Tag Archives: Persian Gulf War

Trump exhibits ignorance



Donald Trump’s ignorance of military matters is well-known, thoroughly chronicled and has become the talk of the planet.

But then the commander in chief said today that rank-and-file enlisted men and women love him, but that the generals and admirals at the top of the chain of command well … think a lot less of him.

“I’m not saying the military’s in love with me,” Trump said. “But the soldiers are.

“The top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t, because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy, but we’re getting out of the endless wars, you know how we’re doing.”

That was his response to a question today at a press conference about statements attributed to him in The Atlantic article, the one in which he reportedly called injured service personnel “losers” and “suckers.”

Trump’s astonishing, jaw-dropping ignorance drew a sharp rebuke from retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a Vietnam War combat veteran who led troops into battle during the Persian Gulf War.

McCaffrey noted that the individuals at the general grade officer level themselves came up through the ranks. Many of them saw combat as junior-grade officers; they suffered injury; they suffer from PTSD. Those individuals, Gen. McCaffrey noted correctly, are adamantly opposed to going to war.

And for the commander in chief to suggest they are in bed with weapons makers is as disgraceful a statement that McCaffrey said he has ever heard come from a commander in chief.

It’s instructive, too, that Trump would say such a thing in the wake of the blowback from The Atlantic article that attributes astounding comments from Trump about those who have sacrificed so much in defense of the nation.

To my eyes and ears, what Trump said today about the general-grade officers, alleging greed is pushing them into continuing to fight “endless wars” only validates the reporting that The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has provided.

The commander in chief’s ignorance about military matters, as Gen. McCaffrey has noted, makes him a menace to our national security.

It’s been 50 years? Wow!

Time has this way of reshaping attitudes toward institutions and the people who give them life and energy.

I returned to civilian life 50 years ago Thursday. I had been in the U.S. Army for two years. I left on Aug. 21, 1968, received my basic training at Fort Lewis, Wash., then my advanced training as an aircraft mechanic at Fort Eustis, Va., took a turn in South Vietnam, then returned to my final duty station back at Fort Lewis.

It was an uneventful tour of duty. It does, though, fill me with pride today as I look back on it.

My final duty station was with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, where I was assigned to a transportation company; I drove a five-ton cargo truck. Then I received a temporary duty assignment to North Fort Lewis, driving a 44-passenger bus that transported recruits to various training stations. The Army had this curious way of assigning soldiers to duty stations that had nothing to do with the training they had received. That’s what happened when I went to the 3rd Cav.

On Aug. 20, 1970, I processed out of the Army. Fort Lewis is just about 150 miles north along Interstate 5 from Portland, Ore., my hometown. I had my own car with me at Fort Lewis. It was my first vehicle, a 1961 Plymouth Valiant, with a slant-six engine and a three-speed manual transmission with the shifter on the floor. Kinda cool, you know?

I received my separation papers and then, dressed in my summer khakis, I drove home.

I was anxious to get out of my uniform. I mean, there were no “Welcome home” signs greeting me at the house. There was no party. Just Mom and one of my sisters were there. Dad was at work.

As I recall, Mom asked me to keep my uniform on and told me Dad wanted to see me at the store where he worked. I drove to the store. Dad greeted me and then introduced me all around. He was proud of the service I had performed and I remember fondly the reaction I got from Dad’s friends and colleagues as we walked through the store.

That was a different time. The America in August 1970 was a far different place than it is in August 2020. Americans didn’t embrace their returning servicemen and women the way we do now. I don’t recall feeling slighted in the moment.

I do recall, though, watching the change come over the nation years later as we welcomed home the men and women who served in the Persian Gulf War, when we greeted them with parades and ceremonies in city and town squares.

Watching those young Americans get that kind of welcome home filled my heart with joy and pride for them. Just as it does now when we see young Americans returning to the nation’s embrace from their fight against international terrorism.

We have grown up since those dark days when Americans somehow saw fit to blame the men and women who merely were doing what we were told. We took oaths to follow orders … and we did.

That was a long time ago. I am glad those dark days are gone.

More on the Presidential Medal of Freedom

I feel the need to flesh out a little more about the Presidential Medal of Freedom and why I believe it should be awarded to a leading American actor and activist.

The medal, bestowed by the president of the United States, goes to those individuals have delivered “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

I already have made a pitch for Gary Sinise, an actor of considerable note, as well as a fervent activist for military veterans and active-duty personnel. Sinise hasn’t yet been awarded with the nation’s highest civilian honor. He deserves it … in spades!

Sinise has become veterans’ most outspoken and visible champion. He embodies the sea change that has swept over the country in the past quarter-century or so, or about the time that our troops swept Iraqi forces out of Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War.

Do you remember how veterans were treated after the Vietnam War? I do. I was one of them. I didn’t get spit on. Or cursed. I did receive an indifferent response from those who learned I had served for a time in Vietnam.

That all changed about the time of the Gulf War.

Gary Sinise has become a visible and outspoken advocate for veterans over the course of many years. He has raised money for families of veterans, helped raise awareness of PTSD and other combat-related disorders. He has lent his good name to fundraisers. He has hosted public TV broadcasts of patriotic salutes.

My goodness, this man has contributed greatly to the cultural development of this great country, as explained in the Medal of Freedom criteria listed at the top of this blog post.

My message now goes directly to Donald Trump: Mr. President, if you can see fit to honor a professional golfer who won the Masters tournament — which you did when you hung the Medal of Freedom around Tiger Woods’ neck — surely you can do the same for an artist who has made veterans awareness part of his life.

Many thanks for the remembrance

A national day of remembrance came and went and it got by me until it was all gone.

Still, I find it necessary to offer a word of thanks for it.

Yep, it was a long time coming, but I’m glad it’s here.

I’m talking about the National Vietnam War Veterans Day, which is celebrated on March 29 annually. It’s not a longstanding tradition. It was enacted initially in 2017 after a group of Vietnam War vets presented Donald Trump, the president-elect, with a request to set aside the day to remember those of us who answered the call to duty during a terribly conflicted time in our national history.

Our combat exposure during the Vietnam War ended in January 1973. We turned the fight over to the South Vietnamese. However, on April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon, crashed through the gates of the presidential palace and accepted the surrender of the South Vietnamese government. They renamed the city after Ho Chi Minh.

However, the American involvement was hardly a source of pride for those back in the United States of America. Oh, no. Those of us who went to war weren’t treated the way we treat today’s veterans. We got blamed (and I use the term “we” in a sort of inclusive way, as I did not suffer this particular indignity) for following lawful orders. Americans blamed the warriors for the policies they were ordered to follow by their military high command, who received them from presidential administrations dating back to the early 1960s.

I landed in Bien Hoa, South Vietnam 50 years ago this past month. I spent a bit of time in-country, assigned initially as a mechanic with an OV-1 Mohawk surveillance aircraft company at Marble Mountain, Da Nang; I then was sent on “temporary duty” to the I Corps Tactical Ops Center in the city to scramble aircraft missions and to manage a helipad.

I didn’t fire my weapon in anger at the enemy, although I — like all of us — had to scurry into bunkers when the mortar shells went “boom” outside.

I was well aware of the hostility being heaped on my brethren when they got home. That went on for some time.

The Persian Gulf War in 1990-91 changed all of that. We actually won that brief battle in Kuwait. The nation was relieved and it showered the returning warriors with the affection and respect they deserved. Vietnam veterans generally didn’t receive it when they returned home.

But that was then. The United States of America has grown up since that time. We’ve learned, I hope, to deal better with adversity on the battlefield.

National Vietnam War Veterans Day appears to be an attempt to reconcile some past mistreatment of individuals who did what they were ordered to do and who did not deserve the scorn they received when they came home.

Hey, I harbor no hard feelings. I am just glad to receive a bit of recognition — along with many others who contributed far more to that effort than I ever did.

To the rest of my Vietnam War colleagues, I simply want to offer them a greeting a lot of us never got in the moment.

Welcome home.

Oh, how the nation’s attitudes toward vets have evolved

My retirement journey has produced a lot of revelations.

One of them involves the payback being offered to our nation’s military veterans. It’s still making my head spin, given how I have witnessed up close how our country’s feelings toward veterans have evolved over the past half-century.

Here’s an example . . .

I got off the phone this morning with the wireless telephone provider with which my wife and I are doing business. We’re about to terminate our TV/Internet service at one location and move it to another residence. The young woman on the phone informed me of additional discounts provided to military veterans. “Are you a vet?” she asked. I told her yes.

I called another number, got connected with another service representative, told her about my veteran status and then was told I could qualify for an additional discount on my phone service. It was simple, given that TV/Internet service comes from the same company that provides us with phone service.

We encounter this kind of “love” all the time. We walk into a restaurant and end up paying a little less for our meal because I am a veteran; we hired a moving company to haul our furniture to our new home and received a discount because of my veteran status; discounts pop up all over the place.

I understand this isn’t really a big deal to many younger Americans. The country has ratcheted up its appreciation for veterans since about the time of the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91.

Take my word for it, the nation didn’t express itself in this manner.

I served for two years in the U.S. Army. I entered military service in August 1968, one of the most tumultuous periods of the past half-century. I went to Vietnam, served some time there, came home and then in August 1970, I drove home to re-start my life as a civilian. The Vietnam War was raging when I went in, it was still raging when I got out. Americans were still angry over the conduct of the war and also at those of us who were following lawful orders.

Businesses weren’t offering veteran discounts for meals or for any other service provided to citizens. Those of us of a certain age know how our fellow Americans felt about veterans in those days. It wasn’t pretty.

I am grateful for the change that has occurred.

None of what we’re experiencing now is a surprise. It’s just that it continues to boggle my mind each time I encounter the rebirth of our nation’s generous spirit.

Bush 41 ended the Gulf War the correct way

I will now offer you my brief statement of support for the late  President George H.W. Bush’s decision to end the Persian Gulf War the way he did it.

They’re going to bury the former president later this week, but before they lay the great man to rest, let’s revisit one of the signature events of his presidency.

Iraqi dictator/madman Saddam Hussein sent his army into Kuwait in August 1990. He took control of the country. He seized the nation’s oil fields. President Bush was, naturally, quite alarmed. He summoned his national security team to the White House. They began plotting a strategy to respond.

He went to the United Nations. Bush then got on the phone and enlisted the support of 33 nations. He assembled an enormous international coalition.

The UN then approved a resolution authorizing and endorsing military action if the need arose. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker sought a diplomatic solution. They failed.

The massive force had gathered in the area near Kuwait and Iraq. They were ready. The UN resolution limited the mission to one element: get the Iraqis out of Kuwait.

The president gave the order. The aerial campaign started, pounding Iraqi defenses in Kuwait — and in Iraq.

The armored divisions breached the Kuwaiti frontier and within days the Iraqis were routed. They were on the run. Our fighter aircraft strafed the fleeing troops, killing thousands of them on the road to Baghdad.

Then the president called a halt to the fighting. We lost fewer than 200 American lives in the fight. The Iraqis were defeated.

But some critics at home — notably the “chicken hawks” who didn’t understand the consequences of war the way Bush 41, a World War II naval aviator did — wanted our forces to march all the way to the Iraqi capital. They wanted to capture Saddam Hussein, presuming he would surrender the way his troops did on the battlefield.

President Bush knew better. So did Defense Secretary Dick Cheney. Same for Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army Gen. Colin Powell, who saw combat during the Vietnam War. They knew what the UN mission allowed. They weren’t going to overstep their authority.

The end of the Gulf War delivered for a time a period of relative stability. Saddam Hussein — who never set foot outside of Iraq — was thoroughly contained after our forces destroyed his supposedly vaunted Republican Guard in Kuwait.

The containment wouldn’t last, tragically, after we invaded Iraq in March 2003 intent on removing Saddam Hussein.

However, there can be little doubt as we look back at the Persian Gulf War that we set forth on a specific mission. We accomplished it. We restored — yes, with mixed success — a sense of stability in a volatile region.

Taking the Gulf War fight all the way to Baghdad was a prescription for geopolitical disaster. I am grateful to this day that President George H.W. Bush reacted with reason, calm and with good judgment.

Still waiting on the ‘caravan’

I tend to rely on military men and women — experts on strategy and tactics — to explain certain matters to me.

So, when I hear from the likes of a retired Army four-star general who says the president’s deployment of thousands of troops to the southern border is a “political stunt,” I am inclined to accept that view.

Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a Vietnam War combat veteran, the former head of the Southern Command and an officer with command experience during the Persian Gulf War, has called Trump’s effort to stop a so-called human “caravan” such a stunt.

The president has sent troops to the border that now outnumber the troop levels we have in Iraq and Afghanistan. For what purpose?

He says the “caravan” is marching to our southern border full of criminals, “young men” intent on doing harm and “Middle Easterners” who, according to Donald Trump, are international terrorists.

McCaffrey, who says he knows Latin America well, disputes the makeup of those who are heading this way. He says they are fleeing countries that are corrupt, crime-ridden, poverty-stricken. They plan to seek asylum. They are refugees from oppression.

They are not “invaders.” Yet the president calls this an “invasion” of our sovereign territory. By whom? Families seeking refuge from lives of misery.

The caravan became a key campaign issue prior to the midterm election. The president sought to frighten enough Americans to keep Congress in the hands of Republicans. He said Democrats favor “open borders,” are soft on crime; he added that Republicans plan to enforce border security and crack down on criminal seeking to bust into the country illegally.

The election is over and — wouldn’t you know it? — the “caravan” rhetoric has been tamped down. Imagine that.

However, it’s still out there. Donald Trump has called in the military. He intends to order the “patriots” patrolling the border to stop the invasion.

Ridiculous. It’s all a stunt, man!

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.

Here’s a thought: Go after Assad’s house

U.S. military forces tonight launched a few dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syrian military targets.

Donald Trump ordered the strikes in retaliation for Syrian government forces’ use of chemical weapons on civilians, killing dozens of them, including children.

It was a reprehensible act. The thought occurs to me: The strikes hit military targets, but why not zero in on where the dictator, Bashar al-Assad, hangs his hat?

It’s not unprecedented. I recall when the Persian Gulf War started in late 1990. The first weapon was a Tomahawk cruise missile launched from the USS Wisconsin, the World War II-era battleship that had been brought back into active duty. The ship’s target? Saddam Hussein’s palace in Baghdad!

Saddam commanded the Iraqi military that had invaded Kuwait. He served two roles in Iraq: head of state and the supreme commander of the Iraqi military. President George H.W. Bush, thus, considered Saddam to be a military target.

Assad is just as ham-handed a dictator as Saddam Hussein had become. He also has a tight rein on his military forces. Therefore, he is a military — as well as a political — figure.

We should hit Syrian military targets. What the Syrian government has done is reprehensible in the extreme.

It does nothing, though, without the approval of the dictator who is in charge.

Make the dictator a target, too.

‘Rolling Thunder 2.0’ … perhaps?


Bring on the B-52s.

The Pentagon has deployed an unspecified number of the Cold War-era strategic bombers to Qatar to take part in the fight against the Islamic State.

The brass says the aircraft bring “multi-platform” forms of firepower to rein down on the terrorists. The Air Force describes the weaponry as precise and finely tuned to hit military targets.

Good to hear!

The B-52 remains one of the U.S. Air Force’s most potent weapons. It went into operation in the 1950s and has gone through several upgrades over the decades.

It poured thousands of tons of ordnance on North Vietnamese and Viet Cong targets during the Vietnam War. The planes played a key role in softening up Iraqi troop positions during the Persian Gulf War in 1990-91.

Now the Islamic State is about to feel the wrath of a weapon that our nation’s enemies always have feared on the battlefield.

My very first visual sight of the Vietnam War occurred as I peered out the window of a jetliner en route to Bien Hoa, South Vietnam in the spring of 1969. I looked down and saw a flight of the big birds flying out over the ocean after, I presume, completing a bombing run over South Vietnam.

Once I settled in at our Army aviation base near Da Nang, I could hear the thunder to our west as the planes fulfilled their mission. It was music to our ears, but it meant something quite different to those on the receiving end.

I welcome the news of the B-52 coming back into active wartime duty. I’m quite certain the terrorists who are about to find themselves on the receiving end of some serious pain will not.