He held the salute for an hour and a half and quietly hummed the old songs his heroes would have loved and thought of those who lived their final moments on that spot. He only broke his salute briefly to wipe away tears. I only wish I could have been there to join in his salute. I would not have taken a photo however, I would have just imbibed the moment as this young man, living in the present, honored those of the past.
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by Norman Fulkerson
Imagine, for a moment that you are a Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) in the United States Army and you have been accused of a crime you did not commit. You are called before and an Article 15 hearing, found guilty and released from command. You are then called before an Army Show Cause Board to determine if you should be forced to retire from the military. You are informed you will not need a lawyer, only to find yourself before a General who is flanked by two. During a proceeding that lasts five hours, you are asked legal questions you cannot answer. After your grueling ordeal you narrowly survive a forced retirement, in spite of the fact that you are found innocent of wrong doing. This is what happened to LTC Christopher Downey.
A Formerly Stellar Career that is now Tarnished
It all began with a formal military ball where two lesbian officers –one a Captain the other a Lieutenant—were seen engaging in prolonged kissing and other lewd behavior while on the dance floor. LTC Downey noticed one of his enlisted soldiers photographing the indecent scene. He stepped and lowered the camera which inadvertently touched soldier’s nose. LTC Downey’s motives were the most upright possible. He feared the photos would end up on social media and wanted to safeguard his unit’s reputation and that of the two [female] officers, who had clearly lost all sense of propriety.
His actions became an excuse for criminal charges of “assault consummated by battery.” His actions were also deemed a violation of the repeal of DADT. After the above referenced hearing, LTC Downey was subsequently “relieved of command, issued a negative Officer Evaluation Report and reprimanded.”
To illustrate what a witch hunt this case truly was, the Article 15 officer never called the “victim” of the “assault” to testify. Perhaps it was because the soldier who suffered the “assault” never accused LTC Downey of wrongdoing because he knew that Downey “never intended to harm him.”
We can only fully appreciate the travesty of the case when we make a contrast. The gross conduct of the lesbians was clearly unbecoming of an officer. Yet the officer punished had, up till that point, a stellar 24-year Army career that would make any patriotic American proud.
While serving as the Presidential Airlift Coordinator for the White House, Downey’s supervisor described him as being “clearly in the top 1% of hand picked officers.” This is by no means hyperbole. With over 1000 combat flight hours and three tours of duty, LTC Downey earned 3 Bronze Stars and 7 Air Medals: one with a “V” device for valor.
Being Led into an Ambush
Col. John Ripley, subject of An American Knight, showed the same moral courage as LTC Downey when he testified against the flawed policy of DADT.
“You are asking us to look the other way,” Col. Ripley told members of the House Armed Services Committee, “ignoring a practice we feel deviant, destructive and in conflict with American and God-fearing values.”
Col. Ripley finished his passionate appeal before members of the Committee in military terms. He begged them, “not to lead us into this ambush from which we can never recover.” LTC Downey’s case looks strikingly similar to an ambush. Will he recover? Will the stain on his otherwise spotless career be expunged? Will he once again be able to provide an example for the junior enlisted of what a military officer looks and acts like? God only knows. While he remains a soldier in the service of America his career is hanging in limbo and the finality of the case is still pending.
The Marines Hymn speaks of the “few and the proud” guarding the streets of heaven after they have passed on. It is safe to say Col. Ripley, while standing by the pearly gates, smiles down upon LTC Downey and sharply salutes him for his principled stand. It is also likely that he is rolling over in his grave for an unspeakable injustice against such an outstanding officer.
Tags: Vietnam War