Tag Archives: World War II

Ride on, convoy

NEEDLES, Calif. — As the saying goes about some places on Earth, this place isn’t the end of the world but if you get up on tippy toes, you can see it from here.

But it’s not without its charms. Tall mountains loom in the distance; palm trees dot the landscape. The weather’s pretty nice, too — except during the heat of the summer.

But my wife and I encountered a most interesting group of fellow travelers. They belong to a club that restores military vehicles. We noticed about a dozen of them at an RV park where we parked overnight.

One of them was a Royal Australian Air Force Mercury truck. (See picture with this post.) The gentleman who owns the truck, an Aussie from Queensland who now lives in Abilene, Texas, said the Merc is a 1951 model that was assigned to the Australian occupation force in Japan from 1946 to 1953.

Another fellow traveler, a woman from Truckee, Calif., said the group was traveling along Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles. Needles is near the end of their journey. “So, you must have gone through Amarillo,” I said to her. “Oh, yes. Lovely place,” she answered.

Most of the vehicles were half-ton or three-quarter ton trucks.

My thought was twofold: How cool to save these military vehicles and how what a marvelous journey to embark with friends and acquaintances across the country.

Our own journey continues as well. We’ve been more or less winging it as we work our way north from “the end of the world.”

More bombs did not produce ‘victory’ in Vietnam

“The Vietnam War” is coming to a close this week. I refer, of course, to the landmark public television series, not the actual war.

What are the takeaways from this epic production directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick and broadcast on PBS? I have so many of them, but I think I’ll focus briefly here on just one of them.

It is that the Vietnam War required us to redefine victory.

We fought the communists in Vietnam for more than a decade. We killed many more of the enemy than we lost so very tragically. We emerged victorious from many more battlefield encounters than the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese. As we have learned in the Burns-Novick epic, U.S. commanding Gen. William Westmoreland was obsessed with “body count”; he insisted that the media report that the enemy suffered far worse than our side did.

Merrill McPeak, a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War who later became Air Force chief of staff, noted correctly in the documentary that the United States dropped more ordnance on the enemy than we did in all the combat theaters of World War II. Think of that for a moment. American air power dropped more explosive tonnage on the Vietnam communists than we did against the Nazis, the Italians and the Japanese.

What we didn’t do and the reason we “lost” the war was because we lost our political will. The Vietnamese were fighting on their turf, defending their homeland, battling an enemy they considered to be “invaders.” They had more to lose — and to gain — than we ever did. Thus, it was their fight to win.

Are there lessons to carry forward as we continue to fight an even more elusive enemy, those terrorist organizations that have declared “death to America!”? Yes, certainly.

One profound lesson should be for U.S. politicians — or one in particular — to cease implying that defeating an enemy is “easy.”

We cannot just keep dropping bombs and sending young Americans into cities, killing enemy fighters and then expect the enemy simply to give up. We tried that in Vietnam. It didn’t work out well for us.

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have provided a masterful piece of documentary television. Just as Vietnam was the first war to be fought “in our living rooms,” my hope is that the educational benefit that’s being delivered to us via PBS will assuage some of the pain we felt as the fighting raged.

***

Politico has provided a fascinating look at a conversation involving President Lyndon Johnson and U.S. Sen. Richard Russell. The Burns-Novick documentary doesn’t report on it.

Take a look at the story here.

Swastikas are back in the news … for the wrong reasons

The “Greatest Generation” of Americans marched off to war in 1941.

Millions of them went off to fight the Empire of Japan in the Pacific; millions of others went in the other direction, to take up arms against the Third Reich and its fascist allies in Italy.

The Nazis who governed Germany did so under the banner featuring the swastika, which has remained the symbol of unequivocal evil over the decades since the end of World War II.

Events of the past few days have brought that symbol back to the fore in the United States. It’s good to ponder for just a moment the very notion that Americans would associate themselves with that symbol in any fashion.

The Charlottesville riot over the weekend involved Nazis who marched under that very banner yet again. They wore the swastika on their t-shirts, on arm bands. They adhere to the very philosophy that perhaps their grandparents or great-grandparents fought. Perhaps they lost ancestors in that conflict.

How in the name of all that is holy can anyone associate themselves with that philosophy? How can they in good conscience stand with that symbol of evil? Oh, wait! I guess I assumed that such sociopaths even have a conscience. Silly me.

I have my own deep-seated bias against that symbol. My late father enlisted in the Navy in early 1942, not long after our country entered World War II. He wanted to get into the fight right away and Uncle Sam obliged, sending him to Europe to wage war against that swastika.

And he did. His involvement in the Mediterranean theater of operations was intense. It was brutal. Men who fought under that swastika tried to kill my father — repeatedly and I am quite certain with maximum malice. Dad responded with equal intensity.

Quite obviously, he was able to come home at the end of the war. He got on with the rest of his life.

Over time, he talked occasionally about his war experience. He didn’t hate Germans. He did hate the symbol under which those young men fought against him. As I grew up, I was imbued with the feeling of hate as well for that swastika.

As we’ve seen over many years, though, not all Americans share that hatred. Some of us embrace that symbol. For the life of me I cannot fathom it.

But here we are, talking to each other once again about an emblem that symbolizes the very worst in our human existence.

And to think that the president of the United States has just elevated those who today are marching yet again under that evil symbol effectively to the same level of those who oppose them.

How would Dad react to these Nazi sympathizers?

I introduced you some time ago, dear reader, to my favorite veteran.

He’s my father. Dad served in the Navy during World War II. He saw plenty of combat throughout the Mediterranean theater of operations. Dad took part in three land invasions: Oran in North Africa, Sicily and in Salerno, Italy.

His ship got sunk during the Sicilian campaign. He shot a German bomber out of the sky while manning a deck gun.

I have thought of Dad during the past couple of days as national reaction poured forth about the neo-Nazis who took part in that Charlottesville, Va., protest; actually, I think of Dad — and Mom — every single day. The Nazis joined other hate groups — Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists — to protest the taking down of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, spoke for a lot of World War II veterans and their families when he said his brother “didn’t die fighting Hitler” just to let these neo-Nazis’ actions “go unchallenged.”

Dad died in September 1980. I don’t recall then the emergence of these neo-Nazi groups getting the kind of exposure they get today. How would he respond to them? How would Dad react to the hideous rhetoric that comes from individuals wearing the swastika symbols worn by those who sought to kill him in 1943 and 1944?

To be candid, I don’t recall having that discussion with Dad when he was among us.

However, I knew my father pretty well. He was a proud American. He was proud of his service defending the nation during its darkest time. Dad was one of the millions of Americans who comprised the Greatest Generation.

I believe he would be angry as hell at those who rise up to tear at the nation’s fabric. Although the name “Donald John Trump” wasn’t on anyone’s radar when Dad died, I believe he would be enraged at the seeming timidity from the president when it involves neo-Nazis.

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.

NATO never has been ‘obsolete,’ Mr. President

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization once was “obsolete.”

Now it’s relevant.

That’s the former and current view of the president of the United States. What changed? What did NATO do to regain its status as a dependable and valuable defense treaty?

Donald John Trump met today with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. The two men had a cordial and constructive meeting at the White House.

So here we are. The president who campaigned for office in 2016 while griping repeatedly about NATO’s obsolescence now says the organization is a partner in the fight against terrorism.

Will we learn from the president what changed his mind on this matter? Hardly. My guess is that even he doesn’t know, except that the secretary general told him that NATO matters.

Well, it does. It matters a lot.

The NATO alliance sits just west of its big and fearsome neighbor. I refer to Russia, which is governed by Vladimir Putin who — until just recently — seemed to be bound at the hip to Donald Trump. The bromance is fading quickly as the Trump administration starts turning the screws on Russia over its complicity in the Syrian civil war; oh, and Congress is starting to fire up the jets under Putin over his government’s role in seeking to “rig” the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor.

NATO matters

Yes, NATO came into being after World War II to deter potential aggression by the former Soviet Union. But in 1991, the Evil Empire disappeared, only to be replaced by another sinister governmental being. Russia has shown its aggressive self already, threatening Ukraine, retaking Crimea and blustering about re-conquering the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

NATO now comprises 28 nations. Its relevance is quite vital to the stability of Europe, which remains crucial to the national security interests of the United States of America.

If only we could get the president to stop yammering about how NATO must pay its “fair share” or else. It’s the “or else” that some of us find most troubling.

My curiosity persists, though. What did NATO do to regain its status as a partner in the struggle to maintain international equilibrium?

Spicer earns dubious place in flackery annals

As if we needed proof of the seemingly obvious …

Sean Spicer’s performance this week has confirmed what many Americans have long suspected, which is that he’ll go down in history as one of the most inept White House press flacks in the history of the office.

My goodness. How does one calculate the impact of this man’s performance as he sought to clarify, re-clarify, and then re-re-clarify a statement he made about the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons on civilians?

However, at another level, I feel a bit badly for Spicer. He is merely representative of the most incompetent presidential administration I’ve ever witnessed. Hey, I’m now 67 years of age. I’ve been watching these transitions with some interest now for quite some time. I’ve witnessed presidents assemble governments quickly in the wake of intense national tragedy and national scandal. None of them compares with the bungling boobery  we’ve witnessed with the Donald John Trump administration.

Spicer this week demonstrated precisely the muddled messaging that occurs with startling regularity.

During his daily press briefing, Spicer said — during the week of Passover, for crying out loud! — that Adolf Hitler didn’t use “chemical weapons” on millions of Holocaust victims. Huh?

He implied that Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad’s gassing of civilians somehow was worse than what Hitler did to European Jews prior to and during World War II.

OK, then he backed off of that … more or less. He said he meant to acknowledge that Hitler gassed millions of people, but was comparing it to Assad’s use of aircraft to drop chemical weapons on “innocent victims.” OK. Then, did he mean that the Holocaust victims weren’t, uh, innocent?

No, that’s not what he meant … he said.

Throughout all this stumbling and bumbling, he dropped in the term “Holocaust center” to refer to the Nazi death camps erected throughout eastern and central Europe during World War II.

Social media exploded.

Finally, Spicer spoke to NBC News and offered a fulsome apology for the mistakes he made. I give him great credit for refusing to say, “If I offended anyone … “, which I consider to be the phoniest form of apology one can offer. He took ownership of his inarticulateness.

He came to the White House after serving as press secretary for the Republican National Committee. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when Trump selected him. Then, during his first press confrontation, he excoriated the media for reporting that Trump’s inaugural crowd was far smaller than the one that welcome Barack Obama in January 2009.

Actually, young man, the crowd was much smaller. There was no need to scold anyone in the media for reporting the truth. Thus, we heard the term “alternative facts” presented for the first time by another White House adviser, the inimitable Kellyanne Conway.

The president keeps telling us that things are going swimmingly at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., when in fact they are not. The president cannot fill key staff jobs; critical political appointments haven’t been made. So, Mr. President, stop insulting our intelligence by repeating such outright falsehoods about your “fine-tuned machine.”

Now we hear that the annual White House Easter Egg Roll — set for Monday — is in trouble because the administration lacks the staff to assemble an event that has become a staple of first families’ occupancy of the White House.

Speaking of first families, where is the first lady, Melania Trump? Isn’t it her responsibility to put this event together?

I’m actually beginning to pity Sean Spicer. He delivered a clunker of a performance this week. It’s tough being the face and the voice of a presidential administration that doesn’t have a clue.

So, this is how we act toward our friends?

Donald J. Trump is unchained, uninhibited … perhaps he has become unhinged.

The Washington Post reports today that the president of the United States got into a long-distance phone tiff with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and then hung up on him.

What gives here?

The Australians are among our strongest allies. They’ve been with us through thick and thin. They fought with us in Vietnam, in Korea, in World War II for crying out loud!

According to The Post: “It should have been one of the most congenial calls for the new commander in chief — a conversation with the leader of Australia, one of America’s staunchest allies, at the end of a triumphant week.

“Instead, President Trump blasted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refu­gee agreement and boasted about the magnitude of his electoral college win, according to senior U.S. officials briefed on the Saturday exchange. Then, 25 minutes into what was expected to be an hour-long call, Trump abruptly ended it.”

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/no-%e2%80%98g%e2%80%99day-mate%e2%80%99-on-call-with-australian-prime-minister-trump-badgers-and-brags/ar-AAmwmJc?li=BBnb7Kz

Does the president really believe Prime Minister Turnbull really cares about the size of Trump’s Electoral College victory?

I am not yet understanding how the 45th president intends to conduct himself on the world stage. Maybe that’s by design. Perhaps he is doing all this on purpose to keep our friends and foes off balance.

But, crikey, mate! This isn’t how you talk to a long-standing ally!

The world is watching a ‘great’ nation’s turmoil

I’m watching the news today and getting an eye and earful about how the world is reacting to Donald J. Trump’s inauguration as president of the United States.

I received this e-mail message from a friend of mine in Australia. He is a worldly fellow, a keen student of U.S. politics. My friend writes: “We’re all praying for you … and ourselves as well. We’re all in this together. For historical precedent, check out Germany 1918-1939 or the Cultural Revolution in China. I honestly thought the extent of Russian involvement in the election was grounds for treason, but clearly the rules have changed!”

No mention, of course, of the women’s marches around the world that are occurring today.

I’m guessing women marched in my friend’s city in South Australia.

I won’t elaborate on his statement regarding pre-World War II Germany or what happened in the 1960s in China.

Suffice to say that, though, that the world — if my friend’s message is any indicator, and I believe it is — cares deeply about what happens in the United States.

What does that mean? To me it means two things.

One is that we are in fact the world’s most indispensable nation.

The other aspect is that the United States of America continues to be “great,” despite what the brand new president has bellowed to the contrary.