A Year in Korea — Leaving and an Epilogue


When I arrived in Korea I was extremely naïve about the workings of the world. But as my time to depart approached, I had grown, I had matured, I had learned.

By June 1969 I had been promoted four times by the Army, the most any soldier could be promoted. When I entered the army, my monthly pay was $102.30 per month, and when I left I was earning the grand sum of $254.70. That is not a typo, per month is correct. An army captain in 1969 received exactly $466.20 per month. No one went into the military to get rich. But most of us were extremely proud to have served. And when our time came to leave the military, we were extremely happy to go. I refer to those years as “crazy days.”

This is an example of how things got crazy. A couple of months before I was scheduled to leave Korea, a buddy of mine was supposed to leave. But on the specified day of departure, he was nowhere to be found. It turned out he was shacking up with his Korean girlfriend. He was almost literally dragged back to Camp Coiner and informed he would leave the country either voluntarily or under guard. He left under guard. I cannot say I understand his actions but I can assure you that his level of insanity was no greater than a thousand other guys who did crazy things.

An incident I heard about went like this. A guy was driving a 2½ ton truck through a Korean village. Every GI has witnessed at one time or another mamma-san walking out in front of traffic and simply raise he hand as if to magically stop traffic. She was usually successful but when it comes to a deuce and a half, what we called that type of truck, you need a little more room to stop. Mamma-san was killed. The military police were quickly called to the scene and before the Korean government could react, he was spirited out of the country and out of the reach of the Korean police. The Korean government most likely protested the incident but they were certainly aware of mamma-san’s actions and the inevitability of what happened. It was a terrible accident which happened too many times, but it was tragic, not criminal.

I also heard of other guys, not so lucky, who got drunk and drove a military vehicle through a rice patty. Rice is of course a staple of the Korean diet and the farmers, poverty stricken, could ill-afford to lose any of their planted rice. The GI in question was forced to pay the damages, or so I was told but knowing how thing went over there, there is little reason to doubt it.

The fall of 1969 was quiet for me. Word came down that I would depart Korea on December 20, 1969. The last day for soldiers to leave the country. December 20th was a very early day. Those of us who were leaving, I think there were five from my unit, had to be at Kimpo International Airport by 6AM for a 9AM flight out of Korea. We would board one of the big “red tails.” We called those airplanes that because Northwest Orient Airlines painted their tails red and the military used them almost exclusively to ferry troops between the U.S. and Korea.

We all checked in with the Air Force Military Airlift Command desk where we were checked against a roster. That done, we had only to wait. But on this day all did not go as planned. Somehow the five or so of us from Stratcom were told the flight had been overbooked and we would not be leaving that day. We all knew that meant we would have to stay another month. One of us, however, was a sergeant major. A sergeant major is the highest rank an enlisted man can gain and he is usually assigned to a battalion commander, a lieutenant colonel or to a brigade commander, a colonel. Our sergeant major went one better. He was part of a general’s staff and he did not take kindly to the news. He told us to wait and he would take care of things.

We heard him tell the desk sergeant he wanted to speak to his commander immediately. We were shuffled away and did not see the sergeant major for another 2 hours at least. I remember when 9:15AM rolled around we all watched forlornly as the Northwest Boeing 707 left the gate and departed. We were certain all was lost. But a little while later the sergeant major returned and informed us that we were going to leave on a 1:15PM flight that day. No one asked him how he did it, we just thanked him profusely. And so at 1:15PM our 707 left the gate with all aboard. We first flew to Tokyo where we changed planes. It was just a two-hour flight and the change in flight was quick. Our next leg took us from Tokyo to Anchorage Alaska, a 14-hour flight. We arrived in Anchorage at 7:30AM on December 20th. We arrived in Anchorage 5½ hours before we left Korea. The International Date Line came into play of course. Ironically, we boarded another aircraft in Anchorage at 1:15PM on December 20th. I can claim to have taken off from two different airports, thousands of miles apart, at the same time, day and year.

The flight took us to Seattle, a four-hour flight if memory serves properly. But before leaving Anchorage we got to see the sun rise at about 11AM and set just before we took off. From Seattle Tacoma International airport I had to catch a cab to Fort Lewis when I would be usher out of the army. In 1969, December 20th fell on a Saturday which meant the personnel office at Fort Lewis was minimally manned. All I wanted to do was to get my final separation orders, my pay, and an airline ticket home. The personnel people were in no particular rush for me, I was alone, and so I had to cajole them into getting the job done and not make me wait until the next day or Monday. They came through.

I then caught another cab back to Seattle Tacoma airport. I was in my dress uniform, a requirement for members of the military back then when traveling on military orders. As I was about to enter the airport I saw a girl sitting next to the door in hippie style dress. She took one look at me, spit at me and said, “baby killer.” In just a year things had changed so much. I left one war zone and returned to another. The military was not very highly though of by many in the civilian populace and I had just gotten a taste of it.

But I was tired, really tired. I had not been able to sleep much on the airplane from Japan to Alaska even though it was mostly empty and I could sprawl across the three seats where I was situated. And the flight from Alaska offered no respite either. By this time, it must have been about 10PM because I remember having to rush to the United Airlines ticket counter to get checked in. Once I arrived there, however, I was informed there we no more seats available. I must have looked pretty bedraggled and crushed because the woman behind the counter asked, “are you returning from overseas?” Of course, I answered yes even though I knew she thought I was coming from Vietnam. She handed me a first-class ticket and told me to rush to the gate. She gave me an extremely nice “welcome home” before I left.

By the time I got back to North Andover, Massachusetts, it was late morning December 21, 1969, and all I wanted to do was sleep. Sleep eluded me, however. I was probably over-tired. I did sleep a little but nothing close to 8 hours. Still, home never looked so good.

Just a little over a month later, on January 24, 1970, my father died from his 3rd heart attack. My mother told me, “he was waiting for you to come home.” I was crushed, to say the least.

I had enrolled at Merrimack College, just a mile from home. But my heart was not in it. And towards the end of the semester everyone was going on strike. Merrimack called off its commencement because of the student strike. Similar things were happening all over the country. In July I headed out to Oklahoma to learn to fly. I was days away from getting my license when I was in a horrible accident. Aside from a few stiches in my head and an empty wallet, I was all right. But my mother had called me out there asking why the army was looking for me. You see, as someone who had only spent two years on active duty, I was supposed to attended army reserve meeting monthly for two years. I never went to a single one. I knew why they were calling and so I went to the recruiter in Lawrence Massachusetts and re-enlisted.

When I arrived at Fort Dix New Jersey, I was put in one of two barracks which were full of other soldiers, airmen, and sailors who had also not met their obligation. While there, however, I ran into a high school classmate, Doug Middleton. Doug was returning from Vietnam and heading out for Germany. I was heading for Italy. By 1976, Doug had driven to a remote spot in Maine and ate his gun. Vietnam claimed another. Ten years later, another classmate, Jimmy Cippola, was found dead from a heart attack. He had told me how while in Vietnam he had endured countless agent orange sprayings. Jimmy returned from Vietnam full of demons, horrible nightmares. And so Vietnam claimed yet another.

It was the early 1990s before the American public began to thank veterans for their service. Towns organized parades to honor Vietnam vets. Even though I was just a Vietnam era vet, I was asked to March in uniform in a parade in Andover Massachusetts, which I did. Finally someone said thank you.

 

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A Year in Korea — Settling In


occurred to me that I need to inform you of several facts I forgot to include in part 1. When I decided to go into the army, my father was in the hospital recovering from his second heart attack. I told him I had joined the army with my mother present. My mother said I was thoughtless doing such a thing but my dad said, “It’s all right. It’ll be good for him.” He could not have been more right. My dad was as World War 2 veteran having served as part of a B-26 team in North Africa, Italy and France. Try as I might, I could never get him to talk about his time in the army. Years later I figured out why. Anyway, I asked him if he had any advice for me which he did. He said, “do what your officers tell you to do, and stay away from the women.” The first part I understood perfectly but the second part was a mystery at that time.

Korea in the 1960s was still classified as a war zone by the Defense Department. As I learned firsthand, men died during DMZ skirmishes with the North Koreans. Even though a truce had been declared 16 years prior, a very uneasy peace hung over the two countries. The Pueblo incident flamed the hostile feelings, and the desire of the South Koreans to reunite with the north surfaced.

A tour in Korea was called a “short tour.” That is military speak for serving in a war zone. Soldiers, and sailors too, who served a single short tour would not be required to ever serve another. It was one of the promises the military always made good on. Still, there were many GIs who volunteered for 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th tours in such areas. The rest of us simply marked off each passing day as bringing us one day closer to returning to “the world.” That’s how we referred to the United States, “the world.” Asian culture was always austere and too difficult for many to even comprehend, even though it was all around you. For my part, I embraced it as much as I could.

In those days, the military printed a thing called MPC, Military Payment Currency. It was a substitute for U.S. Dollars which we were prohibited from using while over there. Our loved ones, however, knowing how poorly paid we were, would send us money, usually $20. Every GI quickly learned that $20 on the Korean black market would get him $25 in return. Rumor was the Korean black market would put in a demand for gold but I don’t know if that was true. To give you an idea of army pay back then a private made under $100 per month and a buck sergeant made a little over $200 a month. But no one complained. After all, we all got “3 hots and cot” for free; that is three hot meals and a place to sleep.

When I arrived in Korea and reported for my first day of work at the communications center, the sergeant in charge, a sergeant major, stood 5 of us in a line. We had all graduated from the same signal course at Fort Gordon. To each of us he asked if we had any electronics background. For those who said yes, he assigned them to communications maintenance. And to those of us who said “no,” as I did, he assigned us as communications systems trouble shooters, tech controllers was the actual title. He said we would learn through on the job training. And that is exactly what happened. And as it turned out, it worked out very well for all five of us. We were each promoted a first time after three months there and a second time after 6 months. The reason for this I alluded to before, we were usually near 50% strength. But there was also a constant turnover of old personnel leaving and we, the new personnel, having to take over their jobs.

The year 1969 was an especially eventful one for America. On December 23, 1968, the USS Pueblo crew was marched to the DMZ where they were reunited with the American military. Even though that happened in 1968, it was almost a harbinger of things to come in 1969, as if to kick things off.

In Korea, every GI barrack had a houseboy, a Korean man who would clean up after us, take our clothes to be washed, shine our boots and keep things tidy in our “hooch.” Hooch is a slang term used by G.I.s in Korea and Vietnam denoting the place where they slept. It could also refer to where the locals slept.

From my earliest days in Korea I always felt welcomed by the Korean people. Maybe it was because they were resigned to our being there, which was probably true for some, but also because they were generally happy for our presence. After all, we had freed them from the Japanese tyranny they suffered through from 1910 until 1945. And then again, in 1950 when the North Koreans unexpectedly invaded the south, it was the Americans who won them back their freedom. I have no memory of ever been looked upon with disdain by any Korean. Maybe I just missed it but I don’t think so.

In Korea in 1969 there were 2 army divisions, the 2nd and the 7th, along with numerous support organizations, such as the one I was assigned to, and a large contingent of US Air Force personnel who were station at Osan AFB in the north and Pusan AFB in the south. There was also a detachment at Inchon which was the international airport serving Seoul. In all, there were over 50,000 military personnel in Korea at any one time, almost entirely men.

Korea, like Vietnam, was what the military refers to as an “unaccompanied tour.” That means dependents were not allowed to accompany the serviceman to their duty station. We had a very racist term for American women. We called them “round-eyes” and every GI talked endlessly about what he would do with the first “round-eye” he met when he got back to “the world.”

With exception of the release of the Pueblo crewmen, life in Korea was very uneventful for my first four months there. Working the mid shift, 11PM to 11AM, was always the most boring. Television did not exist in Korea and so we were limited to listening to Armed Forces Radio which was canned, having been recorded in the Los Angeles area. GIs both in Korea and Vietnam got their daily dose of a beauty named Chris Noel. He soft voice and beautiful features seemed the promise of the future. I think most guys either had a picture of Chris or knew someone who did. See for yourself.

Chris Noel Girl Happy

But AFRS was not a 24-hour station. From midnight until 5 the station did not broadcast. Being in communications gave us access to certain things other GIs unfortunately did not have. An enterprising GI at Osan AFB managed to pipe music from his hooch to the microwave link and passed it on to any and all who cared to listen. And trust me when I say, everyone listened. In Yongsan, I was at one end of the microwave link and Pusan was the other end. From there it was jumped to Japan and then jumped again to Hawaii. Another enterprising GI came up with a poster for our nascent radio station. We had to have called letters, as does any legitimate radio station, so he came up with WFTA. The FTA part meant “fuck the army.” The poster showed a guy with a pair of bandoleros wrapped crosswise over his chest as if he were a South American rebel. The letters WFTA were printed across the top. I proudly displayed that poster. One day, for reasons I never understood, my battalion commander decided he needed to see what his troops were doing. In fact, he had no business there but who is going to challenge a colonel? When he came into my section and saw the poster. He was naïve to the meaning of FTA and asked what it meant. I do not remember my answer, but whatever it was, he bought it. He asked who had come up with it and I told him who. The guy who made up that poster ended up getting a commendation medal for aiding in good morale.

One night I got a call from the guy at Osan who asked if I wanted to join in on what was called a “B.S.er” I didn’t know what that meant and he told me the idea was to link communications sites together around the world via teletype. If done correctly, you would type on one teletype and a few seconds later see what you had typed come in on a different teletype. As I remember the links went like this, Yongsan Korea to Taipei Taiwan to Phu Lam Vietnam to Tehran Iran to Italy to Ft. Ritchie Maryland to Hawaii to Japan and back to Korea. A single communications line linked around the world was unheard-of in those days but we did it. It was done mostly out of totally boredom but we did it.

The war in Vietnam struck home for me one day unexpectedly. As a communications trouble-shooter, we had to report all communications outages. Those were rather frequent occurrences to the field units in Korea we had direct lines to and less frequent going almost everywhere in the other directions. Being a part of the 8th US Army Headquarters, we of courses had direct lines to many places around the far east. One line, for reasons I never understood, went to a field unit in Vietnam. It was one of two lines we had there. The other was to Phu Lam. One day the 2nd line went down while I was on duty. Being really good at my job, I called Phu Lam for a status on that line, if they even had one. They did. The line was out permanently as the position had been overrun by the North Vietnamese Army.

In the early months of 1969 I got more and more comfortable with my surroundings in Korea. I was able to contact the Korean family I had been told of. My houseboy had been instrumental in making that happen as I was clueless on how to bring it about otherwise. Korea in those days was a study in contrasts. There was a huge peasant class, very poor people. There was a smaller upper class, and a tiny middle class. The upper class all drove Toyota or Datsun (Nissan) sedans while the middle class drove refurbished army jeeps. They were always painted black but the interior was made quite comfortable. The family I met were middle class.  Below is a picture of me with a boy about my age from this family.

korea

I cannot tell you where they lived but it was a nice section of Seoul. Nice is a relative term. Nice in those days meant they had indoor plumbing and were not reliant upon charcoal heaters placed beneath the floor for heat. I was introduced to Korean food. Kimchi is a staple of the Korean diet and my family said they would understand if I did not care for it, which one bite in told me I did not. They got a good laugh for my efforts. Unfortunately, that and their cooking bulgogi, grilled beef, are my only memories of the evening.

We paid our houseboys the large sum of $5 a month for his services, the bill being due payday which was the first day of each month. Most of us gave him a tip in addition, probably a couple of dollar more, but I really do not remember exactly. I became very friendly with my houseboy and was invited to his house for supper.

As opposed to the family I had visited, my houseboy lived close by in little more than a hovel. Living with him were his wife, his child and both his parents. The doors to his house were a wood frame with paper where glass would otherwise have been. They all lived in two small rooms. But they were happy, at least that is my memory. The laid out a feast I know they could not afford. They too got a laugh out of my inability to swallow some of what was offered. But I tried. They were very gracious. After the meal, the men were served rice wine, makkoli. Each time my houseboy took a sip of the wine he turned his head. I asked him why and he said he did it out of respect to his father.

Every army company, 200 – 250 men, had a KATUSA assigned to it. A KATUSA is an acronym for Korean Augment to the US Army. In our company, he was the company commander’s driver when he was with us. One day I came across his being beaten severely by his sergeant for an infraction he had committed. I don’t know what it was but I was advised by a senior sergeant that I was not to interfere or even say anything. It was how the Korean army conducted its business.

One thing that became very clear very quickly was just how good the Korean army was. They were extremely well-trained fighters, extremely loyal and extremely reliable. I found out later that our troops in Vietnam cherished having their Korean counterparts attached to their unit. They were renowned for their bravery and skill as fighters. I was informed that every Korean male between the ages of 16 and 60 were either on active duty in the military or a part of the country’s military reserve. Their freedom seemed always in the balance and in any fight, they were determined to come out on top.

This takes me through March of 1969 where I will pick up in the next installment.

Dealing With ISIS


The terrorist attack on Paris is despicable, to say the least. The group that calls itself ISIS claims responsibility. Those are all the facts, there are no more. Politician in this country, and probably all others, debate what sort of response should be taken. The responses I have heard from politicians in this country have been anywhere from measured to outrageous.

The good thing about this country is we get to say whatever we believe and the government cannot restrict that. That works well until you enter the national and international arena. Once you find yourself on the national stage this wise response is always the measured response. Many of the Republican presidential candidates have made the decision that the best and only response the U.S. can make to terrorist attacks is by sending in the army. Such remarks are not only ill-considered but irresponsible.

Governor Christie has said he would send in the troops. Trump, Rubio and Bush have said as much. It is this kind of thinking that gets the United States into trouble over and over.

The military of the United States, and of any country, is an extension of that country’s political system. The two prime reasons for having a military is first to defend your country against those who attack you and second, to take the battle to those countries which present a real and present danger to your well-being. A secondary reason is going to an ally’s aid and defense.

That ISIS presents a real and present danger in the world is unarguable. ISIS, however, it not presently claimed by any country in particular nor has any country come out in support of ISIS. It is my belief that there is not a country in the middle-east, North Africa, southeastern Europe, the Balkans and probably all of central Asia which does not have a contingent of ISIS living within its borders. This makes attacking ISIS problematic, at the least, because of where it exists. For example, ISIS probably exists substantially in Lebanon and Lebanon borders Syria. Right now, neither of those countries have invited the U.S. inside its borders.

Former President Bush used the pretense of weapons of mass destruction the attack Iraq. We now know for fact that we were fed half-truths and absolute lies when the real motivation was to remove Saddam Hussein from power. I only mention that to pre-empt the idea of entering Syria to eradicate ISIS, and oh by the way, we remove Assad from power.

Right now the only nation that has an iron clad reason to attack ISIS with troops on the ground is France, and so far they have shown no desire to do such. Why? Because they probably realize that their chances of successfully destroying the entire central leadership of ISIS with infantry is minimal at best. And even if France were to decide to use ground troops, I think anything beyond existing NATO agreements and UN agreements is unwise. And anything beyond logistical support would be going too far. And that logistical support would exist only in Iraq in the Middle East.

The greatest threat ISIS is to the world now is mostly peace of mind. It is obvious that Europe has got to figure out a way, quickly, to secure its borders. The U.S. is already doubling down on its security, really the only thing we can do. The next right step the leadership of the world has to figure out is how to contain ISIS. For all the Middle Eastern countries this means they will have to use a combination of civil policing and military actions within their borders. For the U.S. this means we are going to have to secure the borders of both Afghanistan and Iraq. That may require additional infantry troops. Neither country is strong enough by itself to provide for its own security against the likes of ISIS.

The United States has a lot of experience in attempting to deal with an unseen enemy such as ISIS. That enemy was called the Viet Cong and the war, of course, was Vietnam. We failed miserably trying to root out the Vietcong with conventional military. ISIS is no different.

The bottom line is simple: we are already stronger than ISIS, we just need to be smarter than them to defeat them.

 

Reflections of a Veteran on Veterans Day


As United States holidays go, Veteran’s Day is one of the newest. As a holiday by this name, it came into being in 1954. Prior to that, Veterans Day was known as Armistice Day commemorating the end of World War 1. World War 1 officially ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. Shortly afterward President Wilson declared November 11th a national holiday. Then World War 2 happened followed by the Korean War. As a veteran, President Eisenhower decided that rather than remembering a peace treaty for a single war, the day would be better served by recognizing the service of everyone who had ever served in the Armed Forces of the United States. But there are two additional groups of veterans who did not serve within the Defense Department who are also veterans and they are the members of the Coast Guard and the Merchant Marines. The Merchant Marines were a vital force during World War 2 transporting goods and troops to the European Theater of War. And the Coast Guard, whose primary mission is the protection of the U.S. Coast lines, was deployed to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam among other missions.

I entered the U.S. Army on February 19, 1968 and served on active duty until November 10, 1979. After that I served in the Massachusetts National Guard for several years. My years of service in the U.S. Army are many of my proudest moments in life. I am the son of a World War 2 veteran, my father served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in North Africa, Italy, and France. Two of my daughters are veterans as well. My eldest served as a U.S. Army Nurse in Kosovo and my next daughter has served in the U.S. Air Force in both active and reserve duty. She is still serving.

I am of the Vietnam era which many view as a low point of the U.S. history in war. But this needs to be put into perspective. All military forces, not just American, are a natural extension of a country’s political system and honors the decisions of the country’s political leadership. My experience in the Army is that we never discussed politics except maybe to criticize what we viewed a lack of support from time-to-time.   But I never once knew nor discussed the political persuasions of any of my brothers in arms. Such discussion served no purpose. I know from experience that at the highest levels of the military establishment, politics is very much a part of a soldier’s daily life but below the level of flag officers, generals and admirals, politics was generally non-existent. That was always a good thing.

All soldiers are required to complete basic combat training. Basic training is the great leveler. That is, regardless of a person’s background or appearance, the most important thing is learning how to be a soldier and what it means to serve with pride. It is a unique system found nowhere else in society, not even the police forces which copy many of the training techniques of the military. All members of the military are instilled with the concept of “duty, honor, and country.” That means that each member of the military has sworn to put his life on the line to protect his country from those who would do harm to it. This oath of allegiance has been in place since the Revolutionary War. It is an absolute and cannot be compromised.

Only the Civil War divided this country more than the war in Vietnam. When I volunteered to join the Army I did not say that I would only join if I would not be sent to Vietnam. There is no such option nor has there ever been one. Most veterans never saw combat duty but every veteran was eligible for it. I was sent to Korea in 1968 which was a war zone in those days. It was certainly not as hot as Vietnam but U.S. soldiers were still dying there. Why? Because they were doing their duty.

War does funny things to men. Greatness arises out of some of the most unexpected places. During the Civil War at the battle of Gettysburg, a former college professor from Maine, a very humble man, so distinguished himself that he became one of the first recipients of the Medal of Honor. He was Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. During World War 1, a former blacksmith and pacifist from Tennessee distinguished himself in battle to become a Medal of Honor recipient. Most recently a young man from Long Island, Lt. Michael Murphy, distinguished himself in Afghanistan to receive the Medal of Honor. Each of these men had one thing in common, they joined the service out of a sense of duty and in the worst of conditions their concern was completion of the mission and protection of their comrades. And I can assure you that none saw themselves as heroes. To a man they would tell you if asked that they were just doing their job. And in that sentiment is the common thread for all veterans. We did our job in difficult situations because it was the right thing to do and our sense of honor and patriotism were driving forces.

During my time in Korea we came under the threat of attack many times. The attack never came but maybe that was because we were there. We were enough of a deterrent. I seldom talk of my time in Korea mostly because I do not remember most of the details. But those who served in Vietnam are even more guarded in their speech. If you find a vet who served in Vietnam, the Gulf Wars or Afghanistan you will probably get a lot of resistance from them in the telling of their experiences. Why? Because war is and always has been an ugly affair. People at home hear of the deaths of soldiers and grieve them. Soldiers see the deaths of non-combatants, women and children, and mourn that. My personal experience with that came in the form of a visit to a Korean orphanage where the casualties of the ongoing conflict resided. To say it was heartbreaking is to minimalize the reality.

For 20 years following the Vietnam War the experience of veterans was something no one wanted to discuss. But the Gulf War changed that and the phrase “thank you for your service” came into being. I hope that such sentiment never goes out of fashion because as a veteran I am grateful whenever I hear it expressed. If you know a vet, give him or her a call on this Veterans Day and thank them for their service. When you see someone in uniform on the street where you are walking, thank that person for their service, after all, they have sworn to put their life on the line for you. Finally, most cities and towns in the United States have a war memorial. Take the time to visit it, look at the names listed, because they are the ones who gave their life for you.

Freedom Isn’t Free


soldier

On July 5 1776, one day after the Declaration of Independence was made public, our new-born nation was a mess.  Mostly, we had been clashing with the British since April 19 1775.  The Battle of Bunker Hill was the one exception where large numbers of men on both sides lost their lives.  But in truth, neither side was yet prepared for a full out war.  The British troops were the best trained, best armed, and had the best leadership by far.  England had the ability to fund a short war and defeat almost any enemy she desired.  That British confidence of an impending American defeat was high was understandable.  The single thing that kept America viable over the next 7 years was its dogged desire to prevail.  The be sure, the Continental Congress was bankrupt, unable to pay its soldiers as promised.  The new American army suffered through a very high rate of desertion.  Conversely, the British Army suffered virtually no desertions.  Gen. Washington looked upon the British commander, Gen. Howe, with envy.  His troops were well fed, well armed, well trained, and supremely confident.  While the Battle of Yorktown was the finality of the war, it had truly ended long before by greatly diminishing the English war coffers and the distance at which the war was fought.  Also, sentiment in England was of a country weary of a civil war, that being that Americans had previously been viewed by the English public as brethren who had previously been an integral part of their country.  But the cost of that war, on both sides, lingered for decades after 1783.  For the first time, America had to deal with its war veterans and the promises it had made to them.  Some of those promises were not fulfilled until well into the 19th century.

When Thomas Jefferson took office he took offence to the large standing army he inherited and did his level best to entirely disband it, claiming that such an army was entirely unnecessary.  And although his feeling about the American Navy was not quite so draconian, he still reduced its size as well.  But then came the War of 1812.  The war was started over the impressment of American sailors in the British Navy.  And even though the war was started at sea, it was entirely completed on land.  Britain had entertained the idea that it could recapture this country that had slipped its rule only 30 years prior, well within the memory of most in government and power.  But again, the cost of a protracted war at a great distance proved too much.  Britain had actually conceded the war prior to the Battle of New Orleans because of that reason.  But America had quickly reassembled its army but not before the British army lay waste to the new American capitol at Washington and ran with impunity for well over a year.

 

The American army was relatively stable, well trained, and well equipped until the end of World War 1.  Many called that war, “the war to end all wars.”  It was believed that after WW1, a war which counted its casualties in the 10s of millions, there would never again rise the desire of any country to war upon any other country at such a scale.  The allies, America, Britain, and France agreed upon the size of the world’s navies.  It was believed that only a navy could transport large armies to other countries and by limiting those navies would necessarily limit any country’s desire to do war.  That, of course, proved hugely fallacious  By Americans, gripped by isolationist ideas, reduced its army by such large numbers that had the Japanese attacked the US mainland 1940 with its marines and armies using it large naval fleet, we would have been in serious trouble.  Couple that with its ally, Germany, and an invasion by Germany, American’s 458,000 men in uniform would have been severely tested and, in many cases, eliminated owing to poor training, being poorly equipped, and marginally led.  I mention that number because it was only due to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s belief that the US entry into the European war being eminent, he increased the size of the military to 1.8 million in 1941.  Even so, that military was not particularly well trained or well equipped.

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That 1940 number is worthy of note because it is the number at which today’s Army stands.  The total number in today’s military, all branches and both active and reserve, stands at about 1.3 million but declining.  Since 1988 the US Congress has been hell bent on reducing the size of the military, and the number of its installations when there were about 2.1 million men in uniform.  People viewed, and still do, our defense budget as out of control, over-burdening, and unnecessary.  The present day public has this view that we can somehow conduct a war at a distance and with a “World of Warcraft” mentality.  We have smart bombs, high tech aircraft, and cutting edge equipment at every point.  But what the American public forgets is that in the end, it is the individual soldier would fights and wins, or God help us, loses the war.  High tech equipment is rendered useless without men to operate and maintain it.  But even more importantly, and something we all should be intimately aware of right now, is that today’s war, today’s battles, are largely fought and won by the rifleman.  We fight large numbers of enemies who do not wear any uniform, are terrorists who blend in with the local population.  We should have learned that lesson back in the 1970s when in Vietnam we had to fight the Viet Cong who did the same.  But it seems we have forgotten and so we have doomed ourselves to repeating our past mistakes.

Today, the US Army has a total of 13 divisions, 1 armored, 1o infantry of various sorts, and only 2 reserve/national guard.  During the conduct of the Vietnam War, the Defense Department guaranteed each soldier that he would be required to serve in a war zone for only one 12-month period in his career.  Today, soldiers are required to serve 2, 3 and even 4 tours in our present-day war zones.  We have known since World War 1 the hugely negative effects of war upon soldiers and we strived for 50 years to protect our soldiers against such circumstances.  What in World War 2 and Korea was called “battle fatigue” is today known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Most, if not all, our soldiers today who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq suffer for some degree of PTSD.  This too is a cost of war.

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We have two choices right now, as I see it.  We can either withdraw all our troops for the worlds battle grounds or greatly increase the size of our military.  Our military is extremely stressed and stretched far too thinly for the mission it has been given today.  Too few are being asked to do too much.  And since I do not see us withdrawing from the world’s battlefields at any time in the near future, it is our duty, an imperative, to adjust the size of our military to fill those needs.  And as distasteful as the American public may find it, the best deterrent to terrorist and like activities in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan is the presence of a large infantry force until that country is capable of defending itself.  Clearly neither Iraq nor Afghanistan is ready to defend itself.  This is exactly what we did at the end of World War 2 in Germany and Japan, and it worked extremely well.  Why is it we cannot commit ourselves in the same manner today?

Americans really need to consider its mindset towards our military and those we serve.  While it has become common practice to thank those who serve, those words ring rather hollow when we do not back them up with actions that show our support.  Americans should insist that soldiers not be forced into harms way more than once in their military service and back that promise up with the dollars it takes to keep that promise.  Americans need to suck it up, bite the bullet, or whatever cliché you care to use, and commit to a force that not only serves our country in general, but those who serve within it as well.  Right now we are asking too few to do too much.

Forgiving Jane Fonda


In July 1972, Jane Fonda visited Hanoi North Vietnam.  For this essay her reasons are irrelevant.  Her actions were clearly illegal and she was not punished for them, at least by U.S. legal authority.  But to understand what motivated such actions by anyone in those days means understanding our country at the time.  Our country was war weary, racially divided, and coming out of the closet.

I do not know what made my generation want to turn the world on its head, but it did.  We were born during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, had parents, even those who voted Democrat, who were rather conservative.  Sex was taboo and dugs consisted entirely of marijuana and LSD.  That was the view, anyway.  It was not entirely true, of course, but it was the prevailing sentiment.

In the 1960s our standards of dress changed radically when the Beatles grew their hair out, the skimpy bikini tested the beaches, miniskirts were a fashion statement, and women burned their bras.  In the background you could hear Bob Dylan singing “The times they are a changing.”  Political activism grew out of our college campuses as students said we should make love and not war, Dr. Timothy Leary (PhD Yale) told us to “turn on, tune in and drop out.”  Aside from getting high and dropping out of mainstream society, I am not entirely sure of the meaning  behind his message.  But he was one “authority” the generation listened to.  Abby Hoffman, founder of the political movement the “Yippies,” had warned us to “question authority.”  In addition to the Yippies (Youth International Party), there were the Weatherman, Students for a Democratic Society, and the Black Panthers.

The Black Panthers brought fear to white America.  That was not its intention at all.   Founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland California for the protection of the Black Community.  The strong and empowered black man scared the crap out of white America, but for all the wrong reasons.  Public opinion, in those days, was in no small part controlled by governmental groups like the FBI.  The FBI, Edgar Hoover in particular, launched a campaign of misinformation about people and groups Hoover thought dangerous.  One such person was Martin Luther King.  Unfortunately mainstream media had not yet taken Hoffman’s reprise of questioning authority and so it regularly published without question whatever government officials stated.

Young men, like me, were drafted by the thousands in the late 60s and early 70s to conduct the war in Vietnam.  We were fed the idea of the “domino principal.”  This principal, developed by the Eisenhower administration, said that Communism in the far east would take one country at a time, each falling to the Soviets and Chinese like a domino.  We were there fighting for freedom.  Curious, in 1968, a group called Country Joe and the Fish, sang a song called Vietnam in which they sang, “And it’s one two three what are we fighting for? Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn!  Next stop is Vietnam.”  This song was sung time and again by GIs serving in Vietnam as if it were their anthem.  A very accurate view of that sentiment is caught in the movie “Good Morning Vietnam.”

In 1967, all forms of birth control, save abstinence, was illegal as was all forms of abortion.

In 1968 you could still buy gasoline for 30 cents a gallon.  Cigarettes were 25 cents a pack.  And the minimum wage was $1.25.

On July 20, 1969 the first man stepped on the moon, Neil Armstrong.  And then from August 15 – 18 1969 the Woodstock Concert was held.  All the while men were dying in Vietnam.  Absolutely no one knew which way was up although many wanted you to believe they did.

In 1970 students were holding “sit ins” in their college to protest the war.  Some went so far as to close down the campuses and experienced the cancellation of graduation ceremonies.

By 1972, when Jane made her ill-advised and illegal trip to Hanoi, Richard Nixon’s associates were breaking into Democratic offices in Watergate.  If truth be told, and it must be, our country was rife with people in positions of power and influence misusing that power.

In 1976 Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon of his wrong doings.  There were people still who wanted him brought to trial and Ford, not wanting the office of the president so scarred, saw to it that such would not happen.  Then in 1977 President Jimmy Carter offered amnesty to all draft dodgers.  The country needed to heal and few complained about such actions.  But Jane Fonda was the exception.  While American servicemen were being held as POWs in North Vietnam, being brutally tortured, Fonda visited that country, and soldiers everywhere were rightfully angered to the extreme.

When Fonda made her trip, I was serving in Italy and was not even aware of it.  The only news we go was that served up by the military newspaper “The Stars and Stripes.”  You can be certain that news was heavily censored.  I had served in the far east from December 1968 to December 1969, and for my part, I just wanted to forget it.

In 1978 Jane Fonda made a movie with her father Henry, “On Golden Pond.”  She and her father had been estranged for years.  Fonda, not known for being an easy man to live with, was typical of his generation in his conservative leanings and owned a good part of the estrangement between him and his daughter.  Still, the movie brought to two together and they did make amends.  American families had been ripped apart by the war as well and needed healing.

I feel sorry for anyone who still holds any resentments towards Jane Fonda for they have missed one of the most important truths of life: forgiveness.  I think Jane Fonda’s actions were despicable but I forgive her.  I still do not like her as a person but I have moved beyond, far beyond, any lingering resentments.  Resentment is the poison I drink while desiring the other person to get sick from it.  It is pure foolishness and serves no good.

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.