Tag Archives: Vietnam War

Sanders’s WH legacy? The destruction of the press office

Sarah Huckabee Sanders is leaving the White House with a remarkably dubious legacy. She has played a major role in destroying the office she is about to vacate: the office of White House press secretary.

Sanders has quit conducting press briefings. She no longer stands before the press corps and answers questions. No doubt some of those questions are aggressive, even hostile. The media have been declared “the enemy of the people” by Sanders’s boss, Donald Trump.

Sanders’s then had to face that group and attempt to convey presidential policy. She did a lousy job of lying on behalf of the president. For that matter, Sanders can be “credited” with being “transparent,” if you want to call it that. She lied quite openly, even in the face of evidence that contradicted her directly.

Sure, she got beat up. Then again, so did a lot of press secretaries over many previous administrations. I wrote a blog post earlier today about one of her predecessors, George E. Christian, who served as press secretary during President Johnson’s second term. The press savaged Christian, too, over the conduct of the Vietnam War. Did that man shirk his duty? Did he ever stop delivering regular press briefings? No. He answered the call.

Sanders chickened out.

Now she’s about to be gone. Who will the president appoint to succeed this individual? My hope would be someone who would have the fortitude and the character to do his or her job, which is report the truth to the media, which then would report it all the public.

I have little faith that Donald Trump will do the right thing.

Time of My Life, Part 36: Recalling a long-distance relationship

A Father’s Day Facebook post reminded me today of someone with whom I was acquainted while I worked as a journalist, but he was someone whose hand I never shook. Indeed, our paths never crossed.

Still, I considered him a valuable source.

He was the late George E. Christian Jr., who in the late 1960s became noted as White House press secretary during the tenure of President Lyndon Johnson.

Christian’s son, Brian, posted a Father’s Day greeting to his late dad today and it brought back a memory I had about my own long-distance relationship with George Christian.

I’ll be candid about one matter: I do not recall how Christian’s name and phone number ended up in my Rolodex. My file did have that information. There were occasions during my years in Beaumont and later in Amarillo — when I was editing opinion pages at newspapers in both communities — when I needed some “deep background” information political matters in Austin.

George Christian retired from the White House grind in 1969 after serving as press secretary since 1966. The end of LBJ’s presidency was plagued with lots of bad news emanating from the Vietnam War. Christian suffered plenty of wounds himself battling a skeptical White House press corps.

However, after leaving public life, he did not lose his affinity for reporters and editors. He ran a public relations firm in Austin that often put him in contact with some of his old nemeses. I wasn’t one of them. I was just an opinion journalist who at times needed some “expert” advice on what was happening in Austin.

There were times — I lost count of the number of them — when I would call George Christian. We would chat about this or that. I would ask him about the flow of laws being written in the Legislature. I would inquire about how he envisioned the progress of legislative initiatives.

George Christian always was willing to tell me his thoughts, or to refer me to someone who had more detailed answers to the questions I would ask. Most amazingly, he never seemed to tire of talking on the phone with someone he had never met face to face.

He was courteous, kind, professional and as near as I can tell, always truthful.

I don’t have many regrets about the career that ended in August 2012. One of them stands out. I regret never shaking George Christian’s hand and telling him how much I appreciated the knowledge he was willing to share with me.

Military service becoming a 2020 issue in POTUS campaign?

Here’s a bet I’m willing to make: If Joe Biden becomes the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nominee, he will not discuss the bone spurs that kept Donald Trump out of military service during the Vietnam War.

Why? It turns out the former vice president has a potentially dubious medical deferment issue of his own. It appears that childhood asthma kept the ex-VP from being drafted into the military during the war. He had a 1-Y deferment, which disqualified him from the draft.

Now, is it more real, more legitimate than the bone spurs that Trump claimed to have while he was getting those multiple deferments back in the old days? I don’t know.

Veterans across the country, though, are looking at the field of Democrats running for their party’s nomination. Of the whole lot of them, we have three vets seeking the presidency: Pete Buttigieg, a Navy reserve officer who served in Afghanistan, Tulsi Gabbard, who served with the Hawaii Army National Guard in Afghanistan as well as in Kuwait and Seth Moulton, a Marine who also saw service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

To be honest, this veteran — as in me — hasn’t made military service a determining factor in deciding for whom to vote for president. Heck, I voted for a draft-dodger twice, in 1992 and 1996. Yes, Bill Clinton’s clumsy explanation about not remembering getting a draft notice didn’t go down well with me, nor with other veterans. I feel confident in disclosing that those who did get a draft notice never “forget” that moment.

However, it didn’t deter me from voting for him for president.

Trump’s deferments do seem phony. He also continues to blather about hypotheticals involving that time. He said recently would have been “honored” to serve. Hmm. And this individual who lies about everything at every opportunity no matter its significance expects me to believe that?

I’ll just stand by my wager that Joe Biden damn sure should steer far away from this military service matter if he intends (a) to be nominated by Democrats and (b) then defeat Donald Trump.

The field is full of issues to raise against the president that have nothing to do with bone spurs, the Vietnam War and medical deferments.

Mr. POTUS, your service now isn’t the same as it might have been

I want to visit one more — and I hope final — time the manner in which Donald Trump avoided military service during the Vietnam War.

He received medical deferments related supposedly to bone spurs. Young Donald received several such deferments while young men were dying in Vietnam, a country that was “so far away,” as the president noted recently in an interview with Piers Morgan.

He says that his time now as president is making up for his lack of service when he was of age to wear a military uniform.

I also recall Trump telling us when he was running for president that his military school enrollment passed as more or less the same as serving in the actual military. No … it wasn’t even close to the same as what many of us were enduring in the late 1960s. Really, I know what I went through in the Army and I am quite sure that Donald Trump didn’t experience the things millions of us did during that time.

Trump says now he would have been “honored” to serve. Really? Well, I don’t know how one can refute such a contention, except to remind the president that he could have sucked it up, locked and loaded a weapon and, well, served his country.

He didn’t do it, just as his father didn’t serve during World War II.

Instead, according to congressional committee testimony delivered by his former friend and lawyer Michael Cohen, Trump once said, “Do you think I’m stupid? I wasn’t going to Vietnam!”

Mr. President, I don’t believe my service in Vietnam was a “stupid” act. I also don’t think others of us who did answer our nation’s call believe they were acting stupidly.

We merely did our duty, Mr. President.

OK, on this matter I am out … I hope.

Two Trumps made the trip to Europe

Well, the world got a good look this week at two men who serve in one body as the president of the United States.

What the world cannot shake, though, is the appearance of the “real Donald Trump,” who spoke over the other Donald Trump posing as president.

I will acknowledge the obvious. The “fake” Trump did a good job of articulating our immense national pride over the heroism displayed 75 years ago this week on the Normandy coastline in France. American, British and Canadian men stormed ashore to take back a continent living under the tyranny of the Nazi conquerors.

The Trump who posed as president spoke eloquently about the heroism of that operation and the victory those men achieved.

Yeah, I have heard the criticism of those who said that Trump merely was reading someone else’s words, that he doesn’t actually believe them. I’ll just say that he isn’t the first president who has read a speech penned by speechwriters, nor will he be the final president. Ronald Reagan’s marvelous “Boys of Pointe du Hoc” speech in 1984 was the work largely of Peggy Noonan, although Noonan seeks to give President Reagan much credit for adding his own rhetoric to that address.

However, juxtaposed with the Trump posing as president was the “real Donald Trump,” the man who sat before those thousands of graves marking the final resting place for fallen American heroes.

That version of Trump took the occasion to blast House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as a “disaster,” as a “nasty” politician and someone who cannot be trusted. He then blasted the daylights out of a former Vietnam War combat Marine, former special counsel Robert Mueller, as a “fool.”

If he had any semblance of understanding of the solemnity of the moment, of the place and of the event they were commemorating, that version of Donald Trump would have declined to answer the highly charged political question fired at him by the Fox News commentator.

But … he lacks all of that.

And that version of Donald Trump is the one that millions of Americans are talking about today.

Sad.

POTUS manages to trample on his own high moment

Donald J. Trump is not without some political skill.

He did, after all, manage to win a presidential election when every pundit in America was predicting his defeat in 2016.

The president also is quite good on a more dubious level. When given a chance to shine, to speak with high-minded rhetoric on behalf of the nation — he manages to trample all over his own moment of statesmanship.

Trump went to France this week to honor the memory of those who died during the D-Day invasion of Europe on June 6,1944, 75 years ago. He delivered a glorious speech to the crowd at Normandy. He said the young men who stormed the beach to liberate a continent were the greatest people “who will ever live.”

But only moments before delivering those remarks, Trump managed to tape an interview with the Fox News Channel. There he was, sitting before a cemetery filled with the headstones of fallen Allied warriors.

That backdrop was the perfect antithesis to what came out of his mouth. Donald Trump managed to call former special counsel Robert Mueller — a former Marine who was wounded in combat during the Vietnam War, who received the Bronze Star for valor in combat — a “fool.” He said Mueller “made a fool of himself” with his report detailing the conclusions he reached regarding the 22-month investigation into alleged collusion with Russians who attacked our electoral system.

While speaking to Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham, Trump also managed to call House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a “disaster.”

My point is this: Presidents don’t normally resort to that kind of partisan bickering while in the midst of representing our nation on the worldwide stage. They damn sure don’t do such things while commemorating monumentally historic events such as the D-Day invasion, an event that many historians describe as the decisive battle of World War II.

Presidents are supposed to recognize the solemnity of these events and behave accordingly.

Donald Trump doesn’t play by those rules. He doesn’t play by any of the normal conventions associated with his high and exalted office.

His base adores him for the crassness he exhibits.

It sickens the rest of us.

‘I was never a fan of that war’

Whenever I hear Donald Trump discuss matters of service to country or commitment to something bigger than himself — if that’s possible — I always am left with the feeling of insincerity.

Such as when he talked about the bone spurs that kept him out of service during the Vietnam War. He spoke of that time with Piers Morgan, the former “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant with whom Trump is quite familiar. Trump is traveling in Europe this week. He sat down with Morgan, who’s now a British TV personality.

Morgan asked Trump about Vietnam, the war and the bone spur-induced medical deferment he sought and received to avoid service.

“I was never a fan of that war,” Trump told Morgan. He said the war was being fought “far away” in a land that few Americans knew about at the time.

Hmmph!

Not a “fan,” eh? Well,  I wasn’t a “fan” of that war, either. In 1968, though, I damn sure knew where it was. I knew what was going on there. I accepted induction into the U.S. Army that summer. I swore an oath to protect the nation, boarded a bus in downtown Portland, Ore., and rode about three hours to Fort Lewis, Wash., to begin my basic training.

I completed that training. I flew to Fort Eustis, Va., where I learned how to service OV-1 Mohawk surveillance aircraft. My training company got orders for South Korea. However, I stayed behind to take care of a medical matter. They canceled my orders for Korea. I got well, then volunteered for duty in Vietnam. The Army granted my request. I arrived in the spring of 1969, served my time there and came home.

Let’s remember that according to Michael Cohen, the former lawyer/friend of Trump who’s now in prison for lying to Congress, Trump once declared that he “wasn’t going to Vietnam.” Cohen said during a congressional hearing that he implored his friend to get ahead of the Vietnam story, but said Trump responded, “Do you think I’m stupid?” and then said he wasn’t about to serve in Vietnam.

Did he declare himself to be a conscientious objector? Did he cite deep emotional commitments to non-violence? Has he ever participated in marches against the war?

Let me think. I seriously doubt all of it.

Trump’s reported declaration to Michael Cohen serves as a Trump-like insult to those of us who did answer the nation’s call during that time of intense national tumult and turmoil.

Thus, when this clown says anything about that time in his life and its intersection with that time of national crisis, well, I don’t get even the tiniest hint of sincerity about his not being a “fan of that war.”

Will the ex-Marine be cowed by Congress? Hah!

Now comes the D.C. chatter about congressional Republicans wanting to take a bite out of former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

Mueller has finished his investigation into whether the Donald Trump presidential campaign “colluded” with Russians who attacked our electoral system. He and his legal team wrote a 448-page report; he turned it in to Department of Justice; Mueller remained silent until this week.

Then he spoke for nine minutes and said he had quit the DOJ, is returning to private life and said that his staff could not exonerate Donald Trump of allegations that he has obstructed justice.

Now we hear that GOP members of relevant congressional committees want to subject Mueller to harsh questions.

Let me think about this. I believe the ex-special counsel has declared that Trump has committed a crime by obstructing justice. He said he couldn’t indict the president because DOJ policy prohibits a sitting president from being charged with a crime.

Oh, but now some members of the right-wing Freedom Caucus — such as Reps. Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows and Devin Nunes — want to eviscerate the former FBI director. They want to question his motives. They want to cast aspersions on his credibility, integrity, perhaps even his love of country.

Hmm. Well, I am one American who believes in Robert Mueller. I honor his decades of public service — starting with his enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps and his combat service in the Vietnam War.

I also am quite certain that this combat veteran is not going to be cowed or intimidated by some grandstanding politicians who intend to make names for themselves.

Those who know Robert Mueller have signed off on his impeccable integrity and his commitment to conducting a meticulous investigation. He has served the nation well.

I heard his nine-minute soliloquy this week. I understand what he said. He has said in terms that ring with crystal clarity that had he and his team been able to clear Donald Trump of obstruction of justice that they would have done so.

Congress, it’s now up to you.

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.

Here is to you, our national heroes

To my fellow veterans, I am sending you a note in a form I usually reserve for politicians. This is an open letter to you, our heroes.

You know who you are, even if you won’t acknowledge it. You are the individuals who paid the ultimate price for defending our nation against its enemies.

I want to share some thoughts with you on this Memorial Day. Your heroism hasn’t been forgotten.

Our nation has been honoring you since the Civil War. They used to call it Decoration Day. It morphed into Memorial Day. These days, of course, we spend a lot of time grilling outdoors, taking advantage of the unofficial start of summer. We play with our families, laugh and carry on.

But this holiday carries a deep and somber meaning. Your loved ones, those who still mourn their loss, always commemorate your heroism on battlefields far away. For them, every day is Memorial Day.

I once had the honor of taking part in the development of an exhibit intended to honor you. It’s in Amarillo. They call it the Texas Panhandle Veterans War Memorial. The then-head of the Vets Center in Amarillo — Pete Garcia, a U.S. Air Force veteran — asked me to write some narratives that would be engraved on one side of stone tablets; the narratives gave a brief history of the conflict to be memorialized. I did so, along with two other fellows who lived in the Amarillo area.

On the other side of the tablets contain the names of those Texas Panhandle residents who fell during those wars. Some of your names are engraved on the stones.

I was proud to play a small part in that project. It’s up now and is growing. Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell — a Vietnam War veteran — has added wonderful new exhibits to the memorial site: an F-100 fighter jet; a UH-1 Huey helicopter; and most recently, a piece of the battleship USS Arizona, which was sunk by Japanese war planes at Pearl Harbor. The memorial board has acquired the now-abandoned county annex building next to the memorial and hopes to turn the annex into an interactive museum.

The centerpiece of that memorial, though, is the names etched in stone. Two of them belong to Medal of Honor recipients: Marines Thomas Creek (who died in Vietnam) and Charles Roan (who died in World War II). They all are your brothers.

You’re all heroes. We owe you eternal thanks because you paid your last full measure of devotion to the nation we all love.