Tag Archives: World War I

Trump’s belittling of brass simply stinks beyond belief

The history of Donald Trump’s pre-business history is well-known.

He sought to avoid service in the military during the height of the Vietnam War. He received dubious medical deferments citing bone spurs or some such ailment that kept him out of being eligible for military service.

He went into business. Made a lot of money. Lost a lot of money. Had mixed success as a business mogul. Then he went into politics. He ran for president of the United States. He won!

So for this current president to dress down men who have served their country honorably, in combat, thrust themselves into harm’s way is insulting, degrading and astonishingly unpatriotic.

Two reporters for the Washington Post, Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, have written a book that tells just how disgraceful Trump’s conduct has gotten with regard to the military high command. An excerpt from that book tells of a meeting in a Pentagon room called The Tank. The brass sought to explain the nuts and bolts of military matters to the commander in chief. He was having none of it.

He called the generals “babies and dopes.” He has told them they are “losers” and said he wouldn’t “go into battle” with them.

I am trying imagine, were I one of those decorated combat veterans, hearing such denigration coming from the commander in chief. The entire world knows this man’s history. We all know that, when he had the opportunity to serve his country, he chose another path.

Don’t misunderstand me on this score. I do not begrudge a president who’s never worn the nation’s military uniform. Two recent presidents did not serve: Barack Obama or Bill Clinton. Neither did Franklin Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson, both of whom led this country through two world wars.

What is so objectionable is the snarky attitude this president demonstrates to individuals who have done what he sought to avoid doing. That he would speak to these patriots in such a manner is disgraceful on its face.

My favorite veteran would enjoy the recognition he deserves

The picture you see here reveals my favorite veteran. He’s the fellow on the right, the sailor who is standing guard next to a British marine in front of a door where some highly sensitive negotiations were underway.

The sailor is Pete Kanelis, my father. The marine’s name, as Dad told me, was Tony. That’s all I know. The year was 1943. The place was off the coast of Sicily aboard a command ship in the Mediterranean Sea.

The negotiation involved the Allied naval commander in the Med and the British prime minister, Winston Churchill.

So, Dad had a brush with arguably the 20th century’s greatest statesman. As Dad told me the story, Churchill looked at him, asked Dad a question, then patted him on the head and said something like, “There you go, Yank.”

Dad will be among the veterans we will honor Monday. It’s called Veterans Day, a holiday that came into being known as Armistice Day; it was established to commemorate the end of World War I, which was supposed to be The War to End All Wars. It wasn’t.

World War II followed. The United States joined the fight on Dec. 7, 1941, with the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

I learned something profound about my favorite veteran on a trip to the Pacific Northwest with my wife in September. Dad’s youngest brother, Tino, told my wife and me about the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor. “I was 9 nine years old at the time,” Uncle Tino told us, “and I remember it vividly.” The family was listening to the radio news broadcast of the attack and its immediate aftermath.

Tino looked around for his big brother. “Where’s Pete?” Tino said he asked about Dad. He was gone. He had left the house in northeast Portland; he went downtown to enlist in the Navy.

Yes, Dad was so incensed at what had happened in Hawaii, he enlisted on that very day to get into the fight. He would suit up a month or so later. He would complete his basic training in San Diego, Calif. and then would ship out for Europe.

He got his wish. Dad took part in the fight to save the world from the despots in Berlin, Rome and Tokyo who wanted to subject the rest of us to their tyranny.

All told, about 16 million Americans took part in that great struggle. Seventy-five years later, their numbers have dwindled to just slightly less than 500,000 men and women. They are almost all gone.

Indeed, just this weekend, the last known survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack reportedly passed on. I fear the day when all those Americans who answered their nation’s call will be gone.

We honor them today. We honor all our veterans who have donned a military uniform — in war and in peace.

It is their day. As for Dad, I am immensely proud to be the son of an American who performed heroically and who, along with his comrades in arms, saved the world.

World War I, Vietnam: chilling symmetry

I have just watched a chilling, remarkable and utterly jaw-dropping film. New Zealand director/producer Peter Jackson’s documentary, “They Shall Not Grow Old” hit me like a punch in the gut.

It is a film pulled together with many hours of archived film taken from World War I. Jackson colorized the raw film, restored its quality to a stunning level and then added narration taken from audio recordings made at the time.

The documentary takes us through British soldiers’ combat along The Western Front, how they confronted the Germans, fought them hand-to-hand. How they endured the most deplorable living conditions imaginable.

Then at the end of the film, we learn about the Armistice, which was proclaimed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The narrative tells how the guns just stopped firing. The battlefield fell strangely silent after years of constant bombardment.

There was no celebration among the British ranks. They packed up their gear and boarded boats for the ride home across the Channel.

And then they were greeted by — you guessed it — raging indifference. Indeed, many of the men who returned home from the War to End All Wars wondered: Why were we fighting? What was the point? What was the mission?

To those of us who had some exposure to another war, the one in Vietnam, the baffling reasons for fighting World War I among the British warriors seems to ring so very true.

I had a brief exposure to the Vietnam War. I didn’t suffer the hideous conditions experienced by the men I just witnessed on film. I did come home to what I have referred to as “raging indifference.” Make no mistake, either: I, too, wondered about what in the world I had just experienced and to what end was this war going to conclude.

I haven’t given away too much of the film. Just take my word for it: Peter Jackson has worked a technological miracle with this documentary.

It’s a classic!

Our nation will survive — and flourish

Make no mistake about it: I am alarmed at the accelerating crisis in Washington, D.C.

Some Republican lawmakers, such as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, might believe that “no one outside the D.C. Beltway cares” about Russia and Donald J. Trump’s alleged involvement with the nation’s pre-eminent adversary. I, though, do care about it. So do millions of other Americans, senator; you’re just not listening to us.

Does my alarm extend to my fear for the resilience of this system of government of ours? No. Not for an instant.

I remain an eternal optimist that we’ll get through all of this, no matter what the special counsel’s report reveals to us. Robert Mueller could exonerate the president of any wrongdoing. Or he could lay out a smorgasbord of questions that call into fact-based suspicion about the president’s fitness for the job.

Whatever happens, I feel compelled to remind us all that this country has survived equally serious — and more serious — crises throughout our history. We endured the Civil War; we engaged in two worldwide wars; we also endured a Great Depression; we have watched our political leaders gunned down by assassins; Americans have rioted in the streets to protest warfare; we witnessed a constitutional crisis bring down a president who resigned in disgrace; we have entered an interminable war against international terrorism.

Through it all we survived. The nation pulled itself together. It dusted itself off. It collected its breath. It analyzed what went wrong. The nation mobilized.

Our leaders have sought to unite us against common enemies. We responded.

Here we are. The special counsel is preparing — I hope — to conclude a lengthy investigation. There have been deeply troubling questions about the president’s conduct. One way or another I expect the special counsel, Robert Mueller, to answer those questions. They might not be to everyone’s satisfaction. Indeed, I can guarantee that the findings will split Americans between those who support the president and those (of us) who oppose him.

But we’re going to get through it. We might be bloodied and bruised. It might take some time to heal.

It’s going to happen.

The founders knew what they were doing when they crafted a government that they might have known — even then — would face the level of crisis it is facing today.

USS Arizona artifact honors the fallen

Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell’s mission is accomplished.

A piece of an iconic historical treasure is now in display at the Texas Panhandle War Memorial. It is a small section of the USS Arizona, the World War I-era battleship that was sunk 77 years ago today at the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, by Japanese fighter pilots.

The event thrust the United States into World War II.

More than 1,000 men died on the Arizona.

Houdashell made it his mission to bring a piece of the sunken ship to Amarillo, to display it at the War Memorial, which honors the men from the Texas Panhandle who fell in battle in conflicts dating back to the Spanish-American War.

The judge told KFDA NewsChannel 10: “Pearl Harbor, the Arizona, is a cemetery,” said Judge Houdashell. “There’s hundreds of men still buried on that. We have a piece of a national relic and it’s a sacred relic. Very few people have a piece that big. There’s a little bitty piece at the WWII Museum but we have a huge piece.

He meant to welcome the display on Pearl Harbor Day, when the nation remembers the event that mobilized the nation into a new era of industrial and military might in the fight to quell the tyrants in Europe and Asia who sought to conquer the world.

I am delighted that Ernie Houdashell accomplished his mission, just as he worked to bring the F-100 Super Sabre jet fighter and the UH-1 Huey helicopter — both Vietnam War relics — to the War Memorial grounds at the site of the former Randall County Courthouse Annex in south Amarillo.

These displays are important to Houdashell, who served two tours in the Vietnam War himself and who wears his love of country on his sleeve. Indeed, they are important to all Americans, all of us who understand the sacrifice made by those who fell in battle. The names of the Panhandle sons who fell are inscribed on the stone tablets that stand on the memorial grounds.

They now are accompanied by yet another historical artifact, a reminder of the horror of the bloodiest war the world has ever seen. May it stand as the worst the world will ever see.

Let’s knock off the France-bashing

I am not a Franco-phile. I don’t live, breathe or think of all things French. However, I do want to ask the president of the United States to cease with the France-bashing as he keeps tweeting messages in response to criticism coming from our nation’s old and (usually) reliable ally.

Donald Trump fired off a Twitter message that said:

Emmanuel Macron suggests building its own army to protect Europe against the U.S., China and Russia. But it was Germany in World Wars One & Two – How did that work out for France? They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along. Pay for NATO or not!

Macron, the French president, doesn’t like the nationalistic tone coming from Donald Trump. He said so publicly in remarks over the weekend at a ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

Trump decided to return fire with the tired refrain we hear about France’s participation during both world wars.

I want to defend the French for a moment.

First, I am acutely aware that French forces were defeated by Germans in both global conflicts. However, I also am acutely aware of the resistance that French citizens mounted against the occupying forces. That was especially true during World War II. French fighters terrorized Nazi soldiers repeatedly after the fall of Paris in 1940.

Yes, the French set up a pro-Nazi government in the southern part of the country. However, the “Free French” forces played a significant role in major military campaigns as the Allies began their counterattack against the Third Reich. Normandy? North Africa? The French fought alongside their allies from the United States, Canada and Great Britain — and the Poles, Greeks, Dutch, Norwegians and Belgians.

One more point, as long as we’re discussing historical events.

It has been argued that the United States of America wouldn’t even exist without France’s money and military support during the American Revolution.

France has been ridiculed over many decades. Do the French owe the United States for helping free them during World Wars I and II? Certainly. The gratitude, though, ought to go both ways.

Thus, the criticism from the U.S. president directed toward the French president is unfair, childish and gratuitously petulant.

If only we could change human behavior

This is no flash, no great scoop.

Human beings have been going to war with each other since the beginning of time. Certainly since the beginning of recorded history, which also goes way back.

Thus, when human beings find it impossible to settle disagreements without resorting to extreme violence, we’ll always have veterans. Men and women are answering the call of their governments to take up arms.

I join many others in wishing we could end all war. However, that is perhaps the most unrealistic expectation one can have. I detest having to say such a thing, but you know it’s true as much as I know it to be true.

For as long as lunatics continue to walk the Earth, for as long as there are tyrants or would-be tyrants who seek to subjugate other human beings, there will be war.

The same can be said of the prospect of ridding our world of losers who assassinate world leaders. Indeed, the murder of a central European head of state ignited the War to End All Wars in 1914. Today, we are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of what became — sadly, tragically — as World War I.

There would be another global conflagration in the 20th century.

And others have followed since then. They all have produced heroes. They also have turned men and women into veterans. They were called to duty by their government or they volunteered to serve, they chose to sacrifice large segments of their life to defend our nation … or any nation, for that matter.

And, most certainly, many of them volunteered to sacrifice their own lives in their nations’ defense. We must honor them, all of those who served. Not just on Veterans Day, but every single day!

Can we ever end international conflict? Realistically, no.

Instead, we will continue to honor those who defended us — from ourselves. We’ll do so until someone finds a way to change human behavior.

Good luck with that.

Trump — naturally! — blames others for parade cancellation

Donald J. Trump’s penchant for passing the responsibility buck remains intact.

The president wanted to stage a military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue ostensibly to honor veterans on the 100th anniversary of signing the armistice that ended the War to End All Wars.

Then the cost of the parade came in. He estimated the cost initially at $12 million. But wait! The cost escalated to an estimated $92 million. Trump called it off, suggesting he might try again next year. Phooey!

Who’s to blame? Trump lays it at the feet of Washington, D.C. officials who — one can only surmise — comprise Democrats intending to stick it to the Republican president.

As The Hill reported: “The local politicians who run Washington, D.C. (poorly) know a windfall when they see it. When asked to give us a price for holding a great celebratory military parade, they wanted a number so ridiculously high that I cancelled it. Never let someone hold you up! I will instead attend the big parade already scheduled at Andrews Air Force Base on a different date, & go to the Paris parade, celebrating the end of the War, on November 11th,” Trump wrote.

“Maybe we will do something next year in D.C. when the cost comes WAY DOWN,” he added. “Now we can buy some more jet fighters!”

Or, how about this, Mr. President? How about putting some of that money into helping veterans who need primary medical care, or who might need counseling to deal with the symptoms of PTSD? Or, maybe you could suggest spending more to combat the alarming rates of suicide among veterans returning from combat duty in Afghanistan, Iraq or other trouble spots where we’ve send our men and women into harm’s way.

What’s more, the president can stop laying blame on others and accept the reality that just maybe he low-balled the cost at the outset, not having an idea what such an ostentatious demonstration of military might would cost.

Trump managed to yank spotlight from WWII heroes

Leave it to the inimitable Donald John Trump Sr. to do the seemingly impossible.

Three men — all heroes from World War II — came to the White House recently to be honored for their exploits during the great conflict.

So, what did the president do? With a thoughtless, careless quip he turned attention from the men and those who they represent and turned it onto himself for all the wrong reasons.

He said he “liked” the men who stood with him in the White House. He then chided a member of the U.S. Senate who has said she, too, has Native American heritage in her background. Trump just had to call Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas,” which he has used for years to deride her claim. That’s what the media have been talking about, not about the men who served so heroically.

The men are Code Talkers. They are of Navajo descent. They were deployed as Marines during World War II to communicate battle plans and intelligence in a language the Japanese couldn’t de-code. They were instrumental in several key Pacific Theater battles.

CNN.com published a story chronicling the men’s heroics.

See the story here.

The story notes that the use of Native American tongues in war began in World War I, when Choctaw soldiers spoke to each other to confound the Germans on the other side of the battle lines. But in the period between the world wars, the Germans figured out that language.

The Navajo was more difficult to decipher. As CNN.com noted, it isn’t a written language. Therefore, the enemy was unable to figure what they were listening to when the Navajo Marines were communicating.

They risked their lives. They fought for their country.

Only 13 of the Code Talkers are still living. They all are old men who are suffering the usual ravages of aging.

The president should have known better than to yank the spotlight from those heroes. He should have shown a semblance of class and grace as he welcomed these brave Americans to salute their commitment to their country.

Indeed, if the president understood or appreciated anything about the sacrifice these men paid, he might have seen fit to keep his mouth shut about a political foe.

 

Putting our troubles into perspective

Michael Grauer is a well-read student of history, which is a good thing, given his standing at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, Texas.

The curator of art at the PPHM came to our Rotary Club today and delivered an enthusiastic talk about World War I, which he calls “the forgotten war.” Grauer has worked at the PPHM since 1987. That’s 30 years chronicling the Panhandle’s history and its contributions to global progress.

WWI was called “The Great War,” or just “The War,” because no one ever thought there would be a second world war, Grauer said. How wrong they all war.

But he added some details about the nature of the conflict that consumed Europe from 1914 until 1918 when, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, they signed the Treaty of Versailles.

He told us that the Texas Panhandle contributed thousands of horses and mules to the war. The animals were used to haul artillery pieces, supplies and ambulance wagons. The average life span of the animals on the battlefield, Grauer said, was 10 days. They would be shot in the heat of battle and then left to rot on the field. “The stench of death was everywhere,” he said.

The men who fought in the trenches had their boots rot off their feet as they slogged through mud for weeks and months on end.

The wagons used to carry supplies and evacuate the wounded from the field of battle would break down in the mud.

You want some perspective? “When you drive your car and you’re 20 minutes late to where you want to be,” he said, “think of what those men went through.”

All our WWI vets are gone now. I wish I could tell just one of them how much I appreciate what they did and salute them for the utter hell they endured fighting a 20th-century war with 19th-century technology.

Grauer is right. I don’t think I’m going to grouse any longer about traffic holdups.