Tag Archives: Vietnam War

Is this ex-POW also deserving of scorn from POTUS?

U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson of Plano is now my congressman. He’ll hold that title until early 2019. He will retire from Congress then and return to private life.

Johnson is a solid Republican. I am proud of his service to his country. You see, he got to Congress the hard way.

He is a one-time U.S. Air Force pilot who in 1966 had the misfortune of being shot down during the Vietnam War. He was held captive for nearly seven years. Seven years, man! He was tortured, sent to solitary confinement, denied sunlight and food.

He served heroically during his years in bondage.

And yet …

The man who would become president of the United States, Donald Trump, once said of one of Johnson’s Vietnam War colleagues — Sen. John McCain — that McCain was a “hero only because he was captured; I like people who aren’t captured, OK?”

Johnson became a member of what was called the Alcatraz Gang during his years in prison. They were separated from the rest of their fellow POWs because of the resistance they mounted against their captors. They were held in a camp about a mile away from what became known as the “Hanoi Hilton.”

Johnson was kept bound tightly each night in irons in a room where the North Vietnamese kept the light on 24/7.

These men were heroes in every sense of the term. I am aware of at least two Vietnam War POWs who received the Medal of Honor for their resistance: James Stockdale and Jeremiah Denton.

Stockdale was ordered to film a “confession” in which he would admit to “war crimes.” His response was to beat himself to a bloody pulp with a table leg, making him impossible to appear in any appearance in a propaganda film. Denton submitted to a filmed interview, but then blinked in Morse code the word “torture” to his audience in the Pentagon.

Sam Johnson also resisted mightily during his years as a captive.

As for Donald Trump’s assertion about Sen. McCain, you know how I feel about how he denigrated McCain’s heroism. Sen. McCain was one of many heroes who fought the enemy while locked up.

The same can be said of Rep. Johnson.

I hope one day to meet this hero … and tell him “welcome home”

Americans, Canadians: comrades in arms

I stumbled across an article that, given the current state of trade tensions between the United States and Canada, piqued my interest more than it would have normally.

Moreover, the article speaks quite cogently to a point that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made about how Canadians and Americans have died on battlefields together while fighting a common enemy; thus, the “national security threat” accusation leveled by Donald J. Trump seems all the more preposterous.

The article appears in “Vietnam,” a magazine I’ve been reading for the past few years. It’s titled “Oh, Canadians,” is written by Canadian historian Bob Gordon and it tells the story of how Canadians came to the United States to join the fight against the communists during the Vietnam War. Yes, it recalls how thousands of Americans fled to Canada to avoid being inducted into the armed forces during that terrible time of division, but it speaks as well to the sacrifice that many Canadians made because they wanted to get into the fight.

One of them, U.S. Army Sgt. Peter Lemon, in 1970 earned the Medal of Honor for his heroic service in defense of the United States of America.

The Canadian government remained officially neutral during the war. Many of its citizens were not nearly so reticent. They felt called to duty to aid their comrades in arms across the common border the nations share.

They have erected a memorial in Windsor, Ontario — The North Wall — to honor the Canadians who were killed or who are missing in action from the Vietnam War.

I mention this article today because of the stupidity of the notion expressed by Donald Trump that Canada represents a threat to our national security over their trade practices. He has imposed stiff tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, a decision that has alarmed and outraged not just our Canadian allies, but also our trading partners in Europe and Mexico.

Justin Trudeau finds that assertion “insulting” to the memory of those who have paid the ultimate price in defense of the United States of America.

Those who died in Vietnam on behalf of their American neighbors are among those to whom Prime Minister Trudeau is referring.

God bless them all.

Ali might get pardon? Eh? For what?

Donald J. “Ignoramus in Chief” Trump Sr. reportedly is considering a pardon for, get a load of this, the late Muhammad Ali.

Please, Mr. President, do some homework — for once, will ya?

The Greatest does not need a pardon. Do you understand?

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 1971 that the boxing authorities that stripped Ali of his heavyweight champion title violated his constitutional rights that (a) guaranteed his freedom of religion, (b) allowed him to protest peaceably the federal government and (c) allowed him freedom of speech.

You see, Ali protested the Vietnam War by refusing in 1967 to accept induction into the U.S. Army; he cited his Muslim faith as the basis for his refusal to be drafted. The boxing authorities then decided to deny him the right to earn a living by stripping him of his ability to box, to defend his heavyweight title. He was cast out of boxing for more than three years.

The nation’s highest court rectified that injustice by overturning his conviction on draft evasion. What’s more, President Jimmy Carter issued a pardon for all Vietnam War draft dodgers — and that included Muhammad Ali.

Earth to Trump: The Greatest of All Time does not need a presidential pardon!

Now, get ready for that summit with Kim Jong Un.

Sadler leaves White House … without a needed rebuke

Kelly Sadler has left her job at the White House. No one out here in Flyover Country had ever heard of her, until she popped off about Sen. John McCain in a closed-door meeting.

Bad call, Ms. Sadler.

Sen. McCain had called waterboarding “torture” and urged his Senate colleagues to reject the nomination of Gina Haspel to lead the CIA; he cited Haspel’s role in an “intensive interrogation” program. McCain knows torture, as he endured more than five years of it as a Vietnam War prisoner.

Sadler’s response? She “joked” that McCain’s criticism “doesn’t matter; he’s dying anyway.” What a knee-slapper.

She’s now gone. Donald J. Trump ordered a White House communications office revamping. Sadler is a casualty, having been shown the door.

McCain, of course, is battling a grievous illness. Sadler’s comment was totally, unequivocally out of bounds. It was tasteless and crass in the extreme.

I’m glad she’s gone. However, the president has not yet issued a public rebuke of the comment. He hasn’t yet said a word about how sorry he that a distinguished American politician was ridiculed by someone on his staff. The president has yet to say a word on McCain’s behalf or a word wishing him well as he battles brain cancer.

Oh, no. The housecleaning is aimed at plugging the leaks that made Sadler’s hideous “joke” public.

I am left, therefore, to conclude that Trump really is as heartless as other critics have concluded. A man with a heart would have told Sen. McCain he is sorry for the remark and then he would have fired — on the spot — the person who blurted it out.

What might have been had tragedy not struck

A gunman changed the course of American political history. Dammit, anyhow!

We are left 50 years since that terrible day to wonder what might have occurred had the shooter missed, or had a presidential candidate taken another route from a hotel ballroom to his next stop.

Robert F. Kennedy had just won the California Democratic presidential primary on June 4, 1968. A few minutes after midnight, he spoke to a crowded Los Angeles hotel ballroom. He said, “On to Chicago and let’s win there.”

He didn’t make it to Chicago. Sirhan B. Sirhan shot Sen. Kennedy, inflicting a mortal wound not just on one man, but on the hearts of millions of Americans who had hope that this individual could change the direction of a nation at war with itself over the conduct of a conflict in a place called Vietnam.

RFK spoke uniquely to a nation that had just endured the murder of Martin Luther King Jr., and watched as its young warriors were dying daily on battlefields in Vietnam with no clear strategy to bring that war to an end.

I have my own Bobby Kennedy story. I’ve told it before. I want to restate it here, but with a twist.

A week before he died, RFK was campaigning in my home state of Oregon. He would lose the Oregon primary to Sen. Eugene McCarthy. On the last night of that campaign, Sen. Kennedy showed up at a tony Chinese restaurant next door to where I was working.

I saw his profile back-lit by a parking lot light, grabbed a pen and a piece of adding-machine paper and ran across to where he stood with his wife, Ethel. I walked up to Sen. Kennedy, thrust the paper and pen toward him. He signed it “RF Kennedy,” and handed the piece of paper back.

Then he asked, “Are you old enough to vote?” Stupid me. I didn’t have the presence of mind to lie at that moment. I wasn’t old enough to vote; the voting age was 21 in 1968. I should have said “yes.” I should have equivocated somehow, perhaps by telling him I would be old enough to vote in 1972.

I didn’t. I said, “No, I am not. I just want to wish you well, senator.”

Bobby’s response? He turned around and walked into the restaurant. He didn’t say another word to me. It was as if I no longer mattered to him.

Well …

Did that single act make me admire him less? Did I lose hope that he could change the nation’s political course? No on both counts.

One week later, he was gone.

A little more than two months after that, I reported for duty in the U.S. Army. My journey would take me to Vietnam, where I got a brief up-close look at the war that had torn the nation apart and given Robert Francis Kennedy a reason to seek the presidency.

This will be a difficult week for me as TV networks will broadcast remembrances of what might have occurred had fate not intervened.

I am likely to weep without shame.

America falls back in love with its veterans … thank you

Grave sites are going to be decorated with flowers. Americans will flock to cemeteries to pay their respects to their loved ones.

These are special loved ones, though. They are Americans who died in battle. They died protecting the rest of us. They gave their “last full measure of devotion” to the nation they loved.

We set aside this time each year to pay tribute to these Americans. It’s Memorial Day, everyone!

It’s no secret that not that long ago, Americans didn’t always respond with love and affection for its veterans, let alone those who fell in battle. Just a couple of generations back, American servicemen and women returned home from Vietnam. At the very least they were greeted with what I have defined as raging indifference; the worst of those times came in the form of outright rage at young Americans who did their duty by fighting halfway around the world.

You’ve heard the stories about spitting on returning servicemen. Perhaps you were a party — in one form or another — to that kind of shameful conduct.

Those who didn’t make it home from the Vietnam War? Well, we didn’t honor their sacrifice — or the pain and grief their loved ones endured — with anything approaching the kind of love that pours forth today.

I am glad to see the nation’s attitude change. I am gratified at the maturing that occurred in this country. We weren’t used to armed conflicts ending the way the Vietnam War did, nor were we used to the domestic tumult and turmoil that preceded the end of hostilities.

Thousands more young Americans have given their lives since those dark days. These days we honor them, just as we give thanks to those who have come home, those who returned to their lives on the “outside.”

That’s how it should be. It is how it always should have been.

Memorial Day is the time we call extra attention to those grave sites and the names inscribed on them. They represent the best of a great country. We honor them.

We should thank them daily for the sacrifice they have made to keep the rest of us free.

C’mon, Ms. Sadler, just say you’re sorry

Kelly Sadler works in a White House where the Big Man — the president — never apologizes for anything.

She need not follow Donald John Trump’s lead. All she has to do to make an idiotic story dissipate is to apologize publicly to the man she disparaged so cruelly.

The man is Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain. He is fighting a grievous illness, brain cancer. Sadler, a mid-level White House communications office staffer, was attending a private meeting when she blurted out an insult directed toward Sen. McCain.

McCain had spoken against CIA director nominee Gina Haspel. He doesn’t like her stance on torturing enemy combatants. He has urged his Senate colleagues to reject her nomination to lead the CIA.

Sadler said McCain’s objection “doesn’t matter because he’s dying anyway.”

The story won’t go away. It should go away. All the staffer has to do is to stand before the nation and say she is sorry for her disparaging remarks aimed at a genuine war hero. You see, Sen. McCain’s opposition to torture comes the hard way: He experienced more than five years of it while being held captive during the Vietnam War.

Sadler’s demeaning remark has no place coming out of the mouth of a White House official who, I hasten to add, works for the public. That’s you and me, dear reader.

The president is entitled to withhold any apology if he chooses. My hope is that he hasn’t instructed Kelly Sadler to follow him down the path of arrogance.

My fear, though, is that he has done precisely that very thing.

Shameful.

‘A little bit of a victim’? Give it up, man!

Matt Schlapp needs to be slapped bald-headed.

The conservative activist has taken up some form of defense for the White House communications aide who said that Sen. John McCain’s criticism of CIA nominee Gina Haspel “doesn’t matter, because he’s dying anyway.”

The aide’s name is Kelly Sadler. Schlapp has defended her saying she’s a “little bit of a victim.”

No she’s not! She’s a thoughtless mid-level clown who popped off in private with what has been described as a “bad joke.”

McCain doesn’t like Haspel’s view of torturing enemy combatants. He urged the Senate reject her confirmation. Yes, he’s battling a life-threatening disease. However, he is of sound mind and is entitled to speak his mind about an important policy matter. And there is no one in the U.S. Senate who is more qualified to speak about torture than McCain, a former Vietnam War prisoner who endured years of torture at the hands of his captors.

Sadler popped off thoughtlessly.

Schlapp said this, according to The Hill: “Kelly is my friend. I feel bad she is going through this. She immediately called to apologize. She’s also a little bit of a victim here,” Schlapp told CNN “New Day” co-anchor Chris Cuomo.

The story has gotten national attention. It has serious legs and is threatening to keep on running until Sadler owns up publicly to her idiotic comment.

Spare us the indignation, too, over the leaking of the comment to the media. Big deal. All of those in the room are answerable to the public in the first place and millions of us out here way beyond the Beltway are damn angry that a White House functionary would be so cruel — even in “private.”

That is some defense of a ‘bad joke’

I guess you can stop referring to a White House aide’s tasteless and crass remark about a stricken war hero and U.S. senator as a “reported” or “alleged” utterance.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney has confirmed that Kelly Sadler made the hideous statement about Sen. John McCain in a “private meeting” at the White House.

What did Sadler say? Well, Sen. McCain came out against CIA nominee Gina Haspel because of her role in torturing enemy combatants. McCain knows about torture, as he was subjected to years of it at then hands of his captors during the Vietnam War.

Sadler said McCain’s opposition to Haspel “doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway.” Man, that’s a knee-slapper, ain’t it? No. It isn’t.

McCain is battling an aggressive form of brain cancer. He is fighting for his life. For a minor-leaguer such as Sadler to say such a thing — even in telling a bad joke — is hideous in the extreme. These kinds of statements do have a way of slipping through the cracks and into the public domain.

Budget director Mulvaney is trying to excuse his colleague? Nice try, Mick. It won’t work.

What’s just as bad, though, is that the president of the United States, Donald Trump, has been silent on this matter.

Sickening.

The Hill reported: “You have to have freedom to speak in a private meeting. We have all said things in private … that we would never say publicly. I think she handled it appropriately,” Mulvaney said.

No, sir. She works for the public. As do you … and the president. Public figures should be smarter and more sensitive than what Kelly Sadler has demonstrated.

Thank you for the expressions of gratitude

I was sitting with my wife, granddaughter and her parents this evening in a burger joint in Allen, Texas.

A little girl, about maybe 10 or 11 years of age, stood by the end of the table where I was sitting. She waited for me to finish saying something to my family members.

Then she said, “I want to thank you for your service in the Army.”

I was taken aback. To be candid, I was moved almost to tears, as I did swallow hard for a moment.

I had worn a ballcap to the restaurant. It said “Army” with the words “Vietnam Veteran.” You’ve seen hats like it, I’m sure. They feature the ribbons all ‘Nam vets get when they served during that terrible conflict.

What I got tonight was a demonstration of respect that (a) I didn’t get when I returned home from the U.S. Army in 1970 or (b) I never thought of extending to a military veteran when I was that little girl’s age.

She stood at the end of the table with a woman who I’ll presume is her mother. Maybe Mom told her to say what she said; maybe the little girl thought of it all by herself. It doesn’t matter one little bit to me as I write this brief blog post.

What we witnessed this evening is an ongoing sense of appreciation that our nation is expressing to those who have worn a military uniform. It seems to have had its birth during the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91. Communities across the nation welcomed those fighting Americans home with parades and salutes after their stunning victory in Kuwait. I witnessed one of those parades in Beaumont, Texas, and I saluted a flatbed trailer carrying a group of Vietnam vets who got their share of love from the crowd gathered along the parade route.

Who led the cheers for the Gulf War heroes? Vietnam War vets who weren’t shown that kind of affection when they returned home from that earlier war.

A little girl made my day. She made me swallow mighty hard for just a moment or two.

This old veteran thanks her — and all those who continue to thank me for my service.