Wednesday, May 31, 2006

My Memorial Day Part II

After we visited Leavenworth National Cemetary, we drove over to Fort Leavenworth where another ceremony was being held at the Fort Leavenworth. This cemetary is the old fort cemetary and contains the graves of many interesting people since the fort's inception in 1827.

When we arrived at the fort, there was a long line of civilian cars waiting to get in. If you don't have a military ID and/or sticker on your car, you have to pass through a different line for the gate. We had to get out of our vehicle, turn off the engine, open the trunk and hood to have the vehicle searched. They also took down our license plate and driver's license. Unfortunately, this put us behind for the ceremony at the fort cemetary. It had started drizzling when we arrived. Once we were on base, I got lost and finally had to turn around and stop at the gas station near the PX to get directions. There was a long line of young people buying cases of beer (none were in uniform) and one older gentleman that was picking up a bottle of scotch.

By the time we got to the cemetary, the ceremony was over and I missed Gen. Petreaus's speech. I saw many officers and veterans walking back to the parking area. We parked and decided to walk around anyway. It was raining steadily, though lightly and we had no umbrella's (I swear the weatherman had not predicted rain). But it was still warm, so we decided to walk in the rain. We walked among the headstones again. This time the boys were even more interested because there were several headstones that you could tell the soldiers had died during war or in combat based on the date of death and the medals listed, particularly the Purple Heart. There were several Vietnam KIA, some Korean War and many WWII. Some of the headstones gave enough information that I could tell a little story by it and the boys were very attentive. One of the headstones was a large grey granite headstone that listed the occupant as a Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps. He died in 1944, shot down over Germany according to the inscription. He earned an Air Medal for his efforts.

As we looked at the headstone, a reporter from Fox WDAF TV in Kansas City approached us and asked if we were the soldier's family and could she interview us. I had to demure and explained we were simply looking at the headstones (she called it "social history"), but I directed her to a family that I had spoke with briefly shortly before. They had asked me if I knew how to locate certain graves. They had three they had located at the kiosk, but couldn't find in the cemetary. I pointed out the row and section markers and then pointed to the serial numbers on the back of the headstones. They were very near the first marker they were looking for. I saw them a few minutes later holding hands and praying together. The family appeared on the evening news.

Another headstone listed the names of five men in the same grave. The inscription and date indicated they were members of the Army Air Corp and had "crashed" in 1943. The boys wanted to know why there were several names on the headstone instead of one like the others and I explained that it was probably because the crash was so terrible that they could not tell who was who (not having DNA testing back then), so they buried them together.

Even my niece got into it by going from grave to grave and looking at the carvings. Again we were straigtening a few flags and flowers and there were many people walking among the graves. Fiinally, we made it to the administrative building where a kiosk was set up and and obelisk with an interactive map pointed out historically important people buried there. The original ceremony we were going to attend was the wreath laying at the site of Brig. General Henry Leavenworth. We listened to the brief history of the establishment of the fort in 1827 and the re-internment of his body at Leavenworth on Memorial Day 1902, nearly 70 years after his death.

According to this history page, Frontier Forts were often named after the serving officer that established them:

Perhaps the war department at that time felt remiss in permitting another officer's name to be used for the post established in Minnesota and sought to right the situation by giving Leavenworth the temporary task of proceeding up the Missouri River to erect a cantonment somewhere near the mouth of the Little Platte. His instructions were to select a site on the east bank of the Missouri within twenty miles, on either side, of the confluence of the Platte with the larger stream. Four companies of infantry were the troops of the command.

Colonel Leavenworth, after exploring the country, decided the east bank was not suitable, being perhaps unhealthy and subjected to floods, so without waiting for permission he chose a sightly eminence on the west bank and it was there that "Cantonment Leavenworth" was established. The change was approved by the war department. At first, the new post proved to be very unhealthy, despite its location high above the river bank, and it very nearly was abandoned two years later.

Several of the oldest headstones indicated deaths of men, women and children in the early 1830's, all within a short time of each other.

However, the coming of troubles with the plains Indians led to its retention and it was garrisoned again with troops under command of Maj. Bennett Riley (ed...founder of Fort Riley), later brigadier general and close adviser of General Scott in the war with Mexico, and whose fame is commemorated by the other Kansas military post at the junction of the Republican and Smoky Hill rivers.

We then saw the grave of the oldest settler at the fort and many young men in their teens and early twenties, just as in any war. We saw the grave of Col. Edward Hatch, leader of the 9th Cavalry (Buffalo Soldiers). On his obelesque are engraved the names of the 53 separate engagements he was involved in as well as a brief message from his officers and troops that indicated that he was not only a good leader, but truly loved and respected by his men.


During the winter of 1866-67, every effort was made to bring about an efficient state of drill, discipline and organization. The orders regarding stables and the performance of that duty were especially strict. Few officers had as yet joined, and the number on duty with the regiment was so small, that a scheme of squadron organization was resorted to so that at least one officer might be present with each squadron for every drill or other duty. The entire enlisted strength was woefully ignorant, entirely helpless, and though willing enough to learn, was difficult to teach. By assiduous labor and constant drilling much headway was made, however, and by the end of March, 1867, a change of station was determined upon. The middle of this month found the regiment with nearly its full strength, the return at that time showing a total of 885 enlisted men, or an average of over 70 to a troop.

Reading that and several other comments about establishing the regiment made me think about our current efforts in Iraq. Col. Hatch joined the regiment in 1867.

It is difficult now-a-days fully to appreciate all the work and labor devolving upon the officers in those early days. The men knew nothing, and the non-commissioned officers but little more. From the very circumstances of their preceding life it could not be otherwise. They had no independence, no self-reliance, not a thought except for the present, and were filled with superstition. To make soldiers of, such material was, at that time, considered more of an experiment than as a fixed principle. The Government depended upon the officers of those early days to solve the problem of the colored soldier.

The colonel of the regiment was Edward Hatch, a young man full of energy and enthusiasm. He went right manfully to work, determined to succeed, and in this he was ably seconded by his officers. They were all equally enthusiastic in proving the wisdom of the experiment of colored soldiers, and in forcing the issue to a successful solution were compelled, not only to attend to the duties that naturally attach to the office of a troop commander and his lieutenants, but, in the endeavor to make finished individual soldiers of the negro and to feel that the troop, taken as a unit, was an independent fighting force, well drilled, well clothed, well fed, suitably armed and equipped, and thoroughly able to take care of itself in garrison or campaign, they were forced to enter into the minutest details of military administration, and personally to assume nearly all the duties of the non-commissioned officer. For some years the latter, from lack of education, were such only in name, and the process of moulding them into a responsible and self-reliant class was a slow one. Troop officers were in fact squad commanders, and it took both time and patience to teach the men how to care for themselves.

I bet our men in Iraq and Afghanistan can fully appreciate the difficulties Col. Hatch and the other officers experienced. The 9th Cavalry was also involved in the charge up San Juan Hill (sans horses contrary to the popular painting on the subject).

We went on to view other headstones including Thomas Custer, brother of General George Armstrong Custer, who died with him at Little Big Horn, was buried at the site with his brother and later re-interred at Fort Leavenworth. He received two Medals of Honor for capturing two Confederate Battle flags:

He was one of only four soldiers or sailors to receive the dual honor during the Civil War, and one of just nineteen in history. His second citation includes, "Custer crossed the line of temporary works on the flank of the road, where his unit was confronted by a supporting battle-line. In the second line he wrested the colors from an enemy color bearer. Advancing on another standard he received a shot in the face which knocked him back on his horse. Despite his wounds, he continued his assault on the color bearer who began to fall from wounds he had also received. As he fell, the wounded Lieutenant Custer reached out to grasp this second standard of colors, bearing both off in triumph."

For those who may think that receiving a Medal of Honor for capturing the enemy's flag, it would behoove us to remember what battle lines and fighting during the Civil War was like. The flag was the honor of the regiment. It gave a rallying point during battle before things like squad radios were even invented. It directed them to the line of battle, whether moving forward or retreating, wheeling left or right or, finally, when it was surrendered, battle was over. The flag was typically at the center of the line and well protected. Men gave their lives to save it and keep it from touching the ground. Capturing it during battle was above and beyond the call of duty.

I noted during our walk how often soldiers were buried as "unknown" before the advent of dog tags and DNA testing. By the time we had walked to one end of the cemetary, it was steadily raining and we were soaked. Lightening was striking around the base and the thunder was echoing. It's funny how, at the other cemetary when the cannons were being fired, I likened it to rolling thunder. At the Fort, the thunder sounded like booming cannon. I wondered if the sound was comforting to those lying a rest; like a modern Valhalla where the warriors were reliving their battles and exploits.

We decided to leave because the lightening was striking very near and there were many trees so it seemed smart to egress the area. As we walked back, the kids splashed in the puddles in and around the gutter. Towards the end of the upper section, I noticed two graves that were decorated with many fresh flowers and wreaths. The first was a soldier from World War II who had died in 1971. Several of the wreaths said "Dad" or "Daddy". It was touching to know that 35 years later, this man was not forgotten by his family that must have been many.

The second headstone made me stop for a few moments and contemplate. It was the grave of Captain Christopher B. Johnson, killed in Iraq October 17, 2004 when two Kiowa Helicopters collided during a mission. Of all the things we did and saw that day, that grave with all its flowers touched me the most. Here was our war dead. OUR war dead, my generation. This, above all other things, above the wreaths, the speakers, the taps and the cannon, truly made me realize the importance of Memorial Day. I felt my heart squeeze and a tear touch my eye because I realized that this man's family had come that day and placed flowers upon his grave. It was still new to them and now Memorial Day was new to me.

I went home and searched for information on Captain Johnson. According to the Army Times, the crash was caused due to poor communications. Several messages on his "guest book" that told a little story about Captain Johnson:

My husband Tim was stationed with Chris at Ft. Campbell. Tim came in as the new Lt. taking over as the other platoon leader so Chris showed him the ropes. Their interests in the same things such as working on their big trucks and being from the same home state quickly made them friends. Chris came over a few times for dinner and his friendly, playful manner caught the eye of my daughter, Caitlyn, who was then 5. She still remembered him even though we hadn't seen Chris for years and was very sad to hear that he was no longer with us. Like many other family members of service men, I know how devoted Chris was to his country and the pride that he carried putting on the uniform. I also know how heartwrenching it was knowing he was in harms way. We will mourn Chris and the rest of the men who leave us doing their job honorably, making us proud of their selfless service. Our prayers are with you and Chris will always hold a place in our hearts.

And the other:

Mr. and Mrs. Johnson,
I am so very sorry for your loss. I would have posted a note sooner, but I just found out about Chris last night. My heart is heavy with the loss of such a wonderful person. Chris was my escort at the NKCHS Winter Invitational assembly. I'll never forget walking across the field house floor, and Chris laughing at me as I tripped over the cords. Even an embarrassing moment like that one, became a fabulous memory that I have taken out, dusted off, and enjoyed over the years. I will miss Chris dearly, even though we were unable to stay in touch after graduation. My thoughts are with you, and my best wishes to you and your family. May his memory be the lighthouse to our stormy seas. Nicole Frazier[snip]

To the Johnson family,
I consider myself fortunate to have been under the command of Captain Johnson. He was a wonderful, honest man with a sincere devotion to duty and country. I was also fortunate to have been his co-pilot while in Iraq, and I am thankful that I got to know him better as a result of it. His sacrifice for all of us will never be forgotten. Rest in peace Outlaw 6. Michael Spalsbury (Puyallup, WA )

Finally, the one that touched me the most, was so simple and was posted recently, almost two years after his death:


The rest of the story: Chief Warrant Officer William Brennan

From the time William Brennan was a boy, he wanted nothing more than to fly.

He achieved his dream as pilot of an Army helicopter. He died in the cockpit, when his helicopter went down Saturday over Baghdad.

His brothers and sisters Monday remembered Brennan as an outgoing, friendly, somewhat wacky guy who was proud of his Army service.

“He was very adamant that he was doing the right thing,” said his sister-in-law, T.J. Brennan. [snip]

In an Easter letter to his sister, Briana Wall, Brennan spoke more privately of his fears, but he wanted to keep those feelings secret from his wife, so she would not worry, his sister said.

“I say a hell of a lot of prayers before getting into the aircraft, and after getting down,” he wrote. “It is not the fear of death that weighs me down, it is the feeling of not being there for my three girls.”

“There is a very real chance that something bad could happen and they would never know me,” he wrote.

Brennan met his wife at a Super Bowl party, his brother recalled. Kathy Brennan was in the infantry. They were both stationed at Ft. Drum and shipped out together for Bosnia. While overseas, she learned she was pregnant with their first daughter and was discharged.

In addition to his work in Bosnia and Iraq, Brennan also flew surveillance helicopters around New York City after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He brought a camera with him on every flight and took amazing pictures of the Statue of Liberty and other landmarks, T.J. Brennan said.

“I am so glad I keep a journal,” he wrote to his family in September. “I think it might make a good book someday.”

On the day of the crash, the two other pilots involved in the crash were later rescued.

Capt. Ryan Welch, an AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter pilot, and his gunner, Chief Warrant Officer Justin Taylor, were on a reconnaissance mission over southern Baghdad for the 1st Cavalry Division when they received a cry for help over the radio.

The second call for help said two other pilots had been killed in action; Beck and Crow were both injured and trying to make their way to a defensible position.

When the Apache flew over the crash site, Welch spotted a fire that turned out to be the OH-58 Kiowa. Welch landed his Apache about 330 feet from the crash site. Armed with his 9 mm pistol and an M4 carbine rifle, he set out to collect the downed pilots.

One of the pilots could no longer walk, and both were cut up. It took about 10 minutes for Welch and the two pilots to make their way back to the Apache. Now there were four personnel to get out and only two seats in the Apache.

Welch decided that the injured Crow would take the seat, while he and Beck attached themselves to the outside of the helicopter. They took nylon straps hanging from their flight vests, attached to a carabiner and secured the straps to handholds on the copter. The aircraft then flew off with the two attached to the outside.

At 90 mph, the helicopter flew 12 miles to Forward Operating Base Falcon, the closest base with a combat support hospital.

Both Brennan and Johnson were awarded Hawaii's first Medal of Honor. He was stationed at Wheeler, HI. Captain Johnson's mother attended last years Troops Rally countering the Sheehan anti-war protest:

Margaret Johnson, 54, came to the District yesterday to remember her 29-year-old son and honor his sacrifice.

Clutching a photograph of Army Capt. Christopher Johnson, the American Gold Star Mother said she couldn't be more proud of him.

"He did make a difference in this world; I don't care what anyone says," said Mrs. Johnson, of Excelsior Springs, Mo. "I am here to speak for my son. I am here to support him. He knew the cost of freedom and that it was not free, and he volunteered to go to Iraq anyway."

A member of the 25th Infantry Division (Light), Capt. Johnson was killed in a midair helicopter collision Oct. 16 in Iraq. He spent 10 months in Iraq and was getting ready to come home, Mrs. Johnson said.

"He was good at what he did, and he loved it," she said as she wiped tears from her face. "This photo is a self-portrait. He was so happy."

I wanted to say that, almost two years later, Captain Johnson was still making a difference.

Thank you.

My Memorial Day

This year I had resolved to attend one of the many Memorial day celebrations in our area. There were many to choose from including the celebration at Liberty Memorial downtown that would include the VFW Band and a parade of color guards. However, I chose to attend the much smaller ceremony in at the Leavenworth National Cemetary. I have three four family members buried there and a close friend of my mom along with her husband.

My youngest brother is currently in the hospital due to multiple complications from a surgery he had several weeks ago so I have been taking care of his three children, two boys, ages 13 and 12, and one girl, age 4. While I knew that the four year old would only be interested in all the "pretty" things, I thought the boys might like to see the military pagentry. I also wanted to take the opportunity to instill in them whatever little understanding I could of the importance of the day beyond our usual family get togethers and barbecues this time of year.

We woke up at 7 AM Monday morning to make the drive to the cemetary. My mom came over to the house and drove with us. We took Highway 45, the historical Lewis and Clark trail, over to 92 before crossing the bridge into Kansas. It was a beautiful morning with blue skies and about 78*F, though the humidity was high. I wish I had a camera so that you could see the Missouri/Kansas country side as I did on the drive. Though it was hazy from the humidity and heat, it was beautiful, rolling green hills in the distance with green leafy trees above the flat farm fields to the right and left of the highway near the river. Maybe I was just feeling a little too emotionally conscious at the moment, but the fields reminded me of the line from "America the Beautiful" "O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain,". If you could have seen what I did, you would know why Lewis and Clark (as well as several members of the corps) wrote in their journals from June 28 and July 4 as they traveled through the area that it was "one of the most beautiful places I ever saw in my life".

When we arrived at the cemetary, we had to park some distance from the ceremony at the chapel and wait for a shuttle. There were several veterans waiting for the shuttle along with their wives along with family members of those who were buried at Leavenworth National Cemetary. I had made a mental note and was prepared to shake hands and thank veterans personally this year, something I had done rarely in the past though I knew many. As we walked up to the shuttle area, I could see the men in their VFW and American Legion hats. The bus arrived immediately precluding any discussion as everyone made immediately for the seats. I made the kids stand back and wait for everyone else to get on. As we walked down the aisle, the vets all smiled and offered us each a "good morning" "how are you", etc as we passed. All of these vets were WWII and Korean War veterans. I was happy to respond and to note that the boys were not complete heathens, but also responded politely.

A woman about my mom's age, walking with a cane and her daughter, both wearing "USA" T-shirts, hats and pins arrived late to the shuttle as we were being seated. The boys had each taken an empty bench for themselves, leaving only two open seats on different benches, so I poked the eldest nephew in the arm and pointed to the ladies so he would give up his seat.

Once we were there, we stood at the left of the stage near the salute battery and heard several speakers noted in the Leavenworth times (registration required).

“Bravery is not being unafraid,” said Ernie Cooper, state commander of the American Legion of Kansas. “Brave people are those who are afraid to put themselves in harm’s way and do it anyway.”

I believe there were over 15 wreaths laid that day from many organizations. Besides the numerous VFW and American Legion posts, there were several motorcycle organization including the American Legion Riders who often join the Patriot Guard to honor fallen soldiers and protect their families from protesters. There were women vets as well, each pair of presenters saluted the wreaths they laid. I noted that the VFW and American Legion vets would salute, then smartly turn and salute the flags of the color guard before returning to their places. One in particular caught my eye as he did a specific route that took him by the color guard (made up of all the branches of the services) and held the salute until he had completely passed. After seeing several groups salute, the boys thought they should salute, too.

Unfortunately, by the end of the ceremony, the boys and my niece were getting a little restless and started picking at each other. When they started playing taps I had everyone stand up and the boys started pushing at each other. I finally turned around and gave them the "look". They both looked around and noted people saluting and put their hands over their hearts.
(Leavenworth Times) However, before I could turn back to face the salute battery, Taps had ended and the commander of the battery gave the first order to fire. As the first round went off, I ducked my head as I slewed around to face the cannons. Now I know how the newly returned vets feel when they hear loud bangs. After that, facing the battery and watching the commands being given, it was not so startling. Three cannon fired seven shots each with precision, the shots echoing across the rolling hills of the cemetary like rolling thunder.

My niece insisted that I hold my hands over her ears while they fired. When it was over, the color guard retired the colors and the ceremony broke up. The 12 year old wanted to go over to the cannon and look at it. The oldest was having a pouty moment because I had given him the "look" during the ceremony and decided he was going to sit on the curb while we looked. Children rarely understand "cutting your nose off to spite your face". A young woman, Spc. Vineyard, was very kind and took the time to explain things about the cannon to my nephew. It was a 75mm Howitzer "Mountain Gun". She explained that it was heavily used during WWII and Korea. My nephew noted the odd smell that was still lingering and Spc. Vineyard explained that it was the sulfur inside the shells and proceeded to show him an unused round (blank). She saw that he kept looking at the cannon and told him he could touch it. He was very excited. I thanked Spc Vineyard as the squad leader came over and directed the soldiers to start "policing up the ammunition". My oldest nephew finally joined us and wanted to talk to her, but we needed to get going to the gravesites we were going to visit. He was very disappointed and said he wanted to talk to her because "she was very pretty".

I want to say a big "thank you" to her again for being so patient and answering all of his questions. She was also very knowledgable, polite and professional; an excellent representative of the US Army and a fine example of the young men and women we are fortunate to have serving.

We walked along the headstones near the chapel on the way to our first desitination and I pointed out the different markers, some with the words "Sp Am War", "Unknown" and other interesting information. We visted the gravesite of Charles and Rosa Lee Winters. Rosa Lee was an elderly lady my mom had been very fond of. Her husband had proceeded her by nearly twenty years and they now shared a grave at Leavenworth. Charles had been a POW during WWII. Then we went to the newest section where my Uncle Donald was buried last year. It was sad to say that there were over 80 new graves and a line of sites that were being prepared for new internments. Most of these were WWII and Korean War Vets with a few new Vietnam Vets. I noted two headstones that listed the men as "Persian Gulf" (Gulf WarI; Desert Storm). The men were barely in their early thirties when they died. One of the headstones read, "Friend and beloved husband; Scouts Out". Many headstones listed medals received such as "PH" (Purple Heart), BSM (bronze star medal) and many others. One medal that I could not remember the designation for was marked "OLC" on the headstone. I presumed it was a commendation of some sort, but had no clue if that was correct. (If anyone knows what "OLC" on a military headstone means, please leave a comment).

We went on to visit by Great Uncle Fred and his wife Melba's grave; then to my grandfather's brother, Uncle Leon, who got permission and began to serve in the Navy on the same ship as my grandfather had during the war. The cemetary was very busy. I don't think anyone can say they are "glad" that it was so busy with family members and friends, but it did warm my heart to see how many families and friends had come to pay their respects. As we walked along the headstones and I read some of the information when the boys asked, "what does this mean?", I noted that some of the flowers and flags had fallen over, so, as I read I put them back in place. The boys and my niece must have decided that it would be a good thing to do so they followed suit. My niece was four and couldn't push some of the flower holders back into the ground so I had her help me when I did it.

While we were walking along looking at the headstones, the sky turned an ominous grey and sprinkles began to fall so I herded the children back into the car. We had 20 minutes to make it to our next destination: Fort Leavenworth Cemetary, to hear General Petraeus speak and, if the wheather cooperated, look at some historical monuments on the fort proper.

Getting on the fort was an experience all by itself.

To be continued...

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Women in Combat: 'Fighting Deuce' MPs Patrol Afghan Mountains - DefendAmerica News Article

TOWR KHAM FIRE BASE, Afghanistan, May 26, 2006 — The “Fighting Deuce” rolled into eastern Afghanistan a little more than two months ago to try its hand at intercepting insurgents in some of the most rugged terrain the country offers.

More than 30 U.S. soldiers from the 272nd Military Police Company “Fighting Deuce,” based in Mannheim, Germany, are joined by a platoon from the 1st Battalion/188th Air Defense Artillery of the North Dakota National Guard at Towr Kham Fire Base, a remote outpost just minutes from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border crossing at Towr Kham.[snip]

The challenge is daunting, according to U.S. Army 1st Lt. Renee Ramsey, 272nd Military Police Company platoon commander. The more than 170 miles of border under the Afghan Border Police 1st Brigade’s watch has few vehicle crossing points, yet hundreds of foot and animal trails used for hundreds of years by locals and caravans.

Ramsey said the soldiers’ missions often involve grueling mountain ascents to spend several nights at listening and observation posts near the border.[snip]

U.S. Army Spc. Rachel Carey, a 21-year-old native of Aurora, Ill., who joined the military to better herself as a person, said this deployment is no 9-to-5 job.

“You better know what you’re doing over here,” said the mother who takes pictures of daughter Madison on every mission. “It’s not only your life on the line, but everyone else in your truck.”

Read more about the 272nd Fighting Deuce:

'Fighting Deuce' MPs Patrol Afghan Mountains - DefendAmerica News Article

The 272nd Military Police Company soldiers, working under leadership of the 10th Mountain Division, support Task Force Vigilant, a combined border operations and police tactical training mission in conjunction with the Afghan Border Patrol.

A U.S. Army tradition allows soldiers to wear the “patch” or insignia of a unit they serve with in combat operations, even if they’re not permanently assigned to the unit.

“Our soldiers truly embody their platoon motto of ‘Stay Hard,’” said Ramsey, a Buffalo native. “They have definitely earned their ‘Mountain’ patch.”

Monday, May 29, 2006

Why Memorial Day Matters

I am reprinting this in whole because it seems a shame to simply parse and link with such a great piece that everyone should read:

Memorial Day was born in the still-bloody and emotional years immediately after the Civil War, when families were torn asunder and the nation split down a jagged line on titanic questions of American values and survival.

John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Republic Army, issued the order for marking the graves of Civil War soldiers on May 5, 1868. Here is the decree:

"The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

"We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, 'of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.' What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes?

"Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders.

"Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

"If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

"Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.

"It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith."

As a nation, we have periodically forgotten these beautiful and earnest words during times of turmoil. The worst was during the Vietnam War when a segment among us confused the roles of soldier and diplomat and blamed the fight on the fighter, not the policy that set the battle.

As a society we have learned, I think, our lesson and we now honor and love the sacrifice of the men and women who stand guard even while we debate the policies that caused that sacrifice. None among us should be too confused, too frightened or too lazy to lift a salute of gratitude and honor to those who died wearing the uniform of soldier, sailor or marine, those who wielded weapons of death in order to preserve life.

This is the ideal of the American military, and it is realized every day in the hot sand, regardless of politics, mistakes, right and wrong. This is worth honoring, and taking a moment, perhaps, to hear the "reveille of freedom" that still rings.

Also see Castle Argghhh! Taking Back the Holiday

One Son Comes Home, One Son Earns Medal of Honor

This is an expanded story of Sgt Paul R. Smith, Medal of Honor Recipient:

Janice Pvirre will be at Arlington in person. She will join the other "Gold Star Mothers," those who have lost children in combat, to lay a wreath and to say a prayer at a white marker engraved with the emblem of this nation's highest military honor.

Her son, Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith, died in a dusty courtyard outside Baghdad, fatally wounded in a furious firefight while showing "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity ... above and beyond the call of duty" _ a sacrifice that made him the only service member awarded the Medal of Honor in the Iraq war.

Among those Sgt. Smith's actions saved: Dan Richardson, who has recently married and himself been promoted to sergeant.

That knowledge is both a blessing and a burden, for one mother to know that any milestone she will celebrate with her son _ a birthday, a holiday, the birth of a child _ was made possible by another mother's loss.

"We have been drawn together for some reason, and we're both intrigued about that reason," Richardson [Dan's Mother] says. "There is a destiny behind all of this. And it's not over. It's not played out yet. We don't know where it's going from here."[snip]

Smith, who had married shortly after that war in 1992 and had become a stepfather, then a father, told his wife that he feared he hadn't seen the last of Iraq. Making sure his men were ready became a priority, Birgit Smith says.

"He said, `We are not done. We're going back. We didn't finish,'" the young widow says. "It was just a matter of time."

That time came in March 2003. And Smith was ready.

"There are two ways to come home, stepping off the plane and being carried off the plane," he wrote in a letter to his parents. "It doesn't matter how I come home because I am prepared to give all that I am to ensure that all my boys make it home."

One of those "boys" was Dan Richardson.[snip]

Go over and read more about the fight, Sgt Smith's heroism and how the men he fought with and for honor him.

In the four-page letter from Dan afterward, Rita Richardson learned the harrowing tale of gunfire and confusion, and of the sergeant who held them all together.

"It is because of him that I'm not dead ..." her son wrote. "He gave his life defending us."[snip]

Letters and e-mails from the families of others who served with Smith still come to his mother and widow, thanking them for his sacrifice.

Some display his picture in a place of honor among their own family photos. Somewhere, there is a baby boy named Paul, in his memory.

Medic Michelle Chavez held Smith's hand as he died under the hot Iraqi sun. In her pocket, she carries a .50-caliber machine gun bullet from the battle.

Because of Smith, she is alive to pursue her dream of becoming a physician's assistant, says her mother, Pam Shorb.

"I really don't know how to put it into words," says Shorb. "I'll always be grateful to him for what he did and what he sacrificed. Without our daughter, we don't know what we'd be."

Janice Pvirre says it hurts to know that because of those same actions, Paul was not there last October to give stepdaughter Jessica away in marriage. When 12-year-old David enters seventh grade this fall, it will be in a middle school building named for a father who is no longer there.

If anyone owes her anything, she says, it is to live as good a life as possible, so that Paul's death was not in vain.

Sgt Paul R. Smith

Remembering Memorial Day 2006

Searching through local papers, I found a number of veterans remembering friends and actions from their time in service from WWII to today and stories of local heroes going back to the Civil War. I wanted to bring these to you so you can remember, too; that men and women have always sacrificed, always done their duty and always, at the end, loved their brothers and sisters in arms.

The Chosin Few

Not many people can find North Korea on a map these days and even fewer could find the spot in that tiny nation where Albert Walton's life changed, but this time of year brings a lot of memories to the mind of the Carthage veteran.

Walton is a member of the Jasper County Chapter 821 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, based in Joplin.

He was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds he suffered in an epic battle that went in the books as a defeat for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, but will always be remembered for the heroic way soldiers handled themselves as they retreated from a frozen hell known as the Chosin Reservoir.

“It brings back a lot of memories, mostly sad memories, when ever you talk about Memorial Day,” Walton said. “I had a medic that was wounded the same time I was, and my staff sergeant, who was a World War II veteran, and squad leader, bled to death lying across my legs. The medic was captured by the North Koreans trying to walk out to get help for me. The last I saw him, he was marching up a hill at the point of a bayonet.

“You remember those guys and you think about them all the time, but especially on Memorial Day.”

Walton and the other soldiers who survived the retreat from the Chosin Reservoir are called then “Chosin Few.”

Please read the rest; it's a story only the survivors can tell and he tells many more about that battle.

Walton recalled the most traumatic experiences of his time in the 2nd Platoon, Company B, 7th Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division as the division helped cover the U.S. Marine Corps retreat from the reservoir.

All of these incidents happened between Dec. 3 and Dec. 15, 1950.

He survived the first uninjured as his platoon, acting as rearguard, was ambushed by Chinese soldiers at a roadblock.

Walton recalled that his unit was ordered to fix bayonets and charge a hill to clear the roadblock for the rest of his column, which was approaching.

“We got about up to where the Chinese were when a Chinese threw back a snow over it right in front of me and behind the other people in my squad,” Walton said. “He didn't see me, but was getting his rifle ready to shoot when I jumped at him, he swung the gun around and I had to knock it to one side, striking him in the throat with my bayonet. About this time, I realized that he wasn't over 15 years old. This was the closest I had been to a Chinese that I had killed. I have had many nightmares from seeing that young Chinese face pop up out of a snow bank, and even now it is quite vivid.

Someday, I expect we'll hear similar stories from our men and women serving today (sometimes we do on blogs).

Mutts Fly Boy Dream

GRAVOIS MILLS — Mutt Williams recalled he dreamed of being a fly-boy while growing up at the lake, which prompted him to enlist in the Air Force.

He was ordered to report Dec. 8, 1942, a year and a day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

No one knew Mutt by his given name, Lige Williams. He had always been called Mutt from the Mutt and Jeff cartoon. After enlisting in the Air Force, he actually had to sign a disclaimer stating he was Lige (AKA “Mutt”) Williams because the Air Force background check revealed the “alias” from his school records.[snip]

Williams served as navigator in the 8th Air Force B-17 Flying Fortress, flying 35 missions from England over Europe.

“We flew over Germany and let them shoot at us,” Williams said. “We were 22 to 23 years old, young and foolish and didn’t know any better.”

Williams was the leader of 13 planes and he said it wasn’t unusual for 13 to go out and his plane might be the only one that returned to England.[snip]

“There were heroes in the war and there were other guys they wouldn’t let be heroes,” Williams said. “The Tuskegee, Ala., Air Force pilots were experts of getting those German fighters out of the sky. They were top-notch fighter pilots, and the Air Force wanted them out, but President Franklin D. Roosevelt kept them in the service... the Air Force finally gave them good planes and the Tuskegee pilots showed them they were the best.”

And it’s a good thing they did. Had it not been for one of those fighter pilots, Williams’ crew would not have been considered one of the lucky ones. They were taking heavy fire when they saw a red-tailed fighter drop out of the clouds. The German plane that had been attacking them disintegrated in front of them.

“He saved our lives. The German FW190 was going to take us out,” Williams said. “After he shot down the German plane, he flew nearby and waved his wings and saluted.

Although he never learned the name of the pilot, he will never forget what he did for them.

Read more about "Mutt" Williams, Member of the Lucky Bastard Club.

When he returned home by way of Liverpool, Williams was presented with a certificate naming him as a member of the Lucky Bastards Club for coming home uninjured throughout all his missions.

“There aren’t very many who have earned that,” he said.

For a while after the war, Williams took a variety of jobs before retiring. Memories of those days are seen on the walls of his room at Kidwell Home. Williams is the only surviving member of his crew, but the photographs hung in his room show a group of young, smiling men wearing bomber jackets, posing in front of their aircraft. It was a time when young men, like Williams, dreamed of being fly-boys and jumping into the fray.

An Army of One: One Family, One Father, One Soldier

In memory of "Butch":

Before you read his biography, I wanted to just say that the first time I met Butch was while the unit was in Ft. Benning during their homeland duty on their first deployment. The thing that stuck out about him was his youth and he was so polite to me. He showed me a lot of respect as Josh's wife and I never forgot that. I thought he was such a nice boy. At the time I had no idea that in seven short months they would be deployed to Afghanistan and that he and Josh would become so close. Josh misses Butch a great deal and his picture sits on our fireplace mantle.We visit his grave and Mo's grave every Memorial Day (this year I'll be going without him). I'll never forget the first one after Josh returned from Afghanistan. Butch's mom Donna took us to the gravesite. At the time Josh was still wearing his desert combat boots (it took about 3 months for him to shed those things) and I'll never forget the sight of my husband kneeling down at his grave and those boots sticking out behind him. I feel so bad for our troops who lose their friends. I know it happens every day but I don't think any of us comprehend how much they become family and how they are forever impacted by that loss.

St Francois Medal Of Honor Recipients

St. Francois County has two Medal of Honor recipients. Platt Pearsall, a veteran of the Civil War, and Darrell S. Cole, killed in World War II are both buried here.

Pearsall, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for the same storming party that Henry Frizzell fought in at Vicksburg, is buried in Pendleton Cemetery.

He served as a Corporal with Company C, 30th Ohio Infantry at Vicksburg and died June 18, 1931.

Cole received the Medal of Honor posthumously for action against the Japanese forces during the assault on Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945.

His citation reads: “Assailed by a tremendous volume of small-arms, mortar and artillery fire as he advanced with one squad of his section in the initial assault wave, Sgt. Cole boldly led his men up the sloping beach toward Airfield No. 1 despite the blanketing curtain of flying shrapnel and, personally destroying with hand grenades two hostile emplacements which menaced the progress of his unit, continued to move forward until a merciless barrage of fire emanating from three Japanese pillboxes halted the advance. Instantly placing his one remaining machine gun in action, he delivered a shattering fusillade and succeeded in silencing the nearest and most threatening emplacement before his weapon jammed and the enemy, reopening fire with knee mortars and grenades, pinned down his unit for the second time.

Please read the rest of this fine soldier's citation. He represents "common men with uncommon valor".

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Heroes in Action: Marine Corps Sgt Jeremiah Workman

Sgt. Jeremiah Workman, a drill instructor with Delta Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, and native of Richwood, Va., received the Navy Cross, second in prestige only to the Medal of Honor, during the recruit graduation ceremony at Peatross Parade Deck May 12, for actions while on deployment in Fallujah, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004.

According to the citation, he was awarded for extraordinary heroism, while serving as a squad leader for the Mortar Platoon, Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, 1st Marine Division, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Workman, exemplifying the old adage "no man left behind," repeatedly exposed himself to a hail of enemy fire to retrieve isolated Marines trapped inside an insurgent-infested building.

Ignoring heavy enemy fire and a storm of grenades raining down on his position, Workman fearlessly laid down enough cover fire to allow the trapped Marines to escape.

After seeing the first group of wounded Marines safely to a neighboring yard, Workman rallied additional Marines to his side and provided more cover fire for an attack into the building to rescue other Marines still trapped. He continued to fire even after receiving numerous shrapnel wounds to his arms and legs after a grenade exploded in front of him, stated his citation.

Workman's efforts did not stop after the second rescue attack.

Read the rest at Iraq War News

Checkout Hometown Heroes Spc Lucas Frantz and Sgt Jake Butler.

Also see Hometown Support Basehor, Kansas rallies around family of deployed soldier and supports him and his troops.

Hometown Support the Troops: Cookies from the heart of Basehor

As of Monday, Captain Jay Scrivener had not received his first "Treats for the Troops" package. But, the 38-year-old Scrivener, who is stationed with the Army National Guard in Baghdad, knows the package is on its way.

And he told his wife, Gina Scrivener, he plans to share the cookies and other treats with his unit.

Gina, who lives east of Basehor with their 9-month-old son, Gunnar, knows there's nothing like home-baked goodies. Her husband has been in Iraq since November.

"That seems to be that the biggest thing that they were wanting is homemade items," Scrivener said. "There are a lot of things that you can get over there at the PX, but homemade cookies are what they miss."

So she's started a mission to send, on the first week of each month, cookies and other homemade treats, to Baghdad where her husband will distribute them to other military personnel.

Gina Scrivener said she started her project by writing a letter that was printed in the Basehor First Baptist Church's newsletter.

In her letter, Scrivener said if people would bake cookies, she would pick them up on the first Sunday of the month at church.

Then, at her home, she vacuum-seals bags of cookies and packs them in boxes to mail. And, Scrivener said, she will pay the postage.

This is still a fledgling program, with the first box shipped to an APO New York address earlier this month.

It's a project Scrivener hopes will take flight.

She noted the first month's shipment included more than cookies. Included among the goodies were beef jerky, chewing gum and bags of microwavable popcorn.[snip]

While Gina has gotten her church involved in the project, other area residents are helping, as well.

Betty Scheller, who lives across the road from Gina, heard about the project, and is helping.

"I thought, ‘Now that's something I'd like to do' and I asked her if I could help," Scheller said.

Since then, Scheller has baked several batches of cookies and brownies for the project.

And, Scheller writes a note to include with each pack of cookies. Last week her notes read, "We are so pleased what you are doing for our country. You are in our prayers every day!"

Fred Box, commander of Basehor's VFW Post 11499, said the chapter has adopted Scrivener.

"We just keep in touch with him through e-mail and we paid for his first year of membership to the VFW," Box said.

Box said the VFW members have told Jay that if he needs assistance with anything they'll do whatever it takes to help.[snip]

"I can't stress how much support Gunnar and I have received from our church," Gina said. "They have been lifesavers. ... The church has been extremely helpful while Jay's been gone -- they've been my second family."

The Tonganoxie Mirror: Cookies from the heart of Basehor

Home Town Heroes: Tonganoxie mourns loss of Frantz |

He was a high school football star turned husband, and on Oct. 18, 2005, Lucas Frantz was an American soldier who was killed in combat in Iraq.

Sometime later this year, when his Army unit returns to their home base at Fort Wainwright, near Fairbanks, Alaska, Frantz’ 24-year-old widow will be there to welcome the soldiers with whom her husband served.

“It’s something I’ve got to do for myself and for Lucas,” Kelly Frantz said. “As much as Lucas was a brother to them, I am their sister. We are a family.”

The Tonganoxie man’s dedication to serving his country led him to join the Army Reserves at age 17. Three years later, in May 2003, Frantz requested and was granted active duty status. The United States had conquered Baghdad but the death toll from insurgent attacks was starting to add up.

Lucas Frantz was assigned to Fort Wainwright’s First Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team. The battalion deployed to Iraq in August 2005.

Only two months later — on his 22nd birthday — vehicle commander Spec. Lucas Frantz was killed in a sniper attack in the city of Mosul. He was the first member of his unit killed in action.

Kelly Frantz also won’t forget the torn emotions she experienced the day of her husband’s memorial service as his body was laid to rest in Tonganoxie’s Maple Grove Cemetery. A crowd estimated at 400 attended the service. More than 300 American flags lined the procession route to the cemetery.

Read more about Spc Lucas Frantz:

Tonganoxie mourns loss of Frantz |

Another Home Town Hero: Lance Cpl Christopher Wasser

Kevin Honeycutt remembers Christopher as a “spunky little boy” enrolled in summer art classes Honeycutt taught, a young man so full of patriotism that he signed up to serve in the Marines on his 18th birthday.

Whatever the activity was, Honeycutt said, Chris was at the front of the line, ready to work on any project Honeycutt assigned.

“He was full of life in a way that’s hard to describe,” Honeycutt said.

As the years went on, Chris began coming back to the art camp to volunteer, leading other children, helping in any way he could. Honeycutt described him as a “storm of energy.”

“When I found out (Chris had died) it was just the hardest thing in the world,” Honeycutt said. “Everyone that knew Chris just hit the floor.”

Home Town Heroes: Wellsville dad visits site of son�s death |

Wellsville — Jim Butler heard the car pull onto a gravel lot next to his house just off Highway 33, about a mile and a half north of Wellsville.

“It was about 10:40 p.m. I was sitting here, watching TV,” he said, patting the gray-blue sectional in front of a big-screen television.

He was alone. His wife, Cindy, and Jim Jr., the oldest of their five grown sons, had gone to bed.

“I heard two car doors slam,” Butler said. “So I turned on the outside light and pretty soon there were these two uniformed officers — a lady chaplain and a gentleman — standing there.”

Butler, whose son Jake, a twin, was stationed in Iraq, opened the sliding glass patio door.

“Before they could say anything, I said, ‘Just tell me, is he hurt bad or is he dead?’” said Butler, who’s not known for mincing words.

“The lady chaplain sort of hung her head and said, ‘Is your wife here?’”

Army Sgt. Jake Butler, 24, was the first Kansas soldier killed in Iraq.

“The war started March 19,” Butler said. “He died April 1, 2003[snip]

A calvary scout, Jake was sent to Kuwait in 1999, 2002 and again on March 2, 2003. Three weeks later, U.S. troops moved into Iraq. He was there.

“On the news, they said he was killed by an RPG — a rocket-propelled grenade,” Butler said. “But I had guys who were there tell me that’s not what happened.”

Butler said Jake’s unit had been sent to find out whether a bridge on the Euphrates River in As Samawa was sturdy enough for armored vehicles to drive across.

When they got there, Butler said, the lead Humvee was hit with an RPG fired from across the river. Jake’s Humvee pulled up beside the lead vehicle in an attempt to defend and rescue the wounded. At that point, Butler said, 25 Iraqi soldiers who had been hiding behind nearby berms opened fire on Jake’s vehicle.

“Basically, it was an ambush,” he said. “They had him on three sides.”

Army records — Butler insisted on seeing them — showed the door on Jake’s side of the Humvee was hit 14 times.

“Jake only got hit once, right here,” he said, pointing to a spot about an inch above and a little in front of his right ear.

“It came out here.” He pointed to a spot by his left ear.

“You can get the Internet still today and find stories that say Jake was killed by an RPG,” Butler said. “But that’s not what happened.”

Posthumously, Jake received Silver Star and Bronze Star medals and a Purple Heart. All three, along with Jake’s dress uniform, a dozen framed commendations, and the American flag that adorned his coffin, are displayed on a wall in the Butlers’ living room.

Mr. Butler made a promise to his son the last time he saw him that he would go to Iraq if his son was killed. He went October 10, 2003 to pay tribute.

You can read the rest of the story about his son, the Sergeant who brought his son's last letter and the tribute he paid to him on the bridge where he was killed by following this link:

Wellsville dad visits site of son�s death |

He had a few words about Cindy Sheehan and the government, but his final words speak for many of our men and women who have ever paid the final price for service to their country:

“That’s what people don’t understand,” Butler said. “Jake didn’t die for the government or the politicians, he died fighting for something he believed in — he believed in freedom. Those are two different things.”

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Analysis: Iraq, Vietnam have parallels - Yahoo! News

Bruce Oliver served three tours in Vietnam, a 20-year-old Marine when he landed there, now a 58-year-old Army National Guard sergeant who just returned home to Georgia after a year's duty in Iraq.

"It's not like Vietnam. When you came home from there people asked you, 'How many people did you kill?'" Oliver recalled. "They treated you like second-class citizens."

For him and other soldiers, the shadow of war is a personal thing, whether old or new, Danang or Diyala, Fallujah or Phu Bai. Budnick turns bitter at the memory.

"We were 'baby killers,' 'drug addicts,' et cetera," the Baghdad-based accountant told a reporter.

Now if things drag on in Iraq, if "negative press" persists, if "push comes to shove," then "it wouldn't take much to turn against the soldiers," he said.

"Like Vietnam."

Analysis: Iraq, Vietnam have parallels - Yahoo! News

Which is why I'm a little angry about the Marine incident(s) (just heard a third supposed "cold blooded murder" charge against another Marine besides the 27 dead, there is an implication of three more who were killed in such a manner). I'm not judging. I don't know if anyone is innocent or guilty. I don't know if insurgents were really in the house and the Marines in question did not take the right course of action (which according to Kilcullen, means letting even a big fish go if an operation might mean destroying what little support our troops have from the local populace.

That makes me mad. Innocent or guilty, it's already out there. It's a done deal in the information world. Marine's kill innocent people. True or false, it makes no difference, it has damaged the war effort.

Second thing that makes me mad? The possibility of that last comment when a few bad leaders and their immediate reports tarnish the image of the marines and, by proxy, the entire US service.

I would take it that the local commander does not have information war and the importance of actions against influence in this kind of war, as a significant part of his battle space strategy.

While the UN world body might see mass murders and say "never again", we must mean it when it comes to the honor and acceptance of our soldiers.

This is freedom, say courageous women risking all for democracy

Two weeks ago inside the new national assembly in Kabul, turbaned parliamentarians hurled water bottles and bloody threats at Malalai Joya, a firebrand female deputy who dared criticised the country's mujahideen fighters. Now Ms Joya changes safe house every night and travels with three bodyguards.
The dangers are equally potent in Helmand province, 350 miles to the south. As 3,300 British troops deploy amid the worst Taliban violence in years, a small number of courageous women are leading their own campaign, armed with nothing but their voices.

Salima Sharifi was an 18-year-old pupil when she started campaigning for the provincial elections last summer. Months later she won 2,114 votes - and a place in history as Afghanistan's youngest female politician.

"I just wanted to make a difference," said the bookish young woman, sipping tea in a carpeted room adorned with Persian poetry. Her proud father, Muhammad Zahir, sat nearby. "I warned her it would be risky but she just smiled," he said.

Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | This is freedom, say courageous women risking all for democracy

Just thought I'd make a quick note, not to take away from this piece, but one should note that Afghanistan is the "good war" with humanitarian principles though it is certain not as many perished during the Taliban occupation as perished in Iraq under Saddam. In the "good war", everything is heroic. In the "bad war" (Iraq), there is nothing heroic. Not the voters, who go in the millions in direct opposition to the terrorists, nor the soldiers who routinely save the lives of men, women and children or their own friends or the wounded or who charge into a ditch to attack against overwhelming force and win.

"Good Wars" are heroic and there are heroic people. "Bad Wars", no matter how self sacrificing the soldier or the people who struggle there to make a difference, are never heroic and never produce heroic people.

That's what you see in the press and why a left wing London rag will happily print about heroic women in Afhanistan while routinely denoucing the struggles of Iraqis as just short of "collaborationist".

Iraq: You Know the Jihadists Are Scared...

When you raid, raid, raid and they issue orders to cease using internet and cell phones.

My guess would be that during a raid based on humint (human intel) we wrapped up some computers that had a lot of email addresses and other important information on them as well as some cell phones with phone numbers on them that the jihadis suspect are being used against them. Reminds me of the Jihad Darwin Awards where, during a raid on a house (where the suspect was gone, but not his cell phone) a cell phone rang and the interpreter answered it. He continued to talk to the insurgent until he had info on where they were. They were subsequently raided and arrested.

Of course, this is neither here nor there since every raid also captures documents and people that offers plenty of information to move on.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Information War: Massive Failure of Culture and Policy

I've been reading and digesting a prodigious amount of information on "information warfare" in order to write something intelligent and informative on the subject. As noted in my earlier post, I have been reading Jean Francois Revel's "The Flight From Truth" and found it very interesting, particularly where he talks about the sheer magnitude of information, the struggle between "truth" and "lies", the infiltration and acceptance of ideas that we would or should find repugnant into our society, and finally, the inability for truth and democracy to take advantage of this ever increasing flow and techonology to spread the message about totalitarianism.

At the same time, several interesting programs have been on Discovery Times cable channel. Thursday evening the program was called "Media Jihad" and it discussed Al Qaeda and other extremist groups' increasing use of the internet to organize, recruit, train and spread their "message" via videos, forums, websites and other internet based services.

This program is on Friday May 26, 6 AM, 9 AM, 2 PM and 5 PM. If you're able and have the channel, I highly recomment it. It will be repeated in June and the schedule is at this link where you can click and button and get a reminder emailed to you for future viewing.

In the end, a few things are very apparent: the Islamists are not coy about using all types of media to their advantage. They have no qualms about propagandizing their own supporters, the "tacit appovers", outside neutrals or our own civilization. We, on the otherhand, have taken a rather lacadasical approach. Our information programs into these countries that support, even rudimentally, the terrorists and the Islamist ideology, are rather half-measure. Our VOA does not speak their language. When I say "language", I don't mean the native tongue. I mean, we don't speak to their concerns, their culture or their idealism. We don't know it or understand it. Worse than Communism because at least with them we felt we had some sort of commonality of semi-European Culture and Communists routinely used the language of democracy and equality, so we could piggy back onto those concepts.

Not that the Islamists don't say the same things and use them in the same manner as the Communist and other totalitarian regimes do. They insist that information that comes from our Western Civiliazations, Culture and Ideology is damaging their "cultural identity". The guilt and self flagellation that Jean Francois Revel spoke of in "The Flight From Truth", allows this language and idea, that concepts of democracy, freedom, capitalism and information are actually oppressing people and destroying "ancient cultures" is readily accepted, is regurgitated and espoused by every sort of person as if there is something equal about all of these cultures. How one could equate the repression and depression of Mugabe's regime, or the Sudanese Khartoum genocidal regime or even the repressive, authoritarian Saudi Regime with a culture of freedom and democracy, is one of those "simple lies" that continues to see our inability to press forth the freedom of man.

As noted, last week Osama Bin Laden actually talked about the "freedom" of the Muslim Ummah from Western Oppression (he and his co-horts regularly use this language). How many people in this nation, much less in Middle East, nodded their heads in agreement? What we failed to hear from our representatives is, if not an actual "reply" to the statement (would that imply we are considering the words of the Islamists? as opposed to countering it?), a response that used their own words against them as they attempt to use the concept of "liberty" and "freedom" (all be it, mightily distorted and deranged) against us? Where are the spokespeople who should or would counter that freedom requires the freedom to speak without fear of reprisals, yet any person that speaks about Islam or terrorism or rejects the Islamists are routinely and quite bloodily dispatched (if not tortured before hand)? Freedom of religion that demands every man and woman be able to worship who and how they please, but in areas controlled by Islamists or Islamic governments, minority religions are persecuted, prosecuted, terrorized, often tortured and killed? What of their usual practice of killing or running out of town anyone that does not adhere to their strict ideology even if they share the same faith?

Where is the discussions about freedom of information, intellect and discovery that allows people to dream, imagine and create? Where are the discussions about protection of minorities in politics, law and person? Where are the discussions that point to the very fallibility of these claims of "freedom"?

What about the opposite? Where are the commenters, speakers, representatives, think tanks or other that will look inside these nations where Islamist Jihad has yet to take hold of a significant part of the population, but wriggles its way in, where we have identified parts of their culture or idealism that have similar values (family, trust, faith, etc) that we have pointed to and shown the inconsistency, if not lies, from the Islamists about our relationship with people of these nations? Have we ever talked about individual rights and responsibilities? The ability to maintain cultural identity, how our own immigrants of similar background or from other nations have been able to keep or add their identities to the American Identity?

What I've seen to date of our speaking, our media, our representatives is that they spend a lot of time talking about either nonsense or our "policies" which, to be certain, concern people of other nations that are not as strong as we are economically, politically or militarily, but, when it gets down to the "hearts and minds" of individuals who are the ones, after all, that are supporting (tacit or overt) or deciding to join Islamist movements, talks about nation to nation policies are barely the tip of the iceburg. We should be talking to the people about people and ideas. We should be talking around and over the governments and these other movements.

Instead, we have limited media outlets in these nations. Our radio and television have limited broadcasting and they do not speak the "language" of people.

Why do we not do this? Because, post collapse of the Soviet Union and, in previous years, the Vietnam War which was finally represented as a "lie" by the government and stays that way, not only do our "left" (extreme or otherwise) declare the words of our nation as "propaganda" (even as they themselves indulge in the worst sort of "disinformation" propaganda to our people), but it has become commonly accepted in our culture that politicians, thus the government, lies. So does the media. So does everyone else. We saw, during the cold war, an immense "propganda" campaign against Communism and it's evils. Now, since the Bear died and other "Communist States" are in shambles, we have the luxury to look back on those days and pretend they were not as perilous as we thought. After all, our major nemesis collapsed without firing a direct shot. Never mind those proxy wars to fend off Soviet and general Communist expansion. Because we now know that these nations were a wreck and they collapsed, we can now pretend they were no danger to us. Or, just as bad, some who claimed for decades that there really was no Communist Threat, can pretend they were right as evidenced by it's collapse.

Thus, not only do the proxy wars begin to be redefined as "American Imperialism" (still the language of the Communists and Socialists, even after the Soviet Collapse; which indicates the pervasiveness their propaganda into our culture), but the information war that we fought is now considered "bad propaganda" that, in reality, not only affected the Communists, but had been used against our own people: the US and other Western Democracies. According to the pervasive myth that has now entered our post Cold World consciousness, all of this information about the terribleness of Communism and the Soviet Empire was "fear mongering" and "scare tactics" or, worse, "disinformation" aimed at our own people in order to hide this "shadow governments" real agenda to "take over the world" and spread "economic and military hegemony" in order to "pillage world resources".

This is not something that is simply a product of or believed by extreme leftists [dare I say "Stalinists"] of this nation or other Western democracies. It has literally infiltrated our every thought. Even the most common man on the street who probably knows little about history, has done no research into the era and never watched any documentary or read books on the subject, knows about our "propaganda" (information) war and believes that he has been routinely duped by his own government and politicians. He or she believes that even rhetoric that espouses democracy, equality and freedom, is simply a ruse to convince the rest of the poor schlubs to go along with whatever policy the government is espousing today.

This is why, even if people don't totally buy it, the "Bush lied, people died" meme was able to make it into maintstream politics and, has had a subconscious effect on people's support for the war. It's Vietnam, isn't it? The Islamist terrorists [who, by the way actually attacked and killed 2987 of our people on one day, has killed many hundreds of our people and our allies on many other days and has certainly killed tens of thousands of Muslims] even espouse the same propaganda as the North Vietnamese: freedom and liberty from colonial oppression.

It all sounds too ridiculously familiar.

There is a deep seated fear that governments lie and can make their citizens do things that they would not normally do. We know this because we know what the Nazis did and we know what the Soviets did. We've seen Baghdad Bob. Of course, Vietnam was a lie and, even if we sometimes look fondly back at the media and posters of World War II (Rosie the Riveter, Loose Lips Sink Ships, etc), the "good war", we know that propaganda was part of and parcel of our participation, so we have decided that we must look upon statements or other information from the government or any entity/branch of it (including and particularly the military) as propaganda to effect our opinions and potentially make us do things that "we don't want to".

The problem with this is many fold. The first of which is the assumption that, before the advent of Hitler, no one in Germany was an anti-semite. It was all one big happy, Jazz playing, swing dancing, intellectually diverse, loving culture before Hitler stepped up and took control of the state information apparatus. Most people forget that the post WWI Germany was economically depressed, had a large Communist and Socialist movment, had plenty of people who already blamed the German version of the "military/industrial complex" or, in their world, Jewish Bankers trying to take over Europe and exterminate the pure, ancient, native people. Many people assume that Hitler simply came to power during a time of deep financial and poltical crisis and was then able to use the state apparatus to impose a nationalistic, anti-semitic, violent ideology on an otherwise cosmopolitan and liberal country. As if he had waved a magic wand and turned normal people into racist haters.

I find Revel to have an extremely excellent point in "The Flight From Truth" and that is that information is out there, the truth is out there, but most people don't take the time to know it. They like the sound bite version of information which leaves a lot to be desired when trying to decide important issues.

In the case of Nazi Germany and even the citizens of other nations that actually formed Nazi parties and joined Nazi regiments, the Vichy Government of France, for instance, anti-semitic ultra nationalism was not new or forced on these people. They were not so over inundated with propaganda that they were simply brainwashed. Anti-semitism was rife in those nations for centuries. It had, in fact, experienced a "racist spring" if you will during the turn of the century. Old writers and new had written books on the subject. Eugenics was the new scientific rage in Europe and the United States. There was much more going on than political and economic crisis in Europe or Germany in particular.

Hitler was accepted because people not only wanted a strong leader, he played into their existing biases.

That's what people fear here. They believe that the people of this nation or other Western democratic, free nations are so weak that we would do the same, easily and with little qualms. So, we must protect ourselves from the same possibility by limiting our governments' information activities, lest we become those unsuspecting, duped Germans and French who bought into all that horrible propaganda.

Accept, of course, it was already a predominant theme in Europe long before Hitler was even born. Some of it had even snuck into the American psyche and stayed there until long after the war. But, no one can talk about it because then they would have to admit to their own prejudices and the possibility of evil actions without the control or direction of "the state" or the rise of some purely evil man who can "dupe" them. We're a free nation with equality, multi-cultural acceptance of others: we can't have that.

At the same time, because we are so pre-occupied with the existence of state propaganda and its effect on us, we believe that we can know the "enemy's" propaganda when we see and here it, thus we are immune. Most people are blissfully unaware of how the interconnectivity of our world insures that, even if we think we know blatant propaganda when we see it, the subtle and even direct propaganda of the Islamist enemy is often swallowed "hook, line and sinker". Or, at least, brushes up against our own preconceived ideas about our nation, our freedoms and our past actions (which we have duely negated and redefined as "terrible acts that never should have happened" since the threat that existed then is "gone"), that people who say they are angry with Osama bin Laden and other perpetrators of 9/11, subconsciously, they accept that Osama Bin Laden is right. Somewhere in the past or current geopolitical structure, some action of the United States and other Western nations, was so repressive against Islam that they may have a real grievance and we can "understand" why they want to kill.

People, subconsiously and sometimes consciously, buy the propaganda. Somewhere, in the back of their minds, they think that these people are justified in their actions and our response, while necessary, might not be as clearly justified. Understand, we're not talking about leftist extremists who have embibed too much Chomsky and Cheese during grad school. We're talking about people on the street who have been inundated with the subtle "revised" history of the United States and their own cultures which has so routinely addressed the "ills" of our society that it has some how surpassed the very real and extreme ills in the world today or in history. Not the least of which is the growing strength of Islamist Salafist ideology in nations around the globe. An ideology that is totalitarian by nature and dresses itself in the rhetoric of "freedom" and protection of "identity".

In our own nation, we have become so sensitive to the possibility of our own failings and past that we have become unable and unwilling to promote our virtues and decry the evils of other ideologies and states. It's taboo to speak ill of others when we are not pure as if our actions now or in the past equal the mass murders and total repression of Communist Russia, Ba'athist Iraq, Islamist Iran or the equally repugnant Salafist Islamists who behead, torture and kill for nothing more than not believing as they do, much less dressing as they want, growing beards, playing music, reading books: all of the things that are truly antithetical to the "freedom" they keep talking about. Instead, we spend most of our time talking about our own failings and tying ourselves up in knots about it.

The Islamists and other totalitarian nations love that. It gives them ready made propaganda. They don't even have to say much, just let us do the talking so that we convince ourselves that they are right. Every once in awhile, bin Laden, Zawahiri, Qadawri or some other Islamist will simply pick up on our existing cultural angst and re-enforces something that is already in the public conscious and information net. For instance, a recent commentary emerged from bin Laden regarding the weakness of our army due to increased drug abuse and suicide as well as alleged recruiting problems. These were from reports that had been issued in the US press on these subjects and had gained wide spread coverage. This was not information or intelligence that he gleaned on his own nor is it really indicative of the quality of our forces.

Yet, we know the reason why the reports had gained such interest setting off much self examination here, thus ringing the "media jihad" bells and working its way into bin Laden's speech. Mainly because, since Vietnam, we have had a deep seated fear (and real belief?) that our armed forces who are sent to fight in war are all in danger of becoming addicts and self-destructing because we force them to do terrible things without just cause. Most normal people understand that war is not normal and can affect people deeply on the emotional psyche level, but, along with this knowledge brought to us by the advancement of psychological sciences (almost an oxymoron), has come the concept that no war is worth this cost. It's the Vietnam anti-war cry that has been transposed over and over again to our society and now infiltrates even the common man's ideas on war who would by no means describe himself as a leftist, but has been instructed quite roundly by our new post Vietnam, post Cold War world that all war is futile and is too damaging to ourselves (and many, many innocents) to undertake.

It's brought home by images and words that largely focus death and destruction without true context of the personal or overall struggle. When a soldier is killed or injured, he is simply dead from an attack. No discussion about the efforts to bring freedom and democracy, to stop the spread of extremist ideology or defend the United States. No one talks about whether he (or she) died fighting off three to one odds of jihadists/insurgents on their patrol while trying to defend their wounded friends. No one talks about the living heroes who defend their friends and nation. they are all heroic, but you already know that, according to our culture so instead we must tell you that this heroism is worthless and damaging, thus should not be undertaken.

That is the message. Sometimes its not even that subtle.

And the Islamists love it. At the same time, the media and other information entities (music, movies, etc) want to tell you that the use of this information by Al Qaeda and other Islamists is totally incidental to the purpose of their program, reporting or ideology. Yet it is there and that is what has infected and affected our culture.

This infliction, this failure of culture and ideology, has resulted in our current, massive failure of policy in the information war. It is not simply the government's inability to be creative. They could be very creative if the every creative attempt was not shot down as fascist state propaganda. What we have created is a society that now believes that the free flow of information is so prevalent in our modern world that we should not have to indulge in an information war. As the commenter from my post "Virtual Leader" indicated, we should simply have a clear and consistent message; everything else would some how take care of itself.

After all, we have access to free media, the internet and any number of print, television and satellite capabilities. This message should simply convey itself without actually tailoring it to the specifics of the Islamist rhetoric, the cutlural and political realities of people in the region or any attacks. We should not seek out specific venues like forums and websites of moderates or extremists to discuss the issues or our political objectives. We should not try to engineer the availability of stories or information. We should not use any of the methods we used to fight Communism or Nazism. It's a brave new world and we should simply be able to speak and we will be heard.

We have put laws in place to govern the kinds of information and where it will be available, seen or heard. But, because of the affect of international media where stories in Beijing or Lahore or Baghdad media are on the internet or picked up by other international news agencies around the globe (including our own), this presents a unique problem to information strategies. Laws currently on our books prohibit information from any program aimed outside of our borders, to be reproduced at will by that agency in the United States. Since the fall of the USSR, we have interpreted that very stringently. If there is a coordinated information strategy above and beyond our arabic television and radio (that does not play 24/7; does not provide enough news in some cases, does not reflect the issues of the populace it is aimed at, etc) it is one of the weakest efforts we've put forward in decades. Our own free media is supposed to somehow take up the slack.

Considering the effects of collective, subjective truth on the media, that is down right insane to leave the fate and the future of information warfare to people who believe that their main duty is to be the watchdog of OUR government.

It's a massive failure. Watch "media Jihad" and tell me that I am wrong.

During the story, both Peter Bergen and Former Under Sec. for public diplomacy Charlotte Beers indicated that, in order to combat extremism in the ME, we would need an informatin program on the scale of the Cold War. Charlotte Beers made the most telling comment:

This is something that our government is not comfortable doing.

She's right. Now we need to figure out how we will work through this "uncomfortable" feelings and get on with saving our our country and our people.

Jean Francois Revel: The Flight From Truth

Jean Francois Revel wrote in his 1991 book, "The Flight From Truth":

Chapter 1 On Our Resistance to Information, page 3&4 -

The foremost of all the forces that drive the world is falsehood. More than any before it, twentieth-century civilization has depended on information, teaching, science, culture - in short, on knowledge as well as on a system of government which, by its very definition, seeks to make knowledge availabe to all: democracy. [snip]Those who act have better data on which to base their actions, and those on the receiving end are much better informed about what those who act are doing.

It is therefore interesting to inquire whether this preponderance of available knowledge - with its detail, its abundance, its ever broader and swifter disseminiation - has enabled humanity to guide itself more judiciously than in the past. The question is all the more inportant since the perfecting and accelerating of the techniques of transmission and the steady increase in the number of individuals who benefit from them will make the twenty-first century an age in which, even more than in the twentieth, information will be a central element of civilization.

Chapter 2, page 12 -
No matter how diverse, all civilizations today coexist in some form of perpetual interaction, the combined effects of which affect them more in the long run than their individual particularities. The existence of this interactionin the economic, geopolitical and geostrategic fields is now taken for granted. On the other hand, despite all the loose talk on the subject few persons seem to realize to what extent information has become the principal instrument, the permanent agent and mirror of the plantet's omnipresence for all those who inhabit it, not through the provision of accurate information - there precisely is the problem - but thanks to a continuous torrent of messages, which begins by submerging individual minds from early schooling on... Man has an image of the world and of his own society in that world. He acts and reacts with reference to that image. He accepts its implications willingly, passively, or grudgingly, or revolts against them. The more twisted and distorted the picture, the more dangerous his actions and reactions can become, both for himself and others.

Chapter 3 "On Simple Lies", page 26 -

News agency dispatches, newspapers, radio broadcasts, and even television programs have been bringing to the various publics of the totalitarian and underdeveloped world news and commentaries their governments [ed...and other would be oppressors like Islamists[ would prefer to deny them. However, we should not overlook movements in the opposite direction: increasingly, for example, the propaganda and propagandists of totalitarian countries [ed...and now ecentralized totalitarian, terrorist movements] penetrate without hindrance into the Free World, where they are often accorded a favorable reception

Chapter 3 "On Simple lies", page 28-29

Democracy cannot live without the truth; totalitarianism cannot live without falsehood. Democracy commits suicide if it lets itself be invaded by falsehood, totalitarianism if it lets itself be invaded by truth. With mankind now moving ever further into civilization dominated by information, a civilization that would not be viable if it were nourished and sustained by regularly falsified information. I regard it as indispensible that democracy be universalized and, furthermore, improved. But present customs and habits being what they are, I think it more likely that false hood will triumph, along with its political corollary, totalitarianism

Considering the line of thought I am developing on "information war", this book is extremely timely. I can't believe it's taken me so long to find and read it. I'm sure I will find other books by Revel quite interesting though, 15 years later, I find one or two comments he made that I would disagree with, for the most part, what he writes is true today.

For instance, he mentions the demonization of "neo-cons" and the constant attempts to link them to Neo-Fascism; the great taboo where one is never to mention that Communism and its various alcolytes are just as reprehensible and murderous (if not worse) than Nazis and other Fascist movements have ever been; American Imperialism (but don't dare mention that the USSR was conducting an equal if not more aggressive imperial outreach in developing client nations, invading or providing support troops for communist governments or movements, or involved in some serious subjugation and murder of a lot of "other nationals" and the US was trying to counter it with their own geo-political moves; the USSR and communism is the victim); journalistic dishonesty - a tendency to accept statements from "other" governments and people (particularly, non democratic nations or speokesman for movements) without ready research or verification or cynicism in the face of continued disprovement by facts, but they will imply or directly accuse their own governments, spokespeople or citizens of being liars.

On and on and on. If you haven't read this book, I highly recommend it. I'm only in the fifth chapter and I know that it has brought together some thoughts for me. He even talks about the impending clash with militant Islam. He discusses Russia's collapse and "reform". Particularly that Communism dies very hard. In fact, the "regime" may fall, but the ideology, the people and the government systems often stick around and get called something else. Today, for instance, in Russia they have a "democracy". Of course, Putin is busy shutting down any democratic opposition and NGOs for human rights, democracy advocation and information awareness. We are talking about a state that still owns and controls its television broadcast systems.

Probably the most interesting commentary is about Western self flagellation over perceived ills, how our own angst has created an illusion that Western Democracies have committed acts on par with Nazi Germany or Global Communism, and how falsehoods or "simple lies" can echo throughout our political and cultural awareness for decades and even centuries, effecting our decisions on politics, economy and security for a very long time.

Vietnam. Winter Soldier. Communism in Asia not a threat to US security. It's a war of "independence from colonialism" (the eternal cry of all leftists and the newest charge against the US of neo-colonialism). Iraq. Afghanistan. Imperial America. War for Oil. Baby killers. Mass Murderers. Soldiers dying for nothing. can't beat it.