Marines.Together We Served

Monday, June 26, 2006

Manny’s Café

I’m in Danbury, Connecticut. I’m on vacation. In Fact, I’m sitting in Manny’s Café – a throw-back to another era – a time when the local hangout in a New England town was the corner diner. You know the type – long counter with ten or more padded stools, and the rest of the diner had tables and chairs. People sit at the counter, reading the paper, lingering over the bottomless coffee cup.

The reason I was in Manny’s Café is because Isaura’s cousin, Maria (where we’re staying for a couple of days) is mother-in-law to Mike, the owner of the diner. Manny was the previous owner. Mike’s married to Nancy and they have a nine year old daughter, Lexi, who helps her dad on Saturday mornings in the diner. She’s saving her money for college. Have you got all this? Anyway, Mike fixed me up with a short stack of pancakes and a Portuguese omelet with that wonderful Linguisa sausage, accompanied by fried potatoes and an English muffin with jam.

I was born in Connecticut and lived all over New England growing up. While many things have changed, everything has pretty much stayed the same. One significant change is the Interstate Highway system. Back in the 50s we had parkways and two-lane roads. Otherwise, New England towns remain the same.

As we began our vacation this week, Isaura and I attended the retirement dinner in Washington DC for our Navy Chief of Chaplains, Rear Admiral Lou Iasiello. That was on Thursday night. Then on Friday morning at the Washington Navy Yard (an historic base going back to Revolutionary War times) we attended the Change of Office for the Navy Chief of Chaplains. This was an outdoor event held on the grass parade deck. Though the weather report said there was a 70% chance of rain, the morning was quite nice and accommodated the event. Honor guards from the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard were resplendent in their crisp, clean uniforms with rifles used for the manual-of-arms in presenting honors as they marched by during the pass-in-review. Added to this was the salute by cannon to the guest, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chief of Naval Operations.

We’d been staying at my brother’s home in Virginia, enjoying very pleasant weather. John and I managed to squeeze in four rounds of golf (72 holes) in two days during the middle of the week. He and his wife Lynne packed their car Thursday morning, heading for their vacation cabin in Corea, Maine where we will join them in a few days. After I’d changed out of my white uniform and into jeans and a t-shirt following Friday’s ceremony, Isaura, my sister Joy, and her six year old granddaughter, Bethany, and I piled into my niece’s Toyota Rav 4 and headed north. It was a beautiful drive, taking us through parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and finally to Danbury, Connecticut.

Isaura, being full-blooded Portuguese, is related to most of the Portuguese who live in the Central Valley of California; the city of Toronto, Canada; and the New England states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. This is why we are here in what is also known as the Nutmeg State and the Constitution State.

Being here is like taking a walk down memory lane. Manny’s Café started my mind going back to childhood days. Just out of curiosity, I stopped in a general store to see if they still had the same things I remembered as a kid fifty years ago. As I slowly meandered down the aisles, I saw the same brands of food that were there, lo, these many years ago. There was Tetley Tea, Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise, Charm’s Sour Candy Balls (loved those!), and Chock full ‘O Nuts Coffee. I even remembered the jingle: “Chock full ‘O Nuts is that Heavenly Coffee, Better Coffee millionaire’s money can’t buy.” But my favorite discovery was a jar of Marshmallow Fluff! This was my favorite treat as a kid. Mom used to make a sandwich of Nabisco Honey Maid Graham Crackers and Marshmallow Fluff as part of my lunch. Yum!

To close out my walk down memory lane, my sister Joy and I drove to New Jersey Sunday afternoon to attend the funeral of the father of a childhood friend, Steve. Ted and Helen Lurie were like second parents to me. We spent many wonderful days in and around their home. Seeing that home again completed my walk down memory lane. It was good to be here.

So now we’re off to Maine where, fishing, relaxing, lobster dinners and golf await! It’s tough, but somebody’s got to do it!

Monday, June 19, 2006

No Gloating Zone

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is dead. This Jordanian-born Al Qaeda leader departed this life courtesy of the American military. Zarqawi’s heinous activities and violent past are a matter of public record. He’s the guy who used a knife to saw off the head of reporter Daniel Pearl – an excruciating seven-minute murder recorded on film. Zarqawi’s dossier of terrorism and murder ranks with the worst the world has ever known. He also cut the throat of Nick Berg. Zarqawi will not be missed.

Reports are that Zarqawi survived the bomb blast, finally succumbing to his wounds less than an hour later. Two five hundred pound bombs leveled the “safe” house he and his henchmen were staying in. The blast would have sent reinforced chunks of concrete flying around the interior of the house slamming into anything softer, thus causing irreparable damage. Even though he survived the initial blast, he was certainly going to die from his injuries.

The question, nonetheless, has been raised: Did our Special Forces guys who arrived within minutes of the blast drag him out of an ambulance, stomp on his chest, cause blood to come out his nose? If you absolutely believe this dribble, then stop reading this article right now. You’d be wasting your time.

Allow me to remind you of a few things. First, the United States is a peace-loving country. We really do want to get along with everyone else in the world. That is what we choose. But when others threaten or attack our friends and neighbors, we will react. And when they threaten us or attack us, stand by. Life as they know it will change – dramatically!

Second, we are passionate about freedom – and not just our own – but anyone’s. This is why you see Marines, sailors, soldiers, and airmen volunteering to do two, three, or more tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have set an enslaved people free.

Third, our military, like all militaries in the history of the world, is required to do the dirty-work of war – that is – to kill people and break things. We do what must be done and then we come home. But there’s a distinction between our military and virtually every other military that has ever walked the face of this earth: We are compassionate. We care about others, even in the midst of war’s carnage. One of my favorite pictures was taken during the March to Baghdad in early 2003 where a young Marine is using the fireman’s carry to bring a wounded Republican Guard Iraqi soldier to our medical people for treatment, all this taking place while bullets are flying!

Another example of our compassion is the capture of Saddam Hussein in December of 2003. Now here you have a young soldier who pulls back the cover of the spider hole the former president of Iraq was occupying. Did this young warrior put a bullet through the skull of this mass-murderer? No. Many wish that he would have, thus saving us a lot of trouble, especially now having to listen to him rant in a free courtroom in this now democratic country. Instead, the soldier said something like, “President Bush sends his greetings!” and then tells the fallen leader to get out of the hole.

U.S. Army Capt. Dan Sukman, in a Soldier’s Diary for Internet news site, writes from Baghdad about the death of Zarqawi, “I have said before that this war is a marathon, and not a sprint. Other than a ‘Wow, we killed him,’ the effects on the solders here seem to be minimal. They are minimal because there is no real time to celebrate. When these things happen, we do not go out to a bar to talk about the great work that has been done. We don't let our guard down, we don't stop working. When the FBI captures the most wanted criminal, the FBI does not shutdown, they go after the next guy, and we do the same.”

It has been reported that our military medical folks attempted to save Zarqawi. That would be in keeping with our compassionate nature. The description of what our soldiers allegedly did fits the profile of the enemy, not us. We do not drag the dead body through the streets, yelling and shouting invectives against the enemy. More likely we heave a sigh of relief that one who has been so vicious an enemy is no longer a problem for us. Then we move on to the next mission. Simply put, we do not gloat – but we do get the job done.

Our military is the best in the world. They are highly trained, performing admirably under the most severe circumstances imaginable. They will do their job well, with only the desire to return home to their families and friends, where they can once again resume their lives unimpeded by the nasty business of war.

Solomon wrote some three thousand years ago, “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice, or the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him.”

Ours is a history of rebuilding the nations we have defeated in war. That hasn’t changed. It could well be said that the United States is a “No Gloating Zone.”

God bless America!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Las Vegas Lament

Commercials are designed to sell the public on something they probably do not need in the first place. When it comes to the recent string of television commercials touting the many pleasures that await in Las Vegas, well, your imagination can get the better of you. It’s tantalizing stuff.

The Las Vegas theme says, “What happens here stays here.” Interpretation: Come and play to your hearts delight and nobody ever needs to know. No doubt you’ve seen some of these advertisements. The most recent one shows a woman unpacking her suitcase. Her husband sheepishly ventures into the bedroom and says something like, “So you and your girlfriends had a good time?” Looking panicked, she grabs several items from her bag and says how much fun they had shopping, holding them up for her husband to see. He seems to accept this remark, and walks back out of the room. His tone of voice and body language suggest he’s not convinced. The camera is now on his wife. She sighs with relief, obviously having dodged telling the truth about her Las Vegas escapades. A soothing male voice-over intones the mantra, “What happens here stays here.”

This is all a very clever advertising campaign, but it is utterly destructive to any relationship. Every relationship in life is based upon the premise of trust. It is the cornerstone for a relationship between people, businesses, nations and God. Without trust nothing of significance would ever be accomplished or attained.

During my time as a Navy chaplain, one command I served with was a ship that was always underway. Of the twenty-seven months I was ship’s chaplain, our ship was gone from home port for twenty of those months. It was common to hear sailors talk about the various ports we were likely to visit. Most ports cater to man’s baser nature. Prostitution, alcohol, and an endless array of deviant activities are right there for the taking. The standard explanation from a married sailor for engaging in such behavior was passed off with a flippant comment that went like this: “What my wife doesn’t know won’t hurt her.” Sounds like the Las Vegas lament to me!

My wife, Isaura, told me that when the ship would sail out of home port, many of the wives would head right for the base club to hook up with some sailor who wasn’t deployed. I saw many marriages disintegrate during these times. Then there were those who were found out, either because rumors got around that so-and-so was seen visiting a place that a married man should not be visiting, or because their consciences wouldn’t let them rest, or because they brought home a sexually transmitted disease that they then passed on to their spouse. Such surprises do not make for happy homes. I can tell you, it was no fun sitting down with a man who realized the tragic mistake he’d made in believing he could play around and not be caught. “Chaplain, what do I do now?” is the Las Vegas lament. I remember the smug look on that same face when we pulled into a foreign port. Sitting across from me after having been found out, the smugness is gone now.

In an attempt to battle the forces of temptation, I used to invite the men to go on liberty with me. I assured them they would have a good time, that they’d remember what they did, and that it was something they could tell their wives and children about when they got home. Many accepted the invitation. I only wish more had done so.

It’s important to remember that such misbehavior does not go unnoticed. It causes a strain in the relationship even if neither spouse knows of the other’s unfaithfulness. It creates an atmosphere of distrust which will inevitably bring pressure on the marriage to the point where it will simply implode.

The Bible says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction.”

The number of marriages that are destroyed because of the deceptive thinking that you can get away with being unfaithful is known to God alone. Just as God is faithful in his love for us, we are to be faithful in our love for our spouse. Such commitment and trust makes for a solid marriage that is capable of weathering the worst storms of life. It’s also the kind of relationship everyone longs for.

Don’t be deceived by the Las Vegas lament. It’s not worth the moment of pleasure, and the price is too costly. But, then again, the perpetrators of sin in Las Vegas really don’t care what happens to you. They don’t have to go home with you!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Presumed Innocent?

This is the United States of America. In these United States a person is presumed innocent of a crime until such time as evidence proves otherwise – and that’s done in a court of law before a jury of peers taken from the citizenry.

I raise this issue because we are increasingly subjected to what I call, “Trial by Media.” Case in point: the current hot button topic about the alleged murder of 24 Iraqis by Marines in the city of Haditha. Did these Marines “snap” as one report suggests? Or is this “business as usual” as some politicians accuse? Or were these Marines exchanging gunfire with bad guys who are notorious for using women and children as shields, or simply as canon fodder so as to make Marines in particular, look bad, and the United States in general, to be in an awkward position on the international scene. There will be ongoing investigations, possibly some arrests, followed by a military court martial where the accused would be tried based upon the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

Allow me to explain a few things here. First, a court martial is “a court consisting of military or naval personnel appointed by a commander to try charges of offenses by soldiers, sailors, etc., against military or naval law” (Webster’s Dictionary). Second, the UCMJ is the body of laws and legal procedures by which our military determines violations leading to arrests, trials and, if found guilty, imprisonment and/or less than flattering discharges from the military (The UCMJ replaced the Articles of War in 1951). And third, the city of Haditha, Iraq is a known snake-pit of insurgents and other bad guys, a city where even children celebrate in the streets the beheadings that take place there daily. Do not confuse Haditha with Mayberry!

But are we as Americans guaranteed a fair trial? Yes. Are we presumed to be innocent until proven guilty? Ummm – Maybe. “What?!” you say. That’s correct. It does not specifically state anywhere in our Constitution that a person is presumed innocent. The underlying premise of the Constitution affords all Americans this privilege, and it’s basically found in Amendments 5, 6 and 14 of the U. S. Constitution. The 5th Amendment says you cannot testify against yourself. For the purposes of this article, let’s look at the phrase, “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” This “due process” implies a person’s innocence and has done so for centuries. As for the 6th Amendment, we are guaranteed a speedy and public trial, and “to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of Counsel for his defense.” The 14th Amendment guarantees an American citizen their civil rights: “Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

I found it a bit unsettling that the actual words “Innocent until proven guilty,” or “presumed innocent” were not actually in the Constitution. On the other hand, our Bill of Rights was founded upon the “Principle of the Presumption of Innocence.” This is derived from Anglo-Saxon laws and cultures, which provides the person charged with a crime the presumption of innocence. Our rights and laws as Americans are based upon this assumption.

Surprisingly (at least to me), many other democratic nations have these words or phrases written into their rights. Take our northern neighbors for example. In section 11(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it states: "Any person charged with an offence has the right ... to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal." France (Yes! France!), in article 9 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, of constitutional value, says "Every man is supposed innocent until having been declared guilty," and the preliminary article of the code of criminal procedure says "any suspected or prosecuted person is presumed to be innocent until his guilt has been established." The jurors' oath reiterates this assertion. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of the Council of Europe basically say the same thing: The Presumption of Innocence.

So let me ask this question: Why are there those in our country, politicians, military, and media, who are intent on accusing, trying, condemning and vilifying these Marines before they’ve been afforded the due process all Americans are entitled to?

Let me ask a personal question: Where do you stand on this issue? Will you withhold judgment until the accused have had their day in court? Or have you assumed their guilt simply because it makes for spicy news sound bites?

And finally, do you remember the “Golden Rule”? That’s where Jesus said to treat others the way you would like to be treated.

If this had been me with an M16 on fully automatic, kicking in doors looking for the bad guys who blew up my friend, I’d sure appreciate you giving me the benefit of the doubt. Until we know the facts, and a court of law has determined guilt or innocence, all Americans should hold their tongues.

Would that those with access to the media would heed this counsel.