Thursday, May 29, 2008

When Pompous Becomes Idiotic

Garrison Keillor, once known fondly for his Lake Woebegone broadcasts on PBS, now writes a pompous editorial column for the Baltimore Sun. His Memorial Day column is not only pompous, but ignorant. He writes like a smarmy elitist who did not bother to gather any facts and was annoyed only by his own inconvenience. If this editorial does not enrage you, I do question your patriotism. My comments are at the end.

The disturbing roar of hollow patriotism
By Garrison Keillor
May 28, 2008

Three hundred thousand bikers spent Memorial Day weekend roaring around Washington in tribute to our war dead, and I stood on Constitution Avenue on Sunday afternoon watching a river of them go by, waiting for a gap in the procession so I could cross over to the Mall and look at pictures. The street had been closed off for them and they motored on by, some flying the Stars and Stripes and the black MIA-POW flag, honking, revving their engines, an endless celebration of internal combustion.

A patriotic bike rally is sort of like a patriotic toilet-papering or patriotic graffiti; the patriotism somehow gets lost in the sheer irritation of the thing. Somehow a person associates Memorial Day with long moments of silence when you summon up mental images of pilots revving up B-24s and infantrymen crouched behind piles of rubble steeling themselves for the next push.

You don't quite see the connection between that and these fat men with ponytails on Harleys. After hearing a few thousand bikes go by, you think maybe we could airlift these gentlemen to Baghdad to show their support of the troops in a more tangible way. It took 20 minutes until a gap appeared and then a mob of us pedestrians flooded across the street and the parade of bikes had to stop for us, and on we went to show our patriotism by, in my case, hiking around the National Gallery, which, after you've watched a few thousand Harleys pass, seems like an outpost of civilization.

There stood Renoir's ballerina in pale blue chiffon and Monet's children in the garden of sunflowers. And Mary Cassatt's "The Boating Party," which I stood and stared at for a long time. A lady in a white bonnet sits in a green sailboat, holding a contented baby in pink, as a man rows  the boat toward a distant shore. (Perhaps the boat is becalmed.) The man wears a navy blue shirt,  he is preoccupied with his rowing, and the lady looks wan and mildly anxious, as well a mother should be. The baby is looking dreamily over the gunwales. Is the man a hired hand or is he the husband and father?

A work of art can lift you up from the mishmash of life, the weight of the unintelligible world, and vulgarity squats on you like an enormous toad and won't get off. You stroll down past the World War II Memorial, which looks like something ordered out of a catalog, a bland insult to the memory of all who served, and thousands of motorcycles roar by disturbing the Sabbath, and it depresses you for hours.

If anyone cared about the war dead, they could go read David Halberstam's The Coldest Winter or Stephen Ambrose's Citizen Soldiers or any of a hundred other books, and they would get a vision of what it was like to face death for your country, but the bikers riding in formation are more interested in being seen than in learning anything. They are grown men playing soldier, making a great hullabaloo without exposing themselves to danger, other than getting drunk and falling off a bike.

No wonder the Current Occupant welcomed them with open arms at the White House, put on a black leather vest, and gave a manly speech about how he'd just "choppered in" and saw the horde "cranking up their machines," and he thanked them for being so patriotic. They are his kind of guys, full of bluster, giving off noxious fumes, and when they leave town, nobody misses them.

Meanwhile, the man pulls at the oars, the lady wonders if this trip was a good idea or if some disaster is at hand, and the child lolls on her lap, dazed by the sun. They started this trip in 1894 and haven't advanced an inch; meanwhile, half the people who ever stood and watched them have reached that distant shore and the rest of us are getting closer every day.

I am the boatman and maybe you are, too - it is quiet on the water, we lean on the oars, and we are suspended in time, united with every other man, woman and child who ever voyaged afar.

Garrison Keillor's column appears regularly in The Sun.

First - Memorial Day was on Monday - Rolling Thunder rides on Sunday. It seems Keillor does not know when Memorial Day is. I'm not quite sure how looking at French Impressionist art is an expression of patriotism, but in Keillor's very small frame of reference it is. Does he know that without the sacrifices of men better than he is, he would not get to go to the museums in DC.

Second - Rolling Thunder is made up of Veterans - started by Vietnam Veterans and now joined by more recent Veterans. Keillor chooses to denigrate them and deny them the honor deserved. He calls them drunkards who fall off of bikes, and denies them the honor of their service. Little does he know that these men ride for their POW-MIA brothers and for their fallen comrades. They ride for Veteran's benefits and hold the VA to account at all times. They have played a much wider role in American history than Keillor, or for that matter Halberstam and Ambrose who recorded others actions from the safety of their offices.

And, finally, he insults the World War II Memorial - and while we can agree to disagree, he does not express any respect who served, in fact he calls it a bland insult.

Oh, and don't forget the obligatory liberal insult to the President.

Keillor, you are a small minded, arrogant elitist who knows less about his country than most. You have so much secured for you by these 'fat men' that you will never comprehend. You sicken me and I am sorry you live in my country.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wednesday Hero ~ Gen Benjamin S Griffin

Gen. Benjamin S. Griffin
Gen. Benjamin S. Griffin
U.S. Army

General Benjamin S. Griffin, commanding general, U.S. Army Materiel Command, talks with Brig. Gen. Shallal Abdul Rasool Habeeb

These brave men and women sacrifice so much in their lives
so that others may enjoy the freedoms we get to enjoy everyday.
For that, I am proud to call them Hero.

This post is part of the Wednesday Hero Blogroll. For more information about Wednesday Hero, or if you would like to post it on your site, you can go here.

Wednesday Hero Logo

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day ~ Rev Don LaVetter

A friend of mine, The Reverend Don LaVetter, gave the following Memorial Day address and graciously allowed me to post it here. (I have typed it in, so all typos are mine.)


I would like to ask all of you a question... What do you think the world would look like today, if it were not for the American soldier?

Memorial Day is the time for Americans to reconnect with their history and core values by honoring those who gave their lives for the ideals we cherish.

More than a million American service members died in the wars and conflicts this nation fought since the fist colonial soldiers took up arms in 1775 to fight for Independence. Each person who died during those conflicts was a loved one cherished by family and friends. Each was a loss to the community and the nation.

The observance of this day was born of compassion and empathy in 1863, As the Civil War raged, grieving mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, and other loved ones were cleaning confederate soldiers' graves in Columbus, Mississippi, placing flowers on them. They noticed nearby the union soldiers' graves, dusty, overgrown with weeds. Grieving for their own fallen soldiers, the confederate women understood that the dead union soldiers buried nearby were the cherished loved ones of families and communities far away. They cleared the tangled brush and mud from those graves as well as their own soldiers' graves and laid flowers on them too.

Soon the tradition of a "Decoration Day" for the graves f fallen soldiers spread. On May 5, 1866, when the Civil War was over, Henry Welles of Waterloo, New York, closed his drugstore and suggested that all other shops in town also close up for a day to honor all soldiers killed in the Civil War, union and confederate alike. It was a gesture of healing and reconciliation in a land ripped apart by conflict.

Sixteen years later, in 1882, the nation observed its first official Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember and honor the sacrifice of those who died in all our nation's wars.

For decades, Memorial Day was a day in our nation when stores closed and communities gathered together for a day of parades and other celebrations with a patriotic theme. memorial Day meant ceremonies at cemeteries around the country speeches honoring those who gave their lives, the laying of wreaths, the playing of Taps.

In some places, these ceremonies continue, as we see here. You present at this event remember the true meaning of Memorial Day. You come here to honor our fallen comrades by your presence. You understand that on Memorial Day we honor the ideals and values those soldiers stood for and died defending.

Sadly, many Americans have lost this connection with their history. All too many Americans today view military service as an abstraction, as images seen on television and in movies. For a growing percentage of the American people, memorial Day has come to mean simply a three-say weekend or a major shopping day. Families might still gather for picnics, but for many of them, the patriotic core - the spirit of remembrance - is absent.

Memorial Day, like the military itself, is largely cut off from its historic meaning for many Americans. They have forgotten what the military stands for in the nation's history.

Many Americans have no experience with or connection to the military. There are many reasons for the disconnect. We have fewer and fewer veterans to share their stories. And many of our older veterans - especially those from World War II and Korea - tend to be reticent. They often don't talk about their service.

Today, we have the smallest military we've had in 50 years. Unlike past periods in our history, the majority of members of Congress today have not served in the military. Many Americans do not have any relatives or even neighbors who serve now or have ever served in the military. In fact, many Americans today have never even met a soldier.

We are living in a time of economic prosperity, when threats are not well understood, when many young people are drawn to military service. In fact, all the services face challenges i reaching their recruiting goals. Nine out of 10 high school students surveyed say they have no interest in serving in the military. ROTC programs in our universities struggle to sign up cadets to fill the officer ranks.

This is not news to many of you. Your are aware of the challenges involved in reconnecting the American people to their Armed Forces. You've encountered some of the ignorance and apathy yourselves. And you may wonder what to do about it.

What can you do, as one individual, or as a community?

As Margaret mead once said so well, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

You are doing an important thing, making a difference, by being here today. Your are not forgetting the sacrifices of our soldiers.

Let me share with you some other ideas and examples of what people are doing to make a difference - to reconnect Americans with their military, past and present.

In May 1996, Carmella LaSpada met a group of school children on the Mall in Washington DC. She asked them what Memorial Day meant. They all paused and then said, "The day the pool opens."

Ms LaSpada decided she wanted to show these children and others like them why they are free and who paid for their freedom. She started the 'Moment of Remembrance' campaign. Her goal is to put the 'Memorial' back into Memorial Day.

she would like to see all Americans observe one minute of silence at exactly 3 pm on memorial Day, at Taps plays, to honor those who sacrifice their lives for us.

That first year, 1,000 shopping malls in this country did what she asked on Memorial Day. They announced the moment of silence at 3 pm; so did several baseball stadiums, including those of the Yankees and Orioles; so did transportation centers, such as Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, Amtrak, and bus lines. Several amusement parks announced the moment of silence.

Each year since 1996, the "No Greater Love Foundation" has worked to expand the campaign further. The goal is for every American to hear an announcement on memorial Day at 3 pm, calling for a moment of silence, one minute out of the year to remember those who made the greatest possible sacrifice.

I encourage you to join in the effort to spread the word about the Memorial Day moment of silence, to make it observed in more places.

Carmella LaSpada is one person who started a nationwide campaign. There are others who have made a difference taking action on a smaller scale, in their school, in their community, and one-on-one.

In Lincoln, Vermont, on the first school day after Memorial Day, the children of the elementary school walk about a mile from their schoolhouse to the village cemetery. About 100 students from kindergarten to sixth grade, along with the teachers and staff, pick dandelions along the way to decorate the graves.

In Corvallis, Oregon, the granddaughter of a veteran started a Veterans Day celebration in her middle school. That's the type of grass roots effort that can make a difference for Memorial Day or Veterans Day or any day to help reconnect our children to our history.

The students of Ritter Elementary School in Allentown, Pennsylvania, honor veterans each year at a special Veterans Day Program where the children sing songs of praise and recognize what veterans have done for our country. Those same children started a project called "Penny Power for Veterans." They asked 40,000,000 Americans to donate just one penny to help build the Korea-Vietnam Veterans memorial Education Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in January of this year, hundreds dressed up as soldiers to reenact the Battle of the Bulge. They said their goal is to preserve a fading legacy, to pass on the history of what our soldiers did for us.

In Wilmington, North Carolina, a program in the Wilmington Star-News encourages school children to send e-cards, that is, e-mail greetings, to veterans through the Internet. The newspaper provides many other ideas of Internet sites to educate children about veterans and our military history.

In fact, the Internet has created the opportunity for a different kid of memorial ceremony. a number of dedicated individuals have spent their time creating and maintaining Memorial Day and other veteran-related web sites on the Internet. These sites are available year-round, 24-hours-a-say, for individuals to learn more about our military history and individual veterans. Many of the sites link to other sites and include photos, individual memories, poems, prayers and music. these sites allow more personal reflection. They make information and remembrance internationally available, even to the home bound.

At a site created by David Merchant, a Navy veteran, one e-mail from a reader spells out another idea of what one person can do on Memorial Day itself.

On that site, Sylvia Mohr writes: "this weekend I plan to something different. I am going to buy some carnations each day and go to one of the nearby cemeteries and walk through the sections for soldiers. When I find a grave that has no flowers, I'll leave on and say a prayer for the family of that person, who for some reason could not bring their soldier flowers. I will pray for our country and all who serve or have served. For their families, who also serve by losing precious days, weeks and months spent with their loved ones who are off serving, preserving peace and the freedom we have in this country, I;ll pray for the families who paid the ultimate price, whose loved ones died or were taken captive and never returned. I'll pray for those who may still be in captivity and who think perhaps they are forgotten. I do NOT forget."

We can all make a difference with our individual acts. And it is important that we act. It is important that those of us who understand the importance of our history, who understand the importance of our military, who understand the importance of the values of our Armed Forces - that we act to help re-connect the American people to the American soldier.

You can spread the word one-on-one with your fellow citizens. If you are a veteran, share your own stories. Or become an oral historian yourself and collect other soldiers' stories. Write them down and spread the word. Share soldier stories with family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. Tell soldier stories to other Americans any time you have the chance. Encourage veterans you know to share their stories. Emphasize the relationship between the nation's values and the core values of our military.

What is it that inspires and enables ordinary citizens to rise to the challenge of battle, to be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice of the their lives in service to their country? What is it that motivates them to respond and contribute wherever and whenever called upon to do so?

The answer is values. The proud legacy of our military - and our country - is grounded in these core values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless-service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.

*Loyalty means to bear true faith and allegiance to the U. S. Constitution and the Armed Forces.

*Duty means to fulfill your obligations.

*Respect means to treat people as they should be treated.

*Selfless-Service means to put the welfare of the nation, the military and subordinates before your own.

*Honor means to live up to all of the military values.

*Integrity means to do what's right, legally and morally.

*Personal Courage means to face fear, danger, or adversity, whether physical or moral.

These values made the military strong. Carried with us over the threshold of history into the new millennium, these values will keep this nation strong.

We in this country owe a great debt of gratitude to those who sacrificed their lives so that we could live free. We can start to pay that debt by not forgetting, by remembering what they did and what they stood for.

Listen to these words by Charles M Province:

It is the Soldier, not the minister
Who has given us freedom of religion.

It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the Soldier, not the poet
Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer
Who has given us freedom to protest.

It is the Soldier, not the lawyer
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the Soldier, not the politician
Who has given us the right to vote.

It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

Please join me in a moment of silence as we all remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The greatest tribute we can offer to those who have died is to wave the banner of freedom proudly.

This Memorial Day and every day....

May we never forget those who died....

May we never fail to live up to their standard.....

and may we never falter in our fight for freedom at home and abroad.

I ask that you please continue to make a difference with your words and actions

May God bless you all.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day 2008

Each year of life, I find Memorial Day more solemn, more important. As we age, we gain more respect for the fleeting nature of life and the profound sacrifice that has been made on our behalf by young men and women through the history of our country. There is nothing in my life that I have that they did not secure for me.

This year is the first Memorial Day since the passing of two of our friends - SGT Eddie Jeffers and SGT James Craig. Today, my heart aches as it did on the days we learned of their deaths. I think of their families and the rest of their friends. I think of how much they enriched our lives, as well as the lives of people they never knew. I hope you will visit their stories and be thankful that such men lived.

On Memorial Day, I think back to the Memorial Days of my youth. I spent them with my family and we would go to the National Cemetery of the Pacific - Punchbowl. We would walk by the graves, we would go into the ten gardens of the missing. Most important, we would read their names. We would enter the chapel and offer prayers for the fallen. "Lift up their names," Puna used to say, "lift them to God, lift them into your memory."

I have always been disturbed by the phrase "Happy Memorial Day" - I guess because it is such a solemn day of importance. It was never a 'holiday' in my family. It was a day of remembrance.

So, today I remember. I hope that you will too.

Memorial Day 2008 ~ Arlington Cemetery

President George W. Bush is accompanied by Major General Richard J. Rowe Jr., commander of the Military District of Washington, right, as he holds his hand over his heart during the playing of taps at the Tomb of the Unknowns during a Memorial Day ceremony Monday, May 26, 2008 at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.
White House photo by Chris Greenberg

President George W. Bush, accompanied by Major General Richard J. Rowe Jr., commander of the Military District of Washington, foreground left, lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns Monday, May 26, 2008, during a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.
White House photo by Shealah Craighead
Pausing for a moment of silence, President George W. Bush is accompanied by Major General Richard J. Rowe Jr., commander of the Military District of Washington, right, after laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns Monday, May 26, 2008, during a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.
White House photo by Chris Greenberg

President Bush's Memorial Day Address:

A few moments ago, I placed a wreath upon the tomb of three brave Americans who gave their lives in service to our nation. The names of these honored are known only to the Creator who delivered them home from the anguish of war -- but their valor is known to us all. It's the same valor that endured the stinging cold of Valley Forge. It is the same valor that planted the proud colors of a great nation on a mountaintop on Iwo Jima. It is the same valor that charged fearlessly through the assault of enemy fire from the mountains of Afghanistan to the deserts of Iraq. It is the valor that has defined the armed forces of the United States of America throughout our history.

Today, we gather to honor those who gave everything to preserve our way of life. The men and women we honor here served for liberty. They sacrificed for liberty. And in countless acts of courage, they died for liberty. From faraway lands, they were returned to cemeteries like this one, where broken hearts received their broken bodies -- they found peace beneath the white headstones in the land they fought to defend.

It is a solemn reminder of the cost of freedom that the number of headstones in a place such as this grows with every new Memorial Day. In a world where freedom is constantly under attack and in a world where our security is challenged, the joys of liberty are often purchased by the sacrifices of those who serve a cause greater than themselves. Today we mourn and remember all who have given their lives in the line of duty. Today we lift up our hearts especially those who've fallen in the past year.

We remember Army Specialist Ronald Tucker of Fountain, Colorado. As a young man, Ronnie was known for having an infectious smile and a prankster's sense of humor. And then he joined the United States Army, which brought out a more mature side in him. Ronnie transformed from a lighthearted teenager into a devoted soldier and a dutiful son who called his mother every day from his post in Iraq. In his final act of duty, less than a month ago, he worked with other members of his unit to build a soccer field for Iraqi children. As he drove back to his base, an enemy bomb robbed him of his life. And today our nation grieves for the loss of Ronnie Tucker.

We remember two Navy SEALS -- Nathan Hardy of Durham, New Hampshire, and Michael Koch of State College, Pennsylvania. Nate and Mike were partners in the field and they were close friends in the barracks. Through several missions together, they had developed the unique bond of brotherhood that comes from trusting another with your life. They even shared a battlefield tradition: They would often head into battle with American flags clutched to their chests underneath their uniform. Nate and Mike performed this ritual for the last time on February the 4th -- they both laid down their lives in Iraq after being ambushed by terrorists. These two friends spent their last few moments on earth together, doing what they loved most -- defending the United States of America. Today, Nathan Hardy and Mike Koch lay at rest next to each other right here on the grounds of Arlington.

The men and women of American armed forces perform extraordinary acts of heroism every single day. Like the nation they serve, they do not glory in the devastation of war. They also do not flinch from combat when liberty and justice are embattled. Ronald Tucker, Nathan Hardy and Mike Koch make clear, they do not waver -- even in the face of danger.

And so today, here in Washington and across our country, we pay tribute to all who have fallen -- a tribute never equal to the debt they are owed. We will forever honor their memories. We will forever search for their comrades, the POWs and MIAs. And we pledge -- we offer a solemn pledge to persevere and to provide the security for our citizens and secure the peace for which they fought.

The soil of Arlington and other sites is filled with liberty's defenders. It is nourished by their heroism. It is watered by the silent tears of the mothers and fathers, and husbands and wives, and sons and daughters they left behind. Today we pray for God's blessing on all who grieve and ask the Almighty to strengthen and comfort them today and everyday.

On this Memorial Day, I stand before you as the Commander-in-Chief and try to tell you how proud I am at the sacrifice and service of the men and women who wear our uniform. They're an awesome bunch of people and the United States is blessed to have such citizens.

I am humbled by those who have made the ultimate sacrifice that allow a free civilization to endure and flourish. It only remains for us, the heirs of their legacy, to have the courage and the character to follow their lead -- and to preserve America as the greatest nation on earth and the last best hope for mankind.

May God bless you and may God bless America.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

President Bush Meets with Rolling Thunder

President Bush, center, is presented with a Rolling Thunder jacket by Artie Muller, left, president of the veterans group, and Gary Scheffmeyer, vice president, on the South Lawn of the White House on Sunday.

President George W Bush is now an honorary member of Rolling Thunder. Today, Rolling Thunder was welcomed at the White House - don't know about you, but I would have loved to have seen rhose motorcycles pulling up to the front of the White House!

The President paid tribute to the group. "You've done a lot for the country, and the troops appreciate you, and the veterans appreciate you, and your president appreciates you."

The leaders of rolling thunder also met with the President in the Oval Office. They talked about increasing benefits for PTSD for Veterans. After the meeting, Muller said: "He said he is going to really look into it. He said that really has to change. I know he can't do everything we've always asked, but I know he's come close."

Thank you, Rolling Thunder.

Rolling Thunder

For the past 21 years, Rolling Thunder has gathered in the Pentagon parking lot on the Sunday before Memorial Day and ridden across the Memorial Bridge, down the Mall, to the Vietnam Wall and the Lincoln Memorial to remind us all of the soldiers who are POW-MIA. Once there, they have a concert and speeches. These are those who have fought for us - who have kept us free.



It is the Soldier, not the minister
Who has given us freedom of religion.

It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the Soldier, not the poet
Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer
Who has given us freedom to protest.

It is the Soldier, not the lawyer
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the Soldier, not the politician
Who has given us the right to vote.

It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

©Copyright 1970-2005 by Charles Michael Province

Note: "It Is The Soldier", which has, for several years. been attributed to Father Denis Edward OBrien, USMC. Mr Province has advised that Father O'Brien once sent a copy of the poem to "Dear Abby" and it was printed erroneously giving credit to Father O'Brien for writing it. It is at that point that the authorship became clouded, and I reproduce this information in the hope of ensuring Mr Province receives full, appropriate and most deserved credit for his wonderful piece.

Charles M. Province, a veteran of the US Army, is the sole and single Founder and President of The George S. Patton, Jr. Historical Society. He is the author of "The Unknown Patton", "Patton's Third Army", and "Patton's One-Minute Messages" More details are displayed on his website, particularly at where this poem is displayed.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

American Cemeteries Abroad

"Time will not dim the glory of their deeds"
-General of the Army John J pershing

As we approach Memorial Day, we should remember that our war dead are buried in cemeteries around the globe. This is a listing of those administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission, and each includes a link to a video and more pictures.
The ABMC commemorative mission is reflected in 24 overseas military cemeteries that serve as resting places for almost 125,000 American war dead; on Tablets of the Missing that memorialize more than 94,000 U.S. servicemen and women; and through 25 memorials, monuments and markers.
















Friday, May 23, 2008

Flags In at Arlington Cemetery

U.S. Army Master Sgt. Sandra Quaschnick, right, and U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Bailey, left, render salutes during the "Flags In" ceremony to honor fallen heroes at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., May 22, 2008. Quaschnick and Bailey are assigned to the the Fife and Drum Corps of the 3rd U.S. Infantry, "The Old Guard." Defense Dept. photo by Sebastian J. Sciotti Jr.

U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Andres Yanez renders a salute during the "Flags In" tribute honoring fallen heroes at Arlington National Cemetery, VA., May 22, 2008. Yanez, who regularly supervises funeral details at the cemetery, said it is an honor to participate in the tribute. Defense Dept. photo by Sebastian J. Sciotti Jr

Sgt. Edward Taylor, Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion 3rd Infantry Regiment placing a flag in the ground during Arlington National Cemetery's annual Flags In.Photo by SGT Parker, US Army, The Old Guard.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Stephen Kuhne, places the fourth flag in front of the Tomb of the Unknowns during the "Flags In" Tribute yesterday evening at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., May 22, 2008. Kuhne is the commander of the relief for the 3rd U.S. Infantry, "The Old Guard." Defense Dept. photo by Sebastian J. Sciotti Jr.

(Click on pictures to enlarge)

Arlington ‘Flags In’ Tribute Begins Memorial Day Commemoration

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2008 – More than 3,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines officially kicked off the Memorial Day commemoration last evening as they placed 265,000 miniature flags at every grave at Arlington National Cemetery.

The tradition, known as “Flags In,” dates back to 1948, when soldiers of 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as “The Old Guard,” began the annual Memorial Day tribute.

This year marked the fifth year company-size elements of sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen joined about 3,000 soldiers in placing a U.S. flag at the base of the gravestone and columbarium niche of every single servicemember buried or inurned at Arlington.

Yesterday afternoon, the troops fanned out across the cemetery’s hills and valleys, carrying rucksacks bulging with bundles of flags.

They approached each headstone, centering a miniature flag exactly one boot length from the base before sinking it into the rain-softened ground.

“It’s hard to put all this into words,” said Army Sgt. Maj. Russell McCray, The Old Guard’s top noncommissioned officer. “We’re here every day honoring our fallen heroes, and everyone buried here is a hero. But being here for this is something particularly special.

“It’s an honor for everyone who is part of this. If you look at their faces, you can see that,” McCray continued. “This experience out here will humble you, beyond a doubt.”

Even Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Andres Yanez, who regularly supervises funeral details at the cemetery, called it an honor to participate in the Flags In tribute.

“We come here every day, but today is special for us,” he said. “When I look out there and see all those flags, I know that I’ve been a part of it. I’m rendering honors to our fallen, and I hope that someday someone renders those same honors to me.”

Almost five hours after emplacing his first flag of the day -- and admitting he “couldn’t count” how many more he’d positioned -- Navy Seaman Shawn Palaszewski still hadn’t lost his enthusiasm for the mission.

“We’re here rending honors to all our fallen shipmates, and showing them that we care,” said Palaszewski, a U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard member just 10 weeks out of boot camp. “These sailors and all our armed forces [members] have fallen for our freedoms, and we’re here to pay tribute to that.”

“This is such a privilege and an honor for me,” said Army Sgt. Mary Jackson, of The Old Guard’s Headquarters and Headquarters Regiment. “These people gave the ultimate sacrifice. I can only imagine doing that for my country.”

Positioned at the columbarium, Marine Sgt. David Gray from Marine Barracks Washington directed his troops as they moved among the rows of niches. After returning from a deployment to Iraq, Gray called his first time participating in the Flags In tribute particularly meaningful.

“It’s a privilege to be alive and able to support those Marines who made the ultimate sacrifice for the country,” he said. “We can’t bring them back. The only thing we can do is honor them and pay tribute to them.”

Like Gray, Army Staff Sgt. John Diggles, platoon sergeant for The Old Guard’s H Company, said he considers the mission a special calling.

“Friends of mine are here, quite a few, so this is very personal,” Diggles said, looking out over the rows of headstones. “This is a way of showing the remembrance of our fallen soldiers on such a special day.”

As she looked out at the sea of flags fluttering in the wind, Army Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Bailey from The Old Guard’s Fife and Drum Corps declared the landscape nothing short of “breathtaking.”

“The impact is huge. It’s very dramatic,” said Bailey, who was participating in the Flags In ceremony for the sixth year. “It’s uniform, and it’s simple. And I think it’s the uniformity and the simplicity that makes this so beautiful and so unique.”

2007 Flags In Story -

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wednesday Hero ~ Sgt John F Thomas & Sgt Ronnie L Shelley

Sgt. John F. ThomasSgt. Ronnie L. Shelley
Sgt. John F. Thomas(Right) & Sgt. Ronnie L. Shelley, Sr.(Left)
33 & 34 years old from Valdosta, Georgia
2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment, 48th Infantry Brigade, Georgia Army National Guard
July 24, 2005 & July 30, 2005
Army National Guard

Sgt. Ronnie "Rod" Shelley and Sgt. John F. Thomas became best friends in the Georgia Army National Guard.

They both were ex-Marines, both about the same age, and both enjoyed searching for arrowheads and fishing together. As their friendship grew, Thomas often came over to Shelley’s house for steaks and ribs barbecued by his friend. And when their infantry unit was sent to Iraq in May of 2005, they went to war together.

When their unit was mobilized for combat duty in Iraq, Shelley promised to watch out for Thomas. "Ronnie said, 'Don't you worry, I'll bring him back safely,"' said Thomas' grandfather. But neither Sgt. Thomas or Sgt. Shelley made it back safely. Sgt. Thomas was killed July 24, 2005 by a roadside bomb near Baghdad. And Sgt. Shelley was killed six days later on July 30 by another roadside bomb, also near Baghdad.

Shelley was a family man, married with three children, who was obsessed with having a neat yard, his wife said. "The grass had to be two inches," she said. "If the neighbor mowed the grass, Rod had to mow. He also wanted the biggest, baddest lawn mower."

She said she fell in love with his "gorgeous blue ... eyes," and "he had a laid back attitude. I could not make him mad."

Thomas was married but had no children. His grandparents said he dreamed of becoming a forest ranger. "John wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. Now the only trail he can walk is the trail in heaven," the grandfather said.

Mrs. Thomas, wiping back tears, said the soldier felt responsible for the others in his unit. "He cared for people," she said. "That's why he had so many friends. People cared for him."

Killed alongside Sgt. Shelley were Staff Sgt. David R. Jones Sr., Sgt. 1st Class Victor A. Anderson and Sgt. Jonathon C. Haggin and killed alongside Sgt. Thomas were Army Spc. Jacques E. Brunson, Army Staff Sgt. Carl R. Fuller and Army Sgt. James O. Kinlow.

These brave men and women sacrifice so much in their lives
so that others may enjoy the freedoms we get to enjoy everyday.
For that, I am proud to call them Hero

This post is part of the Wednesday Hero Blogroll. For more information about Wednesday Hero, or if you would like to post it on your site, you can go here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Face of Freedom ~ Col. Gail S. Halvorsen

Air Force Col. Gail S. Halvorsen

"The Candy Bomber"

While members of the allied air forces delivered millions of tons of food, fuel and vital staples in the Berlin Airlift almost 60 years ago, one American pilot stood out as a favorite of the sweet-toothed children in the German capital.

Now 87 years old, retired Air Force Col. Gail S. Halvorsen, known as the "Candy Bomber," gained popularity among West Berlin's young residents by tossing candy from his C-54 Skymaster aircraft as he approached a runway, showering the sky with sugary treats.

The idea grew out of a chance meeting with a group of hungry German school children gathered near Tempelhof Airport in Berlin to watch the giant airplanes land and unload, Halvorsen recalled in a February 2007 interview with Air Force Public Affairs.

"They were just grateful that we were bringing in the supplies," he said. "They had been through Hitler, and were going through Stalin," he continued. "After a while, I realized I had talked to these kids for an hour and they hadn't asked for anything. I found out there hadn't been any candy in months."

Halvorsen gave the two pieces of gum in his possession to the kids, half expecting them to fight over the rare treat. Instead, he recalled, the children split the sticks into miniature morsels, and those who didn't get any gum were given small strips torn from the foil wrappers so they could smell the confection's sweet residue.

The pilot promised to bring the children more gum and candy on his next flight into the airport. Though the decision could have earned him a court-martial for breaking flying regulations, Halvorsen vowed to drop the goodies as he passed over them before landing.

So they'd know which of the huge airplanes was his, Halvorsen said he told the children he would "wiggle" his wings as he approached their position.

When he returned to his quarters at Rhein-Main, Germany, then-lieutenant Halvorsen requested his fellow pilots donate their candy rations to disburse to the children. His Air Force comrades warned him of the consequences of throwing unauthorized objects from an aircraft in flight, but he refused to be swayed from delivering on his promise.

After attaching makeshift parachutes of handkerchiefs and string to each chocolate bar, Halvorsen brought the airworthy goodies onboard and kept his oath to the children during his missions over the following three weeks.

Upon returning to Rhein-Main after a flight into Berlin one day, Halvorsen found a message waiting for him. He was to report to the colonel's office, post-haste. I

n the midst of chewing out the young lieutenant for what felt like an eternity, Halvorsen recalled, the colonel produced a German newspaper with a feature article about "Uncle Wiggly Wings," a nickname the children of West Berlin had given Halvorsen.

"It turns out that the general had seen the article before the colonel," the maverick pilot said. "He called the colonel into his office asking which of his pilots had been dropping parachutes into Berlin and the colonel said none of us were.

"The general then told him, 'You'd better wake up, Colonel, because one of your pilots is dropping parachutes,'" Halvorsen recalled. "I think the colonel was more upset that the general found out before he did than he was at what I did."

Local newspapers picked up the story, and Halvorsen's fame started to spread. At his home base, Halvorsen began receiving mail from other pilots who wanted to help. Donors sent candy, volunteers made handkerchief parachutes and the tiny parcels began to fall all over Berlin.

On a brief trip back to the United States, an interviewer asked Halvorsen what he needed to continue his popular "Candy Bomber" operation. He jokingly remarked, "Boxcars full of candy!" Sure enough, shortly after his return to Germany, a train car loaded with 3,000 pounds of chocolate bars arrived for "Uncle Wiggly Wings."

Sixty years after the Berlin Airlift, or "Operation Vittles" -- the largest humanitarian effort in Air Force history -- the mission is remembered for relieving some 2.5 million beleaguered West Berlin residents and striking a blow against the communist Soviet government depriving them of essential goods.

Many also remember the American aircraft that dropped more than 23 tons of candy to the children of West Berlin during the Candy Bomber operation, later renamed "Operation Little Vittles."

For performing an act of valor and self-sacrifice in a humanitarian interest, Halvorsen received the prestigious Cheney Award in 1948, named for 1st Lt. William Cheney, who was killed in an air collision over Italy in 1918. Established in 1927, it's awarded to an airman for an act of valor, extreme fortitude or self-sacrifice in a humanitarian interest, performed in connection with aircraft, but not necessarily of a military nature.

"It's called service before self," Halvorsen told schoolchildren during a February 2006 appearance at an elementary school assembly. "Look at me. I've had a lot of great things happen and met a lot of people, but really it's all because of two sticks of gum."

(Compiled from articles by Air Force Tech Sgt. Ben Gonzales and Ed Drohan published on the U.S. Air Force Website.)

For more about the history of the Berlin Airlift ~

Monday, May 19, 2008

History is Our Stories ~ Berlin Airlift ~ 60 years ago

At the end of WWII, Germany was partioned between the four members of the Allied nations. Additionally, Berlin was divided into four parts, even though it sat in the middle of the Soviet Union part. In 1948, the Soviets blocked access by ground and rail to Berlin. The Berlin Airlift commenced as a way to supply Berlin.

C-47's lined up to take off to take supplies to Berlin.

Berlin Airlift Monument
Engraved with names of the 39 British pilots and 31 American pilots
who lost their lives during the Berlin Airlift
and the inscription
"They lost their lives for the freedom of Berlin in service for the Berlin Airlift 1948/49"

The Berlin Airlift took place from June 24, 1948 - May 11, 1949.
This was considered the first act of the Cold War.