Category Archives: military news

They wanted to get into the fight

My late father was 20 years of age on Dec. 7, 1941.

Pete Kanelis was a second-year student at the University of Portland (Ore.) when word filtered back to the mainland about the “dastardly act” in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

It didn’t take Dad long to make up his mind on what he wanted to do. He wanted to get into the fight. He waited about two whole months before going downtown. He went to the armed forces station and sought to enlist in the Marine Corps. The door was locked. He walked across the hall to the Navy office and signed up.

He was after all, young and full of what might be described as “p*** and vinegar.”

He would become one of about 16 million young Americans who responded just as he did. He went looking for a fight and oh, brother, he found it. The Navy sent him to the Mediterranean theater, where he fired a 3-inch, 50-caliber deck gun at Italian and German aircraft.

He was part of the so-called “Greatest Generation.” I was — and still am — so very proud of his service.

The attack at Pearl Harbor, which occurred 76 years ago today, defined a generation. Dad’s generation — virtually all of them, as near as I can tell — fought willingly in that great conflict. Their hearts were broken at the prospect of a foreign power killing so many of our young Americans — on American soil to boot!

They answered our nation’s call, did their duty and then came home to help build a postwar country that has set the economic and military standard around the world.

I’ve re-thought a bit the notion that Dad’s generation was the “greatest” this nation ever has produced. I am not yet willing to hand that title to another generation of Americans, but my sense is that today’s young Americans are competing with Dad’s brethren for the title of “greatest.”

Many of today’s military men and women dropped what they were doing one Tuesday morning, on Sept. 11, 2001. Let’s call them the “9/11 Generation.”

I’ve actually met young Americans who joined the military because they, too, wanted to get into the fight — just as Dad did so long ago. I recently made the acquaintance of a young physical therapist at the Thomas Creek VA Medical Center in Amarillo. She joined the Navy right after 9/11 because — like many of us — was enraged at the attack carried out on U.S. soil.

Whereas Dad and his brethren enlisted — or were drafted — to serve “for the duration” of World War II, the current fighting force has been deployed multiple times to battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, I long ago lost count of the deployments a cousin of mine has served in those conflicts before retiring from the Army.

It’s good today to recall how an earlier generation of Americans surrendered their relative comforts to take on a direct and existential threat to their nation’s way of life.

Dad was one of them.

Trump managed to yank spotlight from WWII heroes

Leave it to the inimitable Donald John Trump Sr. to do the seemingly impossible.

Three men — all heroes from World War II — came to the White House recently to be honored for their exploits during the great conflict.

So, what did the president do? With a thoughtless, careless quip he turned attention from the men and those who they represent and turned it onto himself for all the wrong reasons.

He said he “liked” the men who stood with him in the White House. He then chided a member of the U.S. Senate who has said she, too, has Native American heritage in her background. Trump just had to call Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas,” which he has used for years to deride her claim. That’s what the media have been talking about, not about the men who served so heroically.

The men are Code Talkers. They are of Navajo descent. They were deployed as Marines during World War II to communicate battle plans and intelligence in a language the Japanese couldn’t de-code. They were instrumental in several key Pacific Theater battles.

CNN.com published a story chronicling the men’s heroics.

See the story here.

The story notes that the use of Native American tongues in war began in World War I, when Choctaw soldiers spoke to each other to confound the Germans on the other side of the battle lines. But in the period between the world wars, the Germans figured out that language.

The Navajo was more difficult to decipher. As CNN.com noted, it isn’t a written language. Therefore, the enemy was unable to figure what they were listening to when the Navajo Marines were communicating.

They risked their lives. They fought for their country.

Only 13 of the Code Talkers are still living. They all are old men who are suffering the usual ravages of aging.

The president should have known better than to yank the spotlight from those heroes. He should have shown a semblance of class and grace as he welcomed these brave Americans to salute their commitment to their country.

Indeed, if the president understood or appreciated anything about the sacrifice these men paid, he might have seen fit to keep his mouth shut about a political foe.

 

Trump sure has a way with words

Donald John “Quipster in Chief” Trump Sr. is the master of context and impeccable timing.

The president welcomed some Navajo veterans of World War II. They were the legendary Code Talkers who helped win the U.S. combat effort in the Pacific Theater of Operations.

The White House event was set up to honor those veterans, all gallant Marines. So what does the president do? The idiot in chief decided to shoot a barb at a Democratic member of the U.S. Senate.

According to The Hill: Trump said the Code Talkers “were here long before any of us were here,” referencing, I suppose, their Native American heritage. Then the said, “Although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas.”

What a knee-slapper!

His reference is to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who Trump has been deriding for years because Warren claims to have some Native American ancestry in her background.

The former Marines didn’t react to Trump’s dig. Hmm. Imagine that. They are too dignified to get snookered into that kind of childishness.

Read The Hill story here.

For the record, the Code Talkers were deployed in the Pacific Theater to communicate battle plans and intelligence in their native language, which the enemy couldn’t decipher. Precious few of these brave men are left.

The president simply couldn’t salute these men’s valiant service to their country during its darkest time without offering a stupid remark about a contemporary political opponent?

Is this what his fans call “telling it like it is”?

I prefer to call it a demonstration of stupidity.

Senators concerned about POTUS and the nukes

More than 40 years ago, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee asked some tough questions about the president of the United States’ fitness to be in command of the nuclear launch codes.

President Richard Nixon was being swallowed up by the Watergate crisis. Questions arose about whether the president would do something foolish in a moment of intense political anguish.

Concerns arise once again

Flash forward. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee of today is now concerned, apparently, with the current president’s ability to handle this awesome responsibility. Senators didn’t come to any conclusions or seek any substantial change in the policy, but they got to air their concerns on the record about Donald John Trump.

As Politico reports: “We are concerned that the president of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic that he might order a nuclear weapons strike that is wildly out of step with U.S. national security interests,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said during a Foreign Relations Committee hearing that yielded few clear answers about checks on the commander in chief’s power. “Let’s just recognize the exceptional nature of this moment.”

Though Republicans were not as vocal about their concern, some did express worry that one person alone can make the decision to launch a nuclear war.

The president hasn’t yet demonstrated the complete understanding of command and control. He keeps popping off via Twitter, threatening North Korea with destruction.

And oh yes, the president has virtually sole authority to launch nuclear weapons. The policy was designed during the Cold War when the United States need a quick response in case the Soviet Union decided to launch missiles against us.

The Cold War is over, although the peril of a nuclear strike remains acute, given the enormous number of nuclear-armed nations around the world.

Which requires a U.S. president to be of sound temperament and judgment. The Senate panel today sought to explore those issues today as it relates to the current commander in chief.

Given the president’s behavior and the goofiness of his public pronouncements, senators have ample reason to wonder out loud about the commander in chief’s ability to keep us safe.

Vets are bound together by common experience

I heard an interesting analysis on National Public Radio about the dysfunction that has troubled the U.S. Congress in recent years.

It is that so few members of Congress — House members and senators — are veterans. The analyst noted that today, about 20 percent of congressmen and women are veterans; that total used to be around 70 percent.

Do you see where this is going?

We’re about to celebrate Veterans Day and I thought that observation was worth noting as a way to suggest that military service has contributed to a better-functioning Congress than what we have today.

I think of the World War II veterans who came home from completing their mission to save the world from tyranny. They went about rebuilding their lives. Some of them chose careers in public service. The ran for the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate. They won and were thrown together on Capitol Hill.

They forged partnerships and friendships. They had a common bond. Their friendship crossed the partisan divide. Democrats and Republicans all had been to battle. They all had fought a common enemy.

Congressional lore is full of legendary friendships that bridged that partisan divide: Republican Bob Dole and Democrat Daniel Inouye; Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat John F. Kennedy; Republican Barry Goldwater and Democrat George McGovern. These men were political opponents, but they each respected each other. They had earned their mutual respect because of their service in defense of the nation they all loved.

The Vietnam War produced a similar bond among brothers. Republican John McCain and Democrat John Kerry became good friends during their time in the U.S. Senate. They worked together to craft a normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam. Republican Chuck Hagel returned from ‘Nam to serve in the Senate, along with Democrat Bob Kerrey.

The Vietnam War generation, along with the World War II and the Korean War generation, contributed mightily to a government that actually worked.

That kind of camaraderie appears to be missing today. Yes, Congress is sprinkled with vets coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. They, too, belong to both major political parties. I don’t sense that they have yet made their mark on the larger governing body. Perhaps it will come in due course.

The veterans who have served first in the military and then in both chambers of Congress have done demonstrated the value of common experience. It translates into political comity and collegiality … a lot more of which we can use today.

Putting our troubles into perspective

Michael Grauer is a well-read student of history, which is a good thing, given his standing at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, Texas.

The curator of art at the PPHM came to our Rotary Club today and delivered an enthusiastic talk about World War I, which he calls “the forgotten war.” Grauer has worked at the PPHM since 1987. That’s 30 years chronicling the Panhandle’s history and its contributions to global progress.

WWI was called “The Great War,” or just “The War,” because no one ever thought there would be a second world war, Grauer said. How wrong they all war.

But he added some details about the nature of the conflict that consumed Europe from 1914 until 1918 when, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, they signed the Treaty of Versailles.

He told us that the Texas Panhandle contributed thousands of horses and mules to the war. The animals were used to haul artillery pieces, supplies and ambulance wagons. The average life span of the animals on the battlefield, Grauer said, was 10 days. They would be shot in the heat of battle and then left to rot on the field. “The stench of death was everywhere,” he said.

The men who fought in the trenches had their boots rot off their feet as they slogged through mud for weeks and months on end.

The wagons used to carry supplies and evacuate the wounded from the field of battle would break down in the mud.

You want some perspective? “When you drive your car and you’re 20 minutes late to where you want to be,” he said, “think of what those men went through.”

All our WWI vets are gone now. I wish I could tell just one of them how much I appreciate what they did and salute them for the utter hell they endured fighting a 20th-century war with 19th-century technology.

Grauer is right. I don’t think I’m going to grouse any longer about traffic holdups.

Air Force messed up on shooter’s record

More than two decades ago, the 1995 Texas Legislature considered a concealed handgun carry bill. I opposed it with great passion.

The Legislature enacted it. Then-Gov. George W. Bush signed it into law. Over the years, I grew to accept the law, although I never have totally endorsed it.

But get a load of this: The Texas concealed handgun carry law did its job as it regards the Sutherland Springs shooter while the U.S. Air Force failed to do its job.

The loon who killed those 26 worshipers in Sutherland Springs was denied a concealed carry permit in Texas because of a criminal record check the state performed on him when he made his application.

Air Force misfires

But the U.S. Air Force, which sent him packing with a bad conduct discharge, didn’t tell the National Criminal Information Center about a court martial conviction in connection with an assault charge against his wife and her child. That failure to report enabled the shooter to purchase legally the rifle he used to massacre those First Baptist parishioners, including several children.

I’m not going to brag about Texas’s concealed carry law. I still am not a huge fan of it. Still, it hasn’t produced the kind of street-corner violence that many of us — including yours truly — feared would occur.

I am a bit heartened, though, that the state law worked. Texas denied this madman a permit to carry a gun under his jacket.

If only the Air Force had done its job, too.

Maybe it could have prevented this tragedy. Just maybe …

Hoping we don’t pervert Veterans Day

The nation is going to celebrate Veterans Day soon.

There will be parades, speeches, statements of gratitude and expressions of pride and thanks for those who have served in the military.

Our oldest veterans are in their 90s now. They saved the nation from tyranny. Those who answered the call in the decades since World War II also served to protect our national rights and liberty and the aspects that make this country so unique and special among the roster of nations around the world.

Of late, we’ve seen a perversion of what we’ve all sought to honor and salute. I was one of those vets who spent some time in the Army. My country sent me to Vietnam during a much different time, when we weren’t so grateful for the service performed by those of us who did our duty.

We all served to protect our special liberties. They include the right to protest our government policies. That right is protected stringently by the U.S. Constitution. The perversion has come from those who have castigated U.S. citizens who happen to be profession athletes; those athletes have chosen to protest certain government policies by “taking a knee” during the playing of the National Anthem at the start of sporting events.

Even the president of the United States has weighed in, saying those athletes are “disrespecting” the flag, the nation and those who served the nation in the military.

I beg to differ with the president. There’s no disrespect being shown toward any of what’s been described. As a veteran, I take not one ounce of personal affront to those who kneel to express their political point of view.

Indeed, I believe we all served to guarantee them the right to do what they have done … and continue to do.

So, as we prepare to honor our veterans yet again this year, let us be mindful of the rights we have and of the Americans who have fought — and died — to guarantee we can exercise them without fear of recrimination.

Bergdahl gets off too lightly

Count me as one American who believes Bowe Bergdahl deserves to serve time in prison.

I had given the one-time U.S. Army Ranger the benefit of the doubt when he was returned to U.S. custody after being held captive by the Taliban for five years. He came home after the Obama administration negotiated for his release from the hideous conditions under which the Taliban kept him.

Then came questions about the nature of his “capture.” Did he go willingly into enemy hands?

Bergdahl admitted to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Yep, he did it all of his volition.

Today, the judge hearing the case spared Bergdahl prison time. He ordered him to receive a dishonorable discharge that, of course, will stay with him for the rest of his life.

It’s not punishment enough for what he has admitted to doing.

Bergdahl faced a potential life term in prison for the misbehavior charge. I don’t know that he actually deserved to spend his entire life behind bars. However, the former Army sergeant did put his men in danger when they went looking for him. What’s more, he deserted his unit that had been placed in harm’s way to fight the monstrous enemy force that supposed “captured” him.

I do not dismiss the terrible conditions under which Bergdahl was kept by the Taliban. However, it does not lessen the betrayal he committed against the men with whom he was serving.

I believe the judge today made a mistake in leveling such a light sentence against Bowe Bergdahl. May this deserter thing long and hard for the rest of his life about what he did.

Honoring a new ‘Greatest Generation’

I am re-reading a book I’ve owned for a couple of decades.

The great broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw penned “The Greatest Generation” to pay tribute to the men and women who saved the world from tyranny during World War II.

Brokaw’s thesis is one that I still accept, that those 16 million Americans who answered the call to fight a global war on two fronts — in Europe and the Pacific — exhibited unparalleled devotion. They served “for the duration” of the war. They finished the job and came home to start their lives.

I’m reading the book, though, with a slightly different take than I had when I picked it up the first time.

The current generation of fighting men and women is rising to the level of devotion and dedication that my father’s generation did more than 70 years ago.

Under vastly different circumstances, to be sure.

They are fighting an enemy that is every bit as cunning and resourceful as the Nazis were in Europe and the Japanese were in the Pacific. These terrorists against whom we keep sending these young Americans to fight are ruthless and dedicated to the perverted principles they are following.

Today’s generation of young American warriors is facing multiple deployments onto the battlefield in Afghanistan and other places — some of which are undisclosed. Four Army Special Forces troops died recently in Niger, bringing into the open a deployment few Americans knew was under way.

I long have saluted my father for his contribution to fighting tyranny during World War II. I am proud of what he did as a sailor who saw more than his share of combat in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations.

I also want to salute other members of my family who’ve thrust themselves into harm’s way during the current war against international terror. My cousin served multiple Army tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have a nephew who drove an Army tank into Iraq when that war broke out in March 2003; he would return to Iraq for a second tour.

The war on terror just might be a conflict that has no end. There might not be any way for the United States to declare total victory as this country was able to do in 1945. The enemy surrendered unconditionally, giving The Greatest Generation of Americans its ticket home.

Can we achieve a similar end to the current war? I am trying to imagine how that gets done.

Meantime, the current generation keeps fighting. These young Americans have earned their status as the newest Greatest Generation.

I am proud of them beyond measure.