Memorial Day – A Time to Remember

Standing GuardToday is a day to remember the price paid by so many in wars and conflicts. “Regardless of the exact date or location of its origins, one thing is clear – Memorial Day was borne out of the Civil War and a desire to honor our dead. It was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.”

To all who gave their lives in wars and conflicts around the globe, SALUTE!

Click Here for the history of Memorial Day. It is an interesting read.

U.S. Embassies, Consulates, Missions and Their Attackers

At the end of a hectic day, I was fighting through the various posts on Facebook, catching941222_162977380537331_429606287_n up as it were, wondering why I engaged in such self-destructive behavior. I stopped abruptly to stare at a Benghazi post that pointed out ten embassy attacks resulting in sixty deaths during the Bush administration and questioning why there was no Republican outrage. Was this a ‘good point’ or more of the nasty, divisive politics that keeps people from actual dialog? A quick check verified the claim, as far as it went.

Benghazi has become a battle cry akin to ‘Remember the Alamo’ and well it should be. imagesThe horrific murders, the denial of support and the State Department’s lying and manipulation under this administration is shameful. But that is the way it has always been done under all administrations. In the case of Benghazi, a brutal reality was shoved in the face of every American, indeed every world citizen, and the fat is in the fire as it should have been for over a century. The Internet and non-mainstream media have shown light on several appalling foreign policy behaviors. The Benghazi battle cry should seek to bring the U.S. State Department and CIA to accountability, because how the U.S. conducts its foreign policy is the problem.

On September 11, 2012, the day the Benghazi Consulate was attacked, there was also a

A view of the damage to the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983

A view of the damage to the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983

mob attack on the U.S. embassy in Cairo although no one died in that attack. Since Benghazi, there have been three U.S. embassy attacks and one U.S. Consulate attack, two in 2012 in which seven attackers died and two in 2013 in which three local security employees were killed and one attacker met his fate. We discussed G.W. Bush’s record in the first paragraph, but remember the coordinated African embassy attacks under Bill Clinton in 1998? The U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed; in Kenya 213 people lost their lives, including ten U.S. personnel and two U.S. security personnel and in Tanzania eleven died. During the Cold War there were over forty attacks on U.S. Embassies, Consulates and Mission facilities including the 1983 embassy attack in Beirut in which sixty-three died; seventeen were Americans. Not a single presidential administration escapes the spotlight of U.S. embassy attacks. And those are just the ones we know about over the last 80 years. Therein lays the problem-the secrets. Continue reading

Cold War Reality

“People don’t really understand and know that the Cold War was a real war with real casualties. Real people died.”- Lorna Bourg, sister of a 1958 KIA, Fort Myers, Va.,Military Post Chapel, April 2, 1997

In a graveyard in the Texas town of Corsicana lies a simple flat granite marker to

Major John M. Davis

Major John M. Davis

commemorate the life and death of Major John MacArthur Davis. His mother, Mrs. C.J. Davis, made application for the stone for an unmarked veteran’s grave on August 19th 1953 and on November 2nd 1953 the request was approved by the government. Corsicana makes no mention of Major Davis as one of their notables, but he is. The official Corsicana list of notables includes rappers, artists, saxophonists, writers, historians, and even a former governor, Beaufort Jester (how appropriate is that name?), but no military men or women. Yet in their midst lies a man who died on April 24, 1953 testing technology that might have saved their bacon had the Cold War gone hot.

John M. Davis was not just a pilot he was a son, husband and father. That was the man who was and is mourned after six decades. What Major Davis the pilot did provides him with simple, short passages in a couple of books about the accident that killed him. In those books he is little more that another instrument in the cockpit but there is so much beyond that. Major Davis was a Cold War Warrior and a WWII warrior. His adult life was about those callings. Continue reading

A Warrior’s Footprints

Ralph “Scott” Camburn died in March 2013. His soul may have crossed the rainbow

Ralph “Scott” Camburn's 90th birthday party.

Ralph “Scott” Camburn’s 90th birthday party.

bridge, but we, as a nation, should mourn the loss of yet another veteran who spent his life in service to the country he loved. Lt. Col. (Ret) Camburn’s 91 year old weathered, tired body housed memories of flying a B-24 Liberator on 35 bombing missions over Germany with the 8th U.S. Air Corps during WWII and memories of conflicts in Korea, Laos and Vietnam. When he retired his uniform in 1965, service was in his DNA and he kept on serving with Air America where he was assigned to Binh Thuy Air Force Base, IV Corps Tactical Zone of South Vietnam, as an ’AA’ Flight coordinator. And yet, I cannot find a single obituary for this soldier. Is there no one to weep for him save a single friend and comrade?

A Consolidated B-24 Liberator emerges from "Flak Alley" over Vienna, Austria with its No. 2 engine smoking

A Consolidated B-24 Liberator emerges from “Flak Alley” over Vienna, Austria with its No. 2 engine smoking

The B-24 Liberators were the key to achieving the third objective of the war against Germany.  That objective was to conduct an intensive strategic bombardment of Germany in order to destroy its military, industrial, and economic system. Bomb they did and Scott was in the thick of it with his 35 missions between August 1944 and March 1945. “The B-24 Liberators flew 400 bombing missions over Europe during WWII, losing some 10,000 airmen and 1,000 aircraft between 1942 and 1945.”[1]

The average life expectancy of Eighth Air Force crews’ mission completion rate in

448-Bomb Group, 714th Squadron: Scott is in the Front Row Left

448-Bomb Group, 714th Squadron: Scott is in the Front Row Left

1943/1944, was only 11 missions, so Scott beat the averages. Why was the life expectancy so very low? The B-24 Liberator was not as able to take as much punishment as the B-17 because its complex construction, in particular, the wing, was relatively weak. If the wing was hit just right it gave way completely. Photographic records of WW II show B-24’s plummeting from the sky with two wings folded upward like those of a butterfly. In contrast, the sturdiness of the B-17 was almost unbelievable, sometimes returning to base with major components, tail-sections, engines, even wings, very badly damaged, and even on occasion partly missing. The Liberator became the bomber of choice because it could deliver a larger payload.

EDELWEILER, Germany – U.S. Air Force Col. Mark Wells reads names of service members killed during a mid-air collision of two C-119 Flying Boxcar transport aircraft in 1955 while Army Chap. (Col.) James Hoke, Air Force Lt. Col. Brian Bohannon and others look on, Aug. 11, 2006. (Department of Defense photo by Air Force Maj. Pamela A.Q. Cook)

EDELWEILER, Germany – U.S. Air Force Col. Mark Wells reads names of service members killed during a mid-air collision of two C-119 Flying Boxcar transport aircraft in 1955 while Army Chap. (Col.) James Hoke, Air Force Lt. Col. Brian Bohannon and others look on, Aug. 11, 2006. (Department of Defense photo by Air Force Maj. Pamela A.Q. Cook)

Flying in close formation with other transport planes near Chungju on Jan. 24, 1951, a C-119 Flying Boxcar of the Far East Air Force?s combat cargo command spews out its of rations and gasoline to fighting U.N. ground troops anxiously waiting on a snow-covered battlefield a few hundred feet below. More than 300 tons of supplies were airdropped. (AP Photo) (Courtesy of U.S. Military Photo Store

Flying in close formation with other transport planes near Chungju on Jan. 24, 1951, a C-119 Flying Boxcar of the Far East Air Force?s combat cargo command spews out its of rations and gasoline to fighting U.N. ground troops anxiously waiting on a snow-covered battlefield a few hundred feet below. More than 300 tons of supplies were airdropped. (AP Photo) (Courtesy of U.S. Military Photo Store

Scott’s number did not come up in WWII and he survived the Korean conflict as well, although he had a close call. He was a member of the Crew 66 of the “Boxcars”. While it was never clear exactly what that reference meant, a troll through newspapers turned up an August 11, 1955 Ocala Star Banner Article, about the crash of two Flying Boxcars, C-119, into the Black Forest; 66 soldiers were killed.[2] Nine Flying Boxcars took off in formation, two collided. The survivors formed Crew 66.

The Flying Boxcar is one of those aircraft that owes its success to its ability to do a lot of different jobs. It was purpose built as a military freighter, yet it could take as many as seventy five passengers in a seated arrangement, on litters or as paratroopers according to John Refett. It was built with the ability to deliver over ten metric tons of freight to very short airstrips designed for small aircraft but also had the range and equipment to fly to anyplace in the world on its own. In the Korean War, the C-119 was important in transport and airdrop roles; dropping both supplies and airborne troops. During the Vietnam war C-119s were used as third generation “gunships” (these are sideways firing ground attack airplanes that orbit a target). They are workhorses! The military operated them with a maximum takeoff weight up to 100.000 pounds for as long as the engines held together.

As Korea drew to close, Laos and Vietnam

Air America Logo

Air America Logo

were hotting up. Scott, not one to cover his Alpha Sierra Sierra, headed out to help and ended up in the thick of it once again. The Vietnam war in 1964 was the backdrop of Scott’s last tour of duty in uniform. Following his retirement in 1965, Scott joined the Air America team in Viet Nam and was assigned to Binh Thuy Air Force Base, IV Corps Tactical Zone of South Vietnam, as an ’AA’ Flight coordinator.

What Scott did in Laos is not clear. The Cold War was filled with secrets and this is one of them. Connecting the dots, however, perhaps he was involved with the CIA and the Secret War. Continue reading

The KUBARK Manual Legacy

As the sun sets on another beautiful, albeit windy, day in the United States’ greatIris 2
Southwest, I find myself reflecting on the many tensions in today’s world. How many people will die in fear and pain tonight as a result of torture? Given the incredible political and philosophical rifts that have torn the global geopolitical puzzle asunder as we approach the midpoint of the second decade of the new millennium coupled with the big money stakes and human nature, I suspect many. There is no peace to be had for my soul tonight. The beauty of the spring desert, the chattering of families of quail keeping track of their young and the emergence of the night creatures with their unique sounds do not bring the expected serenity. I am beset by the 1963 KUBARK[1] Manual filled with the CIA’s torture recipes and dealing with the anger at the betrayal by my country.

KUBARK_Cover_FrontThe first release of the redacted version of the 1963 KUBARK Manual[2] in 1997 through the efforts of the Baltimore Sun still allowed the maintenance of illusions and self-deception. For a moment in my extreme youth, I believed my country, my republic, did not sink to the level of torture. I believed that the military and intelligence leadership was smarter and better than that. It was a nice moment, but it passed quickly. Reality set in.

Individually, torture is a component of some types of psychoses, which means there is an element in the human psyche that allows it. In wartime torture is omnipresent and otherwise good people cross the line. There are many good studies on torture, its effects, and whether or not it works; The controlled study of torture victims. Epidemiological considerations and some future aspects, Interrogational torture: Effective or purely sadistic?, and The Effects and Effectiveness of Using Torture as an Interrogation Device: Using Research to Inform the Policy Debate are but a few. For the United States, the Cold War provided the perfect vehicle to codify its techniques and use.

Before the Cold War, the U.S. engaged in many wars and all held their history of torture by friends and foes alike. The difference was the timelines. Before the Cold War, the U.S. went to war then soldiers returned to their culture and a values reorientation. Therefore, each time a war occurred the idea of torture had to be reinvented together with the psychological motivations to overcome the individual’s value structure. The Cold War heralded in a sustained period of conflicts neither won nor lost and the ability of the military and intelligence bureaucracies to inculcate torture as ‘just’ another tool in the war toolbox. Today we pay a price for those choices. Continue reading

Legacies of the Cold War

The older I get the more dots my memory connects. The legacies of the Cold War have

(Image Source: Chase Bickel). film noir bathroom. Film Noir Look. (Image Source: Uday Kadkade)

(Image Source: Chase Bickel). film noir bathroom. Film Noir Look. (Image Source: Uday Kadkade)

come into sharp relief on this little planet filled with strife, political egos and good people just trying to make it through. Like any good film noir, the bequests of that time present themselves in black and white with deep, menacing shadow. Like a movie scene each legacy a large, slowly rotating ventilation fan blade, one behind the other each timed slightly differently, the viewer sees only the shadow and feels the challenge as the simple swoosh, swoosh as the blades relentlessly and ominously turn. The good guys or bad guys make their jumps through the fans’ portal to the other side; some make it, some don’t. It’s the same footage used for different stories where a dramatic transition is required.

BUFF On a bombing run

BUFF On a bombing run

Delivered to the U.S. military for use in 1953, the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bomber in all its incarnations has been a workhorse of Cold War infrastructure that survived the fan blades of transition from one well-defined enemy to the shadow world of many enemies defined in vague terms like terrorism. Sitting in my office in the Quonset hut on Hickam, I was quietly tackling the piles of paper in the early 1990s. I was quite unprepared for the normally calm Kimo’s bursting through my office door yelling that a BUFF was on the runway. I had no idea what a BUFF was, other than a neutral shade of brown. The sheer size of the airplane that met my eyes that day was impressive. It was a B-52 and I quickly learned that BUFF stood for Big Ugly Fat Fellow (or F….r). I definitely wanted to know more about that old dog. I drank in books extolling tales of daring-do by phenomenal pilots as they flew B-52s on long-range missions over Russia or retrofitted B-52’s taking care of business in Viet Na or patrolling our borders like long-range snipers, and, now, the war on terrorism with precision guided missiles and mind numbing payloads of bombs. Continue reading

The Fall of Saigon and the Rise of Heroes

As we approach the 39th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, it seems appropriate to re-publish this account.  Saigon was captured by the People’s Army of Vietnam and the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (also known as the Viet Cong) on April 30, 1975.  

History is what people born after 1970 call Vietnam, but for many of the 2.7 million service

Washington Post Article announcing the end of the Vietnam War.

Washington Post Article announcing the end of the Vietnam War.

men and women, the million or more civilian support staff, and the protesters who battled policy, the war lives.  It lives in war stories told with pride, or buried deep in souls and in walled-off psyches protecting their bearers.  Arguably the Vietnam War began on September 27, 1950 when the Military Assistance Advisory Group, Indochina (MAAG) was established in Saigon to aid the French Military.  It ended several years after President Nixon cut off direct funding during a process he called “Vietnamization” when, in April 1975, Saigon fell to the communists.

Twenty-five years is plenty of time for people to form strong, trust-based relationships.  The time frame of reference bridges several generations, if one defines a generation as a group of people born into and shaped by a particular span of time (events, trends and developments).  The Vietnam War significantly contracted the reach between generations. Some Vietnamese and American, men and women, soldiers and civilians, who lived, loved, fought and worked in Vietnam developed, treasured and strove to honor the vital social contracts that punctuated the long and ugly Vietnam War with small sanctuaries of beauty and peace.

Le Van Than escaped from Communist Prison Camp after 1-month

The effects of just one month spent in a Viet Cong prison camp show on 23-year-old Le Van Than, who had defected from the Communist forces and joined the Government side, was recaptured by the Viet Cong and deliberately starved.

Consider for a moment those last few days before the fall of Saigon.  Imagine your friends, colleagues, relatives who, in the grip of the Communists, will be tortured then killed all because they know or work for you.  Back in the day, the Communists had a deserved reputation for brutality.  According to Olive Drab “In total, from 1957 to 1973, the Viet Cong assassinated 36,725 South Vietnamese and abducted another 58,499. The VC death squads focused on leaders at the village level and on anyone who improved the lives of the peasants such as medical personnel, social workers, civil engineers, and schoolteachers. For the Communist forces, atrocities were a matter of policy and were not hidden or punished.”[1]   For those already screaming the U.S. also committed atrocities, the answer is yes, but not as a matter of public policy, although enforcement could have been better.  For example, one perpetrator, Lt. Calley, of the My Lai massacre, on 16 March 1968, was dealt with harshly while his commanding officer, Captain Earnest Medina, walked away scot-free.[2]  But wait, there’s more!

Climbing The Wall

Thanks to John Malch and Bill Cotman for their commitment to all who served in Vietnam whether they war the uniform or supported those who wore the uniform!

During an October 1991 visit to Washington, D.C. I decided it was time to visit The Wall, the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial.  In my many trips to the nation’s capital I visited the many

The Wall (Photo Courtesy of John Malch)

The Wall (Photo Courtesy of John Malch)

excellent museums and memorials that capture the nation’s history, but never The Wall.   Visiting the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial was perpetually on the list to see, but I consistently ran out of time on my brief visits; self-deception at its best.  The names, I could not face the thousands of names I did not know among the many I did.   I could not face the pain of the stories and the losses suffered by my fellow travelers compounded by my own.  I refused to face the anger I felt at my country for our botched foreign and covert policies.  Even today, close to forty years later, I struggle with the staggering realities of that war.  Sometimes the weight of the Vietnam that was forty years ago comes close to suffocating me.

I do not recall whether the sky was clear of cloudy, but it was cold on that October morning

In Rememberance (Photo courtesy of Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc.)

In Rememberance (Photo courtesy of Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc.)

as I stood on a small rise and looked down on the stark, black wall punctuated with bright flowers and pictures left in respect.  I felt the weight of over 58,000 soldiers who lived and died in Vietnam; the innocent victims of the twisted flames of power, incompetence, and impotence.  Soldiers that were honored and reviled as generations came and went and still the war dragged on and the dying continued. I sat where I was and did not go further.   I did not feel the healing that was promised in the brochures.  What I felt was profound sorrow and when I left I promised myself I would find out why, if it was the last thing I ever did.

Now it is April 2014.  John Malch, Vietnam war archivist and historian, shared an email dialog he had with his friend, Bill Cotman, his friend and colleague, which finally opened the soul-healing floodgates for me.  The promise of The Wall is fulfilling itself not with psychologists and drugs, but with veterans helping other veterans one name at a time.  The magic can work at The Wall or remotely, but it does work for many. Continue reading

Easter Offensive-A Parable from the Vietnam War

A buzzer sounds in my head every time I use the term ‘Vietnam war’.  That terrible forty-year

Map of Southeast Asia war

Map of Southeast Asia war

conflict savaged almost every part of Southeast Asia and many in the military refer to it as SEA or the ‘Southeast Asia war’.  In my youth I received a graphic correction to my misconception and I have been stuck with the buzzer that results in the conscious use of the term ‘Vietnam war’.   The Easter Offensive is definitely a Vietnam war story.

A General Giáp special, the Easter Offensive caught both the South Vietnamese and the American commands unprepared.  The plan very nearly worked. John Malch, an historian, archivist of this era, and in-country during the offensive, writes that a military officer told him “had it not been for the vast number of

Map of the Easter Offensive

Map of the Easter Offensive

U.S. Military combat troops and the massive capability of strategic bombing by air assets from Guam and Thailand, the battle would have turned in favor for the North Vietnamese Army (NVA).”  The troop strength in April 1972 was 158,000; many, many boots on the ground.

The Adversary

Võ Nguyên Giáp was an old-style Communist revolutionary and the best NVA general of the

General Võ Nguyên Giáp

General Võ Nguyên Giáp

Vietnam war era.   General Giáp was colorful, engaging and effective.  His campaigns drove France out of Vietnam.  For good measure, he fought the United States to a stalemate before ousting it as well.  Giáp was a merciless, albeit respected, adversary willing to take huge losses of life to achieve his objectives.  When he died in October 2013, the New York Times pointed out that in spite of his 102 years, “…he had not faded away. He was regarded as an elder statesman whose hard-line views had softened with the cessation of the war that unified Vietnam. He supported economic reform and closer relations with the United States while publicly warning of the spread of Chinese influence and the environmental costs of industrialization.”[1] Never forget that no matter how harmless the old man looked, General Giáp was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of American service personnel and millions of Vietnamese. Continue reading

Already Seen – Déjà Vu

Spring in the desert is invigorating.  A flood of flowers push up through rocks and sand to

Spring in the Sonoran Desert.

Spring in the Sonoran Desert.

provide a pink, red, purple, yellow, white and blue mosaic.  Critters by the thousands wake-up, get-up, and show-up or fly-in along migration routes.  Every living thing from birds to snakes dons new beautiful coats to commemorate the occasion.  The random noises of mating calls adds to the sights and smells of spring to fill the rest of the available space.

We, too, are participating in that time-honored spring ritual of moving.  Thinking and writing have been a challenge stuck in

Also Spring in the Sonoran Desert.

Also Spring in the Sonoran Desert.

among the packing and myriad decisions of the ‘move-the-household’ landscape.  Oh how I long for those government contracting days when moving meant setting up an appointment with the movers and walking away.  Instead the backbreaking labor of the move is all ours.  Now the POD is off to storage, the packing semi-completed, and the immediate decisions made (we will not be following the wildflowers up the Rockies as I hoped).

The spouse went to Florida to identify and secure a new base of operations, the boys are visiting friends and blowing off steam in Biosphere 2, Tucson’s Botanical Gardens, and various museums, and the cat is dreaming cat-dreams buried in a basket full of folded, clean laundry.  Now there is a respite; a time to reflect and think.  During these times I always return to the same question. Why do I write this blog?  A friend, Bill Casey who with his partner developed ELG, a premier leadership academy, originally asked me the question. When I responded, he said, “No, why do you really do it?”  Continue reading