Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What to Do!

             I find myself in that unenviable position in life where you have accumulated so much stuff that the thought of having to get rid of it makes your brain go numb.

I have stuff. Lots of stuff. I have a significant collection of coffee mugs, for instance. These mugs are important to me because each one has a story of its own. I purchased a mug, or was given a mug somewhere around the world, and it resides now in the kitchen cabinet. Actually, only a handful are in the kitchen. Half of my collection is packed away in boxes in the garage. The other half of my coffee cup collection is boxed and stored in a friend’s barn. Truth be told, it’s not really a barn – it’s an old chicken coop.

When I look at my mugs I am reminded of why I have that particular cup. For instance, I have a cup I bought in Gibraltar. High on this spit of land that sticks out from Southern Spain, known as the Rock of Gibraltar, you will find monkeys living in the wild. They are the only monkeys to exist on the European Continent. Their official name is the Barbary Macaques, or Barbary Apes. Having been stationed at the Naval Station in Rota, Spain, I made several trips to this intriguing place. These tailless apes seem unfazed by the presence of humans. You can stand right next to one as though this was perfectly normal. Of course they are hoping you have some bit of food for them. So my coffee cup from Gibraltar has the likeness of one of these apes. The list goes on, with ships I’ve served on, places I’ve been, companies I’ve had business with, my favorite sports teams, etc. I even have one with a picture of my two granddaughters, Alyssa and Brooklyne, emblazoned on the side. Most recently I was given a mug from our Brazilian friends who are missionaries to Portugal, Eduardo and Cindi Angelo. We had a delightful time with them doing the sights this past week. They presented me with a coffee cup from Portugal. It’s definitely a keeper!

Another collection of stuff I have is hats – specifically, baseball-style caps. The same as with the coffee mugs, I have acquired a sizeable collection over the years. Many of these reflect a military story. Each base and/or military command seems to have a cap with the command logo festively displayed for all to see. Sadly, some of these historic caps (historic in that they are part of my history) have gone the way of all ball caps – worn out, faded, used up. But I’m always on the lookout for another sharp looking cap for my collection. My most recent cap is of the New England Patriots as Super Bowl Champions for 2015.

Another of my collections is not my fault. I honestly never set out to have such a collection. What I’m referring to is the increasingly popular Challenge Coins, originated within the military. These coins have no value except that which it has for the holder. However, they are important in that it identifies the holder as being a member of that military command represented on the coins surface. I have a couple hundred of these things! The history behind challenge coins, if there’s any truth to it, suggests that members of a command would be given a coin by their command for identification purposes. Since many military members eventually end up in a bar, someone may pull out their coin and slam it down as a challenge to others to produce their coin. The hapless fellow who did not have his coin with him would have to pay the bill for the next round of drinks. Today, commanding officers, as well as others within a command, might have coins of the command to give to personnel who have been promoted or duly honored in some way. If you can get a coin from a general or admiral, all the better.

My final collection of stuff is my books. I am an inveterate bibliophile. I love my books! The loft in our home is my “Man Cave.” I am surrounded by loaded book shelves. I began a serious collection of books when I entered seminary at age 28. As a pastor and preacher you might suspect that the majority of my books are religious – and you would be correct. But I have a significant number of books on history, especially American History. I have one whole bookcase filled to overflowing with books about the Civil War. But I have a confession to make: In the last year or so I have betrayed my love of books by converting to electronic books through Kindle. I know, I know, you’re wondering how I could have fallen so low. I fully realize I’m a disappointment to many of you, but having a small electronic device in my hand where I can read to my heart’s content is so much simpler and easier! I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me!

But the real issue in all of this business of collections is: Who’s going to get this stuff when I’m gone? Next week I turn 67, and though I feel great, the truth of the matter is I’ve got a whole lot less years ahead of me than I do have behind me. And I want my daughters to have fond and lasting memories of me. If they have to dispose of my ridiculous array of collections, I fear my legacy may be irretrievably tarnished. So I ask you: What’s a fella to do?

Did I mention my T-shirt collection?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Hopefuls

             The weaning process has begun. The first GOP (Grand Old Party) candidates have had their initial moment in the spotlight. Republicans have lots of choices when it comes to selecting the next presidential candidate for the Republican Party in 2016. But with so many contenders (I think they’re at 17) how do you begin to pick the next heir to the presidency? And that’s just the Republicans. There are a growing number of Democrats vying for this coveted position of power as well.

A number of folks recently have asked me what I thought about the debates the Republicans had last week. To be very honest, I chose not to watch them. You may be wondering why, especially since I am writing an article about this every-four-years gala where “We the People” get to vote for the leaders of our country.

Well, let me explain my reasoning like this. As is typically the case, the party that is currently not in control of the White House (read: Republicans), believe they have the answers to the country’s woes which are exacerbated by the current administration. It’s part of the political dance. The opposition party can’t say anything nice about the current president or his party for fear of aiding the other side in their bid to keep control of the presidential office. So most of the hopefuls (in this case – Republicans) talk tough, challenging certain “straw dogs” which in reality, if truth be told, neither party wants to touch.

There are several examples of straw dogs which every politician talks about and sounds deadly serious about when talking about fixing the mess, but it’s all smoke and mirrors. For example: Social Security. Congress has been robbing this piggy bank which “We the People” (you and I) have fed into our entire working lives, which now threatens not to be there in our retirement. Has anything been done about it? You know the answer.

Another example of a straw dog would be: Illegal Immigration. In particular, the porous borders of the American Southwest (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California). This has been a serious problem for at least a half century. When all the clamoring dies down, please tell me exactly what’s been done about it? Right! Nada.

Lastly for this article is: Health Care. Neither party wanted to touch this “third rail.” But, give credit where it’s due. The Democrats have made this a major campaign issue for the last 24 years. The problem is the way it has been handled by those same Democrats is deplorable. First under President Bill Clinton’s first term he appointed his wife, Hillary, to oversee a health care industry that supposedly would be in control of 1/6th of the Federal budget. Since she was not elected, “We the People” raised a ruckus and this problem went dormant. Under the current administration, President Obama presented the health care plan he was about to drop on the American people. The major problem was no one seemed to know what this health care plan was going to look like. Or as Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, so infamously said, “We have to pass this bill first so we can find out what’s in it.” Well, Ms Pelosi, I did read the entire bill took me three days. It was a bad bill then, and it’s still a bad bill. Not to mention the phrases constantly repeated by the President, such as, “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.” And,  “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.” Sure we can. It certainly hasn’t worked out that way, and this “plan” is now an albatross hung around the neck of “We the People.”

Expect to hear a lot of hot air on these topics from the Republican hopefuls. In most cases, maybe all cases, it’s just that – hot air.

I could go on about the foolishness that passes for political leadership today, but then I’d only be working myself into a frenzy.

Here’s what I’m looking for in a candidate: 1. Honesty. If you’re not honest, any hope of support from me is gone. 2. Conviction. We may not agree on everything, but I can respect you for holding to your convictions. 3. Integrity. I need to know that you’ll do the right thing, every time, because it’s the right thing. 4. Character. Besides the traits listed in 1-3 above, I need to know you are even-handed in dealing with people; patient when faced with opposing views; and courteous to any and all, every time.

There is a weaning process of the Republican hopefuls which will take out those who simply do not have a chance of being selected to carry the banner for their party. And be assured, the weaning has begun. Some in the recent debates shot themselves in the foot, and will quietly close up their tent and disappear (literally!) from the stage.

Two candidates at this point have my attention. I will be watching them very closely. This would be my president/vice president choice as of August 2015: Ben Carson as president, and Carly Fiorina as vice president. Both were highly successful in their chosen vocations prior to entering the political arena. Now, one or both of these candidates could fall on their swords tomorrow or next month and be gone. But for now, I like what I see in these contenders for the top two spots of power in the United States of America. I’ll be watching!

Isn’t this a great country!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Target Winchester

             Winchester, Virginia (named after Winchester, England) is without a doubt the most contested city in the entirety of the American Civil War.

I wrote last week about the trip my sister Joy and I took down to Fredericksburg, Virginia where several major battles were fought from 1862-64, including, two battles for the city of Fredericksburg, and the Battles of Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania, and The Wilderness. But these battles, though horrific in death and destruction, pale by comparison to the ebb and flow of Union and Confederate forces taking control of the city of Winchester, a population of 4,400 people at the time of the Civil War.

So what was it that made this city in Northern Virginia such a desirable target for both sides in the conflict? Several reasons are apparent. First, it is close to the capital, Washington DC. It lies a mere 76 miles away. Union forces wanted to control this town in order to better protect the capital. Second, for the same reason, Confederate forces wanted to control Winchester, enabling them to have some control of what happened in DC. Third, Winchester is in the upper region of the Shenandoah Valley, the “bread basket” for this region. The army that controls Winchester likely controls the entire Valley. Major General Sheridan raided up the Valley (meaning south) from Winchester, where his forces destroyed ‘2,000 barns filled with grain and implements, not to mention other outbuildings, 70 mills filled with wheat and flour’ and ‘numerous head of livestock,’ to lessen the area's ability to supply the Confederates.”

Prior to colonists moving further inland in 1729, this region was continually fought over by a number of Native American tribes. The tribe that had the most control was the Iroquois. However, since time immemorial, the Shawnee, the Seneca (Yup! From New York), and the Sioux (from the Carolinas), all battled for this territory. The Iroquois prevailed and are indirectly responsible for naming the Shenandoah Valley. The name came from two of the Iroquois groups: the Senedo, and the Sherando. These names sounded very much alike and were anglicized into what we call Shenandoah.

A truce was made by the tribes in 1744 which included safe use by colonists on the Indian Road, later called the Great Wagon Road. Then in 1753 the French and Indian War began, also known as the “Seven Years’ War.” British forces with Indian allies fought French forces and their Indian allies for key geographic regions throughout the East Coast. George Washington was a colonel in the British militia and frequently met with his Indian collaborators in Winchester.

One of the places we stopped to visit was the Civil War site of Hupp’s Hill, Cedar Mill, Virginia, located about 15 miles south of Winchester. Hupp’s Hill was another place contested by both sides in the war. One of the ladies who works for the National Parks at Hupp’s Hill was telling us that we should go visit Winchester. “The city changed hands more than 70 times!” she stated emphatically so as to make the point. My brother and I looked at each other with amusement, believing she was grossly exaggerating a bit of historical trivia. Back in the car I searched my cell phone and discovered that she was quite accurate. It is said that control over Winchester changed possession at least 72 times during the war years. It is reported that control of the city changed hands thirteen times in one day!

Five major battles were fought within the city limits over 30 months. The first was the First Battle of Kernstown, March 23, 1862. Next was the First Battle of Winchester, May 25, 1862, followed by the Second Battle of Winchester, June 13-15, 1863. The last two battles were the Second Battle of Kernstown, July 24, 1864, and then the Third Battle of Winchester, September 19, 1864. Talk about being war weary! You have to feel for those folks.

One ancillary point to the Battles of Winchester: Two future American presidents fought there. Both were officers in the Union Army serving in the IX Corps. Each man joined the Army at the outbreak of war in 1861, and served till its end in 1865. They were William McKinley (25th President. He had a horse shot out from under him in one battle), and Rutherford B. Hayes (19th President and mentor of McKinley during the Civil War. He also had a horse shot out from under him, and was wounded in two separate battles: once through the left arm fracturing the bone, and another time in the shoulder. He also was struck in the head by a spent bullet).

So when you have had a particularly bad day, remember Winchester, Virginia in the Civil War! Imagine that you were living in that city during that time, waking up each morning wondering who was in control that day or even that hour, and which flag would be flying above the court house! The flag of the Union – the Stars and Stripes? Or the flag of the Confederacy - the Stars and Bars?

Always be grateful for being an American. Our liberty and freedoms have been bought and paid for by those who have defended her for 239 years.
God, please, bless America, again.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

All Fall Down

             Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania, the Wilderness.

          If these names don’t mean anything to you, or they are too difficult to pronounce, then you are seriously lacking in your knowledge of the Civil War.

          This past week my sister Joy and I drove from our brother John’s home in northern Virginia down to Fredericksburg. Why this town? Because there were five significant battles in and around the Fredericksburg area from 1862 - 1864.

It’s easy enough to get to Fredericksburg. Just jump on Interstate 95 and head south. Joy and I rolled into this community of some thirty thousand people and immediately began looking for the various battlefields which are part of the National Park System. We headed west on Route 3 until we ran into the Chancellorsville Battlefield. Interestingly, this was the home of Francis Chancellor. At best Chancellorsville was a hamlet, made up mostly of the Chancellor family and slaves. Previously, the homestead was an inn.

What made this region of Virginia so important was its location. It was nearly half-way between Washington DC and Richmond. Gen Lee needed to retain control of the Fredericksburg area in order to continue to protect Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy.

“During the Civil War, Fredericksburg gained strategic importance due to its location midway between Washington and Richmond, the opposing capitals of the Union and the Confederacy. During the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 11–15, 1862, the town sustained significant damage from bombardment and looting by the Union forces. A Second Battle of Fredericksburg was fought in and around the town on May 3, 1863, in connection with the Chancellorsville campaign (April 27, 1863 – May 6, 1863). The battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House were fought nearby in May 1864.”

Union forces numbered 134,000 going up against Confederate forces mustering a paltry 61,000. With better than a two-to-one advantage, three separate Union commanders brilliantly bungled there opportunity to deal the Confederacy, and General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia (as it was known then) a severe blow that may well have ended this horrific war in short order. Lee took advantage of every misstep by the Union command (known early on as the Army of the Potomac). However, the cost of this encounter at Chancellorsville came at a high price. Lee’s army sustained 13,303 killed, wounded and captured/missing. Union forces sustained heavier losses numbering 17,197 killed, wounded, or captured/missing. Lee lost one man for every five he began with, whereas the Union forces lost one man for every eight. This war of attrition would ultimately weaken the Confederate Army to the point that they could barely put an army in the field by the time Lee surrendered to Grant.

The other great loss for the Confederacy, despite sending the boys in blue scurrying back to the safety and security of Washington DC, was the death of Lee’s “strong right arm” in the person of Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Lee was beside himself when he was brought the news that Jackson had been killed. Compounding the loss was the fact that a unit from North Carolina fired on Jackson and his small cadre of aids, hitting the general three times. The North Carolinians can’t be faulted for it was dark, just shortly after nine o’clock. They had orders to fire into a sector where only the enemy was expected to show. Jackson was doing reconnaissance of the area and had failed to notify the troops up and down the line of his presence. As he was being removed from the field where he was shot, the four soldiers carrying him in a make-shift cot up on their shoulders came under attack. One of the soldiers was wounded and dropped his end causing the general to fall to the ground. Before he was safely removed, this incident happened a second time causing the general to fall on his wounded shoulder, possibly tearing an artery which brought about profuse bleeding. A week later he died, primarily from an advanced case of pneumonia. Jackson was of such stellar Christian character that Lee despaired in finding a replacement that could even come close to the type of godly man that was “Stonewall” Jackson.

The war dragged on, with the vast majority of the fighting taking place in the Southern states. Eventually, President Lincoln finally secured a commander for his Union Army with the nerve and guts to take the fight to the Confederacy. That man was General Ulysses S. Grant.

Private Charles W. Sherman, 12th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, perhaps summed it up best, when he wrote home (spelling is his), “I do wish this Cruell War would come to an end, for this goin about to Kill one another has a unchristian look to me, when you come to look at it in that light, but it has to be don, I sopose.” Written October 15, 1863. He was killed in the Battle of Cedar Creek, October 19, 1864.

Our freedoms as Americans have come at a heavy price.

Psalm for the Day