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: 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.

Eye health resources for veterans and their families

As veterans, retirees or pensioners, we have many healthcare benefits through the Veterans Administration that we may not be aware. My father-in-law, a Navy veteran who served four years during the 1950s, only recently (4 or 5 years ago) was evaluated for hearing loss and received hearing aids as a benefit of his military service.

A vision care group, NVISION, published online an informative guide to eye-care available to veterans. In it they direct interested veterans and family members to connect with Veterans Administration resources. The Veterans Administration has medical services including routine care and preventative treatment. Find the information here.


Thank you to Paula Rios, National Outreach Specialist at NVISION, for bringing this resource to our attention at Truths, Half-Truths and Sea Stories.

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

Ask the Chief: if it didn’t come in your seabag you won’t need it

I still remember a young sailor reporting aboard our ship who had been in the Navy about six months. A member assigned to our division, he was assigned a bunk in our berthing compartment. Aboard any vessel, but particularly a warship, space is at a premium and quarters for the crew are no exception. In the Navy, a crewmember has a very limited amount of space in which to store his or her belongings, and are designed to hold the contents of one’s seabag plus a small amount of toiletries we fit into a “ditty bag”. In this compartment, the three tiered bunks (“racks”) doubled also as lockers for each member’s gear. There were exactly the same ratio of racks to crew in every compartment aboard ship. (Only the Executive Officer, Commanding Officer and any visiting Flag Officer or dignitary had individual quarters.)

It was the second or perhaps, third garment bag he started to unpack, in addition to his seabag’s contents that drew the loudest “WTF!” from his immediate supervisor getting him settled in the berthing, No less than three color-coordinated suits – 1 green, 1 red and 1 yellow, came out of those garment bags. That he assumed that he would store them in adjacent lockers became a training opportunity. Thirty years ago, we were not as progressive in our attitude nor counseling methods as in 2022; in hindsight, we might not today be forgiven for thinking Gary (Indiana) was missing a pimp. He was advised to remove from the ship every item of civilian clothing that did not fit in his own bunk, after having stowed everything prescribed by Navy regulations for shipboard use.

Not that he was the only person to have belongings in excess of places to put them. Officers, Chiefs and blueshirts (junior enlisted sailors) having accumulated a few bulky items (Turkish and Persian rugs) when on liberty overseas, were known to conduct a lot of horsetrading with Supply, Medical, cooks, and Engineering peers to find cubbyholes when returning to the USA from deployment to the Mediterranean and Suez.


From the current Uniform Requirements for Men, in Paygrades E-1 to E-6, the following items are issued as regular uniform items and when precisely folded, will fit within a standard issue seabag. Some of the items are rank and other insignia which are affixed to uniforms in a prescribed manner. :

  • All-Weather Coat, Blue 1
  • Bag, Duffel 1
  • Belt, Web, Black, W/Silver Clip 2
  • Belt, Web, White, W/Silver Clip 1
  • Blousing, Straps 2
  • Boots, 9″ 1
  • Buckle, Silver 2
  • Cap, Ball 2
  • Cap, Garrison 1
  • Cap, Knit 1
  • Cap, 8-Point, with ACE logo 2
  • Cold Weather Parka 1
  • Coveralls (Navy), Blue 1
  • Gloves, Leather, Black 1 pr.
  • Group Rate Mark, Black 1
  • Group Rate Mark, White 1
  • Hat, White 2
  • Insignia, NWU (E4 – E6) 1
  • Insignia, Service Uniform Collar (E2 – E6) 1
  • Jumper, Blue Dress 1
  • Jumper, White Dress 1
  • Liner, Fleece 1
  • Mock “T” Neck 1
  • Neckerchief 1
  • Parka, NWU 1
  • Peacoat 1
  • Shirt, Khaki 2
  • Shirt, NWU 3
  • Shirt, PTU 2
  • Shoes, Athletic 1 pr.
  • Shoes, Dress Black 1 pr.
  • Shorts, PTU 2
  • Socks, Cotton/Nylon, Black 3 pr.
  • Socks, Cushion Sole, Boots 5
  • Towel, Bath1 4
  • Trouser, Broadfall, Blue 1 pr.
  • Trousers, NWU 3 pr.
  • Trousers, Poly/Wool, SU 1 pr.
  • Trousers, White Jumper 1 pr.
  • Undergarments As Needed
  • Undershirts, White 4
  • Undershirts, Brown 4

To my shame, now retired a dozen years, and more than fifteen since I last got underway on a Navy warship, I no longer practice the rigorous methods to stow my belongings. Then, neither do I have to stencil my clothes and underwear with my last name so they will return to the rightful owner from the laundry.

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.”

Ask the Chief: jury duty

When a jury summons arrives in the mail, as a veteran and former Navy Chief Petty Officer, I feel the sense of duty to report when summoned. Not that I have ever once been selected to sit on a jury, I will still go down to the courthouse on the day I am required. I do not recall ever receiving a summons while I served on Active Duty in any of the municipalities where I lived. I think that military service excludes us from the jury selection pool. But last month I received a summons, and then asked to reschedule because I became ill with a cold. This week is my second summons starting day, and again I am ill. Actually, more annoying than the fever four days earlier, the stubborn sinus congestion persists. As a CPO, I should simply suck it up(!), and carry out the mission. Perhaps, it is that sense of duty, and the ability to detect a load of @#$# being shoveled by attorneys –sea lawyers– that has prevented me from being a juror so far?

Ask the Chief: guilt or innocence depends on whom the axe falls?

Arsonist. A disgruntled sailor. Traitor. These are the thoughts that went through my mind, as a Navy veteran, when I first heard of the sailor who allegedly set the USS Bon Homme Richard on fire. But the facts do not seem to bear this out in a military courtroom. A military judge presiding over that sailor’s courts-martial found him not guilty today. The Navy failed to prove that this seaman who had dropped out of SEAL training, and was assigned to the Deck Division on the BHR, was responsible for the fire.

Scuttlebutt seemed to suggest that he was guilty before trial, but scuttlebutt has been wrong about a lot of thing. Sadly, does it seem that the Navy, like many in the public, academia, government, and media, began with a plausible conclusion and proceeded to find evidence to support the conclusion. Could someone have stored flammable batteries or fuels inconsistent with current safety precautions? Did firefighting teams note which areas were not effectively protected with shipboard or pierside foam or pressurized ff mains? Did investigators focus on one suspect to the exclusion of more factors? It certainly is a lot tidier to find a young man guilty of the willful destruction of a warship, than to determine that crew training, shipyard planners, supervisory personnel, and the senior authority of the Naval District were derelict, or at best, naïve as to the level of preparedness military and civilian personnel had to respond to emergencies. What steps is the Navy taking to prevent such casualties in the future?

Veterans and Addiction

If you or a loved one is, or has been in the military, and has a substance use disorder or alcohol use disorder (SUD, AUD), there are specific resources available to help begin recovery. A Florida-based center, Boca Recovery Center, reached out to Truths, Half-Truths and Sea Stories, to share that message.

As a group, veterans often struggle with addiction. Substance use disorders and substance abuse are fairly common among those who have served in the military. To help veterans learn more, we’ve created an in-depth guide that includes contributing factors and assistance available for those suffering from substance abuse.

Click here for information.

Ed. -Please let us know if our Resource Page has been helpful. It will allow us to better serve fellow veterans and their families.