A Little Known Paradise

In 1941, when the Imperial Government of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, it was Japan’s reaction to the United States flexing its power by denying the Japanese access to iron and other materials necessary for an industrial country.  The United States was mainly reacting to the Japanese invasion of China and its repeated massacres of the Chinese people, particularly the “rape of Nanking.”

In 1944, the United States undertook a very ambitious operation to retake the western Pacific islands, the Marianas, the Marshalls, New Guinea, and other territories.  Most of these islands lie within 10 degrees of the equator, and many a small atolls.  The fighting the occurred on many of these islands was so intense that to this day live ordinance is still washing up on the shores.

In the early 1980s I had the good fortunate to work on one of those island atolls, Kwajalein which is a part of the Marshall Islands.  Kwajalein itself, though tiny, endured nearly a week of intense fighting before the U.S. won.  To this day a tank from the battle still sits where it became immobilized on a coral reef as-well-as a number of Japanese ships that were sunk in the Kwajalein Atoll lagoon.



The runway in the picture above is about 1.2 miles long, to give you an idea of how small this, the largest in the atoll, is.

Kwajalein is the world’s largest atoll.  The maps above will give you an idea of its location in the Pacific and a map of the islands of the Kwajalein Atoll itself.  The picture is of the main island of Kwajalein, also known as Kwajalein, that sits a the bottom of the atoll.  It is also called the most remote inhabited place on earth.  That is because access to it is somewhat limited.  The islands tend to be under 1 mile in length and where most large jets require at least that for take-off, you must take a small aircraft to get there.  The Marshall Islands sit 2400 miles west south west of Honolulu and about an equal distance from Australia.


In this picture of Roi-Namur the runway is 4000 feet long, and the island, as it lays along the reef, only about 1.2 miles long.

This picture above is off the island Roi-Namur which sits at the very top of the atoll and where I worked while there.  On the island of Roi-Namur sit two radars which track both near-earth and deep space satellites.  I was involved in the near-earth tracking station known at Altair.

roi beach

This picture is of the beach on Roi-Namur.  It is typical of the beaches to be found on the lagoon side of the atoll.  The lagoon is a relatively shallow portion of an atoll that sits between the islands.  An atoll is the coral top of an ancient volcano.  This being true, the ocean side of the atoll represents the mountain side which typically drop off many thousands of feet into the depths of the ocean around it.

The temperature varies between 76 and 85 on any given day year-round.  The water temperature sits at about 80 year-round too.  The island is basically immune from typhoons and other heavy wind storms because of its close proximity to the equator. While the storms may form near-by they move northward away from the islands well before the gain much force.  It is also nearly immune from Tsunamis because it lacks the gradual beach incline needed to concentrate the energy of the Tsunami into a large wave.  If a tsunami were to hit the island it would flow past it relatively unnoticed.

Many people for the U.S. have gone snorkeling on the coral reefs of the Caribbean and Hawaii.  But the coral of those places pale in comparison to the relatively virgin reefs of the western-Pacific atolls.  Although the Marshall, Solomon, and Caroline island groups each have plenty of resorts, they are so out-of-the-way that few people ever consider them.

The estimated population of the entire Marshall Islands in 2010 is only about 70,000 permanent residents spread among 29 separate atolls and another 5 individual islands.  Most of the islands do not allow automobiles.  The islands are all so small that travel on any single island is reserved to foot traffic.

The Marshallese people are  not Polynesian but Micronesian, a subtle but important distinction.  They settled the islands some 4000 years ago but their origin is unknown.  Today’s Marshallese are, unfortunately, almost entirely dependent upon the United States for their existence.  Since the 19th century they have been subjected to Dutch, German, and Japanese rule so that by the time World War II ended they no longer had the survival skills of their ancestors.  But they are a very friendly people who ask for little and are more than willing to give much.

The Kwajalein Atoll is a veritable aquarium of strange and exotic sea creatures.  The fish alone rival any that can be seen in the finest of aquariums.  There many types of rare and beautiful cowries, snail-like mollusks, hermit crabs, and even lobsters.  While snorkeling is was within arm’s reach of a large yellow-fin tuna.


The picture above is of cowries native to the atoll.  Some, the tiger cowrie in particular, can fetch a hefty price on the open market.

Because of the nature of its business, defense, Kwajalein is not open to the public but other atolls in the Marshall Islands are and are equally as beautiful.  Majuro is such an island and an example of its beaches is below.


Relative to almost anywhere else in the world one can visit, the Marshall Islands may well be among the most pristine.  I cannot recommend them highly enough, particularly those of you who are truly tired of the crowded usual tourist destinations.


A Brief History of Thanksgiving

The American holiday of Thanksgiving is one of our most sacred traditions.  We trace it back to 1621 when the Pilgrims celebrated it for the first time.  In 1789 on November 26 George Washington declared it a day of giving thanks and prayer.  But it was not until 1863 that Abraham Lincoln made it into a federal holiday.  But I think the holiday deserves a bit of background that Americans are mostly unaware of.

Who were the Pilgrims? — This small group of hardy Englishmen were together as a result of a falling out with the Church of England.  That church was founded in 1534 when Henry VIII broke with Rome when the Pope refused to grant him a divorce from Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boelyn.  The King of England had traditionally been the head of the Church of England when it was still Catholic with the Archbishop of Canterbury being its Cardinal to Rome.  When Henry broke with the Church, Thomas Cranmer, archbishop to Rome, broke with him and the English people followed willingly.  By the early 1600s, less than 100 years later, the English people were at odds with one another over the removal of “papism” from the Church of England.  At the time there were four general groups of Englishmen, those who held solidly to the beliefs of the church, those who sought to fix its perceived shortcoming from within, those who thought there was no way to fix its shortcoming short of radical reform, and the country’s remaining Catholics.

Those who desired radical reform were called “separatists” as they had no belief that even the smallest of reforms was possible.  They started holding their own services separate from the King’s Church.  This was prohibited behavior and their actions brought them no only condemnation from their local communities, but threats of imprisonment from the crown.  This group was headed by a fiery leader named William Brewster.  Brewster realized his people were in jeopardy and arranged for them to move to Holland where their religious beliefs would not be persecuted by the Dutch.  But by 1619 they had overstayed their welcome.  The Dutch felt them a drain on their economy and good will, and finally told them they had to leave.  Brewster arranged for his people to return to England but learned that he had a price on his head and would be arrested immediately upon his discovery in England.

A plan was fomented for his followers and he to make England a temporary stop prior to their departure for America.  They arranged the hiring of two ships, the Mayflower and the Speedwell, to take a large group to America.  The king learned of those plans and decided to take no action against these separatists with the exception of Brewster who he dearly wanted in chains.  The story goes that Brewster was well-hidden aboard one of the two ships when the king’s soldiers searched the ships for him prior to allowing the rest of the separatists departure.  A little over a day after the left the port of Plymouth England the captain of the Speedwell related to the captain of the Mayflower that his ship had become not seaworthy having “broken her back.”  That meant the main beam of the ship had been cracked.  This usually happened when inexperienced captains put up too much sail into the winds.  The captain of the Speedwell was hardly inexperienced.  The ships returned to England where alternative plans were made.  In the end, only 50 separatists were able to sail.  The other 50 members of the ship were tradesmen who would be necessary to the survival of the group, a carpenter, a farmer, a soldier, and others who had skills that would be valuable to their survival.

The Pilgrims destination was the Virginia Company’s settlement at Jamestown.  It being a purely commercial concern the Pilgrim felt, rightfully so, that their religious convictions would be of no consequence to the inhabitants.  The captain of the Mayflower, Christopher Jones, a very experienced seaman set sail on September 6.  The journey at the time would take 6 to 8 weeks which meant arrival in mid-October at the earliest.  Why Jones found himself in the waters off the coast of Cape Cod is unknown although it is thought that English investors in the Virginia Colony were not interested in having these troublemakers mixing with their people in Virginia and paid the Jones to dump them at some point north of that colony.

Arrival in America — The pilgrims first set foot in America at a point near present-day Provincetown Massachusetts.  They immediate set out looking for water as their shipboard supply was nearly gone.  They also looked for food as their food supplies too were extremely low and many of the travelers had come down with illnesses.  The travelers also had one new member.  A baby was born during the journey and named Oceanus Hopkins.  Captain Jones sailed, while this group was on shore, in search of a better harbor further to the west.  He recognized that the tip of Cape Cod was no habitable at the time.  When he returned he took the pilgrims to what we know today as Plymouth.

It was already November and the cold weather had set in.  While huts were being built on the land the settlers had to continue to use the ship for living quarters.  In the mean time hunting parties were sent out in search of local food supplies, deer and other animals that could be used for the winter.  They moved southward towards Cape Cod where they came upon some mounds that they discovered caches of corn and other food stuffs.  They took the food back to the new colony but in the process brought the possibility of hostilities from the Wampanog from whom they had stolen the food.  They were lucky in the respect that the tribe local to Plymouth, the Patuxet, were not overly friendly with the Wampanog and that alone provided them some relief from attack.

First year in America — The winter of 1620 to 1621 was a particularly harsh one for the settlers.  Food remained in short supply and disease ran rampant through the new colony.  By April 1621 nearly half of the 100 original inhabitants had died from disease and hunger.  The local Indians helped them to fish and farm during the spring and summer of 1621.  By harvest time, September, the colony had sufficient food to carry them through the oncoming winter.  The Pilgrims, a religious group still, decided to give thanks for their survival and settled up a feast at some date in October, near to harvest.  While turkey was certainly at that feast, it was not particularly prominent as it is today.  Wild turkeys, while plentiful, were smaller and a relatively unknown quantity to those early settlers.  More likely their table was filled with venison, fish, and lobster.   Wild turkeys are smaller birds than today’s domesticated version with considerably less meat making them a less attractive option.

The feast was certainly a joint effort attended by the settlers and local Indians but the Pilgrims were not dowdy in their dress as is often represented today.  We see them as this very conservative group religiously.  And by today’s standards they are, but at the time they were actually quite liberal and their dress was reflective of that.  The black clothing attributed to them is more rightly an attribute of the Puritans who arrived in Boston a decade later.  The Pilgrims had been exposed to the religion of the Dutch which later, in American, came to be known as the Quakers.  The beliefs of the Pilgrims can be more closely aligned to those beliefs.

To be sure, that first Thanksgiving was a party to celebrate just surviving that long as much as anything.  They were truly happy to still be alive having survived the extremely trying conditions during that first year.

A Day Trip to Damascus

Many years ago I was fortunate to have been stationed in Pisa Italy when I was in the army.  The summer of the year after my arrival, I decided I want to tour the middle east.  After touring Greece, I caught an airplane to Beirut Lebanon.  Beirut is a surprising gem of a city.  It is little known to Americans but is a destination of choice for the French.  That, in no small part, is due to the fact that following World War 1, when the European powers were divvying up the old Ottoman Empire, the French laid claim to Lebanon while the British were claiming its southern neighbor, Palestine.

The French, in turn, made Beirut into a middle eastern version of the Riviera complete with a casino.  I stayed in Beirut for four days.  I found the people of Lebanon to be extremely friendly and seemed to have no opinion on American tourists, probably because we were a bit of a rarity and had not offended them, yet anyway.  The hotel manager, one day, suggested I take the bus tour to Damascus, that I would thoroughly enjoy it.

Early the next morning I boarded the tour bus and quickly found a pair of Canadian girls, the only North American people on the trip.  Damascus is only 55 miles distant from Beirut.  At the time, the only road between the cities was a single two lane highway.  Upon arrival at the Lebanese Syrian border, the bus is boarded by the border guards who collected all our passports.  We were told that we were not allowed to get off the bus while our passports were processed.  That took a good two full hours which meant we were sitting in the desert sun for the entire time.  Nothing of note took place and once our passports were returned we continued on to Damascus without incident.

Upon our arrival in Damascus the bus driver informed us that we had to change to another bus to have the tour of the city, which we did.  It turned out there was a really good reason for changing buses but that did not become apparent until we returned.

Damascus is one of the oldest cities in the middle east and get mentioned a number of times in the Bible including a reference to a “street called Straight.”  The particular old Roman street is where Paul supposedly was converted to Christianity.  For someone who grew up where cities and towns had a history dating in the hundreds of years, it was really quite remarkable being at a historic location which counted its age in the thousands of years.

The picture below is of a cathedral located in Damascus that was built by the Christians during the era of the crusades.

In later centuries the cathedral was turned into a mosque and now serves as the central mosque for Damascus.  Upon entering, you are greeted by Persian rugs layered about 7 deep.  They cover the entire walking surface of the mosque.

Towards the front, as seen in the above interior shot of the mosque, is an encased area where the Moslem world believes the head of John the Baptist is.  It turns out, according to our guide, that he is considered one of the prime prophets of the religion.  Furthermore, our guide pointed out that in Islam, places held in reverence in the Christian world is held equally as highly in Islam.  These two things were eye-opening for me to say the least.  And as you can see, from the above picture, the interior of the old cathedral is quite as beautiful as it ever was, maybe even more so.

I was struck by the sight of Syrian soldiers who came to the enclosure as they cried while they prayed there.  After that they moved to a place next to the wall that faces Mecca and said additional prayers.  It was really quite a touching scene.

For the return trip, we returned to the bus that brought us to Damascus.  The two Canadian girls and I sat together but there was one problem.  When I tried to push my feet beneath the seat in front of me I found there to be an obstruction.  Upon inspection I found that skeins of fabric had been secreted underneath the seats to be smuggled back into Lebanon.  We were now part of an international smuggling ring!  Upon arrival at the border I jokingly said to my Canadian friend that we should probably report the smuggling operation.  She informed me that if the Lebanese did not kill me, she would! I had no intention of saying a thing and, fortunately, the border guards did not inspect the interior of the bus so the contraband was not found.  I have to admit, however, that we did have a number of anxious minutes.

I cannot say I have ever had any experience similar to this one in my life but I would not trade it for anything.  Furthermore, I highly recommend visiting these areas, of course only after the conditions in Syria settle down and life returns to the routine.

Taking the Train Across America

I have taken the train across the United States, Boston to San Francisco, both ways twice.  It is a trip like none other.  You do not have to be a lover of trains to truly enjoy the trip either.  There are not a lot of such cross-country trains, but they do exist.  You can leave from any large city in the Northeast to start your trip.  It is necessary, with one exception, that you go through Chicago to make a connection for the rest of the trip.

That one exception is a train that runs from Washington D.C. to New Orleans, and from there onward across Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona to Los Angeles.  The only difference with this train, the link that goes from New Orleans to Los Angeles only runs three days a week while all the routes departing Chicago daily including all holidays.

One of the routes leaving Chicago heads in a southwesterly direction taking you through Las Vegas before reaching Los Angeles.  The next route, leaves Chicago for Denver, and thence through Salt Lake City before reaching the outskirts of San Francisco.  The fourth train takes a northern route traveling Chicago to Milwaukee, Minneapolis and then across the northern states to Seattle.

My trip started in Boston.  At the time the train left in the late afternoon and is named the Lakeshore Limited.  It travels through Worcester and Springfield Massachusetts before reaching Albany New York.  At this point the train is linked up with another train from New York City.  From there the train travels through Syracuse, Buffalo, Cleveland, and Toledo before reaching Chicago.  Unfortunately, the lateness of the day keep the beautiful upstate New York scenery from view, however that is remedied on the return trip where the train enters western New York in the early dawning hours.  This train is equipped with a diner, sleeping accommodations, along with regular coach cars.  The sleeping accommodations give one a private compartment for daytime travel.  Service aboard the train is friendly and the food is really pretty good, far better than anything any airline has to offer.

Once reaching Chicago you have a layover of several hours while you wait for your next train.  The Chicago station is an entirely renovated facility that is very clean and offers good restaurants and other places for people to shop or just lounge.

The San Francisco leg of the trip leaves Chicago early in the afternoon.  As with the previous train accommodations include coaches, a diner, and sleeping facilities.  But unlike its eastern brother, it also has several high level cars from which one can enjoy a 360 degree vista of the passing countryside.  This is particularly attractive after the train leaves Denver early the next morning and follows the Green River valley through some remote territory.  You go a long time with no road in site as you hug the side of a river with the valley walls sweeping upwards on either side.

The next morning as you depart Nevada you enter the eastern edge of the Rockie Mountains.  One stop, Colfax, is particularly close to Lake Tahoe, one of the most beautiful lakes anywhere in the U.S.  During this portion of the journey the train slips through numerous short tunnels before re-emerging in the gorgeous mountainous countryside.

Unlike air travel, people on trains recognize they are going to be in each other’s company for quite some time, and there is a certain friendliness that arises from these circumstances.  Even if you are making the trip alone, you will find many people who are more than happy to pass the hours in interesting conversations.

Also, as good as the food on the train is east of the Mississippi River, it is that much better to the west of it.  AMTRAK has worked hard to maintain some of the old-time romanticism of rail travel and its good food and friendly atmosphere.  On these trains, because of space limitations, you may well find yourself sharing your table with a stranger but that becomes an opportunity to meet someone new and interesting.  The waiters are polite and efficient, and you never feel rushed.

I cannot recommend that everyone try this at least once in their lifetime.  It is well worth the investment.

Want to Know Where the Next War Will Break Out? Look to Where the Last One Happened!

The countries which count themselves among “the west” have a very poor track record when it comes to recognizing how their present-day actions will inevitably affect the future.  In the history of the United States this did not take long at all.  Once the American Revolution ended in 1783, it was just a matter of time before the next outbreak of hostilities would come to its shores.

From 1783 and well into the Washington and Adams administrations, there was much talk between these presidents and the congress as to what represented a good army and a good navy.  To be sure, money was short for funding more than a minimal army and navy at best, but they had a difficult time deciding among themselves what one should even look like.  When Thomas Jefferson took office in 1803, he was so vehemently against the United States having any sort of standing army that he set out to entirely disband what we did have.  So weakened were U.S. forces in 1812, that when the United States finally took action against British Naval ships that were impressing American sailors, it was inevitable that the U.S. would have difficulties defending itself against the vastly superior British forces yet again.

James Madison, the president during the War of 1812, had his work cut out for him but he rallied support and put together a force that finally in 1814 ended the hostilities with the Battle of New Orleans.  Never again were U.S. forces so weak as to be incapable of defending our shores.

That World War 1 would happen where and when it did was apparent to all but those in complete denial of the instability that existed in the Balkan Republics.  While Austria was rightfully outraged at the assassination of Franz Joseph, it could have avoided dragging western Europe into a conflict had it not taken the actions it did.  But once it did, fierce Austrian and German nationalists used it as a way to united Prussia, Germany, and Austria in a fight with Russia, and then with France.  Prior to World War 1 national borders were frequently in dispute, often fuzzy, and at times certain territories claimed by one country were under the government of another.  It was this that thrust Austria-Germany into the fray.  Prussia in particular made claim to Russian territory and that brought in the Russians.

By the time World War 1 had ended in 1918 Europe was as war-weary as it had ever been.  The French felt the most wronged by the German incursions.  And the British, not to be outdone, felt they had been forced to contribute an inordinate amount of financial backing to the allied forces.  Each wanted its pound of flesh extracted from the German people.  When the final treaty was signed in 1919, Germany was required to pay so much in financial reparations as to render it bankrupt for decades to come.  The demands of the French and British were extremely unreasonable.  This so embittered the German people who a very small very right-wing group of Germans known at the National Socialists used that, and other prejudices, to champion their cause.  Throughout the 1920s the German economy expanded but because of its heavy debt it was felt by most Germans that they were being held down.  German feared, and rightfully so, that their military had been so weakened that their natural enemy, the Russian Communists, could overrun them at will.

When a world-wide depression hit in the 1930s, it gave the German National Socialists, lead by Adolph Hitler, the perfect opportunity to take power.  He rightfully pointed to the treaty signed in 1919 as the basis of the economic woes, and promised to take back German pride.  Once elected chancellor, Hitler did that at least in part.

Historians today point out how World War II is but a continuation of World War I, there having been no reasonable treaty agreed to.  But the end of World War II necessarily gave seed to both the Korean War and the war in Vietnam.

Until 1945, China had been led by Emperors and a conflagration of local war lords who ruled heavy handedly over the people.  For as long as anyone could remember these feudal lords were waring with neighboring feudal lords over land and power.  But by the end of World War II, the Chinese people were tired of monarchies and all their trappings.  Enter Chang Kai-shek.  Chang Kai-shek had been the visible leader of the opposition to the Japanese occupation forces, and of course at the end of World War II he was the U.S. choice to led the country.  But Chang Kai-shek did little to change the culture of the government.  The popular general turned into a hated governmental administrator.  Mao Zedong, who had also lead opposition forces during World War II proffered the idea of a socialist state, a “people’s government.”  So popular was this idea among the Chinese people who four short years after World War II, Mao Zedong was the head of the new Chinese government.

Mao Zedong quickly made friends with two neighbors each of whom was ethnically related, the North Koreans and the Vietnamese.  Both countries had established a communist form of government and both had a desire for their countries to be united, north and south.

The U.S. greatly underestimated the power of the North Korean and Chinese forces that invaded in 1950 and were nearly driven off the peninsula.

Not long after the end of hostilities in North Korea things were getting unsettled in Vietnam with the withdrawal of the French in what had been Indochina.  Here again a general who had opposed the Japanese during World War II, Ho Chi Mihn, was leading his communist nation.  But unlike the North Koreans, Ho Chi Mihn made an offering to U.S. official to avoid hostilities.  But 1954 America had become wrapped up in McCarthyism and negotiations with communists was viewed by many as unpatriotic.  No talks were ever held.

When the French left Vietnam the U.S. stepped in.  But U.S. officials had little understanding of Vietnam’s problem.  All they saw were the hated communists who had evil in their hearts and had to be controlled if  not eliminated.  As early as 1954 war in Vietnam had become inevitable.

For the past 11 years we have been involved in the conflicts of the middle east.  While things have at least settled down in Iraq and Afghanistan, the region is far from stable.  Also in question, what are our long-range motivations with regard to that region?  Where are our allegiances?  What countries are most likely to drag the region back into hostilities?

One thing is certain, we cannot use our beliefs in what is right and wrong and overlay those beliefs on the people of other countries.  That simply does not work and it categorically unfair to the people of those countries.  What we need is a greater understanding of the needs of the gross population of these countries, their desires, and their beliefs.

The 2nd Korean War That Almost Happened

In 1969 I was stationed in the US Army at Yongsan South Korea.  Yongsan was, and is, the headquarters of the 8th U.S. Army as well as assigned US Air Force detachments.  I worked in the 8th Army communications facility that provided communications for the Headquarters to locations around Korea, to Japan, and to the United States.  Upon arrival it had seemed an easy enough assignment considering it was not Vietnam and no one was trying to kill me on a daily basis.  That does not mean there was no conflict at all, there was, more than most people in the U.S. ever knew about.

In February of 1968 the crew of the USS Pueblo, a naval spy ship, had been captured by the North Koreans and were held in captivity for the next 11 months, being released on December 23 1968.  Although the Korean military commands had been on heightened status, is was not perceived as grave.  Still, the South Korean government, in control of the world’s 5th largest standing army at the time, was nervous as Kim Jong Il had promised to invade the south and reunite the countries by force.  All South Korean men between the ages of 18 and 60, at the time, were either on active duty with the military or in the reserves.  Each considered war likely, and some even looked forward to seeking to avenge the hostilities that had ended only a decade and a half before.

At the time, the United States had two complete infantry divisions in Korea, the 2nd Infantry Division and the 7th Infantry Division.  It was the job of the 2nd Division to patrol and keep safe the demilitarized zone (DMZ).  Men, both observers and infantrymen, could easily see the North Korean soldiers on a daily basis.  The North Koreans were known for being provocative and frequently probed at the U.S. lines.  In one instance while I was there, a 2nd lieutenant of the US was out on an inspection tour of the DMZ when he was attacked by machete wielding North Koreans who killed him in broad daylight.  This incident, and many more like it, never made it to either the newspapers or the nightly news broadcasts in the US as those facilities were tied up in the news coming out of Vietnam.  And yet, soldiers in Korea who served north of the Han River were all considered to be in a combat zone and given commensurate combat pay.

Then, on April 15, 1969, a Tuesday, a U.S. Navy spy plane known as an EC-121 was shot down over North Korea and its crew of 33 all died.

US Navy EC-121

The aircraft was on a mission about 100 miles east of the North Korean peninsula when it was shot down by a North Korean Mig-21 fighter.

I was working in the communications facility at the time this happened.  My battalion commander, a Lieutenant Colonel who seldom ventured into the facility, was suddenly sitting in my work area visibly shaken.  He informed us that the facility was on lock-down and no one would be allowed to enter or leave.  To that end, at the entrance way to my section the normal military policeman had been replaced by a South Korean soldier who was wielding a shotgun with orders to shoot to kill.  Additionally, those men who were in what was the cryptographic section, secure teletype communications, had their door, a bank vault door, secured with the combination lock spun.

Most men who served in areas like I did were aware of what was called survival time after the outbreak of hostilities and the launching of missiles.  Our survival time, as I remember it, was about 3o seconds, for obvious reasons.  What I was unaware of, since we there were no windows in this facility, was that a machine gun had been erected three-quarters of the way up our microwave tower.  Additionally, a heavily army truck was stationed just outside our facility.

Communications parlance of the day had various levels of importance assigned to every bit of communications either received or sent: routine, immediate, and flash.  Each level above routine required the sender to have certain increasing rank and responsibility.  There was one type of communication that was seldom seen and this was known as the “red rocket.”  This particular degree of urgency was reserved for the White House.  Starting on April 15 1969 we saw a lot of such traffic.  The situation was extremely grave as we soon found out that the rear infantry division, the 7th, had been moved to a forward position and many of its supporting artillery batteries were in the process of being moved.

At the time the U.S. had many naval and air forces stationed in Japan which were scrambled to Korean waters and air bases in South Korea.  But more importantly, at the time the Air Force had a group stationed at McDill AFB known as STRIKE Command.  This group had nuclear capability and had been scrambled as well.  I only found this out a couple of years later when, while stationed in Italy, my neighbor was a man who had been assigned to STRIKE Command at the time.  He said STRIKE Command aircraft were within a couple of hours of Korea when they were recalled.

For its part, the United States had absolutely no interest in having an armed conflict with the North Koreans.  The U.S. already had over 500,000 military on assignment in Vietnam and could ill-afford a new commitment of men and material.  The new Nixon White House, a mere 90 days into its tenure, used Henry Kissinger’s amazing diplomatic skills to avert a war.  That task was certainly difficult as both North and South Korea desired a fight.  Still, it took serveral days to resolve the issue, at least temporarily.

We who served in Korea at the time felt over-looked, almost forgotten.  Thought not nearly in the numbers of Vietnam, men were still giving their lives in Korea in those days.  To be sure, the formidable size of both the U.S. forces in Korea and the South Korean military itself was just enough of a deterrent, but only because cooler heads prevailed.

Five Must Try Ethnic Food Restaurants in the Boston Area

My wife is something of a gormet cook, though not trained as such, she has put a considerable amount of time towards making really good meals.  She has also made a habit of searching out fine eateries in the Boston area.  I really had no appreciation for ethnic foods before her but now, well, I have come to appreciate it greatly.

1.  Cafe Polonia, South Boston — Cafe Polonia is a tiny hole in the wall restaurant on Broadway in South Boston serving Polish cuisine.  At most, this restaurant seats 25 people at one time however, the dining area is immaculate and bright.  Traditional Polish food is based on pork, cabbage, and potatoes.  The center piece of Polish cooking is the pierogi.  A pierogi is basically a pasta shell filled with potato, cheese, fruit, meat, cabbage, etc.  They are first boiled before being pan fried.  In addition to the pierogi is the pork entre’, kielbasa, cabbage soup, and kishka which is also known as blood sausage.  For dessert I highly recommend nalesnik which is the Polish version of the crepe.  Also popular is babka which is a traditional cake.  Prices are extremely reasonable but parking can be difficult as only street parking is available.  Once done with the meal I recommend you cross the street to the Baltic Deli, a favorite destination for Polish people looking to buy traditional foods.  Also offered is the tradition middle-eastern treat baklava.  This is an extremely reasonably priced restaurant, but, like most small restaurants all parking is limited to what can be found on the street.

2.  Kolbeh of Kabob — This is a Persian restaurant located at 1500 Cambridge Street in Cambridge (right across the street from the Cambridge Hospital).  Middle Eastern food is known for its basics, rice, chicken, and beef.  This small restaurant is both attractive and comfortable.  The owner is also one of the servers and is dilligent in conducting her menu.  They make their own pita bread and serve it with hummas, both delicious.  Also offered as appetizers is egg plant and yogurt, each delicious in its own rite.  The main plates are usually skewers of either chicken or beef on a bed of basmati rice.  The rice is adorned with saffron, a unique middle-eastern flavor, and bay berries, raisins, and dates.  The combination is always delicious and brings a flavor to the rice that is delightful.  For dessert you must try the Persian ice cream.  It is simply a saffron based ice cream that is light and delicious.

3.  Ixtapa, Lexington — Ixtapa is a very family friendly Mexican restaurant located at 177 Massachusetts Avenue in Lexington.  This is barely 1/4 mile from Arlington Heights.  While boasting of tradional, and expected, Mexican fare, Ixtapa succeeds where others fail in its constantly excellent taste that is backed up by extremely friendly and fast service.  Any one of their meat dishes is available in a choice of chicken, beef, and pork, and sometimes a combination of all.  I almost always order one of their burritos or chimichangas.  Either of these is offered in at least a half dozen varieties so one never feel confined.  For dessert I recommend the apple burrito.  In the years I have been going to this restaurant I have never had to wait to be seated.  Furthermore, the Ixtapa has a second level that is reserved for larger parties.  The restaurant is fronted by a good size parking lot where parking is seldom a problem.  It is extremely reasonably priced, comfortable, and pleasant in atmosphere.

4.  Tango of Arlington — Tango of Arlington is an Argentinian restaurant at 464 Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington center.  Traditional Argentine food is centered around a really good cut of beef.  Chorizo and churassco are two cuts of beef that Americans call steak.  But these cuts are seasoned in a traditional Argentine manner that has to be tasted to be truly understood.  It is without compare!  Either is absolutely one of the best tasting steaks I have ever had anywhere.  Also on the menu are chicken, pork and fish, each equally cooked to perfection.  Even though the restaurant welcomes very casual dress, upon entering you cannot help but wonder that you are not properly dressed.  The feeling that you are in a very classy place is obvious to all.  The owner is always present and constantly checking the quality of the food served and the satisfaction of the customers.  The restaurant is a bit pricey, base meals starting at about $25, but certainly not unreasonable.  Parking is entirely on the street and it being in Arlington center can be problematic.  This city does have, however, a good size parking lot at the rear of the Bank of America which is a very short walk from Tango.

5.  The Aegean Restaurant — The Aegean Restaurant is located at 640 Arsenal Stret in Watertown, across the street from the Arsenal Mall.  The Aegean serves traditional Greek fare.  Traditional Greek food is based in beef, pork, and lamb, and sometimes all three put together.  From the start, with its Greek salad and homemade salad dressing, the Aegean serves really delicious food.  While the kabob is always delicious you can also order cuts of beef, chicken and lamb that are perfectly seasoned.  For dessert Greek baklava is beyond compare and I highly recommend it.  The only downside to the restaurant is its extremely limited on-site parking which means when its full your only alternative is park across the street at the pay garage and recross the busy Arsenal Street to the restaurant.  The Aegean is reasonably priced and worth a visit.