Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Righting a Wrong

I was reading a news story this week about the Duke University woes surrounding the now old news about so-called spoiled rich kids running amok as BMOCs (Big Men on Campus).

You remember the story – three lacrosse players on the top-ranked 2006 Duke lacrosse team were accused of raping a female “entertainer” at a party attended by lots of frat boys out for a fun evening. The entertainer, a young black woman, claims she was sexually assaulted by three white guys from the lacrosse team. Her story changed more frequently than a baby’s diapers. She simply was not credible. What followed was a despicable miscarriage of justice. Duke University immediately declared that their esteemed academic institution was innocent of any wrong-doing, roundly condemning the three lacrosse players, and declaring them guilty before an investigation was even started. In other words, these young men were guilty before proven innocent. And they were thrown to the wolves.

The snowball effect began in earnest. The coach of the lacrosse team was pressured to resign; the lacrosse team’s schedule was cancelled for the season; the families of the players were abandoned by the school; and the Durham County Attorney General, Mike Nifong, who was up for reelection, declared the boys guilty before any investigation or evidence had been gathered. Everything was centered on the admission of the girl’s verbal statement that she had been raped. The following are just a few of the remarks made by Nifong who never interviewed her: He repeatedly said that he was "confident that a rape occurred," calling the players "a bunch of hooligans" whose "daddies could buy them expensive lawyers." Nifong initially garnered strong support in some quarters such as the Duke faculty and administration, the national media, and feminist and minority groups, for his willingness to pursue sexual assault charges (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Nifong).

The story quickly got out of control as the university and the state’s attorney general looked to protect themselves. They used the media to portray these young men as out of control rich white kids who have no regard for others. They were painted with an entitlement attitude, elevating them to an elitist class. The only problem is – this is not an accurate picture of these young men or their families. Instead, they found themselves publicly branded with all the vile, crass diatribes associated with misogyny, sexism and racism. They were lambasted daily by the authorities of Duke University and the government officials of Durham, North Carolina, including the police department.

So where should these young men turn for help if the University, the Police Department, the County Attorney General, and the media all had these young men accused, tried and found guilty before a single shred of evidence was ever brought to light? The bull’s-eye was squarely on them.

Folks, the United States of America is where a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. May it ever be so.

The three Duke lacrosse players brought a federal lawsuit against Nifong; the city of Durham; the lab where the DNA tests were conducted; and the former police chief along with several others in the department. I hope they win. But how do you get your reputation back?

Nifong was removed from his position as DA, losing his law license. He has now claimed bankruptcy due to the lawsuits brought against him. Pardon me if I do not shed a tear. He shamelessly abused his position and should have performed his job as DA the way his constituents would have expected.

Now there are thirty-eight additional Duke lacrosse players who are bringing a civil lawsuit against Duke University for “turning its back on them.” These young men have also suffered from the injustices foisted on their teammates. Although the athletes have attempted to resolve their own discrediting, there has continued a bunker mentality within the walls of this academic institution. Sad.

Please understand – I am not in favor of this present trend in our society where everyone wants to sue someone over the slightest matter. Spilling hot coffee on yourself after removing the cover while in a motor vehicle is foolish. The person who ordered the hot drink should learn from this by not doing it again – not by suing McDonalds for providing her with what she ordered. Seems like there are way too many folks looking for deep pockets to pick.

But in this case, where the lives of these college students have been tarnished, possibly beyond repair, I believe they have every right to correct this wrong that was brought against them by those in society who should have been defending their rights, not abusing their rights.

Think about it. Suppose you were unjustly accused of a crime, and you had the very authorities who are supposed to protect your rights coming after you. Where would you turn? Who would be there in your defense?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Berkeley - Getting it Wrong

Amazing! The Marine Corps recruiting office in Berkeley, California, a city infamous for its protests of the Vietnam War, is once again making news by officially ordering the United States Marine Corps Recruiting Office to leave their fair city. Why? Because the Marines are “uninvited and unwelcome intruders.” Are you kidding me?

I enlisted in the Marine Corps in Oakland, California. It was in late ‘72 after returning from Vietnam that I found myself assigned to a Marine squadron at Naval Air Station Alameda. As part of the instruction we were given while serving in the Bay Area, we were told we could not wear our uniform off the base. I was appalled! This is the United States of America, for crying out loud! I remembered as a kid how proud I was when my step father (a WWII Marine) would pull over and offer a ride to a military member hitch-hiking home on leave.

Now, I’m all about standing on principle and being prepared to take the heat if your view is not well received. So if the Berkeley City Council truly believed the presence of the Marine Corps Recruiting Office was undesirable, then fine. They should be prepared to count the cost. How interesting, then, that the Berkeley City Council has seen the error of their ways! But have they really? Or have they simply felt the heat of outraged state and federal politicians who have introduced the Semper Fi Act which would rescind more than two million dollars of federal funds to the City of Berkeley. This is when you find out if your principles mean something.

This morning I received a newspaper article forwarded in an e-mail by my retired Marine colonel brother stating that lawmakers are still going to pull the financial plug on Berkeley despite their half-baked apologies to no one in particular. The article reports that, “The new statement – written by Mayor Tom Bates and council members Max Anderson, Linda Maio and Darryl Moore – said the council opposes ‘the recruitment of our young people into this war,’ yet emphasizes that ‘we deeply respect and support the men and women in our armed forces.’” Oh please! This is so weak and predictable. May I remind the Berkeley council members that we have had an All-Volunteer Military for more than thirty years! Young people who join the military today do so voluntarily. In a freedom-loving, democratic republic, we call this “choice.” Get used to it.

Just recently I ran across a poem written by Navy corpsman Robert L. Owens, who is currently serving with the Marines in Afghanistan. It is entitled: Bury Me Next to a Marine.

“Bury me next to a Marine, when my time has come to an end;
So I can spend eternity, beside my brother and friend.

I’ve served beside him for years, and they’ve inspired me every day.
They’ve never asked for anything, so a debt I can never repay.

None of them served for glory, none for money or fame.
But they’ve served in every clime and place, heroes with but one name.

No one will ever outdo them, their honor is never outdone.
They will all go down in history, as America’s favorite sons.

Marines will never fail you, and their guard will never cease.
Please bury me next to a Marine, so I may rest in peace.”

City Council Member, Gordon Wozniak, said city leaders need to apologize to the Marines. “This issue is not the war,” he said. “It’s what the City Council did. Individuals have the right to choose and we should not impede that. We’ve embarrassed our city.”

Councilman Wozniak closed his comments with this clincher. “To err is human, but to really screw up, it takes the Berkeley City Council.” Good for Councilman Wozniak!

I rather liked my brother’s closing comments in a letter he sent to the Berkeley City Council on February 4. He said, “Should any of you on the Berkeley City Council ever want to visit my little village of Great Falls, Virginia, please know, with the exception of Mr. Wozniak, that I will consider you an ‘uninvited and unwelcome intruder.’ I think the vast majority of Americans share my revulsion at your lack of leadership and fundamental failure of courage.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Gold Star Parents

My intention in writing this article is to share a recent experience with you that was like no other I’ve ever known. Several months ago I was invited to participate as a counselor at the annual Gold Star Parents conference in San Francisco, January 31 to February 1. The venue was the Marines' Memorial Club, an historic twelve-story building in the “City by the Bay.”

Gold Star Parents are those who have had a family member killed while serving in the military during times of war. This gathering was for California Gold Star Parents, hosted by the California Blue Star Moms. The Blue Star Moms are those who have a family member currently serving in the military.

The history of Blue and Gold Star Parents originated in the United States during World War I. It began with families with loved ones serving in the war coming up with some means of acknowledging their service to the country. Parents would hang a pennant with a blue star on a white background in the front window of their homes so those passing by could see the sacrifice made by this family. President Woodrow Wilson liked the idea, so he proposed that the blue star be replaced with a gold star upon notification of the death of a family’s loved one. The tradition continues to this day.

The Gold Star Parents in attendance were encouraged to bring pictures and other memorabilia of their sons for display on various tables. There were eighty-three Gold Star Parents in attendance for these two days. It was humbling to walk around the display tables where you could see the faces of the young men whose lives were lost in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was one more reminder that there are brave Americans fighting an enemy that wants you and me dead. My wife, Isaura, and I stopped and spoke with many of the parents, listening as they shared their love for their fallen heroes. Later we sat with several more families over dinner, amazed at the resilience of these families. We heard the stories of several families who lost an only son. There was one family that lost both their sons two years apart. Both were Marines, serving proudly the country they loved.

The next morning there was a Memorial Service which was one of the most moving ceremonies I have ever witnessed. Major General J. Michael Myatt, USMC (Retired) was the emcee. Each Gold Star family present was asked to stand to hear the name of their son read, with accompanying photos on the large screen. As the name was read and words of thanks offered by the general, a Marine in dress blues quietly lit a candle in memory of the fallen warrior. Eighty-seven candles were stretched across the front of the stage, representing each military service branch. It was an awesome sight when the last candle was lit and the last name was read. A National Guard chaplain gave the closing prayer, followed by the solemn playing of taps.

After lunch, the Gold Star Parents were invited to break into small groups where they could share their experiences with each other. Each group was led by a couple who were also Gold Star Parents. One of those families was the aforementioned National Guard chaplain. As a counselor I was simply to be available should any of the parents need to talk privately. I, and my fellow counselors, moved wraith-like in the perimeters of the various groups.

That evening we had a closing banquet. It was my honor to be asked to offer the invocation. The Guest of Honor was General James N. Mattis, USMC, currently the Commander, U.S. Forces Command/North Atlantic Treaty Organization Supreme Allied Commander Transformation. Previously, at the outset of the war in Iraq, General Mattis was the Commanding General of the First Marine Division, which means a number of the Marines and sailors who were memorialized this night had served under his command. The general gave a wonderful address and greatly encouraged the Gold Star Parents, thanking them for their sons and the sacrifice that was made in defense of our nation. In watching the general express his thoughts and feelings, it was obvious that the loss of even one Marine or sailor under his command was too many.

The vast majority of Americans will get up tomorrow morning, have breakfast before heading out the door to work or school, and then return that evening to the warmth and comfort of their families. The War on Terrorism for them is a news blurb on CNN. Not so for the Gold Star Parents. Every day they are reminded of the high cost of freedom. It has always been, and will always be paid for with the blood of patriots.

Please, take time right now to offer a prayer of thanks for these fallen warriors and their families. And be sure to thank God for the privilege of living in the greatest country in the world.

Psalm for the Day