Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

America

              It has been just over eleven years since I found myself flying across the Pacific on my way to be the Base chaplain for Camp Commando in Kuwait. The incredible race to Baghdad by the 1st Marine Division was instantly tabbed for the annals of military warfare in how to overwhelm the enemy.

During my two months in Kuwait I flew by Marine helicopter up to the 1 MEF headquarters in Babylon to pay my respects to the commanding general and my boss, the command chaplain. Our headquarters was set up in one of Saddam Hussain’s many palaces which were scattered around the entire country just for his enjoyment and recreation. The stories of Saddam’s lust and barbarity, as told to us by the Iraqis in Babylon, goes beyond anything remotely resembling civility.

Being in Babylon (yes, the Babylon of the Bible) was awesome. Quite a number of the ancient walls that had been built several thousand years ago were still standing, although great damage was done to them by the Turks in 1917. There was still a charm about this unique place that I found to be inviting. Early in the morning I would sit under a tree in the courtyard just inside the Ishtar Gate, a gate built about 600 years before Christ by order of King Nebuchadnezzar (The original gate doors were removed and are in a museum in Germany). An Iraqi gentleman operated a souvenir shop just inside the gate facing the courtyard. We became friends, exchanging pleasantries each morning, even though I could not speak Arabic, and he was very limited in his English.

One morning that will forever haunt my memory, found me in my usual place having my devotions when my Iraqi friend approached me. After our smiles of greeting and pleasantries in English and Arabic, he turned to me and said with a tone of finality, “You not leave Iraq!” At first I was puzzled by his comment. Seeing my puzzled expression, he repeated his statement, “You not leave Iraq!” I quickly realized he was saying that Iraq was now free from the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussain, therefore for the Iraqis to have the opportunity to regain their country the United States and its military forces would need to stay there for some time to come.

So, today I sit and wonder what has happened to Iraq and the golden opportunity they (and we) had to see something very special happen in that region of the world where the pages of history are writ large. And I particularly wonder what has happened to my Iraqi friend who practically begged me (read: United States) not to leave Iraq. Is he still alive? If so, is he in prison because he collaborated with the U.S.? And what of his family? Have they, too, suffered because we left them unprotected from a vicious and hateful brand of Islam that has filled the vacuum that was left by our withdrawal?

Over the past dozen years our political leaders have exercised their power to manipulate for political gain a crisis of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not only have we betrayed the trust of the people we initially liberated from the maniacal hands of madmen, but we have spilled the blood of our young men and women unnecessarily. It was my privilege, as well as sad duty as Deputy Command Chaplain for the I MEF (1st Marine Expeditionary Force), to meet the first planes carrying our wounded back to the United States. I was also on hand to receive the bodies of those who gave their lives. I have attended or officiated at more funerals for our fallen than I care to remember. So it galls me to see our nation simply walk away because it is politically expedient. That isn’t very comforting, especially to the families of these warriors who gave the last full measure of devotion for their country.

I find myself wondering, asking, “What have we become?” Why is it, for instance, that of all the conflicts and wars the United States has engaged in since the surrenders of both Germany and Japan, thus ending WWII, why haven’t we won another war? Since we haven’t won another conflict/war in 70 years, what is the problem? Did our military prove incapable of finishing the job? No. Ours is the best in the world in every conceivable category. Well then, did we make a mistake (repeatedly) by engaging in conflicts around the world? It certainly would appear to be so. This begs the question: Why then were we in Korea? Vietnam? Lebanon? Somalia? Iraq? Afghanistan? Or any of the other dust-ups we found ourselves in? What gives?

I would like to strongly suggest that as Americans we reflect and remember what it is this country has stood for, particularly what we have believed. Whatever has united us in the past we need to get back to.

A good start for all Americans is to watch the recently released movie, “America: What if she never existed?” It is a powerful reminder of why America has been a great nation, but that somehow we have lost our moorings. “The movie, America, is a celebration of the uniqueness of America, and a powerful and moving rebuttal to America’s critics both at home and abroad. This film begins with a simple premise: What if America never existed? What if Columbus never landed in America because there was no America?” http://www.dineshdsouza.com/news/what-if-america-never-existed/. And then sit down to read Dr. Ben Carson’s book, “America the Beautiful.” You’ll be blessed.

Stand up, America! We are still the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Outrageous and More!

             Well now, last week’s article drew quite a bit of response. Several of you suggested that I provide some concrete steps to take in the active process of getting involved in turning back this frightful slide into socialism.

Another comment was for me to be sure to include an emphasis on the degeneration of morality and spirituality in America, both of which are cancerous to our current state as free people in a republic.

 I want to thank the many of you who took the time to read and reply to my article. I truly enjoy hearing back from you.

So, picking up from last week, let’s see what other events need to be considered.

First, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. This Army soldier was recently involved in a prisoner swap, creating a storm of controversy within our own military. Five years ago Sgt Bergdahl wound up in the hands of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The answer yet remains unclear as to just how that happened. This will be sorted out, I trust, at some date in the future. As of this week Sgt Bergdahl is back on active duty. I would hope that he will be charged with violations of the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice). Why do I say this? Because there are two telling bits of information that seem to be damning in his case: 1) He left his post. Exactly how that was played out is unclear. Every service member is required to learn their 11 General Orders, the first of which states: “I will take charge of my post and all government property in view.” And the fifth General Order says, “I will quit my post only when properly relieved.” Apparently he did neither. And 2) The testimonies of Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers are most revealing. To a man it seems they do not buy the story that he was captured/kidnapped by the Taliban. Instead, it is believed by these men that he intentionally deserted. A recently released email to his dad supports this assertion.

Second, the IRS Scandal. The director of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Lois Lerner, has certainly made a name for herself. Her arrogant, impervious attitude while being questioned by a Congressional committee, has left her in the minds of many to be someone who is intentionally lying to and subverting the efforts of the committee in getting to the bottom of the IRS which has admittedly targeted conservative groups. The icing on the cake, if you will, has been the convenient loss of all Ms Lerner’s emails that addressed this issue. As of this writing there are steps being made to place her under arrest for lying to Congress.

Third, the VA Debacle. If there has been a government agency that was thought to take care of our veterans, it has been the Veterans Administration (VA). As recent reports have shown, this is anything but, in the case of one particular VA facility in Phoenix, Arizona, And in even more recent reports, this trouble in neglecting our veterans is popping up in other VA facilities. In the Phoenix VA some 40 veterans in need of proper medical care (surgeries, medicine) died after being denied medical treatment through an administrative “shell game.” Veterans seeking service would be told to wait for a call from the VA. Weeks and months would go by with no call. When the veteran would call to inquire he would be ignored, or told he’d be called soon. What in fact was happening was an administrative shuffle so that the bosses of the VA in Washington would believe that everything was fine at this facility because reports would only be submitted once a veteran was actually seen. To show a backlog in seeing patients was frowned upon. As Rush Limbaugh often says, “Follow the money!”

Last, the Hobby Lobby case. The owners of this national retail chain of arts and crafts stores are dedicated Christians. And they have found themselves in the cross-hairs of the Administration’s new Affordable Care Act (ACA), or as it is better known, Obamacare. From what I’ve read, Hobby Lobby pays their employees very well, providing them with numerous benefits, including a generous health care plan. The point of controversy seems to surround the “morning-after pill.” To the owner this is deemed as killing a newly formed child in the womb, and therefore a violation of their Christian belief in the sanctity of life. The health plan provides measures to prevent pregnancies, but they will not provide help in stopping a pregnancy. The Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 in favor of Hobby Lobby. However, liberal members in Congress are working to have this decision over-turned. The real issue would appear to actually be one of control. If a large corporation like Hobby Lobby, with 575 stores nationwide can be brought under the onus of Obamacare, what other entities could possibly stand against such invasive government control? And if a person or company that holds to strong moral and spiritual beliefs can be forced to go against those beliefs, then we’re all in trouble.

There’s more to come. But please, pray for our leaders. And pray that God would be merciful to us.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Outrageous!

             What has happened to my country?

I’m abhorred by the events that are taking place on a weekly basis. The list of government screw-ups, blunders and intentional misrepresentations along with cover-ups is stunningly mind-boggling.

What is even more troubling to me is the number of people I have engaged in discussion on these topics and they know nothing about any of it. Apart from being a bit embarrassed in not being current on national and worldwide events, these folks seem to be perfectly content going about their business. This is akin to Nero fiddling while Rome was burning to the ground. America is in trouble!

The list of current events I’m referring to is neither exhaustive, nor in any particular order of importance. However, each should be labeled with a red flag.

First, Benghazi. This travesty where four Americans, Ambassador Chris Stevens, Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith, and two former Navy SEALs, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, were murdered by Islamic extremists in a planned, calculated attack. There is more and more information coming out on this incident every day, as a Congressional Committee under the direction of Representative Trey Gowdy seeks to get to the bottom of answering a lot of questions, such as: Why was Ambassador Stevens not provided additional security after he specifically asked for it? Why was American military support not provided when Tyrone and Glen called for help? Why was this attack falsely and intentionally blamed on a supposed anti-Islamic movie? Why was the producer of this film jailed? Why were the rest of the American embassy personnel in Libya sworn to secrecy? And on goes the list.

Second, Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi. This Marine, who has served two tours in Afghanistan, is currently languishing in a Mexican prison. Why? Because he inadvertently got into the wrong lane when traveling near the Mexican border. These lanes are barricaded so that if you miss the one lane for returning to the U.S., you find yourself answering the questions of the Federales. Instead of redirecting this Marine back across the border, which a supposed friendly neighbor nation would do, he was detained, stripped naked, chained to a bed, punched and beaten for no other reason than these so-called policemen can do so with impunity. As of this writing Sgt Tahmooressi has been wrongly incarcerated for nearly four months. Where is the State Department? Where is Secretary of State John Kerry?

Third, the Mexican Border. A great deal of huffing and puffing from our federal government has produced absolutely nothing to stem the voluminous increase in illegal aliens crossing into the U.S. The governors of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California are reporting record numbers of illegals entering our country. But not just any illegals. These are primarily children. Children of parents who are either already in this country, or the children are sent by parents who know that the policy of the U.S. is to accept and care for any child that crosses the border. And are you aware that Americans who live along the border (within 45 miles of the border) are routinely attacked and/or threatened by illegals? Gunfire across the border from Mexico is common. Mexican military helicopters have even crossed into U.S. territory. Because of the influx of so many illegals primarily from Mexico, Central America and the Middle East, and the U.S. policy of taking care of anyone who comes into a hospital, is financially breaking many hospitals in the states along Mexican border. From 1998-2007 some sixty (60) hospitals in California alone have been forced to close. And the number of closures grows each year.

There are yet more current events that need to be followed, but that will be for next week. Stories like: the IRS scandal; the Veterans Administration; the Hobby Lobby court case; the pressure to allow Sharia Law to be used in the United States; daily rocket attacks against Israel; the Islamic State created by ISIS in parts of Syria and Iraq; the loss of control and territory which was hard fought with the spilling of American blood in Iraq, and on the list goes.

I am in no way suggesting that you become a news junkie. What I am strongly encouraging each of you to do is to be aware of what is happening to America, and then get involved. Speak up! Contact your elected officials. Let your voice be heard. Get involved. Make a difference.

Until next week. Bless God, America!

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Rockets' Red Glare

                As Americans we just celebrated our 238th birthday as a nation. Our National Anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, has a line in it that goes like this: “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that out flag was still there.” In 1814, during the War of 1812 in which the British attempted to defeat the upstart colonists who had sent them packing some thirty-odd years earlier, a young lawyer, Francis Scott Key, was detained on board a British ship during the bombardment of Baltimore. Key wrote a poem entitled, Defense of Fort McHenry. The poem was later put to the tune of John Stafford Smith’s song, The Anacreontic Song, modified somewhat, and retitled The Star Spangled Banner. It was proclaimed by Congress to be our National Anthem in 1931.

The rockets mentioned in the National Anthem were British made Congreve rockets, first produced in 1804. Shortly after, the first solid fuel rockets were developed and later employed by British war ships during the War of 1812. You guessed it! They gave off a red streak as they zipped through the air. Often times these rockets would explode in mid-air before reaching their intended target. That’s the “rockets’ red glare, bombs bursting in air” part of the anthem.

Such historical trivia may seem somewhat dull to those unaware of the devastation of rockets. This form of warfare has an incapacitating effect on the psyche of those on the receiving end of a rocket attack. Such was certainly the case during the early period of our nation, and particularly during the War of 1812. These rockets were not very effective in causing damage or death, but they sure scared folks a whole lot. I remember rocket attacks in Vietnam. You hunkered down and pulled your helmet down on your head as far as possible and hoped for the best!

This all leads to a bit of current information that I believe you will find of interest.

Following the news, as is my habit, I have been aware for many years that Israel is attacked daily with rockets from the Palestinian areas surrounding Israel, primarily out of the Gaza Strip. These rocket attacks occur every single day. That’s right: Every single day. Multiple times a day. The rocket of choice used by Islamic terrorists is the Qassam (Kassam). The Qassam rocket gained notoriety as the best-known type of rocket deployed by the Palestinian militants mainly against Israeli civilians.

Hamas and other militant Islamic groups operate terrorist activities against Israel from the Gaza Strip. The terrorism-of-choice previously was the suicide bomber. This person would typically strap hand-grenades and/or sticks of dynamite to their bodies, blend in with a large group of people (as long as there were lots of Jews in the crowd) at which point the suicide bomber would set off the explosives causing death and mayhem. Often a secondary explosion would be electronically ignited from a distance once the emergency personnel arrived, causing even more death and destruction.

In recent years, the terrorists seem to prefer the Qassam rocket. Apparently it had become harder and harder to recruit volunteers to kill themselves by suicide bombings. With the use of rockets (and mortars) there is no loss of life for the terrorists. The rockets are not difficult to make, and can be easily transported to their launching site.

Since the rocket attacks began in 2001, there have been more than 10,000 rockets launched, and nearly 5,000 mortars into Israel. Most of these attacks occur in southern Israel. To appreciate what this means, Israel is slightly smaller than our State of New Jersey. Can you imagine what an outcry there would be if an enemy of the United States launched rockets and mortars into our country daily for weeks, months, and years?

Hamas and their ilk always downplay the attacks by suggesting that only a handful of Israelis have died from these rocket attacks. What is not mentioned is the psychological effect such attacks have brought to bear on the citizens of southern Israel. Some statistics suggest that 50% of Israeli children in these rocketed areas are experiencing PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), a nervous condition creating psychological problems coping with everyday life due to the stress and uncertainty of “rockets of death” landing in their back yards.

Just recently I downloaded an app for my cell phone called Red Alert. Its primary purpose is to send a notification to the app every time a rocket is launched into Israel, and what town was targeted. It is Saturday night as I write this. I counted the number of attacks posted on this app for Saturday alone. The number: 17.

There is a biblical admonition to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” (Psalm 122:6-9). Let’s include the eight million plus residents in the State of Israel as well.

Please pray.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Shoeless!

             What a trip!

Isaura and I just returned from a month of traveling. Last week I wrote about Billy Harris, the young American P-51 fighter pilot who was shot down over the small farming village of Les Ventes, France in July of 1944. Instead of parachuting to safety, he steered his plane away from the village, dying in the crash in a nearby field. From an emotional point of view, meeting Peggy Harris, his 92 year old widow, was the highlight of the trip. But there were so many more wonderful experiences which I will share in the weeks to come.

During this memorable trip I found myself virtually shoeless! Shoeless, like the (in)famous Shoeless Joe Jackson of the Chicago White Sox/1919 World Series, who early in his career played in a game without his cleats because they hurt his feet. Or Abebe Bikila, the shoeless Ethiopian runner who won the marathon in the 1960 Olympics in Rome. In my case, just for the record, I was not running base paths or marathons. I was, however, wearing my military dress shoes.

In May I had been asked by the American Legion Post to be the speaker for our Annual Memorial Day Ceremony at the Ripon Cemetery. I had planned to wear my “Summer Whites” for this event, which is a short-sleeved white shirt, white pants, white socks, and white shoes uniform. As I was leaving the house I glanced down the front of my uniform to make sure everything was in order (ribbons, gig line, creases, etc.) and was shocked to see the leather cracking on my shoes. Pieces of leather were falling off the top of each shoe! Not having another pair, and not having time to change into something else, I went ahead to the ceremony hoping people would focus on what I said, and not on my shoes. I was mortified! I have always taken pride in my appearance, especially my uniforms. Never had I seen shoes come apart like this. After I got home, in the trash they went.

Two weeks later Isaura and I are in France where I am singing with the Alexandria Harmonizers, a barbershop chorus of 100 men, for the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion. For a week we were traveling by bus to various locations primarily in and around Normandy. When we weren’t performing, we were rehearsing, or eating, or sleeping, or riding on buses. We performed at places like the American Cemetery in Brittany, the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach, a performance and parade in the town of Sainte-Mère-Église (think of the movie, “The Longest Day”), the Notre Dame Cathedral in Chartres, and the Cologne Cathedral in Germany, among other locations.

In the town of Sainte-Mère-Église we performed on stage in the town square which is right next to the church made famous when an American paratrooper, John Steele, on D-Day, inadvertently found his parachute snared by the church steeple, leaving him hanging helplessly from his shroud lines down one side of the church. He was taken prisoner by the Germans, but later escaped. For seventy years this French town has had a parachute and a life-sized dummy hanging from the church in honor of the men who liberated their town and country.

The folks of Sainte-Mère-Église had a parade to honor this 70th Anniversary of D-Day, so the Harmonizers were invited to participate. While we happy singers, wearing our black suits, were walking to the other end of town where the parade was to begin, one of my fellow singers tapped me on the shoulder and said, “There’s something wrong with your shoe.” I glanced down at my black Corfams (a synthetic water-repellent material used as a substitute for shoe leather), and sure enough, about half my right heel was flopping to the side. I couldn’t believe it! I served 34 years in the military and never once did I have shoes come apart on me. Now, here in the space of two weeks, both my white shoes and my black Corfams had literally disintegrated! Walking the parade route with half a heel was uncomfortable, to say the least. But to add insult to injury, the next day the other heel came apart. There was no time to buy a replacement pair even if I had known where to go. So I just sucked it up, hobbling along until our final performance, after which I tossed them in the trash in our Paris hotel room.

After our performances were over, we spent time in Paris, visiting many of the historic sights. Then we took the train to Edinburgh, Scotland, ending up in London, England, before flying back to my brother’s home in Virginia just outside of our nation’s capital. We had a few days there to catch our breath before flying back to California, so Isaura and I drove to the Navy Uniform Shop next to Arlington National Cemetery where I bought a new pair of white shoes and black Corfams. I explained to the lady in the Uniform Shop what had happened to my Corfams. She said that a number of years ago there was a bad batch and a lot of shoes did what mine did. As for the white shoe leather peeling off, she said they simply dried out, and that I needed to keep them moist. Wearing them would do that, she said. But I have few occasions to wear them anymore.
 
Having retired from the Navy Reserve six years ago I never thought I would need to buy anymore dress shoes. I’m thinking these new pairs are the last I’ll ever need. They’d better be!   

 
 
 

Psalm for the Day