Category Archives: military news

Many thanks for the remembrance

A national day of remembrance came and went and it got by me until it was all gone.

Still, I find it necessary to offer a word of thanks for it.

Yep, it was a long time coming, but I’m glad it’s here.

I’m talking about the National Vietnam War Veterans Day, which is celebrated on March 29 annually. It’s not a longstanding tradition. It was enacted initially in 2017 after a group of Vietnam War vets presented Donald Trump, the president-elect, with a request to set aside the day to remember those of us who answered the call to duty during a terribly conflicted time in our national history.

Our combat exposure during the Vietnam War ended in January 1973. We turned the fight over to the South Vietnamese. However, on April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon, crashed through the gates of the presidential palace and accepted the surrender of the South Vietnamese government. They renamed the city after Ho Chi Minh.

However, the American involvement was hardly a source of pride for those back in the United States of America. Oh, no. Those of us who went to war weren’t treated the way we treat today’s veterans. We got blamed (and I use the term “we” in a sort of inclusive way, as I did not suffer this particular indignity) for following lawful orders. Americans blamed the warriors for the policies they were ordered to follow by their military high command, who received them from presidential administrations dating back to the early 1960s.

I landed in Bien Hoa, South Vietnam 50 years ago this past month. I spent a bit of time in-country, assigned initially as a mechanic with an OV-1 Mohawk surveillance aircraft company at Marble Mountain, Da Nang; I then was sent on “temporary duty” to the I Corps Tactical Ops Center in the city to scramble aircraft missions and to manage a helipad.

I didn’t fire my weapon in anger at the enemy, although I — like all of us — had to scurry into bunkers when the mortar shells went “boom” outside.

I was well aware of the hostility being heaped on my brethren when they got home. That went on for some time.

The Persian Gulf War in 1990-91 changed all of that. We actually won that brief battle in Kuwait. The nation was relieved and it showered the returning warriors with the affection and respect they deserved. Vietnam veterans generally didn’t receive it when they returned home.

But that was then. The United States of America has grown up since that time. We’ve learned, I hope, to deal better with adversity on the battlefield.

National Vietnam War Veterans Day appears to be an attempt to reconcile some past mistreatment of individuals who did what they were ordered to do and who did not deserve the scorn they received when they came home.

Hey, I harbor no hard feelings. I am just glad to receive a bit of recognition — along with many others who contributed far more to that effort than I ever did.

To the rest of my Vietnam War colleagues, I simply want to offer them a greeting a lot of us never got in the moment.

Welcome home.

Show us the bone spur records, Mr. POTUS

Bob Kerrey has pitched a perfectly logical notion for the president of the United States, who has been plagued by doubters who question his assertion that “bone spurs” kept him out of military service during the Vietnam War.

Show us the medical record, Mr. President. That is the suggestion offered by Kerrey, a former Democratic U.S. senator from Nebraska. Oh, I also must point out that Kerrey is a former Navy SEAL, a Vietnam War combat veteran and a Medal of Honor recipient who lost one of his legs fighting the enemy during that horrible time.

Bone spurs don’t heal themselves, Kerrey said. You need surgery to repair them. The president has never mentioned surgery.

The bone spur issue keeps recurring because Trump keeps yapping about military matters in ways that bring these questions to the forefront.

Such as his ongoing and crass attacks against the late Sen. John McCain, the former Vietnam War prisoner who died of cancer this past August. Trump once denigrated McCain’s POW status, saying he was a “hero only because he was captured.”

Trump got several medical deferments during the Vietnam War. He has cited bone spurs. Well, just like the tax returns he keeps saying are under audit by the Internal Revenue Service, he has not provided a shred of evidence that he even had bone spurs; he also hasn’t produced a letter by the IRS declaring that it was auditing his tax returns, which he said has precluded him from releasing those returns for public review.

The president also reportedly told his former lawyer/confidant Michael Cohen that he had no intention of going to Vietnam. “Do you think I’m stupid?” Cohen said Trump asked him. Kerrey has taken offense at that notion, saying that Trump “sees all of us who went to Vietnam as fools. We were the suckers. We were the stupid ones. We were the ones that didn’t have the resources to be able to get out of the draft.”

Kerrey said this, as reported by the Huffington Post: “While John McCain was flying combat operations in Vietnam, you were, I think, falsifying that you had bone spurs in order not to go to Vietnam,” said Kerrey, a 1992 presidential candidate who retired from the Senate in 2000. “Now I know lots of people who avoided the draft, but this isn’t what he’s saying. He said ‘I physically couldn’t go,’ Well, Mr. President, get your feet X-rayed and let’s see those bone spurs. I don’t think he has them.”

Frankly, neither do I.

‘Do you think I’m stupid? I wasn’t going to Vietnam’

Donald John Trump might have insulted the intelligence of millions of Americans of a certain age, according to his former lawyer/confidant Michael Cohen.

Cohen testified today before the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee. He covered a lot of territory during the seven or so hours of testimony he gave.

One of the things he disclosed was the medical deferment that young Donald Trump received from a doctor who managed to keep him out of military service, which might have sent the young man to Vietnam to fight in the war many of us remember.

Cohen attributed a statement to Trump who reportedly said, “Do you think I’m stupid. I wasn’t going to Vietnam.”

Darn. I thought I was a smart guy, even though I went to Vietnam in the spring of 1969.

You see, the U.S. Army brought me into its fold in August 1968. It taught me basic soldiering at Fort Lewis, Wash., then sent me to Fort Eustis, Va., to learn how to maintain OV-1 Mohawk aircraft. My advanced individual training company got orders for Korea, but I had my orders canceled so I could deal with an injury I suffered during training.

What did I do then? I asked for duty in Vietnam. Wouldn’t you know it? The Army granted my request and sent me to Marble Mountain, Da Nang, South Vietnam.

Trump? He stayed home, getting deferments for bone spurs the doc supposedly said he had. Cohen told committee members that he needed the medical records to show to reporters who would ask about the deferments. Cohen was a spokesman for Trump when he was campaigning for president.

The two men exchanged some conversation about those records, which reportedly — according to Cohen — was when Trump asked whether Cohen thought he was “stupid.”

A lot of us who did go to war a half-century ago might think of another pejorative term to hang on the president.

The word “coward” comes to mind.

Oh, how the nation’s attitudes toward vets have evolved

My retirement journey has produced a lot of revelations.

One of them involves the payback being offered to our nation’s military veterans. It’s still making my head spin, given how I have witnessed up close how our country’s feelings toward veterans have evolved over the past half-century.

Here’s an example . . .

I got off the phone this morning with the wireless telephone provider with which my wife and I are doing business. We’re about to terminate our TV/Internet service at one location and move it to another residence. The young woman on the phone informed me of additional discounts provided to military veterans. “Are you a vet?” she asked. I told her yes.

I called another number, got connected with another service representative, told her about my veteran status and then was told I could qualify for an additional discount on my phone service. It was simple, given that TV/Internet service comes from the same company that provides us with phone service.

We encounter this kind of “love” all the time. We walk into a restaurant and end up paying a little less for our meal because I am a veteran; we hired a moving company to haul our furniture to our new home and received a discount because of my veteran status; discounts pop up all over the place.

I understand this isn’t really a big deal to many younger Americans. The country has ratcheted up its appreciation for veterans since about the time of the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91.

Take my word for it, the nation didn’t express itself in this manner.

I served for two years in the U.S. Army. I entered military service in August 1968, one of the most tumultuous periods of the past half-century. I went to Vietnam, served some time there, came home and then in August 1970, I drove home to re-start my life as a civilian. The Vietnam War was raging when I went in, it was still raging when I got out. Americans were still angry over the conduct of the war and also at those of us who were following lawful orders.

Businesses weren’t offering veteran discounts for meals or for any other service provided to citizens. Those of us of a certain age know how our fellow Americans felt about veterans in those days. It wasn’t pretty.

I am grateful for the change that has occurred.

None of what we’re experiencing now is a surprise. It’s just that it continues to boggle my mind each time I encounter the rebirth of our nation’s generous spirit.

Trump raid on military projects produces bipartisan ire

So, the president of the United States has done it.

Donald Trump declared a national emergency where none actually exists. He wants to build The Wall. He is intent on erecting that structure along our southern border to, as he said, stem the flow of human traffickers, drug dealers, murderers, terrorists and assorted riff raff he insists are “pouring” across the border.

That isn’t happening, no matter what the says.

There’s more, though. He wants to pilfer money already appropriated for defense projects to pay for construction of The Wall. That move has produced criticism from unlikely sources, such as from Republican U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, the Texas Panhandle congressman who once chaired the House Armed Services Committee. Thornberry, now the ranking member of Armed Services, says wall construction is not part of the military mission. Thornberry, who isn’t prone to criticize the president, opposes this initiative.

Congressional Democrats are going to contest the emergency declaration. Of course they oppose Trump’s decision.

The president, though, appears to be miffed that members of Congress who should have stepped up didn’t do as he wished. So he’s conducted this end-around.

The current chairman of the House Armed Services panel, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said this: “It is utterly disrespectful of U.S. national security and the needs of our men and women in uniform, and it further undermines his credibility in requesting the upcoming defense budget.”

That’s the president’s modus operandi. He says he “loves” the military and the men and women who defend the country. However, he is quite willing to undercut their work so he can build The Wall.

Central Command not consulted? Well, what’s new?

I guess none of us should be surprised to hear this bit of news from near the very top of the U.S. military chain of command.

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commanding officer of the nation’s Central Command — which has authority over deployment of personnel in the Middle East — told Congress that Donald Trump didn’t consult with him before announcing his decision to withdraw our forces from Syria.

The president, though, did declare the Islamic State to be “defeated badly,” which was his seat-of-the-pants justification for leaving Syria and turning the fight over to . . . Syrian resistance forces.

The non-surprise comes in the form of those idiotic 2016 presidential campaign boasts that Trump made. He told us he was the smartest man in human history, that he knew the “best words,” had the “best mind,” would surround himself with the “best people” and, here’s my favorite, how he knows “more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.”

Trump knows all

The tragedy of it is that the Republican presidential candidate persuaded just enough voters living in just the right states to score an Electoral College victory to be elected the 45th president of the United States.

So he now gets to govern without consulting the “best people” who ought to include Gen. Votel, a combat Army veteran with vast knowledge of the Islamic State and the threat it still poses in the region and around the world.

According to Time.com: When Trump announced his decision to pullout on Dec. 19, it sent shock waves through Washington and the rest of the world. “Our boys, our young women, our men, they’re all coming back and they’re coming back now. We won.” 

But did we? ISIS has claimed responsibility for terror attacks after the announcement, suggesting to many of us that the Sunni Muslim terror outfit isn’t “defeated.”

However, Donald Trump is wired to be all-knowing all the time, or so he would have us believe.

Except that I don’t believe a single word that flies out of his mouth.

So long, Chief . . . and well done

I used to call him Chief. Jack Barnes was a retired Navy chief petty officer. I made his acquaintance while I worked as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas.

Barnes hailed originally from Perryton, then spent a couple of decades defending the nation.

I was saddened recently to learn of Barnes’ death in December at the age of 68. I heard he suffered from an aggressive form of cancer. I am not going to comment on the end of this patriot’s life, but rather on what he did to enrich the lives of other patriots.

Barnes was the driving force behind a project called “Honor Flights.” He declared it his mission to shepherd World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., to tour the memorial erected in these veterans’ honor. And to show them as many other sights as they could squeeze into a brief visit to the nation’s capital.

He worked tirelessly with Southwest Airlines to arrange to transport these veterans from Amarillo to Washington. Over time, he expanded his mission to include Korean War and then Vietnam War veterans. Given that the Korean War began only five years after the end of World War II, it became imperative, as Barnes saw it, to bring veterans of that war to D.C. to show them the Korean War memorial that honors the sacrifice of those who fought on the Korean Peninsula.

And, of course, the Vietnam War veterans also were invited aboard these Honor Flights. We, too, are getting a bit long in the tooth these days and Barnes wanted to treat the men and women who served in Vietnam to the same honor he delivered to the World War II and Korean War veterans.

Jack occasionally would ask me if I wanted to take part in an Honor Flight, given my own meager experience in the Vietnam War. I never found the time to take him up on his generous offer.

I lost contact — more or less — with Barnes after I resigned from the Globe-News in August 2012; we would see each other on occasion, at the grocery store or at a public event. But I surely knew of the work he continued to do to honor our World War II veterans.

Of the 16 million Americans who served during WWII, only a diminishing fraction of them are still with us. They’re all in their 90s now. Time is not their friend.

Barnes, though, was dedicated to these men and women and sought to honor them the best way he knew how. He honored them greatly with his diligence in escorting them to Washington, to see the memorial that is dedicated to their service in the fight against tyranny.

Jack Barnes was a proud man who spread his pride generously. His work should live on forever.

Rest in peace and well done, Chief.

PR stunt? Of course it is! They all are!

Donald Trump canceled a trip overseas by Nancy Pelosi, contending that her visit to Afghanistan is a mere “public relations” event.

Wow! No sh**? Of course it was intended as a PR stunt. I mean, the speaker of the House wanted to visit with our troops who the commander in chief thrusts into harm’s way. She wanted to tell them the nation supports them and that despite the partial shutdown of the federal government that the politicians who run the government won’t let them down.

Sure it’s a PR event. However, there is inherint value in it.

It’s as much of a public relations production as the one that the president and first lady performed when they flew to Iraq right after Christmas. The president took selfies with troops, schmoozed with them, hugged their necks, told them he loved them. Then he and Melania flew back home to the chaos that awaited them.

Yeah, these trips are PR events. That’s what commanders in chief and other leading politicians do when they fly into combat zones.

I won’t get into the goofiness of Trump’s cancellation of the Pelosi venture, which looks for all the world to be a retaliatory strike in the wake of Pelosi’s request that Trump delay his scheduled Jan. 29 State of the Union speech before a joint congressional session.

However, for the president to say that the speaker of the House’s planned visit to our troops serves no useful purpose other than it being a PR stunt denies the obvious benefit it brings to the troops who get to see and talk directly to the politicians we elect to ostensibly “run the government.”

I call this ‘devotion to duty’

This picture says it all for me. It is not a statue. It is a living, breathing U.S. Army soldier. He is standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown at Arlington National Cemetery.

Yep, it is snowing. It is bitterly cold. But there he is, along with the rest of the garrison assigned to stand watch over one of our nation’s most sacred memorials.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott posted this picture on Facebook. I share it here to join the governor in saluting these men — indeed, the rest of our military force. “God bless our military,” Gov. Abbott said.

One more quick point: These men are assigned to perform this intensely precise duty in addition to their regular duties while stationed with the 3rd Army Infantry Regiment at Fort Myer, Va. They do not perform this duty exclusively. Their infantry unit is required to maintain its fitness for combat duty in the event that they would get such an order from the commander in chief.

They stand their watch at the Tomb of the Unknown — no matter what!

POTUS takes on another general

Retired U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal is back in the news. This time it’s because he happened to say what many of us believe about the president, that he’s, um, a liar.

What is Donald Trump’s response? He fired off this tweet: “General” McChrystal got fired like a dog by Obama. Last assignment a total bust. Known for big, dumb mouth. Hillary lover!

Amazing, yes? Well, I think so.

Trump is right that President Obama relieved Gen. McChrystal of his command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. McChrystal had been critical of Vice President Joe Biden and other civilian officials. Obama would have none of it, so he demanded McChrystal’s resignation.

Now, was his assignment a “total bust”? No. It wasn’t. Not at all.

However, the retired general has decided to re-enter the fray by questioning Donald Trump’s leadership ability. Given his experience at a high level of military command, he is qualified to discuss what he perceives in the commander in chief.

McChrystal has questioned Trump’s decision to militarize the southern U.S. border. He told an ABC News interviewer that he wouldn’t work in the Trump administration because he values honesty at the highest levels of government. He said the president doesn’t fit the bill. He also has spoken positively of Hillary Clinton’s service as secretary of state, which in Trump’s mind makes him a “Hillary lover” and, in his mind, not qualified to discuss anything of substance.

So, here we are . . . again! A president who pretends to respect military men and women is challenging another one who once served at the highest levels of command. Remember how he denigrated retired Admiral William McRaven for not killing Osama bin Laden sooner than he did? McRaven was special operations commander when the Navy SEAL team killed the al-Qaida leader on May 1, 2011.

Trump’s petulance knows no bounds. This thin-skinned chicken hawk should toughen up if he’s going to seek to be thought of as some sort of steel-spined world leader.

However, he won’t.