A cause worth dying for

defense.gov

On the sixth of June, 1944, seventy- five years ago, more than a hundred- fifty thousand Allied troops became heroes on D-Day.

My late mother was a 12 year old schoolgirl living on the shores of the Belfast Lough in Northern Ireland. She told me of a foggy early morning probably a few days before the invasion when she saw many ships in the Lough only to disappear a day later. That capped a brief visit days earlier of an American cousin in her mother’s family, a Merchant Marine, who she later learned had been decorated for bravery in the Battle for Malta in 1942.

While some may think that Northern Ireland was far from the Blitz – the campaign the Nazi waged against Britain – German bombers attempting to destroy or disable aircraft manufacturing and the Belfast shipyard from April through May 1941, destroyed a considerable part of the city. A thousand were killed, many were injured and more than 100,000 were left homeless. Once the Nazis started their campaign against the Soviet Union in June 1941, they diverted their bombers.

My mother and family were fortunate in that their home was not bombed but the family retail business was unable to recover from the bombing of the city and the economic conditions which persisted all through the war and the remainder of the decade. And so my mother’s family became emigres to the United States in 1948 (other relatives had been living in the United States since the mid-19th Century).

hot water

An experienced mariner knows most basic principle of seamanship: keep the water outside the skin of the ship. But what if you want water, for your health and convenience, inside a ship? Before modern systems aboard ship made potable water from seawater, sailors had to carry sufficient drinking water with them. Sailors rarely bathed. In the later years of sailing ships, mariners learned that cold water bathing, and clean clothes would prevent communicable disease, and foul odors (germs). Modern systems on larger vessels supply clean water for everything from cooling equipment to supplying sailors with drinking water and for food preparation. As an added personal benefit: hot water for showers.

Living ashore since retiring from the sea service, I have not had to go without clean clothes, nor without hot water for ages. This week our home water heater failed and for two days we were braving cool showers. Calling out a plumbing company – one who installed my unit happened to be a former Navy HT – was a smart move. I would have been out of my depth (pardon the pun) there.

With an older home, lots of unforeseen costs for safety systems raised the price and the complexity of the job. My wife and I opted for a better, “greener”, and only a little more expensive longer-term solution. A tankless system instead of an old technology- and shorter lived one. With other required modifications for federal, state, and local regulations, the cost had us briefly thinking, is cold water really all that horrible? But with my restless dreams about work in recent weeks, I never want to have nightmares about flooding -while at work – soothed by cold water showers!

126 years young

It’s a birthday celebrated by a whole lot of people. Navy people, specifically, and to whom, the shortened form of applicable address, such as “Good Morning, Chief”, “Senior”, “CMC”, etc is heartwarming even to a Chief retired now for nine years. On April 1st, 1893 the United States Navy formally instituted the paygrade of Chief Petty Officer (CPO). How does one become a Chief? To echo a Brother Senior Chief many years ago, posing the question of a “Selectee” (and then answering her bewildered look), “I decided to work and act like a Chief Petty Officer. Then waited for the uniform to catch up.”

Together with rating examination scores, selection eligibility criteria, and a service record review by a board of senior Chief Petty Officers, candidates are selected. And once selected, a process of mentorship, instruction, leadership exercises and camaraderie ensues. This had been, and after a brief adjustment period, was reinstituted: the CPO initiation. Those of us who were selected to the rank of CPO, in whichever specialty rating we served, whether male or female, Active Duty or Retired, are all Brothers and Sisters in a worldwide fellowship, the Chief Petty Officer Mess. And in the grand scheme, the CPO takes care of the enlisted, mentors junior officers, executes the mission, all while leading from the Deckplate level.

For more on the history of the Chief Petty Officer, see this link to the Navy publication All Hands.

Navy Chief, Navy Pride!

grinders and coffee

Mention grinders to an older Navy veteran, generally brings to mind the large parade ground we marched around in Bootcamp.  But “grinder” also means a particular type of sandwich. In Southern California, while there are different names: submarine sandwiches, hoagies, and grinders, there are some places that are vastly different than the franchises that pop up everywhere.  And in El Cajon, California, not far from my home, is an institution 50 years in the making, The Grinder.

I actually only stopped in Thursday night at the request of my son, a Vocational Nurse working the evening shift, for a sub specifically made there.  It might have been my first visit though I have lived in the area twenty years.  After a long workday and a long, rainy evening commute,  but I would drive an extra few miles for a sandwich.

It was not a fancy place.  A video game table of the sort I had not seen in thirty years  was against the wall.  On the walls, were  Navy-themed art, a Bible quote,  articles on the history of this deli, a plaque honoring fifty years, and pictures of local kids.  But the one I noted just before ordering was the image of the late Chief John Finn,  Medal of Honor recipient (Pearl Harbor) on the wall. The kids working there know whose picture it is.   San Diego County is a military community, and El Cajon in the part known as “East County” is home to a large population of veterans going back to the Second World War.

“where do we eat and what show do we go to?”

On date night, quickly planned,  even the retired Senior Chief’s understanding wife may have felt a grinder was sub-expectations.  The mall was packed with Friday-night families.  As it turned out, a little pastry and coffee with live music at a coffee house we like was perfect.  We knew the music and lyrics; the acoustics were okay, and probably because the band and their fans are all about the same ages,  they concluded at a reasonable hour on a Friday night.  7:30 is almost bedtime.

So much for foodies partying into the wee hours (7:30PM)

immigration kon and tiki

One of the major issues in North America and European countries today is immigration. Politics and basic economics drive the debate, regardless of which side one supports. Perhaps it is worth considering – by all parties – for thousands of years, new arrivals brought talent, art, foodstuffs, and skills in navigation, or farming, or just hardiness. There were no aid agencies or politicians, and the adaptable survived. Across vast distances and different continents, it is no wonder that these were first undertaken by sailors, military men, and adventurers.

Long before I became a Sailor, I recall reading the adventure of Thor Heyerdahl, a Norwegian zoological researcher and explorer. It was then twenty-five years after an impressive 1947 voyage his team made across the Pacific Ocean. Compared to the modern warships in which I traversed the Pacific Ocean, Heyerdahl – and by experiment, pre-Inca natives, constructed a thirty-foot boat, of reed and balsa-wood. With a banana-leafed thatch cabin and a single-mast, six men departed South America. If modern man, in a post-war world might feel exposed – a hundred miles at sea, no sign of land and no birds in the sky, what were the first explorers possibly thinking. I thought this with experience of riding a ship 530 feet (161m) at the waterline, feeling the speck he was in comparison to the ocean.

Thor Heyerdahl’s point in the mid-Twentieth Century was to test that people might have settled Polynesia not from Asia, but from the east – South America – fifteen hundred years ago. A second settling might then have come from North America- British Columbia – by way of Hawaii, five hundred years later. Through radio-carbon dating, sweet potatoes which originate in Central and South America, were subsequently (1991) found by archaeologists in thousand-year old sites in Polynesia. (Since 2005, scholars debate which group came first – Polynesians to Hawaii or Hawaiians into Polynesia).

If you have not read Thor Heyerdahl’s account, Kon-Tiki, and you have a bit of the ocean-adventuring spirit, I suggest adding this to your list. I intend to revisit his story. Perhaps while eating a sweet potato.

warrior chromosome

One of the hottest political debates regarding military service in the United States during the last thirty years is the role for women. In my previous post, Ask the Chief: veteran is gender-neutral, I explore several issues that need to be raised more often in the national conscience: how does America support the veteran; does society, particularly other women, comprehend their co-workers and peers, (as reservists or on Active Duty) left their families, civilian jobs or school behind, and went to war particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq? In popular culture, the news, movies, cable and television, veteran conjures up both the warrior, and the sometimes addicted, sometimes homeless, conflicted man. Women too, are combat veterans, and have challenges with Government benefits, health and welfare issues no different than many other veterans.

A fascinating book that I began reading, is It’s My Country Too: Women’s Military Stories from the American Revolution to Afghanistan. Editors Jerri Bell and Tray Crow, have compiled a fascinating history, a page-turner, and relevant to today’s armed forces. Women whose recollections, memoirs, and diaries of service during the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries are few. Some heroines who did pass their recollections during depositions or speeches, often were edited or marginalized via male authors and editors. Modern research in archives and historical documents subsequently discerns fact from fiction. This book retells some fascinating accounts and implies many other women served as spies, employed in military units, came under fire, and were injured or killed in battles. At the time, and up through the early Twentieth Century, women would masquerade as men, with poor or nonexistent medical screenings for enlistment, and were only detected and discharged – or reassigned – when injured.

Those who had received military pensions, honors, and military burials from past conflicts paved the way for our female warriors and veterans today. And during the last ten years, attitudes and policies on the sexual orientation of service members and recruits has also changed. But the dialogue that inflames so many military members, veterans, policy wonks and Generation Y activists, distracts from the real stories and real problems: women have been serving in the defense of the nation since the Revolutionary War. And both their contributions and sacrifice has more often than not, been minimized, glamorized, or forgotten in history. And just as has been the case for decades, the mental and physical care of injured veterans, promised by the US Government over the centuries has been slower to respond to the female veteran.

In the next chapters yet to be read, the authors, veterans of the Marines, and Army, tell the stories of women in combat from the First World War through the War in Afghanistan.

just Coexist they say


Yesterday, December seventh, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. We will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God. Franklin D. Roosevelt


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Every generation has those who believe morally (spiritually) or  intellectually in  “world peace”. That coexistence of disparate ideologies are obtainable goals for mankind.  Others believe that economic interdependence among nations is the key.  Redistribution of wealth -generally that of political and social opponents – to those who have much less – by a paternalistic governing authority is a popular theme.  And still others believe that superior military firepower will thwart aggression.    In the last decades of the Twentieth Century and through the first two of the new Millennium, people have thought that accommodation, neutral stances and open-mindedness on everything from language to social services, gender and religion would bring about “coexistence”.   

It doesn’t matter what the topic is, but what is disturbing to someone raised in the last years of the American post-WWII  “Baby Boomer” generation,  that discernment, wisdom, dialogue, and critical thinking have been tossed away.  Feelings and hypersensitivity to the possibility that people may encounter ideas and attitudes that run counter to what they have been taught, have resulted in redefining “free speech”.   And in an age where the leader of our country is hypersensitive to criticism, narcissistic and uses social media to incessantly comment on his political adversaries,  we have other elected representatives refusing to obey legal statute, convention or address public safety concerns.  These highly insulated folks pander to an audience who are not citizens of the nation.   Judges do not rule on the merits of a statute based on the founding documents of the nation, but on interpretation and personal feelings.   In Government, universities, public education (K – 12), and almost all information and entertainment mediums,  the end goals of the broadcaster are fixed and unwaverable – with supporting data, “expert opinion”, and “statistics” found and scrubbed to present support for the “conclusion” reached.  Dissent is met with ridicule and occasional violence.

The latest examples of how improbable it is to coexist, except on the bumpers of socially conscious Western Europeans and North Americans vehicles, is the perpetual state of violence: against Jews, Kurds, Ukrainians, Syrians,  people in the Horn of Africa, Central Asia, and the Central and South America.  With warlords, drug cartels, extremists, zealots, and criminal gangsters,  there has been only violence, sex trafficking, child slavery, murder and anarchy, but no  peaceful coexistence.   International groups bring relief to hurting or starving refugees, risk being kidnapped, murdered, raped, or at best, had their aid looted and mission closed.   There are nation-states like Iran, North Korea,  Saudi Arabia, and Russia, who support groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, Taliban, or the now-splintered Al Qaeda and ISIS. 

Sixty years after the world went to war over geopolitical ideology, and rallied to oppose and end genocide in the process,,  an ideology that has in its core tenets, an open hostility and warfare with Jews, Christians and – infidels,  executes a malevolent plan against the United States, resulting in the deaths of nearly three thousand people. Whether the barbarism of a faction or yet another example of how people cannot coexist with differing ideologies, this was only the last of several attacks prior to September 11th which killed numerous military members and civilians of many nations, carried out under the banner of “fundamentalists”.  And even as recently as today, more funerals, more anguish and more antagonism between rivals indicate that peaceful coexistence is as difficult to obtain unless one side is being buried and the other,  performing the eulogy.

I think, in the wake of Sept. 11, it’s important for the American public to understand that to the extent that there are individuals within the United States who would undertake terrorist attacks, that we are doing something to address that. Robert Mueller


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