Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I'm Not Feeling So Good

I guess it stands to reason that I’m not feeling very well these days. Congress is debating the president’s health care bill which by most accounts is ridiculously expensive, and not what it is being purported to be.

Back in 1993 when we were first introduced to the prospect of “Hillary Care” I was fearful then that the government would stick its fingers into this cash cow and ruin what is the best health care system on planet earth. Granted, it is not perfect. That goes without saying. But as one of the slogans from the Clinton era goes, “If you think health care is expensive now, wait until it’s free!”

The bill currently before the House of Representatives is over one thousand pages in length. Who reads this stuff? From the best I can understand, Congressional aides read parts of these bills and then feed the information to the Congressman. Many of these elected officials at least admit they don’t even read the bill. But doesn’t it baffle you that they can go to the floor of the Senate or House and defend a bill they’ve never read with a vehemence that is breath-taking?

No doubt you’ve heard or read stories of health care under a socialist system. I actually lived in a country for two years where they had socialized medicine. But as a thirteen year old in Norway I was the picture of health. If I was living there today, I might find myself in a bit of trouble. England and Canada, too. Anywhere they have socialized medicine. The system of socialized medicine is run by the government, which taxes the citizens to pay for everyone’s health care. The frightening part of this is that some bureaucrat will decide what sort of health care you receive. Take my health for instance. I have always enjoyed sports, and athletics of all sorts. Working out in the gym was a daily experience which I looked forward to. Until about eight years ago I was playing handball with several friends each morning for between and hour and a half to two hours – non-stop. It was great! In my younger days I spent a lot of time in the weight room. In my mid-forties I decided I was going to shoot for a personal best in the bench press by the time I hit fifty. I achieved that goal. But during the past decade I began to notice a decline in my ability to exercise without running out of gas. I attributed it to getting older. The Navy requires that you run a mile and a half twice a year under supervised conditions. As a former Marine, this was laughable. Marines haven’t even broken a sweat at a mile and a half. I used to joke that you could do a mile and a half with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. I didn’t realize how close to the truth I was.

Toward the end of my military career I was having trouble running the mile and a half. I excused it to being overly tired, pushing sixty, etc. Those of you who have followed this column for the past couple of years will recall that I finally went to see my doctor after I had to stop playing a round of golf because I simply was exhausted. After a battery of tests it was determined that I had heart disease. In fact, I had six blockages that ranged between 75% and 95%. Six stents were then inserted into the heart arteries, and then fourteen months later I had two more stents added to my growing collection. I joke about setting a record in the Guinness Book of World Records. But seriously, if I was living in a nation with socialized medicine I fear I would not be a candidate for advanced medical care. I turn sixty-one in September. Would there be additional health care treatment for me and my heart disease under that system? Could I even expect to be placed on some waiting list in the hopes that I would still be around when the system notified me that there was a doctor available to take care of my heart? I shudder to think!

My personal physician, as well as my cardiologist, both told me that my heart disease is unique. It seems that there's a small percentage of people who find themselves with heart disease which has nothing to do with poor diet or lack of exercise. As my cardiologist said to me, “It’s in your genes, and it picked you.”

So despite all the exercise, and being attentive to my diet, I was dealt this hand. I’m okay with that because the Lord is ultimately in control. But I am troubled that we will wind up with a socialized health care system in America that will prevent folks from receiving the care they need. You have to ask the question: Why do our northern neighbors in Canada come to the States when they need operations?

I was listening to a physician on a radio talk show this morning who works in the Intensive Care Unit for a major hospital in Chicago. He sees all sorts of patients – from the skid row bums to the elite of society. He was emphatic when he said no one, under any conditions, is refused care. Neither are they refused a medical procedure that would save the persons life. Can the current administration’s health care plan before Congress make that claim?

Pay attention, America.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Midway Moment

I guess the older you get the more you recognize that you are surrounded by history. Not only that, but you are yourself rapidly becoming a part of that history! I remember a few years ago when my brother, John, told me that the CH46 Sea Knight helicopter he had flown in Vietnam was now part of the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington DC. I laughed and told him they needed to stuff him like a taxidermist would do and place him in the museum with the helicopter.

Not long after that I was attending a meeting of Navy chaplains at NAS Alameda. This would have been in 1993. As I drove toward the base I was struck by several thoughts. First, Alameda had not changed all that much since I had served there as a Marine in the early 70s. Second, I had heard they were going to close down NAS Alameda – something that seemed inconceivable to me. During the Vietnam War that base was a beehive of activity 24/7. Navy ships coming and going, Navy and Marine Corps jets and other varied and assorted aircraft were punching holes in the sky day and night, and Marines and Sailors were all over the place. Going away? Shutting down? I simply could not grasp that. Third, as I pulled up to the Main Gate I noticed an addition to the turnabout just inside the gate. In the grassy center was mounted a T-A4 with the numbers on the side, “00”. This was one of the planes from my former squadron, VMA 133. This Marine squadron had been decommissioned several years earlier, but the reality of it did not strike me until that moment. A thought came to my mind: “You know you’re getting old when the planes you used to work on are now on display!”

So, anyway, this past weekend, Isaura and I took off in the car on Thursday and drove to San Diego. Our friend, Bob Page, was being commissioned as an ensign in the Navy. Bob and I served together most of the past seven years. We have similar military experiences, though I am older by more than a dozen years. We both initially served in the Marine Corps, attaining the rank of E6, staff sergeant. My path led me to become a Navy chaplain, but Bob became a Navy RP. An RP is the Navy designation for a Religious Program Specialist. These folks are enlisted personnel who train specifically to work in support of chaplains. Unlike the chaplains, however, who are non-combatants, the RPs are combatants, and serve as the bodyguard for the chaplain in a combat zone. Desiring to serve the Lord in the military, Bob became an RP. We first hooked up in 2002 when he joined me at I MACE located at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. We were nearly attached at the hip for the next number of years until my retirement from the Navy last September. Being attached at the hip with Bob would be nearly impossible since I’m no longer the towering 5’10” I once was, and Bob is 6’6”!

Bob performed wonderfully as an RP, rising to the rank of E8, senior chief, and I’m absolutely certain he would have gone on to E9, master chief except that an opportunity came along for him to apply for a commission to be an officer. You see, Bob has an extensive background in news journalism. He has worked cameras, broken big news stories, and served as news director for several major television stations. In the process he has garnered seven Emmys for his work. For those unfamiliar with the Emmy Award, it is a television production award, considered the television equivalent to the Academy Awards. The Emmys are presented in various sectors of the television industry, including entertainment programming, news and documentary shows, and sports programming.

Since the Navy was in need of people for the PAO (Public Affairs Officer) program, Bob thought he might apply and see what happened. Sure enough, they selected him to be commissioned as an ensign, now serving the base command in Coronado, California. Nice!

On Saturday, all the candidates for commission were mustered on the flight deck of the USS Midway, now a museum permanently anchored at a pier in San Diego. There was a nice crowd of folks attending the ceremony, including a three-star admiral whose daughter was being commissioned as well! When it was Bob’s turn to be sworn in, Lori, his wife, and I came forward to insert his ensign shoulder boards on his Navy summer white uniform. Administering the oath of office was Navy chaplain Rabbi Irv Elson who had served with Bob in a Marine command that made the historic run to Baghdad in March of 03.

The backdrop of the USS Midway was perfect because, like the checkered story of the old warship, Bob’s military story, though not totally unique, nevertheless, is checkered. It is a rarity for a person to have gained that much experience and achieved that much success in two different branches of the military, and to have moved almost all the way to the top of the enlisted ranks only to set that aside and start at the bottom of the officer ranks as a newly commissioned ensign.

But if I know Bob, in short order he’ll know his job better than anyone else, and will be promoted right up the chain.

Admiral Page? It could happen!

I can’t help but think that Bob will have an endless supply of stories to regale his grandchildren with some day.

Thanks, Bob, for your friendship, and for your service to our country.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

As the Family Goes . . .

The expression is quite accurate, “As the family goes, so goes the nation.”

It does not require higher degrees of learning, or specialized training, or psychological insights to see that the American family unit is continuing to fragment, splinter and devolve into a fractured, irreparable state. The simplicity of this conclusion is a no-brainer.

The once-great nation of the United States of America is treading down a path of self-destruction. Consider with me the more obvious of problems we have created for ourselves.

Industrialization. Our fledgling nation emerged from the European dominance of Great Britain, France and Spain during the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Mexican-American War. Industrialization began to emerge on both the European Continent and in North America in the early decades of the 1800s. Most notably, trains appeared, moving people in a manner never conceived of by our forefathers. Steel became king, with large factories popping up just outside of major cities. Because of the need for blue-collar laborers in these factories, men and their families began to leave the farms and move to the cities, swelling their already burdened populations as too many people were applying for far too few jobs. Poverty, slums, increased depression and over-stressed families became the new normal.

Super-Power. As recent as World War I, the United States believed we could stay removed from the concerns of the rest of the world. Isolationism was the theme of the day. We tried to stay out of the nasty affairs of Europe. President Wilson worked tirelessly in the effort to keep us out of a war that began in 1914. He nearly succeeded. The cry of despair that came from the ravaged nations where many of our forefathers originated would not cease. Wilson finally acquiesced and allowed American troops to sail for France to beat back the military muscle of the German Kaiser, forcing terms of surrender on Germany, and thus bringing WWI to an end. Many proclaimed this to be the “War to end all wars!” During these early days of the nineteenth century the car and airplane shifted from being simply created novelties to mainstays in our daily lives. The United States was now a nation to be taken seriously. If all the world was not convinced of this, then World War II made the point emphatically: The United States had emerged into a Super-Power.

Godlessness. A strange development began to arise within our social, political, philosophical and even theological circles: There is no God. Nineteenth Century philosopher Frederick Nitze popularized the concept that “God is dead.” It caught on, devolving into the inhuman philosophies perpetrated by the likes of Hitler and Mussolini. To our own detriment, it became the target of academia in America. In 1962 prayer in our public schools was banned by law. The onslaught of removing God and any semblance of religion and faith from public, even private, life, continues to this day. The Humanist Manifesto became our new faith which espouses that “there is no God; that the universe is self-existent; and that life and humanity arose by purely naturalistic means, particularly evolution.” Communism embraced this belief wholeheartedly.

Devaluing Life. The cumulative effect of all the previous conditions has led our nation to the point where we have begun the slippery-slope of devaluing life. The Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision of 1973 sent a chilling pall over our nation. Regardless of how you choose to explain it, as a nation we declared open season on the defenseless unborn. Who of us is safe if the most vulnerable are not safe? Mother Teresa, in scolding the United States regarding our abortion policies, said, “The greatest destroyer of peace is abortion because if a mother can kill her own child, what is left for me to kill you and you to kill me? There is nothing between.” The elderly fear entering hospitals today. Why? Because of euthanasia – someone (a doctor or nurse) may decide the patient has lived long enough – or the patient won’t have the proper quality of life (a nebulous term if ever there was one!). A United States Congressman from a neighboring state declared a couple of years ago that the elderly have an obligation to die. And then there was the complaint from within our nation’s capital that too many of our troops wounded in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan were surviving. This, and countless other examples, is why I say there is a chilling effect on our nation and the world.

Fractured Family. Both parents working, chasing the American Dream, latch-key kids, absentee fathers, career-oriented mothers, spousal/child abuse, an uncertain economy, single parents, a rising divorce rate, adultery treated as normal, abandoned kids, confusion over sexual orientation, an exploding pornography industry, plus a growing movement away from marriage and life-long commitments and more, are all contributing to the American family slowly being crushed by the weight of these forces.

What nation could possibly survive such things?

We may glibly ask for God’s blessing. We may heartily sing, “God Bless America!” We may see ourselves as the good guys. But, we would be wise to recognize that we have strayed far from the path God had purposed for us. We would be wise to ask for God’s mercy. We would be wise to repent and seek his forgiveness. Then, perhaps an all-wise God might send a revival of real hope across our land. This is my prayer for the land and people I love.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

State Logos

Recently, my sister Joy asked me if I would write about state logos. She had been driving through the New England states where we grew up and was enjoying the different state logos. I think it was the logo from New Hampshire that got her thinking about this; Live Free or Die.

So I decided to look at the various logos for the states and territories that belong to the United States. Allow me to share some of them with you. Please note that the ones of particular interest to me are the ones that speak of God and/or defending freedom. Here goes.

“We Dare Defend Our Rights” – Alaska
“Let God Be First” – American Samoa (U.S. Territory)
“God Enriches” – Arizona
“The People Rule” – Arkansas
“Nothing Without God’s Will” – Colorado
“He Who Transplants Sustains” – Connecticut
“Liberty and Independence” – Delaware
“Justice for All” – District of Columbia (Washington DC)
“In God We Trust” – Florida
“The Life of the Land is Perpetuated in Righteousness” – Hawaii
“Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain” – Iowa
“Let Us Be Grateful to God” – Kentucky
“By the Sword We Seek Peace, But Peace Only Under Liberty” – Massachusetts
“By Valor and Arms” – Mississippi
“All For Our Country” – Nevada
“Live Free or Die” – New Hampshire
“With God, All Things are Possible” – Ohio
“Virtue, Liberty, and Independence” – Pennsylvania
“Hope” – Rhode Island
“Under God the People Rule” – South Dakota
“Freedom and Unity” – Vermont

As I looked through these various state logos several things struck me. First, some of the logos of the U.S. states or territories are in the language of the native people, such as Hawaii and American Samoa. Second, most of the state logos are either in English or Latin. Third, the dates of these logos established by each state do not date back as far as I would have expected. Case in point: Kentucky’s logo, “Let us be grateful to God” was as recent as 2002. Fourth, several states have logos in languages I would not have expected. Try this: “Eureka” which is Greek for “I have found it.” The state? California. Or “L’Etoille du Nord” which is French for “The Star of the North.” Where is this? Minnesota. Then there’s this one: “Oro y Plata” which is Spanish for “Gold and Silver.” This is Montana. Finally, there’s this one: “Al-ki” which is Chinook Jargon (Native American Indian) for “By and By.” The state? Washington.

Perhaps you found your state in this partial list. My birth state was not at first among them until I did some research. Connecticut has a rather odd and obscure logo: “He who transplanted sustains.” Huh? Granted, this logo was established in 1662, only forty-two years after the pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock, but I have no idea what it is intended to mean. In my research, the meaning of the Latin motto was explained in 1775, to wit, "We fix on our Standards and Drums the Colony arms, with the motto, Qui Transtulit Sustinet, round it in letters of gold, which we construe thus: ‘God, who transplanted us hither, will support us.’"

Now, I kind of like that! In fact, that would work for us today as a nation. God is not finished with us yet. He alone is more than able to right this ship of state we know and love as America.

God bless America – still.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Rain in Maine

With apologies to Rex Harrison, star of the movie and Broadway play, My Fair Lady. The famous line from a song sung by Mr. Harrison went like this, “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.” This is what is called assonance. This literary term refers to similarly repeated sounds being made in a poetic or rhyming pattern.

Since leaving for vacation immediately following my daughter Laura’s wedding, I envisioned two weeks back east blissfully playing golf with my brother, John, while also spending time with other family members on our annual sojourn to Maine. Because the weather has been less than cooperative, I have formulated my own assonance in describing my two weeks of vacation: “The rain in Maine has plainly been a pain!” Or perhaps we could invert this sentence to say the same thing: “The pain in Maine has plainly been the rain.” You get the idea.

Being the dauntless men that we are, John and I weren’t going to allow a bit of moisture to dampen our spirits. After all, golf is for hale and hearty fellows who laugh in the face of climactic conditions. After all, John and I have played golf in Alaska during the summer when the sun barely set before beginning its ascent for the new day. John took a picture of me walking off the eighteenth green at twelve-thirty in the morning! Then there was the time he flew into Sacramento where I picked him up with golf clubs in tow and we played a course in the area not far from the capital that was enduring some of the coldest, most frigid weather I’d ever experienced. We layered up, complete with gloves, and played on. Another time we were playing at a club near his home in Virginia. It was a cold January day, but it was a beautiful day for golf (By definition, every day is a beautiful day for golf!). About the 16th hole there was the slightest hint of snow flakes in the air. By the time we played through to the 18th hole, there was about a half inch of snow on the ground. White golf balls and white snow add an additional dimension to the inherent challenges of golf. We were reduced to spasms of laughter watching each other attempt to putt the golf ball through the snow. The ball, having now acquired the same temperature as the frigid air, collected the snow around it like a belt as it rolled to a wobbly stop, always woefully short of the hole.

From the day of arrival in Portland, Maine, the weather was wet, cloudy and rainy. There wasn’t a single patch of blue anywhere to be had in the sky. This lasted for eight days – the same amount of time, incidentally, I would be spending in Maine. A day or two of rain in Maine during June is certainly nothing new. But this was ridiculous! In speaking to one of the grounds keepers at our favorite golf course, Belgrade Lakes Golf Club, he told me that as of that day, June 24, they had already had eighteen days of rain for the month. To say that the ground was overly saturated would clearly be an understatement. Still, we soldiered on, slogging through the squishy sod. The plus side to playing is that we virtually had the golf course to ourselves. Occasionally, we would see another golfer or two out on the course, at which point we would become somewhat indignant that they would dare play on our course! Of course, it wasn’t our course, but under those conditions it did feel that way.

Yesterday, on our final day of play for the week, we teed off early (7:20 am) and managed to play two full rounds dodging rain showers, finishing about mid-afternoon. During the drive back to the cabin located on the coast, the rain persisted with a few more showers as if Mother Nature was thumbing her nose at us. Then about thirty minutes from our arrival a small patch of blue sky appeared. However, this was short-lived because the coast was, and remains completely fogged in.

Tonight we celebrate our mother’s 94th birthday complete with fresh Maine lobster (caught today – we’re friends with the manager of the local lobster co-op); Montreal-spiced baked chicken; New England roasted red potatoes; homemade corn chowder, and split-pea soup; Bambi’s Cole-slaw; Ruth’s homemade strawberry cream pie, and strawberry/rhubarb pie; Johnny’s chunky apple pie; local chocolate and vanilla ice cream, all topped off with a fresh pot of hot coffee.

So let it rain! Life is good, and I am blessed!