Even for those of us who have served, there are some places where our fellow servicemen have been laid to rest or memorialized that are more haunting than others. The USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor is one of those places for me.
I went there for the first time in the mid-eighties. I was a lieutenant in the USAF, young and full of myself. I was in Hawaii for the first time and I went to the memorial in a hurried visit as a “required stop” on “the tour” and I don’t think I really had the time to appreciate it. When I went back again in the summer of 1996, this time as a major in the USAF, the effect was profoundly different.
In between, I went to Arlington National Cemetery and paid my respects to the thousands who had fallen and were buried there. I also went to the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial in Cambridge, England and paid my respects to the soldiers and airmen who died during World War II or went missing during the Battle of the North Atlantic. I even went to the cemetery at Omaha Beach in France where many of our dead from the D-Day invasion are buried. I went to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC as well. My visits to these cemeteries and memorials were very moving and I treasured each one.
But something about the Arizona was different for me when I went back there in 1996.
Those buried in the cemeteries knew we were at war and to the degree any of us are, they were prepared to give their lives.
But the sailors on the Arizona died when we were technically at peace. The sailors on the Arizona went to bed on the evening of Saturday, December 6, 1941 thinking all was well with the world and wondering how they were going to spend the following day. And they woke up in the middle of a war – a war that didn’t last terribly long for them when the one fateful bomb penetrated the deck beside the Arizona’s forward turrets and caused a catastrophic explosion which ruined the ship. Over 1100 men died on the ship that day, many of whom remained entombed in the wreckage and what struck me as the difference between the men who died on the Arizona and those who lay in our cemeteries is what I would best described as the lack of “closure.”
Those who have been laid to rest in our cemeteries, in many cases, had their bodies prepared for burial and were laid to rest in caskets with appropriate ceremonies where possible. The closure of their lives seems proper. But for the men on the Arizona, they still lay where they fell, their lives suddenly and brutally interrupted and their bodies remaining where those lives ended. It seemed “unfinished” to me somehow and that made it feel even more tragic.
Standing on the Arizona Memorial and looking down at the hull of the ship, you can still see diesel oil floating to the surface. The ship took on some 500,000 gallons of fuel on December 6th, 1941 – fuel which still leaks out to this day. There are those who call these “the tears of the Arizona” or “black tears.” These “tears” add to the sensation of suddenness, of tragedy and of lives interrupted.
So today, 70 years later, we should all take a few moments and commemorate these interrupted lives and thank God for them. Every one of them is a true American hero and every one of them deserves a place in the highest annals of honor.Read More
I had a request for an autographed copy of The Viper Contract earlier this week from a gentleman who is an active-duty colonel in the US Air Force and is stationed overseas, serving our country. As I packaged the book to send it to him, I found myself reflecting again on the quality of the men and women in our military today and the sacrifices they make.
Since the draft was discontinued in 1973, I’m not sure there has ever been a time when more of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines have been asked to do so much with so little. With wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a brief air campaign in Libya, and constant interaction all over the globe, these men and women have been asked repeatedly to give of themselves for salaries that would literally make their contemporaries in the corporate world laugh.
Now there is some consolation there. These men and women get to do things that their peers outside the service can only dream of and they get to use equipment that is on the leading edge of technology. They get to enjoy a feeling of camaraderie, a feeling of belonging that they will never experience again outside the military. They get to work alongside people who are highly motivated, dedicated and devoted not only to their country, but also to each other. And finally, they get the satisfaction of knowing that they make a difference, every day of their lives, for the greater good of us all.
Most importantly though, every one of these men and women belongs to the profession of arms and as such, is subject to what we used to call “the unlimited liability clause.” They have to be prepared to give their lives in the performance of their duties, as many have.
The thing I struggle with as a retired military officer is that I see all the outstanding qualities and capabilities our military men and women provide, all the service they render, and the unlimited liability clause under they operate, and yet they still have to take orders from people who have no concept of the proper use of military power. Certainly our current president has proven his ignorance of how the military works but that last one didn’t understand it much better and he relied upon a secretary of defense who thought he knew more about military power than the men and women who had been serving their entire lives. I know that civilian control of the military is the way things should be, but sometimes I wish that to be president, a person had to spend some minimum time in uniform, making sacrifices and doing something dangerous, so that he or she “gets it.”
So on this day, I’d like to once again salute the men and women of our military: the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, past and present, those still among us and those who have been laid to rest. They are the guarantors of the liberty we enjoy; they are the guardians of the future of our nation.
They are the very best of who we are.Read More
It wouldn’t seem right to let this date go by without some words of remembrance for those who perished and the families who now face a gaping hole where a loved one used to be. I cannot imagine the horror
of seeing a normal day at work turn into a living hell or thinking that a spouse or loved one is safe at their job or on a plane and suddenly having that person taken away forever. Then there are the heroic
sacrifices by the first responders, many of whom gave their lives so that others might live. Words can’t do justice to that kind of courage. Finally there are the many members of our armed forces who have sacrificed to take the fight to the enemy and bring down Osama Bin Laden and his radical organization. While I have had my disagreements with both the Bush and Obama administrations about the prosecution of these conflicts, the heroic sacrifices of our young men and women are to be admired. They are the best of what America is.
As a side note, to all the those who would cheapen those sacrifices by publicity espousing opinions about how the US somehow deserved the 9/11 attacks or believe the people who died somehow had it coming; shut the hell up. And to those who think that the 9/11 attacks were created as part of some sort of a governmental conspiracy, you’re embarrassing yourselves with this nonsense. You’re not “Truthers,” you’re Ravers. Get a grip. To members of both groups – if you really believe that either of these things are true – please – find another country to live in. The US will be better off without you.
Everyone thinks about what they were doing on 9/11 when the twin towers fell, the Pentagon was bombed and Flight 93 crashed. Ironically, on 9/11/2001, I was actually in the air. I was on terminal retirement
leave from the Air Force and flying a charter flight from Baltimore, MD to Knoxville, TN. I remember getting the radio call from Washington Center announcing that all airborne aircraft needed to land
immediately. Another aircraft asked what was going on and the controller said “someone flew an airplane into the World Trade Center.” We immediately relayed that to our passengers and the rest of the
flight passed in near silence. We were allowed to proceed to our flight planned destination and once we landed at Knoxville airport, we went into the FBO there and watched as the twin towers burned. Then, in
front of our eyes, on live TV, they collapsed. There were nearly 100 people watching the TV and you could have heard a pin drop in the room. The effect was devastating. My wife and I were living just outside
Annapolis, MD at the time and I called her to discuss it and found that she didn’t know anything about it – we had three kids in diapers at the time and Nickelodeon was on the TV. But she did say she had heard
something that got her attention – the roar of F-16’s above our house – a sound she knew well since we had lived near Luke AFB, AZ for four years. Those F-16’s were flying combat air patrol – over US territory.
Think about that for a second.
I was recalled to active duty for four months and was proud to serve through December 2001. I only wish I could have done more.
For all who have lost someone they know and love as a result of the September 11th attacks, I offer my deepest condolences and prayers.
For those who are gone – you are the best of who we are and your absence is felt even more keenly on the anniversary of this tragic day.Read More