Tag Archives: World War II

Seek an identity, Princeton

The city I now call home needs to make a New Year’s resolution. I am not aware of any effort at City Hall to do so … so I’ll offer one of my own.

Princeton, Texas, needs to resolve that 2024 is the year when it locates a municipal identity. It needs to define it clearly, put it in writing if need be.

Then, under the guidance of an aggressive and progressive city council — and a city manager the council will hire eventually — Princeton should begin to develop that identity. It needs to make it a reality. It needs to say out loud and with crystal clarity that Princeton will become more than just a place where developers build houses.

One thing the city could do is establish a sister city relationship with a community overseas. Farmersville, a much smaller community about seven miles east of us, did so recently when it became a municipal “sister” to Holtzwihr, France. The two cities have someone in common: Audie Murphy, the highly decorated soldier who received the Medal of Honor for effectively saving the French village single-handedly from German troops laying seige near the end of World War II.

Murphy declared that Farmersville was his hometown when he enlisted in the Army. So it was a natural fit. Farmersville celebrates its famed son every summer with Audie Murphy Day.

I don’t know if Princeton has an obvious peg such as Farmersville. But surely it can develop a municipal relationship overseas to advance the city’s identity abroad.

I like living in Princeton, which continues to enjoy tremendous growth. Derek Borg, the former city manager, told me once he believed the city’s posted population of 17,027 residents was outdated before the signs went up along U.S. 380.

Borg is gone from public office. The city still hasn’t chosen a strategy to find a new manager. Time is a wastin’, folks.

An aggressive, progressive city executive ought to be charged with finding an identity to adorn the city’s profile.

So … let’s get busy. Shall we?

Yes, words do matter

Let me crystal clear: Donald Trump’s repeated use of Hitleresque rhetoric in describing the state of play in this great country should worry every single American.

Who might it worry the most? That would be direct descendants of those who went to war in 1941 to fight Hitler’s evil Reich, along with the fascists led by the bumbling Benito Mussolini and Hideki Tojo, the warmongering prime minister of Japan.

Trump is invoking terms like “vermin” and saying immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our nation.” The “poison,” of course, comes from those who are black, or brown.

This man is evil in the first degree. He must be stopped. He cannot possibly ever step anywhere near the White House again.

I happen to be one of those direct descendants of WWII veterans. My late father enlisted in the U.S. Navy on Dec. 7, 1941 … the very day of the “dastardly act” committed by Japan’s naval and air forces against our military base in Hawaii. Dad saw his combat duty in The Med and dodged bombs and bullets fired at him by forces loyal to Hitler and Mussolini.

Thus, I take this “vermin” and “poison” rhetoric so very personally.

Trump is a racist madman. He is out of control. He is the embodiment of evil.

‘Oppenheimer’: grim history lesson

J. Robert Oppenheimer knew the moment he decided to take on a monumental task in the 1940s that he likely would create a monster.

Indeed, that monster has been — more or less — caged up by nations around the world that have developed nuclear weapons. The United States was the first nation on Earth to develop The Bomb, and in August 1945, it decided to seek a relatively quick end to World War II by being the only nation (so far) to use the weapon in war.

“Oppenheimer,” a film I watched today with my sons, tells the gripping story of the physicist’s struggle dealing with what he created. It speaks to the awesome power of the atomic bomb and also whether scientists could perfect a bomb that fused atoms — rather than splitting them — to create an even more devastating weapon to use against our enemy in Japan.

On Aug. 6, 1945, Hiroshima felt the wrath of the first of two bombs; the second one dropped on Nagasaki three days later. Five days after that Japan surrendered.

Mission accomplished … in the eyes of those who believed the A-bomb was the better option than to send troops ashore in Japan.

The film tells a chilling tale of deception among the scientists working on the project. It speaks to the monstrosity that Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi and other brainiacs assembled.

“Oppenheimer” depicts a meeting between the title character and President Harry Truman in the Oval Office. Oppenheimer wonders aloud whether he did the right thing by creating the weapon. President Truman — portrayed in the film by Gary Oldman — tells Oppenheimer the world “doesn’t give a sh** who created it. The people of Hiroshima care who dropped it. I did that.”

Right there is a case study in nerves of steel by the president of the United States.

But the world still has this weapon in the arsenals of many more nations than anyone likely envisioned in 1945. May we never see its use in war ever again.


Nazis would spur Dad to action

My father wasn’t an overly political individual, in that he didn’t wear his politics on his sleeve or bellow his views out loud.

However, if there is a cause that might spur Dad into action, it well could be the emergence of these Nazi groups showing up at rallies to protest things like drag shows or those who are accused of mass shootings in schools, shopping malls or churches.

Dad was a proud Navy veteran who fought the Nazis from 1942 until 1945 in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. He endured 105 consecutive days of aerial bombardment from German and Italian warplanes.

He enlisted on Dec. 7, 1941, the day the Japanese bombed our fleet at Pearl Harbor; he wanted to join the Marine Corps, the USMC office in Portland was closed that Sunday, so he walked across the hall and joined the Navy.

Dad didn’t boast about his service to the nation or the role he played in ridding the world of tyranny, but he did speak easily about that time — when someone asked him!

I have been thinking of Dad lately as I see these stories about Nazis rearing their ugliness across the country, seemingly feeling comfortable and “mainstream” in spewing their vicious hatred.

This was the kind of monstrosity that the Greatest Generation suited up to fight after the United States entered World War II.

Dad was one of the 16 million Americans who answered the call.

And this non-political American patriot — the late Pete Kanelis –would be aghast at what he is hearing from the mouths of those whose forebears sought to kill him.


We must celebrate this event

All the men pictured here are now deceased, but the deed they performed 77 years ago in Tokyo Harbor will live forever.

The man at the table is signing his name to a document accepting the unconditional surrender of Japan in its war against the rest of the world. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur commanded our forces in the Pacific Theater of Operations.

The Japanese surrender marked the end of the bloodiest war in human history and, to my way of thinking, we need to mark this day in some official manner, the way we commemorate Veterans Day, or Memorial Day, or the Fourth of July.


I say this because I believe I have some skin in this game. I wasn’t there, of course. I would enter this world a little more than four years after Gen. MacArthur’s signature dried on the document.

My father, though, was serving in the Navy when the war ended. He was in the Philippines. Dad had served his time in hell in the Mediterranean theater, fighting the Germans and the Italians. He endured 105 consecutive days of aerial bombardment.

After all that, Dad was sent to the Philippines, I believe to prepare for the invasion of Japan. He’d already taken part in three amphibious landings: in North Africa, in Sicily and in Salerno, Italy. Dad was, shall we say, an experienced hand.

Then came one of the most fateful decisions in the history of the world. A new U.S. president, Harry Truman, was briefed on a weapon he didn’t know existed when he took office in April 1945 upon the death of President Roosevelt. The military brass told him the A-bomb could end the war immediately, and that it could save many more Japanese and American lives than would be lost if we dropped the bomb.

In August 1945, President Truman ordered two of these devices dropped on Japan. The enemy sued for peace five days after the second bomb exploded over Nagasaki.

Over the course of my career in journalism, I had several opportunities to speak to community groups. I spoke one day to a group of veterans at the Thomas Creek VA Medical Center in Amarillo. I spoke to the vets about political courage and specifically about the guts Truman showed in using those horrible weapons.

I received one standing ovation during my time speaking to community groups. I got one that day when I said, “May God bless President Truman.”

The way I figure it, President Truman likely might have saved Dad’s life when he ordered the bombs to fall on Japan and, thus, enabled me to enter this world.

So, you see, the surrender that Gen. MacArthur accepted that day aboard the USS Missouri is — to borrow a phrase — a big … deal.


Audie Murphy: hero who belongs to us

We toss the word “hero” around too generously at times.

However, I want to take a brief look at the real thing, an actual hero who happens to belong to a community near where my wife and I have lived for the past three years.

Farmersville — in eastern Collin County — claims Audie Leon Murphy as one of its famed sons. Why not? When he enlisted in the Army during the height of World War II, Murphy had the Army inscribe “Farmersville, Texas” as his hometown on his dog tags.

This weekend, Farmersville welcomed back its annual Audie Murphy Day celebration. The city had put the ceremony on the shelf for the past two years as it fought off the coronavirus pandemic.

The ceremony honors a young man who in January 1945, at the age of 21, saved a village in France from a German armored unit. He fought the Nazis virtually single-handedly. He earned the Medal of Honor for his heroism.

Murphy did not become filled with self-aggrandizing glory. Oh, no. He remained a humble man. He said often during his short life on Earth that the “real heroes are the men who didn’t come home.” Murphy died just short of his 46th birthday in a plane crash in western Virginia.

It’s more than just a little cool that one of our communities can claim a national icon as one of its own. Indeed, Murphy became the most decorated fighting man to serve in World War II. He received more than 30 combat medals, most of them for exemplary valor.

He knew what they meant. He wore them to honor the men with whom he served and those he watched die on the field of battle.

Audie Murphy was a hero to the nth degree and this weekend, Farmersville, Texas, was able to salute one its own.

‘OK … we’ll go’

Seventy-eight years ago, soldiers from the Greatest Generation of many countries stormed ashore on a French shoreline. Their aim: to liberate Europe from the clutches of history’s most despicable tyrant.

The D-Day invasion began. Within a year of that massive operation, the architect of that despotic regime in Nazi Germany would be dead. The shooting stopped. The rebuilding of a shattered continent would begin.

The ranks of those brave warriors are down to a fraction of those who commenced the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe are depleted now to a fraction of those who took part. Time’s relentless march has claimed those men, but we always must honor what they did.

The invasion force was led by American, British and Canadian soldiers who landed on five beachheads. They were supported by many nations allied in the common goal of liberating Europe.

I want to call attention to one of the Americans who led that effort: supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower.

He issued the order to launch the invasion with the simple command, “OK, we’ll go.” Weather had forced one postponement. Then the men set forth on their journey into history.

I want to call attention to a message that Gen. Eisenhower was prepared to share had the operation failed. Ike would take full responsibility for a failure had the Nazis been able to push the invaders off the beach that day.

He wrote: “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

He did not have to deliver that message. Instead, he declared to the world that the forces under his command had secured the beachheads and had begun their march inland. He didn’t take singular credit. On the contrary, he praised the gallantry and heroism of the fighting men who risked everything to secure liberty’s blessings for those who suffered under the most oppressive tyranny imaginable.

Gen. Eisenhower was the consummate leader.

All any of us can do so many decades later is thank those men for their sacrifice.


Juxtaposing two dates

I am going to juxtapose two commemorations with this blog post saluting a man who (a) didn’t die in service to his country but who (b) remains forever my favorite military veteran.

We’re going to honor the memories of the more than 1 million Americans who died in battle during the course of our nation’s storied history. Memorial Day is set aside for the laying of wreaths at cemeteries and for quiet remembrances of those who gave their last full measure of devotion to the country they loved.

I honor them continually throughout the year. I love watching the pageantry associated with the president of the United States laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown. I am struck by the tradition of soldiers marching back and forth at the Tomb and I am awestruck by the precision of their movements.

We should honor these individuals — the men and women who died defending us — whenever and wherever we can.

My favorite veteran, of course, is my Dad. He died prematurely nearly 42 years ago. Indeed, today would be Dad’s 101st birthday. He came into this world on May 27, 1921. He left it on Sept. 7, 1980 at the age of 59.

What perhaps is most remarkable about Pete Kanelis’s devotion to his country is the impulse he exhibited in seeking to serve it. On Dec. 7, 1941, when Dad was just 20 years of age, he was listening to the radio broadcast of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was so incensed at what was happening in real time that he left the house where he lived in Portland, Ore., with his parents and six siblings, ventured downtown and sought to join the U.S. Marine Corps … on that very day!

The Marine Corps office was closed. He walked across the hall and enlisted instead in the U.S. Navy.

Dad would experience his share of war’s hell in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. He would survive a ship being sunk; he would shoot down a Luftwaffe medium bomber and would participate in three amphibious landings in Algeria, Sicily and Italy.

He fought like hell against tyranny and was among the 16 million Americans who suited up during World War II to comprise the Greatest Generation.

This weekend belongs chiefly to those who fell in battle. I also want to wish my favorite veteran a happy 101st birthday and honor his memory for the service he delivered to the country he loved beyond measure.


How does Ukraine persist?

When the Russians invaded Ukraine I was skeptical that the Ukrainians would be able to declare victory on the battlefield. The Russian army was numerically and technically superior to Ukraine.

Then the Russians discovered something in real time on the field of battle. The first thing, apparently, was that they weren’t as fearsome a fighting force as they — or many of the rest of us — thought they were. The second thing is that they likely underestimated the Ukrainians’ will to fight to protect their homeland against a foreign invader.

What astounds me is that the Russians’ misjudgment of Ukraine’s will to fight would exist at all, given their own country’s military history.

In June 1941, Adolf Hitler launched the invasion of the Soviet Union. He likely didn’t think the Russians would fight to the death in the manner that they did. The Red Army then turned the tide against Hitler’s forces in a city once known as Stalingrad. Let us not forget that Ukrainians were fighting alongside Russians in their struggle against the Nazi invaders. Oh … the irony.

This is what happens when a nation invades another sovereign state. They learn that their adversary is committed to the struggle to survive and their commitment well could carry them forward against a supposedly superior military force.

We hear now several things are going badly for the Russians. They have lost several field generals in the battle; the Russian troops are suffering from low morale; Russian soldiers aren’t obeying officers’ orders; Ukraine is getting plenty of help from allied nations — such as the United States; the Ukrainians are putting their military hardware to good use.

Don’t get me wrong here. I am not about to declare that Ukraine will declare victory and that Russia is going to skulk off the battlefield. There likely will be much more struggle to take place.

It does make me wonder how much more humiliation Russian despot Vladimir Putin can take. Moreover, I will stand on my belief that Putin is not stupid enough to launch a nuclear strike, given his knowledge of how “mutually assured destruction” would play out.

If there is an exit to be found, my strongest hope is that Putin can look for it and get the hell out of Ukraine. I wouldn’t even mind if he decides to declare victory. Let him crow all he wants. The world will know better.


Ukrainians fight back

Fox News’s Stuart Varney has a theory about why Russian soldiers are bogging down in their advance on Kyiv. It has to do with Ukrainian citizens taking up arms and killing the invaders with grenades, rockets and assorted high-tech weaponry.

Varney notes that the Russians are poorly trained and have “low morale” among the troops.

You know, it sort of reminds of me another military action many decades ago.

In 1941, not long after they conquered Greece during World War II, Nazi Germany decided to invade the Greek island of Crete in the world’s first airborne assault operation. Paratroopers bailed out of aircraft and landed by the thousands on Crete.

They were met by rampaging Greek citizens who stormed onto the landing fields with shovels, pitchforks, rifles and pistols and slaughtered many of the invaders; in some instances, they beat the paratroopers to death with their bare hands. The Greeks couldn’t stave off the invaders over time, but they fought literally like their lives depended on their success.

This is the kind of reaction Russian thug Vladimir Putin should have anticipated as he launched his unprovoked and shameful assault on Ukraine. For all I know, maybe he did anticipate stern resistance, but placed too much faith in his troops’ ability to subdue the Ukrainians.

Well, you know what they say when one assumes too much.