Thoughts on Veterans Day, 2016

I’ve never looked at my service in the Air Force as a sacrifice, nor as a selfless act. It was among the best years of my life and with them came many opportunities.

I came away from those days so much more the benefactor. I was blessed beyond measure to have been born in this country. It was the least I could do for it.

If I am a prideful person it’s for two reasons: I’m proud to have served in the military and I am a proud American.

On this day, while I salute all those who took the pledge — those who wear and wore the uniform — I remember especially those who I knew personally, those who never returned to their homes and family. The 6 crew members of a B-52 who frequented our fire station for the “good food and vending machines.” The F-105 pilot whose ejection seat malfunctioned killing him and another firefighter on my crew. And then finally a high school classmate, Robert Bolt “R.B.” Dickerson an 18 year old Marine killed in South Vietnam in May of 1971.

There were a few others I knew and served with who paid the ultimate price and whose names I don’t now recall. Of course there are tens of thousands more from that era and from various wars and conflicts before and after. It is them I think of today. Any other “sacrifice” pales in comparison.

D-Day – Taking the Moment

NOTE: This post was first published on June 6, 2013.

Today marks the 69th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Europe at the Normandy beaches of northern France.  “To set free a suffering humanity” is how Franklin Roosevelt defined its purpose that evening. Earlier in the morning Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower broadcast to the troops this message:

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade…. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies … you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. Your task will not be an easy one…. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle…. Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

Among the young Americans who landed on Omaha Beach in the second assault wave was my uncle Eli Lines. Two days later, somewhere far from home in the French countryside, he would mark his 22nd birthday.

EliandMaryLines

Eli & His Wife Mary circa 1945

But on June 6, 1944 as he fought his way ashore, fighting for his very survival — to reach dry, safer ground — left behind, he noted, were the bodies of hundreds of dead or dying Americans. The casualties at Omaha Beach alone would number in the thousands. He once told me, “the water was red with blood.” It was in fact the bloodiest battle in American history since the Civil War. The first 21-minutes of the 1998 movie Saving Private Ryan vividly depicts the chaos, the suffering, the inhumanity, the bravery. In reality it was far worse, much more difficult than portrayed. No movie could ever do that fight justice.

In 1945 when Eli returned home he like many of his fellow combat soldiers was a changed man, but no doubt a better man forged by unmentionable horror, suffering and sacrifice. One thing is certain, he lived a good and honorable life. My uncle is gone now and around 1000 World War II veterans die each day. Too soon the time will come when they’ll all be gone. But what they did and what they accomplished at those beaches and across Europe and throughout the Pacific — those young men of the Greatest Generation should never be forgotten.

The Allied landing on the beaches at Normandy marked the beginning of the end of World War II — a conflict of such vast suffering as to defy comprehension. Pulitzer Prize winning author Rick Atkinson wrote: “This is the greatest catastrophe in human history. There’s 60 million people who die in World War II. It’s a death every three seconds for six years.” In his new book about the liberation of Europe, The Guns at Last Light, Atkinson quotes a German general who called the battle for Normandy “a monstrous blood mill.”

Let us never forget June 6, 1944 …

Normandy Cross

Veteran’s Day – All Gave Some, Others Gave All

Today is Veteran’s Day.  Joining the military was without a doubt one of the best things I’ve ever done.  I will forever be grateful that circumstance led me to that day when I swore my allegiance:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

The day before taking that solemn oath of enlistment I celebrated my 19th birthday.  Like most new recruits I was young and not well prepared for those days of training, discipline, rules and the rites of passage just ahead.  But, I learned a lot and even shaved for the first time during those first few weeks.  I’d like to think I grew up a lot during those next four years.  The military changed my life for the better and it’s been a big part of me ever since.  It’s an honor to be a veteran. Continue reading

War’s Death Watch, Part 3 of 3

The following is the third and final installment of what was originally titled A Burial at Sea: Remembrances of a Casualty Notification Officer.USMC Eagle, Anchor & Globe  It was written by Lt. Colonel George Goodson, U.S.M.C. (Retired) and published in the Marine Corps Gazette in September 2007.  Because of it’s length it was divided here into three parts.  Part 1 was published Tuesday, part 2 yesterday.

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More Notifications and Funerals

More notifications and funerals followed.  My staff and I were numb.  The tension was palpable.  My marriage was affected; it ultimately failed.  My corpsman was so alarmed that he insisted on taking blood pressure readings on everyone–twice a day.  My staff and I ran 5 miles daily trying to reduce the stress.

My Last Notifcation: A Burial at Sea

One day while I was running, Sergeant Jolley stepped outside the building and gave a loud whistle, two fingers in his mouth… I never could do that… and held an imaginary phone to his ear.  I waved acknowledgement and went into the office.  Jolley handed me the phone.  It was another call from Headquarters Marine Corps.  I took notes and said, “Got it.”  I hung up.  I had stopped saying “thank you” long ago. Continue reading

War’s Death Watch, Part 2 of 3

The following is the second installment of what was originally titled A Burial at Sea: Remembrances of a Casualty Notification Officer.USMC Eagle, Anchor & Globe  It was written by Lt. Colonel George Goodson, U.S.M.C. (Retired) and published in the Marine Corps Gazette in September 2007.  Because of it’s length it was divided here into three parts.  Part 1 was published the day before while the final Part 3 was published the following day.

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Notifications and Funerals

Over the next 18 months I notified the families of 18 Marines killed in action, 2 missing in action, and 30 seriously wounded in action.  Despite the controversy that existed about Vietnam, I received sympathy and affection from virtually every family.  Once a mother said to me, “I’m so sorry you have this terrible job.”  With tears in my eyes, I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.  When I presented the flag to the father, mother or wife, I always said, “All Marines share your grief,” instead of, “On behalf of a grateful Nation.”  I didn’t think the Nation was grateful so I wouldn’t say that.

Flag Presentation U.S. Marine Continue reading

War’s Death Watch, Part 1 of 3

The following is the first installment of what was originally titled A Burial at Sea: Remembrances of a Casualty Notification Officer.USMC Eagle, Anchor & Globe  Written by Lt. Colonel George Goodson, U.S.M.C. (Retired) it was published in the Marine Corps Gazette in September 2007.    Because of its length it’s divided here into three parts.  Part 2 and part 3 will be published here over the next two days.

This story is a personal one, but shared with many from a unique perspective.  It is one Marine officer’s 18-month long experience as he notifies the families of soldiers killed in Vietnam when casualties were on the rise.  In 1967 — when this story begins — the U.S. saw the number of its soldiers killed increase from the year before by 81% to more than 11,000.  The following year 1968 would be far worse.  16,592 American G.I.’s were killed that year.  By the end of the Vietnam war nearly 53,000 would die.  Unbelievably those numbers pale to those lost in the Civil War, but by today’s standards they’re difficult to comprehend.

Someone once said: A veteran is someone who, at one point, wrote a blank check made payable to ‘The United States of America’ for an amount of ‘up to and including their life.’  That is Honor, and there are way too many people in this country who no longer understand it.

What follows is shared in remembrance of all our veterans who have served our country faithfully.  We especially honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice and to the families they left behind.  Thanks to Colonel Goodson for sharing his story.

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