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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Not only do American servicemen willingly and heroically sacrifice themselves on foreign soil, now they must face the same threat here at home. Religion of peace?
“The Pentagon has responded to a globally-released ‘Kill List’, asking law enforcement to give extra protection for military personnel whose personal information was released… The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) published the list days ago, a report that contained names, photos, and home addresses of U.S. Armed Forces personnel, causing alarm in cities potentially at high-risk.”…
“The ISIS/ISIL hit-list included mostly members of the Air Force and the Navy, the two branches of the military that have been carrying out the majority of the airstrikes in Iraq. Joint Base Charleston is home to both.”
Written by Lieutenant Colonel David G. Bolgiano, USAF, Retired
Alexandre Havard writes in Virtuous Leadership on the importance and relevance of the cardinal virtues – prudence, fortitude (or courage), temperance (or self-control) and justice – to both leaders and organizations. Any person or group that lacks in one or more of these core character traits is doomed to failure. As William Penn, the founder and namesake of Pennsylvania, said:
Governments, like clocks, go from the motion men give them; and as governments are made and moved by men, so by them they are ruined too … Let men be good and the government cannot be bad … But if men be bad, let the government be never so good, they will endeavor to warp and spoil it to their turn.
Likewise, our military depends on good people to lead and man it. Historically, it has consistently embraced the cardinal virtues to better ensure a spirit of selfless sacrifice and service amongst its members. Herodotus’s commentary on the duties of the ancient Persians, “to ride well, shoot straight, and speak the truth,” recognizes that there are absolute truths and an internal moral compass that warriors should follow.
These beliefs have formed the cornerstone of our military’s ethos. It is now under subtle attack by those that decry such beliefs as antiquated or even unconstitutional. Such efforts must be soundly repulsed, as military leaders’ moral compasses must be immune to quaint notions of modernity that recognize no fundamental truths.
For years, living by the cardinal virtues has inoculated the military from self-absorbed, licentious behaviors such as one routinely observes in Hollywood and professional sports leagues. America’s modern military culture has fairly consistently remained above the fray of partisan politics and the gutter of licentiousness. Unfortunately, there are those trying to change that very culture by marginalizing the voices of virtue within our force.
If the Armed Forces of the United States is to remain a dominant player in geopolitics as well as a guardian of our populace, it must not proceed under the false belief that aspiring to live virtuously is somehow an antiquated and irrelevant modality for a postmodern world. The first obstacle often thrown out by those objecting to infusing virtue’s lessons into policy is that doing so somehow violates the Constitution of the United States’ First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which proscribes a formal church-state relationship. Such an objection is a canard that is predicated on ignorance of history and the law. Historically, discussions of the cardinal virtues can be found not only in all of the world’s major religions, but also in classical literature and philosophy. Legally, those that rail against any open religious activity in the military, such as the presence of a Chaplains’ Corps, seem to ignore the Free Exercise Clause of that very same Constitutional Amendment. Sadly, these voices have found traction of late within the Executive Branch.
The Cardinal Virtues
Prudence or Competency
As Francis Bacon noted, one rarely finds a wise head on a young body. Hence, this virtue, like all the others, must be taught and learned. Aristotle defined prudence as recta ratio agibilium, meaning “right reason applied to practice.” In the military, this is reflected in a commander who has mastered fundamental tasks so well that in the fog of war these are enabling, rather than distracting. At a purely tactical level, it is that Visit Board Search and Seizure (VBSS) team member so intimate with his weapon systems that he can focus on potential threats, not on whether his weapon’s selector switch is on safe or fire.
When a leader consistently makes wrong decisions – or makes rash decisions, right or wrong – then that individual is imprudent. Due to the complexity of the modern battlefield, it is easy to err in this fashion. Accordingly, competent leaders seek the counsel of others and quickly learn to delegate responsibility and authority to trusted subordinates. They also encourage freethinking amongst their staff. Those assigned to a dysfunctional staff, where the commander browbeats those who disagree, will instantly recognize this lack of virtue in their boss. “Don’t be the nail that sticks above the surface” is the unspoken advice in such commands. Sadly, courageous subordinates are often crushed; while sycophants, or those who simply remain silent, get promoted.
Prudence or competency is the result of practice. But, it also may require personal humility. Disregarding the advice or warnings of others whose judgment does not coincide with one’s own may be a sign of imprudence. It is possible that the commander is right and his staff wrong; but the opposite may be true, especially if the commander is consistently disagreeing with those whose demonstrated judgment is sound. Absent a moral barometer, either derived from natural law or the Ten Commandments, there is no measure of right reason. Accordingly, bad commanders will simply bully others to get their way. That is why assaults upon the military’s seemingly archaic moral code are so intrinsically dangerous. For he who believes in everything believes nothing and, consequently, lacks a compass by which to steer a true and straight course.
Prudence or competency is the internal focus of one’s intellectual abilities: the application of right reason to a given problem. Justice is more outwardly focused. It is that trait which seeks to give everyone his or her rightful due. This requires much more than simply abiding by the rules set forth in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) or General Orders. While maintaining discipline in the Armed Forces is very important to the orderly conduct of military operations, and most people desire and expect malefactors to be brought to justice, the virtue of justice is much greater than the sum of what is set forth in those rules and procedures. Good commanders utilize justice as a positive motivator on the path toward a humble and magnanimous career for themselves and their subordinates.
Members of a successful military command are more concerned with respecting the rights of others and giving them proper credit where credit is due. It was said of Field Marshal William Slim, Commander of the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations in World War II, that he never said “I,” rarely said “We,” and always said “You.” Sam Damon, the protagonist in Anton Myer’s brilliant novel Once an Eagle, further exemplifies such a person. Damon is a professional warrior who puts duty, honor, and the men he commands above self-interest. He justly earns his promotions. The book’s antagonist, Courtney Massengale, is an unjust, self-absorbed bully who advances by political scheming and trampling upon subordinates and contemporaries. Once an Eagle should be mandatory reading for all officers and non-commissioned officers.
Justice also requires an acknowledgement of and obeisance to the natural law or divinely-inspired law. Absent such a framework, we are left with simply the subordinate laws and whims of man. We would be well served to remember that Adolf Hitler did nothing illegal under the laws of the Third Reich. The reason that Hitler’s acts were so unspeakable is that they contravened Divine or natural law. A just leader respects both the natural rights of others (to be secure in life and limb, their obligations to family and associates, fundamental property rights, and to practice one’s religion and hold sacred beliefs) and the legal rights of others (command authorities, the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice), personal contract rights, and other rights and entitlements found under the law). Should legal rights ever come into conflict with natural rights, however, the latter take precedence. Hence, a warrior has both a right and an obligation to disobey clearly unlawful, unethical or unconstitutional orders. Without an underlying concept of right or wrong – what is justice – how would a service member ever be able to discern this?
One may assume that anyone donning the uniform of the Armed Forces has physical courage. However, what is being discussed here is an overarching moral courage. A person could be physically courageous enough to charge a machine gun nest, but still be a moral coward in other important leadership capacities. Moral courage, or fortitude, is that rock-steady virtue that seeks to elevate others above self. Competency and justice are the virtues by which we decide what ought to be done. Courage provides us the will and strength to do so, even in the face of obstacles. For day-to-day life, it is the constant practice of seeking and speaking the truth in the face of adversity or peer pressure to do otherwise. It is what gives that subordinate staff officer the strength to raise a hand during a command briefing and disagree with a politically expedient, but morally wrong or unjust, course of action.
Courage may require one to speak out against voguish but evil spirits of the times, impure conduct or trends, and the common tendency to seek the path of least resistance. It also requires one to speak the truth even if doing so may be personally painful: “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” (Hebrews 10:26)
The New Testament also speaks to those who “are willingly ignorant.” The meaning is the same. It is one thing to be unaware of the truth; it is altogether different when people know what is true, yet ignore it out of cowardice or political expediency. By a casual reading of today’s headlines, it appears to all but the naïve or complicit that many of our senior military leaders have failed to stand up for what they must, in their hearts, know to be right and just. This is likely for want of courage.
Self-Control or Temperance
Epistemologically, self-control or temperance demands control of one’s animal desire for pleasure. We wring our hands and wonder why so many of our warriors commit acts of sexual assault; and, how come so many flag officers commit other diverse acts of moral turpitude. Often, these acts are a failure to moderate desires in the face of temptation. Self-control is that virtue which attempts to overcome the human condition best stated as “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” But, if we have institutionally disavowed the notion that there are fundamental rights and wrongs, is it any wonder we are in this quandary?
However, self-control is much more than just tempering base sexual desires. In the realm of virtuous leaders, self-control might mean that choleric personalities restrain their tempers; impatient persons exercise listening skills; tardiness is replaced by timeliness; or phlegmatic persons make an effort to be more outgoing. “Everything that grows begins small. It is by constant and progressive feeding that it gradually grows big.” This notion applies to seeding and growing virtue in organizations and individual lives. Taking such seemingly small steps can gradually build a command imbued with a sense of unit humility. It can truly help transform an organization from a dour, miserable workplace to a magnanimous command where people are excited and proud to serve.
Magnanimity is an underutilized and not frequently understood word. It is the loftiness of spirit enabling one to bear trouble calmly, to disdain meanness and pettiness, and to display a noble generosity. It is the essence of chivalry. A magnanimous person is the opposite of a pusillanimous or small-minded person. Every military leader should strive to foster an environment where magnanimity flourishes. Absent a deep understanding and practice of the cardinal virtues, however, such a goal is futile because the leader lacks the inherent capacity to foster unit humility and magnanimity.
Words of Caution
The dangers for the military not acknowledging and living pursuant to the cardinal virtues should be obvious. But, when one considers how to boil a frog, the pitfalls may not be as obvious as they once recently might have been. Just consider the myriad “hot button” issues, critical to the continued integrity and strength of our military, which have now all but been placed “off limits” by senior leaders who seem more concerned with keeping their stars than speaking or hearing the truth. For example, any rational discussion concerning these topics – (1) the possibility that core tenets of Sharia law are incompatible with a Constitutional Republican form of governance that respects religious freedoms; (2) forced affirmation of vice in the form of acceptance of homosexual conduct within our forces; and (3) the inclusion of females into units routinely expected to be engaged in close quarters combat (CQB) missions – has been effectively quashed in today’s military. This is true, despite the fact that a majority of those serving have principled questions about each of these topics.
But anyone that now questions the wisdom of such policies is, at best, quickly marginalized. Truth, or at least rational attempts to discern the truth, has been labeled as “Hate Speech.” In some instances, as in the case of Army Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Dooley who was crushed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for daring to raise the aforementioned Sharia issue, otherwise stellar careers are ruined for not toeing the party line. We should do well to heed the words of Isaiah: “Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for light, and light for darkness: that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.”
While it is imperative – as General of the Army Douglas MacArthur tested during the Korean War – that the military remain subordinate to its civilian masters in matters of policy and strategy, it must nevertheless vigorously resist attempts to dilute its core values by means of crass political bullying. Moreover, if there are rational and moral concerns about any policy or course of action, voices expressing such concerns should be encouraged, rather than quelled or shunned. Sadly and dangerously, this does not appear to be happening in today’s military.
Trends to muzzle the virtuous voices in the military must be reversed if our Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Army and Coast Guard are to remain morally fit and strong. The silence of the admirals and generals has been deafening in this regard. Six years into this Administration’s grand experiment to radically transform America has caused serious erosion in our military’s capability and discipline; yet, we hear crickets instead of voices of truth and moral incorruptibility from our flag officers. Consequently, we now have a military that appears more concerned with providing benefits to random sexual partners or forcing the square peg of “gender” equality into the round hole of readiness.
No objectively honest person should be surprised that an overwhelming majority of female candidates simply can’t make it through physically demanding courses such as the Army’s Ranger School, Marine Infantry Officers Course, Basic Underwater Demolition School (SEAL-BUDS) and Special Forces Qualification Course. By not accepting the fact that “war is hard” and close-quarters combat is necessarily a realm for masculine males, the military scrambles to change the standards to ensure “sex” equality occurs despite costs to our readiness.
When it comes to matters of national defense, specious beliefs in the physical equality of the sexes should not trump the harsh reality of the battlefield. There is a reason there are no female athletes in the National Football League (or any other professional sports league): men are better suited to such physical conflict. All the politically correct thought and indoctrination in the world can’t change this fact of nature and God’s design. If we allow courts or policy makers not anchored by virtues to challenge this immutable truth, we will end up not only with boring sports contests but also a less effective combat force. But, first, we must acknowledge there are immutable facts and truths. Voices of reason and truth, like that expressed by Marine Captain Katie Petronio, are few and far between in this discussion. They appear entirely absent amongst our flag ranks.
Repeating lies loudly and often enough does not make them true. Senior leaders must not simply parrot the opinions of their political masters. Sometimes, the cardinal virtues demand they speak the truth. But, perhaps paralyzed by the fear of losing their stars or not getting a “top block” on that section of their fitness report that demonstrates the proper degree of political correctness, most will remain silent.
Subordinates watch and learn from their leaders. If those leaders go into defilade instead of standing up for what is virtuous, what lessons will be passed down to the next generation? This is not a matter of arguing the value of one combat system over another or the next evolution or revolution of warfare. This is about retaining core virtuous principles that spawn courage, truth and selflessness.
Citizens expect such high standards from their Armed Forces: it is why a Marine Corp Private stands head and shoulders above “Occupy Wall Street” types or the likes of Bradley (Chelsea?) Manning. Service members must forfeit many of their erstwhile civilian idiosyncrasies – faddish haircuts, sleeping late, using illegal drugs, and being couch potatoes – in order to become part of a greater whole. First and foremost, our Armed Forces should be a corps of moral, disciplined, steely-eyed killers – exemplified by distinguished commanders such as Arleigh Burke, Chesty Puller and Jim Mattis – that can close with and destroy our Republic’s enemies on the seas and fields of battle. Hence, we must never forget to ride well, shoot straight and speak the truth: even if doing so ruffles some political feathers. Our warriors deserve nothing less.
About the Author:
Lt. Col. David G. Bolgiano is a retired paratrooper who has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan on multiple occasions. He is the author of Combat Self-Defense: Saving America’s Warriors from Risk-Averse Commanders and their Lawyers and co-author of Fighting Today’s Wars: How America’s Leaders Have Failed Our Warriors.
Tags: Army Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Dooley, Bradley Manning, Courtney Massengale, DADT, Douglas MacArthur, Establishment Clause, Field Marshal William Slim, Free Exercise Clause, Lieutenant Colonel David G. Bolgiano, Once an Eagle, Uniform Code of Military Justice, William Penn
- Written by Norman Fulkerson
Thanks to Jim Roberts and the American Veterans Center1, warriors from current and past wars are not forgotten. The Center’s Annual Conference showcased a collection of our nation’s heroes from World War II to the most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are the stuff of which legends are made.
While the title legend is often attributed to such men it is seldom defined. Those who earn this title are considered “larger than life” yet the reason why is left largely unexplained. The great Catholic thinker Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira explains why.
According to him, man is at birth like an incomplete sketch which is to be finished following a certain ideal model. That ideal representation is each person’s goal. It is his legend, the aspect of God which he is called to reflect. Just as each painting is unique so is each person’s legend.
This at least partially explains the joy we have in hearing the stories of those who will be mentioned in this article. In our dreary world where mediocrity and a universal sameness is the order of the day, these men rise above the crowd and provide us with a glimpse of what makes them unique and special.
Could it be that a man’s legend allows us to see beyond what appears, as the scriptures say2, and reveals a heart that is normally reserved for God?
We will let you decide.
“Fighting for a Cause Greater than Myself”
Lt. Col. James Megellas might have been the oldest warrior at the two-day conference, but you would never have known it from his clarity of mind and amazing physical stamina.
“I was born 52 years after the Civil War,” he told the audience. This coming March he turns 98 and held the audience spellbound with his unique combination of patriotism and audacity.
|The author (left) with Lt. Col. James “Maggie” Megellas, the most decorated officer in the famed 82 Airborne Division. (Photo Credit Carrie Hanna)|
He is the most highly decorated officer in the history of the famed “All-American” 82nd Airborne Division. On January 28th, 1945 he earned what many thought should have been the Medal of Honor. After leading a platoon through miles of knee deep snow and bitter cold, his men arrived in the town of Herresbach, Belgium, tired and hungry. To his surprise, he spotted a large force of German infantry who were completely unaware of the American presence.
Lt. Col. Megellas and his men were on the short end of 10-1 odds but as he told the audience, when faced with such a situation it was either “kill them or they would kill us.” Outnumbered and outgunned, he knew the Americans had one distinct advantage, the element of surprise. He took full advantage of that factor and courageously led his men in the attack. The paratroopers overran the stunned Germans in a ferocious assault that lasted little more than ten minutes. One hundred enemy combatants were killed—28 by Lt. Col. Megellas himself—and 180 captured. Not a single American life was lost.
That was not the end of his heroics however. A German Panther tank appeared on the scene and threatened revenge. With total disregard for his life, Lt. Col. Megellas charged the tank, disabled its tracks with one grenade before whipping out the crew with another, thus saving the lives of his men. He lived up to a standard he set for himself: “Lead from the front and your men will follow.”
When presented with the Audie Murphy Award at the event’s closing honors banquet, Lt. Col. Megellas took the opportunity to re-emphasize what had inspired him to such actions: “Believing in and fighting for a cause greater than myself.”
“Be Careful Colonel, The Hill is Mined”
The talk given by Gen. P.X. Kelley, the 28th Commandant of the Marine Corps, was arguably the most moving. Most of it dealt with his illustrious career which took him to the highest position in the Marine Corps, but it was the anecdotes along the way that made it all so memorable.
Throughout the years and most especially when he became commandant, Gen. Kelley explained how he never missed the opportunity to speak with any enlisted man who crossed his path. In a very fatherly way, he took interest in them and what was going on in their lives. This provided him not only the opportunity to see how they were doing, but more importantly showed them he cared. He then held the audience in the palm of his hand with two particularly moving stories.
On one occasion he described a gut wrenching scene during the Vietnam War. A young Marine was shot in the head during a particularly intense battle. He had lost part of his skull and was bleeding profusely. It was clear to General Kelley, the medic and the young man himself, that he was not going to survive. Nevertheless, the wounded man had the presence of mind to warn, then-Colonel Kelley of the impending danger that lay ahead.
“Be careful Colonel,” the dying man said, “the hill is mined.” Tears welled up in Gen. Kelley’s eyes as he put that scene into perspective.
“Those were the last words that young man would ever pronounce on this earth,” he told the audience. Yet he was not concerned about his own life but rather the safety of those who would carry on the fight. Gen. Kelley then described the comfort he derived whenever visiting the Vietnam Memorial to simply place his hand on the name of that man who with his last dying breath most likely saved him from a similar fate.
His trip down memory lane did not stop there. He told the story of delivering the sad news to a mother that her son had died in battle and would not be coming home. The grieving mother, with an attitude of unselfishness, took Gen. Kelley’s hand into her own, looked him square in the eye and said, “When the Lord gave me my son, he never promised how long I could keep him.” She then put her own sorrow aside and reassured Gen. Kelley.
“Don’t fret over my son’s death,” she concluded. “He is probably looking down on me now and saying, ‘Don’t worry Mom, I am okay.’”
Unstoppable Navy SEAL
Former Navy Seal Jason Redman was part of the wounded warrior panel. In September of 2007 he was the commander of an assault force to capture an Al Qaeda High Value Target when his team came under heavy machine gun and small arms fire. He took a round which entered near his ear, exited the right side of his face, blew out his cheekbone, shattered his jaw and removed his nose. Sensing the life run out his body made him angry3.
|Lt. Jason Redman (left) with author, at the United States Navy Memorial in Washington DC, before the Wounded Warrior panel part of the annual Veterans Conference.|
“I did not want those thugs to have the satisfaction to know that their ambush had actually managed to kill one of us.” He then thought of his wife Erica and their three children and said, “I got angrier.” It was at that moment he decided he was not ready to go. “I wanted to teach my son how to hunt and fish,” he said, “and to be an honorable man.”
He then asked God to help him live. Suddenly he sensed a newfound strength to go on and began to the think more clearly. When helicopters arrived he knew, “by the grace of God, I was going home.” As fellow SEALS helped him to the chopper Lt. Redman described a “miraculous strength” which allowed him, under his own power, to walk the final 75 yards.
He survived that battle, and over 37 surgeries to repair his face, with an indomitable spirit. Visitors at Walter Reed Medical Center were shocked by the handwritten orange sign that hung outside his door. It was eventually photographed and went viral on the Internet.
TO ALL WHO ENTER HERE
If you are coming into this room with sorrow or to feel sorry for my wounds, go elsewhere. The wounds I received, I got in a job I love, doing it for the people I love, supporting the freedom of the country I deeply love. I am incredibly tough and will make a full recovery. What is full? That is the absolute utmost physically my body has the ability to recover. Then I will push that 20% further through sheer mental tenacity. This room you are about to enter is a room of fun, optimism and intense rapid growth. If you are not prepared for that, GO ELSWHERE!
From: The Management.
“We are Going to Get Through This”
The enemy might have broken his body but they did not touch his spirit. Lt. Redman did, however, express concern during the chopper ride back home, over how his wife would react to his horribly disfigured face. He had heard horror stories of wives who had walked away from husbands with such injuries and feared he might suffer the same rejection.
“I was more terrified, a few minutes before Erica walked into my [hospital] room,” he said, “than I ever felt entering an enemy target building in Iraq or Afghanistan.”
Contrary to what he thought could happen, Erica entered the room, walked directly up to his bed without pausing once. She then pushed aside the assortment of tubes, reached down, embraced her wounded husband and whispered in his ear, “We are going to be okay. We are going to get through this.” She clearly went beyond what “appears.”
So did two proto-typical Southern ladies from Decatur, Alabama who are regular attendees as such events.
Going Beyond what “Appeareth”
Mrs. Faye Hooper is widow of Medal of Honor recipient Capt. Joe Hooper, the namesake of the Joe Ronnie Hooper Award, given each year to a particular serviceman. During his tours in Vietnam, Capt. Hooper earned more medals than both Audie Murphy and Alvin York. Besides the nations highest award he tallies 37 others, including two Silver Stars, six Bronze Stars and eight Purple Hearts.
|Faye Hooper wife of Medal of Honor Recipient Capt. Joe Hooper (left) with her “sister soul” Joan McCollum before the Honors Award Banquet at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC.|
If there were an award for enthusiasm, his wife Faye and her good friend and “sister soul” Joan McCollum would have received truck loads during the conference. From beginning to end, these two charming ladies occupied a front row seat at every single presentation. Their smiling faces were as enjoyable to observe as the heroes themselves. They listened to each talk with perfect attentiveness as if fearful of missing a single word. One would say they did not just absorb information with their minds, they drank it in with their souls.
Contrary to normal human limitations, they seemed to gain energy and a youthfulness as the conference progressed with each passing story of heroism and dedication. They, like Erica Redman were clearly able to go beyond “what appears” and took joy in seeing the heart, or more particularly the legend, of these American Warriors.
2 1st Samuel 16:7 “…for man seeth those things that appear, but the Lord beholdeth the heart.”
The inspiring story of MOH Recipient and Catholic priest Fr. Emil Kaupan.
During his time as a POW Gen. Mechenbier heroically stood up to the Communist guards, in the Vietnamese camp, who tried in vein to stop the American prisoners from having a weekly prayer service. “You can have no church services,” the camp commander said. “You embarrass us in front of the Russians.”
Gen. Mechenbier’s response, according to another POW was, “It doesn’t matter what you do including killing every one of us, but as long as one man is alive we are having that church service.” He said it so simply, coolly and firmly, recounts this same POW, that the guards knew and the Americans knew that there was going to be no compromise.
Gen. Mechenbier was subsequently beaten for his resistance but did not give in. …The prayer services continued.
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.”
Tags: Chester Nez, Chris Kyle, Clinton Romesha, Corporal Garrett Jones, Doolittle Raiders, Gen. Conway, Gen. Patrick H. Brady, Maj. Gen. Thomas Wilkerson, Navajo Code Talkers, Philip Johnston, PTSD, Veterans Conference, Wounded Warriors
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.
Emily Hulsey | On 15, Oct 2013
During a mission in the Panjwai district of Afghanistan, the U.S. Army’s 3rd Ranger Battalion was attacked by a massive suicide explosion that left four members of the team dead. Ranger Josh Hargis, one of the survivors, was severely wounded from the attack.
Here is a picture of Josh recovering in a hospital in Afghanistan. About fifty soldiers crowded into the room to award him with the prestigious Purple Heart for his wounds received in action. Despite the horrible pain he was experiencing, he still gave this incredibly beautiful salute to his commanding officer. This is the definition of true patriotism:
Here is what Josh’s wife posted, along with the photo, to her Facebook page:
“I received this picture today along with a letter from the commander of the team Josh was a part of on the night of his injuries. A letter to explain to me what kind of man I have the privilege of being married to. He explained to me what happened and what was going on in the picture.
“Josh was seriously wounded as you know, and survived for almost two hours after his injury before arriving to the hospital. Josh was immediately pushed through a series of surgeries and emerged hours later into an intensive care unit here at our base in Afghanistan.
“Despite being in intense pain and mental duress, Josh remained alert and compassionate to the limited Rangers that were allowed to visit his bedside. Prior to Josh being moved to Germany for his eventual flight to America, we conducted a ceremony to award him with the Purple Heart for wounds received in action.
“A simple ceremony, you can picture a room full of Rangers, leaders, doctors, and nurses surrounding his bedside while the Ranger Regimental Commander pinned the Purple Heart to his blanket. During the presentation the Commander publishes the official orders verbally and leaned over Josh to thank him for his sacrifice.
“Josh, whom everybody in the room (over 50 people) assumed to be unconscious, began to move his right arm under the blanket in a diligent effort to salute the Commander as is customary during these ceremonies. Despite his wounds, wrappings, tubes, and pain, Josh fought the doctor who was trying to restrain his right arm and rendered the most beautiful salute any person in that room had ever seen.
“I cannot impart on you the level of emotion that poured through the intensive care unit that day. Grown men began to weep and we were speechless at a gesture that speak volumes about Josh’s courage and character. The picture, which we believe belongs on every news channel and every news paper is attached. I have it hanging above my desk now and will remember it as the single greatest event I have witnessed in my ten years in the Army.”