Category Archives: military news

He said it, she said it; who’s telling the truth?

Wouldn’t you know it …

There’s no record of a conversation that Donald Trump had with the widow of a soldier killed in action in Niger. Another party to the conversation, a Florida congresswoman, has accused the president of being insensitive while talking to the wife of the fallen soldier.

It’s become a classic he said/she said standoff.

Who’s lying here?

In one corner we have the president, Donald John Trump Sr., a man known to fib, lie, prevaricate at a moment’s notice. He blurts things out without attribution, documentation or evidence.

In the other corner we have U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., who contends she was in on the phone call between Trump and Myeshia Johnson, the wife of slain soldier Sgt. David Johnson. Trump reportedly said that Sgt. Johnson, one of four Special Forces soldiers ambushed by terrorists in Niger, “knew what he signed up for … but it still hurts.”

But you see, there’s no record of the conversation. We’re left with the words of two individuals — president and the congresswoman — with apparently little regard for each other.

We haven’t yet heard from Myeshia Johnson, who could clear this matter up with corroboration for either Trump or Wilson.

Short of that: polygraphs anyone?

Trump trips over himself again

What is it about Donald Trump that prevents him from doing something quietly, gracefully, with empathy and compassion?

He’s walked into yet another controversy, this time over a phone call he made to the wife of a fallen U.S. Army soldier who was among four soldiers killed in Niger.

A Florida congresswoman, Democrat Frederica Wilson, said the president told Myeshia Johnson that her husband, Sgt. David Johnson, “knew what he was getting into.” He added that “it still hurts.”

He said, she said

Trump, quite naturally, has denied saying what Wilson alleges he said. Rep. Wilson said she was overheard the conversation between the president and Mrs. Johnson and is standing by her comment.

I won’t pass any judgment on who’s right, except to note yet again that Trump has shown quite a propensity for prevarication. I have no knowledge of Rep. Wilson’s reputation for veracity.

I guess my point here is that Trump simply is not wired to perform simple — but admittedly tough — tasks without somehow calling attention to himself. It’s always “lights, camera, action!” with this guy.

He said previous presidents didn’t call the loved ones of fallen warriors. Aides to Presidents Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama have denied vehemently what Trump has suggested.

And so … the chaos continues.

Sad.

POTUS scars sacred ground

The president of the United States has zero political instincts when it comes to the decorum of his high office.

Consider what he’s now doing to politicize the deaths of fallen American warriors. Donald John Trump has declared falsely that previous presidents haven’t bothered to send letters to Gold Star families, or to call them, or offer a nation’s gratitude.

His latest epic lie has drawn strong responses from the three men who preceded him immediately in the office: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Aides for all three men have condemned the president’s specious claim that their bosses didn’t do what Trump has said he has done.

Good grief! Can this man ever find a way to conduct himself with a semblance of dignity? Can he ever learn how decorum matters as it involves the presidency of the United States of America?

Trump dishonors military

To make matters worse, if that’s possible, he decided to drag the memory of White House chief of staff John Kelly into this atrocious dispute. The president wondered on Fox News Rado if President Obama ever called Kelly when his son died in battle. According to The Associated Press:

Then Trump stirred things further Tuesday on Fox News Radio, saying, “You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?”
John Kelly, a Marine general under Obama, is Trump’s chief of staff. His son, Marine 2nd Lt. Robert Kelly, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. John Kelly was not seen at Trump’s public events Tuesday.

John Kelly reportedly sought to keep his son’s memory out of the current political dispute. The president, of course, demonstrated his tin ear and blabbed out loud about Lt. Kelly’s death anyway.

Disgraceful.

Bergdahl admits it: He’s a deserter

We no longer need to attach the word “alleged” in front of Bowe Bergdahl’s crime.

The U.S. Army sergeant has entered a guilty plea to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. He had been captured by the Taliban in 2009 and was held for five years somewhere in Afghanistan.

The desertion charge carries a five-year prison sentence; the misbehavior charge is something quite a bit more severe and Bergdahl faces a potential life term in prison.

What should the military court decide? He needs to serve a significant prison term. A lifetime? I’m not sure about that.

Deserter fesses up

He did expression contrition. He knows he did wrong. He has paid quite a price being held captive by a terrorist organization.

Speaking of which, I was critical at the time of Bergdahl’s release that the Obama administration declined to call the Taliban what they are: a terrorist outfit. That gave the administration license to negotiate with the Taliban to secure Bergdahl’s release.

Should he have remained in Taliban custody? No. The Obama team said its mission to ensure that no American gets left on the “battlefield.” I get that.

However, he now has admitted to deserting his Ranger unit. And, no, he doesn’t deserve to be executed, as Donald J. Trump bellowed before he became the commander in chief.

Prison time? Yes.

What kind of game is this, Mr. POTUS?

There he was, flanked on both sides by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a cadre of senior military officers and spouses, not to mention his own wife, the first lady of the United States.

So, what does Donald John Trump do? He tosses out a cryptic message about “the calm before the storm,” hinting that there might be possibly, maybe, perhaps something about to happen. A “storm” might be brewing.

But … where? What kind of storm? A military one? A political one?

A reporter asked the president what he meant. His answer? You’ll find out.

Huh? Eh? What the … ?

What is this clown doing? Why does he say these things? Why does he flap his yap so gratuitously, leaving the nation guessing on what he means, what he’s saying and wondering whether we’re about to go to war?

Is this what all those Trumpkins of this nation mean by “telling it like it is?” If so, then I’m left to wonder what the “it” means.

Weird, man. Weird.

More bombs did not produce ‘victory’ in Vietnam

“The Vietnam War” is coming to a close this week. I refer, of course, to the landmark public television series, not the actual war.

What are the takeaways from this epic production directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick and broadcast on PBS? I have so many of them, but I think I’ll focus briefly here on just one of them.

It is that the Vietnam War required us to redefine victory.

We fought the communists in Vietnam for more than a decade. We killed many more of the enemy than we lost so very tragically. We emerged victorious from many more battlefield encounters than the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese. As we have learned in the Burns-Novick epic, U.S. commanding Gen. William Westmoreland was obsessed with “body count”; he insisted that the media report that the enemy suffered far worse than our side did.

Merrill McPeak, a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War who later became Air Force chief of staff, noted correctly in the documentary that the United States dropped more ordnance on the enemy than we did in all the combat theaters of World War II. Think of that for a moment. American air power dropped more explosive tonnage on the Vietnam communists than we did against the Nazis, the Italians and the Japanese.

What we didn’t do and the reason we “lost” the war was because we lost our political will. The Vietnamese were fighting on their turf, defending their homeland, battling an enemy they considered to be “invaders.” They had more to lose — and to gain — than we ever did. Thus, it was their fight to win.

Are there lessons to carry forward as we continue to fight an even more elusive enemy, those terrorist organizations that have declared “death to America!”? Yes, certainly.

One profound lesson should be for U.S. politicians — or one in particular — to cease implying that defeating an enemy is “easy.”

We cannot just keep dropping bombs and sending young Americans into cities, killing enemy fighters and then expect the enemy simply to give up. We tried that in Vietnam. It didn’t work out well for us.

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have provided a masterful piece of documentary television. Just as Vietnam was the first war to be fought “in our living rooms,” my hope is that the educational benefit that’s being delivered to us via PBS will assuage some of the pain we felt as the fighting raged.

***

Politico has provided a fascinating look at a conversation involving President Lyndon Johnson and U.S. Sen. Richard Russell. The Burns-Novick documentary doesn’t report on it.

Take a look at the story here.

PBS ‘Vietnam War’ episode misses a key element

I remain utterly transfixed by the Ken Burns-Lynn Novick documentary series “The Vietnam War.”

It contains some of the most compelling television I’ve ever witnessed and I am so proud of PBS for its longstanding commitment to this type of educational broadcasting.

Having tossed out that bouquet, I want to offer this barb at what I witnessed tonight.

The series tonight focused on the Tet Offensive, which the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese launched against dozens of South Vietnamese cities on Jan. 31, 1968. “The Vietnam War” rightly points out that Tet likely was the political turning point, the singular event that turned American public opinion solidly against that bloody conflict.

Tet also produced what arguably was the most singularly graphic moment in that war. It was the photo of Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan’s summary execution of a Viet Cong suspect.

Loan was head of South Vietnam’s police department when he found the suspect and shot him dead on a Saigon street. The picture would earn a Pulitzer Prize for Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams. It also would deliver a lifetime of misery for Gen. Loan, who was vilified because reporting of the incident at the time failed to the tell the whole story.

I wish the Burns-Novick documentary would have told us tonight about the media’s role in demonizing Loan.

You see, Loan shot the man dead because the suspect had been part of a VC hit squad that killed a colleague of the general — and his wife and six children. Loan knew about what had happened to his friend and his family. His men arrested the suspect. Loan ordered one of his officers to shoot the suspect; the officer balked.

So, Loan took out his pistol and shot the man in the head.

Nguyen Ngoc Loan had snapped. He proved to be a human being subject to human emotion,

“The Vietnam War” didn’t tell the whole story tonight, nor did it explain why — because of the lack of full reporting in the moment — that picture came to symbolize the absolute horror of war.

However, by golly, I am going to watch the rest of this utterly spell-binding television event.

I am hooked.

On the hunt for PBS signal

DURANGO, Colo. — I’m so mad I could spit.

We hauled our fifth wheel recreational vehicle into the Rocky Mountains for a long weekend, getting away from the hustle, bustle and some of the tussles of the world.

But surely — clearly, without a doubt — we could land in a spot that picked up the Public Broadcasting Service.

Oh, no. Didn’t happen.

We’re in Durango, cooling our jets until the morning arrives. I am missing the premiere episode of a landmark television event, PBS’s epic series “The Vietnam War,” put together by the great documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. It’s going to run for 10 days.

I am sort of reminded of a comment the late pro football coach Bum Phillips once said of Orange, Texas, where he was born. “It’s not the end of the world,” Bum said in a Playboy magazine interview, “but if you get up on your tippy toes, you can see it from there.”

That’s kind of how I am feeling this evening as PBS is airing “The Vietnam War.”

I’ve published several posts on this blog commenting on the importance of the series to a generation of Americans, many of whom served in that war. I am one of those Americans.

I won’t let it depress me. We’re shoving off tomorrow for another location — in Albuquerque — where I am certain we’ll get PBS in our fifth wheel. I know this because we stayed there the other night en route to Durango. By golly, I watched some PBS programming while we were parked there.

I am going to pray that the weather doesn’t get in the way. You are welcome to wish me luck. Oh, and be sure to watch it yourself.

War is hell in all its grisly forms

Army Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman once delivered a speech in 1880 in which he said the following: “Some of you young men think that war is all glamour and glory, but let me tell you, boys, it is all hell!”

It doesn’t get any more stark than that. The picture I included with this blog post illustrates the hell of war. It is pure and it is evil. There need be no further description needed.

In just a few days, PBS is going to begin airing a landmark series on the Vietnam War. It’s produced and directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, who teamed up on a project aimed at helping a nation come to grips with a conflict that tore at our soul. It ripped our hearts out.

Scenes such as the one depicted in the photo played out throughout Vietnam during that war. A photographer, Eddie Adams managed to capture this scene in all its horror.

Adams won a Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for the photo, but he would say later: “The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. What the photograph didn’t say was, ‘What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?'”

The shooter in this picture was Nguyen Ngoc Loan, the head of South Vietnam’s police force. The fellow he shot was a Viet Cong officer. The moment was frozen for posterity. It’s gruesome, but as Adams said, it tells only part of the story.

The VC officer had just led a mission that had captured a colleague of Loan, along with his wife and six children. The VC officer, Nguyen Van Liem, ordered the execution of his prisoners. All of them had their throats cut.

Nguyen Ngoc Loan knew about the mission when he took Liem into custody. He was filled with rage in the moment. The Viet Cong had just launched its Tet Offensive in early 1968 and had brought havoc throughout South Vietnam.

Loan pulled his pistol out and executed his prisoner. As a result, he became the face of war’s cruelty. He became a human metaphor for the terror Americans were feeling at home about what was happening in a faraway land.

Loan would flee the communist victors at the end of the war. He came to the United States. He would die of cancer in 1998 while living in Florida. It’s been said over the years that Loan never recovered fully from the scorn and recrimination he suffered for acting in response to the most hellish circumstance imaginable.

Burns and Novick’s documentary likely will be able to shed some additional perspective on this act of horror, this moment when hell presented itself in a time of war.

***

The first five episodes of “The Vietnam War” will air nightly on Panhandle PBS from Sunday, Sept. 17, through Thursday, Sept. 21, and the final five episodes will air nightly from Sunday, Sept. 24, through Thursday, Sept. 28. Each episode will premiere at 7 p.m. with a repeat broadcast immediately following the premiere.

Vietnam taught us tough, but needed lessons

The Vietnam War remains an open sore, a wound that’s still healing.

A landmark documentary is set to premier on PBS soon. I am anticipating its opening. “The Vietnam War” is a collaborative effort by the acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, who isn’t as well-known as Burns, but likely will be once this series runs its course.

The series well might help us heal from those wounds of a long-ago war. That’s my hope, anyway.

I took part for a brief period in that conflict. I got my orders and reported for duty as an Army aircraft mechanic. I arrived at Marble Mountain, Da Nang, in the spring of 1969. I served my time and came home.

I’ve told you already about the emotional baggage I shed when I was able to return to that place in 1989. A lot of Vietnam vets have done much the same thing. Many of them had damn heavy loads to release; they were combat vets. I was not one of them, but the baggage was real.

The nation learned many valuable lessons about itself during that war and in its immediate aftermath. I want to look briefly at two of those lessons, which I hope the Burns-Novick film will discuss in detail beginning Sept. 17 (on Panhandle PBS).

We learned how to lose a war. The United States didn’t “lose” this conflict in the traditional sense. The enemy didn’t defeat us on the battlefield. Indeed, our armed forces were able to declare victory in virtually every major conflict we entered against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese military.

We inflicted more casualties on them than they did on our side. We captured more of their fighters than they did of ours. We won the fight on the field.

We lost the fight politically. We lacked the stomach to stay in the fight “for the duration.” The Vietnamese were fighting on their turf, fighting for their cities and villages. They were fighting to protect their land.

They had the will to keep fighting. And they did. We lost our will and came home in early 1973. Two years later, left to fend for themselves, the South Vietnamese armed forces were overrun by the North. On April 30, 1975, the shooting stopped.

We didn’t win that fight and it has stuck in our national craw ever since.

I’ve made peace with that fact over the years. I get how it went down. I trust “The Vietnam War” will explain it to those Americans who still wonder: How did we win all those battles but lose the war?

We mistreated our returning warriors. This might be the most shameful aspect of the war, at least in my mind.

I didn’t get spit on. No one called me names. I never once was disrespected outwardly and openly when I wore my uniform while at home upon my return. Too many of my colleagues, though, did receive such mistreatment. It was disgraceful in the extreme.

It is amazing today to listen to left-leaning commentators extol the heroism of our fighting men and women engaged in war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Think about that for a moment. Fifty years ago, those same leftish pundits might excoriate the returning warriors. There might be veiled references to the “atrocities” they committed. They likely would be treated with far less respect and dignity than they are today.

These days, I like wearing my Vietnam vet ball cap when I’m out and about and, yes, I welcome the occasional expressions of “thank your for your service” greetings I get from strangers. That would not have occurred in 1970.

We have turned an important corner in our national upbringing, and it warms my heart to know that we no longer condemn the fighting men and women for doing their duty to their country, just like we did during the Vietnam War.

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have taken on a profoundly important project with this series on that long-ago, but never-forgotten war. It taught us many lessons about ourselves as a nation — and as individual Americans.

Their documentary is a landmark event in every meaningful sense of the term.

***

The first five episodes will air nightly on Panhandle PBS from Sunday, Sept. 17, through Thursday, Sept. 21, and the final five episodes will air nightly from Sunday, Sept. 24, through Thursday, Sept. 28. Each episode will premiere at 7 p.m. with a repeat broadcast immediately following the premiere.