The earliest depictions of sailing vessels are on ceramics from the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture of South Eastern Europe, dating back to 6000 BC. Several thousands of years later the characters of Daedalus and Icarus appeared in Greek mythology, crafting wings to sail in the air. a few thousand years after that Marco Polo told of Chinese kites that could carry a man skyward (often used as a punishment). Ballooning and other lighter than air forms of flight became common beginning in the eighteenth century, and following advancements in the design of gliders in the nineteenth century (learning to sculpt the air with the design of the the airfoil, in other words trimming the sails), powered, controlled flight traveled from dream to reality at the dawn of the twentieth century.

Understanding the connection between sailing on the seas and sailing in the skies helps to open the mind to the subtle difference between Naval Aviators and their brothers who fly in Air Force, Army, or civilian craft. It is indescribable, but in civilian clothes having a picnic in the park, you can tell the origins of each. They all have an aura about them, but the ones who use floating runways stand out.


A-6 intruder taking off from carrier

On 18 July 1965, attack squadron 75 took off from the USS Independence for a bombing mission over Vietnam. Leading the twenty eight craft in an A-6A Intruder was the squadron commander, Jeremiah Denton, and Lieutenant Bill Tschudy, his navigator/bombardier. As the squadron neared their target of Thanh Hoa, Commander Denton’s craft was struck by anti-aircraft fire, and he ejected along with Lieutenant Tschudy. They were taken prisoner, and incarcerated at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton”. I do not understand why prisoners of war are tortured, I suspect the anger of a weak mind is easier to express when the enemy is in chains. The treatment of prisoners of war in Vietnam set a new low, so depraved I will not attempt to describe it here.

Ten months into his captivity he was selected to be part of a propaganda broadcast (the least of Geneva Protocol violations). Commander Denton used the opportunity to send a message. As he provided the required answers, he blinked repeatedly from the camera lights. At least that is what the Vietnamese captors believed. Watch this forty two second video to see if you can pick up a pattern:


He is blinking Morse code. T-O-R-T-U-R-E. At the end of the interview, he states he still supports the actions of his government, earning him a transfer to another prison camp. After the segment was broadcast on American television his messages was decoded, and in Vietnam Commander Denton received an all night beating. He spent most of the remainder of his stay in isolation, as his captors found his presence increased resistance among the other prisoners he was exposed to.

He was released on 12 February, 1973, and returned to service stateside. Promotions led to his retirement in 1977 at the rank of Rear Admiral. In 1976 his book “When Hell was in Session” was published, which some of you may remember as the TV film of the same name starring Hal Holbrook as Denton. In 1980 he was elected as Senator by his home state of Alabama.

Admiral Denton’s details of the treatment of Prisoners of War were required reading when I was in the Air Force, and have been used in training at the survival schools of the various military branches. Let it suffice “When Hell was in Session” is a watered down treatment of the actual events, and the novel is more than some people can stomach.

Admiral Denton died last week at age 89. He was under hospice care for a heart ailment.

I have personally known only one Prisoner of War, my grandfather emeritus Captain Fred Turnbull. Fred was also a Naval Aviator. Both men displayed amazing grace under pressure, continuing the struggle against the enemy while captives. Both men saw themselves as just ordinary guys. Fred would say “Well, what would you have done?”, because he believed he was not extraordinary. By that he displayed his faith in humanity. Both men illustrated the ultimate struggle is fought with strong wills more than strong weapons.


United Nations

As Americans, we’re not really thrilled with the United Nations. From what I understand, it goes both ways, but America is a great place for diplomats, so they remain headquartered here. Where else can you violate all the laws of your country, and then leave your car parked in the middle of a bridge, and just wave your credentials when the police show up? In England, if you’re a foreigner,  you can’t vote in national elections, but local elections, that affect you, you can vote in. With diplomatic immunity in America, nothing affects you.

As an idea, the United Nations is wonderful. Peace is almost always preferable to war. Unfortunately, for a situation to be bad enough to require UN “peacekeepers”, diplomatic efforts have failed, and it’s time for war. There’s a reason we don’t issue soldiers badges and nightsticks, soldiers are not intended to “keep the peace”, they are tasked to end the war.

Despite our diplomatic failures, our military has routinely won the conflicts they have been involved in. We won in Vietnam militarily, then the politicians threw it away. We nailed the Soviets in Afghanistan, then we lost the peace because the politicians walked away. Today, our biggest enemies use different tactics, and the politicians declare war on the populace. My view is biased, I believe that the military is the big stick you pull out when other efforts have failed, and in using the big stick, you leave it alone to do its job. Then you send in the diplomats, with the lawyers and documents.

We are often called “The world’s policeman” in a derogatory way. We are not. That is the job of the UN. We are the world’s enforcers.

The UN has a history of failures, all or at least many of which could have been avoided. You don’t send “Peacekeepers” into a war zone anymore than you bring skittles to a gunfight. Unfortunately, when the UN applies the wrong tools, people die. Lots of people die. And being diplomats, deaths are less important than responsibility, so the paper pushers figure to ways to blame the people whose hands they had tied.

Take for instance the Bosnian conflict. A UN “peacekeeping” force was deployed to key villages, including Srebrenica, which in 1993 the UN Security Council had formally designated a “safe area”, the French UN commander telling the people of the village that he would never abandon them. Then he did. The enclave of three hundred fifty square miles was assigned to a force of four hundred Dutch troops, surrounded by two thousand Serbian troops, arranged as thee brigades with tanks, artillery and mortars. The fifty thousand Bosnians inside were under siege, with roughly one peacekeeper per square mile to protect them.

If you’ve ever known of a case of domestic violence, you know the value of a “protection order”. This situation is analogous, two groups that wanted to kill each other for centuries divided by a sign reading “UN Safe Area”.  Thousands of civilians were killed, tens of thousands evacuated (exiled), and the UN blamed the Dutch. After the dust settled, it seems everyone was blamed except the Serbians.

Let’s talk about Rwanda. In January of 1994, the Canadian commander of UN forces in Rwanda became aware of multiple weapons caches and troops, and made UN headquarters aware that he was going to seize the arms. He was told that seizing arms was beyond the scope of his mission, and to notify President Habyarimana of possible Arusha Accords violations. The Rwandan Patriotic Force (RPF- Tutsis) began to systematically take control of the country.

On 6 April, the presidents plane was shot down, and on 7 April, fifteen peacekeepers arrived at the Prime Minister’s residence to find it already under attack. The Prime Minister attempted to escape, but was captured and killed. After being told there was no back up, the peacekeepers surrendered. The five Ghanaian troops were released, and the ten Belgian troops were tortured, castrated and dismembered with machetes.

Over the next one hundred days as many as one hundred thousand people died. European forces evacuated their civilians, but refused to assist the UN forces.

The UN does not fight wars, nor should it. They are guided by a “Prime directive” that prevents getting involved in local politics. So you might ask, “What is the point of peacekeepers?”. I have dark, ugly suspicions, having to do with using human lives as pawns in diplomatic games, that a certain number of people have to die before retaliation is appropriate. But I’ve spent a number of years holding my nose around diplomats, I’ve lost friends to wars that didn’t need to happen, so I’m biased.

The seed for this article came from a “Dutch Uncle”, literally not figuratively. Lieve’s uncle lives in Holland and is a human rights activist. He spoke with me a week after I toured Ypres, and after investigating Srebrenica, and a number of other UN failures, I am able to understand again the necessity of war, the need to attempt to wipe evil from the face of the Earth.

Evil cannot be eliminated, or negotiated with. It can be controlled, and that control is force. As humans, our tight rope is to control evil without becoming evil ourselves.

Decoration Day

Monday, 27 May 2013, the final Monday in May, is Memorial Day. It was originally called “Decoration Day”, after the practice of decorating the graves of the dead. It is not Veterans Day on which we honor all veterans, or Armistice Day (for which we remember the end of hostilities with Germany in 1918) or Remembrance Day (Poppy Day) which is the UK equivalent of Armistice Day. Memorial Day is a day in which we recognize those who lost their lives while serving in the military. A veteran, in America, is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America for an amount of “up to and including my life”. Memorial Day honors those who have had that check cashed.

Traditionally, Memorial Day has been celebrated on 30 May, but in 1968 with the passage of “The Uniform Monday Holiday Act”, the observance was changed to the last Monday in May. The “unofficial beginning of Summer”. Another three day weekend. Some people may fly flags (I do) but many have no idea of the significance of the holiday.

Decoration Day is a uniquely American day. It honors the dead, following the conflict in which, by far, the most Americans died, as many as three quarters of a million people, because both sides were Americans. Memorial Day has as much to do with honoring brothers as it does with honoring soldiers. It is the recognition that regardless of which direction your rifle was pointing, we were all fighting for America. In a larger sense, I have seen Memorial Day as a day to honor the fallen on both sides of a conflict. Both were fighting for ideals they believed in.

vn memThis many people, times five, died in the Civil War

Memorial Day has been celebrated in many ways, in Charleston SC there was a memorial in 1865, honoring the Union Prisoners of War who had died in that city. This celebration was organized by freed slaves, or “freedmen” as they were called at the time. Southerners celebrating the sacrifices of Northerners.

You may notice my use of the words “people” and “soldiers” as opposed to “men”. While the overwhelming number of those lost are men, it may make the sacrifices of women stand out even more. Men are in some ways expected to put their lives on the line, women who choose to do so are a special kind of special. There is a memorial in Washington DC to the women who died in Vietnam,  and by extension to all women who have given their lives. The women who were lost in Vietnam, all nurses, 7 Army, 1 Air Force, are commemorated just off the main Vietnam memorial.  The memorial is surrounded by 8 Yellowwood trees. The effect of the falling blossoms is that of tears.

nursesI prefer this angle, displaying anguish.

There are many memorials, and many definitions of what “giving one’s life for their country” should mean. To me, it doesn’t matter which uniform you wear, you have written that blank check to your country. You took the risk, in order to defend what you believe in. I respect those I have faced as much as I respect those who stood beside me (and far more than those who sat behind me, in their wood paneled offices). Any who fall have fallen for their country.

ohb-lobby-cia-memorial-wall-219Not many have the honor of pausing at this memorial.

When the eleventh day of the eleventh month rolls around, I’ll write about those who lived to tell the tale. On Monday, please step away from your barbeque, or remember when you give prayer, or at least stand up and properly salute when the flag goes by, in honor of those whose cared enough about us to run towards the fighting rather than away from it.