The First Epistle of the Carrier Pilot

Naval Aviation 001

1. Verily I say unto all ye who wouldst fain operate the great bent wing bird from the tilting airdrome: for it doth require great technique, which cometh to no man naturally. Yea verily, it is acquired only by great diligence and perseverance, and great faith in the Father Almighty.

2. Hearken ye unto the Centurion: for he speaketh from vast wisdom and great knowledge. He hath experienced a vast number of cat shots and traps, and hence is a sadder and wiser man than thee.

3. Heed ye not those who speaketh of the romance and glamour of the high seas, be ye not swayed and when they extol the sting of the salt spray upon thy lips and the roll of a stout deck beneath thy feet and the exotic peoples of foreign lands.

4. Verily, it shall come to pass: that the salt spray windeth up in thy joe, and the roll of the stout deck wilt send thee to the fantail with a retching of thy belly.

5. He wouldst remove thee far from thy loved ones, and cast thee amonst the riff-raff of all nations: who shall then approach thee with an extended hand and open palm.

6. Turn thee a deaf ear unto all these things, for he speaketh as a man with a head full of missing buttons and his mouth quoteth from recruiting pamphlets.

7. Beware of the sadistic inhabitant in the land of Fly One, and regard him with exceeding wariness. For while he bringeth thee up to the spot, and his visage smileth confidently at thee, he concealeth a serpent in his breast, and plotteth all manner of evil against thee.

8. He smileth not for thee, but smirketh at thy youth and helplessness. He dines lustily upon the nugget and gloateth greatly at his power over thee. The manner of torment, which he inflicteth on thee, is great.

9. Heed ye his signals promptly, else he windeth thee up mightily and sendeth thee off whilst thou art still checking thy gauges or whilst the bow goeth down into the depths of a wave. For he is a man of great imagination and enjoyeth a jest mightily. His cunning knoweth no bounds.

10. Know ye well the officer called “landing signal,” and trust him not; for he is a doltish oaf and is poorly coordinated. Verily, whilst he also doth wear the wings of gold, he is a prodigal, and his judgments are untrue.

11. He has eyes with which to see, but they are weak; he distinguisheth day from night with exceeding difficulty.

12. Yea, he waveth off Angel Donald, saying, “Land ye not on a pass which is so long in the groove.

13. Make him thy friend. When ye doth engage in a game of chance, calleth not his two little pair with thy full house, for he prizes a winning hand above all things, and he will love thee.

14. Incite him not to anger, else he bringeth thee in low and slow, and spinneth thee into the spud locker.

15. Cursed be he who dost tarry long in the wires after his trap; he causeth his wingman to be waved off on a roger pass, and the next man to become long in the groove.

16. He fouleth up the pattern mightily, and given the Air Boss all manners of gastric disorders.

17. He is thrice damned, and all people, even unto the Yellow Shirts, shall revile him and use strong language in his behalf, for he is indeed a plumber and plague upon the Air Group.

18. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. As the two-finger turn-up is the signal to fly, so to is the cut the signal to land.

19. Therefore, I say unto you, holdeth yet not after the cut; for whosoever floateth into the barriers soweth great anguish in the breast of the Maintenance Officer and causeth a blue cloud to form at the bridge.

20. The wise pilot engageth a three wire smartly, but the fool shall dwell in the pattern forever.

21. Hell hath no fury like a Catapult Officer scorned. Therefore treat him with great kindness and speak ye unto him soft and tender tones.

22. Verily I say unto thee: whosoever shall arouseth the wrath of the Catapult Officer wilt soon receive a cold shot, and his next of kin shall know great anguish and sorrow

23. Hearken unto his teachings, and heed his signals with great diligence; for he is a man of great and unnatural cunning.

24. He windeth thee up mightily, and faileth to fire when thou art ready. He then shooteth thee off when thou art not, and into the mouth of the deep.

25. Beware ye of the Old Man, and regard him highly, for unto thee he is not unlike the Almighty. When he approacheth, linger ye not in Flight Deck Control, for he falleth like a whirlwind upon the idle and laucheth upon JO’s without compassion.

26. He regardeth the newly made major with raised eyebrow.

27. Ye shall remain out of his sight, and let him not know thee by name: for whosoever shall arouse the ire of the Old Man shall go many times to the Chaplain.

28. Give ye heed unto all these things for they are the bitter fruits of those who hath proceeded thee, so shall your words be as blessings unto those who shalt follow thee, and the Carrier Pilot shall live forever and ever.

Note: The foregoing was written by Captain Milton V. Seaman, USMC while serving aboard the USS Leyte (CV-32) while deployed to the Mediterranean Sea in 1949 with Marine Fighter Squadron (VMF) —223. It was dedicated to the squadron commander, Major Darrell D. (Slim) Irwin, USMC.

Source:

Major Paul Webb Chapman, USMC (Retired)

“Playboy 37”

Someone has to know how …

Lejeune 001Last Sunday, my good friend Z published a quote by Marine Corps Major General John A. Lejeune, the 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, who wrote eloquently of the spiritual in time of war.  “Miracles must be wrought if victories are to be won, and to work miracles, men’s hearts must be afire with self-sacrificing love for each other, for their units, for their divisions, and for their country.”

Americans do not go to war lightly for everyone realizes that war is a serious business.  Neither do they go to fight because they want to; no one who is sane enjoys war.  Americans go to war because they must.

There is nothing clean and simple about the battlefield.  It is both horrible, and complex—and this means that in order to succeed, someone has to know how to do it.  Someone must know of its horrors in order to prepare the uninitiated for the ordeal that awaits them.  This is the task we assign to our regular forces—the career NCOs and officers who are responsible for making sure that our military services maintain their ability to defend our nation.  Each of our military services has distinguished themselves through their own combat history, their own service traditions, and the mission assigned to them by the Congress of the United States.

Daly 001In 1918, Captain John Thomason described the Marine Corps as follows:

“There were north westerners with straw colored hair and delicately spoken chaps with the stamp of eastern universities on them.  There were large boned fellows from Pacific Coast lumber camps, and tall, lean southerners who swore amazingly in gentle drawling voices.  There were husky farmers from the Corn Belt, and youngsters who had sprung to arms from the necktie counter.  And there were also a diverse people who ran curiously to type, with drilled shoulders, and bone-deep sunburn and an intolerant scorn of nearly everything on earth.  They were the [professional] leathernecks, the old breed of American regular, regarding the service as home.  And they transmitted their temper and character and viewpoint to the high-hearted mass, which filled the ranks of the Marine Brigade.

Thomason 1918-3“There’s nothing particularly glorious about sweaty fellows going along to fight.  And yet, they represent a great deal more than individuals mustered into a Division.  There is also what is behind those men.  The old battles, long forgotten, that secured our nation.  Traditions of things endured, and things accomplished, such as regiments hand down forever — and that abstract thing called patriotism, which I have never heard combat soldiers mention.  All this … passes into the forward zone to the point of contact where war is grit with horrors and where common men endure these horrors and overcome them, along with the insistent yearnings of the belly and the reasonable prompting of fear.  And in this, I think, is glory.”

It remains thus to this very day …

Where Marines Go

I think it is absolutely true that most Marines “go home” after their service in the Corps, whether that is at the end of their first enlistment, or at some future intermediary period, or upon retirement.  By “home,” I mean the environment that is most familiar and comfortable to them.  This could mean back home with Mom and Dad, or it could be the hometown of the girl or guy they married.  For some Marines, home becomes the area nearest their last duty station before retirement.

Not all Marines go back home, though.  Some Marines never really had a home.  Rather than loving parents, they had a working mother who did the best she could for them; a woman who was relieved when their child finally found a place where they could excel.  For many Marines, the Corps became their family —their home became a spotlessly clean barrack at any number of Marine Corps posts or stations.

This has been true for a very long time —perhaps even for as long as we’ve had a United States Marine Corps.  Colonel John Thomason wrote about some of these people in his book, Fix Bayonets (after which I named this blog).  Thomason was born in Huntsville, Texas in 1893, joined the Marine Corps on 6 April 1917, and served until his death in March 1944 achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel.

China Marine MountedDuring World War I, Thomason served as the Executive Officer (second in command) of the 49th Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines.  He was awarded the Navy Cross for his sustained courage and leadership throughout America’s participation in the war.  Following the war, Thomason served in Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua, China and in California.  He commanded the Horse Marines at the American Legation in Peiping and later commanded the 38th Company, 4th Marines, the Marine Detachment aboard USS Rochester (CA-2), and the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines.  Before the outbreak of war with Japan, Thomason was assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence.  In 1942, he was assigned to Admiral Nimitz’ staff in Hawaii.

Thomason tells of one Marine, who he refers to as Sergeant Bridoon of the Horse Marines at the American legation in Peiping.  The sergeant was a fine leader of men who had become romantically attached to an American missionary woman.  As he was nearing retirement, the Marine Corps decided to return Sergeant Bridoon to the United States where he would be processed for separation.  The problem was that his fiancé, “Miss Jones” would not return to the States; she had important work to do in China.  Bridoon would not leave her, and so on the eve of his retirement, Sergeant Bridoon deserted.

Years later, while conducting a “survey” of the Far East —by which I mean spying on the Japanese during their unofficial Sino-Japanese War, Lieutenant Colonel Thomason made his way to Mongolia via Kalgan and Mukden where he joined an assortment of international journalists, which included a few Japanese reporters.  Finally the unseemly group arrived near the Khingan Mountains.  Thomason wrote of approaching a Japanese brigade:

“As we came down the last slope toward them, we saw cavalry and armored cars moving to the left of the main column —about two squadrons of mounted men and fifteen to twenty vehicles. …  They were tired.  I’d say they had marched all night, and possibly the day before, with not much rest or food.  Now they drew off the road, stacked arms, and lay down … but I noticed that each unit disposed itself in such cover as there was, taking full advantage of ditches and gullies and the thin mountain scrub; a very disciplined, orderly command.  At intervals there were machine guns laid for antiaircraft fire, and their crews were alert.  The equipment was good, and the whole look of them soldierly. “

Colonel Thomason then described how the Japanese brigadier prepared to serve lunch and tea to the unexpected journalists as the mixed brigade moved off to confront their enemy within the Mongolian valley.  It was now time for the Japanese troops to do their work, but Colonel Thomason and the journalists never had their lunch …

“The advance companies disappeared as if they had never been, and half a mile ahead of us, in the low road and in the dry stream bed, the closed battalions and the horse batteries were floundering and writhing in a confusion of tormented yellow dust.  One minute, they went in progression as orderly symbols on a map; the next, they were disintegrating.  The gun teams reared and plunged, and the rifle battalions tried to shake themselves out into combat groups, and the agitation around the guns was stilled, and the troop formations shredded away into shapeless crawling masses, from which detached units milled hopelessly —and you heard the frantic human cries, and the animal sounds men make in despair— all strained out fine by distance…”

“Peering over a shoulder of our ridge, I saw an armored car burning, and saw some running horses.  And there were revolver shots around me.  I suspect what they were for, but I do not know —the headquarters group was not there any more.  I remember an orderly carefully stowing teacups in a wicker basket, and I remember the brigadier drawing his samurai sword and plunging down the hill, two or three officers with him.  I never saw the Japanese journalists again, or the Chinese.  My Danish colleague was beside me, stretching his neck and sputtering, when something hit him; he sat down, folding his hands in front of his stomach, then stretched himself out on his back, dug at the ground with his heels, and died.

“I got myself behind the most substantial tree I could find and lay myself down…”

Colonel Thomason described how on the slope where once stood the field headquarters of a Japanese brigade there suddenly appeared strange looking men, some of them standing, others mounted on shaggy ponies —huge, inhuman looking people dressed in the round cloth caps of the Chinese armies, assorted patterns of steel helmets, fur caps, and a variety of uniform items.  But they all had weapons and they seemed to know how to use them, and as a Mongolian soldier took Thomason captive and began to search his person, he wondered if his bones would ever see the burial ground at Arlington.

In China - Thomason 002“…  A man on a woolly buckskin stallion reined in beside me and shouted at my captors and they stood away from me.  The mounted man and I stared at each other.  He was obviously an officer of some consequence.  He wore an American steel helmet, a Russian blouse, whipcord breeches, and soft black boots which must have belonged to a Japanese once.  Belted on him was one of our service automatics, and he carried in his right hand a very elegant Mongol riding-whip, the handle fashioned from an antelope’s foot, and the loop of braided silk.  He stared at me for some seconds, straightened himself in the saddle and saluted me with precision … I knew that leathery face under its larding of dust.  It was Bridoon, late sergeant of the Mounted Detachment of the Peiping Guard.”

Not every deserter becomes a general in the Chinese army, not every sergeant a tactical or a strategic genius.  I cannot even say that every sergeant is an outstanding leader of men.  What I can say, however, is that some extremely interesting personalities have worn the uniform of the United States Marine.  They may have been misfits “back home,” and they may not even have amounted to very much beyond our Corps … but we remember them fondly, and we pray for them dearly.  They were we …

Today, we continue to find our former comrades living in far off lands: Japan, on Okinawa, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, and in Vietnam.  Where do Marines go?  They go to places where they can discover their own niche in a complex, often unforgiving world.  Ultimately —and I have this on good authority— they will one day guard the streets of Heaven.

Raw Courage

John J. McGinty III
John J. McGinty III

Born in Boston, Massachusetts on 21 January 1940, John J. McGinty III was raised in Louisville, Kentucky where he enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps Reserve in February 1957.  Following his initial training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina, McGinty received advanced infantry training at the 1st Infantry Training Regiment at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and subsequently served with the 7th Infantry Company in Louisville until March 1958.

PFC McGinty reenlisted into the regular Marine Corps in March 1958 and was ordered to Camp Pendleton, California where he attended the NCO Leadership Course and was subsequently ordered to duty at Marine Barracks, Kodiak, Alaska until May 1959.  While stationed in Alaska, he was promoted to corporal.

In late 1959, then Corporal McGinty transferred to the 1st Marine Division, where he served as a squad leader in Company I, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines.  McGinty was subsequently promoted to sergeant and ordered to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina where he served as a drill instructor until 1964.  Between 1964 and 1965, he served as a brig warden at Marine Barracks, Norfolk, Virginia.

In 1965, Sergeant McGinty was ordered to the West Coast for pre-deployment training and assignment to the Far East with the 3rd Marine division.  Arriving in Vietnam in April 1966, McGinty was further assigned to Company K, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines where he served first as a platoon sergeant, and then later as a platoon commander.

Medal of Honor“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Acting Platoon Leader, First Platoon, Company K, Third Battalion, Fourth Marines, Third Marine Division, in the Republic of Vietnam on 18 July 1966.  Second Lieutenant (then Staff Sergeant) McGinty’s platoon, which was providing rear security to protect the withdrawal of the battalion from a position, which had been under attack for three days, came under heavy small arms, automatic weapons, and mortar fire from an estimated enemy regiment.  With each successive human wave, which assaulted his thirty-two-man platoon during the four- hour battle, Second Lieutenant McGinty rallied his men to beat off the enemy. In one bitter assault, two of the squads became separated from the remainder of the platoon.  With complete disregard for his safety, (then) Staff Sergeant McGinty charged through intense automatic weapons and mortar fire to their position. Finding twenty men wounded and the medical corpsmen killed, he quickly reloaded ammunition magazines and weapons for the wounded men and directed their fire upon the enemy.  Although he was painfully wounded as he moved to care for the disabled men, he continued to shout encouragement to his troops and to direct their fire so effectively that the attacking hordes were beaten off.  When the enemy tried to out flank his position, he killed five of them at point-blank range with his pistol.  When they again seemed on the verge of overrunning the small force, he skillfully adjusted artillery and air strikes within fifty yards of his position.  This destructive firepower routed the enemy, who left an estimated 500 bodies on the battlefield.  Staff Sergeant McGinty’s personal heroism, indomitable leadership, selfless devotion to duty, and bold fighting spirit inspired his men to resist the repeated attacks by a fanatical enemy, reflected great credit upon himself, and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”

Following this action, McGinty was subsequently assigned to the 3rd Battalion headquarters where he served as the Operations NCO, and then later he served as the Regimental Intelligence Officer, 4th Marine Regiment.  Upon his return to the United States in 1967, Staff Sergeant McGinty served a second tour of duty at MCRD Parris Island until commissioned to Second Lieutenant on 8 August 1967.  Captain John J. McGinty retired from active duty in October 1978.  He passed away at his home in Beaufort, South Carolina on 17 January 2014.

Semper Fidelis — Esse apud Deum

A Visit to the Wall

USN F-4J 001I recall visiting with three old friends, a few years back, at a park in the nation’s capital.  It seems like only yesterday that we were all together, but actually, it has been 42 years.  There was a crowd at the park that day, and it took us a while to connect, but with the aid of a book, we made it.  I found Harry, Bruce, and Paul.  In 1970-72 we were gung-ho young fighter pilots on the USS America and USS Constellation off the coast of Vietnam, the cream of the crop of the U.S. Navy, flying F-4J Phantoms.

Now their names are on that 500-foot-long Vietnam War Memorial.  I am hesitant to visit the wall when I am in Washington DC because I do not trust myself to keep my composure.  Standing in front of that somber wall, I tried to keep it light, reminiscing about how things were back then.  We used to joke about our passionate love affair with an inanimate flying object-we flew.  We marveled at the thought that someone actually paid us to do it. We were not draftees but college graduates in Vietnam by choice, opting for the cramped confines of a jet fighter cockpit over the comfort of corporate America.  In all my life, I’ve not been so passionate about any other work.  If that sounds like an exaggeration, then you’ve never danced the wild blue with a supersonic angel.  To fight for your country is an honor.

I vividly remember leaving my family and friends in San Diego headed for Vietnam.  I wondered if I would live to see them again.  For reasons I still do not understand, I was fortunate to return while others did not.

Once in Vietnam, we passed the long, lonely hours in Alert 5, the ready room, our staterooms, or the Cubi Point O’Club.  The complaint heard most often, in the standard gallows humor of a combat squadron, was, “It’s a lousy war, but it’s the only one we have.”  There is a more ribald version of this, not suitable for mixed company.  We sang mostly raunchy songs that never seemed to end; someone was always writing new verses-and, as an antidote to loneliness, fear in the night and the sadness over dead friends, we often drank too much.

At the wall, I told the guys only about the good parts of the years since we’ve been apart.  I talked of those who went on to command squadrons.  Those who made Captain and flag rank.  I asked them if they have seen some other squadron mates who have joined them.

I did not tell them about how ostracized Vietnam vets still are.  I did not relate how the media had implied we Vietnam vets were, to quote one syndicated columnist, “either suckers or psychos, victims or monsters.”  I didn’t tell them that Hanoi Jane, who shot at us and helped torture our POWs, had married one of the richest guys in the United States.  I didn’t tell them that the secretary of defense they fought for back then has now declared that he was not a believer in the cause for which he assigned them all to their destiny.  I did not tell them that our commander-in-chief avoided serving while they were fighting and dying.

And I didn’t tell them we “lost” that lousy war.  I gave them the same line I have used for years: We were winning when I left.  I relived that final day as I stared at the black onyx wall.  After 297 combat missions, we were leaving the South China Sea…heading east.  The excitement of that day was only exceeded by coming into the break at Miramar, knowing that my wife, my two boys, my parents and other friends and family were waiting to welcome me home.

I was not the only one talking to the wall through tears.  Folks in fatigues, leather vests, motorcycle jackets, flight jackets lined the wall talking to friends.  I backed about 25 yards away from the wall and sat down on the grass under a clear blue sky and midday sun that perfectly matched the tropical weather of the war zone.  The wall, with all 58,200 names, consumed my field of vision.  I tried to wrap my mind around the violence, carnage, and ruined lives that it represented.  Then I thought of how Vietnam was only one small war in the history of the human race.  I was overwhelmed with a sense of mankind’s wickedness balanced against some men and women’s willingness to serve.

Before becoming a spectacle in the park, I got up, walked back the wall to say goodbye, and ran my fingers over the engraved names of my friends —as if I could communicate with them through some kind of spiritual touch.

I wanted them to know that God, duty, honor, and country will always remain the noblest calling.  Revisionist histories from elite draft dodgers trying to justify and rationalize their own actions will never change that.

USS Constellation, CV-64
USS Constellation, CV-64

I believe I have been a productive member of society since the day I left Vietnam.  I am honored to have served there, and I am especially proud of my friends-heroes who voluntarily, enthusiastically gave their all.  They demonstrated no greater love to a nation whose highbrow opinion makers are still trying to disavow them.  I hope to find their names also in the Book of Life.

____________

Note: a retired Navy pilot wrote this piece

Hat tip: Koji-san

All about honor

TPhoenix 001ed Kobayashi was tall for a Japanese, typically thin, gray haired, a bit stooped over, and one thing that really stood out was the fact that his English was flawless.  He worked in the Manpower Management section of the Personnel Department at Marine Corps Air Station, Iwakuni, Japan.  I was privileged to serve as Assistant Director.

The Manpower Management section had undertaken a study of the efficiency of several of our air station support departments, and so I hardly ever saw Ted except when he was en route to, or returning from one of his assessments.  One day I asked him to tell me what he was doing, and he just looked at me with a slight smile and said, “Well, of course I am a Japanese employee of the Marine Corps Air Station, and so my primary purpose here is to make the American civil service employee—my boss, look good.  If I do that, then I can work here for one thousand years.

I laughed because I knew right away that Ted was a straight shooter.  I’ve always appreciated people who weren’t full of their own importance.  I have to say that insofar as most cultures are concerned, I only met a few Japanese who were full of self.  They are mostly down to earth people, humble, and yet —proud at the same time.

Ted helped to extract me from a problem that I created for myself.  I had been working on a report that needed to be completed and forwarded up the chain of command and my Japanese secretary was giving me fits; too many typographical errors.  So when they were corrected, she brought the report back and we discovered new errors.  This went on for a while and then, in frustration, I looked at her and said, Now Fumiko-san … if we cannot fix these errors without making new ones, I may have to order you to commit seppuku.  She bowed as low as I had ever seen her bow before the rushed out of my office.

A few minutes later, Ted came over and said, “May I sit down?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Major, the one thing you have to know about your Japanese secretary is that she is not entitled to have a sense of humor.  Your secretary is convinced that you will order her to commit seppuku if she brings in one more mistake.”

“I was only kidding, Ted.”

“Yes, I told her that … but please, no more joking because you know, she might go and do it, and then how would you feel?”

I could feel the color drain from my face.  “I would feel like shit.”

“Exactly right.  Okay problem solved.  Thank you for offering me coffee …” he was smiling when he left my office.  In one morning, I learned that the Japanese did not understand the American concept of situational humor, or joking, and also that I was a terrible host.  I never joked with Fumiko-san again, and I always made a point of asking Ted if I could get him a cup of coffee.  He never accepted, of course … it was all about being polite.

One day I caught Ted sitting in his office and so I took two cups of coffee and helped myself to a chair next to his desk.  As I set one of the cups in front of him, he smiled and said, “For me?  How nice.”

He sat next to a large window that overlooked the front of the headquarters building.  He’d worked at the Air Station for over 40 years.  He was then in his 60’s and I asked him about retirement.  Most Japanese employees retired at age 55.  He told me he had pulled strings to stay on past his normal retirement age.  He wasn’t interested in retirement.

I think Ted liked the attention I gave him.  Or maybe it was the respect.  He really was a nice man.  He was intelligent, had a dry sense of humor, even if somewhat sarcastic, and an encyclopedia of information; all one had to do to get that information was ask politely.  So when I asked him how in the world he spoke such flawless English, he looked at me for a long moment and he said, “In 40 years, you are the first officer to ask me that.  If you want to know, I’ll tell you.”

I wanted to know.

Ted was born and raised in Southern California.  When he graduated from high school in the summer of 1941, and as he was getting mentally prepared to attend university there, his parents, who had migrated to the United States in the early 1900s, decided that it would be best for Ted to travel back to Japan and pay respect to his grandparents, whom he had not seen in many years.  “I was not too happy with this request, but I had no choice but to do as my parents wanted,” he said.

Once in Japan, however, the Kempeitai would not allow him to leave.  Japan was preparing for war.  Ted was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army.  “I could have refused,” he told me.  “But it would have been a self imposed death sentence after much suffering.”

I was stunned.  He smiled at me and said, “Close your mouth, major.”

Because he was well educated, Ted was put to work in the supply corps.  “I never once fired my weapon at an American,” he said.  But they did send him to one of the Pacific islands: Guam.  That’s where he was captured and interned as a POW.

“I kept my mouth real shut during those days,” he told me.  “I never revealed that I could speak English or understood what was being said around me.  I just smiled a lot, and bowed a lot.  Eventually, I was sent back to Japan after the war was over.”

Art by Lua Sieryu
Art by Lua Sieryu

He told me, “I could not return to America —I had served in the Army that was the enemy of my countrymen.”  I noticed that his eyes were watery.  “No,” he continued, “I could not go back to America.  I have been here ever since.  I never saw my parents again.  Of course, they were interned during the war.  I never revealed my English speaking ability to any American until I was looking for work at the Air Station.  I’ve been here ever since.  And now, I have married and had children here, and grand children … and I have this excellent job working for Americans.

Ted Kobayashi’s story was one of the saddest tales I have ever heard in my life.  I could not imagine being placed in a similar predicament.  Ted was also one of the most honorable men I ever knew.  I respected him, and I enjoyed his friendship.

American Warriors, Past and Present

Greatest Generation WeissWe can thank Tom Brokaw for the term, “Greatest generation.”  It first appeared in his 1988 book of that title, accompanied by his declaration, “It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”  He is, of course, writing about Americans who grew up in the United States during the deprivation of the Great Depression, and then went on to fight in World War II.

I wonder, though … is this true?  What makes Mr. Brokaw the expert, to make such a determination?  He has no advanced degrees; he worked most of his life in television journalism, participating in three televised “news” programs with NBC.  He was, like Walter Cronkite, a newsreader.  Unlike Cronkite, Brokaw never buried himself in the carnage of combat journalism.  When other up and coming journalists went to cover the war in Southeast Asia, Tom Brokaw accepted a position with KNBC Los Angeles.

So once again, what makes Tom Brokaw the expert?  I am asking because it seems to me that there were other generations that we might regard as the greatest, and no one knocked on my door to ask me for my opinion.

Air Cav 001No surprise, Hollywood has picked up on Brokaw’s theme: the big money moguls such as Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks … and it was used quite liberally in the hullaballoo leading up to the film Saving Private Ryan, a fictional story written by Robert Rodat and several books written by the plagiarist and fictionalist Stephen Ambrose.  Just for the sake of argument, contrast anything written by Ambrose or Rodat with the actual account of heroism under fire written by Joe Galloway and Lieutenant General Harold G. Moore (We Were Soldiers Once … and Young).

What is my point?

Vietnam WallMy point is that Tom Brokaw and others of his ilk offer an unforgivable insult to those fine Americans who fought in America’s other wars, both before and after World War II, by claiming that another group were the greatest generation.  Brokaw in effect has informed the young soldier of today that while having lost his or her legs, it was not enough to be regarded by Brokaw as part of this country’s greatest generation; and not only to the soldiers, but also to their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives, children, and sweethearts.  This pronouncement is, in my view, utterly profane and foolish.

My next question is for everyone else: why do those of us who claim to value the heroic service of our citizen warriors, both past and present, allow the likes of Tom Brokaw and Steven Spielberg —neither of whom ever served in uniform, to define the value of our veteran’s service to the United States of America?