May 12, 2015

Book Review: "Choosing Courage"

 "Choosing Courage"
by Peter Collier
Artisan Books, 2015

The word 'hero' has been dumbed-down these days. Schoolchildren with perfect attendance are called heroes, as are those popular cartoonish Robert Downey Jr – Transformer movies. Computer-generated fiction? Let's be honest; while going to school regularly is a good thing, real heroes are the Marines fighting their way off the Iwo Jima beaches, or clearing Fallujah house-by-bloody-house.

Peter Collier's fine book “Choosing Courage” helps the reader understand today's hero. Collier takes the stories of Medal of Honor awardees from WW2, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and tries to find a common thread to their stories. At the same time, he intersperses the actions of a few brave civilians and compares them to see if they match those inspiring stories of the combat veterans – and he finds that thread.

While many Medal of Honor recipients are reticent of their fame, and prefer to phrase their actions as 'I was just doing my job,” a few have taken a more articulate view. Col Jack Jacobs, USA (ret) is one. Jacobs, awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in 1968 Vietnam, is a thoughtful man who explains how in the midst of battle, wounded in an ambush that killed many of his troops and with a piece of shrapnel in his eye, remembered the question posed by the Hebrew scholar Hillel of two thousand years ago “If not you, who? If not now, when?” Jacobs knew that if someone didn't take charge, the slaughter would continue, and if he was the only person capable of action, then he needed to get on with it. That's far cry from today, when people's first response to an emergency is to pull out their cellphone and make a video for TMZ or FB.

Eleven months later, Col Wesley Fox, USMC (ret) was leading a rifle company of Marines that was ambushed by a far larger force of North Vietnamese soldiers. Like Jacobs, Fox was wounded, as were all his platoon commanders. But training trumps fear, and as the young Marines stepped up to take charge, Fox had no time for fear as he worked to keep his Marines fighting. When the Marines were finally extricated, they'd suffered 70 Marines killed or wounded, but the NVA lost more than 100 killed.

There are civilian equivalents to combat, Collier writes, and provides two breathtaking examples. Jencie Fagan, a gym teacher, was putting up a volleyball net for her first-period class when she heard gunshots. Running down the hallway to where she thought the noise had come, she encountered students running in terror (and a teacher who locked herself in a classroom), Fagan saw a student with a handgun and slowly approached him. Talking soothingly to him, she stood in front of him so he would have to shoot her in order to shoot any other students. Fagan talked him into dropping the pistol and she then hugged him until the police arrived.

Of the many heroic stories coming from 9/11, “Choosing Courage” picks that of Rick Rescoria, a British native who joined the American Army and fought in 1965 Vietnam., earning a Silver Star at Ia Drang. Becoming an American citizen after the war, in 2001 he was the Director of Security for Morgan Stanley on 9/11. Due to the prior training he'd instituted, almost all of Morgan's 2,700 employees got out of the South Tower, however Rescoria was last seen going back into the building to be sure all of 'his' employees were out. The South Tower collapsed a few minutes later; Rescoria's body was never found.

That's what Peter Collier's “Choosing Courage” illustrates. Courage comes from within the individual, and in response to a crisis situation. No sane person looks for these situations, but as Jacobs says “I didn't want to look back years later and realize I could have done the right thing, but didn't.” It's really a simple question, Fagan realized later; which way will you run??

"Choosing Courage" is Highly Recommended!!

Choosing Courage

by Peter Collier
Artisan Books, 2015
ISBN # 978-1-57965-596-9

Mar 6, 2015

"Boston & Beyond"

I wrote this 20 April 2013:

"Dear Martin:

Friday evening they captured the 2nd of the two cowards who killed you last Monday afternoon. The news of his capture can’t give you more than your 8 ½ years, and probably won't make it easier for your family to accept your loss, but your death, and the injuries to your mom and sister, have personalized this tragedy for America more than you’ll ever know.

Seeing your photo and reading about how you were waiting at the finish to cheer your dad hit this grandfather to a 9 ½ year old very hard. Big smiles; big hearts, not a mean bone in your bodies; every time I see your photo I think of my grandson. While at your ages neither of you guys can easily define patriotism, extremism, or other concepts, you both understand good vs. evil and right vs. wrong – and this country saw both on Monday.

As your dad saw, and he and your mom and sister will someday share with you in Heaven, are the stories of the spectators, aid workers, and other runners who ran towards the explosions to help. Your fellow Americans staunched those horrific wounds by hand while others picked up the badly injured and carried them to safety. Your mom and sister survived because of them.

You’d also be proud of the Boston PD and others who worked hard to find the bombers; they worked non-stop until Friday night when the 2nd coward surrendered. But while that’s five days too late to help you, you can be assured that you and your great smile will never be forgotten.”

The only redeeming feature of this past week was watching how Boston reacted to this senseless tragedy. Carlos Arredondo, “the man in the cowboy hat,” vaulted the barriers, picked up a man who had both legs blown off and pushed him to an aid station-while clamping an artery by hand so the young man didn’t bleed out. A torrent of aid workers and others raced to assist and used direct pressure and impromptu tourniquets to keep the injured alive. That’s what makes America and Americans different, it’s those who run to the sound of the guns.

And as the week progressed, they kept running. When the Boston PD and FBI asked for any videos or photos taken of the finish line; they were overwhelmed by the response. When the Boston PD needed to lock-down the city Friday morning after they and the two bombers engaged in that firefight Thursday night, a million Bostonians cooperated by staying indoors. And Friday night-who discovered bomber # 2? A local citizen who immediately called 911 instead of giving in to the base calls for vigilante justice so prevalent on the internet.

Perhaps the week is best described in the words of one of the officials who addressed the city and the nation in the press conference Monday night “Today didn’t show America’s weakness; today showed America’s strength.”

May those who run to the sound of the guns always be with us.

Nov 10, 2014

Veterans Day Roll Call

Today we call the roll:

Bunker Hill. The Battle of Bladensburg. San Juan Hill. Chateau Thierry. Monte Cassino. Guadalcanal. Midway. Chosin Reservoir. Khe Sanh. An Nasiriyah. Fallujah. Garmsir. Today is the day to honor those men and women who helped found and protect the United States: the American Veteran.

America has been blessed with a citizenry that has produced some extraordinary Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen through its history. William Travis drawing a line in the sand at the Alamo. Cpl. Alvin York in the Argonne. Sgt. Dan Daly rallying the surviving Marines to charge the German machine guns at Belleau Wood, "Come on, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?" Gen. O.P. Smith from Chosin Reservoir, "We're walking out, and we're bringing our wounded and our dead with us." Sgt. Robert Banfield, Marine Artilleryman at An-Nasiriyah, "Hurry up! We've got Marines dying up there!"

"I enlisted. I was drafted. I served in the Guard." While Americans enlist for a variety of reasons, it's worth remembering that in the depths of the 2005-2006 carnage in the Sunni Triangle, US Marine recruiting offices were jammed with young men and women wanting to do their part for their country.

Many make it a family tradition. Linda Woodland's father, Sgt Hamilton Woodland served in the Army Air Corps in WW2, as did her uncle Ralph Howell 3rd, but their tradition dates back much further; while her great-grandfather John C. Howell enrolled in 1862 as sergeant of Company H, Twenty-seventh New Jersey Volunteer Infantry, and fought at both Fredericksburg and Vicksburg, ancestor John Pellet, Jr. fought in the Revolution.

Sgt Adam Grau is another whose family tradition dates back to the Civil War. Both grandfathers plus a grandmother served; Sgt. Irv Schulwolf, Army, Korean War, Cpl. Wallace E. Grau, 9th U.S. Army Air Force, WW2, and Petty Officer Dorothy Slivka Grau, Navy, WW2. So did his great-grandfather Pvt. Walter Grau, American Expeditionary Force, WW1 who was a machine gunner like Adam. Their tradition began with Cpl. Albin Knolle, 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, 11th Corps, Army of the Potomac, who received a battlefield promotion the evening of 7/1/1863, the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, and later WIA at the Battle of Lookout Mtn. TN. Died of war wounds 1886.

The freedoms enjoyed by Americans today have not come easily. Spanish-American War: 2,446 killed; WWI 116,708 - WWII: 405,399 - Korea: 53,686 - Vietnam: 58,236 - Iraq: 4,427 - Afghanistan: 2,350 The totals unfortunately include such fine men and women as Sgt. Justin Noyes, Fallujah; HN3 Chris "Doc" Anderson, Ramadi - Maj. Megan McClung, Ramadi; Capt. Travis Patriquin, Ramadi, and Lance Cpl. Gavin Brummond, Marjah.

From where does America get such men, author James Michener once wondered. Noyes came from a little town in Oklahoma, Doc from outside of Denver. Iwo Jima flag raiser Sgt. Mike Strank came from Pittsburgh by way of Czechoslovakia, while his fellow flag raiser, Pvt. Ira Hayes, came off an Arizona Indian reservation, as did the Marines' famed Navajo Code Talkers. The Army's Nisei Battalion, the most heavily decorated — and wounded — of WWII, was of Japanese ancestry, and it's worth noting that 57,000+ immigrants became citizens since 9/11 while forward-deployed.

While WW2's Rosie the Riveter received the publicity, women in the military wrote their own chapters. After 22 Army nurses were captured by the Japanese when the Army surrendered at Corregidor, women rushed to enlist. Sgt. Clare Mendell (later wife of Marine Capt. James Lubin) commanded the women's unit at Quantico that wrote "The Letter" to the families of the KIA Marines, and during the war, most of the Army Air Force planes ferried to England were flown by women – with 36 of them crashing and dying on the way. Women Marines and soldiers have earned Bronze and Silver Stars while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and America's Women Warriors have received their fair share of Purple Hearts. The valor and capabilities of America's female combat veterans is not a topic that needs debating.

Thank you, all who serve or have served; it's you who protects America.