to be my chronic complaint for the remainder of life.

I am working on stuff for two different book clients and an editing job – so for a basically unemployed person, I am pretty darned busy. And that’s my week – yours?

It looks really weird to me, this last Veteran’s Day weekend … not even a week after the election results came in. A couple of days after General Petreus put in his resignation as head of the CIA – conveniently for the American news cycle – on a Friday before a three-day weekend. So, kind of astonished over that – a mere several days before he was to testify about whatever was going on with regard to our quasi-official establishment in Benghazi on the 11th of September last. Of course, the second most astonishing aspect to me is that the head of the CIA can’t keep an affair secret, and the third most astonishing is that someone so politically wily as to be able to pin on four stars would still be stupidly reckless enough to engage on such a very public affair. What, were they doing the horizontal mambo in the middle of the parade ground at reveille at whatever base they were at in Afghanistan? Ok, never undervalue the comfort of situational friendships between persons of the opposite sex in a far country, double if in a war zone. Been there and … err, backed off from doing that, in the physical sense. But the friendship was enormously satisfactory; a way of getting through a hard tour in a distant and unforgivingly difficult place, and a lot of people there with us and who noted that we were a quasi-official couple also probably assumed that our relationship included an ongoing sexual aspect. Which it did not; part of the friendship involved an understanding between us that carrying it that far would inflict unacceptable damage on each other, emotionally and professionally. I thought the world of him, and he loved his family, back in the World; that’s the way that responsible and caring adults manage that kind of situation. It’s in the field, and it ends in the field.

But the way that the Petreus mess is expanding is enough to cause me to raise an eyebrow – and now it turns out that the second woman involved – is she the South Beach Mata Hari or what? – also had a good friend of the multi-star adorned command-rank level, as well as the somewhat dogged interest of the investigating FBI agent, who sent her a pic of him shirtless… dear god, people – this is not high school. Or at least, I assumed it was not. As it is, I could swear I watched a story line like this on General Hospital in the late 1970s, only with doctors, nurses and consultants, instead of commanders, reporters and socialites.

It is curious though – the sudden retirements, resignations, and reassignments of high-ranking and notable officers lately. It’s almost like there is something going on: earlier there was that kerfuffle about General Carter Ham being relieved of duty, with dark hints that it was because of events in Benghazi. On the bright side, though – since General Petreus was deeply involved in the events of 9/11/2012 in Benghazi, it just might be that there might be a little more interest in what happened there than has been displayed so far by our mighty mainstream press.
Or not.

24. October 2012 · Comments Off on Alamein, Tobruk and Alex · Categories: History, Literary Good Stuff, Military, War, World

I wouldn’t have remembered that this week marks another WWII battle anniversary – that of El Alamein which ran for nearly two weeks in October and November 1942 – but for seeing a story or two in the Daily Mail about it. (A reflection upon the death spiral of the mainstream news is that I have a relatively low-brow popular British newspaper among my internet tool-bar favorites, rather than my own local metropolitan publication … alas, that is how low those local newspapers have fallen. Seriously, stuff shows up on the Daily Mail page days before it does in strictly American-oriented media. Sorry about that, San Antonio Express News.)
That second battle at El Alamein which broke the back of the Axis, revived Allied morale, and saw the beginning of the end of any attempt by the Germans to get control of the Suez Canal was a significant turn in that campaign in the deserts of North Africa. The fighting mostly involved British and Commonwealth and a scattering of Free Polish troops against the Germans and Italians; back and forth in Egypt and Libya almost as if it were a sea battle – fought not in water, but in sand. It’s a matter almost out of historical memory, especially for Americans who really only got involved at the tail end. Our memories of the desert war are mostly retained in movies like Casablanca, or a television series like The Rat Patrol.
More »

23. October 2012 · Comments Off on After Math · Categories: Devil Dogs, Media Matters Not, Military, Politics, Rant, Veteran's Affairs, World

I own to being vaguely disappointed with our man Mittens’ performance in last night’s debate, as I had cherished fond hopes that Mitt Romney would mop the floor with the Obamster, and then clean up those little spills and smudges remaining with the hapless moderator, but then I am a writer and frustrated dramatist. I want the spectacular scene, dammit … but perhaps as other commenters have pointed out, Mittens was playing the long, cool game, and just letting the Obamster have enough rope to hang himself with. Lord knows, his crack about bayonets and horses, and about ships that have aircraft land on them and other ships that go below the surface of the ocean may have just finally and ultimately annoyed veterans and service members. As has been commented in other place, submarines are called boats … ships that go below the surface of the ocean are called ‘sunk’… anyway, my daughter very well recalls being issued a bayonet as a member of the Marine Corps. And milblogger Donald Sensing ran the historical numbers, comparing the present military and that of 1916 vis a vis bayonet possession. Oopsy – the US military does in fact have more bayonets now, than in 1916. As for horses … well, we probably do have fewer horses in inventory now than in 1916. Two out of three ain’t bad.

It’s a moot point as far as Blondie and I are concerned, as we went to vote at the early-voting polling place around midday on Monday, which was the first day of early voting in Texas. Any sort of malevolent October Surprise intended to depress voter turnout and Republican Party spirits on November 6th had better be uncorked real soon if it is to have any effect. The parking lot of the library was jammed, and the line to get into the room set up as the polling place wound halfway through the main library. It moved fast, though. The volunteers were on-point and very, very busy. It had been so, all morning long. Blondie said, “If it’s this way now, how bad is it going to be on Election Day?”

Two weeks today … fourteen more days. I would hate to be proved embarrassingly wrong about all this, especially if I were being paid big bucks to be a mainstream media prognosticator – but I am not. I will go far enough to venture that I do sense a turning of the tide, in favor of Romney/Ryan, and the Tea Party Libertarian/Conservatives generally. I don’t think I am being deluded by wishful thinking, or through being generally in a libertarian/conservative information bubble … or in Texas, which constitutes pretty much the same thing. In the whole of my neighborhood, there are only five or six Obama-Biden yard signs, another seven or eight signs for a Lloyd Doggett, a long-time Democrat Party senatorial candidate who apparently had to go district-shopping after being re-districted. Against that – twenty or more Romney-Ryan signs, and one or two more spotted every day. My gut-feeling is that Obama now has the stink of fear and desperation on him, now that he has a real-life record, rather than just soaring oratory and the slavish devotion of the mainstream media and the Hollywood establishment. There’s only so much that can be covered up, plastered over and excused when voters have their own experience to consult.

Really – who are you going to believe; Chris Matthews, and Eva Longoria, or the evidence of your lying eyes?

27. January 2012 · Comments Off on No Ship Named For Murtha · Categories: Ain't That America?, Good God, In the Navy, Military, Veteran's Affairs, Wild Blue Yonder

It appears that a great number of veterans and relatives of veterans are increasingly incensed at the news that the late Senator Murtha may have a new Navy ship named for him. The late senator was famed for nearly being nailed in the Abscam scandal, lo these many decades ago, for sucking down absolutely mind-boggling quantities of political pork for his district, and last but not least, pre-judging the Marines charged in the so-called Haditha incident.

Those veterans and relatives feel so strongly about this gross insult to military honor that they have opened a website, and a means of communication their displeasure to the Secretary of the Navy.
This is the website –


Go, therefore, and do your duty, with regard to their petition. That is all.
(sorry, means of posting embedded links has gone the same way as the ability to post pictures.)

24. January 2012 · Comments Off on Turning Point · Categories: History, Media Matters Not, Military, That's Entertainment!, War, World

My daughter and I are watching and very much enjoying the period splendors of Downton Abbey, showing on the local PBS channel here over the last couple of weeks – just as much as my parents and I enjoyed Upstairs, Downstairs – the original version, yea these decades ago. Of course, the thrust of this season is the effects of WWI on the grand edifice of Edwardian society in general. The changes were shattering … they seemed so at the time, and even more in retrospect, to people who lived through the early 20th century in Western Europe, in Russia, the US and Canada. In reading 20th century genre novels, I noted once that one really didn’t see much changing in book set before and after WWII, save for the occasional mention of a war having been fought: people went to the movies, listened to the radio, drove cars, wore pretty much the same style of clothes … but in novels set before and after WWI, the small changes in details were legion.

England, France, Germany, Austria, Russia – they were the epicenter, seemingly – the place where it hit hardest, and afterwards nothing was ever the same. Of course, in Russia with the Red Revolution and all, things were quite definitely never the same, and Austria lost the last bits of empire … and the other nations were gutted of a whole generation of young men. In the American experience, the only thing which came close was the Civil War, where a single battle in Pennsylvania, or Virginia or Tennessee could be the means of casually extinguishing the lives of all the young men in a certain township or county… just gone, in a few days or hours of hot combat around a wheat field, a peach orchard, a sunken bend in a country road. The Western front (not to negate the war in the Italian Alps, at Gallipoli or the Germans and Russians) went on more or less at that horrendous rate, week in, week out – for years.

The marks of it are still horrifyingly visible, even though the numbers of living veterans of it can be about counted on the fingers of a pair of hands. Because it’s not only the survivors’ trauma – it’s the mark and void left by the fallen. So many that I remember a college textbook of mine – I think that it was a required sociology or statistics course – had the population breakdowns by age of various European countries. In all cases, there was a pronounced dip in the numbers of males who would have been of early adult age in 1914-1918. This is reflected again in the acres and acres of white crosses in Flanders, on the tight-packed lists of names carved on memorials large and small; not too much marked in the United States, but in the Commonwealth nations, and especially in Britain itself, that sense of loss must have seemed suffocating. Even low and middle-brow genre novels showed the scars that WWI left, especially if they were written by contemporaries to the conflict. Memoirs, histories, memorials and all… there was loss written large, by people who looked at the ‘before’ and then at the present ‘after’ with an aching sense of the void between, a muddy void into which friends, schoolmates, lovers, husbands, fathers, uncles, brothers and certain illusions had all vanished.

Nothing was the same, afterwards.

Although perhaps the war wasn’t directly the change agent, it pushed some developments already in the works farther along than they would have been. The war served as a handy delineating point for those who lived through it … electricity everywhere, motor cars ditto, airplanes as something more than a toy for enthusiasts, women voting and wearing short shirts and routinely forgoing corsets, half a dozen live-in servants in a big house which once had been staffed by three times that many … all that. The worst loss was something a little less concrete – and that was, I think, a certain sense of confidence and optimism. I like writing about the 19th century because of that very thing: generally people believed with their whole hearts and without a speck of cynicism, that the conditions of their lives were steadily improving, that conditions which had plagued mankind for centuries were fixable, and that their leaders were able and well-intentioned. All those beliefs were deeply shaken or utterly destroyed during those four years – and that is why that war still casts a long shadow. And makes for an interesting and evocative television show – like Downton Abby and Upstairs, Downstairs.

I did a tour in Korea in 1993-94, which hardly makes me an expert on the place, seeing that I have that in common with a fair number of Army and Air Force personnel over the past half-century plus. Reading about the expected fallout from the change of régime-boss north of the DMZ I think of that tour now as something along the lines of being put into place rather like an instant-read thermometer: there for a year in Seoul, at the Yongsan Army Infantry garrison, where I worked at AFKN-HQ – and at a number of outside jobs for which a pleasant speaking voice and fluency in English was a requirement. One of those regular jobs was as an English-language editor at Korea Broadcasting; the national broadcasting entity did an English simulcast of the first fifteen minutes of the 9 PM evening newscast. I shared this duty with two other AFKN staffers in rotation: every third evening, around 6PM, I went out the #1 gate and caught a local bus, and rode across town to the Yoido; a huge rectangular plaza where the KBS building was located, just around the corner from other terribly important buildings – like the ROK capitol building. Once there, I’d go up to the newsroom – which was a huge place, filled with rows of desks and computers, go to the English-language section, and wait for any of the three or four Korean-to-English translators to finish translating the main news stories for the evening broadcast, correct their story for punctuation and readability, stick around to watch them do the simulcast at 9 PM, critique their delivery.

These various activities put me out and about in Seoul, and made me Korean friends and working acquaintances that had nothing to do with the military, especially at the KBS job. I got to know the translators fairly well. They were all native Koreans, whose education or life experiences had led to them being a fairly cosmopolitan bunch and fluent in English – translators, particularly Miss Min, since we would catch the same bus after work, heading back to the neighborhood of Yongsan, and the old elevated traffic roundabout. I think now, that was one of those times that I liked best – the bus ride; seeing the lights of the city reflected a thousand times in the dark-serpentine shape of the Han River as the bus went over one of the many bridges, back towards the Christmas-tree-topper shaped tower that crowned the Namsan Hill. There would be the scent of vanilla cake baking, when the bus passed by a certain place where there was a commercial bakery; even with the bus windows closed against the winter cold – and Seoul was bitter cold in winter, with a wind that came straight off Siberia – we could still smell vanilla cake.

I liked Seoul very much, at those particular moments, as much as I liked the Koreans that I worked with, and encountered on the subway or riding the bus: tough, jolly, out-going and hard-working people, possibly the most snappy dressers on the face of the earth outside of the Italians, but intensely patriotic. Someone once described them as the Irish of Asia, and that struck me as a fair parallel.
But all the time I was in Korea – being at an Army base – we couldn’t help being aware of the situation; that the DMZ was just a short distance away, that Seoul itself was in range of heavy artillery fire from the north, and that as regular as clockwork, the NorKs would indulge in a bit of sabre-rattling; Another internet commenter called this the “Korean Motherland Unity Game of Repeated Chicken” – every six months to two years there would be a bit of public theater intended to remind everyone that the North Korean establishment was there, bellicose, somewhat relevant – and that there was some kind of concession to be extracted from the outside world. The old-time Korea hands that I knew and my Korean friends were relatively blasé about it all. Perhaps the Norks could level Seoul, if they wanted to – but Miss Min and the other interpreters doubted very much that any but the most well-disciplined and elite Nork troops could make it past the first well-equipped grocery store south of the DMZ, let alone Electronics Row … and the Nork military anyway hasn’t fought an all-out war for real since 1953. But figuring out what is going on inside North Korea anyway was a bit like looking at a sparse scattering of accounts from inside, and consulting a Magic-8-Ball. Riddle wrapped in a puzzle wrapped in an enigma doesn’t even begin to come close. Will the Norks go out with a bang, or whimper? What does the Magic 8-Ball say?

What is pretty certain to me at this point – and I’m not nor ever have been any kind of intelligence wonk – is that North Korea likely can’t last very much longer. The dynasty of Kims and their allies are like an extended crime family, sitting at the apex of a structure that looks more and more like a country-sized labor and concentration camp. The place is stripped bare – even the mountainsides are stripped of trees for firewood. When it comes to food, North Korea isn’t even able to economically support itself, having nothing left to trade to the outside world, save possibly nuclear arms. How long have regular famines been going on? Twenty years or so – long enough to physically stunt the growth of ordinary North Koreans, as is evident when they defect to the South. Possibly even China is tired of the antics of their psychotic little pet, after having enabled them for fifty-plus years.

So, whither North Korea? Damned if I know – but I guess that it will probably not last much longer. My Magic 8-Ball guess is that it will implode, without much warning at all, in the manner of Ceausescu’s Romania; just poof-like that. How the ordinary people of North Korea will cope with such a suddenly revised world is anyone’s guess. I don’t think they have been kept quite so hermetically sealed away that it will take a good few decades to readjust and catch up. They are, after all, the same basic physical and cultural stock as the South Koreans – who have come an amazingly long way since my father was stationed there, at the very end of the Korean War. Your thoughts?
(Earlier post here on this subject: http://www.ncobrief.com/index.php/archives/korea-meditation-revisited/
Also – Crossposted at Chicagoboyz.net)

20. December 2011 · Comments Off on Remembering Spain · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Memoir, Military, World

This year, my mother has decided to break the family custom for Christmas and send an actual, delivered by UPS present, in a large carton which arrived on the doorstep Friday morning. We don’t know quite why she decided to do this, since the usual present for the last decade or two has been a check discretely tucked into a Christmas card. Maybe it’s because it will be the first Christmas without Dad. Possibly Dad was the one who thought just a plain unadorned check in a Christmas or birthday card was the most welcomed gift by adult children, and didn’t want to futz about with shopping or mail order catalogues – anyway, Mom sent is an awesomely lavish gift basket from this place, La Tienda – the foods of Spain, and we went through the basket and the catalogue enclosed with happy squeals of recognition. We came home from Spain twenty years ago, October –  after living in the city of Zaragoza, while I was assigned to the European Broadcasting Service detachment at the air base there. Which wasn’t an American air base, as we reminded people with tactful delicacy; it was a Spanish air base, and we merely rented a small, pitiful portion of it, a few discreet brick buildings and a scattering of ancient Quonset huts, going about our simple and purely transparent business, humbly supporting those various American and European fighter squadrons coming down from the clouds and fog of Northern Europe and practicing their gunnery skills at a local military range set up just to accommodate that kind of trade. Really, there was no earthly reason for anyone to hassle us … not like it had been in Greece. Still, we religiously abstained from wearing uniforms off-base. The local terrorists were mostly interested in blowing up the Guadia Civil; which I thought regretfully was hard luck for the Guads, but made things easier than they had been for American military stationed in Greece;¦ More »

11. November 2011 · Comments Off on Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour: Great Uncle Will · Categories: Ain't That America?, History, Memoir, Military, War · Tags: , , , , , ,

(A repost from the archives, for today)
It is a sad distinction, to be the first in three generations to visit France while on active duty in the service of your country, and to be the first to actually live to tell the tale of it. For many Europeans, and subjects of the British Empire— especially those of a certain age, it is not at all uncommon to have lost a father or an uncle in World War Two, and a grandfather or great-uncle in World War One. It’s a rarer thing to have happened to an American family, perhaps one whose immigration between the old country and the new allowed for inadvertent participation, or a family who routinely choose the military as a career, generation after generation. Ours is but lately and only in a small way one of the latter, being instead brought in for a couple of years by a taste for adventure or a wartime draft.

When JP and Pippy and I were growing up, the memory of Mom’s brother, Jimmy-Junior was still a presence. His picture was in Granny Jessie’s living room, and he was frequently spoken of by Mom, and Granny Jessie, and sometimes by those neighbors and congregants at Trinity Church who remembered him best. JP, who had the same first name, was most particularly supposed to be like him. He was a presence, but a fairly benign one, brushed with the highlights of adventure and loss, buried far away in St. Avold, in France, after his B-17 fell out of the skies in 1943.

Our Great-Uncle Will, the other wartime loss in the family was hardly ever mentioned. We were only vaguely aware that Grandpa Al and Great-Aunt Nan had even had an older half-brother – a half-sister, too, if it came to that. Great-Grandpa George had been a widower with children when he married Grandpa Al and Great-Aunt Nan’s mother. The older sister had gone off as a governess around the last of the century before, and everyone else had emigrated to Canada or America. I think it rather careless of us to have misplaced a great-aunt, not when all the other elders managed to keep very good track of each other across two continents and three countries, and have no idea of where the governess eventually gravitated to, or if she ever married.
“She went to Switzerland, I think,” Said Great Aunt Nan. “But Will— he loved Mother very much. He jumped off the troop train when it passed near Reading, and went AWOL to came home and see us again, when the Princess Pats came over from Canada.” She sighed, reminiscently. We were all of us in the Plymouth, heading up to Camarillo for dinner with Grandpa Al and Granny Dodie — for some reason; we had Great-Aunt Nan in the back seat with us. I am not, at this date, very certain about when this conversation would have taken place, only that we were in the car — Mom and Dad in front, Nan and I in the back seat, with Pippy between us, and JP in the very back of the station wagon. Perhaps I held Sander on my lap, or more likely between Nan and I, with Pippy in the way-back with JP. Outside the car windows on either side of the highway, the rounded California hills swept past, upholstered with dry yellow grass crisped by the summer heat, and dotted here and there with dark green live oaks. I can’t remember what had been said, or what had brought Great Aunt Nan to suddenly begin talking, about her half-brother who had vanished in the mud of no-man’s land a half century before, only that we all listened, enthralled — even Dad as he drove.

“He fairly picked Mother up,” Nan said, fondly, “She was so tiny, and he was tall and strong. He had been out in Alberta, working as a lumberjack on the Peace River in the Mackenzie District.” She recited the names as if she were repeating something she had learned by heart a long time ago. “When the war began, he and one of his friends built a raft, and floated hundreds of miles down the river, to enlist.”
(William Hayden, enlisted on October 13, 1914 in the town of Port Arthur. His age was listed as 22, complexion fair with brown hair and brown eyes— which must have come from his birth mother, as Al and Nan had blue eyes and light hair. He was 6′, in excellent health and his profession listed as laborer, but his signatures on the enlistment document were in excellent penmanship)
“He didn’t get into so very much trouble, when he walked into camp the next day,” said Nan, “Mother and I were so glad to see him – he walked into the house, just like that. And he wrote, he always wrote, once the Princess Pats went to France and were in the line. He picked flowers in the no-mans’-land between the trenches, and pressed them into his letters to send to us.”
(There is only one family picture of William, old-fashioned formal studio portrait of him and Nan; he sits stiffly in a straight ornate chair, holding his uniform cover in his lap, a big young man in a military tunic with a high collar, while a 12 or 13year old Nan in a white dress leans against the arm of the chair. She has a heart-shaped face with delicate bones; William’s features are heavy, with a prominent jaw— he does not look terribly intelligent, and there isn’t any family resemblance to Nan, or any of the rest of us.)

“His Captain came to see us, after he was killed,” said Nan, “Will was a Corporal, by that time – poor man, he was the only one of their officers to survive, and he had but one arm and one eye. He thought the world of Will. He told us that one night, Will took five men, and went out into no-mans’-land to cut wire and eavesdrop on the German trenches, but the Germans put down a barrage into the sector where they were supposed to have gone, and they just never came back. Nothing was ever found.”
(No, of course— nothing would have ever been found, not a scrap of the men, or any of their gear, not in the shell-churned hell between the trenches on the Somme in July of 1916. And the loss of Great-Uncle William and his handful of men were a small footnote after the horrendous losses on the first day of July. In a single day, the British forces sustained 19,000 killed, 2,000 missing, 50,000 wounded. Wrote the poet Wilfred Owen

“What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,–
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells”)

And that war continued for another two years, all but decimating a generation of British, French, German and Russian males. Such violence was inflicted on the land that live munitions are still being found, 80 years later, and bodies of the missing, as well. The nations who participated most in the war sustained a such a near-mortal blow, suffered such trauma that the Armistice in 1918 only succeeded in putting a lid on the ensuing national resentments for another twenty years. But everyone was glad of it, on the day when the guns finally fell silent, on 11:00 o’clock of a morning, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

“Amazing,” Mom remarked later, “I wonder what brought that on— she talked more about him in ten minutes than I had ever heard in 20 years.”
I went back a few years ago, looking for Uncle Jimmy’s combat crew, and found them, too, but even then it was too late to look for anyone who had served with Great-Uncle Will – although, any time after 1916 may have been too late. But there is an archive, with his service records in it, and I may send away for them, to replace what little we had before the fire. But they will only confirm what we found out, when Great-Aunt Nan told us all about the brother she loved.

(added – a link to haunting photographs of WWI battlefields today. Cross-posted at Chicago-Boyz, and at my Celia Hayes Blog.)

24. June 2011 · Comments Off on I Can Hear GWB Facepalm From Here · Categories: AARRRMY TRAINING SIR!!!, General, GWOT, Military

Or so is one trenchant comment on this discussion thread, with regard to Obama’s more-than-embarrassing confusion while visiting the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, between a living recipient of the Medal of Honor and one who was awarded it posthumously . . . You know that the MOH is not handed out like tricker-treat candy, and to be the one presenting it to a soldier/sailor/airman/Marine who has survived . . . one would have thought a few details, like the name of the first living recipient since the Vietnam War would have stuck in the presidential mind. (Note to the president: the living MOH recipient is SSgt Salvatore Giunta, and he was and is a 173rd Airborne troop.) Really, one would have expected better of the mind of one so frequently lauded by a lickspittle press as being so intellectually superior. Back in the day, Sam Houston was absolutely legendary for his recollect of the name, service and exploits of just about every man who had ever enlisted and fought under his command in Texas; he, of course, had at best only a thousand or so to keep in mind. Still – one would like to think that the names of those awarded the MOH during his administration could be kept in mind, if not by the commander in chief himself, at least one of his flunkies.

Stuff like this – the names of heroes – is one of those things that military members are expected to know. It’s kind of a core-knowledge thing. We used to have a special category of spots to air on military TV and radio about heroic deeds, and the names and faces of those who went above and beyond, and that’s the kind of history included in our basic training, promotion testing, and professional development courses.

So – here we have a CinC who either can’t be bothered to get it straight – or doesn’t care, and goofs it horrendously in front of a lot of people who did and do care, very much . . . and possibly could have served with the late SFC Monti. It says a lot for the self-discipline of the 10th Mountain Division troops that there seemed to have been no overt reaction, other than a lot of poker-faces going rather more poker-faced. Very likely this would be seen by ordinary civilians as . . . well, really, one of those silly and quite understandable goofs. But to military members, this kind of mistake is not seen in that light at all. At best – inexcusably careless, and at worst contemptuous of those who serve in the US armed forces.