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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“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.

 

The Dawn of a Bright New Day

2016

I woke up this morning to a new day; a new day in terms of it being a new one in terms of the sun but also because it is a new day for this country. For the first time in recent memory, a non-politician has been elected president of the United States even though he was opposed by everyone from the political elites to the coyotes who charge desperate Latinos big bucks to smuggle them through Mexico and across the border into the United States – including all of the broadcast networks and apparently all of the cable channels, including FOX News, the New York Times, the Washington Post and most large newspapers. But all of those opposing him lost and Trump won.

The media pronounced Hillary queen several months ago, as soon as she declared her candidacy, actually, and “the polls” confirmed it – with three exceptions. Way out on the Left Coast there is a company known as the Rand Corporation, a little known company founded right after World War II by Douglas Aircraft to provide research information to what was then the Army Air Forces. Rand is essentially a high-powered think tank which, over the years, has been involved in numerous projects for the military, industry and health care. Prior to the 2012 election, Rand developed a new polling method. After conducting the poll themselves in 2012, Rand turned the project over to the University of Southern California’s Dornsife Understanding America Study. The Dornsife school conducted the poll this year for the Los Angeles Time. The Dornisfe poll consistently showed that the presidential race was much closer than other polls were showing it. So did the TIPP tracking poll, which only kicked in a couple of weeks before the election. Rasmussen was also showing a closer race. All three polls were discounted by the big name pollsters and the national media.

On the day before the election, I noticed two things that caused me to think that Trump had a chance. The first was that the Dornsife poll showed Trump with a 5-point lead while the TIPP poll showed him a 2 point lead. Rasmussen also showed Trump with a lead. On election day, the Dornsife had Trump favored by 3 points, TIPP remained at 2 while Rasmussen had dropped to -2 – most other polls showed Clinton leading by 3-5 points. I also noted that the Real Clear Politics web page was showing most of the “battleground states” as undecided, with their “no tossup” electoral college map showing Clinton with a less than 5-vote advantage over Trump. I knew that Trump had a good chance of winning the election. History now shows that I was right.

Things have changed. The next event will be Donald Trump picking his cabinet. Of course, the media is going to spin and speculate just as they’ve been doing ever since there was a hint that he might run. Consequently, we really don’t know that much about him because damn near everything published about him came straight from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. They fed information to the so-called journalists and they rushed it into print. According to them, Trump is a rich opportunist who likes to “abuse” women and never pays any taxes. Maybe he’s all of that but there’s a lot more to him. Now, I want to say that I have never been a Trump fan. I never watched his television shows and some of my friends started pushing him to be the GOP nominee, I thought they were nuts. I early voted for Jeb Bush in the Texas primary but he withdrew from the race before the election so my vote didn’t matter. There’s no way I’m ever going to support Ted Cruz for anything. Once it became apparent that Trump was going to be the nominee, I started paying more attention and realized he was the best candidate of the field. If Trump had not been the nominee, I’m afraid Hillary would be crowing today instead of drowning her sorrows.

Criticism of Trump centers mostly around his views on ILLEGAL immigration. ILLEGAL is the key word here. Estimates of the numbers of illegal immigrants in the US vary, but regardless of how many are here, they are here ILLEGALLY, which means they are breaking the law, which calls for deportation. Since the vast majority of illegals in the US are Mexican, the law naturally comes down hard on Mexicans. Trump – correctly – stated that many of the Mexican immigrants are criminals, particularly rapists, and this is true. I live near Houston, Texas, which has the largest concentration of immigrants in the country, and there is definitely a fairly high crime rate among Mexicans, whether they’re legal or illegal. There’re shootings almost every day and there have been several incidents where Mexican immigrants have raped young girls, most of whom are also of Mexican origin. Are all Mexican immigrants criminals? The answer is obviously no but some are, and there’s no way to screen those who come here illegally.

Then there is the issue of Muslims. Contrary to what many seem to think, Trump has not called for deportation of Muslims. What he’s called for is a – temporary – moratorium on immigration of Muslims from areas where so-called “radical Islam” prevails. Such an action is, incidentally, a right of the Executive Branch. Contrary to the insinuations of the Khan man, immigrants who are not citizens have no rights and the Constitution does not address immigration at all. Immigrants are actually guests of the United States until they complete the citizenship process and become citizens and thus entitled to the rights of citizens as expressed in the Bill of Rights and other Constitutional amendments. Until that time, they are still citizens of whatever country they came from and have no Constitutional rights.

A lot of criticism has been directed at Trump over his announcement that he  will build a wall along the Mexican border. Now, the Mexican border runs from a few miles from Brownsville, Texas some 1,500 miles to just south of San Diego, California. The border with Texas is the Rio Grande River, which is so shallow in places a person can wade it – I’ve done so myself.  Just west of El Paso, the border becomes an imaginary line across the most desolate land on the North American continent. Those who wish to cross are required to do so at checkpoints run by both governments. However, the border is porous. Part of it is fenced but illegal immigrants cross practically at will. Some are caught, some die in the desert and some get through. Many are trucked to cities like Dallas and Houston.

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Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park – Mexico on the other side

Trump’s wall is not only doable, having a wall along the border would not only provide security against illegal crossings, it would serve to channel those who have the documentation to come here legally to an authorized crossing.

Trump critics like to accuse him of “racism,” but their logic is faulty. “Mexican” is a nationality, not a race, and Hispanic is both a language or a national origin. “Latino” is an invented term for people with a connection to “Latin America,” meaning anything south of the Mexican border with the United States. In reality, Mexicans are of European origin just like Americans. If not, they are Amerindian or mestizo, a Spanish term for people of mixed European and Amerindian ancestry. The ancestors of some Mexicans even came from the United States. Trump is also called a misogynist, which is a gross misuse of a term that means “hater of women.” Trump is anything but.

Some claim that Trump won’t be able to accomplish his goals because of opposition from Congress. Well, I’ve got news for you folks.  Every single member of the House of Representatives was just elected or reelected. Trump critics might want to take a look and see where those representatives came from. That’s right, the same people who voted for those Republican representatives voted for Trump. Members of Congress answer to those who sent them there, not to their political party or their financial supporters.  Trump won’t have any problem getting Congressional support for his programs. So what that he’s lacking in foreign policy experience? What president ever goes into office with such experience? That’s why presidents have cabinets and advisors, both civilian and military. It’s a new day. Hide and watch what happens!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remember Harold Martin?

Last Friday, FBI Director James Comey sent a letter to Republican members of Congress advising that the case against presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had been reopened because information had been found in “an unrelated case” that might pertain to the case. Now, this is earthshaking news that veteran reporter and Clinton biographer Carl Bernstein says can only be due to blockbuster information. (Bernstein has also said there’s “no way” it can be bigger than Watergate but then he has no knowledge of the information and doesn’t know what it contains.) Naturally, the Clinton campaign and Clinton are screaming foul and demanding “answers” even though the answer has been given – that Hillary Clinton is under criminal investigation. The New York Times came out and claimed that the information was found on a computer jointly used by former Congressman Anthony Weiner and his wife Huma Abedin, the Indian Muslim and former White House intern Clinton took under her wing back when her husband was doing the same thing with Monica Lewinsky. The Times and other news outlets, including FOX news have “confirmed” this information through “unidentified sources in the FBI”. While it is possible that the unrelated case is the Weiner case – he is being investigated for sending inappropriate texts to an underage female – there is another, more likely source.

On August 29, a National Security contractor named Harold Martin was arrested for possessing classified information. Martin, a US Navy veteran, possessed highly classified information dating back for two decades. Now, let’s think about the National Security Agency and what it does. Dating back to 1917, the NSA was chartered in its current form in 1952 by President Harry Truman. The documentation chartering the agency was (and still is) classified and the organization’s very existence was kept secret The NSA – often referred to as “No Such Agency” depends heavily on signals intelligence services in each of the military services. Until 1979, the Air Force, of which I was a part from 1963-1975, had the Air Force Security Service. The Army and Navy each had their own signals intelligence services/commands. The role of the AFSS was interception of foreign communications, particularly radio communications, using sophisticated listening equipment at remote sites around the world and onboard modified transport airplanes and bombers – the C-47, C-54, C-130 and C-135 and B-17 and B-29. Highly intelligent young airmen were selected to train as “Crypto” technicians through a battery of tests administered during basic training. (I was tested because I had taken Spanish in high school.) Those who were selected to train as linguists were placed in special programs that included two years at selected universities. Linguists and technicians were cleared at a level even higher than Top Secret, it was commonly referred to as a “Crypto” clearance but no one who didn’t have one really knew what it was called. I once met a young cook at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina who had cross-trained into the aircraft loadmaster field from crypto. Although he had a high security clearance, his job change required a new background check. He had recently been married and the background check revealed that his new wife had family connections in a communist country. He lost his clearance and was sent to the chow hall as a cook!

There is another side to the signals intelligence mission that is not generally known. It was whispered about within the military. It is the mission of protecting US secrets by monitoring communications of American officials and military personnel. The first time I ever heard it referred to officially was when I went on temporary duty to Kadena AB, Okinawa (I later went PCS to Naha, an airbase some 12 miles away.) We were told during our orientation that all telephone lines were monitored and we should be very careful about what we said on the telephone. The admonition was repeated when I reported for my permanent assignment at Naha several months later. There were signs on the wall by telephones reminding that calls were monitored. Several years after I left the military, I worked with an Army veteran who had served in the Army’s counterpart to the AFSS. He told me that his job was monitoring telephone lines, and how that he and his buddy had once monitored conversations between a high-ranking general and his mistress. I was reminded again of how the NSA and it’s military agencies monitor communications when my son entered his plebe year at the US Naval Academy. Shortly after he got there, he told me to be very careful what I said in Emails because their Emails were monitored.

Now, NSA monitoring of communications is conducted not only of military personnel, but also of Federal officials, including Congressmen, Senators and members of the Executive Branch with access to classified information. There is no doubt that Hillary Clinton’s communications were monitored throughout her term as Secretary of State and probably while she was a US Senator since she was a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and would have had access to classified information. Her communications may have also been monitored – and probably were – while she was Bill Clinton’s First Lady. It is highly likely, no, it is CERTAIN that Harold Martin’s trove includes Emails from and to Hillary Clinton.

Now, the question arises -if Hillary was discussing classified information on unofficial channels while she was SOS, why wasn’t she prosecuted? The answer is simple – while military personnel are subject to prosecution under the UCMJ, members of the Executive Branch are prosecuted in the Federal courts and any prosecution would have had to be initiated by the DOJ, which, like the SOS, is headed by a presidential appointee. Any information would have been “kept secret,” or covered up at the highest level.

What we’re seeing now is a struggle at the highest level, a struggle between Congress and the Executive Branch. We’ll see what happens.

The Military, Heroism and “Gold Star Families”

 

DFC                                    AirMedal

The current flap over Pakistani immigrant Khizr Khan’s appearance at the Democratic convention prompted me to write about something that’s been bugging me for a long time. There seems to be a belief that anyone who serves in the military is a hero, particularly those who’ve died, and some seem to think that family members of military members and of those who died while in military service are somehow deserving, although deserving of what I’m not sure.

In the summer of 1963 my dad signed a document granting permission for me to enlist in the United States Air Force. He – or my mother – had to sign it because my birthday is late in the year and I was still seventeen when I graduated from high school a few weeks before. Air Force regulations required that although seventeen-year olds could enlist, they had to have parental permission. My dad had been in the Army Air Corps during World War II – his brother had also and had remained in service for twenty years – and he had mixed emotions about my plans to join the Air Force. He would have preferred that I stay home and farm, or perhaps go to college. I had been accepted at several colleges but didn’t know where the money was going to come from. I would also be subject to the draft once I turned eighteen and as a single teenager, would have been prime meat. So, daddy signed. (I heard later that my maternal grandmother accused him of “signing Sam’s life away.” No one ever told me until after she was dead.) A few months later I turned 18 but by that time I was already in the Air Force and in the final weeks of training to become a jet aircraft mechanic.

When my dad signed the papers for me to join the Air Force, the United States was not at war, at least not officially. Yes, we had military personnel in some Asian country called Vietnam few Americans were even aware of it. I wasn’t expecting to go to war myself and certainly wasn’t expecting to see combat, although I wouldn’t have minded. As it turned out, I spent 12 years in the Air Force with a good chunk of it in Vietnam where I saw war up close and personal. However, it was MY service and my family didn’t have a damn thing to do with it. I collected quite a few medals and decorations during those 12 years but just because I’m a decorated combat veteran doesn’t make me a hero. Had I died, it would have been my death, not theirs, and while they would have grieved over me, they were deserving of a no particular status other than that of a family that had lost a son. It wouldn’t have mattered if I’d died wrapping my car around a tree, I’d have been dead just the same as if I’d been shot down on a mission over North Vietnam. Maybe my mother would have joined Gold Star Mothers but somehow I doubt it since she never joined the DAR even though she had ancestors who fought in the American Revolution. No member of my family has ever joined the DAR, the DOC, SAR or SOC. I’m a member of three veterans organizations, one which I had a role in founding, another I was coerced into joining and the DAV, which I joined because I’m a disabled veteran and I thought they’d be of help dealing with the VA (I was wrong, they’re not.)

In recent years – mainly since Reagan – an idea has developed that anyone who’s ever served in the military is some kind of hero. People like to greet veterans with “thank your for your service” or, if a veteran “welcome home.” Now, I don’t care for such bullshit. I do sometimes wear caps, one that says “C-130 Hercules Vietnam” and one with an emblem of the Distinguished Flying Cross on it but I don’t wear them to get recognition. I only wear them in hopes of attracting the attention of a fellow C-130 veteran so I can tell them about the organization I helped found. I don’t want anyone to thank me for my service because I didn’t do it for them and I don’t need to be welcomed home. I don’t want anyone to think me a hero because I’m not, even if I did fly some 1,500 combat sorties. My dad flew 30 missions over Germany and Occupied Europe during World War II and he didn’t think of himself as any kind of hero. He put his DFC and Air Medal lapel pins in the lapel of his suit but he hardly ever wore a suit. The fact is that just being in the military -and even being in combat – doesn’t make a person a hero, not even if they die while in service. To be a hero, a person has to do something heroic.

The modern perception of military service seems to be shaped largely on the service of the men who served during the period from World War II to Vietnam when military service was to a large extent compulsory, as it was in World War I and the Civil War. Young men were forced to serve in the military against their will, and their service was seen as sacrificial, particularly by politicians eager to get their vote after they returned to civilian life. But military service hasn’t been compulsory in the United States since early 1973 when the Department of Defense announced that there was no longer a need to draft men for military service. (The end of the draft came as the United States withdrew the last military personnel from South Vietnam.) Since that time, all men and women who have served or are serving in the military are there of their own free will. They are making no sacrifice as their fathers and grandfathers did who were drafted into interrupting their lives for a period of military service. They are compensated with a pay check, a pay check that is substantial for men and women in the modern military and often in excess of what they would likely be making in civilian life. This is true even of the lowest ranking enlisted men and women. Those who elect to stay in the military for a 20-year career draw 50% of their base pay; those who stay longer draw a higher percentage all the way up to 75%, which can amount to a considerable sum for senior officers and enlisted men and women.

Contrary to popular belief by those who’ve never served, military service isn’t particularly hard. New recruits must complete a period of basic training which consists primarily of physical conditioning and military training in regulations and such disciplinary skills as learning to march in formation and small arms training. Upon completion of basic training, a new recruit is sent on to additional training that may involve additional military training if they’re assigned to the infantry but may be classroom and practical training to learn a particular technical skill. Such courses consist of as little as a few weeks from some skills to as much as two years for skills such as nuclear reactor operators. Some new officers are sent to special courses such as military pilot training or submarine officer training. Once a young man or woman has completed their training, they are assigned to an operational unit, which may be a combat unit but could also be support. If they are assigned to a combat unit, they can expect to spend their time in continued training since combat units aren’t engaged unless they are actually in a combat zone. Military training in itself can be dangerous and hundreds of young men and women die each year in accidents, both while on duty and in vehicle accidents when off duty. In fact, accidental military deaths have exceeded deaths from hostile actions in many years since the beginning of the so-called “War on Terror” after the 9/11 attacks. This was true in the years 2002 and 2003 and has been true since 2008. In fact, in the years from 1980 to 1989, accidental deaths in the military exceeded 1,000 a year; the most hostile deaths in a year since 2002 is 847 in 2007. My point is that a military member is more likely to die due to accident than from hostile action. Military Deaths by Year, which brings me to my next point.

Just because a person serves in the military – or dies while on active duty – does not make them heroic. There have been men who truly were heroic in the military, starting with Sgt. Alvin C. York in World War I and continuing through such men as Lt. Audie Murphy, Major Edwin Dyess and Colonel Paul I. “Pappy” Gunn, but such men usually became heroes because of desperation. York decided to take matters in his own hands when he saw his buddies being mowed down by German machine guns, Murphy defended his men against a German attack, Dyess carried out attacks on Japanese ships in Subic Bay in one of the few remaining Air Corps fighters left in the Philippines and Gunn waged an essentially one-man war against the Japanese to free his family from captivity in Manila. Since then, military heroes tend to have been men who performed “selfless” acts such as jumping on hand grenades, acts that might be more correctly identified as thoughtless since they happened so quickly the individual didn’t have time to consider the ramifications of his actions.

In truth, much of what is hailed as heroism is merely a military member doing the job they were trained to do, whatever it may be. Some medals – the Bronze Star in particular – are often awarded as commendations for routine performance of one’s administrative duties. In fact, the Bronze Star was originally authorized as a counterpart to the Air Medal, which was authorized in 1942 to recognize the role of airmen flying combat missions – often against great odds – at a time when ground forces had yet to enter combat. A colonel felt that infantrymen, in particular, should be awarded some kind of decoration to recognize that they had been in combat. No particular act of valor was required for award of the medal – any soldier who had qualified for the combat infantryman’s badge was eligible – and the award was also approved for administrative actions, such as maintaining files in an orderly room.  The Bronze Star It and the Air Medal were equal in prestige – until 1985 when military politics led to the elevation of the Purple Heart from a low-level award to prominence above the Meritorious Service Medal and dropped the Air Medal to the lowest precedence of any combat award and below the level of the MSM, which is only awarded for non-combat  service. (By doing so, the DOD robbed hundreds of Army Air Corps and pre-1985 USAF airmen of the recognition they so richly deserved for their meritorious service in aerial flight.)

Military medals are a story in themselves. Prior to the Civil War, there were no medals and even then, the Confederacy did not recognize its heroes with medals. The Medal of Honor was authorized during the war and was often awarded for such mediocre actions as reenlisting. (Hundreds of Medals of Honor were taken away when the criteria for the medal was changed in the early Twentieth Century.) The Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star were authorized just before World War I and the Purple Heart was authorized in 1932 for presentation primarily to men who had been wounded. The Distinguished Flying Cross was authorized in 1926; it was awarded to civilians such as the Wright Brothers and Amelia Earhart. The Air Medal and Bronze Star came along during World War II, along with the Legion of Merit, which is essentially an award for high-ranking officers. Since Vietnam, a veritable library of new awards have been authorized, to the point that it seems that the modern military man and woman gets medals just for showing up for chow! In short, most military medals today are meaningless.

This brings us to “gold star families,” a term little heard of before a Pakistani immigrant named Khizer Khan made a speech at the Democratic Convention. To begin with, there is no such thing as a “gold star family.” It’s a term that the Army has on its web site to refer to families of military members who lost their lives on active duty. However, there’s no official organization or recognition of such families even though the military was authorized to present lapel buttons to family members – parents, spouses, children, step-children, brother and sisters – of those who die while  on active duty starting in 1947. The lapel button carries no significance and no benefits to those to whom it is presented except recognition. It’s something for family members to have to remember their family member, the same as the flags used to drape coffins and which are then presented to the family, usually to either the wife or mother of the deceased. The design is different for those who died in a combat theater, regardless of the cause of death. There is no organization and they have no official standing.

There is, however, a formal organization for Gold Star Mothers, women whose son or daughter has died while on active military service. Gold Star Mothers was formally organized in 1928 when the mother of a US Army Air Services pilot who died during the war decided to start an organization for mothers of men who had died while in military service. They got their name from the gold-starred flags family members displayed in their windows during the recent war – families with men in uniform displayed a flag with a blue star and those whose sons were lost displayed gold stars. The blue and gold starred flags became prominent during World War II but they died out after the Korean War. They were not popular during the Vietnam War – in fact, they were hardly ever mentioned. They were resurrected in the 1990s and began attracting some attention from the media – and politicians. In September, 2012 Barrack Obama proclaimed the last day of September as “Gold Star Mothers and Families Day.” However, the memo must have got lost because no one seems to know anything about it.

Families of men and women who die while on active duty have recognition, but not status or standing, as members of the media proclaimed that Khizer Khan and his wife have. The Khans claimed they have made some kind of sacrifice because their son died in Iraq. In fact, they have made no sacrifice at all and whether their son’s death was a sacrifice is debatable. Captain Khan’s commander, Maj. General Dana Pittardi, (Gen. Pittard was Bill Clinton’s military aide 1996-1999), wrote a piece for the Washington Post but was very vague as to how the officer died. He says only that he was killed by a suicide bomber and that he “may” have been trying to prevent the death or injury of innocent Iraqis. The captain was awarded a Purple Heart, which is awarded to all military personnel who die as a result of enemy action, and a Bronze Star, which is basically a glorified commendation medal. If his actions had been seen as “heroic,” he would have been awarded at least a Silver Star and possibly a Distinguished Service Cross. In the Khan’s minds, their son died a hero but in reality he was the victim of a bomb. Regardless, their son’s death reflects solely on him, not on them.

Military valor reflects solely on the individual, not corporately on their family, regardless of how close. My actions while in the military reflect solely on me and if I’d died, while my family would have suffered loss, they would have made no sacrifice. Neither would I if my son’s submarine had gone to the bottom of the China Sea while they were playing cat and mouse with the Chinese navy. Several of my ancestors served in the Revolutionary War but I have never been a member of the Sons of the Revolution and no one in my family has ever joined the DAR (except my great-aunt.) At least two of my ancestors were Confederate soldiers but I’ve never joined the Sons of Confederate Veterans – and never will. My valor is my own and no one else’s. Similarly, while I’m proud of my father for flying 30 missions in B-24s over Europe, his service is no reflection on me, nor was it a reflection on his parents, brothers and sisters.

What I’m saying is that military service and any recognition for it only applies to the one who serves, not their mother, father, spouse, brother, sister, children, grandchildren or anyone else.