Tag Archives: FDR

Still missing this great American

Forty years ago, on the Fourth of July, 1978, I walked into my house and got the news from my wife.

My grandmother had just passed away. She is the one on the right in the picture above. My reaction kind of surprised me then: She was in her 80s and I knew she had been sick; still, I put my arms on the fireplace mantle and sobbed, cried like a baby.

The picture, by the way, is of three of my grandparents. There was Diamontula Filipu and her husband, George, my mom’s parents; the lady on the left is my dad’s mother, Katina Kanelis.

This is a poignant remembrance. For starters, I always remember Yiayia’s death, as she did die on the anniversary of the birth of her adopted home country. My wife reminded me a few days after learning of Yiayia’s death that she picked the Fourth of July just to be sure I’d remember.

We called her Yiayia, because that’s Greek for “grandmother.” Indeed, her southeast Portland, Ore., neighbors called her Yiayia; the store clerks did, too. The mailman, the milkman called her Yiayia.

I have referred to Yiayia in previous blogs as a “great American.” She was a diminutive patriot who stood taller than anyone around her when she talked about her country.

She emigrated here from Turkey in the early 20th century. Her husband, my Papou George, already had relocated to Portland to await Yiayia’s arrival. She got off the boat at Ellis Island in New York City, processed through immigration, then asked someone how long it would take her to get to  Portland. The person she asked presumed she meant Portland, Maine, and told her it would take about four hours.

Four days later, she ambled off the train on the other side of a vast nation. Intrepid? Yeah, she embodied the meaning of the term.

She shares this date of Earthly departure with two other great Americans: Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom died on the same day, July 4, 1826 — precisely 50 years after the nation they helped create came into being.

I hold up Yiayia’s American greatness to any who have lived in this country. Whether they were born here or came here of their own volition, Yiayia stood tall among them.

She never returned to her native Turkey. She always said she was “home” and had no desire to return to where she entered this world as an ethnic Greek in what the current president of the United States might call a “sh**hole” country.

She might not have been allowed into this country that seeks a “merit-based” immigration system. She lacked formal education. She didn’t have any professional skills that I can recall. She merely was a loving wife, mother and grandmother. My sisters and I spent much time with her, playing silly games and laughing at stories she would tell about her beloved husband, George, who died when I was a baby.

Yiayia also was a patriot. She adored FDR and JFK.

I miss her to this day. So should the country she loved with all her heart.

USS Arizona to add to War Memorial

AMARILLO, Texas — I guess it can be stated clearly: A piece of one of the darkest days in U.S. history is going to adorn the Texas Panhandle War Memorial in south Amarillo.

It’s the product of some wheeling and dealing by Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell, who has been working with federal and state of Hawaii officials to bring a piece of the USS Arizona to the Texas Panhandle.

They’re going to add the piece to the War Memorial on Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7. It will arrive around 11 a.m. Saturday at the Randall County Event Center, where they’ll have a welcoming ceremony.

This is an extremely poignant addition to the War Memorial, which already includes — in addition to the stone tablets chronicling the conflicts this nation has engaged in and those who died in them — an F-100 Super Sabre jet and a UH-1 Huey helicopter.

The Arizona was one of several big ships sunk in Pearl Harbor more than seven decades ago in the event that brought the United States into World War II. President Roosevelt called it a “date which will live in infamy.”

It’s a date we cannot forget. We must always remember it.

Judge Houdashell told me some months ago about the Arizona memento coming here. He was thrilled beyond belief to get it done.

I am proud of my friend for scoring this magnificent addition to the War Memorial.

Hiroshima debate will rage until the end of time

Seventy-two years ago today a single U.S. Army Air Force bomber dropped a single bomb on a Japanese city and ushered the nuclear age into modern warfare.

The plane was called the Enola Gay, named after the mother of the bomber’s commanding officer, Col. Paul Tibbetts. The place was Hiroshima. The atomic bomb killed many thousands of Japanese civilians — quite literally in a flash of light, heat and unimaginable concussive force.

Aug. 6, 1945 has gone down in history as arguably the most compelling moment of the 20th century. American air power would drop another atomic bomb three days later on Nagasaki, Japan. The Japanese would surrender a few days after that and World War II would come to an end.

The debate has raged for seven decades: Should we have dropped the bomb? Did we have to kill so many Japanese civilians? Would the Japanese have surrendered without having to suffer such horrific destruction?

I have some proverbial skin in that argument. A young man was stationed in The Philippines when the bombs fell on Japan. He was serving in the U.S. Navy and well could have taken part in the invasion of Japan had it occurred. We also well might have died in the effort, denying him the chance to return home and start a family that resulted in, well, yours truly being born.

Dad made it home from that terrible war, got married and produced his family. I wrote four years ago about how the Hiroshima decision remains quite personal:

Hiroshima gets personal with me

President Harry Truman had been in office only since April 1945; he assumed the power of the presidency upon the death of President Franklin Roosevelt. He only learned about the A-bomb development after he had taken the oath.

The newly minted commander in chief was handed some information that could have shortened the war by weeks, maybe months. Yes, the option before him would cost a lot of Japanese lives and he knew that at the top. He had to make a stern choice: Do I deploy this weapon knowing the destruction it will bring to the enemy’s homeland or do I risk sending our young men into battle at the cost of many thousands of American lives?

The president knew the consequences of the choice he had to make.

In my mind — and in my heart and gut — the president made the correct call. I cannot be objective or analytical about this. It’s personal, man.

God bless President Truman.

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.

Nation’s capital still stirs the emotions

WASHINGTON — This is the most political city in America, if not the world and politics being what it has become in recent decades, this city is full of a lot of hard feelings and recrimination.

You know my own feelings about the current president of the United States. But this blog post isn’t about that — and it damn sure isn’t about him. It’s about the myriad monuments, memorials and assorted structures throughout the city that pay testament to the nation’s greatness.

We came to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It’s like an outdoor church. Visitors lower their voices. They speak in solemn tones. They look at the 58,000-plus names etched into the stone, seeking to recall memories of the individuals who gave their last full measure.

I found a name I had spotted the first time my family and I came here in 1990. He was a young man with whom I served briefly in Vietnam. He was set to go home in a few days, but fate intervened at a landing zone where he and his Huey helicopter unit was ambushed in June 1969 by enemy fighters.

We toured much of the Washington Mall, walked through the World War II, read the inscriptions from the likes of Chester Nimitz, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, George C. Marshall that paid tribute to the brave Americans who — along with soldiers from many other nations — saved the world from tyranny. My all-time favorite veteran, my father, was one of the 16 million Americans who answered the call to duty. I thought of Dad while marveling at the grandeur of the WWII memorial.

Not far from that is the Korean War Memorial, which pays tribute to the “forgotten war.” It, too, cost tens of thousands of American lives. I prayed for the souls of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

We cast our eyes on the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial and toured the FDR Memorial.

For several precious hours while taking all that in, I was able to set aside the events of the moment. I didn’t think a single time about the confusion, controversy and contentiousness of the present day. I thought instead of the great Americans who built the country and created a nation that remains — despite rhetoric to the contrary — the greatest nation in human history.

We had to see these things to remind us of who we are.

Trump’s big mouth threatens to swallow him

That dreaded 100-day “deadline” looms for Donald John Trump. We’re about one week away from it.

Will it produce a winning report card for the president? Will those of us in the peanut gallery be able to call the new president’s start a rousing success, which Trump himself has done already?

I do not believe so.

Does the 100-day mark matter? Perhaps it shouldn’t count as much as it does. President Franklin D. Roosevelt set up this artificial barrier when he took office in 1933 and it’s been held as sort of the benchmark for early presidential success ever since.

But it’s early in any new president’s term. Donald Trump is no different.

Except for one little thing.

All along the way en route to his winning the election, the Republican candidate for president kept telling us about all the things he would accomplish in those first 100 days.

* Affordable Care Act? Repealed and replaced.

* Tax reform? Enacted.

* Draining the swamp of corruption? He’d institute a new government ethic.

What’s happened? The ACA remains. Tax reform hasn’t even been introduced. The swamp is still full.

The president can count precious few legislative triumphs. In fact, I can’t think of any. Can you? He’s signed a lot of executive orders. I particularly like the one that banned government officials from becoming lobbyists immediately after leaving public service.

Sure, he launched that missile strike against Syria after that horrendous chemical weapons attack. I give the president kudos for that action. But he’s got North Korea sounding more threatening than ever; Trump said he dispatched the “great armada” led by the USS Carl Vinson, but the carrier-led strike group to date is nowhere near the Korean Peninsula.

Donald Trump’s very own big mouth has victimized him.

Just maybe once the president gets past this 100-day hurdle, he will decide to tone down his constant boastfulness and learn finally — finally! — that governance requires much more than shooting off one’s big mouth.

Trump’s first 100-day report card coming due

Franklin Delano Roosevelt set the bar for measuring the progress of a new president’s administration. He put it at 100 days.

Presidents had that amount of time to establish the pace and the tone of how they intend to govern, FDR determined. It’s been the benchmark ever since.

How has the 45th president done as his 100th day in office approaches? Not well at all.

That’s the view of almost every observer who gets paid to analyze such things. Donald J. Trump, though, sees it differently. Imagine that, if you can. He’s done a “fantastic” job, he’ll tell you. He’s assembled the “best” team ever created, he will insist. Why, he got a Supreme Court justice nominated and confirmed all within the first 100 days, he has said.

Trump has signed a lot of executive orders, too. He has rolled back many of the policies enacted by President Barack H. Obama. He’s repealed, for instance, regulations that sought to ensure clean air and water; Trump wants to bring more jobs back and he says those job-killing regulations just had to go.

Oh, but legislatively? What has the president done?

Umm. Not much, folks.

The effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act went down in flames. That would be his “first priority.” He got nothin’, man.

Absent a victory there, he then turned his sights on reforming the federal tax code. Now that effort appears stalled. Why? Because a few of his allies in Congress want to restart the ACA repeal/replace effort.

The president has failed to fill most of the key deputy Cabinet posts that need filling. Key Cabinet secretaries are lacking go-to men and women who serve as backstops for them.

The 100th day is less than two weeks out. Will the president be able to proclaim any significant legislative victory? I do not think so.

As one point of comparison, I believe I’ll look back eight years ago to the then-new presidency of Barack Obama. All he managed to do in the first 100 days was shepherd through Congress a $787 billion economic stimulus package that managed to rescue the nation’s collapsing financial system.

How would I grade the current president?

I’ll give him a D-minus. The only thing — in my view — that keeps him from failing outright is that missile strike on the Syrian government.

State parks are the way to go

This is the latest in an occasional series of blog posts commenting on upcoming retirement.

GARNER STATE PARK, Texas — The picture attached to this blog post tells the story: this place is as tranquil and quiet as it appears.

This park is nestled in the gorgeous Hill Country of Texas, just north of Uvalde, which is the hometown of the person after whom the park is named.

I refer to the late John Nance “Cactus Jack” Garner, the former vice president of the United States during the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. It was Garner who once famously declared that “the vice presidency ain’t worth a bucket of warm piss.”

They didn’t call him Cactus Jack for nothin’, you know.

My wife and I have decided that state parks are the way to travel through this vast state of ours.

We have purchased a state park pass, which for a year allows us access to any state park in the state without paying an entrance fee. The nightly fee for camping there in an RV varies: $15 to $20.

I’ve complained for decades now about Texas state government. It spends too little on this, too much on that. It devalues public education and seeks on occasion to legislate morality.

Blah, blah, blah.

I am a big fan of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the agency that runs our state park system.

Our state parks are second to none. Well, perhaps that’s just my opinion, given that I haven’t been to state parks in every state in the Union. I’ll just settle on declaring that Texas’s state parks are inviting.

They’re well-appointed, clean, well-groomed. Park staffers are full of that legendary Texas hospitality.

There’s a decent chance my wife and I — along with Toby the Puppy — will visit most if not all of them as we continue to enjoy this new lifestyle called “retirement.”

Trying to decide whether to watch inauguration

Some friends and a couple of family members have asked: Are you going to watch Donald Trump’s inaugural?

I don’t yet know.

I have made no secret of my disappointment in the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Sure, my candidates have lost before. This one, though, feels different in a way I cannot yet define clearly and concisely.

It might be that I do not consider Trump fit or qualified at any level to become president of the United States. That’s not how it turned out at the ballot box. He collected enough electoral votes to win the election. That’s that.

Inaugural speeches usually are filled with high-minded, soaring rhetoric. A few of them over the years have produced phrases for the ages: President Lincoln’s “with malice toward none and charity for all” at his second inaugural in 1865; President Franklin Roosevelt’s “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” at his first inaugural in 1933; President Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” in 1961; President Reagan’s “government is the problem” at his first inaugural in 1981.

The rest of them? Well, I don’t remember certain phrases, although I do recall all the presidents spoke of high ideals and grand goals.

I’m trying to imagine Donald Trump expressing himself in such a fashion. I’m also trying to speculate as to whether the 45th president will even be able to maintain his focus long enough to read the text on his Teleprompter; or will he spin off on one of those tangents, one of those stream-of-consciousness riffs.

My tendency has been to watch these speeches. I try to soak it all in. I seek to glean some sense of hope from the president.

With this guy Trump, though, such optimism remains a distant dream for me. His campaign was too steeped in anger, bigotry and exclusion for me to feel any sense that he ever can appeal to what’s best in Americans.

Inaugurals are meant to set a tone for the presidency. They are intended to give us hope. How in the world is Donald Trump going to deliver such a message after running the kind of campaign that propelled him to the highest office in the land?

Decisions, decisions …

The world changed 75 years ago


It took a sneak attack on American warships moored in a Honolulu bay to change the world forever.

The attack occurred 75 years ago at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Japanese pilots taking off from Japanese aircraft carriers swooped in over the harbor on that Sunday morning. They strafed and bombed the ships, sinking several of them where they were docked. They did the same thing to our Army aircraft at Hickam Field.

Thousands of American sailors and soldiers died that day.

The nation was shocked beyond its ability to believe what had just happened. Think of it today as the “original 9/11.” Most Americans weren’t prepared to cope with the idea that a foreign power could strike us on our soil, killing our military personnel.

President Roosevelt stood the next day before a joint congressional assembly and asked for a declaration of war. It came quickly and overwhelmingly.

We stood united. We rallied ourselves. We mobilized. We turned our huge industrial capacity into a weapons-making machine.

All told, our nation sent 16 million Americans into the fight against the Japanese … and against the Nazi Germans and the Italians in Europe.

We seemingly don’t fight “righteous” wars these days. Our nation remains divided in the extreme as we continue to battle international terrorists in faraway places. Indeed, today’s division has its roots arguably as we fought the Korean War, then the Vietnam War.

World War II was different. We coalesced behind the president. We drafted young men into the military and sent them into harm’s way.

We created “The Greatest Generation,” which was given that title in a book of that name written by legendary broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw. It truly was the greatest generation.

Many of us today owe our very existence to the men who fought the tyrants and returned home safely to start their families. I am one of them. My late father was among the 16 million. I am proud of what he did in the Navy to save our nation from the tyranny that presented a clear danger to this great nation.

We ushered in the nuclear age and near the end of that world war, we used that terrible weapon against those provoked us into the fight. The Japanese started it; we ended it. Just like that.

Thus, the world changed forever.

Those men who answered the nation’s call to battle are dying now. Only a fraction of them remain with us. They are in their 90s.

I’ll be out and about for the next couple of days. I believe I am going to thank any of those men I see wearing a ball cap with the words “World War II veteran” embroidered on it.

We owe them everything.