Tag Archives: Korean War

‘I prefer to eat with the men’

Take a gander at this lovely couple. They are my late uncle and aunt, Tom and Verna Kanelis. They played a big part in my life and in the lives of my wife and sons.

I am thinking of them this week as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving. You may ask why. I will tell you.

They visited me once when I was a teenager stationed at a U.S. Army post far from home … for the first time, I should add. They made me feel “at home” on the other side of our vast nation.

I gave thanks to them in the moment for their presence in my life. I am doing so now.

It was Thanksgiving 1968. I had completed my Army basic training a month earlier in Fort Lewis, Wash. I got orders to report to Fort Eustis, Va., where I would attend aircraft maintenance school, learning how to service twin-engine OV-1 Mohawk airplanes.

Thanksgiving approached and we got word that we could invite anyone we wanted. I called Tom and Verna and invited them to join me for a holiday meal at Fort Eustis. They accepted. Here is where it gets so very pleasantly strange.

Tom was an Army colonel. He served as a staff officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C. He was a decorated infantry officer, earning the Bronze Star with valor after seeing intense combat during the Korean War. He had enlisted in 1943, then went to officers candidate school to earn his commission. He served heroically.

When he and Verna agreed to drive two hours south from D.C. to Fort Eustis, I added his name to the guest list, noting that it would include “Col. and Mrs. Tom Kanelis.”

The commanding officer of our training battalion was a lieutenant colonel. Someone on his staff noted that an active-duty “full bird colonel” was coming and Lt. Col. Wolfe wanted to make sure Col. and Mrs. Kanelis were treated, well, accordingly.

Understand that I am watching all this through the eyes of a late-stage teenager. It was akin to an out-of-body experience. I was far from my home in Portland, Ore. I was preparing to learn an Army skill for which I had no experience. I might be headed to war in Vietnam. I was nervous.

My uncle and aunt arrived on Thanksgiving for dinner. I greeted them as they approached the mess hall. We went inside. Lt. Col. Wolfe greeted Col. and Mrs. Kanelis and damn near tripped over himself trying to ensure that Col. Kanelis and his wife were welcome and comfortable. I watched from nearby and could barely contain the urge to bust out laughing.

Then came the question from Lt. Col. Wolfe: “Would you like to eat in the officers’ mess or with the men.” Tom didn’t blink, flinch or hesitate. “I prefer to eat with the men.”

I knew precisely in that moment what Tom had in mind. He did not want to expose me to ridicule from my enlisted colleagues that I was getting preferred treatment just because I happened to be related to someone who outranked the battalion CO.

We had our meal. I enjoyed the company of two people I loved very much. They made my first Thanksgiving away from home one of the more memorable experiences of my life.

They’re both gone now. I miss them terribly. As for Lt. Col. Wolfe, I don’t recall ever discussing that day with him during my time at Fort Eustis. I hope he appreciated the self-control I demonstrated by not laughing out loud at what I witnessed.

Be sure to thank our WWII, Korean War vets

Their ranks are diminishing each day.

I refer to the brave veterans of two long-ago wars: World War II and the Korean War.

World War II came to an end in September 1945; less than five years later, North Korea invaded South Korea and the Korean War was on. Thus, the men who fought on World War II battlefields aren’t much older than those who fought in Korea.

Monday is Veterans Day. I am a veteran as well. My wife and I are going to breakfast in the morning at a restaurant that will provide free chow to vets who I presume can present some ID that proves they served in the military; I have the ID, so I’ll enjoy a meal on the house.

If I see any WWII or Korean War vets, I’ll be sure to extend a hand of gratitude for their service. I’ll know them if they are wearing a ballcap that IDs them in that manner.

These men and women are in their very late 80s and 90s these days. Sixteen million Americans served in the military during World War II; fewer than 500,000 of them are still among us. During the Korean War, 5.7 million Americans wore our nation’s uniform and my hunch is that their numbers have diminished to levels rivaling the WWII vets.

Sooner than many of us want to acknowledge, there will be no one left from those two grisly conflicts.

So I am pledging to shake as many hands and express my thanks and gratitude to as many individuals as I recognize as vets. My gratitude will extend far beyond a single day we set aside to honor these brave Americans.

And rest assured, by all means we should honor all the men and women who have served our nation.

All of them have earned our eternal thanks.

‘Thank you for saving the world’

I vowed a while back to start thanking World War II veterans when I encountered them. I would do so more frequently, except that I don’t find too many of The Greatest Generation wearing gimme caps with “World War II Veteran” inscribed on the front of them.

I did so yesterday, though, while shopping for groceries here in Princeton.

I saw a gentleman pushing a shopping cart. I walked over to him, extended my hand and said, “I want to thank you, sir, for saving the world.” The nice man smiled, took my hand, returned a firm handshake and said, “Well, we did what we could.”

That’s typical of those folks, all 16 million of them who suited up for World War II after the attack on our armed forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. I told the gentleman that he “damn sure did” do a lot to save the world.

I mentioned my effort to thank World War II vets in an earlier blog post, but a reader of this blog reminded me that Korean War veterans are getting long in the tooth, too. The Korean War erupted only five years after the end of World War II, so the reader is correct to remind me that I most certainly should extend the hand of gratitude to those veterans, too.

I am proud to be the son of a World War II veteran. Dad is no longer among us, but I offer these words of thanks and gratitude in his memory.

It will be a sad day, indeed, for the nation when the final World War II veteran passes from the scene. Oh, what these men and women did during that time of grave worldwide peril is the stuff of legend.

POTUS pans Biden, speaks well of Kim Jong Un? Wow!

Donald Trump ventured to Japan for a state visit, to meet the new Japanese emperor, attend a sumo wrestling match, play some golf with the Japanese prime minister, talk a bit about trade . . . and then bash former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and say nice things about the world’s weirdest tyrant, Kim Jong Un of North Korea.

Biden wants to win the Democratic Party presidential nomination next year and run against Trump. He’s taking the fight right to the president, saying some harsh things about his tenure in the White House.

Meanwhile, Kim Jong Un — who Trump has said he “loves” — launched missiles while threatening our allies in the region. What does the president say about Kim? He has faith that Kim will keep the promises he made to Trump to, oh, dismantle his nuclear weapons program.

Except that intelligence experts say he is doing no such thing. They say he is accelerating the development of those weapons.

It’s really strange, the way I see it.

A U.S. president attacks a potential foe while standing on foreign soil and then makes an expression of good faith about a man who is known to be one of the world’s most murderous despots.

What in the world has happen to what we used to consider to be normal bilateral relations? What has become of our inherent mistrust of one of the world’s most reclusive, unpredictable tyrants? Must I remind everyone that Kim Jong Un’s grandfather invaded South Korea in 1950, intending to conquer that nation and launching the Korean War, which killed more than 33,000 American service personnel?

I don’t get it, man!

Our heroic warriors do not ‘die in vain’

A social media acquaintance of mine tells me that Memorial Day is a holiday he wishes “we didn’t need.”

Amen to that.

I want to offer a point of view, though, that might puzzle some readers of this blog. If it does, I will try my best to explain.

My belief is that service personnel who die in conflicts that are deemed to be “politically unpopular” do not “die in vain.” I hear that kind of criticism leveled at our politicians and, to be candid, it makes my hair stand up; I bristle badly at the accusation.

Yes, this nation has been involved in armed conflict that has sparked ferocious political debate here at home.

In my lifetime, I suppose you could go back to the Korean War, which began just five years after the Japanese surrendered to end World War II, arguably the nation’s last truly righteous war.

The fighting ended in Korea in 1953 but to this very moment, South and North Korea remain in a state of war; they only signed a cease-fire to stop the bloodshed.

Vietnam ratcheted the political debate to new levels, beginning around 1966. The Vietnam War did not end well for this country. We pulled our troops off the battlefield in early 1973, only to watch as North Vietnamese troops stormed into Saigon two years later, capturing the South Vietnamese capital city, renaming it after Ho Chi Minh and sending thousands of enemy sympathizers off to what they called “re-education camps.”

The Persian Gulf War was brief and proved to be successful. Then came 9/11 and we went to war again in Afghanistan and less than two years later in Iraq.

We have lost tens of thousands of young Americans in all those politically volatile conflicts since Korea. Yes, there have been accusations that those warriors “died in vain.”

They did not! They died while answering their nation’s call to duty. They might have been politically unpopular conflicts — but the orders that came down to our young citizens were lawful.

I will continue to resist mightily the notion that our heroic military personnel died in vain. I know better than that. I only wish the critics of public policy decisions that produce misery and heartache would cease defaming the heroism of those who died in defense of the principle that grants citizens the right to complain about our government.

I join my social media acquaintance in wishing away the need to commemorate Memorial Day. But we cannot … as long as young men and women answer their nation’s call to arms.

In support of a ‘nation of immigrants’

I am feeling the urge to stand once again in support of an ideal that occasionally gets lost in the hot-topic debating point of the moment.

We’re talking a lot these days about illegal immigrants. The discussion once in a while gravitates toward a discussion of all immigrants. Yes, even the foreigners who venture to our country legally get caught up in this discussion.

I am the grandson of immigrants. All four of them became great Americans. They came here of their choosing. They sought a better life than what they had in Greece and Turkey. They married — in this country — and brought 10 children into this world among them. Five of those children served in the U.S. military and of those five, three saw combat in World War II and Korea; my father was one of the WWII combat vets produced by the immigrants from Greece.

My story is not unique. It is one of tens of millions of stories that the immigrants and their direct descendants can and have told over the years.

That is precisely why I am mentioning it here.

It is that this nation of immigrants must not ever lose sight of its creation and the strength it has acquired from the work of those who came here and who built the nation we all love.

Yes, I know that many of those who came here from afar did not venture to our shores of their own volition. They were rounded up by slave traders and shipped across the ocean to become “property” of slaveowners. They obtained their freedom eventually while the United States was fighting a bloody and gruesome civil war over their enslavement.

Those Americans have become an important part of the national fabric. They achieved greatness.

This ongoing debate over whether to erect The Wall along our southern border is intended ostensibly to curb illegal immigration. In actuality whatever is occurring on our border is a longstanding event.

But as we keep yapping and yammering at each other over whether The Wall is worth the expense, we must take care to avoid that slippery-slope debating point that swallows up those who have ventured here lawfully.

I have heard it said over many years that we need to slam the door shut, that we have enough immigrants here already. Indeed, the president of the United States has talked openly about establishing a merit-based system that screens those seeking entry, allowing only those who possess the requisite skills to succeed in this Land of Opportunity.

That is as un-American a proposal as I can imagine, given the contributions that those four immigrants from southern Europe I mentioned earlier brought to this country. They weren’t well-educated. They didn’t come with special training or skill.

Instead, they all came to our land intent on falling in love with this great nation. They did. The nation was enriched by their presence.

Let us not forget that they are far from the only immigrants who can — and who have built — the greatest nation on Earth.

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.

Last of The Greatest Generation

Of all the tributes that have poured in after the death of former President George H.W. Bush, the one that gives me significant pause is this one: He is the final member of the Greatest Generation who will serve as president of the United States.

Wow, man! Think about that one for a moment.

The past four presidents have come from the Baby Boom generation: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump; Clinton, Bush and Trump all were born in 1946, the year after World War II ended; Obama was born in 1961.

But prior to those men’s election, the nation was led by a number of men who had served during World War II. Jimmy Carter was born in 1924, but didn’t graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy until 1946. The others all served during World War II; many of them saw action during the great conflict.

Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy and, of course, Dwight Eisenhower all wore the uniform during World War II. It could be argued that Ike was the greatest among the Greatest Generation, given that he served as Supreme Allied Commander of forces in Europe.

George H.W. Bush also distinguished himself during World War II. He was the youngest naval aviator on active duty. He got shot down over the Pacific Ocean and was plucked from the water by a U.S. submarine.

Why is it a big deal to remember this as we honor President Bush? Because his passing represents the end of an era. I mean there will be no one else ever elected to the nation’s highest office who shares the history of the men I noted already.

The same can be said of Korean War veterans. They, too, have grown old. The Vietnam War generation comprises Americans who are getting long in the tooth as well . . . and yet, I hear that former Secretary of State/U.S. Sen. John Kerry — a Vietnam War combat vet — is pondering whether to run for president in 2020.

President Bush’s death serves as a metaphor of sorts for what the nation is experiencing with regard to the 16 million Americans who helped save the world from tyranny. We’re losing these men and women every hour of every day. I don’t know how many of them are left, but I do know they are in their late 80s and 90s. Time will take their toll.

President Bush’s passing should remind us of the need to appreciate the service others of his generation — the Greatest Generation — gave to the nation they love.

Vets could bring a return to congressional collegiality

I long have lamented and bemoaned the lack of collegiality in the halls of Congress. Political adversaries become “enemies.” They drift farther and father apart, separated by a deepening chasm between them.

There might be a return to what we think of as “collegiality” and “comity” in the halls of power on Capitol Hill.

It might rest with a large and hopefully growing class of military veterans seeking to serve the public in a political capacity.

They have shared experiences. They know the pain of loss of comrades in battle. They endure similar stresses associated with their time in battle.

I posted earlier today a blog item about U.S. Rep.-elect Dan Crenshaw, a wounded Navy SEAL who is among 15 veterans elected to Congress in this past week’s midterm election. Crenshaw is a Republican from Houston. I don’t know the partisan composition of the congressional freshman class of veterans. It doesn’t matter. My hunch is that they are going to find plenty of commonality once they settle into their new jobs and get acquainted with each other’s history.

The Greatest Generation returned home from World War II and the men who served in the fight against tyranny developed amazing friendships when they found themselves serving under the same Capitol Dome.

Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii became lifelong friends with Republican Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas; they both suffered grievous injuries in Italy near the end of the war, went to rehab together and developed a friendship that lasted until Inouye’s death. There were so many others. Fellow aviators, Democratic Sen. George McGovern and Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater became friends for life, as did Sens. McGovern and Dole.

The Korean War produced its own crop of veterans who entered political life together.

Then there is the Vietnam War generation, which also featured lasting friendships that transcended partisan politics. GOP Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. John Kerry worked together to help restore diplomatic relations with Vietnam. Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey and Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel both represented their native Nebraska in the Senate, serving briefly together on Capitol Hill. Former Vietnam prisoners of war found commonality: Sen. Jeremiah Denton, Rep. Sam Johnson, Sen. McCain — all Republicans — were among that particular clique of lawmakers with a special bond.

The latest class of vets joins a cadre of veterans already serving in Congress. Democratic Sen. (and double amputee) Tammie Duckworth is among the most notable.

There always is much more to life than politics. My hope now is that the new crop of vets find a way to lead the way back toward a more civil era in Congress. I pray they can find a way to bridge the chasm that divides men and women of good will.

I am filled with a new sense of hope that these individuals with common life experience can cleanse the air of the toxicity that has poisoned it in Washington.

Trump and Kim: a new ‘bromance’?

Donald J. Trump sent this message out via Twitter …

Thank you to Chairman Kim Jong Un for keeping your word & starting the process of sending home the remains of our great and beloved missing fallen! I am not at all surprised that you took this kind action. Also, thank you for your nice letter – l look forward to seeing you soon!

Nice note, Mr. President.

Any chance you could challenge Kim about reports that he’s accelerating his nuclear weapon development, rather than scaling it down — as he promised?