Veteran stories: a soldiers service to God and humanity

The Nuremberg trials concluded 75 years ago, obtaining convictions for Nazi officials, commanders and death camp overseers, those who orchestrated and committed genocide in World War II. World War II veteran Ben Ferencz prosecuted 22 Nazi death squad leaders for their role in murdering a million Jews. During his life he helped create the International Criminal Court in the Hague, and secure compensation for the survivors and families of Holocaust victims. At nearly 103, he is still dedicated to making the world better. Read his fascinating story, published by NBCNews January 15, 2023, here.

Putting your heart where your crow used to be

Anybody who wears their feelings on their sleeve and has a harder, crusty shell – like I do – is definitely protecting an inner sensitivity.

Fred Durst, rapper, actor, musician (Limp Bizkit)

It has been more than twenty years since I was a crewman aboard a Navy ship putting to sea. With nearly eight and half years of sea time, all but several months of which was continually away from homeport, I relished having that connection to loved ones that the mail might bring. Where an actual package might take a month to be delivered, letters normally took half that time. And when email became possible, it seemed like those were almost instantaneous messages and response. Even during a busy OPTEMPO, Sailors need that connection to be reminded that what they are doing is important and that people back home have them in mind. We used to call articles shipped from home CARE packages. Moms or wives, or girlfriends (and now husbands, boyfriends and family) sent letters, cookies, magazines, and other mementos to their loved one afloat halfway around the world.

As former shipmates know, deployments and remote duty assignments can negatively influence marriages, relationships and personal conduct. Home life as a single parent is difficult without preplanning and a support network; many young marriages are tested by months of separation, and relocation every few years to different states or even countries. Sometimes poor decisions at home, or while on deployment causes emotional and financial distress. Away from one’s family or church, personal accountability is challenged. Working and living 24 hours a day among those who may believe playing “hard” is as important as working “hard”, personal accountability is tested (“poured into” one’s rack after drinking all day with your Liberty buddies, is overlooked once or twice by your leadership, but can be career-limiting as well as unhealthy). It is for that reason that connection with one of those families or young servicemembers, having walked myself in those boondockers, is so important to me.

The idea to continuing to serve our active duty men and women while they are away from home is not new. Legion and VFW halls, and USOs have done that for a century. But what eats at me is what am I doing to help encourage others? It is fairly easy to be someone who says they support such n such. And if someone says they are a supporter, do they provide some form of material support? A donor to a cause is needed, but asks little of that person. Putting additional “skin in the game”, is the one who participates in some activity, whether writing a letter, making a phone call, or taking a CARE package to the post office and mailing it. And then there is the one who is spurred to coordinate these efforts, obtaining the names of those service members your group or organization wants to help. Like the Chief, a job needs doing, and it is the Chief who sees it through. Sometimes your sweat, tears, and time makes it seem little is being accomplished. And yet there are those who will remember how there were people who helped make the separation – deployment – bearable. Being a Chief looking after the well-being of ‘your’ people never changes whether on Active Duty or retired for more than a decade. For the last couple decades, it is the members of my church family, neighbors, friends and former co-workers I have kept in my heart. Wearing my heart on my sleeve, though I no longer have khakis or dress uniform is still to help those serving today.

Ask the Chief: Mop-N-Glo memories

I do not recall Sailors or Marines scrubbing, polishing or sweeping (on hands and knees) featured in recruiting or Hollywood military movies. But cleaning living quarters with keen eye to removing specks of dust or a random human hair helped turned generations of civilians into military personnel. Being a just-promoted Navy seaman (or fireman or airman) apprentice (E-2) or seaman (E-3) attending a Navy “Class A” fundamentals school, the officer and enlisted managers of the schools and the barracks ran them as an extension of recruit training. These school managers were fastidious in weekly inspections of barracks rooms and our uniforms; we grumbled among ourselves to prefer being sent straight to the “Fleet”.


“A School” was just as much about learning Navy “life hacks” as it was about acquiring one’s trade fundamentals. And acquiring a perspective how to work “smarter, instead of harder”. After the first or second inspection, we would seek out the ‘skinny’ to obtain best result with the minimum output of effort. For dress uniform inspections, we learned of a local shop that specialized in neckerchief rolling, or ribbon-mounting (having only one, a National Defense ribbon as a recent enlistee, the shop catered primarily to senior military enlisted and officers). Though we had some who proudly shined their leather shoes to perfection, most of us purchased Corframs, patent-leather shoes as soon as we could.

It was some of our “Fleet returnees”, sailors and Marines returning for formal training, who gave us techniques to dazzle the inspectors. We learned quickly. Knowing that even a “spotless” room might receive an arbitrary review for “uneven” sheen using the Navy-standard floor wax and electric floor buffer, the secret these “salty” E-4s and E-5s passed us, involved the use of an acrylic liquid wax like Mop-N-Glo. Both techniques required ‘elbow grease’ and an absolutely clean, cleanser-free, surface. But the latter was applied with sponges. As the acrylic would be as easily marred by shoe scuffs, we all agreed to walk in our socks once inside the doorway.

Sometimes we might make two consecutive inspections before having to deep clean and reapply acrylic. As we learned later, many of the school staff would be more diligent when inspecting a barracks room that had a “Fleet returnee” in it. These were the first of many ‘life hacks’ I would acquire as a result of military experiences. Though I have not used a buffer nor Mop-N-Glo in 30 years, memories return when I visit a home where the resident has a sign requesting shoes to be left at the doorway. And if I have an appointment at an office building or military base, the sheen on the floor triggers silent appreciation for the “buffer technician”.

Ask the Chief: honoring the Flag

Everywhere I go, I meet a veteran with a story that teaches me something about us as Americans. Some I meet are veterans of WWII and Korea, and some are quite a bit younger as veterans of combat tours in Afghanistan or Iraq. Others recall some detestable conduct they experienced from fellow Americans – incidents of racism, bigotry, or suspicion- but joined the military because of the promise that America meant to them. Some gave up promising careers to go defend America after September 11th. And quite a few I meet are immigrants who were willing to give up everything including their lives, to join the military, fight for the United States and earn citizenship.

Do you know the meaning of each fold of a properly folded American flag?

-George x, veteran and filmmaker

In a little motel office not far outside Yosemite National Park, my wife and I met the “staff”, George, who today was the snow shoveler, registration clerk and information concierge. We chatted this evening when we went looking for hot water to make cocoa, and he was very proud to share with us a story and a video about the American Flag. As a foreign-born American soldier, he earned citizenship through his wartime service. As a film student not long after his enlistment ended, a conversation with a Vietnam veteran sparked the momentum to make a documentary on the meaning of the Flag. With the participation of several notable Hollywood actors and military veterans, he produced the film directed by John Duffy. George gave us a DVD copy of “The Flag” which he promised “gives something to watch when the TV reception here is not good”.

Even as a retired Navy Senior Chief, I couldn’t immediately recall what the 13 individual folds of the flag I lowered and folded 3 decades ago meant, when it was my duty to execute with precision at Evening Colors. But the United States ensign has meant a great deal to me and my family for generations. Like one of the scenes in the film recreated what spurred a Vietnam vet’s interest in getting this film made. The idea that Americans would think it appropriate to burn an American flag, for whatever protest they have with our Government’s bureaucrats and elected officials, still wells up the same response from veterans. Like me, it might be fury at the disrespect shown veterans who have defended the principles, people, and homeland of the United States; and disappointment that people, never having suffered what most of the world has endured, trash symbols that give them more freedoms and choices than most.

  • First Fold: A Symbol of Life
  • Second Fold: Symbol of our belief in eternal life
  • Third: made in honor and remembrance of the veteran departing our ranks, and who gave a portion of his or her life for the defense of our country to attain peace throughout the world
  • Fourth: represents our weaker nature; as American citizens trusting in God, it is Him we turn to in times of peace, as well as in times of war, for His divine guidance
  • Fifth:  tribute to our country. In the words of Stephen Decatur, “Our country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right, but it is still our country, right or wrong.”
  • Sixth: is for where our hearts lie. It is with our heart that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
  • Seventh: is a tribute to our Armed Forces for it is through the armed forces that we protect our country and our flag against all enemies, whether they be found within or without the boundaries of our republic.
  • Eighth: is a tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day, and to honor our mother, for whom it flies on Mother’s Day.
  • Ninth:  a tribute to womanhood. It has been through their faith, love, loyalty and devotion that has molded the character of the men and women who have made this country great.
  • Tenth: a tribute to father, who has also given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since he or she was first born.
  • Eleventh: represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies God of Abraham (honored by Jew or Muslim)
  • Twelfth: represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies God the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost.
  • Thirteenth: when the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, “In God We Trust.”

Ed: This list is explained in the documentary, and this same description is given on military.com; some websites, including government sites, incorrectly attribute the folds to represent the original 13 colonies.

Ask the Chief: toxic exposure

Veterans and their families must take the initiative to obtain healthcare we are due as a result of military service. Veterans must recognize that any large bureaucracy moves slowly as a result of myriad policies, procedures, and claimants seeking redress. But recognition of one’s “adversary” does not mean avoiding redress of wrongs. As history taught, determined veterans and others exposed to ionizing radiation associated with nuclear weapons used against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the Nevada desert and Pacific atoll ranges, were determined to obtain treatment from the Government. Similarly, civilians, shipyard workers and veterans’ exposure to asbestos insulation dust caused lung damage and incidents of cancer; public pressure resulted in nationwide asbestos removal and medical treatment for the afflicted. Certain cleaning solvents (e.g., trichloroethylene up through the 1970s) and repeated exposure for decades to PCBs – Polychlorinated biphenyl – used as insulating and coolant agents, sickened people and forced cleanup and care for those affected. Toxics leached into drinking water within military installations, exemplified by the Camp Lejeune Marine Base and elsewhere originating decades ago have become legal issues. Recently, the Government was forced to assume responsibility for troops exposed to toxics from Burn pits, disposal of trash and sewage with ignited diesel fuel – at camps during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among veterans who were deployed to the Mid-East since the Gulf War in 1991, a number have maladies that resist determining a cause. Since the 1990s, medical professionals have identified about a third of Gulf War veterans suffering problems grouped as Gulf War Syndrome.

Recent data studied by the U.S. Census Bureau (2018) indicates that living veterans number about 7 percent of the U.S. population. While servicemembers might risk injury and death from combat, many faced hazards from the conditions they worked within while working and living with toxic substances. These substances may contribute or aggravate, even decades later, health conditions. While it seems logical that these should be diagnosed and treated as the responsibility of the Government, it is an unfortunate necessity to apply political pressure and bring public scrutiny when an illness is as a result of military service. In the modern era, many voices clamor for Government services. Veterans who do not clamor louder that other constituents may not get heard.

civilizations, past and present owe sailors a debt

As a Christmas gift, one of our sons gave me a book, The Sea & Civilization: a Maritime History of the World, (2013) by Lincoln Paine. I have always been interested in history, and yet I never had a concise history describing the rise of civilizations around the globe. From Lincoln Paine’s Introduction and into the first chapter, Sailors have played a major role in enabling the rise of cultures across Oceania (across the Pacific Ocean), North and South America, and the Caribbean islands, and elsewhere. For most of us, the history we were taught, particularly in North America and western Europe, focused solely on how Europeans explored the world, encountering mostly primitive peoples. In recent decades, new research into those explorers who chronicled their voyages, and new archaeological discoveries reveal that people thousands of years earlier than either Greeks or western Europeans had fairly advanced maritime cultures, navigated great distances and established wide trade networks. I will repost with observations of what was learned that challenges my previous notions in maritime history.

Perhaps as my readers encounter well written and thoughtful books of interest to the Maritime-minded, you will take the opportunity to share these with me and others. I hope to develop a reading list early this year on maritime history, leadership, storytelling, boatbuilding, science, and biographies of some notable men and women who have dared to put to sea and returned victorious.

Ask the Chief: no one is coming

On social media, a former Green Beret, Scott Mann, succinctly describes veterans’ loss of confidence in the United States Government after the debacle which allowed the Taliban fighters who sheltered the 9/11 terrorist network to retake the country of Afghanistan. If the aim of the United States was to punish an ideology that murdered thousands in the United States, and to convince that ideology’s adherents to abandon those efforts, the cost in lives, injury, emotional and physical suffering over twenty years failed. Changing a fourteen hundred year old culture of Islamic traditions, tribalism, misogyny, and history of repelling foreign invasion by military occupation, electrification, and educating young women was unlikely to be permanent in one generation. It was the same lesson the Soviets learned and the British before them. The lessons that America’s hasty exit left in the minds of adversaries and allies, is that the United States can be defeated when drawn into a long, bloody conflict with facile understanding of its adversaries. It is the historical view that politics at home shifts America’s commitment. With such an eventual outcome, it emboldens her adversaries, economic and military, to convince nations with strategic geopolitical importance to partner with them. While nations like Russia rattle sabers (nuclear weapons, natural gas supplies) against Europe, annex the Crimea region and invade the Ukraine (which has proven to be Putin’s equally bloody miscalculation), Iran continues to develop weapons and relations with regimes that do not favor the US nor its allies; North Korea continues development of nuclear-capable missiles; and China builds bases, militarily-useful seaports and industrial capability globally. It also flexes naval power to remind the United States that it plans to eventually retake Taiwan. The seeds of future conflict with the United States, to support alliances or to defend trading partners, is being sown all the time. Meanwhile the United States military has experienced an internal conflict shifting resources and capabilities to align with societal change in identity- gender, attitudes ( regard for authority, character, politics). Accidents, expensive but short-lived weapon systems, and ethically-challenged members in the officer and enlisted ranks (bribery, sexual abuse, and “loss of confidence” in those chosen to command) reflect deficiencies in training, design, threat analysis, and personnel selection.

Why have a Preventative Maintenance System?

CINCHOUSE (for those unfamiliar with military acronyms, this means Commander-In-Chief, House), otherwise known as my wife, has been very gracious throughout the last 72 hours without the use of a tactically significant piece of home equipment: our clothes dryer. After many thousands of loads over the last 7 or 8 years, the dryer failed to turn on, and I was asked to perform corrective maintenance. I am the command Maintenance Chief as well as the Supply Chief, which can range from scheduling a Maintenance Availability with a contractor, or restoring operation myself with the assistance of Amazon or other parts supplier. Without a backup system onsite, the Laundry Officer took the towels to a laundromat the first night.

Troubleshooting: Fault analysis & Symptom Elaboration

The process was fairly straightforward even without having a repair manual or parts list on hand. After three decades expertise, proper tools and following normal safety precautions, I expected to have the unit fixed. I was able to retrieve a parts list, and have the most likely replacement part shipped to me. It arrived this morning. Fortunately, I did not need the EMO’s signature on a tag-out log, but disconnected the dryer plug from the 240VAC line.

Upon disassembly to gain access to the electrical part, the first thing I noted was gundecked PMS. A Preventative Maintenance System is only effective in maintaining equipment at optimum working efficiency when followed precisely. That, of course was my problem. The electric dryer was not on any schedule for periodic maintenance and only received cursory vacuuming every few months by the MATMAN, when he remembered. With the thousands of hours of use in the last decade, the vent /lint trap port within the system and the exhaust to vent the dryer resembled the clogged arteries of a hear attack victim – with dust, dirt, hair, coins and even a man’s ring (!) almost completely clogging it.

There is a time when the OPTEMPO is such that waiting for a repair contractor, that the priority becomes replacement and not repair. After following online instructions, I was no closer to determining the broken component. Fortunately, the Supply Officer, my wife, and whom incidentally, is the Immediate Senior in Command, approved the purchase order for a new dryer. It gets delivered the day after Christmas. But the more serious issue is the ignored PMS. Were it not for the reasons that the dryer was never added to the Equipment List, and there was no PMS card detailing scheduled maintenance, the responsible Sailor should have scheduled, at a minimum, annual maintenance with a civilian contractor. As both the Maintenance and Training Senior Chief, I need to review, or create, a program for the new dryer that was ordered for delivery on Monday. It may be the end of year “holiday routine” but like military operations, washing and drying clothes and towels occurs 365 days a year.

The reasons for having a Preventative Maintenance System, or PMS, for equipment and systems that are relied upon for national defense is actually one of common sense. OPNAV Instruction series 4700.7() provides the guidance for all Navy systems maintenance. Up through the new millennium, paper schedules and “hard card” maintenance requirements were used by all Surface,Air, Shore, and Submarine forces. During the past two decades, online software, such as SKED (2022) has replaced the system the author used during his days as a “blueshirt”.

Military systems are designed generally for harsh conditions and use occurring in combat. While some are specific to the equipment operating environment, dust, dirt and other particles are generally everywhere. Aboard ship, a closed system like a ship at sea, with dozens or thousands of human beings aboard create a lot of dust, hair, dander that must be removed every few hours. The same can be said for residential living.

*gundecked – Navy slang for falsified or sloppily performed, which the responsible party, when identified, receives punitive measures to prevent a recurrence.

These illustrations were originally published on navyaviation.tpub.com

the storytelling of art

In middle school, the subject of history was neither dry nor boring as I spent a few years living in New England and for a time in a pre-French & Indian Wars-era colonial home. Browsing through antique shops and flea markets in the 1970s, my family had a penchant for collecting random things that were interesting. Whether it was sifting through dirt to recover old medicine bottles and inkwells, engaging with an old Scout master (one of the founders of Scouting in New England) who started me collecting postage stamps, or discussing for hours, gems and minerals an older lady had retrieved on her travels (she started my interest in rocks and minerals), each had engaged me with stories. Years listening to my grandmother and great aunts family history, seeing some of their heirlooms, and then having the opportunity to see actual records, that matched their stories, and visit the places they described added context. In the Navy, I deployed all over the world. But as the years pass turn into decades, from time to time it is valuable (to aid my recollection) to look at them again.

  • A painting my late mother had hanging in our home for fifty years is signed by a Parisian artist
  • A lithograph signed by (living) artist my wife and I visited on a date to Laguna Beach – we do not go on more dates to his studio as a result
  • An early Twentieth Century Bentwood rocker from the New England studio home (it had briefly been my childhood home) of a Nineteeth Century muralist
  • A vase that belonged to my maternal grandmother’s grandmother has been carefully stored for forty years
  • A button from a Naples maritime officer I chatted with during a port visit 30 years ago
  • Bulgarian currency from our visit on the Black Sea- a first US vessel to visit since before the Cold War
  • uncirculated postage stamps representing the chaplains who sacrificed themselves for others to survive during WWII
  • original Navy ballcap issued to me in 1991. My first ship, I deployed to Central, South America and Canada. it was decommissioned two years later
  • A Russian nesting doll from the Soviet era

living with the sleep deprived

“Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a (person) healthy, wealthy and wise.”

Old English proverb, often attributed to B Franklin

That might have been Benjamin Franklin’s experience, but for the last three days and nights, waking with coughing fits due to a cold virus, I have little positive from staying in bed most of the day. Finally feeling on the mend this Sunday, I am continuing to think about sleep deprivation. This runs in my family. Stories of a parent (grandparent) who accomplished more in 24 hours, particularly in the dead of the night, are borne out by a spouse, who can fall immediately asleep but wakes an hour or a couple hours later. By morning, laundry has been washed and folded. A cat, which appears at our door at all hours, gets attention and cat food. Conversations about life lessons between our adult son and his mother occur at 1 AM. Whether a restful evening is possible two or four hours at a time, for my family it is reality. I am wakened many nights by sounds and smells that trigger old Navy training. Dripping faucets, running showers, and late night meal preparation (we have adult children living with us), 25 years after duty at sea, will easily wake me.

Veterans, medical personnel and First Responders are by training and work assignments often working at hours that inhibit the notion of proper rest. Suitability to such work, is that primarily from training our bodies, or is it due to our genes which predispose us? Or does youth make us more flexible to adjustment? The reality of modern life is complicating what were once socially-accepted norms. Family time, if at all routine, occurs later in the evening. Working from home tempts us to working late at night. The National Institute of Health has conducted sleep studies, specifically, circadian rhythms which are physiological changes in a organism that operate on a 24-hour cycle. Have you heard of a “biological clock” ticking away (and not just from the movie, My Cousin Vinny) ? The control an organism has over its circadian rhythm, has a lot to do with certain proteins that interact in the body’s cells. Similar research is studying narcolepsy, a sleep disorder related to autoimmunity, where mutated genes trigger a response not due to lifestyle nor circadian rhythms of the sufferer.

While each treatment, prescription drugs, diphenhydramine, and other sleep aids carry their own range of side effects, indigestion after bedtime has caused me to abandon that. I still take OTC melatonin and drink “sleepy” herbal teas. The latter’s only side effect is stirring me to wake before my alarm to answer Nature’s call. Other than that, I am quite fond of chamomile. And twenty minute naps.

when veterans were President -Teddy Roosevelt

Dozens of biographies have been written by historians on Theodore Roosevelt, from his upbringing to Rough Rider to President. Over a hundred years ago, this visionary and military veteran, outdoorsman, nationalist and the arguably the first Progressive, Theodore Roosevelt was President of the United States. Following the end of the Spanish-American War, in 1898, he was elected Governor of New York state. And became Vice-President following the death of McKinley’s Vice-President. Becoming President following the assassination of McKinley, Roosevelt earned the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering peace between Russia and Japan. In the 1902 coal miners strike, he had a federal commission investigate and force changes to the industry averting an energy crisis. He ended the railroad industry and beef producers’ monopolies. And he initiated oversight of food and drugs to standardize safety and end misbranding of products. As a conservationist, he created the Forest Service and approved creation of several national parks**. From his speeches and writing, many of this century’s polarizing policies and loss of the United States’ influence in the world, might have been averted had they still been considered by its leaders.

We can have no ’50-50′ allegiance in this country. Either a man is an American and nothing else, or he is not an American at all.

It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.

The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life.

cit. 1917 letter to S Mencken

The first requisite of a good citizen in this republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pull his own weight.

It behooves every man to remember that the work of the critic is of altogether secondary importance, and that, in the end, progress is accomplished by the man who does things.

A man who is good enough to shed his blood for the country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards.

TR

It is essential that there should be organization of labor. This is an era of organization. Capital organizes and therefore labor must organize.

To announce that there must be no criticism of the president… is morally treasonable to the American public.

TR

** summary of accomplishments, from https://learnodo-newtonic.com/theodore-roosevelt-accomplishments; quotes from http://www.brainyquote.com

Disney veterans

Taking responsibility for those under my authority is a natural inclination for a career military man. When my grandchild’s bag of snacks crushed and spilled onto the gift shop floor at Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, having nothing else available I started to scoop it up with my hands. My wife helped me. The castmember was taken aback. “I’ve called custodial”, the employee told us.

An “old Navy habit,” I said. “I’ve cleaned up a lot of things just with my hands.”

The woman extended her hand. “Army veteran.” As the young custodian swept the remaining dust, she continued, “We don’t get a lot of this. Most just walk away.” We thanked each other for serving, and as we parted I asked how she liked working at Disney. “A lot like the Army. Very disciplined.”