Category Archives: military news

We’re remembering ‘a date which will live … in infamy’

This is not a celebratory date. I hesitate even to call it an “anniversary.” It’s a date of solemn remembrance and honor.

We remember the event, the attack on our Navy at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The Japanese fighter planes and bombers that roared in over the harbor that day 78 years ago brought this country into the world’s bloodiest and costliest war.

We also honor the heroes who fought back that Sunday morning. They were awakened by the sounds of ships and planes exploding under the force of the ordnance dropped by those aircraft.

We remember the USS Arizona, the World War I-era battleship that is memorialized to this day in the harbor, at the place where it blew apart and sank. There reportedly are just three survivors of the attack on the Arizona. One of them is a gentleman named Lou Conter.

Conter is now 98 years of age. His time on Earth is running out, just as it has already for all but fewer than 500,000 of the more than 16 million men and women who fought for this country and saved the world from the tyrants who wanted to conquer us all.

I want to insert a point of personal pride here. One of those brave Americans was my father, Pete Kanelis, who 78 years ago today — as he and his parents and siblings were listening to the news about the attack on the radio — ventured to downtown Portland, Ore., to enlist in the Navy.

Lou Conter will receive honors and high praise from those who have gathered at Pearl Harbor. He couldn’t participate a year ago and this year he is the only one of the three Arizona survivors who is able to take part.

Let us never forget the sacrifice of these heroic Americans. Indeed, we should honor them every single day and thank them — either privately or out loud — for all they did to save us from the evils of oppression.

Trump’s recklessness roils the military high command

Donald J. “Corporal Bone Spurs” Trump once boasted that he knows “more than the generals about ISIS.” Actually, he doesn’t.

However, he is the commander in chief and I guess that gives him license to say things that are demonstrably false.

So, here we are. The commander in chief has overruled some senior military commanders regarding the status of a convicted Navy SEAL. In so doing the president has turned up the volume of dissent among the men and women who are charged with implementing military policy.

There is talk now about a serious “morale problem” among our vaunted military ranks.

I’ll back up for just a moment. Navy Petty Officer Edward Gallagher was convicted of posing with the corpse of an enemy fighter in Iraq. The Navy wanted to strip him of his SEAL Trident pin. The president intervened. He said Gallagher should keep his Trident. The Navy secretary, Richard Spencer, disagreed. Defense Secretary Mark Esper fired Spencer, who has spent the past few days criticizing Trump for his failure to understand “military order and discipline” and how it’s vital to operating the finest military apparatus in human history.

This tumult is working its way up and down the chain of command and through the ranks of the military personnel.

The commander in chief is empowered to do whatever he wishes. However, with this president — with zero military experience — there well might be a major price to pay if he continues to engender resentment among the individuals we thrust into harm’s way.

Make no mistake: Trump is not the first man with no military experience to serve as commander in chief. It’s just that he blathers so maddeningly about how much he purports to know about military matters.

On that score, this president is an ignoramus.

‘I prefer to eat with the men’

Take a gander at this lovely couple. They are my late uncle and aunt, Tom and Verna Kanelis. They played a big part in my life and in the lives of my wife and sons.

I am thinking of them this week as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving. You may ask why. I will tell you.

They visited me once when I was a teenager stationed at a U.S. Army post far from home … for the first time, I should add. They made me feel “at home” on the other side of our vast nation.

I gave thanks to them in the moment for their presence in my life. I am doing so now.

It was Thanksgiving 1968. I had completed my Army basic training a month earlier in Fort Lewis, Wash. I got orders to report to Fort Eustis, Va., where I would attend aircraft maintenance school, learning how to service twin-engine OV-1 Mohawk airplanes.

Thanksgiving approached and we got word that we could invite anyone we wanted. I called Tom and Verna and invited them to join me for a holiday meal at Fort Eustis. They accepted. Here is where it gets so very pleasantly strange.

Tom was an Army colonel. He served as a staff officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C. He was a decorated infantry officer, earning the Bronze Star with valor after seeing intense combat during the Korean War. He had enlisted in 1943, then went to officers candidate school to earn his commission. He served heroically.

When he and Verna agreed to drive two hours south from D.C. to Fort Eustis, I added his name to the guest list, noting that it would include “Col. and Mrs. Tom Kanelis.”

The commanding officer of our training battalion was a lieutenant colonel. Someone on his staff noted that an active-duty “full bird colonel” was coming and Lt. Col. Wolfe wanted to make sure Col. and Mrs. Kanelis were treated, well, accordingly.

Understand that I am watching all this through the eyes of a late-stage teenager. It was akin to an out-of-body experience. I was far from my home in Portland, Ore. I was preparing to learn an Army skill for which I had no experience. I might be headed to war in Vietnam. I was nervous.

My uncle and aunt arrived on Thanksgiving for dinner. I greeted them as they approached the mess hall. We went inside. Lt. Col. Wolfe greeted Col. and Mrs. Kanelis and damn near tripped over himself trying to ensure that Col. Kanelis and his wife were welcome and comfortable. I watched from nearby and could barely contain the urge to bust out laughing.

Then came the question from Lt. Col. Wolfe: “Would you like to eat in the officers’ mess or with the men.” Tom didn’t blink, flinch or hesitate. “I prefer to eat with the men.”

I knew precisely in that moment what Tom had in mind. He did not want to expose me to ridicule from my enlisted colleagues that I was getting preferred treatment just because I happened to be related to someone who outranked the battalion CO.

We had our meal. I enjoyed the company of two people I loved very much. They made my first Thanksgiving away from home one of the more memorable experiences of my life.

They’re both gone now. I miss them terribly. As for Lt. Col. Wolfe, I don’t recall ever discussing that day with him during my time at Fort Eustis. I hope he appreciated the self-control I demonstrated by not laughing out loud at what I witnessed.

Trump messes up his commander in chief role

Leave it Donald J. Trump to muddy up his role as commander of chief of the U.S. armed forces. He did it big time in a mess involving a Navy SEAL and those who serve in the high military command.

Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher was convicted of a crime involving his posing in Iraq with the corpse of a fighter killed in battle. He had been acquitted of far more serious accusations that were considered “war crimes.”

The Navy Department, led by Secretary Richard Spencer, wanted to stop Gallagher of his Trident badge emblematic of his SEAL service.

Gallagher, who is on active duty at this moment, has taken his case to the public.

Then in walked Trump, the commander in chief, to order that Gallagher retain his SEAL status. Richard Spencer couldn’t comply. He enraged the president, who then ordered Defense Secretary Mark Esper to override the Navy boss. Esper also ordered Spencer to submit his resignation, which Spencer did.

Spencer’s letter of resignation — which he addressed to the president — is a thing of beauty. He thanked the president for allowing him to serve. He then said he couldn’t comply with the president’s policies because they aren’t in keeping with military order and discipline. Read the letter here.

I get that the president’s status as commander in chief allows him to do whatever he wishes regarding the military. I mean, he’s the boss of all the men and women in uniform. However, it is highly irregular, odd and unusual for the commander in chief to insert himself into the middle of command decisions that belong to those who serve under him.

Commanders in chief usually set broad military policy or, in some cases they order daring raids such as the Army Delta Force raid that killed the Islamic State leader or the SEAL raid that eliminated Osama bin Laden in May 2011. But for them to involve themselves in disputes such as what involved a particular SEAL operator is, well, way out of the ordinary.

Just because the president can act in the manner that Trump has acted regarding Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher doesn’t mean it’s right. In this instance, I believe the commander in chief meddled where even the commander in chief doesn’t belong.

Lt. Col. Vindman is entitled to wear his uniform whenever he wishes

Simply astonishing.

That’s my first reaction to questions raised today during Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s testimony before the U.S. House Intelligence Committee.

Vindman sat before the panel in his Army dress blue uniform. It then fell to a Republican member of the committee, Chris Stewart of Utah, to ask why he wore what was “not the uniform of the day.”

Vindman works on the National Security Council. He is an active-duty Army officer. He wears a civilian suit to work … usually. He chose to wear his uniform today, I suppose, because he thought it would be proper for him to wear the attire he is entitled to wear as a commissioned officer.

I want to mention this because other NSC officials have testified before Congress in their military uniform. One is most notable, as Roll Call notes: Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, who sat before Congress during his testimony into the Iran-Contra matter of 1987. Did anyone raise a ruckus then? I do not recall it.

Moreover, other active-duty officers have worn their uniforms while at work in the federal government. Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the former national security adviser to Donald Trump, being one of them.

Vindman  was in Congress today to testify about what he heard during that infamous phone call with Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that has prompted the impeachment inquiry against the president. He said some important things today and made some important assertions.

So, let’s not get sidetracked by something as ridiculous as whether an Army field-grade officer is entitled to wear his dress uniform.

Of course he is!

Wanting next POTUS to rescind transgender ban

Donald Trump took office as president and began issuing a flurry of executive orders, even though he criticized Barack Obama for his use of executive authority when he was president of the United States.

One of the orders he issued revoked an Obama order that allowed transgender Americans to serve openly in the U.S. military. Trump listened to his base of supporters and rescinded the previous order.

He is now getting his re-election campaign ramped up. Many of the Democrats seeking to succeed him want to yank the transgender ban off the books and allow those patriotic Americans to don the uniform of their country while serving in the military.

I fully support lifting the ban. Even the Washington Examiner, a newspaper friendly to the Trump agenda, has urged the president to take a second look at the transgender ban.

Trump offered a number of dubious assertions seeking to justify his decision to rescind the previous executive order. The worst of those reasons had something to do with the money that the Defense Department would be spending on personnel who would be in various stages of what is called “gender reassignment.” The counter argument to that notion, of course, came from those who noted the enormous amount of money the Pentagon spends on medication to correct maladies such as, oh, “erectile dysfunction.”

Without doubt, though, the most ironic aspect of Trump’s decision dealt with his denying Americans’ desire to serve their country when, back in the day, Trump avoided/evaded such service during the Vietnam War. He secured the now widely derided medical exemption relating to alleged “bone spurs” that Trump said he suffered on his feet.

For this president to deny Americans the opportunity to serve, which they seek to do voluntarily, is ridiculous on its face.

Furthermore, I equate the military transgender ban with the idiotic Bathroom Bill that the 2017 Texas Legislature considered enacting. You’ll recall that one, yes? The Senate approved a bill that required people to use public restrooms in accordance with their gender at birth; it was meant clearly to discriminate against transgendered individuals. The Texas House, led by then-Republican House Speaker Joe Straus, killed the idea in a special session.

Whoever succeeds Trump — whether it’s after this upcoming election or the next one — has vowed to restore some justice to our military ranks. My fervent hope is that the opportunity comes sooner rather than later.

M-60 tank found a good home

While working on a blog post for KETR-FM radio on a county courthouse restoration project in Fannin County, my memory drifted back to an earlier project in Potter County that involved the disposition of a piece of military hardware.

The hardware was an M-60 battle tank that saw duty during Operation Desert Storm, the Persian Gulf War, in 1991. It sat in front of the Potter County Courthouse in Amarillo for a number of years. It was painted in “desert camo” colors and was quite the draw.

Then the county applied for a grant from the Texas Historical Preservation Board to restore the courthouse to his original condition. One problem cropped up: the board couldn’t allow the tank to remain on the courthouse grounds, given that it wasn’t “historically accurate.” The tank had to go.

The tank was moved in 2011 to the Freedom Museum in Pampa, about 60 miles northeast of Amarillo.

According to County Judge Nancy Tanner, they moved the tank “very cautiously and tenderly” to the museum. The move was orchestrated by a former Marine, Paul Chaney, who is a good friend of Tanner and former Potter County Judge Arthur Ware, another Marine who saw combat duty during the Gulf War.

Ware bristled initially at the Historical Preservation Board restriction on the tank. He relented finally, allowing the tank to move to the Freedom Museum, which houses assorted military memorabilia.

I recalled the tiff that Ware got into with the historical preservation folks.

I thought it would be worth remembering this episode, given that we have just honored our veterans for their service to the country. I also am gratified to know the M-60 tank that once greeted visitors to the Potter County Courthouse in Amarillo has found a good home just up the road a piece.

Be sure to thank our WWII, Korean War vets

Their ranks are diminishing each day.

I refer to the brave veterans of two long-ago wars: World War II and the Korean War.

World War II came to an end in September 1945; less than five years later, North Korea invaded South Korea and the Korean War was on. Thus, the men who fought on World War II battlefields aren’t much older than those who fought in Korea.

Monday is Veterans Day. I am a veteran as well. My wife and I are going to breakfast in the morning at a restaurant that will provide free chow to vets who I presume can present some ID that proves they served in the military; I have the ID, so I’ll enjoy a meal on the house.

If I see any WWII or Korean War vets, I’ll be sure to extend a hand of gratitude for their service. I’ll know them if they are wearing a ballcap that IDs them in that manner.

These men and women are in their very late 80s and 90s these days. Sixteen million Americans served in the military during World War II; fewer than 500,000 of them are still among us. During the Korean War, 5.7 million Americans wore our nation’s uniform and my hunch is that their numbers have diminished to levels rivaling the WWII vets.

Sooner than many of us want to acknowledge, there will be no one left from those two grisly conflicts.

So I am pledging to shake as many hands and express my thanks and gratitude to as many individuals as I recognize as vets. My gratitude will extend far beyond a single day we set aside to honor these brave Americans.

And rest assured, by all means we should honor all the men and women who have served our nation.

All of them have earned our eternal thanks.

Don Trump Jr. makes a grotesque comparison about sacrifice

Simply grotesque.

That’s the only description I can give to something that Donald J. Trump Jr. wrote in his book “Triggered.”

He writes about visiting Arlington National Cemetery in January 2017, the day before his father became the 45th president of the United States. He looked at the graves and thought of the “sacrifice” his family would endure once Daddy Trump became president.

He writes: In that moment, I also thought of all the attacks we’d already suffered as a family, and about all the sacrifices we’d have to make to help my father succeed — voluntarily giving up a huge chunk of our business and all international deals to avoid the appearance that we were ‘profiting off of the office.’

Frankly, it was a big sacrifice, costing us millions and millions of dollars annually. Of course, we didn’t get any credit whatsoever from the mainstream media, which now does not surprise me at all.

Wow! He equates the “sacrifice” his family has made to the men and women who have served in harm’s way, who have committed themselves to public service, and in many instances — as he looked over the graves at Arlington — have died on battlefields in far-off lands.

To equate in any fashion the sacrifice made by these Americans to what he and his family have endured is beyond the pale.

Veterans have spoken out in anger at what Don Jr. has written. I cannot blame them. You may count me as one American veteran who takes great offense at what this scion of a family born into immense wealth has written.

This guy knows not a damn thing about “sacrifice.”

Patriot getting a dose of typical Trump response

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is no one’s puppet. He is the farthest thing I can imagine from being a political creature.

Vindman is a career military man. He is an immigrant who came here to this country as a toddler. The United States is the only country he has known. It is the country he loves and for which he has shed blood on the battlefield.

Yet he has run straight into a fusillade of fire from allies of Donald Trump. Why? Because he had the courage to tell congressional questioners what he heard in real time on July 25, which was the president of the United States seeking a political favor from a foreign government.

He now is getting the Trump treatment. The president decided to label Lt. Col. Vindman a “never Trumper.” Granted, it’s not nearly as hideous as the comments from some of Trump’s media allies, who have questioned the soldier’s loyalty to his country, suggesting he is more loyal to Ukraine, the Soviet state he and his parents fled.

To their great credit, many high-level Republican politicians have stood up for Alexander Vindman. They have praised his service to his country and said the dubious accusations of disloyalty to the United States have no place in the current discussion. I am heartened to hear such rhetoric from the nation’s GOP political leadership.

Still, that doesn’t lessen the idiocy that continues to flow from right-wing media and, yes, from the president of the United States.

Career military personnel take an oath to defend that nation against its enemies. They do not take political oaths. They are as non-political as anyone in public service. So, for the president to call Lt. Col. Vindman a “never Trumper” is to disparage the oath he took when he donned the nation’s military uniform.

To think that this president, who famously avoided (or evaded?) military service during the Vietnam War, would even assert such a thing about an actual patriot is utterly beyond belief.