November 2013

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by: Norman Fulkerson


The Annual Veterans Conference put on by the American Veterans Center is always a special event, dedicated to preserving and promoting the legacy of our brave servicemen. They did not fail once again to put on a splendid event this November 9-11.

“Dear Jesus, Please Forgive my Sins, so I Can Go to Heaven”
The first evening’s event featured a panel of Wounded Warriors. During the reception beforehand, I was surprised when one of those warriors, Corporal Garrett Jones from Newberg, Ore., happened to sit across from me for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. It turned out to be one of the most memorable conversations of the event.

What struck me most about this 28-year-old Marine was the utter absence of self-pity in spite of the fact that he was an amputee. He told the gripping details of how he lost his leg while serving in Iraq back in July of 2007. When a 155mm Improvised Explosive Device (IED) was detonated under his feet, he was thrown into the air like a rag doll. He never lost consciousness and attributed his survival to the “grace of God.”  He thought he was dying because of the difficulty he had breathing. He then started feeling very cold from loss of blood and felt his death was certain.

“Dear Jesus,” he recalled praying, “please forgive my sins, so I can go to heaven.” He would go on to survive and surprisingly tells how he never suffered a day with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He humorously defined himself as a “black-and-white kind of guy. There are three types of people in the world,” he said, “sheep, wolves and sheep dogs.” It was clear that he placed himself squarely among the latter. Another word for sheep dogs, he explained, is “warrior.”

“Dear Jesus, please forgive my sins, so I can go to heaven,” prayed a dying Garret Jones, right, after an IED had detonated under his feet. Although an amputee, he resisted self-pity and even deployed with his unit when they deployed the following spring. (Courtesy of Tony Powell)

“Such men need to be willing to do violence on behalf of the sheep,” he continued. “That means they need to be ready to fight, be wounded, and if necessary, die… and be fine with it.”

This no-nonsense Marine described his reaction when he heard his unit would be deployed to Afghanistan after his injury. “I am going with you,” he informed his commander in a very decisive way. With the help of higher ups including the then-Marine Corps Commandant, Gen. Conway, he did in fact deploy the following spring.

Medal of Honor Panel
During the following day’s Veterans Conference, attendees were treated to a wide variety of heroes and legends. Medal of Honor recipients Gen. Patrick H. Brady and Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha were part of one panel. They took questions from the audience while the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation President and top gun pilot, Maj. Gen. Thomas Wilkerson moderated. Like most recipients of the Medal of Honor, both men showed great humility in wearing our nation’s highest honor for valor.

“I did what any other soldier would have done,” said Staff Sgt.Romesha as he choked back tears in remembrance of those who did not survive. Gen. Brady drew a laugh from the audience by describing how he was “embarrassed” to receive the award. He went on to describe how the medal represents “all those who didn’t make it back. They don’t come from easy days,” but rather from a difficult moment “when you’re faced with an adversity.”

The Honor Banquet
The highlight of the conference however was the Honors Award Banquet. Doris Day, the charming and gracious widow of Col. Bud Day was there to accept The Doolittle Tokyo Raider Wings of Valor Award that was posthumously awarded to her late husband. With her always sparkling blue eyes, this wonderful lady expressed her gratitude and explained how Jimmy Doolittle was her husband’s hero.

The last living member of the legendary Navajo Code Talkers, Chester Nez was also on hand. During World War II, the Japanese broke every code devised by Americans except the one devised by a Navajo Indian named Philip Johnston. His undecipherable code was based on their language and was so effective that the 29 original code talkers could communicate in 20 seconds what it previously took coding machines half an hour.

Mr. Nez was only a tenth grader when Marine recruiters came to his boarding school looking for young men who were fluent in both English and the Navajo language. He jumped at the chance to serve his country, lied about his age, and signed on with the Marines. He was the first of the original Code Talkers, which took part in every Marine assault in the Pacific. They sent thousands of messages that baffled Japanese military cryptologists who were unable to decipher a single one.

The Devil of Ramadi
The most special part of the evening however was the moment when the late Chris Kyle was posthumously awarded the Paul Ray Smith Award. It was difficult to restrain one’s emotions as a moving video tribute of this All American Hero was projected on screens at both ends of the room.

With the parents of the late Navy S.E.A.L., Chris Kyle, who had racked up 160 confirmed kills, earning him the nickname, The Devil of Ramadi. (Courtesy of Carrie Hanna)

His parents, Wayne and Deby were there to receive the award on behalf of their fallen son. As a Navy SEAL sniper, Chris Kyle racked up an astounding 160 confirmed kills during his time in combat, a US military record that is unlikely to be broken. He was so deadly he earned the nickname, The Devil of Ramadi by the enemy who placed an $80,000 bounty on his head.

His life was brought to an abrupt end when he was shot and killed by a Marine suffering from PTSD that he was trying to help. As his grieving parents walked on stage to receive the award, the audience erupted with a standing ovation that seemed to go on forever. I personally could have clapped until my hands were bleeding for that man.

Doolittle Raider Toast
As the evening winded down, conference organizers explained the significance of the bottle of Hennessey Cognac sitting at the center of each table. As we were celebrating heroes in our nation’s capital, another crowd at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio was honoring three of the last four remaining Doolittle Raiders. This heroic group of pilots conducted the retaliatory raid on Tokyo, Japan after the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor. Their historic feat had the double result of lifting American moral and demoralizing an intransigent enemy that thought they were invincible.

In 1959, the city of Tuscon, Arizona presented the group with 80 sterling goblets etched with the names of all the original Raiders and a bottle of 1896 Hennessey Cognac in honor of the birth year of their founder Jimmy Doolittle. At each yearly reunion since then a tradition was born. The remaining living members would toast those who had passed away on the previous year, then turn the goblet of the deceased upside down. The original plan was to save the 1896 bottle of Hennessey for the last remaining Raider. With the death of Thomas Griffin earlier this year and the failing health of another, it was decided to bring this extraordinary tradition to a ceremonious end.

As the remaining Doolittle Raiders were making their last toast, attendees of the Veterans Conference were with them in spirit. It was a chilling moment as the shining amber liquid was poured into each of our goblets. This spine-chilling event gave me time to reflect on the previous days’ events.

We are truly the land of the free because of such daring men like those Raiders and other selfless “sheep dogs” like Chris Kyle and Corporal Garret Jones. Men such as these ask nothing in return for laying their lives on the line for us. This became clear for me as I remembered a comment made by Corporal Jones during our conversation on the first evening. When he was blown into the air by an IED and felt sure he was dying, he admitted “being okay with it. Warriors always are,” he said, “as long as [America] drapes a flag over their coffin.”

 

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by: John Horvat

The citizens of Radford, Virginia took time out on this Veterans Day 2013 to honor one of their own, the late Col. John Ripley, USMC. Since his untimely death in October 2008, this grateful city in southwestern Virginia, through a group termed the “Ripley Committee,” has honored the Marine legend in a number of ways.

Through their efforts, a painting of the late colonel in his dress blues was dedicated last Veterans Day and now hangs in the Radford Public Safety Building lobby. Earlier this year, Radford City council went one step further and declared April 2 to be Colonel John Ripley Day.

In another gesture of devotion, the decision was made to go yet one more step with the renaming of the University Drive Bridge after their favorite son. Visitors to the city will now cross the Col. John Ripley Bridge when they visit the New River and take a peak at Castle Island, where the city’s “Huckleberry Finn” lived his adventurous boyhood.

On hand for the dedication was Col. Ripley’s sister Mary Susan Goodykoontz (pictured above) and TFP member Norman Fulkerson. As the author of An American Knight, the only biography to date of the late colonel, he was invited to speak and was received by locals with a standing ovation. Many had read his gripping account of a man they had known as a mischievous youth whose eyes “danced with a sense of wonder” and who later earned legendary status in the Marine Corps. Col. Ripley was most commonly known for having halted the largest Communist offensive of the Vietnam War when he destroyed the Dong Ha Bridge on April 2, 1972. Mr. Fulkerson chose to focus his remarks on the man’s moral courage.

Norman Fulkerson opened his brief remarks by commenting on the “irony of naming a bridge after a man who was most commonly known for destroying one.”

He opened his brief remarks by commenting on the “irony of naming a bridge after a man who was most commonly known for destroying one.” Enriching this theme he explained how the Dong Ha Bridge was not the only structure Col. Ripley destroyed during his memorable life.

“We live in a very bad world,” Mr. Fulkerson explained, “and there is a subtle tactic among those who hold contrary opinions to get us to make concessions on our principles. This is a gradual process that he metaphorically referred to as “building bridges” between conservative and liberal opinions. Through such a tactic, he concluded, we are not asked to give everything at once but merely make small compromises. Col. Ripley was not one to fall for such a tactic, as was exemplified with the proverbial “bridges” he destroyed through his energetic testimonies against allowing open homosexuals to serve in the Armed Forces and sending women into combat.

He finished his remarks by explaining how Col. Ripley did build one bridge. It was a task to which he devoted his whole life. It was the “bridge that would link him to God, our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Marines’ Hymn has a stanza that speaks of the streets of Heaven being guarded by United States Marines, Mr. Fulkerson concluded. “When we cross the bridge he erected, I feel certain we will meet one great United States Marine on the other side, Col. John Ripley.”

 

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by: Norman Fulkerson

With so much negative news these days, the story about Capt. William Swenson, who received the Medal of Honor last month is truly a breath of fresh air. He earned our nation’s highest award during the same fierce battle as fellow recipient and Kentucky native, Dakota Meyer.

We long for better days but have lost sight of the fact that it was because of men such as these that our country achieved the success –economic and otherwise– we now see slipping away. Over the years we have lost track of what matters most in life. We give too great importance to material things, such as our favorite technological devices, and fail to realize the inestimable value of immaterial things like honor. America desperately needs the “rule of honor” so well explained in my favorite book “Return to Order” by John Horvat.

If/when we hit bottom, it will not be to our i-phones that we will turn for help, nor to our “nanny government” whose socialist programs will eventually impoverish our nation. Rather, we will turn to selfless heroes like William Swenson who courageously faced withering gunfire and even death out of love for neighbor and a higher cause.

Thankfully such men are not as uncommon as we might think in our great nation. They are easily recognizable as those who seek to surpass the proverbial Joneses, not by the amount of money in their pockets, but by the amount of courage and honor in their hearts.

Flight Turns Unforgettable

By: John E. DiScala

Delta Flight 2255 from Atlanta to Los Angeles seemed to be an ordinary flight with the exception of Candy, who was the most loving flight attendant I’ve ever encountered. Besides using her Southern charm to quickly defuse every situation, she began her welcome announcement by thanking the handful of uniformed soldiers on-board for serving our country. Her poignant message was followed by applause, and it put into perspective that none of us would be able to do what we do without these brave men and women.

But this transcontinental flight turned out to be everything but ordinary. We later learned, when the captain got on the PA system about 45 minutes prior to landing, that we were transporting a fallen soldier. The plane went quiet as he explained that there was a military escort on-board and asked that everyone remain seated for a couple of minutes so the soldiers could get off first. He also warned us not to be alarmed if we see fire trucks since Los Angeles greets their fallen military with a water canon salute. See my video below.

A few minutes after touchdown, we did indeed have a water canon salute, which I’d previously only experienced on happy occasions like inaugural flights. This time, the water glistening on the windowpanes looked like tears.

Passengers in the airport must have been worried when they saw our plane pull into gate 69A, as we had a full police and fire escort, front and back.

I was on the left side of the plane and later realized that the family could be seen off to the right, standing with the United States Army Honor Guard. According to Wikipedia, each military branch has its own honor guard, usually military in nature, and is composed of volunteers who are carefully screened. One of the primary roles for honor guards is to provide funeral honors for fallen comrades.

When the jet door opened, another military officer addressed the escort who was standing at attention. He then stepped on the plane and told us passengers “I just addressed the escort. It is a sworn oath to bring home, to the family, the fallen.” He paused and then said, “Today you all did that, you are all escorts, escorts of the heart.” And then thanked us for our time and walked off the plane.

As you can imagine, everyone was silent and no one got up, not even that person from the back row who pretends he doesn’t [understand] English so he can be first off the plane. I’m sure most had meteor-sized lumps in their throats and tears in their eyes like I did.

It only got more emotional when I deplaned. There was a large number of passengers, who are normally in a hurry to get home or make a connection, standing by the window to witness something truly moving. To see the Honor Guard and family waiting patiently, while LAX baggage handlers and a military loadmaster removed the flag covered casket first from the cargo hold, was humbling to say the least. I’m not sure if it was the fallen soldier’s mother or wife who I watched slowly walk up to the coffin while a few other family members, wrapped in blankets, stood near with a dozen or so of the Honor Guards standing in salute.

As soon as I saw her reach out to put her hand on her baby’s casket, I walked away.

This ordinary flight became extraordinary and is one that I will never forget.

Thank you to all the military who protect our beautiful country and let us live the lives we are able to lead. Without you we would be nothing. And thank you to the Honor Guard for making sure these fallen soldiers, warriors and heroes are not treated like just any piece of luggage as they used to, but rather with the care and respect they so rightly deserve.