Category Archives: military news

Memorial recalls memory of favorite veteran

WASHINGTON — The atmosphere in the nation’s capital has become overheated, overblown and overstated. It’s not a happy place if you are a politician who wants to do the right thing, but you get caught up in the daily — if not hourly — struggles between the two major political parties.

They all ought to come to this place perhaps once a week. They should cast their eyes on the World War II Memorial, which reminds us of just how titanic our struggles can get.

I came here with my wife, our niece and her husband. It was hot that day. During our entire walk along The Mall, I managed to put contemporary politics aside. I thought instead of my favorite veteran. I’ve written before about my father, the late Pete Kanelis. He served during this struggle, the one that enveloped the globe from 1939 until 1945.

The picture above honors those who served in the European Theater of World War II, as Dad did. He saw combat as a sailor in the Med.

Yes, I have heard about critics of this particular memorial, one of the newer exhibits along The Mall. It’s too gaudy, too grand, too big, they say. It really isn’t, at least in my view. It honors a massive military engagement. By the end of the global war, more than 16 million Americans suited up to enter the fight; whether it was at home or abroad, they answered the call and performed magnificently.

They were, as the author/journalist Tom Brokaw has written, The Greatest Generation.

At the other end of the WWII Memorial pool is a section devoted to the Pacific Theater of Operations.

There, too, Americans and their allies fought across the vast ocean to take back land conquered by Japan. They endured sacrifice most of only can imagine. My favorite veteran happened to be in The Philippines when President Truman ordered the dropping of the atomic bombs in August 1945. The enemy surrendered. Thus, I remain convinced that the president likely saved Dad’s life. I am eternally grateful for the president.

We walked along the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. They all reminded us of the nation’s greatness and they allowed me to set aside the ongoing anger and anxiety I am feeling about the present day.

Later in the day, we saw Marine One fly overhead on its way back to the White House, carrying the president of the United States back from wherever he had spent the weekend.

I had been filled with awe at what we had seen. In that context, seeing the presidential aircraft made me appreciate the struggles that accompanied the building and the development of the world’s greatest nation.

Dad would have been proud, too.

That’s some good shootin’, eh?

There might be no greater example of the difference in battlefield strategy between our side and the Islamic State than a story I’ve just read.

A Canadian special forces soldier fired a high-powered rifle shot at an ISIS fighter and killed him — from a distance of two miles! The kill shot reportedly set some form of record for long-distance sniper fire.

The 3,450-meter shot took 10 seconds to hit its target after being fired from the weapon. The soldier was perched atop a high-rise structure when the incident occurred over the past 30 days.

Wow, man!

I love this quote from a Task Force 2 spokesman: “Instead of dropping a bomb that could potentially kill civilians in the area, it is a very precise application of force and because it was so far way, the bad guys didn’t have a clue what was happening.”

Therein lies the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. ISIS, al-Qaeda, Taliban and other terrorist organizations target civilians. They intend to inflict mass casualties on so-called “soft targets.” The approach taken by U.S. and allied forces in return is to seek to minimize such collateral damage.

In the case of this Canadian sniper, well, he did his job with extreme precision — not to mention extreme prejudice.

Read the USA Today story here.

According to the newspaper: “Canada has a world-class sniper system,” the source told the paper. “It is not just a sniper. They work in pairs. … This is a skill set that only a very few people have.”
They also have to account for wind speed and the increasing downward motion of the bullet as it loses speed over such a long distance.

Count me as one who is glad to know these guys are on our side in this fight.

Tragedy reveals tale of heroism

The word “hero” arguably is one of the most abused words in the English language. We hang that description on athletes and actors.

Word has come out about the truest form of heroism. It came in the actions of U.S. Navy Fire Controlman First Class Leo Rehm Jr., who saved the lives of 20 of his shipmates before drowning in a tragic collision in the Sea of Japan.

Rehm was one of seven sailors who died when their ship, the destroyer USS Fitzgerald, rammed a merchant ship near the Japanese coast.

The Fitzgerald was struck below the water line. It took on water rapidly. Rehm managed to get 20 of his mates out of danger, and then went back down — only to have the hatch closed behind him as the crew sought to prevent the ship from sinking.

That’s when Rehm died along with the six other sailors.

Rehm was slated to retire soon from the Navy. He would return to his home state of Ohio.

This information is heartbreaking in the extreme.

The Daily Beast wrote extensively about Rehm and his actions aboard the stricken warship. Read the full piece at The Daily Beast.

Heroes are among us. They serve in many capacities. They are first responders. They are Good Samaritans who run to aid others in need. They wear our nation’s military uniforms.

They are men like Leo Rehm Jr.

Ricks on McMaster: Quit and save your reputation

Thomas E. Ricks has written one of the more astonishing political columns I’ve seen in a good while.

The Pulitzer Prize winner, writing in Politico, says that national security adviser H.R. McMaster should resign his post to salvage his stellar reputation as a military thinker and strategist.
McMaster is on active duty in the U.S. Army. He’s a lieutenant general known for his intellect, integrity and courage. He wrote a book, “Dereliction of Duty,” that provides a scathing critique of how the chain of command prosecuted the Vietnam War.

Here is a snippet from Ricks’ essay in Politico: “McMaster probably thinks that by staying at his post, rather than resigning in disgust, he is doing his duty. Specifically, he may think that if stepped down, he might well be succeeded by an alt-right ally of White House adviser Steve Bannon. As I said, I used to believe that too.

“But I have watched and waited, and I don’t see McMaster improving Trump. Rather, what I have seen so far is Trump degrading McMaster. In fact, nothing seems to change Trump. He continues to stumble through his foreign policy—embracing autocrats, alienating allies and embarrassing Americans who understand that NATO has helped keep peace in Europe for more than 65 years.”

Ricks’ concern about an Army officer he has known for 20 years is that he now works for someone who knows nothing about government and seems to have no interest in learning the ins and outs of governing the greatest nation on Earth.

Yet the general has to provide political cover for a president who, in Ricks’ view, doesn’t deserve to hold the office he now occupies.

As Ricks writes: “The saving grace of Donald Trump as president is his incompetence. He knows almost nothing of how the federal government works. He seems to have been repeatedly surprised by the checks and balances written into the Constitution by the Founding Fathers. And he seems uninterested in learning.”

Ricks’ essay is a beaut. I am quite sure that Gen. McMaster has read it. Whether he takes it to heart — and acts on it — of course only he can answer.

Dear Vietnam vets: Return to that beautiful land

A blog post I wrote noting a preview of an upcoming PBS documentary special on the Vietnam War brings to mind something I’ve told Vietnam veterans for the past 28 years.

They should return to that land, to the place that was so ravaged for decades by war. Vietnamese battled the Japanese during World War II; then they fought the French who tried to re-colonize their country; then came the Americans, who went to Vietnam ostensibly to protect the south against communists invading from the north.

I was one of them who went there in the spring of 1969. The Army sent me there after training me to service OV-1 Mohawk airplanes. They ordered me to Marble Mountain, just south of Da Nang.

After I returned home and eventually separated from the Army, I re-enrolled in college, got married, produced two sons, started my career in journalism and then, in 1989 had the opportunity to return to Vietnam as part of a delegation of editorial writers and editors.

The PBS series that will debut on Sept. 17 contains interviews with many veterans, one of whom comments on how beautiful the country was — and is! He is so correct.

Two decades after serving there, I found a country that had commenced its recovery from all that warfare. It, indeed, is a beautiful land, with beautiful citizens who — even then — welcomed these American journalists with open arms.

I’ve told many vets since that marvelous journey that they should return. Most of them beg off. Too many terrible memories, they tell me. The combat veterans especially seem to want no part of returning there. I tell them candidly that they should go nonetheless. They will find healing in a return there. Indeed, my trip to Vietnam with fellow journalists included several veterans, some of whom saw their share of combat during the war. They, too, felt revived upon returning to that place.

I did, too. I discovered one of the big surprises of my life upon returning to Marble Mountain in 1989. It was that I had been lugging around emotional baggage and I didn’t even know it!

Our government guide — a true-blue communist named Mai — was explaining to me how the Vietnamese were able to absorb all that we had left behind. The building materials, the equipment, even the pierced-steel planking (PSP) upon which we parked our aircraft all was put to use by the Vietnamese, she said.

That’s when I lost it. That is when I shed my emotional baggage.
The PBS documentary produced by acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns is going to bring much of that home to vets who watch it.

I would urge them all to return to Vietnam if they can. Take my word for it. They will not regret returning.

Get ready for a major history lesson on Vietnam


Paying tribute to those who fell in battle

My sappiness is a pretty well-known quantity to those who read this blog.

It was on display again today as my wife and I attended a Memorial Day ceremony at the Texas Panhandle War Memorial.

The event drew a substantial crowd, which is no surprise to be sure. Many of the men in attendance sported their gimme caps proclaiming their own service to the nation. I wore one of mine and did so with considerable pride.

The aspect of the hour-long ceremony that brought a lump to my throat is the kind of thing one sees these days at events commemorating military service.

It’s when the band strikes up the anthems identified with various military branches. The emcee asked those who served in that particular branch to stand and be honored while the music played the pertinent anthem. That part of the service began with “The Army Goes Rolling Along.” I got to stand. It does fill me with pride. I am unafraid to acknowledge it.

It was a great way to start a day full of remembrance and honor for those who paid their last full measure of devotion.

We owe them everything. I am grateful them all now — and for eternity.

Get ready for a major history lesson on Vietnam

Oh, how I love public television.

Americans are going to receive, via what looks like a spectacular PBS documentary series, a history lesson for the ages.

The subject: The Vietnam War.

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns has assembled yet another masterpiece that airs beginning on Sept. 17 on Panhandle PBS. I just watched a 30-minute preview of the multi-part series. I have a few thoughts to share about it … and about the series that I want to urge all Americans to watch.

Burns calls the Vietnam War the nation’s “second civil war,” in that it tore this country apart to a degree not seen since the actual Civil War that was fought from 1861 until 1865. Perhaps just like the Civil War, this nation hasn’t yet come to grips fully with what happened here while young Americans were dying in a foreign land.

My interest in the series, of course, is quite personal. I was one of about 3 million Americans who went to Vietnam. My tiny contribution to that effort as an Army soldier is not worth detailing here. I went there, came home — and was privileged to return to Vietnam two decades later on assignment with a group of journalists.

My major takeaway from the return to Vietnam in 1989 was that I shed some emotional baggage that I never even realized I was lugging around. Perhaps this PBS series will allow other Americans to do the same thing.

Burns and his crew interviewed American veterans, South Vietnamese veterans, Viet Cong fighters, North Vietnamese veterans. One former VC soldier tells how he witnessed American soldiers weeping over their dead comrades. He said he realized then that “those Americans are just like Vietnamese,” in that both sides had a shared sense of humanity.

One of Burns’s producers talked about the music of that era, calling it “the best music in American history.” Yeah! Do you think?

The Kent State riots in Ohio in 1970, according to one of the historians interviewed, symbolized the fracture among Americans. “They were kids on both sides; National Guardsmen and student protesters,” he said.

And, oh yes, how did some of those who protested the war treat those who returned from that battlefield? Not well. One of them expresses profound sadness over calling these warriors “baby killers and worse.” That has changed as Americans today profess profound gratitude for the young men and women we send abroad in defense of our nation.

This Vietnam veteran is filled with gratitude for that change.

Burns believes that PBS is the only network in the nation that could present a series such as the Vietnam special that will air in a few weeks.

Thus, I am grateful beyond measure as well for public television’s willingness to teach us what we need to learn about this important chapter in our nation’s ongoing story.

Praying for the souls we have lost

My wife and I are going to spend part of Memorial Day doing what all Americans ought to do.

I don’t mean to hold us up as paragons of patriotism, but our plans for the day include a visit to the Texas Panhandle War Memorial, next to the Randall County Courthouse Annex at Georgia Street and Interstate 27 in Amarillo. Yes, we’re going to grill some burgers later in the day … but first things first.

There will be a ceremony at 11 a.m. honoring those who have fallen in defense of the nation we all love so dearly.

I’ve been blessed in countless ways, all beyond measure. One of those blessings includes a sparse number of friends, acquaintances and loved ones who have perished while serving in time of war. I haven’t lost any of my buddies from my childhood who went to war in Vietnam.

But I’ll remember a particular fellow I did lose one day in June 1969. I’ve introduced you to him already on his blog. His name was Jose De La Torre. He was from Fullerton, Calif. We served in the same U.S. Army aviation battalion in Da Nang. I was assigned to a fixed-wing unit. De La Torre served on a Huey helicopter crew and manned an M-60 machine gun when the ship flew.

He took off one day on a “routine” troop lift. However, the landing zone was hot, full of enemy forces who opened fire on the ships delivering troops to the battlefield.

De La Torre was one of those killed in action.

I’ll remember him and will pay tribute and honor to all who have died in service to our country.

The Panhandle War Memorial pays tremendous honor to those Panhandle residents who gave their last full measure of devotion. I was honored to have had a hand in producing the exhibit. I was awarded the task of writing narratives about many of the conflicts that are profiled there, dating back to the Spanish-American War of 1898.

This blog post, however, is about the individuals whose names are inscribed on the stone tablets. They answered their nation’s call.

There’s an inscription at the memorial that tells us that “All gave some, some gave all.” These proud Americans gave all they had.

They are heroes — every one of them — in the truest sense of that overused word.

May they all rest in peace.

POTUS said what? To whom?

Whoa, Mr. President!

Did I hear this right? The New York Times is reporting that the president of the United States told the leader of The Philippines that we have deployed two nuclear submarines off the Korean Peninsula.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte isn’t your ordinary head of state. He’s a despot, strongman, dictator who has just declared martial law in his country. He appears to be Donald J. Trump’s kind of guy. Tough dude. Strong leader.

But hold on here.

The location of our strategic nuclear arsenal is supposed to be, um, highly classified. It’s a state secret. We never disclose the location of these weapons of war. That’s why we deploy them to travel underwater, they are out of sight, they are intended to sneak up on our potential enemies.

Do you get my drift here?

What in the name of modern warfare is our commander in chief thinking — if that’s what you want to call it? The president reportedly bragged to the Russian foreign minister about the “great intel” he gets and then revealed some classified information to the Russians about our fight against the Islamic State. Now he gets on the telephone in late April with the president of The Philippines and blabs about the location of two nuclear submarines.

Good grief, dude! Do you think there might have been someone out there listening — perhaps, maybe, could be — to what you were telling your pal in Manila?

Hey, do you remember all the questions and concerns about giving this fellow, Trump, the nuclear launch codes?

Are you concerned — now?

POTUS’s self-interest knows no limits

“No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

That bit of self-pity came from the mouth of Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States.

What’s more interesting to me, though, is the venue in which he uttered it.

The president spoke those words this week to a group of students graduating from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. These are young men and women who have just received their officers’ commissions and are going to serve their country.

Many of them are going to put their lives on the line. They are going to thrust themselves into harm’s way. They will protect the nation against those who seek to harm Americans. They will patrol our coasts. The Coast Guard has sent service personnel into combat overseas, such as those who served with valor and gallantry during the Vietnam War.

These young Americans didn’t need to hear whining from the president about “unfair” treatment by the media. They didn’t deserve to be treated to yet another griping session from Donald Trump about the trouble he has brought on all by himself.

Sure, the president offered words of encouragement and congratulations to these young people. He wished them well as they commit their lives to public service.

However, he soiled commencement speech with that fit of petulance that was inappropriate, given the audience that heard it.