Body Bags and Aluminum Coffins

IMG_0113After I published my article the Red Blood of Patriots, one of my friends commented that “these stories need to be told.” In that article I wrote an experience I had one night when my C-130 crew was diverted to an emergency air evacuation mission out of Dong Ha. There is another side to that story, and the story of the Vietnam experience as a whole, and this is my attempt to tell it – the transporting of the dead.

As a boy, I was not fond of graveyards and didn’t want to be around dead people. I was exposed to a graveyard every day at Lavinia School because the local cemetery was adjacent to the school yard. Some of my ancestors are buried there but it still bothered me. As for the dead, I once feigned sickness to avoid going to the funeral of a man I knew well and respected. Fortunately, there weren’t a lot of funerals in my family and circle of acquaintances although I did lose a few friends, one to a tragic accident when a hole he and some friends were digging into the side of a gulley fell in on him, a girl to leukemia and a boy who was hit by a car. I didn’t go to any of their funerals. As for graveyards, I finally got up enough nerve to wander through the cemetery at the church on the other side of the woods bordering our property and look at the old tombstones, but I was older by then. All of that changed for me, along with a lot of other things, in Vietnam.

The Air Force had two terms for the dead. Those who were killed on the battlefield or died of wounds were referred to as KIAs before they were transported to a mortuary. After they had been embalmed or processed – there were many who couldn’t be embalmed – they were called human remains. KIAs were transported in olive drab rubber battle bags; human remains in aluminum shipping coffins. I saw a lot of both.

I don’t remember the first time I transported a KIA in a body bag. It was sometime in the fall of 1965 when my squadron was TDY to Mactan, a tiny island ofnd f of the Philippines island of Cebu, from our home base, Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina. I know I was traumatized, which is probably why I don’t remember it. I no doubt picked it up at some airfield and carried it to either Da Nang or Saigon where the US had mortuaries. Originally, there was only one and it was operated by the Air Force at Tan Son Nhut but as the US role changed to ground combat, a second was established at Da Nang. I don’t believe the Da Nang mortuary was open yet because the first body bag I remember came out of there and went to Saigon. The flight wasn’t memorable because of the body bag, it was memorable because I also had a Vietnamese coffin on board and the deceased’s grieving young widow accompanied it. Vietnamese coffins were made of aluminum and weren’t that well made. Vietnamese undertakers put bodies in coffins partially filled with sand or something, and the bodily fluids tended to leak. When we got to Saigon, the US Graves Registration ambulance was there to meet us but the South Vietnamese were nowhere to be seen. The girl – she was around 19 or 20 – became hysterical while we were waiting and started trying to open the coffin. I was about ready to pull my .38 but she finally calmed down.

There was one flight with a body bag – it may have been the one with the grieving widow – I remember because I had become so used to carrying them that I sat on a nylon seat in the back of the airplane next to the litter with the body bag and ate my flight lunch.

My crew went back to Pope a few days before Christmas and I went on leave. When I got back, I learned I had overseas orders. I was going to Naha, Okinawa. I knew it meant more Vietnam flying. I got to Naha on a blustery Monday evening in February. The following Sunday I went to the newly opened air base at Cam Ranh Bay on a special mission for two weeks of flying in South Vietnam. I was flying with an instructor loadmaster because this was my first flight in the C-130A – I had been flying C-130Es and there were some minor differences so I had to be signed-off. We shuttled ammunition from Cam Ranh to Ban Me Thout and Tuy Hoa in support of a large operation. One morning we had a passenger on a sortie to Ban Me Thout. Although passengers were not normally allowed on flights with Class A ammunition, a waiver had been issued. The passenger was an Army Specialist Sixth Class. I remember what he looked like – he had dark hair and was wearing dark-rimmed military issue glasses – but I didn’t talk to him much. We dropped him off with the load and went back to Cam Ranh for another. That afternoon, we went back to Ban Me Thout. The ground radio operator – we called the forward field operations Transport Movement Detachments or TMD at that time – advised us that we’d be carrying a KIA on the outbound flight. By this time, I’d hauled quite a few KIAs and was used to the sight of body bags. The air freight guys brought the litter on and put it down at the front of the airplane and I wrapped straps around each end and ratcheted them down. As we were taxiing out, George, my instructor, said on the interphone that the KIA was the same Spec 6 we had brought in that morning. Now, I don’t know it if was or not. I do know that Spec 6s were not that common.

For the next 18 months I spent most of my time in either South Vietnam or Thailand. I have no idea how many I carried, but KIAs in body bags and South Vietnamese aluminum coffins were common. Fortunately, the number of Vietnamese coffins declined. I’m not sure why, but I believe there was some kind of policy change and that Vietnamese became responsible for transporting their own dead. It was fine with me. We didn’t have KIAs on every flight or even on most of them, but it was common to go into an airfield and take a KIA or two out. Since the KIAs were going to Saigon and our operating base was Cam Ranh Bay, we probably didn’t carry as many as the crews operating out of Tan Son Nhut did.

One night I was on a mission to Pleiku, a large base in the Central Highlands. An Army Chinook helicopter that crashed there the day before. On the way in, we were advised by the ALCE (the name of the Transport Movement Detachments had been changed) that we were carrying the remains. The helicopter had exploded. We came out of Pleiku with the remains of five men in a single body bag. Everything Graves Registration could find was lumped together. There was about a 5-pound lump inside the bag, and there was the odor of a meat market in the air. I’ve never forgotten that smell.

My four year enlistment was up at the end of my tour at Naha but I decided to reenlist. Believe it or not, my job as a loadmaster was a decent job. My new assignment was to a Military Airlift Command squadron based at Robins AFB, Georgia. The squadron’s primary mission was transporting nuclear weapons and they were in the process of transitioning out of Korean War vintage C-124’s to brand new Lockheed C-141s. The C-141 was essentially a jet version of the turboprop C-130, but it was longer and could carry ten pallets of cargo while the C-130 carried six. Our mission was transporting nukes and I flew nuke missions but we also flew Military Airlift Command “channel traffic” missions, and most of them went to Southeast Asia. We often had human remains as our cargo on the way back.

MAC used the crew stage system. Instead of keeping the same airplane all the way to our destination and back home, we flew different airplanes in stages. We’d take a squadron airplane from Robins to an onload point, usually Dover, Delaware, then proceed to Elmendorf AFB, Alaska where we’d surrender the airplane to another crew and enter the stage. After crew rest of some 15 hours, we’d pick up another airplane and take it to the next stage point at Yokota AFB, Japan. We’d crew rest then take another airplane on to its cargo’s destination, usually an airfield in either South Vietnam or Thailand. Most went to one of three airfields in South Vietnam – Cam Ranh Bay, Da Nang and Tan Son Nhut at Saigon. We’d then go to our next crew rest stop at Kadena AB, Okinawa. From Kadena we went to Elmendorf. After Elmendorf we’d take an airplane to it’s home base, hopefully to Robins but as often as not we’d go to one of a number of MAC bases on the East Coast then catch a scheduled shuttle back to our home base. Airplanes coming out of South Vietnam often came out empty, but those that went to Saigon as often as not came out with a load of human remains.

In the Vietnam years, human remains were transported without ceremony. There were no flag-draped coffins and no escorting officers. Human remains were considered to be cargo and were handled as such, with certain conditions. Air Force policy was that human remains were always loaded in the airplane headfirst and they were loaded so they’d be the last item on the airplane to be jettisoned. (I never heard of a C-141 crew ever jettisoning anything.) I believe there was a MAC policy that only three coffins could be loaded on a single pallet and they could be stacked no more than three coffins high. These coffins were not typical coffins. In fact, they were actually shipping containers and they were virtually identical to other shipping containers used for other items. The only way to know they were for human remains was – well, there really wasn’t a way. I suppose they were all unpainted aluminum. The name of the person’s whose remains were in the container were recorded on documents contained inside a plug on the end of the container.

Human remains went to one of two places, Travis Air Force Base, California or Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. That’s where the two military mortuaries were (and still are) located. Since we were East Coast, any human remains we carried were Dover bound. I was later based at Dover and remember the building well. It was a non-descript facility located by itself just off the flight line. Military morticians removed the remains from the aluminum coffins and placed them in cardboard containers for shipment to mortuaries near the deceased’s home. They were then transported to Philadelphia International and turned over to the airlines. A special unit at Dover provided escorting officers and enlisted men to accompany the remains.

We could pick up an airplane with remains anywhere from Saigon to Elmendorf. I don’t remember going into Saigon and picking up remains myself, but I do remember getting airplanes at Kadena with remains. We’d try to get a Robins airplane at Elmendorf but sometimes we’d get a Dover airplane and take it to its home base, and they sometimes were loaded with remains. Now, most of the time, there were only a few remains on board, anywhere from one or two to a dozen. There were times, however, when we got on an airplane and learned that it was practically full. Since number one pallet position was normally kept open, a full airplane would have eight pallets (human remains weren’t loaded in the last pallet because it sat at a slight angle on the ramp.) Each pallet would be loaded with up to nine containers, a total of 72. During the 1968 Tet Offensive, we often had several pallets of nine on board.

Some of the other crewmembers were distressed because of the remains we carried. It didn’t bother me. We were carrying processed remains of men who had been embalmed and prepared for shipment. The only odor was of embalming fluid; it smelled a bit like a funeral home. I had carried so many KIAs in Vietnam that I’d become desensitized to them. I was about to get another dose.

I’d only been at Robins for a year when a message came in that I was going back overseas. I was going back to C-130s, but this time I’d be at Clark AB, Philippines on the C-130B. I knew that the B-models had been bearing the brunt of forward field operations. The message came in toward the end of September but the squadron managed to get a waiver for C-130 training because I had previous experience so I didn’t have to depart until the end of November. I reported to my new squadron at Clark in February 1969. I was twenty-three years old and had been in the Air Force for six years, and had almost five years flying experience. The war had changed during the time I was at Robins. Conditions were worsening when I left Naha. The intensity of combat had peaked the previous year but it was still high, and US forces were still taking heavy casualties. We were flying into forward airfields like the one shown above, which I believe is Bu Dop. Bu Dop was one of about half a dozen airfields along the Cambodian border that we frequented, as in nearly every day we flew.

We didn’t pick up KIAs every time we went into a forward field but we did often enough. I remember one conversation with a young airman who had come over from Robins with me. He was having trouble dealing with carrying KIAs. I told him to not think about them as dead soldiers, that what we were carrying was what was left after the soul departed. (I believe I referred to the remains as pieces of shit, since vulgarity was common in the military. After I said it, I wished I’d used a different term.) That must be how I dealt with it because I have no problems from carrying so many dead, but I know men who do.

The most pathetic KIA I ever carried was the body of a young nurse. The girl had been killed in a communist sapper attack on a military hospital. There is a discrepancy in my recollections and the records shown on the Internet of women killed in Vietnam. Only one woman is shown as having died as a result of enemy action. First Lieutenant Sharon Case was killed on June 8, 1969 at Chu Lai. My recollection is that the girl whose remains I carried was killed at Cam Ranh during an attack on the Army 6th Convalescent Center on Thursday, August 7, 1969. The convalescent center was just up the beach from Herky Hill where we stayed when we were at Cam Ranh. The flight engineer and I were in bed in our quarters when we heard the sound of explosions. We went out on the balcony of our barracks and saw the fires burning and heard firing at the Army facility. Helicopters were flying low over us. The next morning, as I was on my way in to C-130 Operations, I ran into Fred Sowell, one of the detachment loadmasters who was assigned permanently at Cam Ranh. Fred told me that a nurse had been killed the night before and I was taking her body to Saigon. He said her body was in a refrigerated CONEX container.

I went on out to the airplane to preflight and check the load. A little while later, an aerial port truck came out with the body bag. He back up to the crew entrance door and we brought the litter in through it and I tied it down. God only knows how many KIAs I’d carried by this time – there were dozens and perhaps even hundreds. This one was different. The body in that bag was that of a young American girl, the object of every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine’s eye. The aerial port people, the airplane’s ground crew and the rest of my crew all came to take a look. I looked at the name tag, which was something I rarely do. I did not unzip the bag to take a look – I never did that. The girl’s name came out in Stars and Stripes a couple of days later.

Now, I am almost positive that the body of the nurse I carried was of someone other than Lt. Lane. Lt. Lane was killed on June 8, a Sunday. I am pretty sure that was the day I departed Clark for my first shuttle with my new crew. I know I had been in country in late May and early June to check out on the delivery of the M-121 bomb (that’s another story). We were still in country on June 23 when another significant accident occurred and we left for Clark the next day. The only explanation I can think of is that the death of the nurse was classified because Cam Ranh was supposed to be a secure base and her name somehow slipped through the cracks. Some would say, “people would have known.” Actually, the only reason I knew a nurse was killed was because I carried her body. The attack occurred at 1:00 AM and we took off for Saigon with the body around seven hours later. Graves Registration had taken the body and transported it to the aerial port on the West Ramp and it was put in a CONEX until it was brought out to our airplane. One reason I don’t believe the nurse was Sharon Lane was because I’m certain Fred Sowell told me about her death and that I would be carrying her body. Fred took a consecutive overseas tour to Clark and got there just before I left to go back to the States. I left in late July or early August, which means Fred wasn’t at Cam Ranh in June.

I have no idea how many KIAs I carried in some 40 months of flying in South Vietnam (I wasn’t in South Vietnam all the time, but spent much of those months at either Cam Ranh or Saigon. Nor do I know how many human remains I transported in a year on C-141s. All I know is there were a lot of them.

Before I close this, let me mention that there are myths about the dead from Vietnam. A common expression is that a soldier might “go home in a body bag.” That did not happen. KIAs were transported to one of the two mortuaries where they were embalmed and prepared for shipment. If they couldn’t be embalmed, they were processed as best as the military morticians could. They were then shipped to the States in an aluminum shipping container. Another myth is that a buddy accompanied a body home. This is ridiculous because units couldn’t spare men for such duty. Escorts came from units at the mortuaries and were “professional escorts” if you will. I only remember one passenger during my year in C-141s who was escorting a body to the States. I’ve forgotten the details, other than that he was a young Marine and the body was either a buddy who had made some kind of special request or was a family member. I’ve also seen claims by sailors that they transported bodies on ships. Nope – all remains were turned over to the Air Force and transported by air, first by Military Air Transport Service, or MATS, then by Military Airlift Command, MATS’ successor.

Records exist of 58,300 men (and a handful of women) who died in Southeast Asia. It’s not unreasonable to estimate that I transported the remains of some 200-300 of them, either as KIAs in South Vietnam or as human remains on C-141s.

 

 

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Red Blood of Patriots

Dong Ha Takeoff (2)

This morning as I was watching coverage of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, I was keeping track of Twitter. In his speech, President Trump spoke this line – “It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag.” Immediately after he said it ,  Conservative, Inc. writer John Podhoretz, who has a reputation for arrogance, tweeted that traitors have red blood too, which is true enough but the way he said it really pissed me off. The president’s line reminded me of my own experience with red, American blood, although it was Podhoretz’ comment that caused me to dwell on it for some time. I know exactly what the blood of our armed forces, whether patriot or not, looks like after it has been spilled.

During the late Southeast Asian unpleasantness, I was an Air Force flight crewmember, a loadmaster assigned to squadrons that flew the now-famous, but not so much then, Lockheed C-130 Hercules. It was sometime in the spring of 1967. I was nearing the end of my tour. A year before, I was flying on missions over North Vietnam and Laos dropping flares for fighters to attack trucks bringing supplies south to the communists who were seeking to overthrow the government of South Vietnam. I had returned to routine transport flying, or hauling trash, as we were beginning to call it. Our flying really was routine – hauling troops and cargo, but mostly cargo, around South Vietnam and Thailand. We were physically based at Naha, Okinawa but we’d go TDY for sixteen days at a time to either Cam Ranh Bay in South Vietnam or Bangkok, Thailand to fly airlift missions. We called the stints “shuttles.” We’d take off early on our first day in country, then start later and later each day until we were flying mainly night missions, then we’d have a day off and start over again on the day missions. After two weeks, we’d go home for a few days then come back and do it all over again.

On this particular shuttle, I was flying with Captain Tom McQuaide, an experienced C-130 pilot who had come to our squadron from a Tactical Air Command C-130 squadron at Lockbourne AFB, Ohio. Some of our pilots had come from other commands and other aircraft types, and were restricted to airfields with runways at least 4,000 feet long because of several prop-reversal accidents involving the C-130As we were flying. Flying with them truly was routine but when flying with an experienced C-130 pilot like Captain McQuaide, we got into the short, unimproved airfields out in the boondocks where the war was. (We actually got shot at no matter what airfield we went to – one night after landing at Tan Son Nhut, the huge airport at Saigon, the air freight people who met us told me they’d watch us come in and that we’d been trailed by tracer bullets.)

We were a little over half-way through our two weeks of flying. We took off for our first sortie late in the afternoon and had then gone to night missions, which usually involved moving backlog cargo out of Cam Ranh to the major airfields around South Vietnam, particularly Qui Nhon. We went north to Da Nang for the last part of our mission and after dropping off our load, air freight brought out a stack of five empty pallets – we were required to always have five pallets on the airplane to insure a supply of pallets in the country – and were supposed to take off and fly south to Qui Nhon to pick up cargo for Cam Ranh. When we reached Cam Ranh, we’d be finished for the night. I had just finished chaining the empties to the ramp when a dispatch truck drove up to the back of the open ramp. The driver stuck his head out of the window and informed me that our mission had been changed – we were being diverted to a combat emergency air evacuation mission to Dong Ha. Combat emergency was the highest priority for airlift missions in Southeast Asia. My adrenaline started pumping just at the words.

I was well-acquainted with Dong Ha. I took the above picture there in the fall of 1965 when I was at a tiny island in the Philippines called Macton on temporary duty from Pope AFB, North Carolina. We took a hit that day, although we didn’t know it until we got back to Mactan. Miraculously, it was only one of two hits I took in more than 1,200 combat sorties although we got shot at on nearly every flight. I had flown air evac missions before, but not a CE. In fact, although air evac was one of our missions, we rarely flew them because Army and Marine helicopters usually flew wounded men to rear area hospitals. As the dispatcher was pulling away, a forklift came up to  remove the forklift. As soon as the pallets were removed, I went to the front of the airplane and got the emergency escape ladder and installed it just behind the wing – the ladder was part of the litter system. Then another truck pulled up and the air evac crew got out, a nurse and two enlisted medical technicians. The nurse was male – only male nurses were assigned to combat missions. They loaded their equipment on the airplane and got on.

The nurse, a lieutenant, told me that Dong Ha was under attack and that a Marine had been hit in the head. We were to pick him up and bring him back to Da Nang, hopefully in time for emergency surgery to save his life. Casualties were mounting and there were other wounded, some in litters and some walking, and we would be bringing them back as well because the field hospital at Dong Ha was running out of space. After engine start, I continued setting up litter stanchions and dropping the straps from the ceiling that served to secure one side of each litter. We continued rigging stanchions and dropping straps while we taxied out and took off. Each stanchion had steps that could be dropped down so someone could climb up and reach the straps – since it was my airplane, that someone was me. The medical crew and I also dropped the nylon seats on the sides to have them available for walking wounded.

The flight wasn’t that long, not more than twenty minutes at most. Dong Ha was about 50 miles northwest of Da Nang. It sat right on the Demilitarized Zone. On the other side was North Vietnam. When I went in there the first time in the fall of 1965, there was nothing much there but since then, the Marines had moved in and made it a major base. Navy Seabees had laid 2,900 feet of pierced-aluminum planking on the dirt runway, making it an “all-weather” runway. C-130s went in there every day, but not normally at night.  North Vietnamese troops probed the base nearly every night; it was considered too dangerous for routine missions at night.

The firefight was still going on right off the runway when we landed. The guys in the cockpit saw the green and red tracers flying back and forth. I didn’t see them. I was too busy in the back. I was so pumped up on adrenaline that I went outside and started opening the doors that covered the gas turbine compressor, the auxiliary power unit that provided power when the engines weren’t running with the #2 propeller still coasting down. As soon as I got the rear ramp opened, Navy ambulances began arriving with the wounded Marines. The number had increased drastically since we left Da Nang a half hour before. I don’t recall the exact number but there were around a dozen or so men in litters and around twice that many walking wounded. I remember noticing that none of the men were black. I noticed this because civil rights leaders in the US, particularly Martin Luther King, were claiming that blacks were being killed and wounded at rates far in excess of their numbers.

The men had received only minimal medical care and many were bloody and still bleeding. In addition to the Marine with the head wound for which we had initially been sent out, there was at least one other patient whose life was in danger. While the medical crew took care of the litter patients, I helped the walking wounded settle into their seats and fasten their seatbelts. Now, I had always thought I was squeamish; Vietnam proved that I’m not. The men were all bloody but they seemed lucid enough. Once all of the patients were loaded, we fired up the four engines. When the flight engineer switched power from one generator to another, there was a momentary power loss. A huge sigh of dismay went up from the patients. The loss was only momentary and the airplane was only dark for a couple of seconds. Captain McQuaide took off right over the firefight. He reckoned it was safer than taxiing to that end of the runway and then turning around, and exposing the airplane to AK-47 fire in the process. By taking off over them, we’d only be in range for a few seconds. As far as I know, we took no hits.

There wasn’t anything I could do once we were airborne but keep watch on everybody. The medics and the nurse were tending to the litter patients. They were cleaning their wounds and nipping away pieces of flesh, although I didn’t notice it at the time as they were in the back of the cargo compartment and I was sitting in the first seat aft of the entrance door at the front. The nurse was devoting his attention to the Marine with the head wound. He looked up then started walking toward me. I knew the Marine was dead. He told me to ask the navigator for our coordinates so he could put it in the death certificate. He told me not to say anything to the other wounded. He left the dead Marine’s head uncovered. I felt very deflated.

We continued to Da Nang. We taxied to the ramp and were met by a blue Air Force ambulance/bus. They are large busses that had been configured with litter stanchions in the back and seats in the front. More medical personnel were with them. I stood by the dead Marine while the medical crew offloaded the litters and the walking wounded filed by. The nurse had put me there to try to keep the other Marines from realizing he had died. It didn’t work. The other litter patients had been offloaded and the one litter remained in place. The walking wounded had to go right by it and they realized something was wrong.

The bus pulled away and the medical crew got their stuff and went with it, leaving me with the dead Marine. Because we were only a few minutes out when the copilot called and advised that we needed Graves Registration, it was some time before they arrived to take the body. The nurse had given me the paperwork recording the man’s death. I didn’t cover up his head. I looked at him and thought to myself, “What a waste.” I wondered about him. He had the rough face of a coal miner or a football player. I wondered if he might be from Pennsylvania. I didn’t have a clue how old he was. I was twenty-one myself. He could have been older or he could have been nineteen for all I knew. One of the officers, I think it was Capt. McQuaide, came back to where I was keeping watch over the dead Marine and kept me company until Graves Registration finally came out in their olive drab ambulance to pick up the body, or KIA as they are referred to in the military, or were before the military became “sensitive.” After they left, I went outside to keep watch on the engines during engine start then came back inside and closed the ramp. Once the engines were started, I went to work stowing the litter straps and moving the stanchions to their stowage at the front of the cargo compartment.

It was after I had put everything away that I realized that our airplane looked like an operating room after multiple surgeries. Normally, I would sweep the floor and put the dirt in the trash can that was part of every airplane’s extra equipment. We were on our way back to Cam Ranh empty as we had already exceeded our crew duty day. I called Captain McQuaide on the intercom and told him we were going to need a firetruck. I’d never called for one before but had heard of others doing it. The floor was covered with blood but there were also pieces of flesh where the nurse had snipped them off of the wounds. The only way to clean it up was to wash it out.

By the time we landed at Cam Ranh, the sun was up. There was no firetruck but there was a water truck waiting for us. We pulled into our parking spot and shut down the engines. The maintenance dispatcher’s truck pulled up and the airplane’s crew chief got out. He bounded up the steps and took one look at his airplane, then turned around with his hand over his mouth and ran back down the steps, then started retching. The water truck driver took one look then handed me the hose and left. The officers and flight engineer had all left. It was just me, a water hose and a bloody, gory airplane. I started washing. The water mixed with the blood and turned red.

I grew up in West Tennessee about 75 miles from Shiloh Battlefield where one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War was fought. I’d been there once on a field trip when I was in elementary school. One of the features on the park is a pond called The Bloody Pond. According to local tradition, the waters of the pond turned red with the blood of the wounded soldiers, Confederate and Federal, who went there to drink and wash their wounds. As I washed the blood and gore out of the airplane that was now being returned to its crew chief, the bloody water reminded me of that pond.

Now, I don’t know if those young Marines considered themselves to be patriots or not. Seriously, I doubt that they did. Patriotism was not something young soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines talked about in those days. I’m sure they were volunteers, at least most probably were. Draftees only went into the Army as a rule, although the Marine Corps had started accepting them due to the lack of volunteers in a country where the youth were becoming violently “anti-war” and pro-Viet Cong. Nevertheless, we were serving our country, no matter our motivations – and we all bled red.

What upset me about Podhoretz’ Tweet is that he’s never seen anyone shed blood for their country and never will. He, along with the rest of the Conservative, Inc. crowd are good at using the word processor as a weapon but none of them will ever hear a shot fired in anger. They’re all talk. As for “traitors,” a traitor is a patriot to the country he or she supports. We all bleed red.

Treason? Nope!

18 U.S. Code § 2381 – Treason

Current through Pub. L. 114-38. (See Public Laws for the current Congress.)

§ 2381.
Treason

Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

(June 25, 1948, ch. 645, 62 Stat. 807; Pub. L. 103–322, title XXXIII, § 330016(2)(J), Sept. 13, 1994, 108 Stat. 2148.)

18 U.S. Code § 953 – Private correspondence with foreign governments

Current through Pub. L. 114-38. (See Public Laws for the current Congress.)

§ 953.
Private correspondence with foreign governments

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply, himself or his agent, to any foreign government or the agents thereof for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects.

(June 25, 1948, ch. 645, 62 Stat. 744; Pub. L. 103–322, title XXXIII, § 330016(1)(K), Sept. 13, 1994, 108 Stat. 2147.)
In November 1968 I voted for the first time. Actually, I didn’t vote on November 5, I had already voted by absentee ballot, along with most other US military personnel. At age 22 – I turned 23 just before the election – 1968 was the first election I could vote in. As a legal Tennessee resident, that it is where I voted although I was physically at Warner Robins, Georgia at the time. I was on my second enlistment in the US Air Force, having reenlisted in Vietnam the previous year. I’d been back in the United States for a little over a year and already had orders back to the Pacific, orders that I knew would put me back in combat again. In order to vote, I had to send a request for an absentee ballot through our squadron voting officer to my Tennessee county’s election commission. The ballot went to my squadron, and I was notified it was there. I went to the squadron and saw the officer, who opened a safe and took out the ballot and gave it to me to mark. After I had marked my choices, I handed it back. He sealed it and put it in the mail.

Recently, political author John A. Ferrell wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times (obviously, to publicize his upcoming book on President Richard Nixon) in which he claimed he had “proof” that Richard Nixon tried to sabotage the 1968 election. He points as “proof” to notes written by Nixon associate and later Nixon Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman in which he briefly mentions noted Chinese newspaper woman and widow of Lt. General Claire Chennault that he found in an archive. Ferrell and Nixon critics immediately seized on the notes as definite proof that Nixon used Mrs. Chennault as a go-between to sabotage President Lyndon Johnson’s efforts to establish peace talks between South Vietnam and North Vietnam.  There is no doubt that Mrs. Chennault had a close relationship with the South Vietnamese government. Although she is alleged to have become an American citizen in 1950, she was Chinese by birth and an active supporter of the Nationalist Chinese government of Chaing Ki Shek. A virulent anti-communist, as had been her husband, she was active with the Republican party. However, that doesn’t mean that the very brief notes Ferrell found prove that she was acting on Richard Nixon’s behalf. If anything, they indicate that he knew she was in contact with Saigon and had been there numerous times. Since Haldeman and Nixon are both dead, there’s no way to know what the notes meant. That they are “proof” of Nixon’s “treason” is (erroneous) conjecture.

 Democrats and Nixon-haters like to claim that South Vietnam’s refusal to participate in peace talks cost Hubert Humphreys the election. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. It is a myth that American voters wait until the last minute to decide who they are going to vote for. In fact, the vast majority of Americans know who they’re going to vote for as soon as the candidates are announced. The idea that people wait to the last minute to decide is a sham. Johnson announced that a halt of all offensive actions against North Vietnam on October 31, less than a week before the election. If it had any effect on the election at all, it was negative. I was an Air Force flight crewmember and had flown missions over North Vietnam as well as Laos. The general consensus among the officers and non-commissioned officers I flew with was that it was a mistake. As Johnson’s talk of impending peace talks, we paid little attention.

Was Anna Chennault’s relationship with the South Vietnamese treason? The answer is unequivocally NO! The definition of treason, shown above, is very narrow. It consists solely of waging war against the United States or providing aid and comfort within the United States and elsewhere. Anna Chennault was not supporting the North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese communist Viet Cong in any way. In fact, she was vehemently opposed to them. Did her actions violate the Logan Act?  At first glance, it appears she might have but a closer reading of the 1799 act shows that there must be with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States. Mrs. Chennault’s relationship with the South Vietnamese president and South Vietnam’s ambassador to the United States was purely to convey political information. There were no disputes or controversies with the United States involved. Incidentally, since the Logan Act was adopted by Congress in 1799, there has been only one person indicted and the subject, a Kentucky farmer who had written an article in the Frankfort, KY paper advocating a separate nation in the western part of what was then the United States to ally with France. He was never prosecuted.
There are parallels between Anna Chennault’s contacts with South Vietnam and the allegations of President Donald Trump’s relations with Russia, although the first is factual and the second is unfounded. There are allegations of violation of the Logan Act by President Trump’s security advisor, Lt. General Mike Flynn in that he had conversations with the Russian ambassador without White House clearance. A number of Democrats, including left-wing journalist and White House Press Secretary for LBJ Bill Moyers, are calling for a senate investigation of allegations against President Trump and using Anna Chennault’s activities as a basis for such an action. However, in both instances, Democrats are grasping at straws to explain why Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 lost the election.
Commentators often like to call the 1968 election “close.” In fact, it wasn’t. Nixon won by a 110 vote margin. Alabama Governor George Wallace, running for the American Independent Party, captured 46 votes and was the preferred candidate among young men, (based on exit polling.) In short, Nixon was the preferred candidate as the 1972 election proved when he received 520 votes, as opposed to his opponent’s 17. Similarly, Donald Trump won the 2016 election by a wide margin, winning 77 more votes than Clinton and winning 30 states as opposed to her 20 and the District of Columbia. Nixon and Trump didn’t win because of “dirty politics,” they won because they were popular and had large followings nationwide. I voted for both of them.
Canadian/British/American Conrad Black’s take on it.

DEFINITELY Political!

The “Intelligence Community Report” has been released and, as I expected, it doesn’t say anything. The IC claims that (1) Russian President Vladimir Putin  ordered a campaign to influence the US election, (2) that Russian intelligence services conducted cyberespionage against US political establishments and (3) that they used certain outlets – the Russian English language TV channel and RT.com, DCLeaks.com, Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks –  to disseminate the information. Yet they only offer supposition with no actual evidence to back up their claims. Of course, they insinuate that such evidence is classified.

Let me mention a few things. First, I am an Air Force veteran and held Secret and Top Secret clearances. I was required to read classified documents and attended classified intelligence briefings. I am also a published author and was cleared by the Air Force to access classified documents while doing research. I was advised that documents are classified for three reasons – (1) to protect national security matters (2) to protect relations between the US and foreign governments and (3) to protect reputations, meaning the reputations of high placed government officials and military officers. Classified documents are routinely declassified after a specified period of time. For instance, Air Force unit records are classified for thirty years but some documents have been classified for as much as half a century and perhaps longer. An example is the intelligence report of the interrogation of the senior Japanese officers responsible for the defense of Kyushu, the Japanese island where the Allies planned to land in the initial invasion of Japan. This report was classified for a half century for one reason – to protect the reputation of President Harry Truman, who ordered the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The claim that Putin personally ordered a campaign to affect the US election is very sketchy, although the report claims that the three intelligence agencies involved, the FBI, CIA, and National Security Agency agree “with high confidence.” They also claim that Putin and the Russian government “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.” However, while the FBI and CIA claimed “high confidence” in this claim, the NSA’s confidence is “moderate.” That the NSA’s position is essentially “maybe” is significant because it is the agency that actually collects electronic data.

The report uses the term “to denigrate Secretary Cinton” and “discredit Secretary Clinton” numerous times, which indicates that the report was political. Bear in mind that this report was requested by President Barrack Obama AFTER Donald Trump was elected. This is an indication that he intended it for political purposes, specifically to foster discontent among Clinton supporters and to undermine President Trump’s administration.

The “Intelligence Community” is actually of recent origin. It came into existence in 1981 by executive order of President Ronald Reagan, who sought to increase the access of the CIA to classified information. The role of the IC was increased in 2004 by President George W. Bush. Bush’s order established the new Director of National Intelligence to oversee ALL intelligence agencies of the US government, both civilian and military.  The office was initially proposed by Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein, Jay Rockefeller and Bob Graham. The position was formalized by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. The DNI is a political appointee, as is the Director of the CIA and the Director of the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) although the latter is an active duty military officer.

Although the report states that there’s no evidence of actual Russian tampering in the election, such as hacking voting machines, it states that the Russians were influential in disseminating information to “denigrate” and “discredit” Secretary Clinton. Never mind that the DNC leaks revealed information about how the committee operated rather than anything about Clinton, other than that the DNC favored Clinton over Bernie Sanders as the candidate. They claim that the Russians disseminated information through RT, a Russian television and internet network. However, the information put out by RT was no different than that circulated by conservative web sites and news outlets. I would consider the claims made in the report as disinformation, meaning that it is not really information at all.

I rate the report as nothing but political bullshit.

 

“Intelligence” or Supposition?

I’ve not posted anything in awhile because so much has been going on I’ve not decided which to talk about. Now that the so-called “intelligence community” is making waves about “The Russians” and Julian Assange is saying essentially that they’re full of shit, I’ve decided to talk about government intelligence. I’ll preface this by stating that in 12 years in the Air Force I had a few intelligence briefings and did some things that weren’t talked about.

Let me start this off by saying that the term “seventeen intelligence agencies” used by Hillary Clinton in her claim that these agencies had determined the information published on WikiLeaks came from “the Russians” is a misnomer. There are actually only two intelligence agencies, the CIA and the DIA, but there are fifteen organizations that have intelligence-collecting arms that report to the Director of Intelligence in some form or fashion. These organizations use the term “intelligence” but their role is actually the gathering of information from other countries by spying. In short, the “intelligence community” is a euphemism for America’s spies. Take a look at the list at the link above to see who they are and, to some extent, what they do.

Intelligence is collected in a number of ways. Some are sophisticated electronic intelligence gathering methods using airborne, seaborne and ground stations to record radio communications and other means of electronics communications of foreign governments. Others are as simple as eavesdropping on conversations in hotel bars or reading newspapers. The CIA uses foreign intelligence sources including paid informants who may be anything from a janitor in a foreign government building to high-placed government officials who are passing on their government’s secrets to US agents, for an often sizeable fee. Such information may or may not be accurate.

The problem is that the “intelligence community,” meaning Director of Intelligence James Clapper, a retired USAF general and Barack Obama, claim that the Emails published several months ago by Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks were hacked and leaked by “the Russians.” Assange says the information did not come from the Russians, which has caused a big uproar in Washington. Craig Murray, a British politician and former diplomat, has said he picked up the document in Washington, DC and turned them over to Assange. (Assange, who has promised never to reveal sources, has said Murray doesn’t speak for WikiLeaks.) Clapper’s claim seems to be based on information provided by CrowdStrike, a private cybersecurity firm employed by the Democratic National Committee.

Now, “intelligence” is one thing, but drawing the correct conclusion is another. Each of the intelligence organizations employs large number of “analysts” whose job is to look at the information that has been gleaned from various sources and come up with some kind of report. Sometimes they get it right, but more often they don’t. One of the biggest intelligence failures in history was the Allied forces in Europe’s failure to detect the massive German attacks in Belgium that led to the “Battle of the Bulge.” General George Patton’s G-2 correctly reported that the Germans were building up their forces in the Ardennes but Eisenhower’s own G-2 ignored the report. Intelligence failed to predict the North Korean attacks on South Korea in 1950, intelligence failed to predict North Vietnamese attacks on South Vietnam in 1972, intelligence failed to predict the fall of the Soviet Union and intelligence claimed Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” when, in fact, all such weapons had been destroyed. In short, the intelligence community has been wrong about some of the most important events in recent history. If they’ve been wrong about so much, why believe them now?

What bothers me most about the current claims is that “the Russians” were blamed for the alleged hacks on the Democratic National Committee Email system as soon as they were released by WikiLeaks by the Clinton Campaign, then the White House backed her up. Those Emails contain devastating information that showed that certain DNC officials were manipulating the Democratic primaries to give Clinton an advantage over Bernie Sanders. The information was so devastating that DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was immediately fired. “The Russians” claim timing is very suspicious. A few days after the WikiLeaks revelation, a DNC employee named Seth Rich was mysteriously murdered. The murder has never been solved and some believe his death is connected to the leaks. Julian Assange hinted that Rich was one of his informants, and took the unprecedented step of offering a sizeable reward for information leading to the conviction of Rich’s killer.

There is something else that needs to be realized. Right after the CIA was established, the Agency initiated Project MOCKINGBIRD, a campaign to influence American public opinion. When the project was originally established, the goal was to promote opinion against communism. However, since then the CIA and other intelligence agencies have become more leftist in outlook. For example, current CIA director John Brennan is known to have voted for a Communist Party USA presidential candidate and to have voiced far left opinions.  Can he be trusted?

So, regardless of what the “intelligence community” claims about Russia and the election, just remember that no intelligence is conclusive and the US intelligence community, once called The Cult of Intelligence, can’t be trusted.

 

What “Blank Check”?

Ubon

There’s a missive going around about how a “veteran” is someone who “gave a blank check” to America. While this may sound good, it’s simply not true. The fact is, young men who serve in the military are not “offering” anything, they are fulfilling a military obligation established by Federal  regulation. Title 10 defines the militia as “all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States.”  This has been the definition of the militia ever since the United States became a nation. (the Code has recently been modified to include female members of the National Guard.) Until 1973, when conscription ended due to a number of legal rulings, particularly one in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, ALL young American men were subject to eight years of military service, which could be served in various ways ranging from two years of active service followed by six years in the reserves to four to six years of active service followed by reserve service. It was the policy in force when I graduated from high school in 1963 and was faced with the choice of how I was going to fulfil my military commitment. After considerable deliberation, I decided to enlist in the US Air Force.

If I had any thoughts of patriotism or somehow servicing my fellow Americans, they were so far in the back of my mind I never thought of them. I had a number of reasons for choosing the Air Force – my dad was in the Air Corps during the war and my uncle was an Air Force pilot, I liked airplanes and wanted to fly – but I enlisted like most other young men because I was obligated by law to do so unless I wanted to wait and take my chances with the military draft. Since I was unmarried – although they were classified as 1A, married men were lower on the list of potential draftees – I only had three options, enlist, enroll in college and receive a deferment or wait to be drafted. I thought about college – and was accepted at both the University of Tennessee and Memphis State (but didn’t know how I’d pay for it) – but decided to enlist and attend college later. (I also had the option of taking college classes in my off duty hours but my duties precluded it.)

Those who have never served in the military – and some who have – seem to think that those who go into it are somehow making a sacrifice. While this may be true of older men who had established themselves in some kind of job, it’s not true of most military enlistees. (Yes, there is the potential for making the ultimate sacrifice but only a tiny fraction of those who serve die in the line of duty. I’m referring to somehow sacrificing something to go into the service in the first place.) It is true that military service may mean separation from family but there are numerous civilian professions in which men must work in remote areas far from their families. Granted, it’s their choice but since 1973 and the end of conscription, military service is also a choice. As for compensation, although my initial pay as a recruit was only $83.20 a month, that was $83.20 more a month than I was making as a high school student. I was also provided a place to lay my head and three meals a day, as well as free medical care had I needed it. By the time I left the Air Force 12 years later, my total compensation as an E 6 on flying status with a wife and daughter was equal to or better than that of most American men my age. In fact, when I left the service, I took a substantial cut in pay and it took several years before I was back to the level I was when I left military life. I also gave up lifetime retirement pay of half of my military salary and free medical care for life had I elected to remain another eight years. I recently compared my compensation at the time I left the service in 1975 with that of a young man or woman with the same amount of service doing the same job as me and found that their total pay was as much as I was making when I took early retirement from a major corporation in 2000 – and I was in a white collar job!

Yes, I got to play in the Great Southeast Asian Games but there was no sacrifice involved for me or anyone else. Even those who died who came in as draftee or had yet to complete their military obligation were doing their duty as citizens. Career men and women who were there were there by choice. They could have left the service at the end of their enlistment or when they had filled the obligation they had for specialized training such as military pilot training. Not to mention that we were compensated for our service, which raises another point. Besides, it was an adventure and I didn’t have to pay a nickel for it. (I was paid!)

There was one campaign issue used by Donald Trump with which I was not in tune, the claim that veterans are “not being cared for.” This is patently untrue. If a man or woman suffers injury or disease while they are on active military service that leaves them disabled, they not only entitled to medical care at government expense, they are also entitled  to compensation of varying amounts, depending on the level of disability. (Military retirees can now receive BOTH their military retirement and disability compensation.) That young men and women who suffer injury in one of our recent and current military adventures are left to fend for themselves is simply untrue. In fact, all military veterans are theoretically eligible for medical treatment in the VA system, but there is a priority system with those with service-connected disabilities in the highest priorities. (I know – I am 60% disabled.) The cases that so often receive major coverage in the media are veterans who are in low priority, many of whom have no service-connected disability and are unable to prove their claims. The truth is that the majority of veterans don’t need VA treatment because (1) they are healthy and (2) they have insurance coverage through their employers. (Retirees have their own health care program.) I myself only started using the VA for medical treatment when my service-connected disability began causing problems requiring medical care. Before that, I used civilian medical facilities and my former employer-sponsored insurance coverage.

Just where this “blank check” idea came from, I don’t know. I suspect it came from one of the veteran’s organizations but if so, there doesn’t seem to be any indication of it. Regardless, the slogan is not true. Those of us who served in the military did not “give” the United States of America anything. In fact, by serving we were paying the debt that all American men incur the instant they are born, or in the case of immigrants, the moment they become a citizen. There is a blank check all right but it’s the one we’re all given, and I mean ALL, by citizenship in a free country.

Electoral Confusion

Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector.

The electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for two persons, of whom one at least shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves. And they shall make a list of all the persons voted for, and of the number of votes for each; which list they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates, and the votes shall then be counted. The person having the greatest number of votes shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such majority, and have an equal number of votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately choose by ballot one of them for President; and if no person have a majority, then from the five highest on the list the said House shall in like manner choose the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by States, the representation from each state having one vote; A quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. In every case, after the choice of the President, the person having the greatest number of votes of the electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal votes, the Senate shall choose from them by ballot the Vice President.

The Congress may determine the time of choosing the electors, and the day on which they shall give their votes; which day shall be the same throughout the United States.

There seems to be a lot of confusion and ignorance in the United States right now. We held an election this week as the Constitution instructs in the preceding paragraphs but there seems to be a group who do not want to accept the results because Hillary Clinton “won the popular vote.” They think that when they voted, they were actually voting for the candidate and that the results should be based on the number of Americans who voted for the candidates. Nothing could be further from the truth. There was no “national” election, there were 50 state elections and in the District of Columbia. Voters in each state and the District voted to determine who each state’s electors will vote for in the actual election, which will be held on December 19. That is how elections have been held in this country since it was established and is how they are held today.

A few people – mostly Democrats – have expressed hostility toward our system of election. They don’t like it because it allows the nation to elect the president rather than the major population centers, which is what the Founders intended. When the Founders were meeting in Philadelphia, their purpose was to establish a nation of states, a single nation in that there would be a national government whose role would be to represent the interests of the states as a whole. They decided to have a single branch, the Legislative Branch, with one house to be made up of representatives of the states elected by the people and the other to be elected by the state legislatures. The Executive Branch would be administered by a President of the United States, who would be chosen in the manor described above.

2016

The map shows how each county in the United States voted in the recent election. Note that the counties in Red, the ones that voted for Trump, cover the entire country while the counties in blue show up as islands in a red sea. Also note that in most cases they represent large population center. Note, for example, that the state of New York is mostly red except for New York City and the counties along the Hudson River. Other areas represent concentrations of either blacks or Hispanics. In New Mexico, the blue areas are Indian reservations. None of the blue areas represent the national as a whole. It was to prevent areas of high population from controlling the nation – as we’ve seen for the past eight years – that the Founders created the electoral college.

So, who did I vote for when I cast my vote for a straight Republican ticket two and a half weeks ago on the first day of early voting?  Although I was casting my vote for Donald Trump, I was actually voting for the electors who will actually vote for him on December 19. My vote was only to determine for whom Texas’ electoral votes will be cast. My vote does not go into some kind of national poll of votes to be totaled up to determine who the president will be. In the term “national vote” and “popular vote” are erroneous because there is no such thing. Nowhere in the Constitution is a national or popular vote mentioned and there are no regulations pertaining to such a vote. In short, it’s an invention of the media and serves no purpose.

There are “movements” to abolish the electoral college but there are movements for everything. The only way the electoral college can be abolished is to change the Constitution itself. This would require Congressional action and any change would have to be ratified by a majority of the states. In short, those who are protesting the electoral college and seeking to replace it with a single national vote are pissing in the wind.